Gifts

Proclaim Liberty

For you have been called to live i Let Freedom Ringn freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

-- Galatians 5:13

Freedom. From the earliest age we’ve been taught to desire it, to cherish it, but do we really understand what it means, especially from God’s perspective?

One way to grasp it is to think of its opposites: bondage, slavery, obligation. And now we start to see the problem. From our worldly perspective, freedom is the absence of obligations, the absence of bosses, masters or anyone else telling us what to do. But this is not God’s viewpoint.

The other day I sat pondering ‘praying about everything.’ I realized I had not really prayed over our upcoming vacation. I was thinking here about flight delays, weather, etc. But then a different thought popped in my head: I had not asked for ‘permission’ from God to go on vacation. I instantly rejected this thought. I’m a grown woman…I don’t have to ask anyone for permission about anything anymore! The thought persisted. ‘You are a bondservant, aren’t you? You’ve willingly taken a Master.’

Well, huh, got me there.

In Biblical times, most slaves had to be freed every seven years. But if a slave loved their master and decided to stay, they could become a ‘bondservant’ which would make them a slave forever. When we make the decision to take Jesus as the Master of our lives, we make a similar choice. We pledge what Jesus pledged in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father…I want your will to be done, not mine.” Mark 14:36 That doesn’t sound like very much freedom.


In fact, the Bible says that in this life we will always be slaves to something.  Paul explains in Romans 6:16-18:

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

There is a lot of talk these days about ‘agency’ and ‘setting intentions.’ But how much ‘freedom’ do we truly have? Our COVID experience showed us that our freedom to practice our religion could be restricted, our freedom to gather constrained and our freedom to not wear a mask overridden. Freedom to travel and work took a hit. Even our freedom to refuse medical interventions such as vaccinations was challenged. And although we cling to our freedom of speech, ‘cancel culture’ and ‘fact checking’ made it clear that some speech was freer than others.

Besides that, our freedom is restricted by laws, statutes, ethics, contracts and commitments, and vows we have made to ourselves and others. If you have children and a job and a mortgage, can you really just hop on a plane to Hawaii today with a one-way ticket? Well, theoretically, of course you can. We are always free to be disobedient, to break the law, and to break our promises. And we are free to reap the consequences of those actions, including a major restriction of our freedom: incarceration.

Freedom is an illusion. There will always be those with more power or money who will make the rules which curtail our ‘agency.’ There will always be obligations we must fulfill. There will always be a moral code that we feel compelled to obey. We can ‘set an intension’ to be happy, but our happiness will always be in competition with others’ happiness, and thus require compromise.

My hubby has often said that the best form of government would be a ‘benevolent king,’ who would truly seek the welfare of his people. He would give them laws that protected his subjects while still allowing them much control over their lives. That does sound pretty good…. But then, as Christians, isn’t that exactly what we have? In this life we will always be a slave to something, but Jesus tells us,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Through Christ we are free from the punishment for sin, free from death. We are set free by the Truth to see injustice, oppression, corruption and abuse the way God sees it. And we are free by the Holy Spirit within us to work against those evils. We are free to willingly accept the yoke of a bondservant pledged to serve Jesus for life by serving others. His way leads to life, abundance and righteousness. Our labor will build the Kingdom of God where one day we will dwell in a mansion as an adopted son or daughter!

So, as we observe Independence Day, celebrate your independence from sin, selfishness and worldly pleasures that last only for this lifetime and are a snare for your soul. Celebrate your dependence on God, His Mercy, His Grace, His Forgiveness and His Salvation. Humble yourselves, and ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling!’ Philippians 2:12.

DEAR LORD, help us to submit our strong wills and desire for freedom to You. Teach us Your ways and help us be fruitful and pleasing to You. Grant us courage to pursue justice and righteousness for Your namesake. God bless us and bless America and our world. AMEN.

Blessings of Liberty,

Jen 


Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Bright Hope for TomorrowThe Lord says,

“I love justice and I hate oppression and crime.
I will faithfully reward my people
And make an eternal covenant with them.
They will be famous among the nations;
Everyone who sees them will know
That they are a people whom I have blessed.”

Isaiah 61:8-9

We had hoped…

…that COVID would be over and done with by now;

…that our political disagreements would have become more civil;

…that the violence in our cities would have subsided;

…that supply chain issues would have resolved;

…that people would go back to working in all sectors;

…that the economy would have bounced back;

…that travel – local, national and international – would have returned to ‘normal;’

…that the world would “go back to normal.”

I’ve been looking at “the prophets” lately. It’s generally the part of the Old Testament after Psalms and Proverbs. It’s a shame that we don’t study these books too often because in them, generally speaking, God is specifically speaking to His people. He’s accusing them, He’s warning them, He’s admonishing them to repent, and perhaps most exciting of all, He gives them HOPE! He promises restoration, a Savior who will bring healing, and a time when God’s Kingdom will once again return to earth, and God and mankind will be reunited as they were in the Garden of Eden. Now change the ‘them’ to ‘us.’

By the time of the Prophets, God has decided to pass judgment on His people by allowing them to be taken into captivity by Assyria and then Babylon.  Those days were like the ‘End Times,’ full of injustice, crime, and corruption and worst of all, the kings and religious leaders who should have been rescuing and protecting their people were the ones exploiting them. Sound familiar at all?

Falling away from God to follow other idols of money, power, security, politics, entertainment, addictions, etc. always leads to judgment and consequences. Most of us are familiar with this famous promise from God, given after the dedication of Solomon’s Temple:

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

But perhaps less familiar is the other half of the promise:

“But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:19-22

And He did.

Of course, we have Jesus now as our New Covenant. But rather than absolving us of our responsibility as a nation, Jesus’ calling is even higher. It is a calling to make other people’s problems our own. It is a calling to take on injustice and corruption and bring healing and reconciliation whenever possible. It is a calling to bring God’s Kingdom to earth by making disciples, with each one of us as a Temple of the Holy Spirit where God dwells.

And this is the GREAT HOPE that the Prophets foretold. It won’t be complete until Jesus returns, but until He comes, we better get busy. There is plenty of injustice, violence and corruption for us to fight against. There are plenty of people suffering from the effects of sin. But there is bright hope for tomorrow! We bring that message of hope, and one great and glorious day, Jesus will return, and we will dwell in the garden once more, fully restored and in perfect communion with God!

1 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. 35 And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

 Ezekiel 47:1,12,35

Hopeful Blessings,

Jen


Abba, Father

Abba Father screen best (1)Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. -2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

My Dad was not a perfect dad, but he was the perfect dad for me. He was kind and affectionate, an encyclopedia of information, and always ready to build some contraption or have some adventure to bring me and the neighborhood kids delight.

He was always agreeable except in the face of lying, cheating or other willful misdeeds. The rareness of his wrath made it that much scarier and effective. But when I had a boo-boo or other childhood disappointment, he’s the one I’d run to. He rarely fixed my problem, or even gave me sage advice, but he was my defender and comforter.

I think God Almighty must have a similar temperament. He loves to delight us by giving us the desires of our hearts. And he brings people, adventures and challenges into our lives to enrich us. He has vast, boundless knowledge of the universe and His spiritual kingdom, and I know He enjoys watching us figure things out and catch fleeting understanding of things beyond our comprehension.

He gets so much joy out of us telling Him how much we love and adore Him. He loves for us to sit at His feet and just listen to anything and everything He has to say to us. He longs for us to request all the good things He has planned for us. And nothing makes Him happier than when we obey Him and follow where He leads.

He is always ready to comfort us when the hard times come. He also rarely fixes our problems. He knows it is ultimately better for us to learn to solve our own dilemmas, but He has plenty of advice for nearly every situation. He wants us to tell Him all about our day, the good, the bad and the mundane. He knows that as we talk to Him, things will just start to make more sense.

Of course, it’s hard to confess the willful misdeeds. We know there will be consequences and some wrath, but He’s quick to forgive and forget. He sees us as our best selves. He knows just what our potential is, and He wants us to reach it. He gently reminds us and nudges us when we are about to go the wrong way or do the wrong thing. Sometimes His disapproval and disappointment are worse than the wrath.

His love is warm, secure, all-encompassing and unconditional. We are precious and special to Him, and He so much wants us to grasp that. He has given us the world and He wants us to enjoy it and enjoy each other which is what brings Him joy.

I miss my Dad. And although Our Father in Heaven won’t be popping corn on the stove and wrapping me up in a comforter, He IS intimately involved in my life, encouraging, teaching, defending, scolding and comforting me in very familiar ways. He is my Abba, Father, and I am happy to sit with him and be filled with wonder and amazement at all that HE IS.

PRAYER: Dear Father, bless all the fathers who follow after You, raising up the next generations to follow. Bless the fathers who can’t be with their children, bless the children growing up without fathers, and those who grieve their loss. Bless all the men who positively impact the lives of children – the coaches, counselors, scout leaders, teachers, pastors, carers, uncles, grandpas, cousins and friends. Raise up godly men to share their faith and lead the way! Amen.

Father’s Day Blessings,

Jen 


Transformation

Key to My Heart with textBecause of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. …What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.

Galatians 6:14-15

 In every great story, from Epics to Hallmark movies, a satisfying ending needs to include some kind of transformation: he started out small and afraid and ended up a hero, she started out lonely and unfulfilled and realized she could become an entrepreneur and find love, etc. Without some transformation, we might get to the end and say, ‘Yeah…but so what?” However, in our own stories – our lives – we often do not travel down a path of transformation. Sure, we went to college and had our horizons expanded, or went on that awesome trip that made us more aware of the world, or we dropped a few pounds and learned some self-discipline, but are we daily working on transforming ourselves?

The Christian faith is all about transformation – every bit of it. The first transformation is when we ask ourselves ‘is this all there is to life?’ We transform from people concerned with the cares of this world to people seeking a deeper, spiritual life. When we encounter Jesus, He says, ‘Repent and follow me.’ When we decide to turn away from the world and accept His work on the cross, we are transformed from wretched sinners far from God into beloved sons and daughters, forgiven and accepted with a promise of eternal life! And that is really only the beginning of the story, or perhaps the end of Part One.

Part Two opens with us embarking on the journey of our lifetime of transformation. Our mission is summed up in three profound verses:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. -Romans 12:2

Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. -Ephesians 4:23-24

And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. -2 Corinthians 3:18

If we had a ‘Jesus moment’ years ago but have never left behind the ‘baggage’ of this world and set out on the quest for holiness (sanctification), then we’ve missed the whole point! Jesus came to bring God’s Kingdom NEAR!

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. -John 10:9-10

There are no thieves in Heaven, so this rich and satisfying life is not the next life, but THIS LIFE. Jesus came to earth and began His ministry with healing – healing diseases, healing deformities, healing from demon possession, healing from bad life choices, healing from death! If He were only concerned about the next life, why bother?  Jesus wants to draw near, touch us and transform us in such a profound way that we will be moved to change our lives and go bring others for Jesus to transform.

We must become clay in the Potter’s hands (see Jeremiah 18:1-7) and allow the Holy Spirit to shape us and transform us into the person God created us to be. We all start off with character flaws, undeveloped talents, physical or mental challenges to overcome and, of course, our ‘idiosyn-crazies’. We should not kid ourselves into believing that God’s unconditional love means we never have to change. Yes, God loves you forever no matter what - but He loves you too much to leave you an unfinished masterpiece. Transformation and change can be hard and painful, but like pruning a tree, we have to trim away the dead branches to get new growth and fruitfulness. God knows what He’s created us to be, and He wants us to experience the joy of becoming that!

Marie Kondo’s book on de-cluttering has many of us regularly asking if the things in our life ‘spark joy.’ The concept is, if a particular item is useful, but it doesn’t ‘spark joy’, then out it goes. Many of us need to spark some joy in our spiritual lives. If our encounters with God are not filling us with ‘indescribable joy,’ then perhaps we have some transformative work to do. The closer we are to the person God created us to be, the image of Christ, the more joy and peace we will experience. Caterpillars, it’s time to cocoon ourselves in God’s Word, in praise and worship and meditation and get ready to transform into beautiful butterflies!

Metamorphic blessings,

Jen 


Pray Without Ceasing

Ask & Seek rescanTherefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

-Mark 11:24

Folks, it’s getting Bad out there. We all feel it, and we’re all alarmed by the seeming suddenness of evil’s hold on our society. It’s no longer just our city, our state, or our country – it’s the whole world. And even unbelievers are asking the questions we’ve been asking for a while now – how can we reach people caught up in drugs, immorality, corruption, selfishness and violence? How can we bring the Good back?

The answer is like so many of God’s commands and Jesus’ teachings: simple to say, undeniably true, but very challenging to put into practice – PRAY.

Let me start with a few quotes from my Pray Everyday calendar:

  • Prayer is not a substitute for work, or merely preparation for work. It IS the work. – Ronald Dunn
  • Divine action, in some mysterious manner, is conditioned upon believing prayer. Thus, prayer is set forth as the chief task of the believer. It is his responsibility to ask. It is God’s responsibility to accomplish –Curtis Mitchell
  • Prayer and helplessness are inseparable. Only he who is helpless can truly pray. –Ole H. Hallesby
  • Prayer is asking, seeking, and knocking at a door for something we have not, which we desire, and which God has promised to us. –Unknown
  • The problem is that the situation is desperate, but we are not. –Vance Havner

Ironically, these represent only the quotes from this past week. And considering what a week it was, it feels like a little Divine prodding. In fact, I had no idea what to write on this week, but that first quote kept popping into my head until I relented. So, PRAY!

We all feel very small and helpless in the face of the nightly news’ litany of horrors. But as the above quotes and Robyn’s Devotional yesterday remind us, that is exactly the place to be for crying out to the Lord! We have come to the end of our rope, tied a knot in it and still realize we are vulnerable and helpless. Prayer is the answer. As Pastor Bill reminds us, prayer is the only way to instantly do something for people and situations next door or around the globe, whether they want us to or not. Our prayers are like supernatural arrows flying at angel-speed right into the heart of the spiritual battle.

James 5:13-16

The Prayer of Faith

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

To really have effective prayers, we need to go farther and deeper than just the Lord’s prayer, or even a list of names and situations that we want to ask God to work in. I have been researching Christian Mystics lately. If your response to reading that was to wrinkle your nose and think of hippies with crystals, you aren’t alone…in being wrong. Christian Mystics are far from a ‘fringe element’ within Christianity. In fact, most of the saints and Church fathers were mystics. Mystics are those engaged in moving past religious rituals and dogma to have an experience of God – we all should want that!

I hear so many people, young and old, new believer and senior saint, say that they pray and speak to God but get no answers, or they feel God isn’t there. If that happens long enough, you may start to have some of those doubts the Pastor mentioned in his sermon. You can know ‘about’ God in your head, but you ‘know’ God in your heart…it is primarily a spiritual feeling that cannot in any way be proven but is nevertheless very real and transformative.

How to go deeper? Well, since I’m running out of space, I’m going to list some resources. But I would also say, for starters, learn to meditate. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God;” You won’t hear God’s still, small voice answering or inspiring you if your mind isn’t empty and quiet enough for long enough. As for what to say, speak like a child to its parent and let it all pour out. And if even that seem daunting, remember Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

GOING DEEPER WITH PRAYER:

Praying for our praying to change the world,

Jen