Gifts

Nailed It!

Nailed It BestJesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. -John 8:34-36

My pastor gave a sermon a couple of weeks ago in which he noted that the more convinced we are that we are wretched sinners in need of a Savior, the more we will serve Jesus with the passion of our lives. Luke 7:47 says “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

In our modern culture I wonder if we appreciate how serious sin truly is. Since the beginning of God’s law, mankind has been pushing back, re-interpreting and just plain fooling ourselves that we didn’t hear God quite right. Adam and Eve and that apple, Korah and his upstart followers, David and Bathsheba, Ananias and Sapphira and the lie about their gift. The world reads those stories and their take-away is that a ‘loving’ God would never be so harsh and full of wrath. God must be a narcissistic megalomaniac to demand such strict adherence to his Word, especially knowing full well that humans are natural sinners. Perhaps you’ve had that thought yourself? I know I’ve wrestled with it.

Here are a few points to ponder as you wrestle with the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin:

First of all, God is God and we are not.  in Isaiah 55:9 God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Proverbs 30:3-4 reiterates this from the human perspective:

I have not learned wisdom,
    nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

It is unimaginably presumptuous for any human to think that we could even begin to understand God or His ways with the 3 pounds of gray matter in our skulls. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and eternal. He somehow created everything out of nothing. He is waaaay too big and all-everything to even be conceptualized by us. In many ways it’s like trying to teach algebra to your dog. Algebra exists and its principles describe aspects of your dog’s life, but it will never be understood by your dog. However, out of His love for us and desire for relationship, He has revealed some things to us. He has placed eternity in our hearts. He has given us a conscience which understands the concept of right and wrong although we are free to override it. And He has spoken to some of us and in that way given us the Holy Scriptures containing everything we need to live our best lives. Who but the Inventor could really know that anyway? Yet from the beginning of time until now we have been trying to ‘backwards engineer’ humanity and work God right out of the equation. It’s as foolish as removing the batteries and expecting the gadget to operate properly.

Secondly, God is immutable - unchanging and unchangeable, and that quality is also true for His Holiness. Holiness is the perfection, or wholeness of God. It is a state of being. Instead of viewing holiness as God’s Law - as a set of arbitrary ‘rules’ which could be adjusted by the Author, I suggest that it is better to view holiness the way we view Scientific Law – a set of rules that describe reality in a true, universal and absolute way which are discovered rather than invented.  Isn’t it odd that we readily accept Scientific Law but so often challenge God’s Law? In Sunday School I use the analogy of space to demonstrate this concept. ‘No man may come to the Father except through Me’ has been scorned as highly intolerant for centuries. Yet, consider this statement, ‘No man may get to the moon except with a spacesuit.’ Who would challenge that? That is not an intolerant statement barring those without spacesuits from access to the moon. It is also not a statement that overlooks or rules out other valid ways of getting to the moon. Rather it is a mere statement of fact based on unchangeable Laws of Science that describe reality in a true, universal and absolute way. Heaven cannot contain even the tiniest amount of sin. The only method for sinners to enter Heaven, therefore, is to be covered by the sinless blood of Jesus. Why? I don’t know. It just is. Why is the universe expanding faster and faster rather than slowing or contracting? I don’t know. It just is.

Finally, sin is death. Sin isn’t ‘like’ death, sin IS death. It is the thing that ended immortality in the Garden and gave us a life-expectancy. As sin increased, so did disease, war, hatred and everything that is not Good. Sin is highly corrosive and highly contagious. The more it eats away at us and spreads amongst us all over our world, the more evil there is, because evil is the absence of Good. Sin opposes, corrupts, condemns and seeks to destroy Good. God is Good. And sin opposes and seeks to destroy God. It’s difficult to see how a lie here or there, a little bit of cheating or stealing, some pre-marital fun or exploring other religions could make us enemies of God. But those are evidence of our sin condition, a condition that eats away at our soul, turning us away from God and Good, making us slaves to our own pride and pleasure. The only way to regain ‘Goodness’ was to buy us back - redeem us from slavery to sin. And that is what Christ has done. Sin held us hostage, but He ransomed us with His sinless blood. He paid off our ransom and debt and nailed it to the cross, marked ‘paid in full’ for all in Heaven and earth to see. We’ve been bought at a price – a very high price. Why was that the only way? I don’t know. I don’t claim to understand it, but I believe it.

PRAYER:

Father, forgive us, for truly, we know not what we’ve done. Amen.

Stay Blessed,

Jen Jahromi


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


Christ, Our Passover Lamb

 

Christ our Passover Lamb

1 Corinthians 5:7-8

I love literary symbolism and our Bible is chock full of it. My favorite is the ‘type,’ a literary prefiguring where a person or story serves as a metaphorical prefigure of another that is to come later. There are so many, and that’s what amazes me: thousands of years in the past Christ was hinted at by so many stories in the Old Testament.

In Sunday School we just learned about the first Passover. Passover is such a ‘hint’ at what God was preparing with the Messiah and Easter that in hindsight, it’s almost impossible to miss. But I’ll hit some highlights to show just how much of an unbroken line there is from Moses and the Hebrews to us today.

  1. The Need for Salvation: Moses was a miracle baby who should have been killed in infancy. These were desperate times for the Hebrews. Although living as slaves, God blessed them and increased their numbers. But Pharaoh feared their power. They were abused and oppressed and had no spiritual leaders. After crying out for God’s mercy, it still took 10 terrible plagues until they were set free from bondage. Before Christ arrived, there were 500 years of silence from God. The Israelites strayed from God’s word and devised their own sects and rules. They were occupied by Greece and then Rome, persecuted and burdened by extreme taxation. Still Rome feared there would be uprisings. Today the world is still in need of deliverance from sin and suffering. People still subjugate and abuse others, and we are still pushing God out of the equation and trying to do things in our own power.
  2. The Leaven: God instructed the Hebrews to rid their homes of yeast and any kind of leavening. Yeast is a wonderful symbol of sin: “Your boasting is not good.  Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”  (1 Corinthians 5:6). The thing about yeast is that it is in the very air, surrounding us always just like the temptation to sin. The Hebrews had to prepare by ‘cleansing’ themselves and their homes. John the Baptist made it abundantly clear that God wanted Israel to repent of sin and cleanse themselves with the waters of baptism. Repentance first and then Deliverance. Today we know that arrogance and pride are the number one reason people refuse faith in Jesus Christ. But if we repent and accept Jesus as our savior, we will be delivered from sin.
  3. The Blood of the Lamb: For God, atonement requires blood: Leviticus 17:11 "…it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” God instructed the Hebrews to paint the blood of the unblemished sacrificial lamb on the doorposts of the house so the Angel of Death would pass over them. Jesus came as the new Passover lamb, pure and unblemished by sin, dying as a sacrificial atonement for the sins of all mankind. Now, we must all be symbolically covered by the blood of Jesus to receive forgiveness from and reconciliation with God.
  4. The Feast: In the original feast they ate the lamb that had been sacrificed along with unleavened bread and other foods, and drank wine. By Jesus’ day the Passover meal (Seder) had become ritualized including starting with a prayer over the wine to remember the deliverance of the first Passover. Jesus used the symbol of eating the body of the sacrificed lamb at The Last Supper when breaking the bread: This is my body, broken for you. He changed the prayer over the wine from a remembrance of physical deliverance to one of spiritual deliverance: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” This meal is now our Holy Communion.
  5. Deliverance: The original Passover caused the death of all the first-born Egyptian boys and animals. It was so terrible that Pharaoh finally granted freedom to the Hebrews and sent them out of Egypt with all the resources they would need for their journey. By Jesus’ day Israel was crying out for deliverance from Roman rule and persecution. They expected their Messiah to come as a king and conqueror, driving out the Romans and reestablishing the line of King David. Instead, they got a meek and mild teacher, healer and miracle-worker who delivered people not from worldly captivity, but from the captivity of sin and death. This is a far better deliverance - a permanent, eternal one. But so many people then AND NOW could not fathom this gift from God. They didn’t accept His free gift of redemption then, and many do not now. Others, however, are just waiting to hear this miraculous Easter story of God’s love and receive eternal salvation.

There’s plenty more that could be said about the symbolism and similarity between Passover and Easter. In fact, a whole study could and probably has been done on it. For me, it all highlights just how almighty God actually is in planning and spanning thousands of years of human history, weaving together people and events to bring about His good and perfect will for us. He is so much bigger than we could ever dare to imagine. He knows and loves each one of us intimately and personally and yet can hold the universe together at the vastest and most microscopic levels. He is an amazing, awesome God.

PRAYER:

Father God, I am in awe of You. You have performed wonders, brought about miracles, woven together history, and yet are still concerned about me. I am humbled. Help me to share Your Awe with others. Make me an Easter Person who keeps the miracle of reconciliation and resurrection in my heart and on my mind always.

Easter blessings to you,

Jen Jahromi


Amazing Love


Amazing Love dkrBut God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Happy Ash Wednesday. Who ever says that? Ash Wednesday is a day of contemplation, fasting and repentance. Which is as it should be. As we contemplate the reason for Good Friday, we realize that Christ died for US. Not for ‘them’, or ‘the Jews of His time’, or ‘The Church’, but for each one of us, personally. We had sins and trespasses and secret shames on our accounts. That debt of sin was going to keep us out of Heaven. No matter how much good we put back into the world, we could not have paid off our debt of sin. Jesus knew what He came to do. He knew that His sacrifice would benefit sinners throughout generations to come. He knew that although He could not end sin, He could end the punishment for sin: eternal separation from Father God. And he went to the cross willingly. And once again, God brought something good out of something tragic. What the Jewish and Roman leaders had meant for evil, God used for the ultimate good: the salvation of the world!

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

While looking up verses for my Valentine’s Day lesson, I noticed something that I probably knew on some level, but God poked me to consider more deeply. There are a few different kinds of ‘love’ verses in the Bible. The ones that might come to mind first are the ‘commands for us to love’: love one another, love your neighbor, love the Lord your God. I would also include here the Love is… verses that tell us how to love. I’ve looked at these verses a lot because loving is the essence of Christianity. However, the other day I kept finding the ‘God’s love for us’ verses, and taken together they are just so powerful:

Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.

Psalm 36:5

For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love.

Psalm 5:12

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;

    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Jeremiah 31:3

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

1 John 4:16

For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Romans 5:5

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

May you have power to understand how wide and long and high and deep Christ’s love is.

Ephesians 3:18

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.

John 3:16

These verses prove the eternal Truth that “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19. To be Godly is to love. To be Christ-like is to love. And not merely to love those who love you, but to love those who reject you, who disobey you, who are your enemies, who don’t understand you, who will never know you, who may never appreciate your love…your extravagant, crazy, AMAZING LOVE.

PRAYER:

As we march into Lent, oh Lord, let us strive to show the world your unfathomable, extravagant, crazy, amazing love, and “let his banner over [us] be love.” Song of Songs 2:4

Jen


God's Valentines

Love Letter From ChristThe only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 (NLT)

Letters of Introduction…remember those? Probably not. But if you watch as many British ‘period pieces’ as KJ and I, you may have learned of them. In the very olden days before cell phones, internet, landlines, or even telegraph, people needed letter of introduction. With no possibility of “googling” anyone, or even seeing a picture of them, how could you truly know who anyone was – or their status, reputation, resume, etc.? Answer: letters of introduction. And the higher up your status, the more important such things were.  Imagine stepping off a boat in a foreign land as the new Ambassador for the crown – that would have to be SOME letter, and it better come with a royal seal!

These days there are myriad ways to ‘know’ someone. We have all sorts of identification numbers, criminal and driving records, credit scores, resumes, tax returns, test scores, GPAs and so much more. Social media captures our faces even in other people’s pictures. Just ‘google’ yourself and see…or don’t. It may just upset you. Because although these are ways to know ‘about’ you, they aren’t the same as knowing the real you.

How do we truly ‘know’ a person?  Jesus says in Matthew 7:20, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” Paul echoes this in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 above. He makes the case that those believers he shared the Gospel with are his ‘letter of recommendation.’ Their good works and changed lives were the proof of his teaching, and the proof of Him who sent Paul to teach – Jesus Christ.

We who follow Christ are all Ambassadors of God’s Kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:20) and our letter of introduction is the fruit of our lives: love, joy, peace, kindness, etc. which should be plain for all to see. This letter has been written on our hearts by Christ himself. It has been sealed with the Holy Spirit of God which lives within us directing and leading us, making us daily more like Christ. This wonderful letter becomes our life, and our lives become a beautiful love letter from God to the entire world, because the Lord does not want ”anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Yes, we are the original ‘love letter.’ We are God’s Valentines to the world. We don’t need fancy, scented stationery, forget-me-nots, paper doilies or glitter (although those are awesome) in order to share the simplest, but most profound message in the universe: God loves you! He knows you and He wants you to know Him! And just like the classic valentines, He always ends with ‘Won’t you be mine?”

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, send me. Here I am. Let my life shine brightly and reflect the light of your love and message of salvation to a dark, lonely, desperate world. Like the silly valentines we received in school, may I bring a little joy and sweetness and love into peoples' hearts when they see me. And may everything I do point them to You.

Blessings,

Jen


Martin Luther King Jr. and Resisting Evil

Kingml-pray-kneel-group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 Navigating the Chutes and Ladders of Life

Hand of Mercy 3

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

-Deuteronomy 15:10-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Star of Wonder

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

Matthew 2:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER:

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

Keep looking up,

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

www.zazzle.com/visionsandverses

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


Aroma of Christ

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For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

~2 Corinthians 2:15

Ah, the aromas of Christmas...gingerbread, fresh coffee, pine boughs, cinnamon pine cones, cloved ham, mulled cider, candy canes, PIE...yum!  For me, smells are memory joggers. Familiar smells bring back the feelings and memories of whole episodes of my life. And scents are important to God too. The Bible often speaks of the aromas of burning meat or of incense going up to God as a sacrifice.  And that's what Paul is saying to the Corinthians.  We need to let our lives be a fragrant sacrifice to God.  And that aroma of Godliness and the Good News will either attract some to us or repel some from us.  Jesus came on Christmas day to make his entire life a sacrifice for God on our behalf.  His sacrifice didn't start on Good Friday, it began in consenting to come down to earth to dwell among us...Emmanuel, God with us. 

Sacrifice is good for us -- it keeps us humble; it makes us compassionate; it sets our hearts and minds on Jesus and his work. Times are tough. Joblessness is staggering. COVID is resurging with a vengeance. The world seems cold and cruel to many people in the world and in our neighborhoods. If you know the warmth of Christ and the hope of Christmas, then I urge you to make some sacrifices this year: a little more intentional time with the family, calls to shut-ins, cards to neighbors; a little more money in the donation buckets, a few more canned goods to the food banks, a few more bags of clothes to the needy, a few more coats or socks or toys in the donation boxes. We can have gifts under the tree spilling out into the room, but these things will rust, deteriorate or break eventually. However, our good works will earn us treasure in Heaven that will last forever -- as will the souls of those we bring to Christ. If you have a heart to give, Compassion International is one of my favorite charities. Here is a link to their Christmas Gifts page: https://www.compassion.com/charitable-gift-catalog.htm.  And of course there are the Advent Missions of our church, and our church itself (Hereford Faith & Life)!

God bless you and your family and friends as you prepare Him room in your homes and hearts for Christmas this year!

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

www.Zazzle.com/VisionsAndVerses


Rededication at Hanukkah

Hanukkah Quilt"It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah the Festival of Dedication.."  -John 10:22NLT

A century or so before Jesus' birth, the Greeks under Antiochus Epiphanes conquered Egypt and subsequently Judea and Jerusalem.  The king ordered an end to all religion but his own, and set up an altar to Zeus on the sacrificial altar of the Temple.  There, he even sacrificed pigs, considered unclean. This was an abomination to the Jews. 

Mattisyahu (Mattathias), was serving as a priest in God's Temple in 167 BC when a Greek official tried to force him to sacrifice to a pagan god.  Mattisyahu resisted and killed the official, which triggered reprisals by Antiochus IV against the Jews.

Nevertheless, Mattisyahu — and after his death, Judah, one of his five sons — took charge of the fight against the pagan Greeks and earned the name "Maccabee" (possibly from "hammer" in Hebrew) because of their hammer-like blows against their enemies. Three years after the Maccabee uprising, in 164 BC, they had taken back Jerusalem and purified the Temple.

And while the Greeks defiled the Jewish Temple, they would not succeed in eradicating its means for purification — oil. Despite the pagan altars within her and impure animals that were offered to idols on the Temple's holy ground, a day's worth of purified oil remained concealed on the Temple grounds with its seal intact. This jar of oil, sanctified to the God of Israel, would help push back the spiritual darkness that had overcome the Temple. And while it was only enough for a single day, it miraculously burned for a full eight days.  By the last day, the Jews had prepared enough sanctified oil to keep the light shining perpetually. To commemorate this, they established the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah. 

On the Christian calendar, Hanukkah falls during Advent, a time of preparation -- both for the celebration of Christmas and for the eventual return of the Messiah, Jesus.  Advent and Hanukkah are both solemn occasions that call us to be re-dedicated to God, and to be prepared to do His work in the world.  For the ancient Jews, there were more conquerors to come, and more challenges to their faith and very existence. For Christians today, we see similar efforts by authorities to diminish our faith. For now, it might be a relatively benign 'Holidays' or 'Winter Festival' instead of Christmas, and closed churches due to COVID, but the Book of Revelation suggests that much stiffer tests of our faith will come.  Let us be re-dedicated and prepared then, for whatever may come. During this joyous eight-day season of Hanukkah, be prepared to reach out to People here and around the world with the Good News that Jesus is the Light of the World.

"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness."  (John 12:46)

May you be filled with oil of joy this upcoming Hanukkah and clothed with the garments of praise during this Holiday Season!

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

www.Zazzle.com/VisionsandVerses