Gifts

Keep Safe in God's Love

Keep Safe bkgdA Call to Remain Faithful

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.  Jude 1:17-25

I chose this illustration to represent the month of May in my annual calendar last year. And by God’s perfect timing, the scripture passage that is represented in it, is oh, too relevant to us and our church now. For those of us who heard Pastor Bill speak about the recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church, there may be a sense of loss and confusion as our church drifts away from Biblical teachings in many areas. But remember that this is not a new occurrence in the history of God’s people and is also part of end times prophesy.

Looking at the various books of the Prophets you’ll see God railing against the religious leaders for leading His people astray and following the culture of their times. God’s wrath allowed the nations of Israel and Judah to be invaded by the Assyrians and carried off into captivity. Nevertheless, God brought them out and restored them to the land that He promised them. And in the time of Jude’s letter, similar corruption and false teaching was occurring. Christian sects were following the cultural norms of the day and doing what seemed right in their own eyes. This led to the writing of the various epistles and the eventual creation of our New Testament Scriptures. Finally, the Book of Revelations clearly warns us that things will again be this way in the End Times.

The question of the day is what we should do in response to all this. I’m far from being able to discern God’s perfect will, but I have found comfort in a few passages that I came across this week in my various Bible studies.

Micah 6:8

 No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God.

First, we need to be sure that we, ourselves, continue on the Heavenward path by doing what God has called all of us to do. We should be exhibiting the Sermon on the Mount attitudes and bearing the Fruits of the Spirit no matter what the world around us looks like or does.

John 14:27

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give peace to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.  You heard Me say that I am going away. But I am coming back to you.”

Next, we need to embrace God’s peace. His peace is not the fleeting peace of a world in turmoil, it is the rock steady peace of the assurance of eternity. This world is not our home. We have been chosen by God and nothing can pluck us out of His hand. We have to let go of anxiety and fear and settle into peace.

Jude 20-21

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

Finally, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. God already knows what He’s going to do. We don’t. But we know His will is perfect, so we can confidently and earnestly pray for His will to be done. We know He holds the world in His hands, and that He will keep us safe in His love.

The history of God’s people is a history of a few faithful men and women who believed God in spite of the circumstances surrounding them. Their faithfulness was rewarded and increased again and again over centuries. We are the faithful remnant and God will use us in His perfect plan. So, walk by faith and not by sight.

PRAYER: Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. Jude 24-25 

Be Blessed,

Jen


Spring Renewal

Spring is Sure to FollowFor sure, I tell you, unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it will only be a seed. If it dies, it will give much grain. Anyone who loves his life will lose it. Anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it forever. John 12:24-25

Summer and winter and spring time and harvest…if there is one thing we can count on in this world it is the changing of the seasons. No matter how long the winter, spring’s new life is sure to follow. God has always been in the business of bringing what seemed dead back to life.

It all started in the garden. Eden was in bloom constantly, reminding us of the perfect fruitfulness we were created for. Sin entered and the ground now produces thorns and has to be broken up with hard labor. This is similar to the state of our fallen hearts – much to keep us from being fruitful, and always tending toward hardness. But God’s plan for our lives is to transform and perfect us once again.

Along with sin came death. Humans fear death, but in reality, it has been a natural part of creation since ‘The Fall.’ Dying flowers leave behind seeds for future growth. The dying leaves of autumn give way to new buds in springtime. The pruning of branches and stems makes plants more fruitful. The separation of the chaff from the wheat makes it edible and nourishing. And all that dies is sown back into the earth to make fertilized soil for more growth.

This same principle applies to our growth in Christ. Jesus compared himself to a seed in the verse above. When a seed dies and is buried, it will produce a crop. When Jesus willingly denied Himself, gave up His life on the cross and was buried, His resurrection produced a harvest of righteousness. You and I are part of this crop of believers who will inherit eternal life in God’s new Eden at the end of time.

In the meantime, however, God is still using this principle to make us more Christlike - more perfect - now, here on earth. Dying to ourselves in order to live more abundantly for God is our daily task. As it says in Romans 6:3-4, “…don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” God desires that we have a new, abundant life in Christ. Jesus, himself, left this command for us in Luke 9:23 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

What does this look like in our lives? Every day we must make the conscious choice to submit our will, our desires and our plans to the Lord. This is definitely a challenge because when we ask the Lord to use us to do His will, He will! But His plans are so much better than our plans. And His plan is to grow us and mold us and make us His hands and feet to do the good works He has planned for us from the beginning. This kind of submission is hard, and that’s why it needs to be a daily practice.

We must also prepare ourselves for the inevitable pruning. Remember, God’s goal is our perfection, not our comfort. As Jesus said in John 15:1-2, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Ouch! So, if there’s an area of our lives that is not bearing fruit – even if it a ministry that we love, or a way of doing things that we’re comfortable with – the Lord, in His wisdom, might prune it away so that we can be more fruitful. And even in the fruitful areas, the Lord does not want us to become satisfied with just okay. He is always pushing us towards more growth.

Finally, just as the trees and annuals seem dead in the winter but come back to life in the spring, we should not be too quick to give up on dreams the Lord has given us. God can make a way where there seems to be no way, so be faithful and anticipate a resurrection where there seemed to be a death.

So, as we embrace the warmth and beauty of this spring, take time to be quiet and seek God’s will for newness in your life. Could He be pushing you to use your talents in a new way? Might He be nudging you toward the mission field or a ministry opportunity? Even a mature tree can experience new growth with careful pruning and tender care.

Be Blessed,

Jen


Hens and Chicks

Shadow of Your Wings paintnet“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37

As we approach Mothers’ Day, I wanted to highlight just how difficult a job motherhood really is. No doubt I could start with laundry and dishes, sibling rivalries, finding a balance between family, work and self-care, or staying on the same page with your spouse, but I won’t. I want to dig deeper, to the heartache.

God knows the heartache of parenthood very well. Again and again in the Old Testament we read of His anger, disappointment and heartbreak as He watches His wayward children reject His warnings and encouragement and stubbornly go their own way to their ultimate detriment. Being a mom, or any parent, often feels like watching the world’s slowest train wreck – we see it coming, we warn, we threaten, we try to intervene, and yet the feared outcome arrives, and we are left to watch our children struggle with the consequences.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t end at childhood. As our chicks grow into responsible adults, they have to make their own choices about politics, morality and faith. It can be painful to watch them veer off the path we carefully cultivated for them, a path with a firm foundation of faith, that would lead them to their truest best life. But worldly college campuses, cosmopolitan cities and digital virtual reality are filled with pit falls, traps and delightful distractions promising much more than a godly life could offer, and ultimately delivering none of it. As we struggle to remain relevant in our grown child’s life, it’s hard to know how far we should go in our admonitions and telling the truth in love.

If you look at the verses just before the one above, be warned – you’ll see Jesus at His saltiest, giving the religious leaders a dose of very tough love. This is not the picture of the loving teacher with a baby on His knee and little kids all around. This is more of an Old Testament prophet giving God’s harsh warning to repent or else.

So, as parents, how do we watch our kids and others’ kids assault campus security, destroy school property and espouse non-historical viewpoints with truly antisemitic rhetoric? It wounds our souls. It makes us feel pity and compassion for these kids who ‘know not what they do.’ It angers us that this could happen in the 21st century in the wake of ‘wokeness’ and the kindness campaign.

First off, the assault on our children and young people is coming from every angle these days: social media, the internet, bullying, school safety issues, the general rise in violence, the pervasiveness of drugs, the normalization of irresponsible sexual activity, exploitation, the eroding of ethics, incivility, and a real push to remove faith from all public life. As Greg Bell says, ‘we have to teach our kids to believe in God before the world teaches them not to.’

Understand, however, that these attacks are ultimately from Satan. As His time grows short, His attacks grow more intense. How do we fight that deceiver? Ephesians 6:16: “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Rebuke the devil: tell him to leave, and quote promises from Scripture just as Jesus did when He was tempted. And most of all pray. Pray for your kids, pray for my kids, pray for the little kids, pray for the adult kids, pray for the grandkids, pray for all the kids everywhere. Pray for God to protect them, pray for Him to surround them with good and godly teachers and mentors, pray for them to distinguish wise teaching from worldly teaching, pray for them to know Right from wrong. Love them unconditionally with agape love even when you don’t support their choices, and be ready to forgive quickly.

Do not be discouraged or dismayed. The world may look unrecognizable sometimes, but God is still in control. Jesus will gather all His chicks in Jerusalem one day. Sing along as I remind you of a very real and encouraging truth:

This is my Father’s world.

O let me ne’er forget

that though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!

God reigns; let the earth be glad!

(Maltbie Babcock)

 

Be Blessed,

Jen


Camels and Needles

Yard saleJesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10:23-27

A couple of weeks ago we had our annual church yard sale. It’s a wonderful event that raises funds for the church while allowing us to embrace the spirit of Earth Day: Reduce, Reuse and Upcycle!😉 And while many treasures were purchased, what really struck me, as part of the clean-up crew, was how many treasures were left to be loaded onto the Good Will truck.

So many books, toys, décor and more were packed up. They weren’t in poor condition, they were just no longer wanted. And at the risk of offending, they were a clear symptom of the American condition: Affluenza. I am by no means uninfected. If we want it, Amazon, QVC, and a host of catalog companies and big box stores are ready to make our acquisitive dreams come true. Before we can even wear the thing out, the newer, faster, better, more fashionable model is being advertised everywhere.

Being constantly bombarded by advertising leads to dissatisfaction. It has been said that there are two ways to be rich: one is by acquiring much, the other is by desiring little. Or again, discontent is defined as wanting what you don’t have, and contentment is defined as wanting what you do have. Basically, the farther apart your desires are from your reality, the more unhappy you will feel, even when what you have is objectively enough.

We learned about the Rich Young Man in Sunday School this week. You remember him, the guy who asked Jesus how to gain eternal life. “Sell all your stuff, give everything to the poor and then follow me,” Jesus replied. Well, that guy went away very sad because he loved his stuff, or being rich, or being important in others’ eyes, or all of the above, more than he loved God. Then Jesus tells the story of the camel and the eye of a needle, scaring all of the disciples into wondering who, then, could be saved.

The issue is that stuff is a real distraction. We want to have our quiet time with God, but after we watch our favorite show on our huge tv. We want to say our prayers, but after we play that awesome videogame in hi-def. We want to give to that charity, but we just spent so much renewing our spring wardrobe, or on the car, or buying the books on our summer reading list. Which is not to say that any of these things are wrong or bad, just that they ARE distractions, and we need to be mindful of where we are spending our time, attention and money. What we absolutely CAN’T do is let them become little gods, or idols, in our lives. Put God first!

However, Jesus was very clear about the challenge of putting Him first in a life filled with stuff. Stuff slowly pushes God right out of first place. We invest our stuff with meaning – it becomes status, power, adequacy, success, happiness, reward… But these are all things we should be getting from God.

  • Our status is a Child of the King, what could compare with that? (Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— John 1:12)
  • Our power is same power that raised Jesus from the dead! (being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… Colossians 1:11)
  • Our adequacy is found in God (But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9)
  • Our success is determined by how successful we are at living for God (I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8).
  • Our happiness is not the fleeting emotion of circumstances, but the abiding joy of the Lord. (Be full of joy always because you belong to the Lord. Again I say, be full of joy! Philippians 4:4)
  • And our reward…oh man, it’s just the best reward that there ever could be…eternal life with God in Heaven! (“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:40)

So, enjoy your stuff. Think of ways to bless people through your stuff. Generously share your stuff by using it with others. Donate your stuff when you’re done with it. But don’t let your stuff get between you and God. Put God first!

Be blessed,

Jen 


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