Gifts

Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

Seek Ye FirstYou will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:13

There’s a lot in the Bible about seeking. Some of Jesus’ greatest parables are about seeking. Seeking is a very intentional act. Just ask those who seek out rare birds, rare coins or other collectibles.

My son recently sent me a photo of the china cabinet in a home where he spent Christmas. My husband only saw the cabinet, but what my son and I saw was the impressive multicolored collection of Fiestaware in that cabinet. Only a seeker-collector would appreciate the value of what, to others, would just be pretty (or pretty old) pitchers and plates.

Seeking is also the only way to find God, and ‘collect’ spiritual truths. Hard-hearted people will not turn to God. These people are so sure of themselves, their intellect, the correctness of their point of view, that they will not be open to anything that doesn’t fit their philosophy. Remember Pharaoh? Remember Nebuchadnezzar? Remember Pontius Pilate? Unless something happens to change them, they will never be open to the possibility of the supernatural, miraculous or Divine.

Seekers are open to options. They may be seeking in all the wrong places, but they are open to the wonderful mysteries of the Universe. I was this type of teenager. I was convinced there was more to life than just what we see, but I looked for it in eastern philosophies, tarot cards, astrology and crystals. And here’s the thing: because there IS more than just this plane of existence, and because it IS possible to know the future, and because spiritual energy is real, those philosophies are not total malarkey. But they are potentially dangerous, and God tells us to stay away from divination (even the name tells us we are treading too close to God’s sacred territory).

I eventually found my way to the Truth. And when I found Him, my soul leapt just like John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb. There is something about the Gospel and about the Truth of Jesus that calls out to us across time and space and rings true in that eternity that God has placed in our souls. When you find this Truth, you know that you know. And as the scales fall from your eyes, you see the same world in whole new way. For me it was like finding that particular puzzle piece that suddenly makes the colors and shapes of the other pieces fall together. The spiritual truths have been falling into place ever since. Christian musician Keith Green described it this way: “Like waking up from the longest dream. How real it seemed, until Your love broke through…”

If you’ve found the Truth, then your seeking isn’t over. Daily seek for God in his Word, seek for God through prayer, seek for God through your service to others. These are the ways we reap the blessings that God promises to us. If you know seekers who are still looking, share with them! You have the answer they're looking for. If you haven’t experienced faith as a relationship with the Truth, seek and you will find! Knock and the door will be opened to you. Seek God with your heart and soul and He will reveal himself to you and show you the way to Jesus and to the mysteries of His kingdom.

Finding Jesus and beginning an exciting, wonderous journey with Him is the most valuable find you fill ever make. It is more precious than pearls, gold, or any 1940s pottery or rare bird. Of course, you’ll still have time to add to those other collections, just remember to seek God’s kingdom first. (It's probably not under the bed.)

Blessings,

Jen


Don't Look Back

MountSodom061607
Lot's Wife on Mt. Sodom

17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”… 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. --Genesis 19:17,26

New Year is generally a time of reflection. It’s a time to consider goals reached or not, decisions made, outcomes achieved and begin a plan for the coming year. Usually, I’m all for that kind of thinking. A little analysis can go a long way in helping to correct your course to a brighter future. But as I stand at the cliff edge of 2021, unlike Lot’s wife who just had to have one last peek, I am content to shake the dust off my sandals and make a fresh start into 2022.

Lot’s wife is a wonder to me. First of all, there she is still on Mount Sodom. I’m pretty sure that isn’t actually her, but it IS a mountain of salt, nonetheless. And why did she have to become a pillar of salt? Was it symbolic? Was it a punishment? Or was it just a consequence of whatever mechanism God used to rain down sulfur from the sky? If you read the story carefully, you see that they had all made it safely to the next town, so she wasn’t worried about her daughters’ safety. No, she disobediently looked back of her own accord.

God frequently reminds us that His ways are not our ways. We like to pause and reflect, tidy up loose ends, find ‘closure.’ But how many times does God and Jesus tell us to move on without a thought to the past?

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” --Luke 9:59-62

 

30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! -- Luke 17:30-32

 

18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. -Isaiah 43:18

 

25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
    keep your foot from evil.

-Proverbs 4:25-27

Perhaps the lesson here is that although the past is defined as "gone by in time and no longer existing", it can still hold our imaginations captive. The past is something that should be forgotten, but unfortunately, a lot of people let it define them. When God calls us into His service, He wants the Holy Spirit to teach us, not lessons of the past. It’s too tempting to use lessons from the past as a roadmap to the future. This is the problem with ‘self-help’ – if your ‘self’ could have ‘helped’ you, you wouldn’t need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to daily renew your mind and spirit. You wouldn’t need God’s mercy which is new every morning.

God has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. We need to move forward in the light and not let the darkness of the past concern our thoughts. Maybe this is true more for looking back to our sinful, pre-saved lives and habits. Was Lot’s wife tempted to long for the rough, sin-filled life of Sodom? Remember how the Israelites longed for Egypt’s leeks and garlic even in the midst of God’s miracle exodus? Or maybe she just couldn’t trust God in the midst of the chaos.

If we continue following, He’ll continue leading, and the lessons we learn along the way will be just what He’s trying to teach us now. We won’t need a compass or a map.

Each day has enough trouble of its own. --Matthew 6:34

Maybe that is the real the takeaway for 2021.

Blessings,

Jen


The Five Kings of Christmas

Therefore when Jesus w One Kingas born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, lo! astrologers [lo! kings, or wise men,] came from the east to Jerusalem, and said [saying], Where is he, that is born [the] king of Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.

-- Matthew 2:1-2, Wycliffe Bible

Five Kings? But the Bible says there were three! Does it? Actually, we don’t really know how many Magi there were, just that they brought at least three gifts.  But nevertheless, assuming there were three, the Bible is very clear about the other two as well.

THE FALSE KING:

The first king is Herod, in title, the king of the Jews. There was all kind of controversy surrounding Herod and his rule. For one thing, he had collaborated with Mark Anthony and the Romans in their conquest of Judea. The Romans allowed him to rule over his people with whatever authority was left over. And here’s the other problem: Herod was not Judean. He was from Idumea (Edom), with its capital in Petra in what is now Jordan. He was ethnically an Arab whose family had converted to Judaism. And he installed High Priests who were also converts from other places. This, along with his lifestyle of debauchery made him an illegitimate king to the Pharisees and to many Jews. There is no question that he would have felt threatened by any challenge to his rule – in fact, he murdered his mother- and brother-in-law for that reason. With his extravagant lifestyle and expensive building projects paid for by unbearable taxes to solidify his power and status, Herod exemplifies worldly rulers.

THE WISE KINGS:

The ‘three kings’ were probably not kings at all, but Magi, or wise men, highly educated and skilled in reading the stars and interpreting omens. They consulted with kings and were ‘king makers’ using their skills to ‘read the future.’ They had read all the prophesies of the various religions and had maps of the stars. This was their ‘science.’ And when, one special day, a new star appeared that was not on any map, they were wise enough to realize something amazing and important was happening. Perhaps more importantly, they were willing to act on that belief. Preparing, packing up a caravan, and heading out for a long journey west with expensive gifts took perhaps two years or more. Their gifts represent their understanding of just who the Messiah was destined to be. Gold for a King, because Messiah would be born King of the Jews, and all mankind. Frankincense for a Priest, because Messiah would be the Great High Priest who would intercede between mankind and God Almighty. Myrrh for burial, because Messiah would not be just the Priest, but also the sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world. With their study and watching, and understanding of who Messiah would be, the Wise Kings exemplify seekers who, when they find the Truth, follow hard after it, despite the hardship, to worship God.

THE ONE TRUE KING:

Many Jews expected the Messiah to come and establish the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem and send the Romans packing. They longed for a righteous king to grant them freedom. Sadly, many missed the opportunity for True freedom that Jesus brought. In this world there will always be troubles, sadness, tragedies. God’s kingdom is not of this world, and the peace and freedom Jesus brought are also not of this world, they are grace and mercy that transcend our worldly cares. But a day is coming soon when Jesus will return, not as a babe, meek and mild in a lowly manger, but as the rightful King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Now, he is our friend, our comforter, a peacemaker, a healer and a teacher. But when He comes again, He will bring the sword of God’s Justice and Truth. Check out Revelation 19:11-16 for a better description. The baby in the manger is easy to love, the passionate young rabbi who heals and speaks in parables about the kingdom of God is easy to follow. But we should never forget that He is yet a Mighty King, the Ruler of all Creation, who is Holy and Blameless. The sin of our world saddens, offends and angers Him. And one day He will come to bring God’s perfect justice and wipe away all evil. He came down to us, laying aside all His crowns and glory, becoming a sacrifice, paying our debt, just so we could be welcomed into such a wonderful place as that – the Kingdom of God, Heaven on earth.

They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” ~Revelation 17:14

Blessings,

Jen


New Chapter

New ChapterWhy, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. ~James 4:14

Perspective is everything. The same situation with the same facts can be perceived completely differently by different people. Even a sentence like “Let’s eat Grandma!” can be an invitation TO dinner, or an invitation to BE dinner.

The above verse in James can be read in two different ways as well. Read with a pessimistic or fatalistic spirit, the verse could seem depressing. It expresses that we have no knowledge or control over what the future holds, and furthermore that our life is pitifully short in the grand scheme of things. Those statements are all true, although many do not care to admit it, or grasp the ultimate importance of this truth. However, read with a more optimistic, adventurous spirit, that same verse is a challenge. Life is short, so make the most of the time you have, use it wisely and step out in faith knowing that God holds it all in His hands!

Jesus told us “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).  I really believe this. And some of the truth Jesus wants us to understand is ‘hard truth.’ You know, the kind of stuff that unsaved people don’t want to think about. Often, we, ourselves, don’t want to think about it.

Like: Life is unpredictable. There is no way to be sure what tomorrow will bring, let alone next week, or next year. Life is also unfair. Some people are born rich, beautiful or athletic while others are born poor, with lower IQs, or with disabilities. Some have loving homes, some not so much. We don’t get to choose for ourselves. Life is short. Even the longest human lifespan is a mere scratch on timeline of eternity. And death is inevitable. It comes for us all. Finally, any sense of control over these things we may feel is only an illusion.

When I reached adolescence and figured out these truths, I had that existential crisis many of us experience. What’s the point of living? Why bother going on at all? Am I just a pawn in the universe’s chess match? If you have teens and twenty-somethings in your life, I guarantee you these thoughts are in their heads. Perhaps you’ve thought them. Perhaps you still do.

That is why it is CRITICAL to understand how these truths can set you free! Life is unpredictable, that is true, so really, ALL things are possible. Amazing, wonderful, profoundly good things can be in our future! We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we can know that God holds our tomorrows. We can have a relationship with a loving God, who like the best parent ever, wants to teach us and guide us to our most fulfilling future. Sometimes the growth He wants for us is a little painful, but it is always for our best interests.

Life is sadly unfair. We do not all start at Go with $1,500 and the same number of rolls of the dice. Lucky for us, the point of life is not to own all the property and make all the money! God created us all differently with different strengths and weakness, different talents and challenges. Our goal is not to be the ‘best’ as our time and culture defines it, but to be the best version of ourselves as God defines that. And God defines that in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “

Life is short and death is inevitable. If you need deadlines to get you going the way I do, then this is a motivator! No time to put off good works, dream trips, hugs, difficult discussions, or sharing the Good News. No time to delay in attending church, raising the kids to know Jesus, reading the Bible.

But also, although death in this world is inevitable, life in the next realm is ETERNAL! One thing we have complete control over is whether we choose to have a relationship with God by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior whose perfect sacrifice cleanses our sin and enables us to spend eternity in Heaven!

This is where the adventure is begun! Accepting Jesus as the Lord of your life is a daring adventure where your needs are provided by Almighty God, an amazing journey where miracles happen every day, a wonderful new chapter of answered prayer and movements of the Holy Spirit. Start that new chapter today! You don’t know what tomorrow will bring…isn’t that exciting?

Wishing you Blessings in the New Year,

Jen

**if you didn't get my new 2022 calendar and you want one, you can purchase one at Illustrated Christian Scripture Calendar

 


Joy!

Joy God with usBe joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. - Romans 12:12

Someone recently asked me what my ‘word for the year’ would be. (If you‘re not familiar with this concept, may I recommend One Perfect Word, by Debbie Macomber which encourages readers to intentionally focus —and act— on a single word for a whole year.) I took a moment to ponder this. The first thought that popped in my head was the word I would use to describe 2021: UNCERTAINTY. Then I considered what the opposite of that might be and ASSURANCE is what came to me. I give the Holy Spirit total credit for putting those words in my feeble mind.

UNCERTAINTY. We’ve all been feeling it. Even the few things we thought would be predictable have turned out to have twists: vaccines, elections, the weather, the economy. In my family it’s been multiplied: post-graduation plans, vacations, careers, elder-care decisions all put in a permanent holding pattern. Added to that were various emergencies that needed immediate attention: home repairs, health issues, technology problems. And then the cloud of uncertainty began to rain with two pet deaths, an extended hospital stay, an upcoming surgery and a cancer diagnosis.

What I learned from all of this is that humans really need a certain amount of certainty in order to function. Worldwide, I think we’ve exceeded the recommended amount of uncertainty, and this is perhaps what has led to so much stress, anxiety and dysfunction by so many people in so many places.

This was definitely the case in Israel in the Year 0. The weary world had been waiting. A Messiah King who would be Savior to the world had been prophesied from long ago. He had been implied since the beginning, in the Book of Genesis, and written about often in the Book of Psalms. Isaiah 7:14 says “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). That was written somewhere around 740 to 700 BC!

By Year 0, though, uncertainty reigned, and most had given up even hoping. Yet, a few were ‘joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer’ and had a steadfast assurance that God would be with us in the person of Messiah. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.” -Luke 2:25 There was also a prophet, Anna…. She was very old; … She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” -Luke 2:36-37 I suspect that there were some in Israel who thought they were wasting their lives spending so much time at the Temple, praying and waiting and believing with assurance that Messiah was on His way.  I’m sure there had been others in all those hundreds of years who believed fervently but never got to see the Christ. They were all correct – He came! – and they are all certainly in Heaven now waiting for Him to come to earth again.

We, too, are waiting. “For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet seen of old, when with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.” (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear) What a wonderful promise! Christ was coming. Christ has come. And Christ will come again!

The old Christmas hymns do not ‘sugar-coat’ life on earth. Many were written in desperate times of persecution, war and upheaval. Even in our affluent, digital age of instant everything, there is still plenty to be patient through and to pray about. My prayer list has never been longer. So how did they – and how do we get from anxiety and affliction to joy? How did Simeon and Anna? ASSURANCE! The ‘hope’ we’re supposed to be joyful in, is the ‘blessed assurance’ that Jesus is ours and we are His! In The Redemption of Scrooge, Matt Rawle defines Joy as “the steadfast assurance that God is with us.” Jesus, himself, promised in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Sure, life is hard. It’s full of uncertainty. But the antidote to uncertainty is ASSURANCE: assurance that God is with us; assurance that if Jesus is our Savior, we are children of God with Heaven as our inheritance; assurance that the Holy Spirit will come into our hearts to comfort and guide us; assurance that ‘although the wrong seems often so strong’ God is the Righteous Ruler and has already won the war! Christ, the Prince of Peace, is coming again to claim His Kingdom, wipe away every tear, and make every believer fully whole and perfect! REJOICE! REJOICE! Immanuel has come to thee!!

Wishing a Merry and Joyful Christmas to you and yours,

Jen