Gifts

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


Spoon Story

Spoon1Once upon a time there was a spoon. The silver smith put his mark on it and finished polishing it, adding it to the box as the last piece in the silverware set to be sent to the palace for the king. There the spoon was useful, being taken out and polished regularly to adorn the table at fancy parties and dinners for heads of state. Over time the spoon was nicked and taken out of rotation. It sat unused for the longest time. At last, one day it was grabbed by the king’s small niece who took it out into the garden to serve tea to her dolls. As she was cleaning up, she dropped the spoon by the vegetable garden. There it lay in the sun and rain until the gardener spotted it one day. Since it was tarnished and nicked, he used it to dig out stubborn weeds from around the lettuces. As winter came on the spoon ended up in the garden shed. There it sat, blackened and bent, until one day a youth spotted it and took a closer look. Using his apron, he rubbed the spoon until its silver began glow. Putting it in his pocket he decided to make a gift of it to his pregnant wife. By the fire in their tiny home, the youth applied polish and rubbed and worked until the spoon was nearly like new. On Christmas morning he presented it as the first gift to his newborn son. After feeding two generations of that family, it was once again consigned to tarnish in a drawer, where one day, not recognizing its worth, it was put in a bin to be donated to charity. It found new life at the jail, feeding those who were justly and unjustly imprisoned, including an old silver smith - a Christ-follower who refused to renounce his faith. As he turned the spoon over, he smiled, recognizing his own makers’ mark, and bowed his head to thank God for His provision, even in jail.

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.  ̶  2 Chronicles 16:9

We are that spoon. We are no longer our own because we have been bought at a price. So, whether our calling is ‘high’ such as serving a king, or ‘low’ such as serving a prisoner, either way we are serving the Lord. Over the course of our lives, we may be used in many different ways. Sometimes we may be called to use our expert talents, and sometimes we may be just an extra set of hands. But in any case, we yield our will, our hopes and our desires to the will of the Master. Daily, we must choose to be used by God in whatever capacity He needs. We cannot see the big picture. We may never know, on this side of Heaven, what our obedience resulted in. Our job is simply to trust the Lord with our lives and to do His good will, carrying out the good deeds He prepared in advance for us.

Although ‘living for the Lord and yielding our will’ is a simple concept, living it out day by day is very challenging. Daily, we need to crucify our ego and will and pick up our cross to follow Jesus. It’s hard to be inconvenienced for the Lord, to give up our money and ‘stuff’, to be available when needed, to be unappreciated by others, to be persecuted or mocked. It’s even harder when we can’t see the point or know what the plan is. But this is what we are called to. Myself, I wonder almost hourly if I’m up to it. I fail more than I succeed, but I succeed more than I used to, and there is evidence of progress.

PRAYER: Make me a tool in the Master’s hand, and let me never desire to be anything more. Amen.

Humbly yours,

Jen


Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

Seek Ye FirstYou will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:13

There’s a lot in the Bible about seeking. Some of Jesus’ greatest parables are about seeking. Seeking is a very intentional act. Just ask those who seek out rare birds, rare coins or other collectibles.

My son recently sent me a photo of the china cabinet in a home where he spent Christmas. My husband only saw the cabinet, but what my son and I saw was the impressive multicolored collection of Fiestaware in that cabinet. Only a seeker-collector would appreciate the value of what, to others, would just be pretty (or pretty old) pitchers and plates.

Seeking is also the only way to find God, and ‘collect’ spiritual truths. Hard-hearted people will not turn to God. These people are so sure of themselves, their intellect, the correctness of their point of view, that they will not be open to anything that doesn’t fit their philosophy. Remember Pharaoh? Remember Nebuchadnezzar? Remember Pontius Pilate? Unless something happens to change them, they will never be open to the possibility of the supernatural, miraculous or Divine.

Seekers are open to options. They may be seeking in all the wrong places, but they are open to the wonderful mysteries of the Universe. I was this type of teenager. I was convinced there was more to life than just what we see, but I looked for it in eastern philosophies, tarot cards, astrology and crystals. And here’s the thing: because there IS more than just this plane of existence, and because it IS possible to know the future, and because spiritual energy is real, those philosophies are not total malarkey. But they are potentially dangerous, and God tells us to stay away from divination (even the name tells us we are treading too close to God’s sacred territory).

I eventually found my way to the Truth. And when I found Him, my soul leapt just like John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb. There is something about the Gospel and about the Truth of Jesus that calls out to us across time and space and rings true in that eternity that God has placed in our souls. When you find this Truth, you know that you know. And as the scales fall from your eyes, you see the same world in whole new way. For me it was like finding that particular puzzle piece that suddenly makes the colors and shapes of the other pieces fall together. The spiritual truths have been falling into place ever since. Christian musician Keith Green described it this way: “Like waking up from the longest dream. How real it seemed, until Your love broke through…”

If you’ve found the Truth, then your seeking isn’t over. Daily seek for God in his Word, seek for God through prayer, seek for God through your service to others. These are the ways we reap the blessings that God promises to us. If you know seekers who are still looking, share with them! You have the answer they're looking for. If you haven’t experienced faith as a relationship with the Truth, seek and you will find! Knock and the door will be opened to you. Seek God with your heart and soul and He will reveal himself to you and show you the way to Jesus and to the mysteries of His kingdom.

Finding Jesus and beginning an exciting, wonderous journey with Him is the most valuable find you fill ever make. It is more precious than pearls, gold, or any 1940s pottery or rare bird. Of course, you’ll still have time to add to those other collections, just remember to seek God’s kingdom first. (It's probably not under the bed.)

Blessings,

Jen


Don't Look Back

MountSodom061607
Lot's Wife on Mt. Sodom

17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”… 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. --Genesis 19:17,26

New Year is generally a time of reflection. It’s a time to consider goals reached or not, decisions made, outcomes achieved and begin a plan for the coming year. Usually, I’m all for that kind of thinking. A little analysis can go a long way in helping to correct your course to a brighter future. But as I stand at the cliff edge of 2021, unlike Lot’s wife who just had to have one last peek, I am content to shake the dust off my sandals and make a fresh start into 2022.

Lot’s wife is a wonder to me. First of all, there she is still on Mount Sodom. I’m pretty sure that isn’t actually her, but it IS a mountain of salt, nonetheless. And why did she have to become a pillar of salt? Was it symbolic? Was it a punishment? Or was it just a consequence of whatever mechanism God used to rain down sulfur from the sky? If you read the story carefully, you see that they had all made it safely to the next town, so she wasn’t worried about her daughters’ safety. No, she disobediently looked back of her own accord.

God frequently reminds us that His ways are not our ways. We like to pause and reflect, tidy up loose ends, find ‘closure.’ But how many times does God and Jesus tell us to move on without a thought to the past?

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” --Luke 9:59-62

 

30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! -- Luke 17:30-32

 

18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. -Isaiah 43:18

 

25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
    keep your foot from evil.

-Proverbs 4:25-27

Perhaps the lesson here is that although the past is defined as "gone by in time and no longer existing", it can still hold our imaginations captive. The past is something that should be forgotten, but unfortunately, a lot of people let it define them. When God calls us into His service, He wants the Holy Spirit to teach us, not lessons of the past. It’s too tempting to use lessons from the past as a roadmap to the future. This is the problem with ‘self-help’ – if your ‘self’ could have ‘helped’ you, you wouldn’t need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to daily renew your mind and spirit. You wouldn’t need God’s mercy which is new every morning.

God has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. We need to move forward in the light and not let the darkness of the past concern our thoughts. Maybe this is true more for looking back to our sinful, pre-saved lives and habits. Was Lot’s wife tempted to long for the rough, sin-filled life of Sodom? Remember how the Israelites longed for Egypt’s leeks and garlic even in the midst of God’s miracle exodus? Or maybe she just couldn’t trust God in the midst of the chaos.

If we continue following, He’ll continue leading, and the lessons we learn along the way will be just what He’s trying to teach us now. We won’t need a compass or a map.

Each day has enough trouble of its own. --Matthew 6:34

Maybe that is the real the takeaway for 2021.

Blessings,

Jen


New Chapter

New ChapterWhy, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. ~James 4:14

Perspective is everything. The same situation with the same facts can be perceived completely differently by different people. Even a sentence like “Let’s eat Grandma!” can be an invitation TO dinner, or an invitation to BE dinner.

The above verse in James can be read in two different ways as well. Read with a pessimistic or fatalistic spirit, the verse could seem depressing. It expresses that we have no knowledge or control over what the future holds, and furthermore that our life is pitifully short in the grand scheme of things. Those statements are all true, although many do not care to admit it, or grasp the ultimate importance of this truth. However, read with a more optimistic, adventurous spirit, that same verse is a challenge. Life is short, so make the most of the time you have, use it wisely and step out in faith knowing that God holds it all in His hands!

Jesus told us “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).  I really believe this. And some of the truth Jesus wants us to understand is ‘hard truth.’ You know, the kind of stuff that unsaved people don’t want to think about. Often, we, ourselves, don’t want to think about it.

Like: Life is unpredictable. There is no way to be sure what tomorrow will bring, let alone next week, or next year. Life is also unfair. Some people are born rich, beautiful or athletic while others are born poor, with lower IQs, or with disabilities. Some have loving homes, some not so much. We don’t get to choose for ourselves. Life is short. Even the longest human lifespan is a mere scratch on timeline of eternity. And death is inevitable. It comes for us all. Finally, any sense of control over these things we may feel is only an illusion.

When I reached adolescence and figured out these truths, I had that existential crisis many of us experience. What’s the point of living? Why bother going on at all? Am I just a pawn in the universe’s chess match? If you have teens and twenty-somethings in your life, I guarantee you these thoughts are in their heads. Perhaps you’ve thought them. Perhaps you still do.

That is why it is CRITICAL to understand how these truths can set you free! Life is unpredictable, that is true, so really, ALL things are possible. Amazing, wonderful, profoundly good things can be in our future! We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we can know that God holds our tomorrows. We can have a relationship with a loving God, who like the best parent ever, wants to teach us and guide us to our most fulfilling future. Sometimes the growth He wants for us is a little painful, but it is always for our best interests.

Life is sadly unfair. We do not all start at Go with $1,500 and the same number of rolls of the dice. Lucky for us, the point of life is not to own all the property and make all the money! God created us all differently with different strengths and weakness, different talents and challenges. Our goal is not to be the ‘best’ as our time and culture defines it, but to be the best version of ourselves as God defines that. And God defines that in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “

Life is short and death is inevitable. If you need deadlines to get you going the way I do, then this is a motivator! No time to put off good works, dream trips, hugs, difficult discussions, or sharing the Good News. No time to delay in attending church, raising the kids to know Jesus, reading the Bible.

But also, although death in this world is inevitable, life in the next realm is ETERNAL! One thing we have complete control over is whether we choose to have a relationship with God by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior whose perfect sacrifice cleanses our sin and enables us to spend eternity in Heaven!

This is where the adventure is begun! Accepting Jesus as the Lord of your life is a daring adventure where your needs are provided by Almighty God, an amazing journey where miracles happen every day, a wonderful new chapter of answered prayer and movements of the Holy Spirit. Start that new chapter today! You don’t know what tomorrow will bring…isn’t that exciting?

Wishing you Blessings in the New Year,

Jen

**if you didn't get my new 2022 calendar and you want one, you can purchase one at Illustrated Christian Scripture Calendar

 


Joy!

Joy God with usBe joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. - Romans 12:12

Someone recently asked me what my ‘word for the year’ would be. (If you‘re not familiar with this concept, may I recommend One Perfect Word, by Debbie Macomber which encourages readers to intentionally focus —and act— on a single word for a whole year.) I took a moment to ponder this. The first thought that popped in my head was the word I would use to describe 2021: UNCERTAINTY. Then I considered what the opposite of that might be and ASSURANCE is what came to me. I give the Holy Spirit total credit for putting those words in my feeble mind.

UNCERTAINTY. We’ve all been feeling it. Even the few things we thought would be predictable have turned out to have twists: vaccines, elections, the weather, the economy. In my family it’s been multiplied: post-graduation plans, vacations, careers, elder-care decisions all put in a permanent holding pattern. Added to that were various emergencies that needed immediate attention: home repairs, health issues, technology problems. And then the cloud of uncertainty began to rain with two pet deaths, an extended hospital stay, an upcoming surgery and a cancer diagnosis.

What I learned from all of this is that humans really need a certain amount of certainty in order to function. Worldwide, I think we’ve exceeded the recommended amount of uncertainty, and this is perhaps what has led to so much stress, anxiety and dysfunction by so many people in so many places.

This was definitely the case in Israel in the Year 0. The weary world had been waiting. A Messiah King who would be Savior to the world had been prophesied from long ago. He had been implied since the beginning, in the Book of Genesis, and written about often in the Book of Psalms. Isaiah 7:14 says “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). That was written somewhere around 740 to 700 BC!

By Year 0, though, uncertainty reigned, and most had given up even hoping. Yet, a few were ‘joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer’ and had a steadfast assurance that God would be with us in the person of Messiah. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.” -Luke 2:25 There was also a prophet, Anna…. She was very old; … She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” -Luke 2:36-37 I suspect that there were some in Israel who thought they were wasting their lives spending so much time at the Temple, praying and waiting and believing with assurance that Messiah was on His way.  I’m sure there had been others in all those hundreds of years who believed fervently but never got to see the Christ. They were all correct – He came! – and they are all certainly in Heaven now waiting for Him to come to earth again.

We, too, are waiting. “For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet seen of old, when with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.” (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear) What a wonderful promise! Christ was coming. Christ has come. And Christ will come again!

The old Christmas hymns do not ‘sugar-coat’ life on earth. Many were written in desperate times of persecution, war and upheaval. Even in our affluent, digital age of instant everything, there is still plenty to be patient through and to pray about. My prayer list has never been longer. So how did they – and how do we get from anxiety and affliction to joy? How did Simeon and Anna? ASSURANCE! The ‘hope’ we’re supposed to be joyful in, is the ‘blessed assurance’ that Jesus is ours and we are His! In The Redemption of Scrooge, Matt Rawle defines Joy as “the steadfast assurance that God is with us.” Jesus, himself, promised in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Sure, life is hard. It’s full of uncertainty. But the antidote to uncertainty is ASSURANCE: assurance that God is with us; assurance that if Jesus is our Savior, we are children of God with Heaven as our inheritance; assurance that the Holy Spirit will come into our hearts to comfort and guide us; assurance that ‘although the wrong seems often so strong’ God is the Righteous Ruler and has already won the war! Christ, the Prince of Peace, is coming again to claim His Kingdom, wipe away every tear, and make every believer fully whole and perfect! REJOICE! REJOICE! Immanuel has come to thee!!

Wishing a Merry and Joyful Christmas to you and yours,

Jen


Love Came Down at Christmas

Love Came Down at ChristmasSo the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

~John 1:12-14

I love the Gospel of John. Before I had the Holy Spirit to guide me, it seemed confusing and repetitive. Now I can read it and see the beautiful Truth it reveals: Jesus is the bridge between God and this world – He was in the beginning when all of Creation was made through him; He was when He took on flesh and came into our world as an atonement for our sin and the means by which we could be reconciled with God; and He will be again when He comes back to end this age and make all things new once again, including us. He is literally the beginning and the end of our story – the Alpha and the Omega (or A to Z in English).

And that story is a Love Story. God created the world and everything in it to delight His children. God IS love and He wanted to be loved, as we all do. He shared His Divine Wisdom on the best way for us to be happy and content, but disobedience and sin entered the world and broke our relationship. He sent punishments for sinfulness. We continued to disobey. He sent rules for us to follow to bring us back to Him, but we kept on breaking them. He sent Prophets to warn us of the consequences of continuing to choose our own rebellious ways, but we ignored them and killed them and suffered those consequences.

Finally, “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. Of course, we killed him. But – plot twist – that was actually God’s plan all along! We THOUGHT we killed Him, but no…. Actually, He gave His life willingly, taking on the punishment for our sin, so that we could be made holy and once again be in communion with God, not just here on earth, but also in Heaven for eternity. “God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.” ~2 Corinthians 5:5. Not just God WITH us, but God IN us! His Holy Spirit comes and lives in us and keep us on the right path, continually renewing our minds and transforming us little by little into the likeness of Jesus.

What is Jesus like? Well, if you’re asking that, then get to know Him better by reading the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Listen to His words, meditate on His actions. Learn to recognize the voice of your Shepherd and Master! But here’s a quick start guide – Jesus is the embodiment of the Fruits of the Spirit which the Holy Spirit is continuously prompting us to exhibit: LOVE, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

God IS love. And God came down at Christmas to teach the world what Love is: joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. True Love is sacrifice: we give our time, our talents, our thoughts, our effort for others – our family, our spouse, our church, our community, our country, our world. We no longer live to please ourselves, but to please God by serving others, by repaying evil with kindness, by repaying injustice with forgiveness, by replacing curses with encouragement and anxiety with hope. Love is allowing Jesus to shine in us and through us to bring light and life into the hearts of those walking in darkness.

At this point I realize that what I really want to say would be quoting from one of my favorite Christmas Hymns, and since it says it (sings it?) much more eloquently than I, I’ll leave you with the last two verses to ponder:

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Author: Phillips Brooks (1868)

3 How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.

4 O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray,
cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Immanuel!

With Love,

Jen