John 14:26: “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative – that is, the Holy Spirit – he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”

If we were ambassadors by trade we would know how to navigate between different cultures and how to keep the dialogue open between countries. The use of ambassadors today is widespread. States use diplomatic representatives to deal with any problems that occur within the international system. Ambassadors live in their assigned countries for long periods of time so that they get acquainted with the culture and local people. The Holy Spirit representing God’s kingdom dwells in our realm and is sent to us to inform us of God’s will and explain it in such a way that we can understand it. Languages seem to be the Holy Spirit’s specialty. Speaking every language there is, and most importantly: God’s heart language, the Holy Spirit is an excellent and very unique interpreter. As a member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit re-introduces us to God’s Kingdom – basically back to the way it used to be when we knew God intimately, when we walked the Garden of Eden with Him, and before we engaged in conversations with a treacherous serpent; on that note I call this time era in Eden “Before Serpent”. Just as “Before Christ” is abbreviated BC, “Before Serpent” is abbreviated ….bad joke, I know!

God’s Spirit is known to be gentle. If we reject Him, He respects our decision and lets us go – because apparently we know what we’re doing – or don’t we?

Jesus once prayed for us on the cross saying (Luke 23:34):

“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’”

When Jesus asked the Father to forgive everybody, He gave Him a reason why: “They do not know what they do.” I’ve always wondered if people had known they were actually killing the Son of God on the cross was there a chance that God would not forgive?

This is a theoretical question of course, but in this vein here are some more: Did Adam and Eve understand what they were doing eating that forbidden fruit? Did Satan know what he was doing causing a split in heaven and taking one third of all angels with him? How much can go wrong and how much can be forgiven? I don’t think we really know.

And knowing that we don’t know is the beginning of all wisdom, I believe. Humility goes a long way towards God’s kingdom, and that’s when we are actually open to listen to the Wisdom of Ages, aka the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit has a lot of important things to share (the truth first and foremost!). If you’re busy, take some time out of your busy schedule. If you’re not busy, just come with curiosity and an open mind.  Don’t be afraid to listen what the Holy Spirit has to say. I promise you, it will rock your world and you’ll be amazed!

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord     
Francesca Battistelli

(Matthew 12:31): “‘That is why I tell you that men may be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit cannot be forgiven. A man may say a word against the Son of Man and be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this world or in the world to come!’”

A demon-possessed, blind and mute person was brought to Jesus, and He healed Him. The formerly blind and mute person now spoke and saw to everybody’s amazement. Everyone, except a group of religious leaders! They purposely came up with a different explanation (Matthew 12:24):

“Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, ‘This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’”

Religious leaders are supposed to know God, and they would fight you tooth and nail if you said otherwise. I personally doubt that Jesus’ contemporaries who critiqued His every move really knew God because their behavior did not advertise His intentions at all. However, the trick is, they say so. Saying we know God on one hand and misinterpreting God’s deeds on the other insults the Holy Spirit, and for such behavior, Jesus says, there is no forgiveness left. Why? Well, here is a surprise: because we think we are right!  God cannot forgive a person who is right. This seems to be the only limit to God’s mercy.

Similar to the situation with a tax collector and a religious leader who both prayed in the temple: the tax collector prayed for forgiveness, while the religious leader didn’t think he needed any forgiveness but essentially congratulated himself in his prayer. Jesus points out that these two prayers have two very different outcomes (Luke 18:14):

[Jesus says] “I tell you, this man went to his home justified [forgiven of the guilt of sin and placed in right standing with God] rather than the other man;”

The only lid we can put on God’s mercy is ourselves. We can be the lid. We have the power to limit God’s mercy by simply stating: “I don’t need it.”

On a different note: do you think we have issues with mercy when we always try to find a reason NOT to forgive? Why do we try so hard to find boundary lines to God’s amazing grace, e.g.: “this is how far God’s mercy goes, surely God can’t forgive that!” Isn’t it interesting that we like to use the term “The sky is the limit” when it comes to success, dreams, and ambitions, but when it comes to God’s mercies we want to put a lid on? The truth is: There is no lid on God’s mercy. His mercies are new every morning according to the prayer of an unnamed person in the book of Lamentations (Lamentations 3:23):

“God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.”

God is all we’ve got. There is a reason why we are born naked and can’t take anything with us when we die. All we really need is God, especially His tender mercies with every waking day!

Genesis 49:7: “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”

Towards the end of the book of Genesis, Jacob, a dying man, calls his children for his last blessing. As he is addressing each of his sons individually, he puts Simeon and Levi on the spot with a harsh rebuke (Genesis 49:5):

“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place.”

Jacob is referring to an incident that happened several years ago when they lived near the city of Shechem in Canaan. There he bought a parcel of land from the children of King Hamor. However, other than having trade agreements with the people of the land, Jacob’s tribe did not mingle much with the Canaanites. That changed overnight when the shocking news transpired that one of King Hamor’s sons, Prince Shechem, had raped Jacob’s daughter Dinah. In his defense, the prince later proposed to marry Dinah, but Jacob’s family still was deeply offended; and with Simeon and Levi as ringleaders, Jacob’s sons took revenge on him for the rape, not only by killing the offender Prince Shechem, but also by wiping out the entire male population of the area. On his deathbed Jacob stood up to his sons and distanced himself from such cruel behavior.

Speaking of cruelty, what about God’s violent temper? Wasn’t it devastating when He initiated the Big Flood wiping out most of mankind and killing an enormous amount of land animals? Reading up on what God Himself has to say about His wrath, we find a statement in the book of Exodus (Exodus 22:24):

“And my wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.”

That’s shocking to hear of course, but let’s check out what triggered this remark. Interestingly, the preceding verses say (Exodus 22:22-23):

“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry;”

Apparently, a major trigger stirring up God’s wrath is abusing the helpless. If we trample on the weak we are stepping on God’s toes! He is THE defender of the poor, the lonely, those who struggle to make ends meet. We cross the line when we disrespect them, and we will trigger God’s wrath when we abuse them.

Compare this to what triggers human anger, and we often see hurt pride combined with a lack of interest in people. Nobody really had Dinah’s best interest at heart when Jacob’s sons took revenge. In their arrogance they destroyed all prospects of a good future for her, not to mention the bereaved families who lost their providers in this senseless murder.

Looking at these two scenarios it quickly becomes clear that human anger has little in common with God’s anger. The former is usually an expression of our selfishness; the latter is God’s way of defending those who cannot defend themselves.

When God’s love spells w-r-a-t-h, we know that He intervenes. He intervenes to protect, to save, and to restore. So, even when the world seems to fall apart, let’s not forget to look up! We find a safe place in His arms if we’re on His side.

“In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
And in the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm”
                       Ryan Stevenson

Romans 9:16: “So then, mercy is not of the one wanting, nor of the one running, but of the One having mercy— God.”

We don’t need to listen to the song “House of the Rising Sun” to get a clue. So obviously Jesus was well aware of their situation when sitting down with prostitutes and seeking conversations with society’s outcasts. Invited to a get together with people Pharisees and teachers of the law considered a lost cause, He told beautiful stories of hope and mercy in their hearing. The overriding theme of His stories was: “Lost & Found”.

Perhaps we’ve read Jesus’ short stories of “The Lost & Found Sheep”“The Lost & Found Coin”, and “The Lost & Found Son”.

In the first story we read about a straying sheep which gets separated from the rest of the flock. The owner later realizes that the sheep is gone and calls a search party. After finding the lost animal, he puts it on his shoulders and carries it back home. In his relief he celebrates with his friends and neighbors.

In the second story the main character is a woman who owns ten silver coins. One gets lost. She proceeds to comb through the whole house until she finds that coin. When she finally discovers it, she is so happy she shares the good news with all her neighbors and friends.

In the first two stories the object did not get lost by choice. If anything, the owners felt responsible and were compelled to do everything in their power to restore the lost object.  – Let’s pause for a minute here and think of millions of unspeakable tragedies where people are born into slavery, sold into prostitution against their will, violated, drugged and raped, without a home, without identity. Lost coins are unidentified objects dropped into the dark corners of this world and seemingly forgotten, but in all reality the Owner of the universe is reaching out day and night to get hold of these precious coins. And like the woman in Jesus’ story, God is not known to give up that easy!

In comparison to coins, sheep have more wherewithal: four legs to follow the rest of the flock, ears to hear the sound of the shepherds voice, and eyes to see where everybody is going. However, something distracted the sheep, and it got derailed. This is the story of people finding themselves on the wrong side of the track after unwittingly falling for an apparently good and appealing offer only to find out later that this was one of their worst decisions ever. The sheep may have been sidetracked by an aromatic meadow and got stuck there after suddenly realizing that everybody else was gone. The shepherd knows sheep intimately, and he also knows their preferences. He is well able to track them down. We too are dealing with a Shepherd who knows us intimately. If we’re at a dead end He knows why, and He shows us the way out.

The third story is harder to swallow for any law-abiding citizen because we are dealing with two characters who unlike coins or sheep should have known what they are doing. On one side of the spectrum is the wayward son who wants to get out and spend all his cashed inheritance, while on the other side is the second son who is begrudging his own life situation and is secretly envious of his brother. Both sons are lost in the sense that they are both not with their father. One is geographically absent; the other one’s heart is absent. At the end of Jesus’ story the geographically absent son comes back home after he lost all his fortune – not expecting mercy at all, while the second son does not want any mercy for his brother and also doesn’t seem to think that he himself is in need of mercy.

Here is the good news about God’s amazing mercy: whether mercy is expected or unexpected, or even when we don’t know mercy at all, it does not matter. God just is merciful. That’s who He is. He expertly retrieves us when we are stuck. He showers us with His mercies regardless whether we believe in Him. And He is even merciful with us when we don’t want His mercy. Mercy is 100 percent God’s doing with no human contribution whatsoever. That’s the beauty of God’s mercy.

“There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun.
It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl,
and me, O God, for one.”
                               (Georgia Turner and Bert Martin)

Proverbs 19:20-21: “Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life. You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”

In the course of my life I have made many plans, not the least of which was moving from Germany to the United States. After switching countries I had to start over in every aspect of my life – socially, professionally, you name it. And as my English vocabulary grew, so grew my horizon. Steeped in more than one culture has had that effect on me.

However, as a person walking by faith there is another important element to life, and that is the fact that God has plans for my life too. Sometimes my planning coincides with His plans, but clearly, sometimes it absolutely doesn’t. It’s when life happens. Nobody plans to have an accident. Nobody plans a layoff. Sometimes we plan to have children, and it doesn’t happen, or the other way around – we don’t plan to have children, and we know how that goes!

Getting all the advice and instruction we can is indeed the best way to plan for the unplanned, for situations that catch us off-guard. On a personal note, my faith has helped me through many bumpy roads, and through it all I’ve gained a deeper connection with both God and people.

The best way to look at things we have no control over – and we actually don’t have control over a myriad of things – is to trust His promise that God has good plans for you and me. Trust in the Lord’s goodness in the face of adversity. Trust Him that He is near when He seems far. Trust His resources that He can help, especially when we are at the end of our rope. That’s the best we can do in any crisis. That’s the best we can do when none of our plans seem to come to fruition.

On that note: God has a better plan for you or anybody in this world than anything that you and I could come up with. So, let’s not give up dreaming even though our plans may have fallen through. As long as there is a today we need to continue planting seeds of hope and love wherever we go. “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” – is a famous quote from Old Martin Luther who was born on November 10, 1483 and died on February 18, 1546. We all are born to live and die at some point, but we could plant a lot of apple trees along the way; other people will sit in its shade and enjoy the fruit without even knowing the person who planted it. And with all the seed-bearing apples involved, a whole orchard could grow out of that one tree. – You get the point!

However, as we are getting busy planting our apple trees to leave a legacy behind, let’s not forget that everything good we accomplish is God’s gift. And all the running and anxiousness we are prone to will finally come to an end when we see Him on the other side of Heaven. The most important truth that stands forever is this: God loves us, and He is merciful. We don’t have to make Him love us. He loves us already. We don’t have to convince Him to be merciful. He is full of mercy and understands us like no other. That’s a good reason to smile.

“You’ll find that life is still worthwhile if you just smile!” Charlie Chaplin

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22: “By all means use your judgement, and hold on to whatever is really good, Steer clear of evil in any form.”

“Hold on!” whether it’s a rock climber holding on to a rock or a tree-climbing kid holding on to a tree limb – it makes sense to hold on to something stable to avoid plunging 30 feet below. That’s how we defy gravity.

Similarly, we also defy gravity in our day-to-day life. We all have been in chaotic life circumstances one way or another. We don’t like it, but life just happens. We better hold on to something good when the whirlwinds of changes blow through our lives. And yet, how often do we find ourselves holding on to something bad like a toxic relationship for instance? This is where Paul is coming from in his letter to his Greek friends in Thessaloniki. He is asking his friends to use their better judgment by identifying what is good and then holding on to it.

It goes without saying that we cannot hold on very well if we fail to let go of whatever takes up space in our hands. Back to the tree-climbing kid: if I carried a bag of groceries and saw a kid about to fall from a tree close to me, I would have to let go of my grocery bag to catch the falling kid. We all have to use our better judgment to determine and let go of our baggage. We have to ask ourselves some hard questions: what is toxic in our lives? What undermines the good things we have? We need to let go of evil to embrace the good and the wholesome.

Believe it or not, that’s what legalism is all about, but it approaches the whole issue upside-down by first identifying the evil, then proceeding to build fences and walls around it saying: “Do not touch!” In all reality we are supposed to identify the good first and by holding on to it, we let go of our baggage, which by the way includes legalism.

We are all familiar with “Thou shall not steal” from the Ten Commandments – well, legalism does steal! It steals the good things from us; joy, love, and mercy go right out the window once legalism takes over. This is probably the reason why Jesus got so incensed about his law-abiding contemporaries. Listen to some of His serious accusations (Matthew 23:23-24):

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

When people try to clip the wings of freedom Jesus gave us, He gets mad. Understandably so! If you worked hard for a great cause and someone else would take away the benefit of your labor, I bet you would get mad too. Well, Jesus died for a very good cause. He died to set us free. Our freedom is purchased by His lifeblood. So why are we surprised that Jesus butts heads with the religious establishment?

If we feel cornered by other people’s expectations with no room left to breathe, here is some good news: Jesus gives us room to breathe. He is very protective of the freedom He has given to you and me. And once He sets us free He wants us to stay free and steer clear of any form of slavery, especially legalism. Paul calls his legalistic friends in Galatia (situated in modern Turkey) “bewitched”. Here is what he wrote (Galatians 3:1-2):

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Paul’s question is now ours to answer. We cannot meet the Divine by meeting legalistic criteria. We meet the Son of God by embracing Him – and He’ll never let us go, not now, not ever!

“Oh no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm; in every high and every low you never let go of me!” (Matt Redman)

1 Peter 1:3: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation.”

There are several ways to become a family member: one is to be born into a family, another is to be adopted into a family, and yet another is to marry into a family. You can very easily unfriend someone on Facebook. Unfriending a friend in real life is more difficult to do, and it gets even more complicated when it comes to family splits. Let’s say a couple goes through a divorce. It may be feasible to become an ex-in-law without ever looking back, but we all know the implications when children are involved. There is no such thing as an Ex-Dad or an Ex-Mom. However, it may be that children emotionally divorce from their parents for various reasons. If that’s the case, then deep hurt led to such friction. The natural thing is that we’re family for life.

In God’s kingdom we are dealing with such family issues. Essentially all mankind consists of God’s children, some are estranged, some are brought near. Peter refers to the event of coming back together as born again. So does Jesus in his conversation with a scholar named Nicodemus. Here is an excerpt of the conversation (John 3:3-5):

“Jesus replied, ‘With all the earnestness I possess I tell you this: Unless you are born again, you can never get into the Kingdom of God.’ – ‘Born again!’ exclaimed Nicodemus. ‘What do you mean? How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?’ – Jesus replied, ‘What I am telling you so earnestly is this: unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.’”

According to Jesus, the kingdom of God consists of family members only. In order to become a family member human beings have to be born again. Nicodemus’ confusion is understandable. It’s physically unfeasible to insert an already born creature back into the mother’s womb to repeat the birth procedure. So Jesus points out that rebirth is not referring to our physical being but to our spiritual being, and that’s where Jesus lost Nicodemus. Dumbfounded he asks Jesus: ‘What do you mean?’

We can all empathize with Nicodemus, whether we are brought near to the Kingdom of God or whether we’ve managed to stay away from it. Every human being physically arrives at his or her birthday, however, included with the physical package also comes our spiritual being. Some cultures ignore the spiritual aspect of our humanness altogether, while some cultures are very aware. Nevertheless, it’s the spiritual being Jesus is referring to when he uses the terminology ‘born again’. The rebirth of our spiritual being could be compared to an awakening. While sleeping we really have no clue what is going on in the world around us. Similarly, when we’re spiritually asleep, we cannot relate very well to God who is Spirit, and we also have trouble hearing Him.

When we wake up to the reality of the kingdom of God, we wake up to an expanded universe.  Have you ever been asleep trying to force yourself to wake up to escape a bad dream? It’s very hard to do, isn’t it? It goes to show that waking up spiritually begs a touch from a special Someone. And this is what the gospel tune “He Touched Me” is about: The song speaks of the hand of Jesus touching and waking up our spiritual being. People who have experienced that touch will tell you that nothing will ever be the same. When Jesus touches you and me, He opens the door to God’s amazing kingdom. Waking up, we’ll be able to see it. Our ears will be unplugged, and to our amazement we will detect God’s voice who has been speaking to us all along. A touch from the Lord is all it takes to wake up.

He touched me; o He touched me, and o the joy that fills my soul. Something happened and now I know: He touched me and made me whole.” (Bill and Gloria Gaither)