Gifts

Pride Goeth Before The Fall

Garden of God new“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’
Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.

Isaiah 14:12-15

In Sunday School the other week, the kids were in rare form and asking about characters from the Bible we often prefer to ignore: Judas, Cain and…Satan. Actually, that discussion tied in pretty well with the Easter theme, because you can’t have Easter without Judas and the Garden of Eden. It was all part of God’s intricately amazing plan right from the beginning.

It is true that any and all sin disqualifies us from entry into Heaven, and therefore no sin is worse than any other. However, if Love of God and Love of Others sums up all of the Commandments, as Jesus said, then Pride – Love of Self – sums up all of sin. And Lucifer – Satan, the Devil, Lord of the Air – is full of it…pride, that is. Lucifer, one of the chief angels, was so full of pride and self-love that he aspired to become greater than God. It’s theorized that he balked at the idea of worshipping God in the form of a lesser, mere human, being. And so, he and his angelic followers rebelled and were cast out of Heaven.

It’s not surprising that Satan’s first interaction with humans was to tempt them to have the same pride and self-love that led to his own downfall. He tempted Adam and Eve to aspire to ‘be like God, having the knowledge of Good and Evil” and just like Lucifer, they were instantly evicted.

Pride - loving ourselves, wanting our own way, putting God in the backseat (or out of the car altogether) -is the root of all other sins: worshiping idols, greed, lust, disobedience, lying, theft, coveting…the works. We turn God’s perfect plan for our lives upside down when we decide to take it into our own, imperfect, deeply flawed hands.

Mankind remained in that helplessly broken state, slowly degrading ourselves and our world until God’s plan of redemption was accomplished by the sacrifice and resurrection of the perfect Son of God, Jesus. As it says in Romans 5:17 NLT “For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.”

So, despite Satan going into court every day to accuse us in front of the Righteous, Almighty Judge, and despite the fact that most of the things he accuses us of are actually true (our many sins), our Counsellor and Advocate, Jesus, just objects saying, “I don’t see any of these sin debts here in the Book of Life, they’ve all been marked ‘Paid in Full’ by My blood.” The gavel slams down, case dismissed.

I encouraged the kids, as I encourage you, to flip to the back of The Book and read the ending first. It's remarkably encouraging.  Spoiler alert: God wins!

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand. He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished.” Revelation 20:1-3

In Christ,

Jen


Tax Day

Treasures in the Sand OriginalSo the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Luke 20:21-25

Tax Day was this past Monday. (I hope that’s not a surprise to anyone!) Even though I was once employed to do other peoples’ taxes, I find it an unpleasant task. Unpleasant is gilding the lily - odious, noxious, unbearable are all closer to the truth. I’m not great with numbers or record-keeping or feeling judged, so tax preparation always just feels like a punishment.

I know that complaining about taxes is something of a national pastime here in America. It’s a dangerous but easy conversation starter in any setting. Any amount seems like too much when your budget is tight, and you work long hours for those wages. Many years ago, during a Small Group Meeting I was airing a similar complaint when a dear sister in Christ, Wanda Burnap, stopped me in my tracks. “You know, for all that our taxes pay for, it’s really not much to pay,” she said. “Think of our beautiful, well-maintained, highways, our water and sewage, our excellent schools, our public safety and sanitation and more. These are really blessings.” And she IS correct, especially in Maryland. The news often tries to scare us, but statistically, Maryland is ranked pretty high in all these areas. Of course, that isn’t the only reason to pay taxes. We pay as part of the social contract, as our duty as citizens.

Now if we are dutifully “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, are we also giving God what is God’s?

God wants our hearts. Not just a place in our heart, but top billing – first place 🏆. But the competition for that spot is fierce. Career, social status, family, education, image, money, etc. are all fighting to be number one in our lives. And worse, this worldly system constantly tells us that those things ARE most important. And because those things are actually necessary in many ways, we can’t just renounce them without going to live as a hermit in a cave somewhere.

Which is why Jesus’ teachings so often pit status, family and money against devotion to God. Jesus didn’t mean that burying your father or having wealth was bad, just that it can be an impediment or excuse for not putting God first. Keeping God first on the throne of your heart requires dedication and sacrifice and often a rejection of worldly values. And that sacrifice of your time, talent, and especially your hard-earned money is proof that God has first place 🏆.

If we’re spending most of our time, talent and resources on doing things that signal our virtue, promote our status or worth in society, or indulge our selfish impulses, then clearly God is not number one in our hearts or lives. This is Jesus’ point in Matthew 6:20-21:

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

What the federal and state governments do with our tax dollars is largely out of our control. Hopefully they will take promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty for the majority of citizens seriously. But God! We can rest fully assured that our investment in the Kingdom of God will never be squandered, misspent, or stolen. Our treasure is used here and now to support the Church, advance the Kingdom, do important mission work, educate the next generation in Christ and spread the Word of God throughout the world. AND it is stored up in heaven as proof of our belief, trust and devotion to the One and Only True God, our Rock of Salvation, our Strong Deliverer, our only hope of life everlasting – Jehovah, God Almighty.

That’s an investment tip you can rely on.

Be blessed,

Jen


The Great Doctor

Prescription for Wellness newJesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32

It’s wonderful to see everyone in their ‘Sunday best’ on Easter, with hats, ties, and pretty dresses. In the past we also used to have a variety of Easter flowers on the altar that families purchased. And of course, there’s special crafts and goodies for the kiddos. It’s a big occasion.

We know that Easter is a special time when people who normally sleep in on Sundays may join us. We want our church to be beautiful, comfortable and welcoming, but we should always remember that it is not a department store for browsers, but a hospital for the sick.

Churches come in all shapes and sizes, from homes and storefronts to grand cathedrals. What makes them a church is not the altar or pews but God’s Spirit, power and love residing within them. Sinners need a place to lay down their burdens, repent and receive God’s saving grace. They need a place to heal and renew their souls. Only by God’s love, power and Spirit can they be rescued and restored.

Jesus has an incredible power to heal and to save. He cast out demons, restored sight to the blind, made the lame walk, cured illness from miles away with only a word and brought the dead to life. His most amazing healing was His own glorious resurrection on Easter morning, the proof of the resurrection to come at the End of Days for all who believe! Where did this tremendous power come from? Let me suggest…Love. As the choir sang on Good Friday, “That they might see, Lord I come to thee, ready now to do what Love demands…” (Into Thy Hands by Charles Brown). Love compelled Christ to the cross. At the Last Supper Jesus established a New Covenant: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

God IS love (1 John 4:8), and true, unconditional, agape love has an amazing power to heal. How did Jesus love them? He forgot their pasts as boasters, traitors, demon-possessed, zealots and doubters. He saw their potential where the world had written them off. He kept believing in them, as they learned to believe in Him. He invested His time, wisdom and training in them, rebuking when necessary, but always in love. His devotion built trust which led to their devotion to Him. He put His own needs and desires last in order to serve others.

Physical healing takes time, a consistent regimen of medicines and treatments, and constant care. Spiritual healing also takes time, consistency and constant love. The Great Healer, Jesus, has an overflowing abundance of all of these, but He needs our hands and feet and hearts to apply them to the patients of the world. Never forget the incredible power that lives in us. Jesus himself told us, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

It is not by our power that we can heal or save, but only by God’s love working through us. The Church has what people desperately need – healing and rebirth, cleansing and renewal, peace and rest, and a new heart – all procedures performed by the most skilled physician who ever lived – Dr. Jesus.

In His love,

Jen


Saving Soles

He LivesYou see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:6-11

I heard a story today that made me stop and ponder. A woman was recounting how when her grandmother passed away, her uncle had forgotten to bring shoes to the funeral home, and so grandma would be buried barefooted. The woman’s mom was adamant that she had to travel 3 hours back home to bring shoes so that her mother “wouldn’t have cold feet in heaven.” Others hearing that story nodded and found it sweet. And I suppose from a purely human standpoint it was. It was borne from her grief and wanting to do one last kind thing for her mother.

But as a Christian, it bothered me. Like comments I hear all the time that peoples’ loved one is now ‘an angel in Heaven,’ or arguments against cremation because God wouldn’t be able to resurrect you, they display a lack of understanding that might be sweet if it weren’t so dangerous.

While it is certainly true that the Christian faith is not merely a ‘get out of Hell free’ card, let’s be real – that IS the primary reason that Jesus came to earth, suffered and died. We tend not to want to talk about death, but Jesus spent a lot of His ministry talking about death. He was very clear that sin leads to death and that it is an incurable condition, punishable by torment in Hell. The Law of Moses was perfect; however, it only served to show how impossible it was for us sinful humans to keep it. After thousands of years of trying and failing, God ended that Covenant with Israel and began a New Covenant in Jesus’ blood with every person in the world. “For 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

In Sunday School last week, I had the unenviable task of telling the kids that Jesus was killed on a cross. “Death is scary,” the littlest one said. Yes, it is. It is the fear of the unknown that can be really unsettling. But just like that first trip in an airplane can be frightening, once you touch down in Disney World, you’ll be so happy you made the trip. Heaven is so much better than Disney World (no lines 😉), and so much better than anything we can dare to imagine. We’ll be face to face with Jesus, wrapped in love, full of peace, and fully healed and whole.

Our God is SO much bigger than we can comprehend. Our feet will never be cold in Heaven. We get all new robes of righteous anyway! We will never become angels, but we will likely meet some. And God will absolutely be able to resurrect every believer whether they were lost at sea, buried, cremated or placed in an ossuary, like back in first century Israel. Consider how much energy would have been required to resurrect Jesus. Research on the Shroud of Turin, now believed to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus, reveals that “the formation of the Shroud’s image would take several billion watts of light radiation, which exceeds the maximum output of any source of UV radiation known today. If the accompanying heat energy had been present, the cloth would have vaporized in less than 1/40 billionth of a second.”* This is the same God who created the entire universe! As Jesus, himself, told us, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27

So, when we consider death, we need to put away sentimental ideas of the afterlife, especially the ubiquitous belief that everyone goes to heaven if they’re ‘good.’ As Christians we know that eternity in Heaven is guaranteed only by faith in Jesus who died to pay our sin debt and restore our relationship with Almighty God. Don’t worry about grandma’s shoes – worry about grandma’s soul! Concern yourself with saving others from hellfire. Jesus suffered and sacrificed too much for us to keep this GOOD NEWS all to ourselves. We can live eternally! Hallelujah!

Eternally yours,

Jen

* https://www.magiscenter.com/blog/how-did-shroud-turin-get-image


Stay Prayed Up

Ask & Seek rescanIn the last couple of weeks I’ve had several friends, a few of them just kids, need urgent prayers for healing. I’m always happy to do this, and usually stop in my tracks and pray immediately so I won’t forget. It seems that all of the prayers were answered in the best possible way, with necks, backs, appendixes, etc. undergoing successful surgeries.

Prayer is an amazingly powerful way to shoot arrows of healing, comfort, guidance and peace to people all over the world. It’s a proven way to improve your own situation, whatever that may be. It’s the one bit of control we have when the world seems chaotic and out of control.

James 5:16 tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” So how can we ensure the most power from our prayers? Here are a few ideas to ponder.

OBEY GOD

This one seems obvious, but staying in good standing with God is critical. In order to have a close relationship with God and please Him, we must trust and obey.

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 1 John 3:21-22

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. 1 Peter 3:7

PRAY IN HIS WILL

When we ask for things for our own selfish pleasures, or want things that are not in the will of God, we should not expect answers. But when we ask according to His will, with our hearts, He will hear, and answer.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39

PRAY IN JESUS’ NAME

Jesus is our advocate, our Great High Priest, mediating between us and God. Through Him we are made holy and put in a right relationship with God.

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:23-24

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19-20

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7

PRAY WITH FAITH THAT YOUR PRAYER WILL BE ANSWERED

It may take a while for God to rearrange a situation in order to say ‘yes’ to your prayer, but He hears your prayer even before you ask (Matthew 6:8).

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. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. James 1:6-7

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Matthew 21:22

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24

Jesus spent a lot of time praying. He prayed for strength to face the day and strength to withstand the temptations of Satan. He prayed for His disciples, for Jerusalem and for us. He even taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9-13. He showed us that prayer is power cord that keeps us connected to the mightiest power source in the universe: Almighty God.

So, stay plugged in – or as they say down south, stay ‘prayed up’ – so you’ll be ready to fire off those desperate, heartfelt, emergency prayer arrows all over the world in any situation, assured that God will hear and work all things to good according to His purposes.

Prayerfully,

Jen


Don't Curse the Rain

You Can't Make A RainbowHe causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:45

Rain – it falls on us all. Whether you view that as a good thing or a bad thing is all a matter of perspective. Farmers with a crop planted view it as a blessing. Homeowners with a leaky basement view it as a curse, which leads to “rainxiety.”

So much of life boils down to perspective. Truth is truth whether we like it or not. For instance, “life is short and then you die.” Yup. It’s true. But the real question is, what will we do with that truth? How then should we live? As a teenager I went through a short phase where I was so terrified of death that I wouldn’t leave the house. I was so certain that the ‘grim reaper’ was stalking me, that crossing a street or walking at night threw me into a panic. Now, as a Christian, I see death as an inevitable transition into glory. I don’t long for it, but it holds no terror for me. Again, perspective is everything.

Jesus came from Heaven to earth to take His seat on David’s throne as King of the Jews. On Palm Sunday crowds of people from Jerusalem threw down their coats and palm branches before Him, hailing Him as King of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah, shouting, “Lord save us!” A week later they were mocking Him, calling Him ‘King of the Jews’ and spitting on him, pressing a crown of thorns into his flesh, and shouting, “if you are the Messiah, save yourself!”

And that first Good Friday seemed very bad to his mother and disciples. From their perspective, all hope was lost. But just three days later, a miracle beyond comprehension occurred and made that Friday the best Friday ever in history! Jesus’ death meant salvation for us. His resurrection showed God’s power over death and His acceptance of Jesus as the final, perfect sacrifice – the only sacrifice able to wash away our sins and make us righteous before God! God’s perfect plan of Salvation was accomplished.

Trials and troubles will fall on us all, just like rain. The trick is to perceive the positive hidden in the negative. You can’t have a glorious rainbow without a little rain. You can’t appreciate the brightness of one candle without the dark. Pain and need teach us to trust in the Lord like nothing else. We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are chosen to be a part of His plan.” Romans 8:28, New Life Version. If we truly believe this is so, then we can patiently endure, without anxiety, any situation we find ourselves in.

I have two favorite verses that I cling to in times of adversity. They are shorthand for the stories of Joseph and Jesus, two men who knew the agony or adversity and the glory of God’s favor. They were both used powerfully by God as saviors. They are my heroes and role models, although I’m far from their long-suffering character.

You planned to do a bad thing to me. But God planned it for good, to make it happen that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20, NLV

Let us keep looking to Jesus. Our faith comes from Him and He is the One Who makes it perfect. He did not give up when He had to suffer shame and die on a cross. He knew of the joy that would be His later. Now He is sitting at the right side of God. Hebrews 12:2, NLV

As you face your inevitable ‘Good Fridays’ of tribulation and suffering, keep your eyes looking to the ‘Easter Mornings’ of salvation, blessing and renewal. God can bring back to life that which seemed dead, but it may take a little rain first.

Rainbows and Blessings,

Jen


Keep Your Luck, I'll Take God

Irish Frienship WishAnd we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

I don’t really believe in luck or coincidences anymore. I used to. It led me to the conclusion that like that “Hee Haw” sad sack, “if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Me and Charlie Brown were united in our assurance that things most definitely could, and probably would, get worse. But when there were coincidences, they seemed magical…almost supernatural. And now I realize that they probably were.

We sometimes convince ourselves that God is not interested in the minutiae of our day to day. We think that random encounters or happy outcomes are just part of everyday life. So, we keep God at arm’s length, saying something like: “God, you just worry about Ukraine or Gaza or Aunt Betty’s cancer, I’ll sort out the little stuff going on in my little life.”

But that is missing the vastness of God’s power and the vastness of His love for us. Our God is interested in the smallest of things: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

Our God is an immense being who knows the actions and thoughts of every one of His creations. This is too much for us to comprehend, but it’s true. So, for each of his children, He can be an intimate, loving daddy. This passage in Psalm 56:8-11 hints at how involved He is in each of our lives:

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
    This I know: God is on my side!

So much for luck and coincidences. God can and will work things out in our lives for His great purposes. Just remember Jonah:

Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. Jonah 1:7

Yes, God can flip dice or draw straws in your favor or against. Nothing is impossible for Him. He can give believers a thought to call someone, visit a friend at the hospital when driving past, or bring a neighbor some groceries. He can send unexpected checks to your mailbox. He can bring wayward children and family members home. He can arrange a “meet-cute” with your soulmate at the grocery store. He can allow you to be laid off at work to move you on to a better opportunity. He can re-route your travel plans using a giant fish.

So, no, I don’t believe in luck or coincidences anymore. I believe in “God-instances” or “Godwinks.” They’re everywhere once you start looking for them. They are one of the most frequent reminders of God’s intimate involvement in our lives and His desire to give us our best lives.

When you’re tempted to cross your fingers or wish on a star, just say a prayer instead. Our Father, who is in Heaven, is just waiting for you to ask Him to work in your life, in a big way or small.

Blessings of Divine Providence,

Jen


Love Individually

Amazing Love dkr“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. Luke 6:27-31

In the pastor’s recent sermon about the Woman at the Well, he spoke of the barriers to enlarging our circles of love to include everyone. We know that we MUST love everyone, not just theoretically, but practically as well, including lending freely, giving, and blessing and praying for our enemies. This is simple to say, but oh, so challenging to do.

Watching a popular comedy the other day, the main character responded to an allegation that he hates people by saying, “I hate people individually, but I love mankind.” I think this may resonate with many of us. Abstractions can take away the difficulties of interacting with people, developing a relationship with them and possibly being disappointed by them. For example, it may be easier to give to ‘the Homeless’ than to actually strike up a conversation with a homeless person.

However, I have found that abstractions also allow us to bear grudges, lay blame and create stereotypes. We can safely be angry at ‘those people’ and blame them for all the ills of our neighborhoods, city, country or world. Of course, each one of us is one of ‘those people’ to someone. And the deeper truth is that characteristics like political party, skin color, ethnicity, age, hometown, religion, gender, etc. simply cannot be used as shorthand to define a person. We are each so much more than the sum of our parts, and a human being can never be so easily categorized.

Which is why I have found loving to be so much easier on an individual basis. I can’t love Nazis, but I can be loving toward one German person. I can’t love ISIS, but I can have conversations with a Muslim person. I can’t love criminals, but I can get to know a prisoner. And perhaps the biggest benefit of taking people individually as you find them is that you won’t even be aware of all the ‘categories’ they belong to. Some categories are more obvious than others, of course, but even then, you might be surprised to find that that individual has opinions that vary quite a lot from your expectations of the stereotypes of that category.

That is where the magic happens. You talk, you share, you do some activity together, and you magically find that that individual is more like you than unlike you. Of course, there may be areas of disagreement, but you can agree to disagree and still be friendly, kind and helpful. Travel and missions are wonderful for these kinds of interactions, but I’ve had plenty of them right here in everyday places.

I’ve always been fascinated with the differences between people and cultures. And as part of a very multi-category family, I’ve had the most awesome conversations about values, politics, and God. With all their various political affiliations, genders, ethnicities, ages, educational levels, etc., etc., I can tell you that we certainly do not agree on everything, but I can love each and every one of them. And all of us are united by the common human experiences of injustice, sorrow, pain and sin.

Every person on this planet was created in the image of God with at least a small bit of His spirit and grace in them. Like Jesus, we need to see each person as a cherished child of God, not as the sum of our preconceived notions. We must be humble servants to all because we know what sinners we used to be and what a debt of gratitude we owe to our Lord and Savior, Jesus. He died for every person in the world. He commanded us to love, and He has given us His own Spirit and power to do so. Now it’s up to us.

Blessings,

Jen


Teachable Heart

ScripturesAll Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16

A teachable heart is essential for a Christian. It’s a big part of being humble. It’s vital for surrender and submission to God. And yet, so many of us stubbornly cling to our ideas, intentions and inclinations, refusing to let God’s Spirit and God’s Word do the necessary rehabilitation of our souls.

And let’s be clear: our souls do not need a little ‘sprucing up.’ It’s not a renovation or a remodel – we’re a total tear-down. All the worldly junk and decay must be cleared out, so we can be truly transformed.

Believe me, I know this is not easy. Just as it is nearly overwhelming to go through our accumulation of ‘stuff,’ which includes precious memories and sentimental trinkets, and make hard decisions to let it go, it is even more hard to let go of our ways of thinking and behaving and coping. We kept those behaviors out of habit or because they serve us. Yet we know that “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Isaiah 55:8 The biggest theme of all four Gospels is that God, through Jesus, is turning our understanding of our world and the Kingdom of God completely upside-down.

And so, we need to be re-educated. There is a saying “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” It’s true. The older you get and the more you learn, you realize there is so much you didn’t understand when you were younger and more ignorant. Only the prideful say, ‘I know it all,” or “I know I’m right.” A teachable heart says, “Let me hear or learn more about this.” A teachable heart asks the Lord to point out areas where we are holding on to old patterns. A teachable heart asks to be softened and remain tender. A teachable heart appreciates loving correction by the Lord and by others because that’s the way we grow more Christlike.

There are many places in the Scriptures that are challenging to our thoughts or beliefs. When we meet with these, the important thing is to understand that it is we who need to explore more and change. When Nicodemus learned about being born again, he was challenged, but he accepted. When Mary heard the angel say she would give birth to God’s son, her understanding was challenged, but she accepted. If we lead with a teachable heart, fully surrendered to God, we can walk in His will and His ways even if we don’t completely understand. And complete understanding is impossible anyway. That’s what faith is for.

Tenderhearted Blessings,

Jen


Love for Breakfast

Breakfast Special revised big bestNo one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 1 John 4:12

I recently went to breakfast with my Aunt. It has always been my favorite meal of the day, but I hadn’t been out for breakfast in a long time.  The crepes were delicious.

But what really made that meal special was sharing it with my Aunt. She is pretty much all that is left of my family now, and hearing her side of family events is precious. I helped her fill out her Health Care Directive and Living Will and filled out mine as well. Working on it together made the task much less difficult and it was nice to get clarity on situations that might not be all that far off for either of us.

Pancakes and bacon are a wonderful way to start a day, but fellowship and loving-kindness are much sweeter, and the joy lasts way longer. Besides, tenderness and patience won’t go straight to your hips!

When I drew the above illustration, I was still a relatively new Christian. I included those specific attributes because although I might have thought I exhibited those, the truth is, until I became a Christian, I really did not. I tried to be kind and devoted and patient when it suited me, but too many times, when it got hard, I gave up on people. I often tried to ‘look on the bright side’ of things, but in my heart, I always expected the worst. My positive outlook was generally me being a bit delusional about how bad some situations truly were, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with them – ‘spin’ you might say.

As a bit of a lonely loner, I thought I was humble. But in reality, I had a high opinion of myself and my talents, and I enjoyed accolades and compliments. My striving could be very competitive at times, as well. I had no faith, little hope and no clue what true love really was.

In any self-help program, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Christianity is no different. To make the hard decision to follow the narrow path of The Way, we must first accept that we are sinners. Sinners are on a path that leads to sorrow and utter destruction. Luckily, we have a Savior who has cured this condition of our soul by ransoming us with his own life. He was sent by God, and if we follow Him, His Commands, His Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit within us, we can be transformed from the inside out from sinners headed for destruction to saints headed for Heavenly eternity.

Nearly 30 years later, I can look back on my life and see the difference. My values, character and desires have been completely rearranged. And for those that weren’t, I learned the proper way to achieve them. I learned how to love, how to serve, how to be patient, and how to trust God in every circumstance. My life looks very different from how I imagined it at 22. I have made choices that baffled my family and friends, and even baffled me at the time. But I knew I was following God’s will with each of them. I haven’t been disappointed, and I have no regrets. This Christian life is not easy, and I spend a lot of time readjusting my natural, worldly tendencies to do what Jesus would do. I’m far from perfect (or even good) at it. But it has been a rewarding adventure that has transformed me into a person I’m mostly proud to be, and someone I never knew I COULD be.

I had few Christian role models in my life. Those I did have wooed me with their kindness, patience, tenderness, humility and love. “…If we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” People will SEE and KNOW God through us, and our actions! What a wonderful honor it is to carry God to those longing for a better life – here and now, and eternally.

Blessings of fellowship,

Jen