Author Archives: jenlvest

Psalm 102; Revelation 19

It’s hard to believe, but it’s nearly time to say goodbye to this year.  In just a few days, 2021 will be history and 2022 will stretch before us, a blank canvas waiting to be filled with the colors and brushstrokes of our lives in the year ahead.  For many, 2021 leaves taking with it unachieved goals and aspirations or unrealized dreams penned with fresh ink and hopeful anticipation just one short year ago.  And, if we’re honest, a thoughtful rehearsing of the past year may leave us feeling regretful or sad or wistful about what might have been. 

The author of Psalm 102 was no stranger to dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams.  Using vivid imagery, he paints a picture that describes not only physical pain and affliction but emotional pain and feelings of rejection from both God and man. 

For my days disappear like smoke,
    and my bones burn like red-hot coals.
My heart is sick, withered like grass,
    and I have lost my appetite.
Because of my groaning,
    I am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like an owl in the desert,
    like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.
I lie awake,
    lonely as a solitary bird on the roof.
My enemies taunt me day after day.
    They mock and curse me.
I eat ashes for food.
    My tears run down into my drink
because of your anger and wrath.
    For you have picked me up and thrown me out.
My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows.
    I am withering away like grass.
Psalm 102:3-11 (NLT)

Yet in verse 12, the Psalmist makes a palpable shift from affliction to affirmation.  He doesn’t sugarcoat his suffering and heartache, but his focus moves to highlight God’s sovereignty and faithfulness.  His hope is not in a turn of the calendar or a new set of goals written in an unblemished planner or a new routine that promises to transform his life.  His hope is in the eternal God whose character will not change and whose faithfulness will never waver. 

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth
    and made the heavens with your hands.
They will perish, but you remain forever;
    they will wear out like old clothing.
You will change them like a garment
    and discard them.
But you are always the same;
    you will live forever.
The children of your people
    will live in security.
Their children’s children
    will thrive in your presence.
Psalm 102:25-28 (NLT)

I don’t know what the past year held for you, nor do I know what any of us may face in the year ahead.  But I do know that no matter what may happen or how we may feel, Hope has always been and Hope is coming—not in the form of a new year but in the daily new mercies of a loving and faithful God.  And, because of that Hope, even in the midst of the hardship and heartache of this earthly life, we can proclaim now just as we will one day proclaim around the throne:

Praise the Lord!
    Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.
Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.

Revelation 19:1, 6-7 (NLT)

“If this New Year shall be full of unbelief,
it will be sure to be dark and dreary.
If it be baptized into faith, it will be saturated with benediction.
If we will believe our God as he deserves to be believed,
our way will run along the still waters,

and our rest will be in green pastures.
Trusting in the Lord, we shall be prepared for trials,
and shall even welcome them

as black ships laden with bright treasures.”
CH Spurgeon

Praying God’s richest blessings for you and yours, today and in the year ahead.

Jen

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Psalm 2, Malachi 1-4; Revelation 9

Christmas is just ten days away.  For many, the next few weeks will be filled with joyful celebrations, delicious sweets, and anticipated gifts.  For believers, it is also a time to reflect on the wonderful gift of our Savior.  Today’s passage in Malachi 3:1-3, which speaks about purification and judgment, isn’t typically associated with the “most wonderful time of the year”.  But it’s an important reminder that while I celebrate Christ’s first coming as a baby, His second coming to establish His eternal throne on the earth is something I must prepare for and celebrate as well.

In 1928, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached an Advent sermon that touched on the themes of judgment and purification in this passage:

It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming, so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God . . . . We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.

Malachi is warning Israel of God’s future judgment:

But who can endure the day of his coming,
and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 
Malachi 3:2, ESV

Just as Israel’s sin and disobedience separated them from a holy God, sin separates me as well.  It distorts what God intended from before the dawn of time.  But God also had a perfect plan to refine and purify all of creation.  Purely from a human perspective, refining and purifying aren’t much fun because there is always pain involved, and the prospect of that pain induces fear.  But this is the good news of salvation!  Because I am helpless to purify myself, God was willing to send and sacrifice His own Son so that my sin would be cleansed forever.  And, while I know that salvation doesn’t mean His refining will end, indeed it may seem even more painful, I know that I can trust a loving and gracious God and know that all purifying and refining are ultimately for my good and His glory.

During the holidays, it’s easy to look with wonder and love on the baby who came to be our Savior.  But this Savior, who came as Emmanuel, demands holiness and justice, which often require painful purification and refining.  This Christmas season, as we sing familiar carols like Away in a Manger, may we be thankful for both “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay” and His refining and purifying in our lives so that we may be “fit for heaven to live with Thee there.”

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Psalm 94; Zechariah 12-14; 2 John

Waiting.  Most of the time, it’s not something we enjoy.  We have come to expect, in our instant society, that waiting is unnecessary and couldn’t possibly be good.  Psalm 94 was written by someone who had also grown weary of waiting.  Israel was being oppressed with no end in sight.  Circumstances were bleak as God’s people waited for Him to act on their behalf.   

Yet, despite oppression and persecution, the author of Psalm 94 waited expectantly.  His hope was in God, and he knew that the dark days of waiting would, one day, end in justice.

For the Lord will not forsake his people;
    he will not abandon his heritage;
for justice will return to the righteous,
    and all the upright in heart will follow it.
Psalm 94:14-15, ESV

We are just beginning Advent, the yearly season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus.  During this season, we anticipate and prepare for many good things—gifts, visiting relatives, cherished traditions.  But all too often, in the midst of the parties and presents and tinsel and togetherness, we forget how dark the world would be without Immanuel. We have no eager anticipation for our Savior.  We prepare to give the perfect gifts but fail to prepare our hearts to receive the greatest gift of all. 

This year, I want to wait expectantly.  I want to pause and consider the sin-filled darkness that burst forth with the Light of the World.  I want to consider the utter hopelessness that was banished by the one true Hope.  I want to place many “the cares of my heart” at the feet of Immanuel, God with us, and expect that He will “cheer my soul” (v 19).  I want to look back and remember the birth of Christ while looking forward to His glorious appearing.   I want to be intentional in my waiting.  Like the Psalmist, I want to wait with hope, remembering that waiting is good and necessary.  This year, I want to wait well.

The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon
the likes of which we have never seen before.
So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder.
There will be time enough for running.
Jan Richardson

Jen

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Daniel 4-6; John 18

Daniel and the lions’ den—a familiar Bible story that most of us have probably heard thousands of times.  I admit that when I hear this story, I typically think of Daniel as the young adult who wouldn’t eat the royal food and stood unharmed in the fiery furnace with his friends.  And this is not untrue.  At the beginning of the book, Daniel is probably in his late teens/early 20s, but what we don’t always realize is that by the time we get to Daniel 6, he is 80 or 90 years old.  A lifetime has passed, and Daniel has always been obedient and faithful.  He practiced, as Eugene Peterson would say, A long obedience in the same direction.

As the beginning verses of Daniel 6 illustrate, integrity and obedience were standard practices for Daniel.  He didn’t wake up one day and decide to defy the king and continue worshipping the one, true God.  The decree of an unbelieving king wasn’t going to stop him from doing what he knew was right and had been doing for nearly 80 years.

Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him. Then these men said, “We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God.”

When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:3-5, 10, CSB)

In reality though, the familiar stories we read in the first six chapters of Daniel—refusing to eat the royal food, interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the fiery furnace, the handwriting on the wall, the lions’ den—are just a few exciting highlights in the life story of a man who loved and served God most often in the ordinary and mundane.  Most of Daniel’s days, the ones we don’t read about in Scripture, were spent as an employee, a friend, a believer who valued his God and his faith above all else. 

Ultimately, Daniel’s “long obedience in the same direction” was rewarded. We don’t often hear much about the end of Daniel 6, but it says that King Darius, after witnessing Daniel’s trust in God and God’s power in saving him from the lions, issued a new decree, which directed everyone to worship God rather than himself.  God used Daniel’s lifelong example of obedience and trust to change King Darius’ heart.

Currently, Jeff (my husband) and I are teaching a beginning theology class at our church.  Some weeks are great—all the attendees are tracking and learning and actually enjoying it!  Other weeks are pretty discouraging—people don’t come, everyone seems thoroughly confused, and enthusiasm is lackluster, at best. I’m constantly reminding myself that God, not Jeff and Jen, is responsible for the outcome.  He sees the long hours of preparation and prayer and our deep desire for these precious people to know Him and His word more deeply. He also sees our discouragement and feelings of inadequacy.  He will do the heart work; we simply need to be obedient. Be encouraged! Your faithfulness makes a difference. You may not see it as quickly or as clearly as Daniel did, but God is always working to draw people to Himself and glorify His name.

For he is the living God, and he endures forever;
his kingdom will never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end.
He rescues and delivers; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth….(Daniel 6:26b-27a)

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Ezekiel 22-24; Psalm 134; John 8

As I read the familiar stories in John 8, I am reminded of the common phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”  We’ve all probably experienced some facet of this in our everyday lives:  we know someone who recommends us for a new job position; we know someone who gets us club seats for the big game; we know someone who can get us a great deal on that new car.  Sure, we could have applied for the job randomly or bought our own tickets or even paid full price for that car but knowing someone gave us an advantage over others who had access to all the same information but no relationships.  Ultimately, those relationships benefitted us.

In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were considered the ultimate authority on God’s Word.  They knew the Scriptures inside and out and were more than happy to point out the shortcomings of others.  In fact, the Oxford dictionary defines “Pharisee” as “a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written laws, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity”.  It lists synonyms such as “fraud”, “hypocrite”, and “phony”. 

Ouch!  Does it really matter if I can rattle off the books of the Bible or define terms like “justification” and “propitiation” if the life-changing meanings of those words don’t change my heart and my behavior? Do I read my Bible every day so I can check that off my list, or do I read my Bible every day because I want a relationship with the God of the Bible I’m reading? 

Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. 
If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (8:19b)

But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. (8:54)

In John 8, Jesus brushed off the attacks of the Pharisees and reminded them that while they may KNOW the Scriptures, they didn’t really KNOW the God of those Scriptures.  That’s a very dangerous place to be:  to know the Bible but not truly know God. At the very core of the issue were the Pharisees’ hearts; their head knowledge of Biblical facts didn’t translate into personal relationships with the God of the Bible.  Knowing the Bible should always point me to Jesus, and my behavior should be a reflection of that relationship.  Otherwise, my knowledge is just that—head knowledge without heart change. 

John 8 begins with the touching story of a woman who probably had very little knowledge about Jesus.  She was a serial adulteress who had literally been “caught in the act”.  The Pharisees, with all their head knowledge of Jewish laws, were hoping to trap Jesus and accuse Him of breaking the law.  But Jesus didn’t fall into their legalistic trap; He demonstrated with just a few words and some drawings in the sand that none of her accusers were without sin and, one by one, they dropped their stones and left. 

It didn’t matter to Jesus that this woman didn’t know the laws.  She may not have known who He was at all!  She didn’t need head knowledge—she needed grace and forgiveness, an invitation to turn from her sin and amend her behavior. She needed a relationship with her Savior.  And that’s exactly what Jesus offered her. 

Turns out the phrase “It’s not what you know but who you know.” applies to much more than potential employment and sporting events.  It applies to my spiritual walk as well.  Is my relationship with my Savior such that I know Him and His Word so well that my first and genuine response is to show mercy and grace?  Or do I proudly allow my head knowledge to get in the way of a Christlike heart response?  Do I value “keeping the rules” above showing grace to those who may not even know what “the rules” are?  Am I willing to humbly drop my “stones” of judgment and criticism and show mercy to those who desperately need Christ?

Father, the accumulation of knowledge and facts can never replace a personal relationship with You.  Help me to know You and Your Word in such a way that my behavior toward others is an outpouring of heartfelt gratitude for the grace and forgiveness that has been given to me. 

Jen

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