Gifts

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


You'd Better Be Good

You'd Better Be GoodThis is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. ~1 John 3:10

It’s funny, the many different ways Christmas has been secularized. In most cases a symbol of something profound and holy has replaced the original thing and the sacred meaning has been lost or minimized.

Advent is definitely one of those things. In ancient times Advent was much more important to the church than Christmas day itself. Like Lent, it was a time of waiting, preparation and self-denial culminating in the receipt of the greatest gift ever given: God’s own Son for mankind’s redemption. And not just the first time 2,021 years ago, but also the long awaited Second Coming when we will receive not just the promise of heaven, but heaven itself will come to earth.

This profound mystery of God’s redemptive plan of salvation for the family of man has been minimized by our culture and reduced to a picture of children waiting for the arrival of a jolly man bearing physical gifts in the form of toys, candy and fruit. You can hear the echoes of Advent in the words of the Christmas classic ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list,
He's checking it twice,
He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
And he knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake

Watch out, He’s coming! Well, that’s the central theme of Advent, isn’t it? ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord.’ Christ has come and Christ is coming. So, knowing that He is coming and that His coming is closer today than yesterday, how should we live? Well, we better not cry or pout!

You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! ~James 5:8-9

He’s got a list and He’s checking it! Have you been naughty or nice?

“Yet there are some in the church… who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. ~ Revelation 3:4-5

He knows ALL about you. He sees you at all times and knows the thoughts of your heart:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
 You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.

~Psalm 139:1-3

So be good, for ‘Goodness’ sake.’ Well, God is Good, and God is Love and God is Jesus. But to say we should be good for ‘Goodness’ Sake’ to me minimizes the profound heart of the matter, the fundamental point of the Gospel message:

 This 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. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. ~1 John 3:16-18

God loved us so very, very much that while we were still sinning, and still far from a relationship with Him, He sent His one and only Son to give everything He had – his very life – to rescue us from Hell and from current and eternal separation from the love of God. This love is profound, so holy, that our response should be unspeakable gratitude and love so strong that we willingly lay aside our will, our possessions, our very lives in service to Jesus as his hands and feet to bless others.

Somehow the message of GIVING our resources, our time and our talents in service to others at Christmastide and throughout the year as an acknowledgement of the debt paid on our behalf which we could never have paid ourselves, has been replaced with RECEIVING gifts which are owed because of our good behavior. The sinless Savior who was ‘God with us’ and who gave his own life as the greatest gift to all mankind has been replaced with a ‘right jolly old elf’ in a red suit who gives gifts only to those who are worthy.

I’m not a Scrooge who says “Bah, Humbug” to decorated trees, flying reindeer, elves on shelves or even Santa. But I DO believe in keeping CHRIST in Christmas. The Grinch didn’t have to bother stealing Christmas, it seems that Madison Avenue, Hollywood and modern culture has done that for him. But “what if Christmas…doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!” If we who know the Truth of Christmas share it as freely as we pass the cookie platter, maybe a few hearts will grow three sizes…not from sugary sentimentality, but because they are now filled with the Holy Spirit of a loving God Almighty.

Merry CHRISTmas,

Jen


Thankful, Grateful, Blessed

Thankful, grateful and blessed.  I do my best to be and act like all three. What’s the difference? Probably really not much at all. Some have suggested that being grateful is about appreciating what one has, as opposed to what one wants. Being thankful or thanking someone often implies you are acknowledging your thanks for something that someone has given you. Blessed acknowledges the Divine favor you have received from Almighty God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

So, at this busy time of the year I offer a short meditation on these with some of my favorite Bible verses. As we face traffic, travel, difficult family members or loneliness and grief, cling to these three foundational principles of true joy and contentment.

thankful

adjective

feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative.

 

Ephesians 5:19-21

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

 

Colossians 2:6-7

Spiritual Fullness in Christ

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

 

Hebrews 12:28

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,

 

grateful

adjective

warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful:

 

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs. 

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

 

Psalm 147:7

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
    his understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble
    but casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
    make music to our God on the harp.

 

blessed

adjective

divinely or supremely favored; fortunate

blissfully happy or contented.

bringing happiness and thankfulness:

 

Matthew 5:3-11

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

 

Psalm 118:26-27

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.

 

Ephesians 1:3

Praise for Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

 

There is always something to feel thankful, grateful or blessed about! I am thankful for all the encouraging comments I get on these devotionals. I am grateful to be a part of a kind, loving, faithful church community. And I am blessed to be able to serve. I know God has his hand of favor over us all!

Blessings to you and your families at Thanksgiving,

Jen

 


Let Us Be Thankful

Let Us Be ThankfullDon’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! ~Hebrews 13:2

As Thanksgiving approaches, I think it's appropriate to consider our many blessings. We truly live in one of the richest countries in the world, and although we still have many who are food insecure and living paycheck to paycheck or are dependent on social services, even our poorest are better off and more cared for than most people in the world today.

Most Americans are in the top 10% of worldwide wealth.  According to CNBC, “To be among the top 10 percent worldwide, you don’t even need six figures: A net worth of $93,170 will do it.

And even if you have just $4,210 to your name, you’re still richer than half of the world’s residents.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/01/how-much-money-you-need-to-be-part-of-the-1-percent-worldwide.html)

Here is what world poverty looks like, in numbers:

  • Over 1 billion people live on $2.50 per day or less, including 280 million people in extreme poverty who live on less than $1.25 per day.
  • More than 75 percent of the world’s poor populations live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
  • In developing countries, the poor spend 60-80 percent of their income on food. Americans spend less than 10 percent.
  • Over 800 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat and more than 3 million children die from malnutrition each year.
  • Nearly 1 billion people live without electricity.
  • 40 million children worldwide live without adequate shelter.
  • More than 750 million people lack adequate access to clean water.
  • 270 million children have no access to health services.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read or write.
  • 1.7 billion people do not have a bank account or access to basic financial services.

(https://finca.org/campaign/world-poverty/)

The most basic needs that we take for granted: security, literacy, electricity, clean water, availability of medicine and health services, access to banking, and adequate food, are major issues for most of the world’s people.  While we argue over how to pay for and adequately deliver these necessities to our population, many countries simply don’t provide them.

And yet, as essential as these basic physical needs are, their need for Jesus is even greater. Food and water will save their body, but only Jesus can save their soul. And we are abundantly blessed to be able to address all their needs. Missionaries, aid organizations like UMCOR, Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion International, World Vision, Bread for the World and many others take Jesus’ hands and feet and saving message of Grace all over the world to every tribe and every nation. The needs are great, and the cost is greater still.

Even in our great country, so abundantly blessed with wealth and ‘stuff,’ we face a spiritual desert. For many Americans, especially young adults, faith is not a concern.

Americans' membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.

The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.

Church membership is strongly correlated with age, as 66% of traditionalists -- U.S. adults born before 1946 -- belong to a church, compared with 58% of baby boomers, 50% of those in Generation X and 36% of millennials. The limited data Gallup has on church membership among the portion of Generation Z that has reached adulthood are so far showing church membership rates similar to those for millennials.

(https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx)

So, as we give grateful, unending thanks to our Creator and Almighty Father for the many blessings in our lives, let us also consider how to share those blessings with those who have such great needs. How can we serve God by serving others? How can we bring life-saving food, medicine and infrastructure to poverty-stricken areas? How can we bring the soul-saving message of Jesus’ work on the cross to generations without faith? We have what they need, let us open our hands and hearts to share generously.

She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.

~Proverbs 31:20

Blessings,

Jen


Hope is an Anchor

Hope is An Anchor

Last month we had the good fortune to visit New England. As we passed through the southern coast of Maine, we just happened to pass by York Harbor Beach, and it was so stunning we had to go back and check it out. It turned out to be a cliff-side park with picture perfect views of the rocky Maine coast. To my surprise, it also featured this monument with a line from one of my favorite hymns, ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save.’

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Of course, it was Maine, inhabited for centuries by sea-faring folks in search of cod, lobsters, whales and more. And we had just been visiting a lighthouse so common along the rough, rocky shoreline. So, I suppose it makes perfect sense that ‘peril on the sea’ would be a common concern.

For so much of human history the oceans and seas were mysterious, dangerous and uncontrollable.  It was probably rather common for those who ventured out to be ‘lost at sea.’ So, it’s not surprising that in the Bible the sea tends to represent something wild and uncontrollable (by everyone but God, that is).

James 1:5-6

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Ephesians 4:14-15

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Both of these verses use the sea metaphor. Doubting our faith, lacking wisdom and spiritual maturity can leave us vulnerable to being ‘tossed by the waves and wind.’ What is the remedy? Our faith in God’s promise that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life! That hope is an anchor!

Hebrews 6:19-20

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.

We're all in peril on the seas of life sometimes. We all get rocked by strong winds and blown off course now and then. But our faith in God’s promise and vow that belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior will bring us safely into a Heavenly Harbor one day, is a strong and trustworthy anchor. The fiercest storms on the surface of the ocean don’t affect the deep ocean floor where our anchor is secured.

Hold on tight to that precious anchor, our ‘blessed assurance.’ We don’t know when the storms will roll in. And when they do, we’ll be tempted to call out to Jesus like his disciples did, asking ‘don’t you care if we drown?’ He may not calm the storms in your life, but He can calm the storm in you. Find peace in the assurance of your salvation. Find peace in God’s promise never to leave or forsake you. Find peace knowing that no one can snatch you out of God’s hand (John 10:28-30).

And on this Veteran’s Day, I am reminded that ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ is also the U.S. Navy Hymn.  Let us pray the prayer of the final verse for every member of our military:

O Trinity of love and pow'r,
Your children shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire, and foe,
Protect them where-so-e'er they go;
Thus, evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Oceans of Blessings,

Jen 




Count Your Blessings:1,2,3...

Count Your BlessingsPraise 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 103:2-5

In the pastor’s message about waiting on God he used the acronym WAIT to remind us what do while we’re in God’s ‘waiting room.’ The ‘W’ stood for ‘write down the lessons I’m learning.’ Purchasing a journal was suggested. I’m a big fan of ‘writing it down.’ The river of life is always flowing, and it is very easy to forget how you shot thru the last set of rapids when more whitewater is coming up quickly. But taking a moment when the water is tranquil to write down lessons or reflections can yield big benefits later.

I am especially fond of having a Gratitude Journal, or at least taking time once a week or so in the regular journal to consider prayers that have been answered, blessings that have been bestowed, breakthroughs in relationships, jobs or wisdom and to thank God for them. For me, as wonderful as the answers to prayers have been (oh, and they have), even more precious was seeing the WAYS in which the prayers were answered - always surprising, always unexpected, always completely out of my hands.  Over the years this has helped me to really get a feel for when God is at work in my life.

As a new believer, I was mired in the muck of negative thinking. My brain had been wired to see what I lacked and overlook all that I had. As I struggled through some difficult times, I decided to literally ‘count my blessings.’ Every Thanksgiving Eve service we sing that great, cheerful hymn, ‘Count Your Blessings:’

“Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

So that’s what I did. I started listing out all that I was grateful for in my life, big and small, from being alive to indoor plumbing. By the fourth page I started to grasp that my discontent was all in my head. Despite my troubles, I had so much to be thankful for! The recipe for contentment that always seemed to escape me became pretty clear: 1. Count your blessings, 2. Don’t compare yourself, your life, your anything with others (you are on your own, unique path), 3. It’s not about you anyway, so think about yourself less, and others more. Like all of God’s principles, they are simply stated and much more challenging to live out!

Developing an ‘attitude of gratitude’ changed my whole life. It made me a better mother, wife, daughter, friend, co-worker and just…a better person.  It’s one of the qualities that cause people to inquire which often leads to the ‘Jesus discussion.’

I still struggle with resentment and frustration sometimes, but then I remember that the world owes me nothing and I owe Jesus everything. He asks me to love and forgive and be humble, and He is Lord of my life, so I will do my best to love and to forgive and to be humble. Since I have given Him my whole life, I try to be very grateful for every good thing, remembering that Jesus warned us that in this world we WILL have trouble.

One of the things I’m especially thankful for is that we have a national day of Thanksgiving. Our culture has tried to turn it into a day of gluttony and materialism, but I am also grateful for all the faithful Christians who have and continue to teach their children and grandchildren the true meaning of the day: a day of gratitude to Almighty God for His hand of protection over our lives, over our nation and over our history. Every step of the way God has been with His people, leading us, preparing us, encouraging us to do His good will throughout the world. His miraculous providence was with our Pilgrim brothers and sisters, and it is with us still – even through COVID, culture wars, political discord, climate changes and economic concerns. God is in control – and that is a blessing we all can count!

Grateful Blessings,

Jen


Treat and You Will Be Treated

Treat and Be TreatedYou will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. -2 Corinthians 9:11

Reciprocity. The Pastor recently gave an excellent sermon on this foundational principle. God rewards those who do His will, and the manner of his reward is to bless people in the ways they have blessed others. Give and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Sow righteousness and reap a harvest of blessings.

Of course, God is no heavenly ATM machine who rewards people who do good only so they can be rewarded. If your motive is earthly accolades or greedy accumulation, then you will get your reward in praise and stuff, but not in heavenly blessings.

Serving the Lord is kind of like Halloween Trick or Treating, I think. One year, full of greed for candy, and quest for adventure, my neighbors and I decided to go all out. We came up with creative ideas for Halloween costumes and enlisted parental aid in making our imagined outfits a reality. With my mother and father’s assistance and direction, we crafted 3 costumes based on the Muppets. Kermit was made from a cardboard structure overlaid with green felt and half a plastic baseball for eyes. Fozzy the Bear had a chicken wire structure overlaid with brown fake fur, topped with a porkpie hat and neck scarf. Miss Piggy was the most ambitious, with a cardboard structure overlaid with papier-mâché and hand painted in pink. They looked great!  However, they also covered our entire heads and had only small holes for seeing. No matter, it was gonna be awesome.

We drew a map of the neighborhood and discussed and debated the most efficient route for maximum candy. We decided to head waaaay up the main road, several blocks from home and use pillowcases so we could really have a huge haul.

The long-awaited night came! We felt no need to head out early while the sun was still up. Time was not an issue. Up we trudged, block after block passing our friends collecting only in our neighborhood. Yes, the giant heads were kind of hot. Okay, my glasses were totally fogged up. But what enthusiasm we had!

When we finally began knocking on doors, people were amazed and delighted by our costumes. Our pillowcase bags began to fill up. With the foggy eyeglasses and limited vision, I began tripping over roots and landscaping. No problem. Our bags began to get really heavy, and we were still blocks away from home. No worries. Miss Piggy twisted her ankle in the fancy shoes she wore. We pressed on. Fozzy the Bear began to sweat so much his fur was getting soggy. But on we went.

Eventually we realized that we had to return home, only halfway through our route, to empty our sacks and get back out there.  By the time we returned home, weary, sweaty and bruised, we sadly realized it was much too close to bedtime to head back out. Nevertheless, we DID have nearly a pillowcase of candy each!

The next day in school, we learned a sad truth. While we were far away collecting Peanut Chews, Milk Duds, Jawbreakers and gumballs, right on the other side of the street the new family that had moved in was handing out full sized chocolate bars and extra treats for kids from the street.

We missed it. We missed seeing our neighbors. We missed seeing our friends and walking around with them. We missed coming home and seeing more friends come to our door in their costumes. In our quest for more we got more of what turned out to be not so important and missed out on what we realized was really important to us. And we got sore muscles, chills, and bruises to boot.

When we serve God, we need to be sure that our goals and planning are from Him and for Him and not for our own purposes or praise. Even when our goals are good, and our planning is sound, if it is not in God’s timing or will, the odds of us ending up unfulfilled are high. We need to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit so that when we receive our ‘marching orders’ we’re ready to get moving.

When we cheerfully serve, cheerfully give and cheerfully follow after God, with no motive other than to please Him, He will be faithful to provide us with strength, success and support. And these He will provide in amounts and in ways that we could never have imagined. Great is His faithfulness!

Wishing you lots of Halloween treats,

Jen


Christian Pumpkin

Christian Pumpkin from WordI waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40:1-3

Halloween has always been a family favorite holiday. We were never into gory or scary, but spooky décor, costumes, fantastical stories and candy always had an appeal. Later I realized that the Bible is full of mysterious and fantastical stories. Witches, fortune-tellers, skeletons, mummies, angels, demons, giants, talking donkeys and ghostly spirits can all be found in there. Enjoy ghost stories? The best one ever is in the Bible. It is the miraculous story of how one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Ghost, somehow comes to live within each believer to guide us, show us our sin and make us holy. Not your typical ghost story, but perhaps even more amazing!

But out of all the Halloween fun, we especially look forward to picking out, carving, and lighting up our pumpkins - and later enjoying their roasted seeds. Every year at the farm or garden store I am amazed at the variety of shapes, colors and sizes of gourds, corn and pumpkins. And every year I was amazed at the creativity of my parents and then my children as they chose their pumpkins’ faces and designs.

Several years ago, I found this on the internet:

Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin. God picks you from the patch, brings you in, and washes off all the dirt. Then he cuts off the top and scoops out all the yucky stuff. He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, and greed. Last, he carves you a new smiling face and puts his light inside of you to shine for all the world to see!

Maybe this was what Linus from the Peanuts was thinking about in ‘The Great Pumpkin’ when he spoke so fervently about the need for a ‘sincere pumpkin patch.’ If we earnestly seek the Lord with all our heart and have a sincere desire to turn away from our former life of sin, God will absolutely pick us out of the bunch, remove our sin, fill us with joy and put the light of His love inside of us to shine for others to see. And the angels in Heaven will rejoice!

The small light in our jack-o-lanterns reminds of us of the brighter light Jesus puts in our hearts, which points us to the infinitely bright light of Jesus himself who lights up all of Heaven (Revelation 21:23). That’s a wonderful meditation as we prepare to honor those faithful believers who have gone before us on All Saints Day.

Harvest Blessings,

Jen Jahromi


Dry Bones

Bear BonesThen he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” ~Ezekiel 37:4-6

God is in the RESURRECTION business. This may be one of the most difficult phenomena for us to wrap our heads around, because it just seems so unusual, so unlikely, so impossible…and that’s the point! Only God can do the impossible, so when we see the impossible, we can have faith and know it is Him.

It might be more correct to say that God is in the LIFE business. God has been giving life since the beginning -- angels, plants, animals, mankind. He breathes life into dirt and makes man, into dry bones and makes armies, into deserts and makes gardens, into barren wombs and makes families – and He can breathe life into you: your hopes and dreams, promises you thought passed you by, broken relationships….

Of course, the real miracle is not life, but ETERNAL LIFE. The Bible actually includes a bunch of resurrections by Elijah, Peter, Paul and Jesus, and one ‘accidental’ one by Elisha after he was dead!

Once when some Israelites were burying a man, they spied a band of these raiders. So they hastily threw the corpse into the tomb of Elisha and fled. But as soon as the body touched Elisha’s bones, the dead man revived and jumped to his feet! ~2 Kings 13:21

All those lucky people eventually did die again. But Jesus rose glorified to eternal life. By that miracle we all, through faith, have access to eternal life in Heaven in perfect, glorified bodies.

Without Jesus, we seem to have life, but in reality, we are just ‘dead men walking,’

“And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. ~John 5:25-26

Without being alive in the Spirit we miss out on the resurrection power that flows through all believers. And yes, we have access to that power:

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. ~Ephesians 1:19-20

So, as you pass the skeleton and skull displays this season, think of them as a positive reminder of your mortality. Yes, we’re just dry bones now, but in Christ, those dry bones are rattling! God’s resurrection power has given us new life! We are born again by the Spirit, and we will live the next life for eternity!

Blessings,

Jen Jahromi