Gifts

Nailed It!

Nailed It BestJesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. -John 8:34-36

My pastor gave a sermon a couple of weeks ago in which he noted that the more convinced we are that we are wretched sinners in need of a Savior, the more we will serve Jesus with the passion of our lives. Luke 7:47 says “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

In our modern culture I wonder if we appreciate how serious sin truly is. Since the beginning of God’s law, mankind has been pushing back, re-interpreting and just plain fooling ourselves that we didn’t hear God quite right. Adam and Eve and that apple, Korah and his upstart followers, David and Bathsheba, Ananias and Sapphira and the lie about their gift. The world reads those stories and their take-away is that a ‘loving’ God would never be so harsh and full of wrath. God must be a narcissistic megalomaniac to demand such strict adherence to his Word, especially knowing full well that humans are natural sinners. Perhaps you’ve had that thought yourself? I know I’ve wrestled with it.

Here are a few points to ponder as you wrestle with the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin:

First of all, God is God and we are not.  in Isaiah 55:9 God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Proverbs 30:3-4 reiterates this from the human perspective:

I have not learned wisdom,
    nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

It is unimaginably presumptuous for any human to think that we could even begin to understand God or His ways with the 3 pounds of gray matter in our skulls. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and eternal. He somehow created everything out of nothing. He is waaaay too big and all-everything to even be conceptualized by us. In many ways it’s like trying to teach algebra to your dog. Algebra exists and its principles describe aspects of your dog’s life, but it will never be understood by your dog. However, out of His love for us and desire for relationship, He has revealed some things to us. He has placed eternity in our hearts. He has given us a conscience which understands the concept of right and wrong although we are free to override it. And He has spoken to some of us and in that way given us the Holy Scriptures containing everything we need to live our best lives. Who but the Inventor could really know that anyway? Yet from the beginning of time until now we have been trying to ‘backwards engineer’ humanity and work God right out of the equation. It’s as foolish as removing the batteries and expecting the gadget to operate properly.

Secondly, God is immutable - unchanging and unchangeable, and that quality is also true for His Holiness. Holiness is the perfection, or wholeness of God. It is a state of being. Instead of viewing holiness as God’s Law - as a set of arbitrary ‘rules’ which could be adjusted by the Author, I suggest that it is better to view holiness the way we view Scientific Law – a set of rules that describe reality in a true, universal and absolute way which are discovered rather than invented.  Isn’t it odd that we readily accept Scientific Law but so often challenge God’s Law? In Sunday School I use the analogy of space to demonstrate this concept. ‘No man may come to the Father except through Me’ has been scorned as highly intolerant for centuries. Yet, consider this statement, ‘No man may get to the moon except with a spacesuit.’ Who would challenge that? That is not an intolerant statement barring those without spacesuits from access to the moon. It is also not a statement that overlooks or rules out other valid ways of getting to the moon. Rather it is a mere statement of fact based on unchangeable Laws of Science that describe reality in a true, universal and absolute way. Heaven cannot contain even the tiniest amount of sin. The only method for sinners to enter Heaven, therefore, is to be covered by the sinless blood of Jesus. Why? I don’t know. It just is. Why is the universe expanding faster and faster rather than slowing or contracting? I don’t know. It just is.

Finally, sin is death. Sin isn’t ‘like’ death, sin IS death. It is the thing that ended immortality in the Garden and gave us a life-expectancy. As sin increased, so did disease, war, hatred and everything that is not Good. Sin is highly corrosive and highly contagious. The more it eats away at us and spreads amongst us all over our world, the more evil there is, because evil is the absence of Good. Sin opposes, corrupts, condemns and seeks to destroy Good. God is Good. And sin opposes and seeks to destroy God. It’s difficult to see how a lie here or there, a little bit of cheating or stealing, some pre-marital fun or exploring other religions could make us enemies of God. But those are evidence of our sin condition, a condition that eats away at our soul, turning us away from God and Good, making us slaves to our own pride and pleasure. The only way to regain ‘Goodness’ was to buy us back - redeem us from slavery to sin. And that is what Christ has done. Sin held us hostage, but He ransomed us with His sinless blood. He paid off our ransom and debt and nailed it to the cross, marked ‘paid in full’ for all in Heaven and earth to see. We’ve been bought at a price – a very high price. Why was that the only way? I don’t know. I don’t claim to understand it, but I believe it.

PRAYER:

Father, forgive us, for truly, we know not what we’ve done. Amen.

Stay Blessed,

Jen Jahromi


Knit Together by Strong Ties of Love

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Today would have my mother’s 81st birthday. She passed away in June 2011 and it's hard to grasp that it’s been ten years without her. He legacy has been handicrafts – all manner of decorative items hand knit, hand crocheted, embroidered, cross-stitched, beaded, embellished with paper, clay, tiles, stamps and oh, so much more. I’m more of a pen or paintbrush kind of a crafter, so knitting, crocheting, tatting and weaving have always seemed a little magical to me. How do you take a single yarn or thread and turn it into a sweater, a scarf, lace or a rug? Humans have been doing it for centuries. On a recent trip to a Native American museum, they had a display showing the most primitive kind of loom which turned out all kinds of woven textiles made of natural yarns and fibers. My Iranian husband grew up around the carpet trade, from tribal rugs to elaborate silk carpets. The amazing colors and patterns and pictures, not to mention the advanced planning and meticulous attention to detail make all of these handmade textiles true works of art.

We too, are a hand-crafted work of art. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” And like that intricate Aran knit sweater with cable stitches, seed stitches, garter stitches and more, as Christians our lives are twisted together as strands and knitted together into masterpieces of love. And like those wool sweaters and carpets, when we are knitted and woven together, we can withstand anything that life throws at us. As it says in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “…a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

It’s important to stay together. There is undervalued power in relationships and community. Perhaps that is part of what God decided to teach us during this pandemic. I found this passage in Colossians to be particularly relevant to us right now:

2 I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. 3 In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

4 I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. 5 For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.

-Colossians 2:2-5

What does Pastor and Apostle, Paul, want for us? Encouragement. Strong ties of love. Confidence in God’s mysterious salvation through Jesus. Hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Do you need any of that today? I do! And why does Pastor Paul want that for us? So no one will deceive us with logical sounding lies! Have you heard any of those in the last year? Daily we see the truth called a lie and a lie called the truth. But here is what I heard God speaking to us, his church, right now, and what we as a church need to communicate to each member: “For though I am far away from you, I am with you in spirit. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.”

I pray with my whole heart that as we slowly start to come out of our homes and resume some semblance of ‘life before,’ that we will reunite as a church, still knit together in love, still encouraged and encouraging one another, still confident in God, His power and our salvation. This past year has been filled with every kind of crisis, from weather related disasters to pandemic viruses to social upheaval and unrest, to political dissent to financial downturn to drastic changes in employment and education to forced isolation. All of our society’s institutions have been scrutinized, criticized and called into question. It will be a miracle if God’s people have been able to withstand this onslaught of skepticism and emerge firm in their faith. But our God is the God of Miracles. Who can withstand His mighty power?

If you’re feeling a little ‘unraveled’ by all we’ve been dealing with, if relationships have become strained or community has been lacking, be encouraged that the church is ready and waiting for you. Your brothers and sisters stand waiting to welcome you back and reunite, whether in person, by Zoom, by phone, internet or some other means. We are with you in spirit. Our hearts are with you. We are knit together in love into one beautiful, eternally comforting blanket and we are ready to wrap you up in it!

Stay blessed,

Jen


God's Valentines

Love Letter From ChristThe only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 (NLT)

Letters of Introduction…remember those? Probably not. But if you watch as many British ‘period pieces’ as KJ and I, you may have learned of them. In the very olden days before cell phones, internet, landlines, or even telegraph, people needed letter of introduction. With no possibility of “googling” anyone, or even seeing a picture of them, how could you truly know who anyone was – or their status, reputation, resume, etc.? Answer: letters of introduction. And the higher up your status, the more important such things were.  Imagine stepping off a boat in a foreign land as the new Ambassador for the crown – that would have to be SOME letter, and it better come with a royal seal!

These days there are myriad ways to ‘know’ someone. We have all sorts of identification numbers, criminal and driving records, credit scores, resumes, tax returns, test scores, GPAs and so much more. Social media captures our faces even in other people’s pictures. Just ‘google’ yourself and see…or don’t. It may just upset you. Because although these are ways to know ‘about’ you, they aren’t the same as knowing the real you.

How do we truly ‘know’ a person?  Jesus says in Matthew 7:20, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” Paul echoes this in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 above. He makes the case that those believers he shared the Gospel with are his ‘letter of recommendation.’ Their good works and changed lives were the proof of his teaching, and the proof of Him who sent Paul to teach – Jesus Christ.

We who follow Christ are all Ambassadors of God’s Kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:20) and our letter of introduction is the fruit of our lives: love, joy, peace, kindness, etc. which should be plain for all to see. This letter has been written on our hearts by Christ himself. It has been sealed with the Holy Spirit of God which lives within us directing and leading us, making us daily more like Christ. This wonderful letter becomes our life, and our lives become a beautiful love letter from God to the entire world, because the Lord does not want ”anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Yes, we are the original ‘love letter.’ We are God’s Valentines to the world. We don’t need fancy, scented stationery, forget-me-nots, paper doilies or glitter (although those are awesome) in order to share the simplest, but most profound message in the universe: God loves you! He knows you and He wants you to know Him! And just like the classic valentines, He always ends with ‘Won’t you be mine?”

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, send me. Here I am. Let my life shine brightly and reflect the light of your love and message of salvation to a dark, lonely, desperate world. Like the silly valentines we received in school, may I bring a little joy and sweetness and love into peoples' hearts when they see me. And may everything I do point them to You.

Blessings,

Jen


Martin Luther King Jr. and Resisting Evil

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I was truly born a social justice warrior. With a strong sense of fairness, an inquisitive mind and a drive to make things better and more efficient, it is no wonder that, when stewed in the soup of the various rights movements, peace initiatives and anti-pollution campaigns of the late 60s and early 70s, I would be creating an Equal Rights for Children campaign by age eight, complete with ERiC the Mule as mascot. This has remained the core focus of my life. No question was ever more important to me than: How can the human race live together on our planet in peace, ensuring welfare and freedom for all? I chased this question through high school, college and finally into law school. I felt confident that it was possible. Until I met Jesus.

Becoming a Christ follower and Scripture student confirmed what I was beginning to suspect after a couple of years as a cop’s wife and law student: evil is real, humans are born with sin, and the world will not be free of sin and evil until Jesus’ return. There went my hopes of earthly utopia. So, I readjusted my question to: How does God want us to live together on this planet to provide the most peace and welfare to the most people possible?

The answer has been surprising. Thinking of Live Aid and Greenpeace and Amnesty International, I sought to change the whole world. But the scriptures seemed to suggest I needed to change my heart. And then I needed to change others by doing good:

1Jesus saw many people. He went up on the mountain and sat down. His followers came to Him. 2 He began to teach them, saying, 3 “Those who know there is nothing good in themselves are happy, because the holy nation of heaven is theirs. 4 Those who have sorrow are happy, because they will be comforted. 5 Those who have no pride in their hearts are happy, because the earth will be given to them. 6 Those who are hungry and thirsty to be right with God are happy, because they will be filled. 7 Those who show loving-kindness are happy, because they will have loving-kindness shown to them. 8 Those who have a pure heart are happy, because they will see God. 9 Those who make peace are happy, because they will be called the sons of God. 10 Those who have it very hard for doing right are happy, because the holy nation of heaven is theirs. 11 You are happy when people act and talk in a bad way to you and make it very hard for you and tell bad things and lies about you because you trust in Me. 12 Be glad and full of joy because your reward will be much in heaven. They made it very hard for the early preachers who lived a long time before you.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. If salt loses its taste, how can it be made to taste like salt again? It is no good. It is thrown away and people walk on it. 14 You are the light of the world. You cannot hide a city that is on a mountain. 15 Men do not light a lamp and put it under a basket. They put it on a table so it gives light to all in the house. 16 Let your light shine in front of men. Then they will see the good things you do and will honor your Father Who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:1-16) 

Then, thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Henry David Thoreau I thought I could change my country by peaceful protest or civil disobedience. But even then, the scriptures surprised me. They seem to suggest that we must humbly accept the evil done to us and pray for those who do evil to us, and even repay it with kindness:

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)

Servants, you are to respect your owners and do what they say. Do this if you have a good and kind owner. You must do it even if your owner is hard to work for. 19 This shows you have received loving-favor when you are even punished for doing what is right because of your trust in God. 20 What good is it if, when you are beaten for doing something wrong, you do not try to get out of it? But if you are beaten when you have done what is right, and do not try to get out of it, God is pleased. 21 These things are all a part of the Christian life to which you have been called. Christ suffered for us. This shows us we are to follow in His steps. 22 He never sinned. No lie or bad talk ever came from His lips. 23 When people spoke against Him, He never spoke back. When He suffered from what people did to Him, He did not try to pay them back. He left it in the hands of the One Who is always right in judging. 24 He carried our sins in His own body when He died on a cross. In doing this, we may be dead to sin and alive to all that is right and good. His wounds have healed you! 25 You were like lost sheep. But now you have come back to Him Who is your Shepherd and the One Who cares for your soul. (1 Peter 2:18-25)

And now, in light of the Scriptures, I must even take issue with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character....

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

That expresses a wonderful aspiration - one that I whole-heartedly support. But I must take issue with his usage of ‘free.’ The scriptures clearly teach that it is a life in Christ that makes one free. It is the truth of the Gospel that makes one free. It is knowing that our personal, individual sins have been forgiven by God that allows us to live free of the burden of sin and shame. This is not political freedom. This is not legal freedom. This is spiritual freedom.

God loves us. He adores us. He absolutely wants the best for us. But the scriptures are very clear that His definition of that is vastly different from the world’s definition. God wants us to love Him and get all we need from Him. Our spiritual life is what is truly important. Therefore, even if we suffer in our lives on earth - suffer from abuse, enslavement, imprisonment, illness or worse – that will not keep us from experiencing freedom in Christ. Sin and evil can take away nearly everything, but they can’t take away our salvation nor our joy in the Lord.

That said, I do believe God wants us to work toward justice and peace and equality and human rights and strive toward His righteousness in our daily living. 

8 O man, He has told you what is good. What does the Lord ask of you but to do what is fair and to love kindness, and to walk without pride with your God? (Micah 6:8)

But He also wants us to trust Him to bring about true justice and change: 

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.

20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Overcome evil with good. There you have it. That is the Biblical prescription. Do not resist evil, do not disobey evil, do not avenge evil – overcome evil with good – unrelenting, overflowing, confusingly crazy amounts of good to the deserving and undeserving alike.


 Navigating the Chutes and Ladders of Life

Hand of Mercy 3

Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

-Deuteronomy 15:10-11

I love games. As a child, my Mom, Dad and I spent many happy hours huddled over a game board, popping, spinning or lowering a cage on unlucky mice. I was able to pass along this tradition so that even in the era of video games, my kids and I spent afternoons trying to figure out whodunnit, conquering the world or building on Park Place. But we started out, like so many do, on games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. These are simple games with simple rules, and ones that adults tend to tire of quickly.  And I think I know why.  These are games of pure luck. Unlike many other games that require knowledge or strategy, Chutes and Ladders is just luck. When you play Candy Land with a 3-year-old, you truly have just as much of a chance to win or lose as they. I think that may rattle some of us. As we grow older and master games like Scrabble or Clue, we come to believe that skill and strategy ensure our success. We downplay the effect of pure, random chance on winning or losing.

But in Chutes and Ladders, you won’t have to ‘let them win’ because they could beat you on their own. A roll of the dice decides your fate. And this is my point. The randomness of luck, the fickleness of chance are lessons worth learning and worth remembering into adulthood, because life has this aspect as well.

It occurs to me that in every situation of life, the ‘Serenity Prayer’ applies:

Lord, help me to 1. Change the things I can, 2. Accept the things I can’t change, and 3. Give me the wisdom to know the difference.

We put so much emphasis on changing the things we can. We encourage getting a good education, being honest, working hard, saving money, avoiding bad friends, avoiding bad habits, etc. The massive number of ‘self-help’ and ‘do-it-yourself’ books testify to how much we emphasize changing what we can. And at some point, we may come to believe that we can change anything or everything. We may have even had great personal success at doing so, and therefore convinced ourselves that if we could, anyone can.

But what about that ‘accepting the things I can’t change’ part? Scientists and inventors have spent much of the last 2 centuries making the impossible possible. I love that. I do. But I wonder if that hasn’t filled us with hubris to think we can change anything. I think there are many ways to improve our human condition. We no longer live in a Dickensian world of workhouses, child labor and dangerously unsafe factories. Yes, there is still work to do. I suspect there always will be. But even in the most egalitarian society, there will always be poor, there will always be people who need assistance.

We don’t like to admit that part of life is a roll of the dice. We didn’t choose the family we were born into. We didn’t get to choose our gender, our race, our looks, our income level, our disabilities, nor whether any of those would be a hinderance or help in the time, country and culture we were born into.  In many games, players start out on the same square with the same amount of money. Then, using skill and strategy, they acquire more and go farther. In life, players don’t all start equal. And sometimes all the skill and strategy they can muster will not overcome that disadvantage.

Now for the wisdom part. Should we accept that part of our society will always be disadvantaged and give up? Certainly not. We should always strive toward social justice and bringing God’s will to earth as it is in Heaven. But realistically, human sin (greed, bigotry, crime, exploitation, selfishness, etc.), poor decisions (not changing the things that could be changed) and the randomness and luck of life chances all but ensure that poverty will always be with us.

So, despite our desire to pat ourselves on our back for what we’ve achieved, we must acknowledge that much of life is just random luck. And if you’re resisting that thought, remember that all that we have and all that we are, are from God anyway:

Lord our God, all this abundance that we have…comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. -1 Chronicles 29:16

We say ‘the less fortunate,’ but we need to embrace that truth. Sometimes people just have bad luck, fewer chances, more disadvantages. Acknowledge the luck of your advantages and blessings and share freely with others.

And the next time you play Chutes and Ladders with the kids or grandkids, help them to learn humility by pointing out that winning is random. Let them lose. Let them win. And let them see there is no place for gloating. There, but for the grace of God, go us all.


Star of Wonder

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 

Matthew 2:1-2

That star…. For me, that star was always the biggest wonder of all the miraculous things that happened on that Holy Night (besides God becoming man). I mean, God can send Angels whenever He wants to. Not to discount the awesomeness and amazing sight, but I doubt that takes much advanced planning. Now John and Jesus were miracles that took at least 9 months, and perhaps more to find godly women who would be willing to take on that kind of mission. But the star...assuming it was not supernaturally manifested, but an alignment of heavenly bodies in the night sky over Israel...THAT took a LOT of advanced planning.

This December, Jupiter and Saturn will put on a show for skygazers that hasn't been seen in roughly 800 years. Astronomers are calling it the Great Conjunction of 2020. On December 21 — coincidentally the winter solstice — the two largest planets in our solar system will appear to almost merge in Earth’s night sky. In fact, Jupiter and Saturn will be so close that you will be able to fit them both in the same telescopic field of view. That’s an incredibly rare occurrence. The last time Jupiter and Saturn were this close together was in 1226 A.D., at a time when Genghis Khan was conquering large swaths of Asia, and Europe was still generations away from the Renaissance.

Seekers of celestial significance will likely see the whole event as some sort of sign related to the kind of year 2020 has been. But you don’t have to put any stock in astrology to revel in the astounding beauty of this conjunction.  However, from an astrological perspective, much like the one the Magi had way back then, consider the meanings of these two planets:

  • In classical Roman mythology, Jupiter is the ruler of the gods and their guardian and protector. Astrologically speaking, Jupiter is associated with the principles of growth, expansion, healing, prosperity, good fortune, and miracles. Jupiter governs long distance and foreign travel, big business and wealth, higher education, religion, and the law. It is also associated with the urge for freedom and exploration, as well with gambling and merrymaking.
  • In classical Roman mythology, Saturn is the god of seeds, crops, and the harvest (agriculture), leader of the titans, father and founder of civilizations, social order, and conformity. Astrologically speaking, Saturn is associated with focus, precision, nobility, ethics, civility, lofty goals, career, great achievements, dedication, authority figures, stability, virtues, productiveness, valuable hard lessons learned, destiny, structures, protective roles, balance, conservation, and karma (reaping what you have sown or cosmic justice) but with limitations, restrictions, boundaries, anxiety, tests, practicality.

God is and was certainly aware of human perceptions of the meanings of the planets. And here we have the two ruler planets coming together on the longest night of the year heralding good fortune, miracles and religion combined with harvest, nobility, and great achievements through hardship.  What does that mean for us? God only knows. It could be something miraculous, it could be nothing at all. The Magi would probably know.

Certainly, it was a celestial event like this that caused them to pack up and head west.  It's important to pause and reflect on the profound wonder of 3 wise and powerful astronomers/astrologers from Persia or further traveling all the way to Israel just because of the sign they saw in the stars.  And this sign was so significant that they packed up the most valuable gifts in the ancient world to present to the King the star was announcing. These Magi were not Christians (no such thing yet), they weren't even Jews. Most likely they had copies of the Jewish scripture acquired during the 'captivity' centuries earlier.  But they had read them and interpreted them and witnessed a celestial event big enough to convince them.  Oh that we would have such faith!  Oh that we would drop everything in our lives to find Him.  Oh that we would present our most precious gifts (our hearts, souls, minds and strength) to Him and bow down and worship Him!  For Jesus was the fourth King present that day...the King of Kings who has taken away the sins of the world and who will soon return when every knee will bow before Him.

It may be too late find that first Christmas star, but it's never too late to find Jesus in your heart.

And as you enjoy the show in the sky this month, keep in mind that Jupiter appears brighter because it’s bigger and closer than Saturn. Jupiter sits just over half a billion miles away, while Saturn is roughly double that distance. So, as you look out at the two, you’re really staring down the barrel of our solar system and out into interstellar space. This cosmic perspective is a precious reminder of our place in the solar system. And hopefully, it makes us all feel a bit closer and more connected to the outer planets, and to the One who created them all, even if the pandemic has us feeling farther apart than ever before.

PRAYER:

Lord, help me to appreciate the incredible gift of love and forgiveness that You gave us by sending Jesus into our world.  Guide me to be more intentional in giving my heart, mind and body to you.  I worship You in Your awesome, incomprehensible wonder and want to live out Your plan for my life, no matter the cost! Amen.

Keep looking up,

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

www.zazzle.com/visionsandverses

Parts taken from https://astronomy.com/news/2020/12/jupiter-and-saturn-will-form-rare-christmas-star-on-winter-solstice


Aroma of Christ

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For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

~2 Corinthians 2:15

Ah, the aromas of Christmas...gingerbread, fresh coffee, pine boughs, cinnamon pine cones, cloved ham, mulled cider, candy canes, PIE...yum!  For me, smells are memory joggers. Familiar smells bring back the feelings and memories of whole episodes of my life. And scents are important to God too. The Bible often speaks of the aromas of burning meat or of incense going up to God as a sacrifice.  And that's what Paul is saying to the Corinthians.  We need to let our lives be a fragrant sacrifice to God.  And that aroma of Godliness and the Good News will either attract some to us or repel some from us.  Jesus came on Christmas day to make his entire life a sacrifice for God on our behalf.  His sacrifice didn't start on Good Friday, it began in consenting to come down to earth to dwell among us...Emmanuel, God with us. 

Sacrifice is good for us -- it keeps us humble; it makes us compassionate; it sets our hearts and minds on Jesus and his work. Times are tough. Joblessness is staggering. COVID is resurging with a vengeance. The world seems cold and cruel to many people in the world and in our neighborhoods. If you know the warmth of Christ and the hope of Christmas, then I urge you to make some sacrifices this year: a little more intentional time with the family, calls to shut-ins, cards to neighbors; a little more money in the donation buckets, a few more canned goods to the food banks, a few more bags of clothes to the needy, a few more coats or socks or toys in the donation boxes. We can have gifts under the tree spilling out into the room, but these things will rust, deteriorate or break eventually. However, our good works will earn us treasure in Heaven that will last forever -- as will the souls of those we bring to Christ. If you have a heart to give, Compassion International is one of my favorite charities. Here is a link to their Christmas Gifts page: https://www.compassion.com/charitable-gift-catalog.htm.  And of course there are the Advent Missions of our church, and our church itself (Hereford Faith & Life)!

God bless you and your family and friends as you prepare Him room in your homes and hearts for Christmas this year!

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

www.Zazzle.com/VisionsAndVerses


Rededication at Hanukkah

Hanukkah Quilt"It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah the Festival of Dedication.."  -John 10:22NLT

A century or so before Jesus' birth, the Greeks under Antiochus Epiphanes conquered Egypt and subsequently Judea and Jerusalem.  The king ordered an end to all religion but his own, and set up an altar to Zeus on the sacrificial altar of the Temple.  There, he even sacrificed pigs, considered unclean. This was an abomination to the Jews. 

Mattisyahu (Mattathias), was serving as a priest in God's Temple in 167 BC when a Greek official tried to force him to sacrifice to a pagan god.  Mattisyahu resisted and killed the official, which triggered reprisals by Antiochus IV against the Jews.

Nevertheless, Mattisyahu — and after his death, Judah, one of his five sons — took charge of the fight against the pagan Greeks and earned the name "Maccabee" (possibly from "hammer" in Hebrew) because of their hammer-like blows against their enemies. Three years after the Maccabee uprising, in 164 BC, they had taken back Jerusalem and purified the Temple.

And while the Greeks defiled the Jewish Temple, they would not succeed in eradicating its means for purification — oil. Despite the pagan altars within her and impure animals that were offered to idols on the Temple's holy ground, a day's worth of purified oil remained concealed on the Temple grounds with its seal intact. This jar of oil, sanctified to the God of Israel, would help push back the spiritual darkness that had overcome the Temple. And while it was only enough for a single day, it miraculously burned for a full eight days.  By the last day, the Jews had prepared enough sanctified oil to keep the light shining perpetually. To commemorate this, they established the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah. 

On the Christian calendar, Hanukkah falls during Advent, a time of preparation -- both for the celebration of Christmas and for the eventual return of the Messiah, Jesus.  Advent and Hanukkah are both solemn occasions that call us to be re-dedicated to God, and to be prepared to do His work in the world.  For the ancient Jews, there were more conquerors to come, and more challenges to their faith and very existence. For Christians today, we see similar efforts by authorities to diminish our faith. For now, it might be a relatively benign 'Holidays' or 'Winter Festival' instead of Christmas, and closed churches due to COVID, but the Book of Revelation suggests that much stiffer tests of our faith will come.  Let us be re-dedicated and prepared then, for whatever may come. During this joyous eight-day season of Hanukkah, be prepared to reach out to People here and around the world with the Good News that Jesus is the Light of the World.

"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness."  (John 12:46)

May you be filled with oil of joy this upcoming Hanukkah and clothed with the garments of praise during this Holiday Season!

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

www.Zazzle.com/VisionsandVerses


Heal Our World

Heal Our World

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.
Malachi 4:2
 
Blessings,
Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

You Matter

Dolphin Ride the Morning1

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

- Psalm 139:13-16

There is a whole lot of shouting going on right now about whose lives matter. Suffice to say those are political arguments. What I want to convey is God’s point of view: YOU matter. Whoever you are, whatever your race, your gender, your age, your income, your abilities, your faults, your mistakes, your brokenness: YOU are precious to God.

If you’re like me, that may make you feel a bit uncomfortable. You may prefer to think that PEOPLE are precious to God, or ALL OF US are precious to God. It’s nice to hide in the anonymity of the collective. But hear this: YOU, yes you, personally, matter to God.

God knows each of us and He can see in us the best version of ourselves, the persons we were created to be. It’s very easy to let the world around us define who we are. The world looks at skin color, gender, education level, accents, hairstyles, clothing and other outward appearances, but God looks at our heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) We may feel unprepared, unable, unworthy, even useless, but God knows the good works Has prepared for us. (Ephesians 2:10) Perhaps we even feel victimized, persecuted, discriminated against, lied about – no worries, God can still use you. Our issues and brokenness actually add to God’s glory: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” - 2 Corinthians 4:7  We are frail, cracked pots, but God uses us anyway.

Just ask Joseph, a young man with big dreams who was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused and left to rot in prison. After years of faithfully doing the small work he was given, he finally ended up second in charge of all of Egypt. Or look at Gideon, a nobody from the smallest tribe, so afraid of the bad guys harassing his town that he did his work in a hole at night. But God saw him and addressed him as a mighty warrior – and by the end of the story, he was! Or Mary, a young girl from a backwater town and an unimportant family, who, through faith and making herself available to God, became the mother of the Messiah. Or consider the Samaritan woman at the well – her personal life was a disaster and the whole town knew it. Her race was despised, and her religion was considered illegitimate, but Jesus, the Messiah, sat with her, took a drink from her, and in a short conversation made it clear that He knew all about her sin and still offered her salvation. She became the first Gentile witness.

And God will not give up on you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. He stands at the door knocking, waiting for you to open up and let Him in. Even when you get on a boat and sail in the opposite direction of His will for you, He can re-route you with a storm and a whale (figuratively). You cannot hide from His love -- even on the other side of the farthest ocean or in the deepest depths, God sees you and loves you and guides you.

It seems that this time of fear and isolation is causing a rise in the suicide rate. Anger and violence permeate the news. Natural disasters abound. Civility has flown out the window. Frustration and a sense of powerlessness can slip easily into hopelessness – but don’t let it! You matter to God! He has a plan for your life! You have a purpose! You have value! YOU matter!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

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