Gifts

Proclaim Liberty

For you have been called to live i Let Freedom Ringn freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

-- Galatians 5:13

Freedom. From the earliest age we’ve been taught to desire it, to cherish it, but do we really understand what it means, especially from God’s perspective?

One way to grasp it is to think of its opposites: bondage, slavery, obligation. And now we start to see the problem. From our worldly perspective, freedom is the absence of obligations, the absence of bosses, masters or anyone else telling us what to do. But this is not God’s viewpoint.

The other day I sat pondering ‘praying about everything.’ I realized I had not really prayed over our upcoming vacation. I was thinking here about flight delays, weather, etc. But then a different thought popped in my head: I had not asked for ‘permission’ from God to go on vacation. I instantly rejected this thought. I’m a grown woman…I don’t have to ask anyone for permission about anything anymore! The thought persisted. ‘You are a bondservant, aren’t you? You’ve willingly taken a Master.’

Well, huh, got me there.

In Biblical times, most slaves had to be freed every seven years. But if a slave loved their master and decided to stay, they could become a ‘bondservant’ which would make them a slave forever. When we make the decision to take Jesus as the Master of our lives, we make a similar choice. We pledge what Jesus pledged in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father…I want your will to be done, not mine.” Mark 14:36 That doesn’t sound like very much freedom.


In fact, the Bible says that in this life we will always be slaves to something.  Paul explains in Romans 6:16-18:

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

There is a lot of talk these days about ‘agency’ and ‘setting intentions.’ But how much ‘freedom’ do we truly have? Our COVID experience showed us that our freedom to practice our religion could be restricted, our freedom to gather constrained and our freedom to not wear a mask overridden. Freedom to travel and work took a hit. Even our freedom to refuse medical interventions such as vaccinations was challenged. And although we cling to our freedom of speech, ‘cancel culture’ and ‘fact checking’ made it clear that some speech was freer than others.

Besides that, our freedom is restricted by laws, statutes, ethics, contracts and commitments, and vows we have made to ourselves and others. If you have children and a job and a mortgage, can you really just hop on a plane to Hawaii today with a one-way ticket? Well, theoretically, of course you can. We are always free to be disobedient, to break the law, and to break our promises. And we are free to reap the consequences of those actions, including a major restriction of our freedom: incarceration.

Freedom is an illusion. There will always be those with more power or money who will make the rules which curtail our ‘agency.’ There will always be obligations we must fulfill. There will always be a moral code that we feel compelled to obey. We can ‘set an intension’ to be happy, but our happiness will always be in competition with others’ happiness, and thus require compromise.

My hubby has often said that the best form of government would be a ‘benevolent king,’ who would truly seek the welfare of his people. He would give them laws that protected his subjects while still allowing them much control over their lives. That does sound pretty good…. But then, as Christians, isn’t that exactly what we have? In this life we will always be a slave to something, but Jesus tells us,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Through Christ we are free from the punishment for sin, free from death. We are set free by the Truth to see injustice, oppression, corruption and abuse the way God sees it. And we are free by the Holy Spirit within us to work against those evils. We are free to willingly accept the yoke of a bondservant pledged to serve Jesus for life by serving others. His way leads to life, abundance and righteousness. Our labor will build the Kingdom of God where one day we will dwell in a mansion as an adopted son or daughter!

So, as we observe Independence Day, celebrate your independence from sin, selfishness and worldly pleasures that last only for this lifetime and are a snare for your soul. Celebrate your dependence on God, His Mercy, His Grace, His Forgiveness and His Salvation. Humble yourselves, and ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling!’ Philippians 2:12.

DEAR LORD, help us to submit our strong wills and desire for freedom to You. Teach us Your ways and help us be fruitful and pleasing to You. Grant us courage to pursue justice and righteousness for Your namesake. God bless us and bless America and our world. AMEN.

Blessings of Liberty,

Jen 


Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Bright Hope for TomorrowThe Lord says,

“I love justice and I hate oppression and crime.
I will faithfully reward my people
And make an eternal covenant with them.
They will be famous among the nations;
Everyone who sees them will know
That they are a people whom I have blessed.”

Isaiah 61:8-9

We had hoped…

…that COVID would be over and done with by now;

…that our political disagreements would have become more civil;

…that the violence in our cities would have subsided;

…that supply chain issues would have resolved;

…that people would go back to working in all sectors;

…that the economy would have bounced back;

…that travel – local, national and international – would have returned to ‘normal;’

…that the world would “go back to normal.”

I’ve been looking at “the prophets” lately. It’s generally the part of the Old Testament after Psalms and Proverbs. It’s a shame that we don’t study these books too often because in them, generally speaking, God is specifically speaking to His people. He’s accusing them, He’s warning them, He’s admonishing them to repent, and perhaps most exciting of all, He gives them HOPE! He promises restoration, a Savior who will bring healing, and a time when God’s Kingdom will once again return to earth, and God and mankind will be reunited as they were in the Garden of Eden. Now change the ‘them’ to ‘us.’

By the time of the Prophets, God has decided to pass judgment on His people by allowing them to be taken into captivity by Assyria and then Babylon.  Those days were like the ‘End Times,’ full of injustice, crime, and corruption and worst of all, the kings and religious leaders who should have been rescuing and protecting their people were the ones exploiting them. Sound familiar at all?

Falling away from God to follow other idols of money, power, security, politics, entertainment, addictions, etc. always leads to judgment and consequences. Most of us are familiar with this famous promise from God, given after the dedication of Solomon’s Temple:

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

But perhaps less familiar is the other half of the promise:

“But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:19-22

And He did.

Of course, we have Jesus now as our New Covenant. But rather than absolving us of our responsibility as a nation, Jesus’ calling is even higher. It is a calling to make other people’s problems our own. It is a calling to take on injustice and corruption and bring healing and reconciliation whenever possible. It is a calling to bring God’s Kingdom to earth by making disciples, with each one of us as a Temple of the Holy Spirit where God dwells.

And this is the GREAT HOPE that the Prophets foretold. It won’t be complete until Jesus returns, but until He comes, we better get busy. There is plenty of injustice, violence and corruption for us to fight against. There are plenty of people suffering from the effects of sin. But there is bright hope for tomorrow! We bring that message of hope, and one great and glorious day, Jesus will return, and we will dwell in the garden once more, fully restored and in perfect communion with God!

1 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. 35 And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

 Ezekiel 47:1,12,35

Hopeful Blessings,

Jen


Abba, Father

Abba Father screen best (1)Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. -2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

My Dad was not a perfect dad, but he was the perfect dad for me. He was kind and affectionate, an encyclopedia of information, and always ready to build some contraption or have some adventure to bring me and the neighborhood kids delight.

He was always agreeable except in the face of lying, cheating or other willful misdeeds. The rareness of his wrath made it that much scarier and effective. But when I had a boo-boo or other childhood disappointment, he’s the one I’d run to. He rarely fixed my problem, or even gave me sage advice, but he was my defender and comforter.

I think God Almighty must have a similar temperament. He loves to delight us by giving us the desires of our hearts. And he brings people, adventures and challenges into our lives to enrich us. He has vast, boundless knowledge of the universe and His spiritual kingdom, and I know He enjoys watching us figure things out and catch fleeting understanding of things beyond our comprehension.

He gets so much joy out of us telling Him how much we love and adore Him. He loves for us to sit at His feet and just listen to anything and everything He has to say to us. He longs for us to request all the good things He has planned for us. And nothing makes Him happier than when we obey Him and follow where He leads.

He is always ready to comfort us when the hard times come. He also rarely fixes our problems. He knows it is ultimately better for us to learn to solve our own dilemmas, but He has plenty of advice for nearly every situation. He wants us to tell Him all about our day, the good, the bad and the mundane. He knows that as we talk to Him, things will just start to make more sense.

Of course, it’s hard to confess the willful misdeeds. We know there will be consequences and some wrath, but He’s quick to forgive and forget. He sees us as our best selves. He knows just what our potential is, and He wants us to reach it. He gently reminds us and nudges us when we are about to go the wrong way or do the wrong thing. Sometimes His disapproval and disappointment are worse than the wrath.

His love is warm, secure, all-encompassing and unconditional. We are precious and special to Him, and He so much wants us to grasp that. He has given us the world and He wants us to enjoy it and enjoy each other which is what brings Him joy.

I miss my Dad. And although Our Father in Heaven won’t be popping corn on the stove and wrapping me up in a comforter, He IS intimately involved in my life, encouraging, teaching, defending, scolding and comforting me in very familiar ways. He is my Abba, Father, and I am happy to sit with him and be filled with wonder and amazement at all that HE IS.

PRAYER: Dear Father, bless all the fathers who follow after You, raising up the next generations to follow. Bless the fathers who can’t be with their children, bless the children growing up without fathers, and those who grieve their loss. Bless all the men who positively impact the lives of children – the coaches, counselors, scout leaders, teachers, pastors, carers, uncles, grandpas, cousins and friends. Raise up godly men to share their faith and lead the way! Amen.

Father’s Day Blessings,

Jen 


Transformation

Key to My Heart with textBecause of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. …What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.

Galatians 6:14-15

 In every great story, from Epics to Hallmark movies, a satisfying ending needs to include some kind of transformation: he started out small and afraid and ended up a hero, she started out lonely and unfulfilled and realized she could become an entrepreneur and find love, etc. Without some transformation, we might get to the end and say, ‘Yeah…but so what?” However, in our own stories – our lives – we often do not travel down a path of transformation. Sure, we went to college and had our horizons expanded, or went on that awesome trip that made us more aware of the world, or we dropped a few pounds and learned some self-discipline, but are we daily working on transforming ourselves?

The Christian faith is all about transformation – every bit of it. The first transformation is when we ask ourselves ‘is this all there is to life?’ We transform from people concerned with the cares of this world to people seeking a deeper, spiritual life. When we encounter Jesus, He says, ‘Repent and follow me.’ When we decide to turn away from the world and accept His work on the cross, we are transformed from wretched sinners far from God into beloved sons and daughters, forgiven and accepted with a promise of eternal life! And that is really only the beginning of the story, or perhaps the end of Part One.

Part Two opens with us embarking on the journey of our lifetime of transformation. Our mission is summed up in three profound verses:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. -Romans 12:2

Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. -Ephesians 4:23-24

And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. -2 Corinthians 3:18

If we had a ‘Jesus moment’ years ago but have never left behind the ‘baggage’ of this world and set out on the quest for holiness (sanctification), then we’ve missed the whole point! Jesus came to bring God’s Kingdom NEAR!

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. -John 10:9-10

There are no thieves in Heaven, so this rich and satisfying life is not the next life, but THIS LIFE. Jesus came to earth and began His ministry with healing – healing diseases, healing deformities, healing from demon possession, healing from bad life choices, healing from death! If He were only concerned about the next life, why bother?  Jesus wants to draw near, touch us and transform us in such a profound way that we will be moved to change our lives and go bring others for Jesus to transform.

We must become clay in the Potter’s hands (see Jeremiah 18:1-7) and allow the Holy Spirit to shape us and transform us into the person God created us to be. We all start off with character flaws, undeveloped talents, physical or mental challenges to overcome and, of course, our ‘idiosyn-crazies’. We should not kid ourselves into believing that God’s unconditional love means we never have to change. Yes, God loves you forever no matter what - but He loves you too much to leave you an unfinished masterpiece. Transformation and change can be hard and painful, but like pruning a tree, we have to trim away the dead branches to get new growth and fruitfulness. God knows what He’s created us to be, and He wants us to experience the joy of becoming that!

Marie Kondo’s book on de-cluttering has many of us regularly asking if the things in our life ‘spark joy.’ The concept is, if a particular item is useful, but it doesn’t ‘spark joy’, then out it goes. Many of us need to spark some joy in our spiritual lives. If our encounters with God are not filling us with ‘indescribable joy,’ then perhaps we have some transformative work to do. The closer we are to the person God created us to be, the image of Christ, the more joy and peace we will experience. Caterpillars, it’s time to cocoon ourselves in God’s Word, in praise and worship and meditation and get ready to transform into beautiful butterflies!

Metamorphic blessings,

Jen 


The Source of All Knowledge

Dragon Mystery of GodMy goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

-Colossians 2:2-3

Humans are curious creatures. We have an innate desire to know how things work, to understand. My favorite part of parenting was watching my babies interact with their world, and that special moment when the ‘lightbulb’ went on in their head as they figured something out. Sometimes you could almost see the gears turning in their minds. As tiny, diapered scientists, they formed a theory, tested it out and analyzed the results – followed by much repetition if the results were enjoyable (like watching Mommy clean pureed squash off the walls). Later, the endless ‘why’ questions dominated our conversations.

I have always been intrigued by anything called hidden, secret or a mystery. I spent a long time looking for the answer to the biggest mystery: the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I looked to psychology, philosophy, history, law, international studies, literature and art for answers to ‘why are we here?’ ‘what is our purpose?’ and ‘how do we live together in peace and harmony?’ Along the way, I did unearth a few mysteries, or at least things to make me say ‘hmmm’ 🤔.

In the early 1900s, psychiatrist Carl Jung came up with the idea of a ‘collective unconscious’ in each of us populated by archetypes: ancient primal symbols such as The Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Tower, Water, and the Tree of Life. He believed that the concept of the collective unconscious helps to explain why similar themes occur in mythologies around the world. He argued that the collective unconscious had a profound influence on the lives of individuals, who lived out its symbols and clothed them in meaning through their experiences.

In the 1950s, Professor of Literature, Joseph Campbell, came up with the idea of a monomyth that re-occurs in myth and folklore throughout the world's cultures. In the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey, a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

In 1689, Enlightenment philosopher John Locke wrote about the basic human laws of nature, or fundamental natural rights. It is his philosophy which Thomas Jefferson borrowed in writing the Declaration of Independence which states, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….”

People want to find a Unified Theory of Physics. But they really resist a Unified Theory of Humanity. However, it was in pondering these ideas of universality – a collective unconscious of shared symbology and archetypal characters, a monomyth of a hero’s journey that is retold across varying cultures, and Natural Rights of mankind that are ‘self-evident,’ which set me on the path to God. If these ideas exist, does it mean there is One Universal Truth that applies to all of humanity? If there is one set of Natural Laws, then who established it? Is there a story that is so primal that it lingers in the subconscious of all humans?

Finally, in Christ, it all comes together. The great story of God’s unalienable love for humankind, filled with trees of life, living water, supernatural beings, redemption, transformation and eternal life. An ancient story that was breathed into the spirit of every living person.  There is a reason that for thousands of years humans have been telling the story of Good v. evil. There is a reason even unbelievers feel their consciences recoil from evil. There is a reason that the Gospel story, plainly told, can still break the hardest of hearts.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. -John 1:1-5

All of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. The starting point of all fields of study is God. Understand this because the unbelieving world needs to know. People who think they are ‘too smart’ for religion can respond to this. People who attune themselves to the ‘spiritual’ rather than the religious can come to see this. People who deny the existence of God can grasp this. Trace all of human knowledge back to the beginning and you’ll see – HE WAS and HE IS.

Still pondering,

Jen


Godly Women's Mother's Day

Godly Woman's PrayerTitus 2:4-5

GOD’S WORD Translation

In this way they will teach young women to show love to their husbands and children, to use good judgment, and to be morally pure. Also, tell them to teach young women to be homemakers, to be kind, and to place themselves under their husbands’ authority. Then no one can speak evil of God’s word.

We often refer to the Bible as God’s instruction manual. In fact, KJ calls it Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. And it truly is! As I was saying in last week’s devotional, I didn’t have any models of Christian marriage in my life when I became a Christian. Nor any models of Christian parenting.  So, as the over-achieving student I am, I dug right in to the ‘instruction manual’ to see what God had to say about marriage and parenting.  Suffice to say that although there are similarities to the worldly versions, the focus is all different, and that difference changes everything.

Marriage is a partnership. We embrace that in our culture – a joining of two equals. In fact, many couples omit that part about promising ‘to love, honor and obey.’ But the Bible is pretty clear about marriage being a hierarchy. In fact, God is obviously VERY big on hierarchies because He establishes them again and again throughout the Bible. If you feel yourself resisting authority, as I did, BEWARE, because authority and obedience are major themes and powerful lessons in the Bible.

Yes, women are called to be obedient to their husbands. In other verses the term is ‘submission.’ Hoowee, if you want to see ladies get riled up right quick, try to discuss THAT in Bible Study! But in verse after verse all throughout the Bible, that is God’s plan. And it’s a beautiful plan. It’s a plan that is another archetype of our relationship with Jesus. Our relationships on earth prepare us for our relationship with God. And for any men who snickered at ‘submission,’ God calls every last one of us to submit to Him and His authority.

God knows us and loves us. Good parents know that sometimes what gets through to one child may not work at all on another. You tailor discipline and teaching to the nature and temperament of each child. And so it was with Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were partners, but in the Garden of Eden on that fateful day, Eve acted individually in chatting up that snake and tasting the forbidden fruit. Then she convinced Adam to try it too. Eve took authority, decided it would be awesome to be like God, and her punishment was to be ‘ruled by her husband.’ For being irresponsible and not taking authority, God punished Adam with hard work. Personally, I see some humor in this. I know it is my nature to want to ‘take charge,’ when reasoning together or submitting would be much more sound, and in KJ’s nature to let me go ahead and make those tough decisions so he doesn’t have to. Luckily, we haven’t tried any bad apples – yet.

AUTHORITY and SUBMISSION are such harsh words, and looking through a worldly lens, one can see that all kinds of negative power dynamics are possible in a system built on them. But that’s the uniqueness of the often-misunderstood Christian perspective. God IS love. Everything He gives us is based on love. Love is the fuel that makes His Kingdom go, on earth as it is in Heaven. Loving AUTHORITY is taking responsibility for the family’s best interests. It is taking the burden of leading the family in following God and discerning His will in every circumstance. And it is dispensing loving correction when needed. Loving SUBMISSION is just what the above verse in Titus 2 is all about. It is loving your husband by focusing on His needs, it is caring for the children and looking after their needs. (Of course, in the hierarchy, children should be honoring and obeying their parents.) It is being a good partner and making suggestions and recommendations, but understanding that in the end, the husband is the final authority. It takes a lot of good judgement and self-control not to overstep the authority God puts in our lives. But He gives us authority to help us stay on track and in His will and to teach us how to submit to Him which is the process of becoming holy and pure.

AUTHORITY and SUBMISSION are the two sides of the Divine nature. God leads, God commands, God guides, He gives us loving discipline. But He is a SERVANT LEADER. He cares for us, He provides for us, He comforts us, and all with kindness, humility and tender mercy. Jesus taught us humble submission. He washed feet, fed thousands, spent hours telling stories with a moral at the end, healed boo-boos, told the hard truth when necessary for others’ personal growth, taught how to pray and prayed a lot himself. That’s the picture of a godly Wife and Mother. It is a high calling indeed.

Happy Mothers’ Day,

Jen


Love Stands When All Else Has Fallen

Love Stands brite

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.

1 Corinthians 13: 7-8a (J.B. Phillips New Testament)

I had the absolute joy of watching my Godson get married this weekend. Seated with my best friends and their grown children, I could not help but think back to the time when we were in their shoes. It turned out that KJ and I had been married the longest of all the couples there. It’s hard to grasp how much time has gone by and all the ways we’ve grown and changed. Through all the vicissitudes of life, our commitment to each other remains.

Marriage is a good archetype of the kind of relationship that Jesus wants to have with us. In several places in the Bible we, the Church, are referred to as the Bride of Christ. And in Revelations, we see that we will be invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Like an earthly Bride and Groom, we will be dressed in special clothing, and bound together before God with great celebration. 🎊

As in marriage, when we accept Jesus, we make a life-long (and really, eternity-long) commitment to love, honor and obey Him. We promise to be faithful to Him only. We promise to put Him first in our lives and to consider Him before all else. We accept with joy that our former way of living as an individual, caring only for our self-interest has ended, and that a new way of life has begun. We are no longer our own. We live for someone else. We are a new creation with a new name.

And like earthly marriage, our relationship deepens with time. Challenges come, mistakes are made, and we learn how to grow and become better people. As we ‘do life together’ we learn to develop joy, patience, kindness, humility and many other of the fruits of the spirit. We come to understand that true love is sacrifice and as time passes, we get better at making sacrifices: our time, our money, our desire to have our own way, to have control over where life takes us and much, much more.

At Saturday’s wedding, as the longest married couple, they stuck a microphone in our faces and asked our advice on a happy marriage. “The wife is always right,” “be each other’s best friend,” “don’t go to bed angry,” were some of our responses. But I supposed we missed the chance to mention the most important ingredient of all: Jesus. KJ was recently talking about the Trinity, saying how just as there is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each person also is a trinity of body, mind and spirit. A marriage should also be a trinity – the couple and Jesus. We did the first few years of our marriage without Jesus in it, and it very nearly ended. There was little fruit of the spirit, little compromise, too much self-interest, and too many hurt feelings. Once we were born again through faith, we both realized that we actually did not know what real love was. I did a deep dive into 1 Corinthians 13 and was shocked to discover that I would have to give up my pride and vanity and throw away my list of wrongs and hurts! I was called to forgive even when I didn’t want to. Suddenly our marriage was going to look much different from those we grew up around and those that surrounded us then. I am now persuaded that it is impossible to truly, selflessly love another person without Jesus in your heart.

Married or not, the Holy Spirit can do amazing, profound, transformative work in you to sanctify you and make you the perfect Bride for Jesus. And this is who we were designed to be: people fully committed to Him, people fully dependent on Him, people sacrificing their will to His and receiving in return the unimaginable love, protection and care of One who can make all things possible and invites us into His eternal home to be part of the family forever!

PRAYER: Lord of New Beginnings, bless all the couples joining their lives together this wedding season, as well as all of those who are continuing in their commitment to one another. Send healing and comfort to those who wish to be married and are not. Stir the embers of love in hearts that have grown cold. Continue to transform us as we present our lives to You as an offering. Make us holy and worthy to be Your Bride.

Blissful Blessings,

Jen


My Work Here is Done

My Work Here is Done...to accept [our] lot and be happy in [our] work -- this is a gift of God.

-Ecclesiastes 5:19

After years of isolation and closures due to the pandemic, companies are trying to lure their employees back to work. Public facing companies and stores are increasing incentives to attract a workforce which seems less than motivated. Public service agencies and charities are struggling to find people to help everywhere from city streets to hospitals to war zones.

Everything about the job market, management and labor is coming under scrutiny. Young people graduating from college seem unwilling to put up with the hardships that people of my generation faced. But I counsel them that selling your labor is never an easy thing. We like to pretend we’re in control but having a boss to answer to breaks that illusion. Even Jesus himself suggests that life is hard work but reassures us that His path is easiest “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 Note that Jesus says you will still be wearing a yoke!

With the wisdom of some years, I consider what a blessing it is to have useful skills and to be able to put them to use to serve others, build something, or create and maintain the systems that make the world go. Work gives us purpose and purpose gives us dignity and fosters self-worth. To be sure, we are more than our occupation. But perhaps we are not more than what we do. Love is an action verb and so doing the work of caretaker for children or parents, the work of volunteering at church, the work of feeding the hungry, the work of visiting the homebound, the work of tutoring, the work of repairing roofs on a mission trip, etc. is the work of loving our neighbors.

Jesus was a busy guy. He was the original ‘man on a mission,’ and he never shied away from the hard, draining work of preaching, teaching, and healing. He wore himself out frequently but renewed his spirit by talking to His Father in Heaven.

Work can be hard, even a drudgery sometimes, but at those moments, it's important to remember Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” He is watching us, and our ultimate reward is from Him.  I know that's what my hubby was thinking as he and his fellow mission workers baked on a roof in Louisiana one day, only to watch fierce storms tear at their work the next.  Every bit of kingdom work we do here on earth stores up a treasure for us in Heaven. Laundry, cleaning the toilet, mowing the law -- if done out of love for others, and for His glory, will gain us the appreciation in Heaven that we often lack here on earth.  So, if you're overlooked for that raise, or someone else takes credit for your idea, remember that the only boss truly worth impressing is The Big Boss -- The Man Upstairs.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to find joy in my labor, and to seek approval from You and not the world. Let my work bring glory to You and Your Kingdom. And let me show Your love to others by being a servant like your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray, Amen.

Blessings,

Jen


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