Gifts

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 🎉


The Ghost of Christmas Shopping Past

69273951814__CB058933-BC2C-4CDA-A00E-4738789A396B 1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:1-5

“You can’t go home again.” Isn’t that what they say? I always took that to mean that ‘home’ is not just a physical place, but a point in time, with particular people, sights, smells, sounds and feelings. And from that perspective, ‘home’ IS hard to get back to. We sometimes catch a glimpse of it in a favorite old recipe, a song on the radio, or a particular smell in the air. I got an unexpected trip in the ‘way back machine’ the other day, and it shook me up a bit.

I haven’t been Christmas shopping for at least 3 or 4 years. Online shopping, grown kids and no ‘shopping buddies’ made it unnecessary. Then COVID… But, this year, with an actual list of things to hunt for, I headed out. I wasn’t even sure if the stores had gone out of business…so many of our favorites have.

At first it was wonderful. I forgot the joy of discovering something you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it. Steals of deals. The cart was filling up. Then on to checkout. The line was long with only one cashier and no self-checkout. I always try extra hard to look and be cheery when waiting in line, or at least not seem impatient. But I was feeling impatient -- and fatigued. The cashier called for a manager. The line started moving again. The frustrated, no-nonsense manager came to deal with a return. It did not go well. The man started raising his voice, complaining about being denied his return for lack of a receipt. The manager got louder saying it was because the item had been used, and smelled like cigarettes. “I only smoke weed!” the gentleman yelled.

Okay. Well, this is a part of the shopping experience I had forgotten…

The cashier called on the intercom once again. “Layaway!” A customer moved to the side and the line moved again. Another call, another layaway, as a worker arrived from the back with a huge bag of gifts from the first layaway.

Sigh. Another forgotten memory of shopping trips past.

Just then, my mind went back in time to a different location of the same chain store. It was in a moderate income part of town where layaway was as common as parallel parking in neighborhoods of attached houses. My kids were small and the budget was tight. Playing ‘hide and seek’ with my little one in the messy racks of clothing after a day of work was stretching my temper to its limit… Then, like Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past, my mind flew to an earlier time, working the Christmas Eve night shift at a home improvement store. We all wanted to be somewhere else, except for the drunk customer arguing with us over the price of machine screws… And away my mind flew to the time I had to return the new coat I had bought for my son because it was too small. I didn’t have my receipt with me, so they would only credit my debit card. There was so little in our bank account, I couldn’t afford to buy the right sized coat until the return cleared days later.

As I returned to that line, I felt such gratitude to live in the Hereford Zone with green, rolling hills out my window. I never hear a neighbor arguing, or put a lawn chair in a dug-out parking space in the snow. I don’t worry about which bill to put off until next month. I’m not pulled in a hundred directions between work, kids, schedules, chores and church. I am well and truly blessed. And don’t let me forget it! The other people in that line probably have it harder than I do. They may not have the option of on-line shopping. They’re stretching their dollars until they groan. They’re squeezing this shopping trip into their all too short lunchbreak. The economy is forcing them to punch a new hole in their already tight belt.

Whatever was or wasn’t under your tree this year, or whoever was or wasn’t at your feast, you are blessed. Even if your life is more like my past or the customers’ in that line – you are blessed. God has given us all so much to be grateful for. And if you know Christ as your Savior, you have eternity to anticipate, and works to do that were prepared just for you from the beginning! We have a Father in Heaven who is looking out for us, working things out for our good, satisfying us with good things. Great is His faithfulness. Forget not His benefits!

Blessings in the New Year,

Jen


Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel!

Merry Christmas World Long verse

Psalm 96

1 Sing to the Lord a new song;

    sing to the Lord, all the earth.

2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name;

    proclaim his salvation day after day.

3 Declare his glory among the nations,

    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Are you happy? How about merry? Joyous? Is it all good? Do you feel blessed? If not, why not?

Objectively speaking, there has never been a better time to be alive, especially in the US. Much has been made about making America great again, but let’s face it, even those ‘great’ decades were filled with segregation, inequality, war and poverty.

Right now, on our planet more people have access to drinkable water than ever before. And even though there is still poverty, there is much less hunger thanks to high yield seeds, improved growing techniques and help from aid organizations and other countries. Access to the internet by satellite has opened up a world of knowledge to remote and impoverished places. There are vaccines for most childhood diseases, and some, like smallpox and polio have been nearly eradicated. The average life span has increased everywhere due to more and better medicine and surgical techniques. And although there are low level conflicts all over the world, far fewer soldiers and civilians are dying in them compared with past World Wars.

Here in the US, there are laws and regulations protecting our environment, ensuring the safety of our food and drugs, restricting the sale of alcohol and cigarettes, maintaining order on the highways, compensating workers who are injured on the job, mandating car, home and health insurance, providing free education up to the 12th grade for all children, outlawing slavery and discrimination, and providing food, medical care and financial assistance to the poor, elderly and disabled. America has never been more racially integrated, and women and men have never been more equal. There has never been so much social justice. People in America have incredible freedom to live, work, say and believe whatever and however they want with very little restriction. They can freely criticize the government without fear of a jail cell or worse. Even with inflation, there is still food on the shelves and gas for the cars, and electricity to power our digital lives. We are truly blessed.

I hear some ‘buts.’ Put them away for a moment and truly consider our era. Hold it up to the world of the Ancient Israelites, or the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the days of Exploration and Empire, the Industrial Revolution or Westward expansion. Consider how very far we have come in caring for our world and for each other.  There is much to celebrate and be thankful for!

I urge us to remember and appreciate our many blessings, but I know how quickly that happiness can vanish in the face of a bad report from the doctor, an unkind word, anxiety over finances, concern for wayward children and myriad other things this world brings us. As Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

In the world we will have trouble. In Jesus we have peace.

And that peace has overcome the troubles of the world.

God’s plan for the redemption of all of mankind – not just Jews, not just men, not just the rich or the educated, but ALL of mankind, for ALL of history – was accomplished by that infant born in a smelly cave, lying in a humble feed box on Christmas day. God, Himself, left the glory of Heaven to dwell with us in this world full of troubles in order to give us eternal peace.

So, “God keep you Merry, Gentlepeople! Let nothing you dismay. Remember that Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day to save us ALL from Satan’s power when we had gone astray. Oh, what news of Comfort and Joy!” (anonymous, dating from the 1650s) This is the miracle and the message we declare among the nations! This is the glory and the wonder we ring out with a thousand church bells! This is what makes Christmas so very merry, joyous, good, happy and blessed!

Joyeux Noël Tout le Monde,

Jen

 


Sweet Fellowship

Sweet Fellowship

16 For he never thought of doing a kindness,
    but hounded to death the poor
    and the needy and the brokenhearted.
17 He loved to pronounce a curse—
    may it come back on him.
He found no pleasure in blessing—
    may it be far from him.
18 He wore cursing as his garment;
    it entered into his body like water,
    into his bones like oil.
19 May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
    like a belt tied forever around him.

-- Psalm 109:16-19

I was watching “The Grinch” movie the other day. It’s a recent re-make of the Dr. Suess classic. This version delves into the Grinch’s ‘backstory’ – the reason WHY he’s so grinchy with a heart two sizes too small.

It’s easy to turn into a grinch at Christmas, perhaps even mutter a Bah Humbug or two. It’s so easy to get over-committed, to be disgusted by the commercialism, to get hung up on gift lists and the quest to fulfill them, to be tormented by comparisons to flawless homemakers and their Instagram feasts and Pinterest--worthy decorations, not to mention the cost in time and money.

But scratch the surface and the Humbug may be covering something much deeper: something that puts ‘garlic in your soul.’ I’m talking about loss, disappointment and loneliness. Grief and grievances that have never been fully dealt with that become magnified in a season where joy is expected.

When I was 13, we had one of the best Christmases ever. As a teen, the Christmas magic had begun to fade. But THAT Christmas my ‘Funcle’ and zany British Aunt came down from Detroit for a visit. They didn’t visit often, but when they did, they showered me with attention and gifts and amazing stories of their travels. It was loud, chaotic, and unpredictable and I loved it. The day after they left, my grandmother suffered a massive coronary embolism. By December 30th she was gone. And that was the end of Christmas – forever. The cloud of yuletide depression was a shadow that would not budge.

For Mr. Grinch and Scrooge, Christmas was also overshadowed by sadness and disappointment. Both had been left alone as children without family celebration. But grief, rejection and loneliness happen to us all. It’s the rehearsing of offenses, and the nursing of wounds that turn disappointment into bitterness. We cannot choose our circumstances, but we CAN choose how to process them and put them into perspective. Mr. Grinch chose to believe that he was unworthy of love and became a hermit on the top of Mt. Crumpet. Ebeneezer Scrooge chose to protect his heart from hurt by locking it away and turning relationships into financial transactions. My Dad chose to blame the short staff at the hospital for his mother’s death, rather than face the reality of mortality.

But Father God knew it would be this way. And that’s why, along with salvation, He promises us deliverance. A few verses after those above is Psalm 109:21-22:

21 But you, Sovereign Lord, help me for your name’s sake;
    out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.
22 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.

Deliverance allows us to put our sinful nature behind us, to break the chains of negative behaviors and thought patterns that steal our joy and keep us from enjoying all that God has for us in this life. When we struggle with unhealed pain and the negative thoughts and actions it can lead to, we can gain encouragement from fellow Christians. A fellowship of committed believers can hear our struggles and encourage us to follow God’s way and not our own. We can hold each other accountable, confessing our sins to one another and asking for help when we need it. Often those close to us can see things about us we cannot. Listening to their feedback in humility can allow growth in places we’d rather hide away.

Right now, do a little soul-searching. Examine the garden of your heart, life and relationships to see if there are any roots of bitterness growing there. Are there wounds from the past that need healing? Is there loss that needs grieving? Is there an offense that needs forgiving? If so, is there someone in the fellowship of believers you can talk to about it? Your Small Group, regular Bible Study buddies, people you chat with at church, or the Pastor could be the sympathetic ear you need. Talking about it can be a first step toward healing. Remember that it is YOUR choice to hold those hurts close or let them go to free your soul. The next step is to fellowship with God by reading His Word. Search your Bible for verses on the topic you struggle with. A Google search of “what the Bible says about ____ (bitterness, anger, grief, betrayal, etc.)” will give you some good verses to start with. As you read those passages, you will see that you are not alone, and that God cares about your struggles. He cares so very much He sent Jesus on Christmas Day to bind your broken heart and give you the deliverance to free your soul!

Wishing you sweet holiday fellowship,

Jen

 


You'd Better Watch Out

You'd Better Be Good no crop enhBut Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

~Luke 18:16

Sitting near the front of the church in a high-backed pew, she wondered how far the vaulted ceilings were carrying the whispers, giggles, and scribbling noises her children were making. Her friend’s children in the pew directly in front of them were fully turned around and reaching over the back to have a thumb war with her son. Her daughter was slowly ripping pages from her little notebook. Her son was swinging his legs and crashing them into the wooden pew with gusto. She shushed them – again. She felt eyes looking their way. There was no nursery or Sunday School, and she wondered if she should just take them into the Narthex, or down to the Fellowship room, or outside…or just home.

But she desperately needed a refreshing of her faith. It had been a difficult week. At age four, her daughter was stubbornly refusing to be fully potty trained.  All the parenting books were clear that a child should not be forced, but what was left to try? She had had to leave her new job early that Friday to meet with the principal of her son’s school – again – because he was being disruptive and non-compliant. All the testing they had done proved he was gifted, but no one knew how to control his behavior. He didn’t seem to mind being scolded constantly as long as his classmates were entertained. His medication had been adjusted at least five times now, but was the school nurse making sure he was really taking it, or did he just spit it out later?

Her new boss was clearly not happy to make accommodations for family issues. She had made it very clear at the interview that it would be her handling those as they came up because her husband worked shift work as a first responder and couldn’t even be reached most of the time. She also explained that the daycare closed at 6pm and every 10 minutes after that would cost her an additional $20. She had had to pay it every day that week, except for the Friday she got scolded by school administrators.

The sermon that Sunday was on Godly love. She yearned for the kids to be quiet just long enough for her to hear it. She was relieved when her daughter stopped ripping paper and slid off the pew to lay on the floor. Her son amused himself by making rude drawings in the notebook, but at least he was quieter.

She was a new Christian. She had no Godly examples her life. She loved Jesus but had no idea what Christian life or relationships were supposed to be like. Her life was chaotic and broken. That’s what had brought her to the cross in the first place. Her husband worked a lot – crazy hours and no shortage of overtime. He barely saw the kids. The bills were mounting up, daycare was expensive, jobs were stressful, the house needed work, chores needed doing, time and energy were in short supply, tempers were quick. At the end of a shift, or even a week, there wasn’t much left to invest in relationship. They might have gotten a divorce if they could have fit it in the schedule. Her friend in the pew in front of her was in the same leaky boat. The upcoming holiday season promised only more pressure and chaos.

Just then, a smiling older woman approached them quietly, taking the children by the hand and beckoning them to follow her downstairs where the promise of coloring books and Legos ensured compliance. The kids had a fun, slightly noisy time building towers and learning about the Tower of Babel. Their favorite part was when it came crashing down.

Upstairs, she and her friend heard 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 for the first time, along with a discussion of its practical applications in family life. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” What an incredibly different version of love than they had seen in their parents’ marriages! With the help of the Holy Spirit, maybe they would be able to put this kind of love into practice in their own relationships.

PRAYER: Lord, let me be about Your business. Help me to really see those in the seats around me. Help me to recognize their struggles and ease their burdens in any ways I can. Give me the courage to get involved, even if it’s only for an hour or two on Sunday.

Blessings,

Jen


The First Noel

First noelI tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6:2b

School had been back in session only a few weeks when the auditions were announced. A month later the cast was set. By Halloween lines were learned and choreography had begun. Seamstresses sewed angel gowns. Set designers painted backdrops and made mangers. By Thanksgiving the blocking was nearly complete, dress rehearsal had begun, programs were designed, signs went up all over the neighborhood. In the next few weeks lighting cues and sound checks were worked out, hair and makeup finalized, props collected and stored. 

Finally, the big moment came, the curtain went up, and the greatest story ever told was told once more, presented in an enticing way, delighting all the senses of an audience who didn’t even realize how much they were longing for its message.

         *   *   *   *

For many years I chased the peace and calm of Christmas hinted at in ‘Silent Night’ and  ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’. I had visions of cocoa, a warm fire and jigsaw puzzles dancing in my head. But those times never came until December 26th or later. I was beginning to feel that if I couldn’t quietly contemplate the advent of God with us, I was succumbing to the world’s distorted version of Christmas. I thought I was missing the point.

Friends, hear this! Christmas is not about anything peaceful or calm. An unmarried virgin giving birth in a stable in a strange town is not peaceful. The heavens cracking wide open over shepherds and sheep with thousands of God’s messengers singing to announce that birth is not calm! Stinky, sleepy shepherds running into town to that stable is not calm, and those same shepherds running through town yelling about the Messiah is not peaceful. A royal entourage arriving with fabulously expensive gifts is not calm. And soldiers flooding the town to exterminate male children is anything BUT peaceful.

This is a story to get excited over! A story filled with dreams, visions, the Holy Spirit, miracle pregnancies, difficult treks, lost voices, quizzical visitors, narrow escapes, and radiant angels with messages from God, Himself! And most amazing of all these amazing happenings…God came to dwell WITH US! God! The God who made galaxies. The God who parted the Red Sea, parted the Jordan River, brought down the thick walls of Jericho with just rams’ horns. God who wrote commandments for us with His own hand, who protected His people from famine, lions and flame, and turned kings into beasts. THAT God chose to come to earth to dwell with US!

And why? Because we were so awesome? No. In fact, we never fully obeyed, submitted or surrendered to Him. He came out of love. Despite our sad, sinful, rebellious state; like a compassionate parent, He saw us as worthy of love…worthy of redemption. He decided to do whatever it took to bring us into a restored, loving, fulfilling relationship with Him. And what it took was Jesus being born as the Messiah, God with us – a moment in time so profound, we renumbered our calendars for it!

This is not a message to be quietly contemplated over cocoa. This is not a message to be wrapped in tinsel and sprinkled with sugar and boiled down to “Peace on Earth.” No! This is a message to be shouted from the rooftops! This is a message to ring bells for, sing songs for! In a world rotting with sin and spiritual death, this is a message of hope! A promise of life – fulfilling now and eternal later! To all those held captive by the need to succeed, there is Jesus! To all those enslaved by a quest for control, there is Jesus! To all those convinced the only way to live is by stealing, killing and destroying, there is Jesus! To all those in despair, nursing wounds, rehearsing hurts that won’t seem to heal, stuck in patterns that lead slowly to destruction, there is Jesus!

The rush and crush of the holiday season is upon us. We, the Church can NOT be calm and peaceful. We’ve a message to bring to the nations, and we can’t be silent! This is the one time each year the unchurched may walk through our doors. In the plays, nativities, teas and bazaars, in the children’s choirs, cantatas, bells and recitals, in the decorations and devotions, we MUST be about our Father’s business – leading the lost sheep home to safe pasture. This is the time to open our doors, open our eyes and open our hearts to those who need our message and bring it to them. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. There’s so much to do. So many to invite. We can rest in January.

Holy Day Blessings,

Jen


Love Warmly

Love Warmly darkerAbove all, love each other warmly, because love covers many sins. Welcome each other as guests without complaining. Each of you as a good manager must use the gift that God has given you to serve others. Whoever speaks must speak God’s words. Whoever serves must serve with the strength God supplies so that in every way God receives glory through Jesus Christ. Glory and power belong to Jesus Christ forever and ever! Amen.

-1 Peter 4:8-11 GOD’S WORD Translation

A funny thing happens when you dare to teach or write about God’s Word – often when you think you’re teaching others, God flips it, and you find yourself getting schooled. I would say that was the theme for the Jahromi household last weekend.

As we sat sipping hot tea, bundled up from head to toe in hats, scarves, sweaters and fuzzy socks under fuzzier blankets held down by cold kitties we wondered what on earth could have happened to cut power to our furnace. As the temperature grew colder, our hopes sunk lower, as our HVAC guy confirmed that the furnace, heat pump and breaker box were all functioning. The problem was with the power lines. Somehow only a small bit of power was coming through, not enough for the furnace, the well pump, the hot water heater or the oven to work. After hours of waiting for a BGE crew that never came, we threw an extra blanket on the bed and went to sleep.

The morning brought temperatures below freezing. We bundled up even more and had coffee. As I sat there, finding it hard not to shiver, I realized I had not been thinking about the lack of heat, nor the unflushed toilets or microwaved meals. Instead, I was very thankful to have a small amount of power, hot coffee, a fireplace, a case of bottled water and food to eat. I was confident that it would all work out somehow.

But I became very aware that for some people, perhaps even in the Hereford Zone, perhaps some of our Food Bank clients, this was their everyday life. As Food Bank director, I had just paid to put fuel oil in two families’ homes. Another client had just received a BGE Turn Off notice. A single mother and her child were referred to us by the school counselor because they were facing eviction. If it weren’t for our Food Bank, many families would have to choose between buying groceries or paying the bills. I’ve never had to make that choice. Not really.

There were times we had to subsist on spaghetti and hot dogs until the next paycheck came. I can remember searching the sofa cushions for change for the bus or being a few dollars short in the checkout line and having to put something back with the kids looking on. Times of deprivation can make us more empathetic and compassionate towards others experiencing hardship. They are certainly ways to increase our gratitude for the blessings in our lives. Perhaps they can be a call to be more generous with the time and money we have now.

We had to come to church un-showered, but not unwashed. It was humbling. But more humbling were the offers of spare rooms, electricians’ phone numbers, loaned generators and prayers. At home, just as we had given up on BGE for the weekend, a bucket truck backed into the driveway. Turns out our electrical meter was rusted and broken. A few hours later a crew arrived and had it all installed, fixed and up and running before the final touchdown of the Raven’s game. God is good, all the time. The warmth of those kind offers and prayers is still keeping me cozy.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, even when things look bleak and times are hard, help me to focus on the many blessings in my life. Even when times are good and blessings are numerous, help me to humbly remember to bless and serve others with the gifts I have received. Help me to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Your will for me in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Raising Grateful Praise,

Jen


Over The River and Through the Wood

Over the RiverGive thanks to the Lord, because he is good;
his love is eternal. Say to him, “Save us, O God our Savior; gather us together; rescue us from the nations, so that we may be thankful and praise your holy name.”

1 Chronicles 16:34-35 (Good News Translation)

I have very fond memories of Thanksgiving. Many of the other holidays have had various disappointments, but for me Thanksgiving is reliably good and satisfying. Perhaps that’s because it was such a time for family, that over the decades, relatives made an extra effort to come over the river, through the wood, or across the country to gather together then. As a child, and now as an adult, the place to gather is still grandma’s house.

In the various homes over the years, the smiling faces, the delectable kitchen smells, the women huddled in the kitchen and the men huddled out in the yard or around the tv for the game, kids scattered on the carpet playing…these are the cherished memories that have gradually faded into a blur of contentment over time. There was always something to help with, someone to chat with, a joke to tell, a story to share – and pie!

Although my family is not predominately Christian, Thanksgiving has always been a time to focus on the blessings in all our lives. And there are so many. It is also a time when the family is okay to start the meal with a prayer which is also a blessing. It’s the time of year when the past, present and future meet together as I gaze over the faces seated around the room, noting the absence of some and the addition of others, all sharing in an abundance of love and provision. At least for the day.

I realize that not everyone shares these kinds of memories. And honestly, any time family gathers there are some wounds and hurts lurking in the corner, threatening to steal the joy. I realize that it is not a time of abundance for everyone. It is not a time of family drawing near for everyone. My own family has had various feuds that left some uninvited. Memories can bring pain as well as joy. But I do strongly encourage everyone to focus on the many things to be thankful for, set aside differences, and find the joy in gathering together. Perhaps you need to find a tribe of like-minded believers to celebrate with. God intended our church family to BE a family, after all.

The pastor recently said that family should be a little taste of Heaven. For me it really is – at least on Thanksgiving. I can imagine arriving at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb to find cornucopias of fruits and veggies decorating the tables, and the smell of roasting turkey and stuffing and other delights filling the air, with men huddling on one side telling jokes and women huddled on the other sharing all the family news and updates. Lots of hugs and happy tears of reunion. The final cup of wine, The Cup of Praise or Consummation – based on God’s statement, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God,” – will be set before us. Jesus will ring the dinner bell and begin the feast. We will all be filled to the fullest with every good thing – – and pie!

PRAYER: Dearest Lord, whether in a crowd of many or few, help me show gratitude for all of the ways You have blessed me this year. Help me bring a little bit of your heavenly peace to my celebration, my friends and family, and my life. Thank you, Amen!

Grateful Blessings,

Jen


Foreigners in Your Land

Let Us Be Thankfull“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:33-34, NLT

There is a lot of concern over the immigration crisis in America these days. However you may feel about illegal immigration, I think we can all agree it’s a human tragedy. Migration is never easy – it entails leaving your home, country, language, culture and family behind to face an uncertain future.

In Sunday School we’re learning about the Israelites and their trek through the desert. As former slaves they had few skills to help them survive, much less to form a new nation. God provided their daily bread and gave them a new set of commandments to set them apart as a holy people following the One Lord. They were not well received by the other people groups already inhabiting that Wilderness – the Amalekites and Canaanites. Without God’s mighty outstretched arm of protection, it’s safe to say they would never have made it to the Promised Land.

As Thanksgiving approaches, consider another set of immigrants. These people were fleeing religious persecution. Called “Separatists,” they wished to start new, separate, ‘pure’ church congregations that more closely resembled those of the early Christians. In England in the 1600s, it was illegal to be part of any church other than the Church of England. They were harassed, fined and sent to jail. They sailed across an ocean landing north of their intended destination in the Virginia Colony. Again, without God’s Providence, these religious pilgrims would never have made it to the New World, nor lasted past the first, difficult years of hardship. (for more, see https://plimoth.org/for-students/homework-help/who-were-the-pilgrims)

And as my family prepares to gather around the table for Thanksgiving, I know basmati rice will be on the menu because many family members immigrated to the U.S. from Iran. Some came on education visas, some came as refugees, most fled for their lives with little preparation and even fewer belongings. Their stories of escape are filled with Divine intervention and the hand of Providence. They became doctors, nurses, professors, teachers, chemists, foreign service officers, soldiers, law enforcement professionals and CEOs of tech companies – even ran for Congress. All are proud Americans. All are thankful to be in a country that allows them to freely speak, gather and worship. It wasn’t easy. When they arrived, they didn’t speak the language. They didn’t know how the system worked. They had little money. Despite their college degrees, they babysat, flipped burgers and changed bedpans until they could get established in America.

Their story is not unique. It’s the story of many of today’s immigrants. It’s the story of your parents or grandparents. Human migration is the story of humanity. Even our Native Americans came across a land bridge from Asia some unknown millennia ago. With every war, climatic disaster or economic upheaval our news programs are filled with images of people packing up as much as they can carry and heading off into an unknown land with an unknown future.

As part of God’s chosen family, we too are foreigners in a foreign land. We live as people of spirit in a world of fleshly desires and temptations. “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Like the Israelites and the Pilgrims, we live by the blessing of God’s love and provision and guidance. Our citizenship is in Heaven. Here on earth, we are Jesus’ ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). As ambassadors, we can make love and hospitality our calling card. We have been blessed in order to bless others – with our talents and gifts, our charity, our loving attitudes, and the good works prepared for us to do from the beginning. What a wonderful thing to be thankful for!

PRAYER: Lord, help me to see past all that seeks to divide us and see each person I encounter with Your eyes, as a brother or sister. Keep me mindful that I am just a foreigner here. Help me to be Your ambassador, bringing a taste of my Heavenly home down to earth.

Blessings,

Jen