Gifts

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


Our Holy Library

My Cup OverflowsIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  -John 1:1

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

-Hebrews 4:12

I’ve been thinking a lot about books lately. In learning to write one, you first need to ‘deconstruct’ it into its various parts: character, storyline, plot, theme, etc. As I’ve been pondering all this, my admiration of the Holy Bible has only grown. It truly deserves recognition as the Greatest Book ever written – although actually it isn’t! It’s one BIG book that’s filled with little books, so really, the Bible isn’t our Holy Book…it’s our Holy Library.

In Sunday School every week there’s a little one- or two-line description of the Bible and I was thinking that these little thoughts might bless adults as well. Here are a few:

  • The Bible is God’s true story of love!
  • The Bible has two main sections, the Old Testament about God’s covenant with us made through Noah, Abraham and Moses, and the New Testament about God’s covenant with us made through Jesus.
  • Even though God inspired different people to write the Bible very long ago, it is still relevant to our lives today.
  • The Bible was originally written in three different languages, but now it’s been translated into hundreds of languages from all over the globe.
  • Every part of the Bible is there for a reason, showing God’s loving plan for us.
  • The Bible is made up of different kinds of writing, including history, laws, poetry and letters.
  • It’s filled with all kinds of amazing things God wants us to know about him and how we can live in friendship with him.

I also recently pulled out an old copy of The Bible for Dummies. I honestly thought there couldn’t be anything in there that I didn’t know already, but to my surprise, there were a few interesting nuggets.

  • Israel had a large library of scrolls containing history, prophecy, wisdom, the law and more, but it wasn’t until the Babylonian captivity in 586BC that the scrolls that the Israelites were able to bring with them were edited and compiled, resulting in a relatively complete version of the Hebrew Bible around 450BC.
  • Interestingly, the books in the Hebrew and Christian Bible are ordered differently.
  • Additionally, the Catholic Bible contains a few books that the Protestant Bible does not. We call these apocrypha, and they include 1 & 2 Maccabees which tell the story of Hanukkah.
  • The Bible was written over a 1,500-year period by countless authors who lived on three different continents and wrote in three different languages.
  • In 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave in Qumran. These were copies of the Hebrew Bible that were more than 1,000 years older than what was previously found. For the most part these were identical to the much newer copies we had been working from!
  • Abraham is considered the Patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Here are a couple of things you might not know about Father Abraham:
    • The Muslims pray toward Mecca because of Abraham! According to the Koran, after their expulsion from the Garden, Adam and Eve made an altar to God at Mt. Arafat in Mecca. After it was destroyed by the Flood, Abraham (Ibrahim) along with Hagar and Ishmael rebuilt the shrine, now called the Ka’aba (cube) to which millions of Muslims make a pilgrimage every year known as the Hajj.
    • Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad, traces his lineage to Ibrahim through Ishmael.
    • Muslims believe that God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael, not Isaac.
    • According to the Jewish Mishnah and the Koran, Abraham’s father was an Idol maker. One day, Abraham smashed all the idols except for the largest, and put a hammer in its hand. When his father returned and demanded to know what happened, Abraham told him the Idol did it. When his father would not accept that idols could actually do anything, Abraham had proved his point about the folly of praying to statues.
  • Jerusalem is a sacred city to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
    • The Temple in Jerusalem was God’s home on earth. Jews will not set foot on the Temple Mount because they are afraid they might accidently walk on the place that was designated as the ‘Holy of Holies’ in the now ruined Temple.
    • For Christians, Jerusalem is where Jesus was dedicated at birth, taught in life, and was crucified and miraculously resurrected.
    • Muslims believe that the Temple Mount is where God was ordered to sacrifice his son (as do Jews and Christians) but they believe it was Ishmael not Isaac. Also, that is the place where Muhammad was said to have been carried in a vision and then taken up to tour Heaven.

The Bible, though a vast work, has a coherent plot and storyline that centers around its main character, God, and His desire to have a loving relationship with His creation – humankind. Throughout, it highlights His overarching character traits of faithfulness, forgiveness and unconditional love. Knowing that a ‘wretch’ like me is a beneficiary of all that after all these thousands of years still blows my mind – every day.

Blessings,

Jen


The Author

Peace Love and Joy cropLooking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, and despised the shame, and is set at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:2

I love books. As a child, I eagerly awaited our trips to the library. Every book was like a ticket to some wonder-filled, entertaining land. I lingered over every one, savoring the word usage and swimming through the illustrations. From the time I was old enough to hold a crayon, I was writing stories and decorating them with pictures. Many people in my life were sure that I would be an author someday.

And I do have a book inside me that is struggling to come out. It’s an epic adventure of a boy and some friends who end up in a strange land of wonders and miracles and go on a quest to fight evil, restore a kingdom and experience personal transformation along the way. With naïve enthusiasm, I want to fill it with humor, daring, and wits, along with amazing supernatural encounters and some moral lessons as well. I’ve had the skeleton of an outline for years now. I thought if I threw enough stuff into my mind’s ‘stew pot’ something amazing would just pop out. But it hasn’t been like that. I’ve had some flashes of inspiration and there are a couple of notebooks filled with them, but it’s just raw material.

On cable, I discovered ‘The Great Courses: Writing Literature’ lectures. As I watch them and try to digest them, feeling memories from college days reawaken, it is becoming clear to me that there is sooo much more involved in coming up with a story than just some ideas. The plot is a carefully chosen selection of scenes and events and dialogue that move the story along, always with some point to them: showing characters’ desires, motives, traits, presenting challenges, facing challenges, transforming or not. There are all kinds of plot and character arcs. There are flat characters who just serve one particular purpose and round characters that interact with and shape the story. My ‘stew pot’ is getting larger and larger and it’s beginning to feel overwhelming.

The professor imparted some wisdom that had been imparted to him by his high school English teacher: Literature is bringing order out of chaos.

Okay, stay with me here for a moment. Our lives, in fact life in general, can be regarded as just a series of events: some causal, some not, some planned, some not, most of which do not have an overarching theme or redemption arc or really any point. What I mean is, If you listed out your day, or your week, or your life event by event: grocery shopping, trip to the dentist, signing up with a gym, etc., it would look to most people like what Pastor Bill describes as ‘spending’ your life - doing the stuff we all do day to day, year to year - the chaos of existence. And, you know, maybe it IS. Or, maybe there’s more!

Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as the Author and finisher of our faith. The author’s job is to carefully pick and choose particular scenes, events and moments out of a life-full of material, and craft it together with a theme, to reveal a plot over time – to make it into a cohesive story and to give meaning to otherwise ordinary events.  Jesus does this with each of his followers, and if we take the time to look over our lives with his eyes, we will start to really see it. Foreshadowing? Oh, it’s probably there. A neighbor or teacher or parent that saw something in you that you didn’t see in yourself. Conflict? No doubt. Then success or failure and the transformation they brought about. Flat characters that came into your life for just a brief time to help or challenge you in one particular way – I’ll bet they’re there. Surely round characters that came into your story and made it richer and deeper, forcing you to grow in new ways. And if you are a Jesus-follower, I guarantee there’s a redemption arc – from sinner to saint, but perhaps from short-tempered to patient, from gruff to tender-hearted, from lone-wolf to people-person? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were also some answered prayers, some healed relationships, some inexplicable blessings, and some tragedies that eventually became triumphs in some way. Looking back, we see the hand of the Lord working throughout our lives to craft a story that brings Him glory and makes us more like Him.

And your story isn’t over. It’s still being lovingly written.

If Literature is bringing order out of chaos, if it is finding powerful meaning in a life full of ordinary experiences, if it is finding a theme that weaves everything into a cohesive whole, and if that can be done for every soul on the planet, then Jesus is truly the greatest Author that the world has ever or will ever know. I don’t think it would be too much to say that every story is HIStory.

PRAYER: O Lord, Author of life, help us to see the beauty of our own story, and give us the courage to share it with others to point them to You. Remind us of Jesus’ story which has the supernatural power to convict souls, break hearts and transform lives. Make us always ready to tell the old, old stories. Amen.

Blessings,

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


In Loving Memory

In Loving MemoryLove one another deeply, from the heart.  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

~1 Peter 1:22-23

Four deaths in just a couple weeks. More saints gone home to be with the Lord. But in the midst of the funerals, we also had chances to be together as a family and a church.

And during this time the Lord impressed upon me that it is critical to love the living.  Our time on this earth is limited.  And the ever-present reminders of its fleeting nature are a reminder to us to share God's love and His Good News TODAY. 

Our life is but a mist, but our mortality does not have to be a sentence of doom. For Christians it is a source of great Hope. As Peter teaches us in the verse above, those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ have been born again to eternal life.  If you don't have this 'blessed assurance', I strongly urge you to read the Book of John in the New Testament of the Bible. If you do have this assurance, I urge you to overcome any fears and misgivings you may have and share the Good News this week with someone you care about at home, work or school. The clock is ticking. Although these conversations are hard, I think of a Sara Groves song, “Conversations,” which is about sharing Christ with a friend:

And I would like to share with you
What makes me complete
I don't claim to have found the truth
But I know it has found me

The only thing that isn't meaningless to me
Is Jesus Christ and the way he set me free
And this is all that I have, this is all that I am.

Maybe we can start simply and say something like “can I share with you what has changed my life for the better and helped me make sense of the world?” I know I share other things all the time: my latest diet, a new recipe, my latest fitness routine, a new face cream, an organizing technique… I share freely and there is never pressure for anyone to join me. I want to share Jesus with that ease.

And all of us need to be more intentional about loving those who are dear to us.  I was raised in a family that was not big on displays of affection.  But I have worked to actively overcome my hesitancy.  Hugs have been proven to be therapeutic -- try to dole them out liberally. Take every opportunity to show your gratitude and affection for friends and family. Let them to know you love them, you’re thinking about them, and praying for them. Of course, God's love is more than a 'warm, fuzzy feeling', so go out of your way to be helpful or kind when you can. I have a lot of work to do in this area.  While forgiveness comes pretty easy for me, selflessness sure doesn't. Still, we only have NOW to send that 'Thinking of You' card, or take that casserole to a sick friend, or share our faith with a friend at work, or hug and kiss our kids -- and spouse or tell your parents you love them.  Tomorrow may be too late. Peter goes on to remind us in verse 24 that 'all people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,...' so make those loving memories TODAY.

PRAYER: Dearest Lord, thank you for all of the people you have brought into my life. Help me to put aside my own fears and selfishness to reach out to them with love and affection. Let me not pass by an opportunity to share your Word with others, remembering that the chance may not come again.  And teach me to walk in Your ways, so that I might bring glory to You through your Son, Christ, Jesus.  Amen.

Peace to you,

Jen

 


Nowruz Pirooz

No Ruz origI went down to the grove of walnut trees and out to the valley to see the new spring growth, to see whether the grapevines had budded, or the pomegranates were in bloom.

~Song of Solomon 6:11

Nowruz mobarak to all my Iranian family and friends. My haft sin table is set, the sabzeh are grown and my hyacinth is blooming!

No, I'm not trying to be cryptic. In Iran (formerly Persia) the first day of Spring is their New Year. And to celebrate, they use many of the same symbols of Spring that we do here in America. Dyed eggs symbolize new life, apples symbolize good health, as does garlic and wine, gold coins represent the wish for prosperity, the mirror doubles all the good fortune, the spring flowers and green plants are for new growth. All these things and more are arranged to set a 'Haft Sin' table, which means ‘7 'S's’.  Each of the 7 items start with the letter S, you see (although all of these below are usually included, as well as others).

sabzeh– wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish

samanu– a sweet pudding made from wheat germ

senjed– the dried fruit of the oleaster tree

sîr– garlic

sîb– apples

serkeh– vinegar

sonbol– the fragrant hyacinth flower

sekkeh– coins

The rest is much like our new year, with a countdown, a feast and perhaps fireworks. Before Nowruz there is a kind of national 'spring cleaning' both physically and spiritually. People do a deep clean of the whole house, beating rugs and sweeping out the dust bunnies. On the Wednesday prior, there’s the Chahar Shambe Souri Festival where people get together and leap over 7 fires to symbolically repent and cleanse themselves of various vices. Then, 13 days after Nowruz, everyone packs up and heads out for a picnic. Personally, I've always thought that the first day of Spring makes a much better new year than January 1. And by the way, in Iran the new year is 1401!

I'll end with some words of wisdom from my dear, wise father-in-law:

No one can go back and make a new beginning, but anyone can start from now and make a happy course.
I hope you will have a year that starts Right and ends Happy.

 

PRAYER: Dear Lord, let all the earth rejoice at Your creation, especially those approaching Springtime. In these dangerous times of wars and rumors of war, help us to bridge cultures and customs with Your magnificent mercy, grace and love. Help us all to shine Your light around this glorious world of Yours. Amen.

 

Sad saal bey in saalha! (May there be 100 more joyous years),

Jen