Gifts

The Nails, The Thorns and The Lamb

Lamb Crown of ThornsThis is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

-- 1 John 3:16

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

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

NAILS

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

THORNS

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

LAMB

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

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

-- Revelation 22:3-4

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

Wishing you a Blessed Resurrection Day,

Jen


RECONCILED, REDEEMED, RENEWED

 

Reconciled Redeemed RenewedWe all know the story of the cross and what Jesus accomplished there…but do we really? I find that every year I must ponder anew the profound work that was done on our behalf. I can usually focus on one aspect of the glory of the cross, but it’s much harder to comprehend just how much we needed it and all it accomplished for us – and of course, how much it cost God and Jesus to provide us with such an incomparable gift of love.

RECONCILED

Through the cross, we are reconciled to God. Sin is serious. Really serious. We tend to minimize sin because it is so intrinsic to our nature. But Heaven is a thoroughly holy place and not bit of sin can be there. So our sin has corrupted us, and made us unable to be with our loving God in a sinless Heaven. I like to think of this like the fact that there is no air on the moon. It’s just a fact, and there is no way to get to the moon without a spacesuit covering you. Jesus is our ‘spacesuit.’ His precious, sinless blood covers us and provides a way for us to come into the presence of God. But sin didn’t merely prevent us for entering Heaven. Our sin is also a conscious choice to disobey God. Our sin breaks our relationship with God. Through the cross God made a way for us to be forgiven, so that we can receive all the blessings and love that He wants to pour out over us.

Colossians 1:22  Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

REDEEMED

Through the cross we are redeemed from slavery to sin and the condemnation of the law. Sin broke our relationship with God. But it also broke us and our ability to relate to others. When God freed the Israelites from Egypt, they had been enslaved for so many centuries, that they did not know how to live on their own. They needed a lot of rules for living as their own nation, set apart and dedicated to God. On the mountaintop, God provided them: the 10 Commandments, plus some 650 more. The goal was to create godly people, but instead, their inability to keep those laws only showed them how sinful they truly were. Soon they became enslaved by the law, making even more rules so that they could keep the first ones and still failing, still mistreating one another. At the cross, God redeemed us from our slavery to sin and to the law. With Jesus’ sinless blood he bought us back, paid our outstanding sin-debt and made us free.  We do not have to remain in our sins for life, or until the next scapegoat, we do not have to feel guilt and shame and condemnation. No, through confession and the Holy Spirit, we can go boldly before the throne of God, our loving Daddy, ask for forgiveness, and it will be granted.

Galatians 4:4-6 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

RENEWED

Through the cross we are continuously renewed to become more Christ-like. We are broken people. Our original designer and creator made us to be perfect and live forever. We allowed sin in, and it corrupted our code like a malicious computer virus. It touches every aspect of our lives. But Jesus’ blood on the cross, spilled for us, provided a way of healing and restoration. The Holy Spirit now lives in us, and like hundreds of ‘nanobots,’ He searches out ‘corrupted code’ and restores it to the original, perfect design. This, however, is a life-long process. Our brokenness is extreme, and sin still corrupts us. But as we confess, ask for forgiveness, forgive others, pray and build our relationship with God, we gradually become more like Christ, the only existing perfect model. As we are daily renewed and transformed into holy people, we develop tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We learn to make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends us. Above all, we become love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And we let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts, because as members of one body we are called to live in peace. And we learn to always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)

Colossians 3:10-11 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

 

A gift of this magnitude cannot be earned. It cannot be bought. It can only be accepted freely, with humility, because we know the cost was extreme. But God’s love for us is more extreme.

Hosanna, Hosanna!

Jen


Who Needs Luck?

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

~ 1 Peter 3:15-16

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

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

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

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

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

So, who needs luck? Just give me Jesus!

Top ‘o the Mornin’ to ye,

Jenny 

May there always be work for your hands to do.

May your purse always hold a coin or two,

May the sun always shine on your windowpane.

May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain,

May the hand of a friend always be near you,

May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

 


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 Love Letter from God

Love Letter from Christ - FrontLove never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. Love never comes to an end.... So these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the best one of these is love.

– 1 Corinthians 13:7-8,13

Valentine’s Day…some loathe it, some love it. I’m in the latter category. Despite the claims that it is a ploy created by card companies to sell more cards, I’m still all for a day that begs you to tell those you love how you feel. Besides, selling cards is also MY business! But honestly, I chose cards because I really, truly believe there are not enough kind words and encouragement out there. We all would love to have one more chance to send a dearly departed loved one a goofy, sappy valentine card with some groaner of a pun, i.e.: I love you a latte! ☕

My hubby and I are not the most romantic people. We appreciate the little things and honestly, most Valentine’s Days pass without a romantic night out, flowers or gifts and definitely without boxes of chocolate! But we do take the opportunity to fill a card, or perhaps just a note paper, with the mushiest, most sentimental expressions of affection and gratitude. We like to pretend it’s a contest to see who can make the other cry (I ALWAYS lose), but actually, it’s a much-needed anchor in a stormy world full of vicissitudes. I still have all those cards in a drawer. Every now and then I read over them, remembering the tough years and the good years, and you could never tell which was which from those cards because they all affirm the love and the value of the relationship despite the current circumstances.

While my hubby was away for National Guard training, we wrote many letters to each other. Because of our separation, the letters were filled not just with love and encouragement, but also with promises and hopes and plans for the future. We both remember the excitement we felt when we read those letters.

God, himself, decided his precious creation – us – needed the same sort of kind words, promises and encouragement. So, he wrote us a love letter. A love letter 66 books long: The Holy Bible!  The Bible is truly a love letter from God. In it, he writes about the value of having a relationship with us, his hurt and disappointment when we rejected his love, and his joy at being loved by us. He also enumerates promise after promise concerning giving us all the best things this life has to offer, things like joy, hope, faithfulness, salvation, protection, and eternal spiritual life. And because we are currently deployed far from home, separated from him, he tells us how much he longs to be together with us, and how he has wonderful plans for our lives and a place prepared for us so that we can be with him forever.

In the good times and the tough times, his promises stand. His love and faithfulness remain as a beacon of hope and strength while we’re apart. And like my Valentine’s Day cards, his words are a sure and steady anchor in a world full of uncertainty, chaos, distractions and temptations.

With love,

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


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


Peace on Earth

Zazzle - Glory & Hope Zaz - Front“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.  ~John 14:27

Peace. Isn’t that what we all want? So much so that it’s become a trope answer at beauty pageants. So much so that we’ve invented symbols for it: ✌🕊☮. So much so that people are moved to make signs and go stand on street corners and in front of government buildings to demand it.

And yet… The history of the world is war, as my hubby often says. And despite the empires, kingdoms and warring tribes of antiquity, the 20th century was by all accounts the bloodiest, war-fill century of all time.

As an international history major in college, I pondered this A LOT. I was also studying political science and there were a lot of philosophers and politicians espousing ideas of various kinds of utopias if only we could educate the populace and give up outdated ideas of culture and religion. The cognitive dissonance was deafening.

cog·ni·tive dis·so·nance

/ˈkäɡnədiv ˈdisənəns/

noun

PSYCHOLOGY

the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

We are now living in a time when more people on the planet can read than at any other time in history. Even ordinary people in impoverished countries have some access to the internet and its limitless information on history, psychology, philosophy and politics. My point is that if the spread of worldly knowledge and the destruction of religion and culturally accepted morality were going to lead to Utopia, then we should be experiencing that now. Peace should be reigning as we all acknowledge and accept that there is plenty of room, food, water, medicine, money, mates, resources and everything else for everyone on the planet if we only freely share and distribute it properly and compassionately. Are you chuckling yet? Scoffing? Feeling depressed? Me too.

I think this was all part of God’s plan to lead me to Him. Perhaps it’s His method for leading a lot of people to Him. The peace the world gives is temporary treaties and negotiated deals that are all too easily broken when it suits a leader, a country, a movement. It's unsatisfactory and unsatisfying. The peace the world gives ends a war, but it doesn’t mend hearts, fix brokenness or soothe a soul. That kind of peace is only found in Jesus.

When Jesus arrived, He came into a war-filled world. The heroic Maccabees had retaken Israel from the Greeks a few hundred years earlier (that’s what Hanukkah is all about) The Jewish faith had broken into four different sects which vied for power leaving them vulnerable. The Romans conquered the Greeks and then rolled into Israel. A non-Jewish king, Herod, claimed an illegitimate throne by ingratiating himself to the Romans. Up in Galilee where Jesus’ family was from, insurgent terrorists – the Zealots – were harassing the Roman invaders in the name of God. The expectation was that Messiah would arrive and finally bring peace to His people, if not the world.

Mankind today still expects this. Luke 2:14 has been misunderstood for centuries. The King James version reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” which sounds like a promise to the world that God has decreed world peace and good will amongst mankind. When I was a kid that’s definitely what I took it to mean. And there was the cognitive dissonance again. 2,000 years ago, God declared peace on earth, but where was it? Certainly not in Vietnam, certainly not in the Middle East, certainly not between the USSR and USA. It made me skeptical of God’s word.

Later, I read it in the New International Version: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Hmmm. Much more specific. Not world peace, but peace to individuals. This is not the peace the world promises with treaties and laws and military build-ups. This is the inner peace of knowing that no matter how crazy and tragic the story gets, there WILL be a happy ending. No need to panic, the war has been won, the battles have been decided, the Good Guy wins and rules in perfect justice and love forever. That really is GOOD NEWS!

If our focus this Advent season is on tragedy, on the news, on world affairs, on social media, on frustrated friends’ and family’s rants, even on our own personal tragedies, then we will have no peace. Fear will invade bringing along anxiety, sadness, depression and anger. But if we can force ourselves to focus on Jesus, the emblem of God’s promise of the happiest of endings, we can live in peace. Our bubble of joy and hope, love and peace will repel the anger of the world, it will protect us from toxic attitudes and behaviors. It will not save us from hardship or persecution, but it will determine how we move forward in spite of them.

“So don’t be troubled or afraid.” Our happy ending is assured. As certain as that Hallmark Movie kiss at 1h59m, Jesus has overcome the world – He’s on His way back, and He’s coming for you!

Advent Blessings,

Jen