Gifts

The Good News of Jesus' Birthday

Good News bestIt’s almost Jesus’ birthday! What did you get for Him? What?! You bought something for Barney and Ben, Janice and Jen but forgot Lord Jesus Christ? Well…there’s still a few more shopping days left… But if Jesus had a 3-octave range like Mariah Carey, I’m sure he’d also sing, “all I want for Christmas is you!”

In fact, from the very dawn of creation, all that Almighty God has ever wanted from us is our full devotion evidenced by faith and obedience. We can trace this theme right through the Old Testament:

12:1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him;

15:6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 12:1-4 &15:6

Barry Cooper writes, “This is a stunning moment: God’s revelation that faith in Him is the mechanism by which people are accepted by Him and become heirs of His promises. As Paul says in Romans chapter 4 and Galatians chapter 3, Abraham was justified by faith alone—faith in the promises of God. Promises which found their fulfilment in Christ.”

Thousands of years later, God’s people continued to stray, worshiping idols and living lives of wealth and entitlement while letting others suffer poverty and injustice. Through the Prophet Hosea, God says: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6 

Once again, God wants devotion, not mere obedience to law. He wants our devotion to flow from our faith and trust in Him which manifests as obedience. “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” Hosea 10:12.

Finally, Jesus came from Heaven to deliver this message in person:  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” Luke 10:27-28 Almighty God wants our whole heart, not a half-hearted faith, not worship just on Sunday. It is our deep abiding faith that saves us.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Apostle Paul made this even more clear in his letter to the Romans:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 10:9-11

That God operates like this is overwhelmingly GOOD NEWS—not just for Abraham and the ancient Israelites, but also for us. So let me say it again: salvation is given to us not because of anything we have done or could do or ever will do, but purely on the basis of what God has done. And we receive the benefits of what God has done simply by trusting Him, as Abraham did.

So, what does Jesus really want for His birthday? Just your whole heart, soul, strength and mind. I’m not sure if you can find a box for that. But Jesus doesn’t care about the wrapping and bows. He will accept your gift in any condition at any time. Why not now?

What can I give him?
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would give a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
But what I can I give him
Give him my heart
Give him my heart

(In the Bleak Midwinter, Rossetti/Holst)

Merry Christmas,

Jen


Burst into Song

Burst Into SongAnd this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14

I’ve been listening to a lot of Christmas music lately. It’s the soundtrack to my housework, decorating, cooking, and general downtime. But I have to say, I am less than impressed with most of the newer holiday songs. I love romance, time with the family, and giving presents, but that is NOT what Christmas is about. Not to sound like a Grinch, but somewhere along the line, the messaging around Christmas got co-opted and corrupted by a world that is happy to sell trees, decorations, gifts and records, but couldn’t care a wit about the saving of mankind. In fact, several of my least favorite holiday songs promote greed, lust, gluttony and other kinds of sin.

We should never underestimate the power of music and messaging. Anything set to a tune is easier to remember, hence the use of jingles in ads. I’m sure you have a few learning songs rattling around in your brain still, like the Alphabet Song, I before E, or maybe the entire Preamble to the Constitution like I do. And there are plenty of catchy Christian tunes for kids and adults that help us remember key verses, Bible books and more. In the days before widespread literacy, psalms and hymns brought the Bible to the people, especially the Gospel message. Most of the Christmas hymns include the entire Gospel presentation in just 3 or 4 verses.

Back in the early 1970s, my family celebrated Christmas with all the trimmings - but no church, no manger, no Jesus. I suspect this is more the rule than the exception these days. However, my music-loving parents and grandparents had a large collection of Christmas albums: Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and more. And about half the songs on those albums were Christmas hymns. I sat next to our record player listening and learning the words, wondering what it meant to ‘come and adore Him,’ or ‘prepare Him room.’ I especially pondered ‘…to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.’ These beautiful hymns were reaching my unchurched heart and mind and laying a foundation for seeking Him later in life.

Additionally, my most beloved Christmas special of all, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, spoke directly to my confused and wondering heart. Is Christmas really about trees and decorations and stuff? Or is there more? Then Linus quoted Luke 2:8-14, about angels, God, Heavenly host and a baby in a manger. “That’s what Christmas is all about…” The Grinch and A Christmas Carol shared a message about personal transformation and an understanding that Christmas is not about the ‘stuff,’ but that the stuff is the outward representation of the inward joy and celebration of a heart transformed by love. They stop just short of saying God’s love in the form of Jesus Christ.

So, my recommendation is to share these songs and shows with your loved ones, especially the kids. Always lean towards the Christmas Carols and Hymns. For hundreds of years, they have been planting seeds of faith wrapped in beautiful, catchy tunes. They join us with a long line of faithful believers all over the world, celebrating the birth of Christ in the good times and bad, during war and peace, famine and plague, persecution and pilgrimage.

Christmas is a miraculous mystery filled with wonder and splendor and the supernatural. No amount of tinsel, shiny lights and fake magic can outshine the marvelous story of God’s amazing love for us which wove together two miracle babies, five angelic visitations, ancient prophecies, celestial wonders, five kings, strange visitors, visions in dreams, and a Roman census. It’s a story that deserves to be told. It’s a story the world needs to hear. It’s a story that God wants us to share.

O Come All Ye Faithful and share your Joy to the World! Go Tell it on the Mountain, that story of the Little Town of Bethlehem and Mary’s Boy Child Away in a Manger. Tell everyone about that Silent Night that Came Upon a Midnight Clear when Angels From the Realms of Glory announced His birth While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. Tell how they hurried to see, asking What Child Is This? Tell the whole, wide, world about The First Noel, and how Love Came Down at Christmas.

Musical Holiday Blessings,

Jen


Give Thanks Like a Leper

Lepers-where-are-the-nine15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:15-19

We don’t often think of Jesus as being annoyed. Perhaps we even think it’s a sin to be annoyed, but here in this account of the ten lepers who Jesus healed, He does seem a bit miffed. And with good reason. Ingratitude for all that God has done, is doing and will do for us is really the Original Sin. It’s the sin that got Lucifer cast out of Heaven. It’s the sin that got God fuming mad according to all the prophets. With all that God gives us, although we deserve nothing, how ungrateful is it to want more, different, better?

Jesus restored these ten lepers without hesitation at one request from a distance. This restoration was not merely health – it was a whole life transformation. Leprosy had forced them to leave their families and move to a leper colony separated from everyone else. No shopping, no school, no work, no play, just pain and isolation – in fact, they had to announce their presence at a distance so others could scurry out of the way: “Unclean, unclean!” And no cure, so no hope.

So when, in desperation, these men begged for a miracle and GOT IT, Jesus felt it was only right that prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving should be offered. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! But only the reviled Samaritan ran back full of worship and praise.

This was our Sunday School lesson this week. I think the kids got it. Most of us are raised to say please and thank you. Yet, there are times when our thanks are just half-hearted – Aunt Ethel’s fruitcake perhaps. And times when we should give thanks and we don’t – everyday blessings or even perceived misfortunes.

And then. Then there is the World, ruled by Satan, sowing dissatisfaction and selling entitlement at every turn. As the holidays arrive, the commercials lead the parade chanting ‘bigger, newer, better, designer, custom!’ They stroke our egos convincing us we ‘deserve’ more. They coax the covet, fueling our desire to have what our friends or neighbors or rivals have.

Last week, the Sunday School watched my favorite Veggie Tales episode, Madame Blueberry. It’s a whimsical story of a ‘blue’ berry who is sad because her friends’ things are better than hers. Then, a new Stuff Mart comes to town offering everything she can dream of at discount prices on credit. However, she learns from two small children that happiness doesn’t come from a box, but from a heart of gratitude.

I’ll leave you with my favorite song about gratitude from that episode. It’s been 25 years, my kids are grown, and I still sing this song to myself and to the Lord when I feel the lure of ‘stuff’ coming on.

It isn’t sinful to want things, or even to present our desires to the Lord. He wants to give us the desire of our hearts. And He wants our hearts to desire what He desires. And in all things, He wants us to give thanks. Give thanks to the Lord with a grateful heart, ready to pass on the blessings we’ve received to others. Give thanks and praise the Lord. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh.” Job 1:21

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving,

Jen




Be A Jack-O-Lantern

Lantern to my Feet bigWhen Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

I’ll admit it. I’m scared of the dark…still. I’m not alone either, and with good reason. Wild beasts and creepy crawly things lurk around in the dark. It’s confusing. Things look different and it’s easy to stumble and fall. And perhaps most frightening, people with evil intentions are skulking out there!

Way back in pre-medieval days people had similar fears. It led to some strange myths and behaviors, like carving jack-o’-lanterns. 

Their origin comes from an Irish myth about Stingy Jack, who tricked the Devil for his own monetary gain. When Jack died, God didn’t allow him into heaven, and the Devil didn’t let him into hell, so Jack was sentenced to roam the earth for eternity. In Ireland, people started to carve demonic faces out of turnips to frighten away Jack’s wandering soul. When Irish immigrants moved to the U.S., they began carving jack-o’-lanterns from pumpkins, as these were native to the region.

Halloween is based on the Celtic festival Samhain, a celebration in ancient Britain and Ireland that marked the beginning of the new year on November 1. It was believed that during Samhain the souls of those who had died that year traveled to the otherworld and that other souls would return to visit their homes.

In the 8th century CE, the Roman Catholic Church moved All Saints’ Day, a day celebrating the church’s saints, to November 1. This meant that All Hallows’ Eve (or Halloween) fell on October 31. Traditions from Samhain remained, such as wearing disguises to hide yourself from the souls wandering around your home. The folklore about Stingy Jack was quickly incorporated into Halloween, and we’ve been carving pumpkins—or turnips—ever since.

(Grannan, Cydney. "Why Do We Carve Pumpkins at Halloween?". Encyclopedia Britannica, 25 Oct. 2017, https://www.britannica.com/story/why-do-we-carve-pumpkins-at-halloween.)

That may all seem a bit silly or superstitious, but they got one thing right: light chases away the darkness. And while this is good for physical safety and security, it is imperative for spiritual health and safety! Jesus is our Light. He said as much himself in John 8:12. In fact, the entire Gospel message can be summed up with verses about light.

We lived in an Eden of light and protection: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5. But we chose the darkness of sin and death: “He is driven from light into the realm of darkness and is banished from the world.” Job 18:18

But God did not abandon us. He gave us a guide back to Him: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105. And those who followed found the light of His love: “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.” Psalm 112:4

But generation after generation chose darkness, so the Lord promised a light so big it would light the whole world: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew 4:16 (quoting Isaiah 9:2) This Light is so big and so victorious that it cannot be extinguished: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 This Light is Christ who reconciles us to God: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6

And still, there are those who refuse the warmth of this light: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19.

Now it’s up to us to be a light for others as God’s Word and Jesus Christ are a light unto us. “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Acts 26:17-18.

We are called to holiness: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8. And we are to pray that God’s will is done and leave the judgement to Him: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5.

And one fine, glorious day we will dwell with the Lord forever: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” Revelation 21:23-24.

So be a Jack-O-Lantern this Halloween, shining the love and light of your saintliness on everyone you meet. Perhaps the warmth of your glow will make them want to come in out of the dark for good.

With love and light,

Jen


A Shining City on a Hill

Patriotic Lighthouse“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 5:14-16

I had an unusual experience recently which doesn’t happen that often. In both Adult Bible Study and Sunday School we studied the same passage in the same week. It was the above passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. One of the things I love about the Bible is that it stands up to the most rigorous academic study while still communicating Truth in a way a child can understand. From ‘Hide it under a bushel – NO! I’m gonna let it shine,’ to a Shining City on a Hill used in a Presidential Farewell Address.

At the end of the 1980’s when President Regan left office, I was not a Christian, not a Republican, and my mind had just been exposed to History and Politics of the World Since 1945. My ideas of America and what she stood for were changing. And so, coming back to Regan’s Farewell Speech has been a bit of an interesting twist for me. With the passage of years, I think this speech really does stand the test of time, no matter how your particular politics may run these days. Personally, I was humbled to find so much agreement with the sentiments. So, I thought I’d leave you with the best part as a devotional to our country and our God who continues to bless it.

“An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?

Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American, and we absorbed almost in the air a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn't get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-Sixties.

But now we're about to enter the Nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style.

Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise - and freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection.

We've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important: Why the pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who'd fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did. Well, let's help her keep her word.

If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of that - of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.

Let's start with some basics - more attention to American history and a greater emphasis of civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America : All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American - let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.

And that's about all I have to say tonight. Except for one thing.

The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the shining "city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important, because he was an early Pilgrim - an early "Freedom Man." He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat, and, like the other pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace - a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.

That's how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm.

And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the Pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home….”

*A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 12, 1989 of the National edition with the headline: Transcript of Reagan's Farewell Address to American People, The New York Times.

Keep on Shining my fellow Americans,

Jen


Bread of Heaven

Matzoh

For a very long time now, I've been interested in knowing more about Judaism. Because Jesus wasn’t just a Jew, He was the best Jew ever. Every prayer, every feast day, every law Jesus kept perfectly just as God Himself intended. I recently watched a show on TBN where a Messianic Jewish Rabbi and a Pastor demonstrated the Passover Seder, the traditional actions and prayers said at the Passover dinner celebration, the last supper Jesus ever had. In the amazing way that God always reveals himself, every little word, action and item in that dinner has multiple symbolic meanings that point directly to the Messiah and Jesus’ fulfillment of all of them.

Today I’m only going to focus on the bread. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’ Matthew 6:11. We understand this to mean our life-giving sustenance. But we also understand that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” Deuteronomy 8:3. This is the verse Jesus quoted to Satan in the wilderness and it refers to the time the Hebrews were in the wilderness with Moses. Now hear Jesus in John 6:31-35:

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

So, Jesus is our bread from Heaven, who give us eternal life. But wait, there’s more!

Passover is also known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread. God had those Hebrews eat unleavened bread that first Passover because they didn’t have time to wait around for the yeast to rise. But yeast also has a symbolic meaning: sin. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy….” Luke 12:1.

As part of the week-long celebration, God instructed that on the first day the entire house must be cleansed of ANY leaven (Exodus 12:17-19). Practically speaking, this means Jews had the original ‘Spring Cleaning,’ with women and children, even today, pulling everything out of cupboards and drawers to rid the house of leavening. Symbolically, we are the home of the Holy Spirit, so we must clean the sin out of our hearts – repentance. Now consider Jesus’ actions on the first day of the week of Passover: “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:12-13. Don’t we still call rooting out corruption ‘house cleaning?’ Jesus had to clean His Father’s house of the leaven of sin and hypocrisy.

Now prepare yourself to be amazed:

At the Passover meal, they have three pieces of matzoh bread, called ‘the Bread of Affliction.’ It’s like a cracker, but it’s pierced all over and marred with brown streaks. (Consider how much that’s like Jesus’ body – ‘pierced for our transgressions’.) They take the middle piece (Father, SON, and Holy Spirit) and break it (“this is my body broken for you”). Then, it is wrapped in cloth and hidden somewhere in the house until the end of the ceremony, when the children find it and redeem it for a promised gift! Then it is eaten for “dessert” in commemoration of the Passover sacrifice because the sweetness of “redemption” should be the last thing you taste!! For Christians, this symbolism is just unmistakable.

So, Jesus, the Bread of Heaven sent by the Father, was born in Bethlehem (translation: The House of Bread). He is our Daily Bread, the Word of God made flesh. He declared that He was the Bread of Life who will give life and satisfy all of our needs. He willingly became our Bread of Affliction, pierced and broken for us, taking on all our sin and shame, to be hidden in the grave and then found and redeemed for the precious gift of eternal life. His sweet redemption completes God’s mighty work of freeing and redeeming His people from slavery to a world of sin, not just for a time, but for all eternity! Wow!

PRAYER: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam, hamotzi lehem min ha'aretz. Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth. (One of the Passover prayers.)

L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim! (Next year in [the New] Jerusalem!)

Jen

 


Applied Loving

Sweet FriendshipMost of us are familiar with the great Love passage of the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends.

But how do we demonstrate our kindness, patience and unselfishness? When it comes down to showing love to others every day, especially spouses, family and friends, it can be a little more tricky. People give and receive love differently and have different preferences. And if there is a disconnect, the relationship can be strained. Consider these loving acts:

  • A spouse spent all day defrosting and cooking a roast with all the trimmings.
  • On her birthday, kids gave their Mom a big hug and a handmade card.
  • A husband made a special trip to gas up the car and vacuum it out.
  • A wife saw a gadget she knew her husband could use and picked it up as a gift.
  • Parents told their teen how proud they were of their accomplishments or success in school.

 

Objectively, these are all loving things, or at least not offensive things. However, consider ‘the rest of the story…’

 

  • A spouse spent all day defrosting and cooking a roast with all the trimmings. But the other spouse had started a diet, so made a separate meal for themselves. For the spouse who had cooked, food was love, so a rejection of the meal felt like a rejection of themselves.
  • On her birthday, kids gave their Mom a big hug and a handmade card. But that particular Mom found physical affection uncomfortable, and although the card was nice, she would have preferred it if the kids had cleaned their rooms.
  • A husband made a special trip to gas up the car and vacuum it out. But that wife didn’t care much about the car and would rather have spent that time taking a walk together.
  • A wife saw a gadget she knew her husband could use and picked it up as a gift. But her husband was more concerned about saving money and could have done without the gadget. He would have been happier just to hear “I love you.”
  • Parents told their teen how proud they were of their accomplishments or success in school. And although the teen appreciated it, they would really have liked a hug or a family game night more.

The problem is that we all speak different “Love Languages.” According to Dr. Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages, everyone has a unique combination of preferences for the way they experience feeling loved. People may prefer Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Physical Touch or Acts of Service. When we understand what ‘love language’ our spouse, family and friends ‘speak,’ we are better able to give them what they need to feel loved. And similarly, if we understand what is more meaningful to us, we can communicate that to our loved ones so they can better love us. Of course, it can be a challenge if love languages aren’t so compatible. However, that’s where the patience, unselfishness and bearing all things comes in.

When it comes to the Lord, He loves to give and receive love in all of the languages except perhaps physical touch, although Holy Communion and the moving of the Holy Spirit could be considered physical. Certainly, He loves to hear and shower us with words of affirmation. He definitely is a gift giver and wants us to be cheerful givers as well. He is always available to spend quality time us in worship, prayer and meditation. And He loves to serve us as much as He loves us to serve Him by serving others.

As you consider Valentine’s Day gifts or think on ways to bless your friends or family, consider also their ‘love language.’ What action, activity or gift would really make THEIR day? And consider, too, what action, activity or gift would really excite you? What makes you feel the most loved? Don’t keep it a secret! If you’d like a little help, you can try out the Love Language quiz: https://5lovelanguages.com/quizzes. You might be surprised at what is really most meaningful to you – I was.

Toujour l’amour,

Jen


Love Stands

Love Stands briteAnd now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. I admit that the colorful pun-filled cards and candy probably attracted me as a kid. But now as an adult I enjoy taking back what the card and candy companies meant for profit and using it to promote REAL love – God’s love – a powerful and mysterious force of good in a world so full of ‘not good.’ It is the foundation of everything, a universally healing balm that has the power to restore all of humanity.

When kids ask, “What is God made of?” the surprising answer is that God is Love. (1 John 4:8) And like God himself, His love is everywhere.  As John Paul Young famously sang in 1978, love is In the air. But like the thousands of radio, internet, and phone transmissions floating through the ether, you need to be receptive to it to truly feel it and grasp it.…and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself.” Ephesians 3:18-19

God’s love is eternal. Jeremiah 31:3 says, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”” Because God has no beginning or ending, neither does His love.

It is also powerful -- it can withstand anything. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10

And God’s love is universal. It is for every person in the entire world! How precious is your constant love, O God! All humanity takes refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 36:7 And of course, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Furthermore, God’s love is personal. Not only is it for everybody, it is for you personally. God loved you first, before you were even born, and the proof is the life of our savior Jesus Christ, who came to free us from the bondage of sin. “This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10 Once we put our faith in Jesus as the Lord of our lives, God’s love is poured into us. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5

As a result, we are a people called to love one another with the love of God. Dear friends, let us love each other, because love comes from God. Those who love are God’s children and they know God.” 1 John 4:7 And the love of God is a love that “…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

PRAYER: Lord of Love, help me every hour to love others with Your love. Teach me to love the unlovable, the enemies, the lost, the proud, those who exploit others, those who twist your Holy Word. Help me to show love to my family and those in my life every day who are easy to overlook or take for granted. And Lord, help me to love myself as Your child, and a temple for Your Holy Spirit. Let love be my calling card always. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Sending you love,

Jen


Love Each Other Warmly

Love Each Other Warmly22 You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.

23 For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. 24 As the Scriptures say,

“People are like grass;
    their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades.
25     But the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.

In the Pope’s Christmas Message this year, his theme was peace, and that Christmas is the birth of Peace. “Jesus Christ is also the way of peace. By his incarnation, passion, death and resurrection, he has opened the way that leads from a world closed in on itself and oppressed by the dark shadows of enmity and war, to a world that is open and free to live in fraternity and peace. Let us follow that road!” “To follow Jesus means doing away with the burdens that can weigh on us and become obstacles, the Pope went on to say, and they can include greed, pride, thirst for power, hypocrisy, problems of old as they are of today that "exclude us from the grace of Christmas" and "block the entrance to the path of peace." The Pope lamented that a result of this reality is that the "icy winds of war" still hurt humanity today.” (https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2022-12/pope-at-urbi-et-orbi-the-lord-s-birth-is-the-birth-of-peace.html)

It's a powerful message for a world so war-weary, from Ukraine to Yemen, Afghanistan to Algeria and so many points in between. Civil war, terrorist insurgency, drug wars, ethnic war and invasions continue to make headlines and break our hearts. (https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/countries-currently-at-war)

It’s tempting to think that we are helpless in the face of oppression and war and strife. After all, what can one little me do, way over here, to make any difference to those suffering way over there? Well, this has been the dilemma of the world from the beginning, hasn’t it? How can we possibly stir the hearts or change the behavior of others? The answer is simple. We can’t. Molding hearts is God’s territory. The Holy Spirit influences people to change their own behavior.

But we are not helpless, nor unnecessary. Prayer is an activating force that can send God’s power anywhere in the world, to any people or person. “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16b

In addition to prayer, we must love each other warmly and deeply with all of our hearts. A loving heart that puts others’ needs and best interests first has no room for “greed, pride, thirst for power, hypocrisy”, and other sinful desires that lead to conflict, strife and war.

Satan, that deceiver of old, would love to convince us that we must meet force with force and subjugate others to bend them to our will. He delights for us to think that we are helpless to change the world and combat injustice. He doesn’t want us to realize that by changing ourselves, by allowing Jesus to work in and through our lives, by learning to love boldly and humbly lay aside our own ambitions, by praying continually with all kinds of prayers and petitions we ARE changing the world. Each prayer and petition bring God’s Kingdom a little closer. Each act of kindness and love brings Jesus more clearly into view. Each healed spirit heals the world. “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” Romans 8:37  

It isn’t magic, but it is magical. Love heals and restores and renews and brings hope in places only prayer can reach. So, resolve to make love your calling-card wherever you go this year. Sprinkle it everywhere, put it on everything, send it in letters, send it in texts, send it in prayers! Our amount of time is small, but our impact doesn’t have to be.

With warm, loving prayers,

Jen


Tabula Rasa

Tabula rasa…a clean slate.

Isn’t it wonderful to have a clean slate? A fresh start, cleared accounts, a new beginning?

As an artist and crafter from a long line of artisans and crafters, I have found that sometimes, working on a project, it just goes awry. And once the damage is done, you can try to fix it, cover it up or compensate for the mistake, but in the end, especially when it’s the foundation of the endeavor, you just need to undo it or start over.

Life is not naturally given to Mulligans – do-overs. How often did I warn my kids that life is not like a video game where you get five chances to get it right, and even after that you can go back to a previously saved game. No, often the consequences of bad decisions are swift and permanent. You can lose your life, your money, your integrity, peoples’ trust and so much more in an instant. We must be wise and vigilant.

At some point in every life there comes a time when you long for a clean slate. The consequences of a few too many poor decisions have left you feeling broken, tired, despondent, and perhaps hopeless. We’ve all been there. Jesus was there too – no, not feeling hopeless or despondent – but sensing your feelings. Throughout the Gospel are stories of Jesus approaching the unapproachable, loving the unlovable, healing the un-healable, instilling hope in the hopeless, and seeing people just as they were, feeling their pain, acknowledging it, and delivering them from it.

He's still in that business today!

15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.

16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:15-21

Hallelujah!

Tabula rasa is the theory that individuals are born without built-in mental content, and therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception. (Wikipedia) Once we are born, we cannot get a new, worldly tabula rasa. There is no reboot button. We are stuck with the past and all its benefits or lacks, its joys, blessings and accomplishments, as well as its experiences, hurts and mistakes.

But through belief in Jesus, we can be spiritually born again. We can be made right with God, and all of our spiritual debts can be paid and wiped clean! Our sins no longer will count against us! The sin that blackened our spirit can be washed white as snow! Our accounts are literally cleared, and we are given a fresh start! And by daily prayer and confession we can start with a clean slate every morning. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” --1 John 1:9

“New year, new you,” they say. Personal growth and self-improvement are admirable, but we know how easily treadmills become clothes hangers, gym memberships go unused, self-help books collect dust and bad habits sneak back on us. This year, commit to the change that is immediate and permanent – commit your life to Jesus. Confess your belief in Him as your Lord and Savior, invite the Holy Spirit to live in you, and be amazed at how together, you can experience breakthroughs and crash through strongholds you never thought you would. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” -- Philippians 4:13.

Happy New Year,

Jen 🎉