Gifts

Rainy Days and Mondays

You Can't Make A RainbowHe covers the sky with clouds;
    he supplies the earth with rain
    and makes grass grow on the hills.

 He provides food for the cattle
    and for the young ravens when they call.

Psalm 147:8-9

“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” A great song by the Carpenters. Do you know it? Even if you don’t, you’ve probably been feeling it lately with all the cloudy, rainy and stormy days we’ve had recently. Fall is like that: rainy, windy, sunny then cold, repeat until snow comes.

Rain can certainly be an inconvenience, ruining sports practices, nature walks, tailgating, vacation plans and more. It can be a nuisance when it pools in the yard or leaks into the garage or basement. And it can even be deadly when flooding, storm surge or high winds accompany it.

But rain also gives life. It nourishes the plants and animals and allows growth.  It creates living, flowing water that carries that life to plants and animals hundreds of miles downstream, perhaps through deserts and otherwise barren wilderness. Thanks to the water cycle and clouds and air currents, water can be ‘sucked up’ from one half of the world and dropped as rain thousands of miles away. It can collect in underground aquifers for centuries waiting for someone to build a well and tap into it. For instance, the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System covers a land area in northeast Africa spanning just over two million km2 and contains an estimated 150,000 km3 of groundwater – under the Sahara Desert!

Rainy, stormy times in our life are just the same. They can disrupt plans and expectations, cause distress and unexpected expense and even be life threatening. No one wants that call at 2am, or that positive test result, or that accident or incident that causes life as we knew it to end. We all got a taste of that during COVID when life was transformed in an instant and disruption continued for years.

But just like rain, these times of pain and disruption can also bring growth. It’s hard to see the storms of life in a positive light. Pain has a way of blocking everything else out. Looking back, though, we can often see the hand of God moving us into a new phase of life, deepening our faith, strengthening our trust in Him, or growing us in a Christlike character trait.

The Apostle Paul instructed us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) And he was a man who lived through some very rainy, stormy days. But he was able to find peace in the midst of the storm: “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12)

What’s the secret? You already know: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (v. 13)

So, when the rain falls and the storms of life come, and they WILL come, don’t curse the rain. Understand that this is a growth opportunity and look for the Christlike way to endure it, persevere and find peace and contentment in it. As the Carpenters sang “…run and find the One who loves [you].” Pray to Him, rejoice, give thanks regardless of the circumstances and be thoroughly assured that you, too, can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.

Soggy blessings,

Jen


Happy Camper

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You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am. You know what I am going to say before I even say it. You both precede and follow me and place your hand of blessing on my head.

This is too glorious, too wonderful to believe! I can never be lost to your Spirit! I can never get away from my God!

-Psalm 139:3-7

I love camping. When I was about 4 my dad bought a used bread van and painstakingly converted it into a camper. Eventually he cut the roof off and made his own fiberglass top complete with windows and a bunk bed. We travelled to nearly every National Park in that little van.

I learned to appreciate the wonders of the natural world on those camping trips – gigantic snow-topped mountains, mile-deep canyons, bizarre and wonderful rock formations, incredible stinky geysers, hills covered with dinosaur bones, meteor craters, extinct volcanoes, powerful, raging waterfalls, views for miles and star-filled skies. Like Father Abraham, I stared and felt small and insignificant, yet also keenly aware of the presence of God.

Back then, I used to run along the trails and jump over rocks in the streams like a deer. I remember there were many times that I would run ahead too far or linger over a jack-in-the-pulpit or toadstool too long and end up separated from my parents. As one of my heroes said, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep,” but also pretty scary to be in alone when you’re a little kid! Of course, my parents were just around the bend, never even out of earshot. How comforting it was to realize I was never really alone or lost.

There have been many times as an adult that I’ve felt lost – sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally or spiritually. Lost is a scary place to be. How wonderful it is then to read Psalm 139 and find that we can NEVER be lost from God. He goes before us to lead us, and He follows to protect us. He knows everything about us and can put thoughts in our minds to inspire us and help us figure out how to get ‘un-lost.’ Even before we knew God, He knew us, and He charted a path for us to follow. His word is our compass pointing us to True north.

It IS too glorious and wonderful to believe! The God who created the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful Geyser, Delicate Arch, Niagara Falls and Devil’s Tower is the same God who is keeping watch over you. His hand of blessing is on your head. There may still be times when you FEEL lost, but like the 6-year-old me on a trail in the woods, your Father is just around the bend. He knows right where you are, and maybe He’s trying to teach you a lesson (perhaps about running off in the wrong direction, or waiting, or listening). He has wonderful things waiting for you. Personally, I hope that includes wieners and s’mores by the campfire with some songs and stories. You’re invited. And as the embers fly high into the night sky, let’s imagine they’re our praises to our truly Awesome God!

Blessings,

Jen

Mom camping


A Fan or a Follower?

Jen Ravens 2012“Not all who sound religious are really godly people. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but still won’t get to heaven. For the decisive question is whether they obey my Father in heaven.” Matthew 7:21

It's football season and for me, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. I bleed purple. I’m part of the flock. I have countless NFL licensed items of apparel and jewelry, blankets, banners, baskets and doormats. I know the faces and the names of the coaches and players, the stats and the records, the rules and the refs, the conferences, divisions and announcers. I have stepped on the practice field and had my jersey signed. I am fanatical for football in Baltimore. I’m a fan.

But none of those players, coaches or refs know me. I’ve never put on pads or reported to training camp. When we’re a man down in the final quarter, you won’t find me on the bench yelling ‘put me in, coach!’. You won’t even see me on the sidelines passing out water or drying helmets. Nope, I’ll be home on the sofa with a soda and some spicy wings arguing whether there was a ‘football move’ after the catch to make it a true reception. No Pro Bowl or Hall of Fame for me – just the joy of spectating.

When it comes to Christianity, much of the same is true. I have countless items of apparel and jewelry and home décor with Bible verses and Christian symbols. I’ve read the Book, I know the characters – the Heroes of the Faith, and the villains. I know the stories – when to cheer and when to boo. I know a mountain of fun facts, cultural history, and the various translations. I know ‘the rest of the story’ too – the history of the church after the New Testament. And when it comes to the greatest Superhero of all time, Jesus of Nazareth, I’m also a fanatic – BIG fan!

I was about a year into my Christian walk, voraciously reading the Bible, going to studies, and learning as much as I could about what it is to be a Christian when I had a profound realization: I was a fan. JUST a fan. Like football, I had committed to giving up a few hours on Sundays. I warmed a seat and sang the songs, I cheered and cried, but I wasn’t on the field, in the game. I didn’t serve, didn’t minister, didn’t go and share my faith. I was a ‘hearer of the Word’ but not a ‘do-er’. I figured I’d add in that ‘extra’ stuff later when I had more time. Anyway, I could already see that even my status as just a fan was beginning to make others around me uncomfortable.

Of course, knowing ABOUT the game is nothing like being IN the game. Sitting and watching won’t train you up, improve your skills or make you stretch or sweat. There’s no potential for injury or pain on the sofa. And the difficulty of the rules is lost when you only watch others try to keep them, but never have to develop that skill-set yourself. You only have the casual camaraderie of an audience, not the esprit de corps of a team, working and failing and succeeding together in close quarters. As a spectator, you don’t have to rely on anyone, and no one relies on you. If you don’t show up, the game can still be played.

But Jesus isn’t interested in fans. He doesn’t care how many games you’ve attended or whether you can recite His most famous catchphrases. He wants players. He wants men and women and children suited up in uniform, down on the field running practice drills. Jesus didn’t say, if you love me, buy my merchandise…read my Book…learn all about me. He said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” John 14:15. … “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said… Mark 2:14. Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23.

Once I got in the game, everything changed. It was much harder and much better. It forced me to grow and change. It humbled me, it overwhelmed me, it lifted me up, it forced me to be honest with myself, it taught me to love myself, and allowed me to love, forgive and have compassion for others. Those changes didn’t happen until I stepped out and started following Jesus, living my faith – no longer just a fan in the stands.

So now the decisive question is, are YOU a fan or a follower?

See you at game time,

Jen

*idea taken from the back cover of the book Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman which I have not read.


Higher Ground

Higher Ground Mountains

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. -Isaiah 55:9

The death of a goldfish, the unrequited love of a first crush, a failing grade on a math test…all of these can seem like huge tragedies in the life of a child, but looking back, they were mere bumps in the road of a long, well-lived life. It’s all a matter of PERSPECTIVE.

This is a simple, obvious lesson, and yet, whole lives can be ruined by forgetting it. If life is a river, we should expect times of drifting peacefully and times of roaring rapids, and perhaps a few waterfalls. In the midst of the thundering cascade, it’s very hard to consider the entirety of the river, but it is only by doing so, and by knowing who is captaining your canoe that you can find any kind of inner calm or peace in the journey when life seems that threatening. If Jesus isn’t in your boat, one might be tempted to end the journey when a miraculous salvation is just around the corner.

The difficulty of perspective was brought home to me on our flight back a few days ago. I’ve been sharing about my love of mountains. Alaska is certainly no slouch in THAT department! And Mount Rainer looms large over Seattle in a way that is almost unreal. However, my favorite mountains are still the Grand Tetons. And so, gazing out of the window of the airplane, I was stunned to see them below. I was also stunned at how immediately I recognized them, but there they were, tiny, but still impressive from 3,000 feet above. Then I considered how many times we had approached them by car, and how my heart leapt every time. They are impressively monumental. And I remembered our family trip to the top by cable car. We made a couple of similar trips to mountaintops last week. But honestly, the Tetons were a little more impressive because even at the top, the peaks loomed surreally large.

Those are the same mountains in all three photos: from above, at ground level and from up close. I considered what problems mountains can be. We often say ‘don’t make a mountain out of a molehill’ when advising friends or family. Because mountains really are problematic. They're steep and filled with predators. They often make their own weather, stopping clouds or making fog. All of those photos were taken in July, and they were still covered in snow. I thought about pioneers in their Conestoga wagons trying to cross the land in months that we were zipping over in hours. In those days, timing was everything, and mountain crossings had to be made only in the summer after the snow had melted and the rivers weren’t so swollen.

But from my God-like view, the land seemed nearly flat and the evidence of human settlement sparse. I thought about the glaciers and inland seas that they say carved this landscape over thousands of years. I saw a massive forest fire only minute or so later consuming all in its path. I considered how there are places in Alaska where they are gaining an inch or more per year of land as the earth slowly springs back up as the weight of the melting glaciers diminishes. Those kinds of things happen in God’s time. His perspective is high, and long and vast. Like our giant cruise ship, He has set His course, and is chugging along toward it. Our history is like the ferries, whales and otters moving quickly nearby, making little wake, and little change in the overall environment.

However, through Jesus, Christ, God gives us the opportunity to come aboard and see things from His perspective. From high above we see that all the things that loom so large in our daily lives are mere bumps in the road of eternity. We also can see that our lives, although they may seem short and insignificant, are part of a great cosmic life cycle, a universal environment, which have the potential to affect those around us for better or for worse. It took a lot of individual snowflakes falling 500 years ago to make the glaciers we see today, but there they are.

So, let’s be snowflakes. Snowflakes know their life is short, but they’re ‘cool’ with that because they get to see the world from God’s perspective for a brief time. They go to the mountaintops, perhaps get squeezed to become glaciers seen by thousands, or perhaps melt, joining with innumerable others creating streams of living water, nourishing and giving life wherever they go, giving themselves up completely until they rise back up to the heavens.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help me to gain perspective. Help me to see the beauty of the Earth, the beauty of my life and the beauty of Your plan for it all. Grant me your peace as I trust in You that “every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5-6) Amen!

Mountaintop Blessings,

Jen

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You'd Better Be Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Psalm 139:1-3

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

 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. ~1 John 3:16-18

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

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

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

Merry CHRISTmas,

Jen


Hope is an Anchor

Hope is An Anchor

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

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

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

James 1:5-6

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

Ephesians 4:14-15

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

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

Hebrews 6:19-20

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

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

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

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

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

Oceans of Blessings,

Jen 




Venture Adventure

Young_man_new_enh Went camping this weekend -- north of Pittsburgh.  A 5 hour trip each way... It rained the whole way there, but held off most of our stay.  It was Nathan's first Venture Scout outing, and I really wanted to make it great, but instead I came down with this awful respiratory virus that's going around, and was just miserable the whole time.  It was also cooooold.  I know that there are many hearty campers and scouts out there who laugh in the face of sub-freezing temperatures and icy winds.  I'm just not one of them.  On the other hand, I'm pretty tough, I dig rustic.  I cook over campfires, but not when I can barely breathe and feel nauseous! 

Luckily, it wasn't about me, and the boys had a good time.  I had my hubby along also, and he really did look after me.  In fact, I think he kept me from getting hypothermia that first night!  We ended up leaving early, which probably disappointed some of the scout dads, but the boys said they were ready to go.  It was the hubby's command decision.  I had mixed feelings until it started to rain as we drove out of the camp. 

The boys got to fire some guns, shoot some arrows, paddle around in canoes, and other cool stuff.  Nathan really loves the outdoors.  He bugs us to hike and camp every time sun comes out.  I'm glad he got back into scouting.  He gave it up during Middle School because I think he thought it wasn't cool.  But the thing is, you have to do what you love, whether it's cool or not, because that's who you are.  This year he's beginning to grasp that.  It was nice to see him eagerly hauling out the tents and packing up the car, and setting up and breaking down camp.  I only wish my hubby and I were more eager to go backwoods hiking and camping with him, because frankly, we've gotten soft with age.  We'd rather sit on the deck of a warm cabin with soft beds and admire the view of nature than to hike all over it and sleep under the stars.  I'll admit those scouts and leaders are tough -- they shared stories of camping in the snow and rain and in all altitudes.  God bless them, and I hope they can teach Nathan a lot, because that it one trail he'll be taking without his Dad and I (one of many paths he'll be taking on his own as he gets older, no doubt).

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