Gifts

The First Noel

First noelI tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6:2b

School had been back in session only a few weeks when the auditions were announced. A month later the cast was set. By Halloween lines were learned and choreography had begun. Seamstresses sewed angel gowns. Set designers painted backdrops and made mangers. By Thanksgiving the blocking was nearly complete, dress rehearsal had begun, programs were designed, signs went up all over the neighborhood. In the next few weeks lighting cues and sound checks were worked out, hair and makeup finalized, props collected and stored. 

Finally, the big moment came, the curtain went up, and the greatest story ever told was told once more, presented in an enticing way, delighting all the senses of an audience who didn’t even realize how much they were longing for its message.

         *   *   *   *

For many years I chased the peace and calm of Christmas hinted at in ‘Silent Night’ and  ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’. I had visions of cocoa, a warm fire and jigsaw puzzles dancing in my head. But those times never came until December 26th or later. I was beginning to feel that if I couldn’t quietly contemplate the advent of God with us, I was succumbing to the world’s distorted version of Christmas. I thought I was missing the point.

Friends, hear this! Christmas is not about anything peaceful or calm. An unmarried virgin giving birth in a stable in a strange town is not peaceful. The heavens cracking wide open over shepherds and sheep with thousands of God’s messengers singing to announce that birth is not calm! Stinky, sleepy shepherds running into town to that stable is not calm, and those same shepherds running through town yelling about the Messiah is not peaceful. A royal entourage arriving with fabulously expensive gifts is not calm. And soldiers flooding the town to exterminate male children is anything BUT peaceful.

This is a story to get excited over! A story filled with dreams, visions, the Holy Spirit, miracle pregnancies, difficult treks, lost voices, quizzical visitors, narrow escapes, and radiant angels with messages from God, Himself! And most amazing of all these amazing happenings…God came to dwell WITH US! God! The God who made galaxies. The God who parted the Red Sea, parted the Jordan River, brought down the thick walls of Jericho with just rams’ horns. God who wrote commandments for us with His own hand, who protected His people from famine, lions and flame, and turned kings into beasts. THAT God chose to come to earth to dwell with US!

And why? Because we were so awesome? No. In fact, we never fully obeyed, submitted or surrendered to Him. He came out of love. Despite our sad, sinful, rebellious state; like a compassionate parent, He saw us as worthy of love…worthy of redemption. He decided to do whatever it took to bring us into a restored, loving, fulfilling relationship with Him. And what it took was Jesus being born as the Messiah, God with us – a moment in time so profound, we renumbered our calendars for it!

This is not a message to be quietly contemplated over cocoa. This is not a message to be wrapped in tinsel and sprinkled with sugar and boiled down to “Peace on Earth.” No! This is a message to be shouted from the rooftops! This is a message to ring bells for, sing songs for! In a world rotting with sin and spiritual death, this is a message of hope! A promise of life – fulfilling now and eternal later! To all those held captive by the need to succeed, there is Jesus! To all those enslaved by a quest for control, there is Jesus! To all those convinced the only way to live is by stealing, killing and destroying, there is Jesus! To all those in despair, nursing wounds, rehearsing hurts that won’t seem to heal, stuck in patterns that lead slowly to destruction, there is Jesus!

The rush and crush of the holiday season is upon us. We, the Church can NOT be calm and peaceful. We’ve a message to bring to the nations, and we can’t be silent! This is the one time each year the unchurched may walk through our doors. In the plays, nativities, teas and bazaars, in the children’s choirs, cantatas, bells and recitals, in the decorations and devotions, we MUST be about our Father’s business – leading the lost sheep home to safe pasture. This is the time to open our doors, open our eyes and open our hearts to those who need our message and bring it to them. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. There’s so much to do. So many to invite. We can rest in January.

Holy Day Blessings,

Jen


Love Warmly

Love Warmly darkerAbove all, love each other warmly, because love covers many sins. Welcome each other as guests without complaining. Each of you as a good manager must use the gift that God has given you to serve others. Whoever speaks must speak God’s words. Whoever serves must serve with the strength God supplies so that in every way God receives glory through Jesus Christ. Glory and power belong to Jesus Christ forever and ever! Amen.

-1 Peter 4:8-11 GOD’S WORD Translation

A funny thing happens when you dare to teach or write about God’s Word – often when you think you’re teaching others, God flips it, and you find yourself getting schooled. I would say that was the theme for the Jahromi household last weekend.

As we sat sipping hot tea, bundled up from head to toe in hats, scarves, sweaters and fuzzy socks under fuzzier blankets held down by cold kitties we wondered what on earth could have happened to cut power to our furnace. As the temperature grew colder, our hopes sunk lower, as our HVAC guy confirmed that the furnace, heat pump and breaker box were all functioning. The problem was with the power lines. Somehow only a small bit of power was coming through, not enough for the furnace, the well pump, the hot water heater or the oven to work. After hours of waiting for a BGE crew that never came, we threw an extra blanket on the bed and went to sleep.

The morning brought temperatures below freezing. We bundled up even more and had coffee. As I sat there, finding it hard not to shiver, I realized I had not been thinking about the lack of heat, nor the unflushed toilets or microwaved meals. Instead, I was very thankful to have a small amount of power, hot coffee, a fireplace, a case of bottled water and food to eat. I was confident that it would all work out somehow.

But I became very aware that for some people, perhaps even in the Hereford Zone, perhaps some of our Food Bank clients, this was their everyday life. As Food Bank director, I had just paid to put fuel oil in two families’ homes. Another client had just received a BGE Turn Off notice. A single mother and her child were referred to us by the school counselor because they were facing eviction. If it weren’t for our Food Bank, many families would have to choose between buying groceries or paying the bills. I’ve never had to make that choice. Not really.

There were times we had to subsist on spaghetti and hot dogs until the next paycheck came. I can remember searching the sofa cushions for change for the bus or being a few dollars short in the checkout line and having to put something back with the kids looking on. Times of deprivation can make us more empathetic and compassionate towards others experiencing hardship. They are certainly ways to increase our gratitude for the blessings in our lives. Perhaps they can be a call to be more generous with the time and money we have now.

We had to come to church un-showered, but not unwashed. It was humbling. But more humbling were the offers of spare rooms, electricians’ phone numbers, loaned generators and prayers. At home, just as we had given up on BGE for the weekend, a bucket truck backed into the driveway. Turns out our electrical meter was rusted and broken. A few hours later a crew arrived and had it all installed, fixed and up and running before the final touchdown of the Raven’s game. God is good, all the time. The warmth of those kind offers and prayers is still keeping me cozy.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, even when things look bleak and times are hard, help me to focus on the many blessings in my life. Even when times are good and blessings are numerous, help me to humbly remember to bless and serve others with the gifts I have received. Help me to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Your will for me in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Raising Grateful Praise,

Jen


Over The River and Through the Wood

Over the RiverGive thanks to the Lord, because he is good;
his love is eternal. Say to him, “Save us, O God our Savior; gather us together; rescue us from the nations, so that we may be thankful and praise your holy name.”

1 Chronicles 16:34-35 (Good News Translation)

I have very fond memories of Thanksgiving. Many of the other holidays have had various disappointments, but for me Thanksgiving is reliably good and satisfying. Perhaps that’s because it was such a time for family, that over the decades, relatives made an extra effort to come over the river, through the wood, or across the country to gather together then. As a child, and now as an adult, the place to gather is still grandma’s house.

In the various homes over the years, the smiling faces, the delectable kitchen smells, the women huddled in the kitchen and the men huddled out in the yard or around the tv for the game, kids scattered on the carpet playing…these are the cherished memories that have gradually faded into a blur of contentment over time. There was always something to help with, someone to chat with, a joke to tell, a story to share – and pie!

Although my family is not predominately Christian, Thanksgiving has always been a time to focus on the blessings in all our lives. And there are so many. It is also a time when the family is okay to start the meal with a prayer which is also a blessing. It’s the time of year when the past, present and future meet together as I gaze over the faces seated around the room, noting the absence of some and the addition of others, all sharing in an abundance of love and provision. At least for the day.

I realize that not everyone shares these kinds of memories. And honestly, any time family gathers there are some wounds and hurts lurking in the corner, threatening to steal the joy. I realize that it is not a time of abundance for everyone. It is not a time of family drawing near for everyone. My own family has had various feuds that left some uninvited. Memories can bring pain as well as joy. But I do strongly encourage everyone to focus on the many things to be thankful for, set aside differences, and find the joy in gathering together. Perhaps you need to find a tribe of like-minded believers to celebrate with. God intended our church family to BE a family, after all.

The pastor recently said that family should be a little taste of Heaven. For me it really is – at least on Thanksgiving. I can imagine arriving at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb to find cornucopias of fruits and veggies decorating the tables, and the smell of roasting turkey and stuffing and other delights filling the air, with men huddling on one side telling jokes and women huddled on the other sharing all the family news and updates. Lots of hugs and happy tears of reunion. The final cup of wine, The Cup of Praise or Consummation – based on God’s statement, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God,” – will be set before us. Jesus will ring the dinner bell and begin the feast. We will all be filled to the fullest with every good thing – – and pie!

PRAYER: Dearest Lord, whether in a crowd of many or few, help me show gratitude for all of the ways You have blessed me this year. Help me bring a little bit of your heavenly peace to my celebration, my friends and family, and my life. Thank you, Amen!

Grateful Blessings,

Jen


Foreigners in Your Land

Let Us Be Thankfull“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:33-34, NLT

There is a lot of concern over the immigration crisis in America these days. However you may feel about illegal immigration, I think we can all agree it’s a human tragedy. Migration is never easy – it entails leaving your home, country, language, culture and family behind to face an uncertain future.

In Sunday School we’re learning about the Israelites and their trek through the desert. As former slaves they had few skills to help them survive, much less to form a new nation. God provided their daily bread and gave them a new set of commandments to set them apart as a holy people following the One Lord. They were not well received by the other people groups already inhabiting that Wilderness – the Amalekites and Canaanites. Without God’s mighty outstretched arm of protection, it’s safe to say they would never have made it to the Promised Land.

As Thanksgiving approaches, consider another set of immigrants. These people were fleeing religious persecution. Called “Separatists,” they wished to start new, separate, ‘pure’ church congregations that more closely resembled those of the early Christians. In England in the 1600s, it was illegal to be part of any church other than the Church of England. They were harassed, fined and sent to jail. They sailed across an ocean landing north of their intended destination in the Virginia Colony. Again, without God’s Providence, these religious pilgrims would never have made it to the New World, nor lasted past the first, difficult years of hardship. (for more, see https://plimoth.org/for-students/homework-help/who-were-the-pilgrims)

And as my family prepares to gather around the table for Thanksgiving, I know basmati rice will be on the menu because many family members immigrated to the U.S. from Iran. Some came on education visas, some came as refugees, most fled for their lives with little preparation and even fewer belongings. Their stories of escape are filled with Divine intervention and the hand of Providence. They became doctors, nurses, professors, teachers, chemists, foreign service officers, soldiers, law enforcement professionals and CEOs of tech companies – even ran for Congress. All are proud Americans. All are thankful to be in a country that allows them to freely speak, gather and worship. It wasn’t easy. When they arrived, they didn’t speak the language. They didn’t know how the system worked. They had little money. Despite their college degrees, they babysat, flipped burgers and changed bedpans until they could get established in America.

Their story is not unique. It’s the story of many of today’s immigrants. It’s the story of your parents or grandparents. Human migration is the story of humanity. Even our Native Americans came across a land bridge from Asia some unknown millennia ago. With every war, climatic disaster or economic upheaval our news programs are filled with images of people packing up as much as they can carry and heading off into an unknown land with an unknown future.

As part of God’s chosen family, we too are foreigners in a foreign land. We live as people of spirit in a world of fleshly desires and temptations. “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Like the Israelites and the Pilgrims, we live by the blessing of God’s love and provision and guidance. Our citizenship is in Heaven. Here on earth, we are Jesus’ ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). As ambassadors, we can make love and hospitality our calling card. We have been blessed in order to bless others – with our talents and gifts, our charity, our loving attitudes, and the good works prepared for us to do from the beginning. What a wonderful thing to be thankful for!

PRAYER: Lord, help me to see past all that seeks to divide us and see each person I encounter with Your eyes, as a brother or sister. Keep me mindful that I am just a foreigner here. Help me to be Your ambassador, bringing a taste of my Heavenly home down to earth.

Blessings,

Jen


Whatever

Whatever IsPhilippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Whatever.

Don’t you just hate that response? I remember the first time I heard it from my kids. It’s such an expression of sarcastic resignation and total apathy. Hearing it from a spouse often puts the tough decisions about what to eat, watch or do right back in our own hands.

But my opinion of ‘whatever’ changed when I read Philippians 4:8. Those ‘whatevers’ are my favorite things! I have been reading fairytales and fantasy books filled with those since I was a child. Philippians 4:8 quickly became my favorite verse – perhaps my life verse.

Thinking on the best and most praiseworthy things is wonderful advice for at least three practical reasons. Of course, the biggest reason is just because God said it. But the practical reasons hint at why God said it:

FIRST, all of these qualities are the attributes of God Himself and by extension, of Jesus as He lived His earthly life. God is saying, ‘think about me.’ He loves our praise and worship. Meditating on His Word and Works and Son which all so powerfully demonstrate these qualities is the essence of worship.

SECOND, this is the ultimate ‘self-help’ advice. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is proven to lift us out of depression and increase contentment. But for Christians, it’s so much more. We are called to become more like Jesus, and these are the attributes we should be manifesting in our life. These are the fruits of the Spirit that should be ripening in us. With the help of the Holy Spirit, meditating on these things yields the renewing of our minds and guarding of our hearts that the Bible instructs us to do in Romans 12:2 and Proverbs 4:23.

FINALLY, thinking on these things regularly will instruct our future actions towards others. It takes a lot of courage to do the noble, just or gracious thing in this world. The opportunities for compromise and inaction are too many and too strong – UNLESS you have trained yourself. Police, Dancers, and Athletes train for countless hours, rehearsing in their minds regularly so that they will be able to perform a particular series of movements perfectly, without thinking, when that stressful moment of action arrives. Similarly, we need to prepare ourselves to do the right thing when the time comes. Like the great saints and martyrs of old, this is a tremendous witness to the world. Even if it’s just learning to bite our tongues and be gracious when someone is rude, or to be honest when a lie would make life easier, or to be inconvenienced in the service of others even if we suspect they’ll be ungrateful – these are our witness in the world. Others are watching and they’ll wonder why we dare to be so different.

It feels odd to many of us to think that Truth, Justice, Purity, Graciousness, and Excellence would make us stand out as different these days. I feel like these used to be the golden standard that our society was built on in the past. But maybe they’ve always been aspirational and inspirational, the stuff of fairytales, fantasies and Hollywood movies. God, however, calls us to this higher ground. He calls us to transformation and sanctification, setting us apart for His purposes. That process will never be fully complete in our mortal lifetimes, but by ‘thinking about such things’ we can bring a little taste of Heaven to earth now.

PRAYER: Holy Father, show me ways to do ‘whatever’ for you. Help me to think and do what is true, what is noble, what is right, what is pure, what is lovely, what is admirable, excellent and praiseworthy to bring glory to You. Amen.

Blessings,

Jen

Whatevers

 


Sweet Surrender

Sweet SurrenderDefinition of surrender

sur·​ren·​der | \ sə-ˈren-dər  \

transitive verb

1a: to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand // surrendered the fort

b: to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another

2a: to give (oneself) up into the power of another especially as a prisoner

b: to give (oneself) over to something (such as an influence)

Surrender is one of those concepts (like submission) that is almost universally regarded as negative. In the world today, and especially our American corner of it, giving up control or power is a sign of weakness, of being beaten. It’s unimaginable that anyone would do it willingly. And yet, surrender is the very foundation of our relationship with God.

Our small group and the Ladies’ Bible Study have been studying The Four Cups by Pastor Chris Hodges. It’s a great study with a lot of powerful revelations, but it all starts with the truth that God has promised us many wonderful blessings in His word, including Salvation, Deliverance, Fulfillment and His continual presence in our lives. What’s the catch? Only this: He will never force any of these on us. They are free cups of blessing which will profoundly improve our lives, give us purpose and bring us true joy, but He only holds them out to us – it’s up to us to take and drink from them.

Now, if your hands are full of responsibilities, treasures and unhealthy habits, it will be impossible to take those cups from God. You have to lay that stuff down – surrender it – before your hands are free to receive God’s cups of blessing. But God’s plan for you is not a little remodeling, it is a full tear-down renovation. He needs you to surrender your whole self: body, mind and spirit.

Like Abraham and Moses, God wants to move us to a new place where we will be depending fully on Him. Step one is repentance – turning our backs on our yesterday, our before, our ‘used to be’ and leaving it behind to follow Him. Step two is surrender – we have to let go. We have to leave behind our baggage, our chains, our ‘leeks and onions’ and our comfort zones. What’s the point of being free and starting over if you bring your old chains of bondage, co-dependencies and triggers along with you?

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19. This verse is in both the Old and New Testaments. This is God’s plan for us: to make a way where there seems to be no way and to bring life from what seems dead. God wants to deliver us from our old way of life, from following the culture, from trying to impress people, from trying to succeed by man’s standards. It will take our complete surrender. It will require giving up our control, our power, and giving ourselves over to the Almighty, Living God who created us with a purpose to fulfill.

But consider the freedom of putting yourself fully into God’s hands – of living without care and anxiety – of flowing along in His will. He loves you. He wants the best for you. He has a plan for your life to bring you joy and contentment. Will there be struggles? Sure, but He’ll be beside you the whole way, and He promises to use those struggles to bring good to you and others (Romans 8:28). In fact, He promises that if you surrender yourself to Him, He will bless you, and through you, He will bless the entire world! (Genesis 12:2-3) That truly is sweet, sweet surrender!

PRAYER: Lord, I want to surrender all to You. It’s hard to give up control of my life, my family, my hopes and dreams. But right now, in this moment, I fully yield all that I am to You. Meet me here tomorrow and every day afterward to help me do it again, dying to self, laying down my life, picking up my cross and following You.

Blessings,

Jen


In Disguise

Bear bones crop bigger“…The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

-1 Samuel 16:7

This Sunday our church will hold its 3rd Annual Trunk or Treat. The cars, the adults and the kids will all be in costume. I love costumes. Whether it’s Halloween or a play, VBS or a Sunday School video, I rarely miss the chance to pretend to be someone else – just for a time. But earlier in my life I really struggled with pretending to be someone else most of the time.

I was an odd kid. If you’ve ever seen ‘Young Sheldon,’ I was kind of like that. While other kids were playing with Barbies or crashing Hot Wheels, I preferred to read the encyclopedia and memorize world capitals. I was more interested in hearing about the famine in Africa than seeing Rock Stars during Live Aid. I often felt that I was speaking a whole different language than my peers…or, like Sheldon, that I was a whole other species.

During Middle School I decided on a plan to ‘fit in.’ I donned the ‘uniform’ of the day: Levi jeans, a polo shirt with an animal embroidered on it, and Nike tennis shoes. I shunned all the kids who seemed ‘different’ or ‘weird.’ I no longer immediately raised my hand to answer the teachers’ questions. For a time, it worked. I developed a small circle of friends and had a place at the cafeteria table. But I couldn’t keep pretending to care about things I didn’t and not to care about things I did. My real friends kept liking me anyway and other kids teased me regardless of my ‘cool’ disguise. I later realized that all the kids felt insecure about some aspect of themselves and their lives and did their best to hide it to avoid becoming an outcast.

I’ve often wondered as an adult if we move beyond this stage. At jobs, in the PTA, in friend groups and sadly, at various churches, I’ve witnessed people putting on a mask and costume pretending to be more competent, more successful, more ‘together’ than they truly are. Social media only increases the pressure to present a perfect façade. And while that’s sad, it’s even more sad when these false masks of perfection get weaponized into hypocrisy, demanding that others rise to the level of ‘perfection’ or conformity which we ourselves cannot maintain.

Jesus is the ultimate sanctuary for ‘outcasts’ who can no long wear the mask and pretend. Jesus bids us to come as we are. He doesn’t need us to pretend to be in control or have it all together. He knows we don’t. That’s what He came to earth for. He wants to deliver us from the entire worldly system of status, success, false perfection and secret sin. He sees right through our masks and disguises and looks straight into our hearts. He sees the brokenness, the shame, the fear, the spiritual bondage, the anxieties, the wounds. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He realigns our view of what is important in life: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” Philippians 3:7-8. And through our relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit within us, He transforms us to be more like Himself, enabling us to accept everyone. “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus…. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” Romans 15:5-7.

It's fun to put on a costume and pretend to be an animal, a favorite character or even something a little spooky. But on the inside, we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. Some of us are blessed enough to have found Him and are being transformed. The rest are waiting to be accepted and find a safe place to finally take off their masks and be seen. Then the healing can start.

PRAYER: Father, give me Your eyes to see beyond the masks and disguises of those around me. Give me Your heart to become a sanctuary of acceptance so that we can share freely and I can introduce them to Jesus and his healing transformation. Amen.

Happy Trunk-or-Treating!

Jen


Teamwork

Bird Town...the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow... The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; - 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

While I never really participated in team sports, I did spend a lot of time watching everything from the Orioles and Ravens to the Olympics and World Cup Soccer. What fascinated me most about sports was the idea of teamwork. In school gym class, the emphasis was always on winning, and many aggressive boys made me feel ‘less than’ for not competing well, or for quoting the rules. Personally, I rarely experienced teamwork and that sense of everyone working together to succeed.

By the time my kids were old enough to participate in organized sports, I was hesitant to subject them to that kind of pressure and ridicule. To my surprise and relief, the emphasis of most of these leagues was on building skills and working together as a team. I know that there is much scorn from many people of a ‘certain age’ over the liberal handing out of Participation Awards. But I ask you, is that not the proper thing to reward?

In every sport, league or championship there can only be one winner. It’s very tempting to think that the winners won because they were ‘better,’ or worked harder, or ‘wanted it more.’ But is that really true? Consider Matthew Stafford. He was the quarterback for the Detroit Lions for 11 years. For most of those years his team finished near the bottom of the standings. Was that because he was a mediocre player? Well, let’s ask his teammates on the Superbowl Champion LA Rams. Stafford started his first season with the Rams and took them to the Superbowl and won it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot watching our Baltimore Ravens this year. We’ve had two stunning losses where we played outstanding football for 3 quarters and then allowed the trailing team to come back and defeat us. In those games, our quarterback, Lamar Jackson, put up record-breaking stats in passing and rushing that got him named the AFC Player of the Month in September. You can do your best and be one of the best in your position and still have a losing season.

The opposite is also true. Sometimes you are just in the right place at the right time. Joe Flacco was the rookie third string quarterback when injuries and illness made him the only QB left. He stepped on the field, rose to the occasion and became the franchise quarterback, ultimately winning a Superbowl. Similarly, Mark Andrews, an outstanding Tight End, got national attention last year for a record-breaking number of receptions and touchdowns. He was in that position because injuries decimated the receiving squad. He became ‘the’ guy because he was the only guy. You can be the star player even on the worst team.

Meanwhile, the ‘Monday Morning Quarterbacks’ will be on TV, radio and social media explaining how your season is over, calling for your job, saying you were always overrated…or lauding your skill, proclaiming your future Hall of Fame status and comparing you to the GOATs (greatest of all time.)

This is our Christian walk. We have a Great, Almighty Coach who has given us a position to play and the talent to do it well. He has placed us in a team and asked us to work together to put up ‘W’s’ for Jesus. The devil is always right there to criticize our performance. He wants to rip us apart for ratings. But our Coach reminds us that LITERALLY, “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Coach is also fond of saying He doesn’t so much need super-talented players, just players who SHOW UP and do the work (the Participation Award). He wants players who are teachable and hard-working. He doesn’t need prima donnas who whine when they don’t get enough opportunities to shine. He knows that it will take everyone unselfishly doing their best in their positions to have a winning season. Receivers can’t catch a ball that the Quarterback never throws because the Offensive Line let him get sacked. The Defense and Special Teams can all score points.

Teamwork DOES make the dream work! Not for the fleeting glory of a fickle public, but for God, our Great Coach. Don’t worry about trying to be Aaron Rodgers or Mark Andrews…or Billy Graham or Mother Teresa…just concentrate on being the very best YOU you can be - right now, right where you are. “Whatever work you do, do it with all your heart. Do it for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23. When you’re working together for the Lord, it’s always a winning season!

GO TEAM!

Jen


Happy Camper

Happy Camper smaller

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.