1 John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

The ABC of love is to care. Jesus laying down His life for us is a true indicator that He cares. We see the light when we realize that.

It is a beautiful revelation to find that Jesus exists. And yes, it’s worth celebrating! Heaven throws a party when a human being joins the kingdom of God. But this event in itself is no Happy Ending. The story of our salvation is meant to ignite other salvation stories – the message of the gospel spreads around the globe similar to a domino effect.

God’s love has been brought to light when the mystery of His salvation was unearthed through Jesus’ appearance here on earth. How God saves the world is His choice. It is ours to choose Him. Our life story takes an important turn when we are no longer at the sidelines watching; returning to God, we are headed to heaven.

The journey to heaven is a one way trip – there is no turning back. Choosing to go back, we will find that our old life is not the way we remembered it. We travel as a group and see our brothers and sisters in various stages of the journey. We learn from them and share in their joy and pain.

Approaching Easter season, we celebrate the sacrifice Jesus made. Heaven remembers; Creation remembers. If we had an interview with Jesus, and we would ask Him what accomplishment He is most excited about, I think He would talk about the wonderful results of the cross. His death on the cross rattled the universe and the shock waves of His resurrection are still in motion. People are touched by the reality of the cross every day. Witnesses of His incredible love, generations of people have stood up to testify. Angels are watching with fascination when another lost sheep is added to the motley crew of believers.

Speaking of the motley crew – when we come to Christ we will discover sooner or later that we have siblings. And like in any family, siblings have misunderstandings and rivalry. Sometimes they downright hurt each other. Even to the untrained eye it is pretty obvious that believers have had their issues and that their unity is wanting. Despite all of that, let us not forget that siblings are God’s gift to us.

The Lord gave Himself plus He gave us brothers and sisters. We need Him and we need each other. Especially in times of isolation we become acutely aware of that; after all, this is how we know what love is: by laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

“Brother let me be your shelter
Never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home”

Songwriters: Pontus Johan Winnberg / Niomi Arleen Daley / Christian Karlsson / Henrik Jonback

2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Jesus makes all things new, including our fickle hearts. There is no shortcut to renewal; it’s a process that takes time, a lifetime really – meeting Jesus is no one-day-affair. He leaves a lasting impression. When He renews our mindset we start to see things from the Lord’s perspective. Salvation is many things; it is also an eye-opening experience.

Finding the Lord, we understand we are not alone. God is with us and He is good. God sacrificed everything He had to repair our brokenness. What does God have? He has love. In fact, He is love. All love comes from Him.

The Trinity loves. The Holy Spirit loves Jesus and the Father, the Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit, and Jesus loves the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity sticks together. Understanding the love of the Trinity leads to understanding the sacrifice God made. Splitting the Trinity, letting Jesus die on the cross, separating them even temporarily was the greatest sacrifice we can imagine. God gave everything He had. He gave His love.

God’s sacrifice has changed the world. It has raised people from all walks of life from the ashes of dead life consumed with self-interest to promoting respect and compassion. The more we live for the Lord, the more selfless we become. Living for Him is the very definition of selflessness.

Christ’s love compels us. Jesus laid down His life for us, but it does not end there. Laying down our lives for others is a direct result from the cross – we see the love of Jesus multiplied.

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”
Revelation 21:5

Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

The love of God is rich. Like the bottomless sea, His love never runs out. Neither does God’s grace. This is important to realize – if His love was scarce and His grace wanting, life would look a whole lot different. If God were stingy there would be a lack of natural resources to begin with. And without nature’s bounty our planet could not adequately support life.

Canadian Geese breed in the Northern sections of the United States. We have geese year-round in Arizona. In Springtime I like to watch them guiding their offspring to the water. Less than 24 hours after they are born, goslings will be lead to water by their parents to learn how to swim. They will be able to dive 30 feet underwater by the time they are 1 day old – amazing little creatures – it is heartwarming to see new life emerge in the months of spring.

Spring is the season of sprouting optimism and hope; it is the season of sowing and trusting that God’s resources will not run out. We can rely on God’s grace to do the same. There is no insult so offensive that would turn His grace off. Like a river, His energies are streaming into one direction: to encourage, to save and to preserve life. God, the life-giver, is forever opposed to death.

God’s salvation plan has come to full fruition when the Trinity split and Jesus became a human being. Jesus did not just fall from the skies to save us; He was born a baby and grew up to become part of our human network. He had a family name and relatives. He had friends and mortal enemies.

Exactly how Jesus’ sacrifice redeems us from the tyranny of death remains a mystery – however, when Jesus died on the cross His lifeblood redeemed all life forms. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (Romans 8:19-21):

“In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”*

In the world to come there will be no more death. All of creation is presently waiting for the day of the Lord, when life is completely restored. His redemption, however, is an offer we all can refuse. God gave us free will, and the choice to embrace Him is ours. Choosing life and leaving behind death is God’s sincerest wish for everybody.

(*Quoting from The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Used by Permission.)

“Choose life, so that you and your children may live”
Deuteronomy 30:19

Hebrews 12:2: “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

When I painted my sister’s dog Maple I copied a snapshot she took in the prior winter season. The image depicted Maple in the snow. Enjoying snowfall, she had the most adorable look on her little dog face. One morning I walked into my studio to pick up where I had left off the day before, when I suddenly noticed that I had painted her legs all wrong. Trying to capture the dog’s facial expressions I had taken my eyes off the original photograph. I ended up with a cute dog face and four crippled legs.

Translated into the realm of faith, I find there is a small analogy: Taking our eyes off the original Godhead, our faith loses substance and soon becomes crippled and frail.

All life forms are nuanced and complex; how much more is God, the originator of life? An important nuance is God’s Trinity. Interacting with God, we deal with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Fixing our eyes on the Son, we gain access to the Father and the Holy Spirit; Jesus is the spitting image of the Father, and the Holy Spirit talks about Jesus all the time. Thanks to the Trinity’s work and enthusiasm are we believers. Jesus saw His earthly mission through and initiated a worldwide movement of renewal and reconciliation. His thumbprints are all over our faith, which makes Him the Author of our faith. The Lord ignited the flame because He believed in us.

Jesus also believed that He would be delivered from the grave – and He was. He rose from the grave and officially conquered death once and for all. Outside His empty tomb Jesus met Mary Magdalene. She was clearly overwhelmed seeing Jesus alive after His horrific death on the cross and so she held on to Him. His parting words to her were (John 20:17):

“Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Believing in Jesus, we are literally adopted into His family and He becomes a close relative of ours – which means Jesus is our brother, His God is our God and His Father is our Father.  

Matthew 20:17-19: “Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!’”

As the day of His execution drew closer, Jesus began to share with His disciples what was about to happen. He knew the exact date and circumstances of His death. People on death row are familiar with the agonies of awaiting their own execution, except that Jesus had volunteered to die that way. It was a sacrifice He made.

Jesus did not die to prove a point, but to open the door to freedom. All slavery is opposed to freedom. Slave drivers can be money, sexual promiscuity, drugs – just to name a few. Slavery promotes disrespect; and disrespect reaps a bitter harvest. Injustice in the end is self-defeating. A human society wholly based on slavery is on the brink of death.

In whichever form slavery rears its ugly head, it remains a curse and its growing tumors destroy the face of humanity. Jesus died to remove these cancerous ulcers once and for all. He came to establish the kingdom of God and as such reestablish human-kindness.

God will not be the slave owner of His own creation. He refuses to enslave us, even if it is for the right reasons. The very day He forces us to be free we are no longer free. That is why freedom of choice is non-negotiable. Freedom is also the mother of all creativity. God gave us artistic license, and He will never take it back. As much as slavery dehumanizes us, glorious freedom enables us to be truly human.

Jesus knew that He would rise from the dead on the third day after His execution. And so it happened. The grave could not hold Him. Its tombstone was rolled away and Jesus emerged, alive and well. The wonderful news is that we too will rise from the dead when we put our trust in Him.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Freedom from death is His greatest gift to give – and it is ours to accept it.

Isaiah 53:5-6: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The concept of putting ourselves first has thrown the world under the bus. Jesus entered the scene of the accident with a refreshingly different approach saying: “Love God and your neighbor as yourself!” He lived these words so we can see and judge for ourselves that His way of life not only works, it is the only way how life makes sense. And I believe this is the reason why Jesus calls Himself “The Way.”

We are drowning in a lifestyle detrimental to our physical and mental health. And sometimes the only way to save us from drowning is to let out the bathwater until we sit in an empty bathtub. This is the year 2020 approaching Easter, and all around us the streets are empty, the shelves in our grocery stores are blank, public buildings such as schools and courthouses look hollow-eyed, in short: we sit in an empty bathtub.

Acts of God are as surprising and unforeseen as they come. It would be cruel to think or say that God punishes us for whatever sins we have committed. I don’t believe that is His style. God has better things to do. That is why Jesus said that He did not come to judge but to save the world. However, an act of God makes us aware of things that we could not see before. Reduced to emptiness we can appreciate what counts. Life counts. Love counts.

God’s generous love includes people who don’t accept Him. A beautiful mystery is being revealed when we become aware of God’s love. Jesus’s death and resurrection revolutionized the fabrics of all creation. In the new world to come, even animals will stop killing each other. The lion won’t have lamb for dinner and people will have learned how to be kind. It will be a safe world for our children and children’s children.

When we left Paradise we became strangers to God and His kingdom. It is a difficult pill to swallow that an innocent man was brutally murdered to make things right for everybody, but Jesus’s healing of a broken relationship will always be remembered. To be reconnected to the source of all being is the most striking experience there is. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, but by His wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:3-4: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.”

Job sat in the dust scratching his sores when several of his friends showed up. He had lost everything dear to him – his family, his possessions, and his health. The men were genuinely speechless when they witnessed the extraordinary pain their friend Job went through. So they sat down and mourned with him for a while without speaking a word. Maybe this is what they should have continued doing, but at some point they did speak up. After assessing the situation they essentially told Job: “Everything is your fault! God is punishing you for your sins.” However, none of the things happening to Job was his fault. It was an act of God.

When Jesus was executed on the cross, the people around him hurled insults at Him saying: “Save yourself if you are as wonderful as you claim to be.” Jesus on the cross was considered a fraud. If He truly was the Son of God, He would not let Himself get killed – or wouldn’t He?

It is ironic that everybody likes to judge while nobody wants to be judged. Whether we become witnesses of a sad scene, or we see someone at his or her breaking point, we should never jump to conclusions. In most cases our hasty deductions are plain wrong, and the damage of our snap judgment calls can cause a lifetime of pain.

Who likes to hear that Jesus’s suffering on the cross was entirely our fault? Nobody does – at least I don’t know anybody who enjoys hearing that – but here is the good news: Jesus is not mad at us. He suffered greatly at our hands, but He suffered willingly; His goal was to eliminate all judgment calls, whether they are inappropriate or justified. He took the blame and accepted all punishment there is. Now, what is left for us?

* Peace – with nothing left to blame, punish, or judge;

* Healing – coming from a Savior who was in our shoes and has all the empathy for our cause that we can hope for.

Jesus picks up our broken pieces and makes us whole again – trusting Him is the key. If we don’t know Jesus yet, we will find that it is easy to get acquainted – He is truly welcoming – and our acquaintance will soon blossom into a friendship that goes beyond our lifetime.

Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The human spirit is unfettered and free. Try to subjugate humans, in the end they will shake off the shackles. This is why ultimately all totalitarian systems are doomed. From God’s perspective, absolute rule is not His style. Nothing could be further from our Creator’s intentions. God simply is no autocrat or control freak, which is why He created no robots, but living beings endowed with free will.

God created us to be free.

Initially there was no law; but then the tree of the knowledge of good and evil misled us. I call this the “Tree of the dos and don’ts” or the “Tree of the Law”. God commanded us not to eat its fruit because He knew full-well that we would get lost in the Law. Against His expressed wishes, however, we still went for it.

Eating from a cursed tree, we were robbed of God and freedom.

Meanwhile, the Lord has been diligently at work to help us. He gave us the Ten Commandments so that we could see firsthand that in a world ruled by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil not even the wisest body of laws would bring peace. We had to learn this the hard way. When we finally realized the impotency of the Law, God sent His Son Jesus. He came to restore us to a forgotten life – the way things used to be, before we got involved with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In a passage of rites, Jesus gets nailed by the Law – nailed to a tree – and dies, which is all the Law can do.

There is absolutely no life in the Law.

With the arrival of God’s Son, the age of the Law has expired. Jesus’s death and subsequent resurrection started a whole new era; He brought us God’s kingdom. We do not become good by refraining from sinning, but by accepting Jesus’s wonderful gift. Plain and simple – unless we do not want it plain and simple, which puts us right back under the Law nailing us to a tree.

The law kills, while the Spirit of God brings life.

In general I love trees – but definitely not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! This tree has brought us nothing but grief. Old habits die hard, and die-hard fans of the Law are everywhere on this planet, however, religious indoctrination is not what Jesus had in mind for us. While He Himself fulfilled the Law to the t, He came to save us from the Law and its repercussions.

Jesus came to set us free – and He freed us indeed.

“Oh, freedom, Oh, freedom
Oh freedom over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’d be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free”

Songwriters: R.W. Singleton
Posted in Law

Genesis 2:18: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”

We are not alone. God created us for community. It is in times of isolation that we become acutely aware of that.

After creating Adam, Eve followed. Some may say that with Eve came trouble, but trouble came long before Eve. In fact, Adam was troubled without Eve. He searched high and low for his equal. And his Creator profoundly understood.  After all, God is Trinity. Before there was anything else, there was relationship, relationship among the Trinity that is. And relationship is what makes the world go around. On this note, here are some simple observations:

·         Being alone when we are sad, magnifies our sadness. Picture yourself being stranded alone on an island. Soon you’d be talking to trees and ants just for the sake of communication (albeit one-sided).

·         Being with someone magnifies our joy. Shared joy multiplies, as odd as it sounds; after a major accomplishment, what would you like to do? Throw yourself a party of one?

Life without people is an odd couple, similar to faith without works or a fruit tree without fruit. Cherishing our loved ones, we get to share in their sorrow and happiness. That is something we do not want to trade with anything else in the world.

“Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing. It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.” – Rich Mullins

Psalm 62:7: “My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.”

People grapple with the God-factor, wondering whether He exists at all and if so, how to approach Him. There is an endless array of protocol performed in various religions of the world. The need to feel connected to God is as old as humankind.

We live on planet Earth with all its amazing resources, and yet we feel abandoned, sort of like “Kevin alone in the house.” The 1990 John Hughes blockbuster “Home Alone” depicted an eight-year-old troublemaker who is accidentally left home alone by his family during a Christmas vacation.

Home alone – that’s our mantra too. We cry out to the Creator of the universe and pray: “God, please talk to us; God come down to Earth and help us; God, please favor us; God, please protect us; God, please intervene!” – a universal cry that God should come home and make things right. All of creation sighs. In their language the birds in the air, the predators in the bush and the trees in the jungle cry out to its creator. All creation sings when the feet of the Lord Almighty touch the Earth as written in the book of Psalms (Psalm 96:12):

“Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. “

God on Earth is not a new concept. The Egyptian Pharaohs of old established a government run by the Sons of God. There is a reason why many world religions advertise that God comes down in human form. We need God to be near. The good news is that God in fact is near. God has many names, the one I personally love the best is the Hebrew name Emmanuel – God with us.

All around the world people seek God’s favor. Trying too hard, they put a lot of effort into breaking down an unlocked door. Heaven’s door however is already open wide, and to our surprise, God is knocking on our door. He reaches out to us. One of God’s finest features is His mercy. He became a human being to help us. His Hebrew name “Yeshua” (English: Jesus) means translated “God saves”. Jesus came to reconnect us to the source of all being and is currently asking us to accept His gift.

Turns out, God Himself does all the dirty work. It is God who restores the communication between Him and mankind. We may build elaborate temples and do a lot of good works, but all of these efforts do not open Heaven’s door. God reaches out to us; our part is simply to respond.

The Holy Spirit is poured out for us and at work everywhere. The secret to successfully navigating through life lies in receiving God’s signals and learning to walk with Him.

James 1:12: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

The apostle James wrote a letter to believers whom he most likely could not contact in any other way. Writing letters was the social media of his day and age. There was no telephone, no internet, no TV, no radio. Long distance communication had to be in writing, which in turn required literacy.

Every generation has its own problems, so the topic of James’ letter – persevering under trial – is always current and very applicable to any time in history; however, what does this even mean – a person who faces difficulties is being tested? What exactly is our test in situations when we are stuck between a rock and a hard place?

New prescription drugs and complex machinery such as cars, rockets and airplanes are routinely submitted to rigorous tests; – so are human beings – albeit for different reasons. We are constantly tested, whether it is for educational, career, or athletic purposes; however, I believe the hardest of all is the character test.

Italy became a great inspiration to the world when appearing on global news during the 2020 pandemic. Confined to their homes to curb the infection rate, the Italian population stepped on their balconies using everything they could lay hands on to make loud and cheerful music. If they had no instruments available, they banged against pots and pans while singing their hearts out to boost the morale of their countrymen.

We live well when we love well. Love looks out for one another, which is why love is so big, especially in tough times. Living life in this fashion, we will discover that we have everything, especially in times of adversity.

Jeremiah 17:7-8: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Trees have always fascinated me. When I was a little girl, I painted a big tree on my bedroom wall. Next, I attached a hook on top of my painting, and on that hook I hung my guitar. Hanging a guitar on a painted tree has a curious effect. It’s basically mixing a two-dimensional painting with 3-D reality. Later in life I did it again, when I painted a tree on our backyard fence planting flowers right in front of it. My husband and I called it our “fence tree”.

Painted trees on fence and bedroom wall remind me of the nature of our hopes and dreams. Our dreams come two-dimensional at first. They take shape in our hearts and can be as defined as a good painting. Dreams turn into three-dimensional reality when we start acting upon it. We often call this action a leap of faith – and leaping we must when the time comes; life poses a variety of challenges that require faith.

Walking with the Lord, we experience peace, regardless the circumstances. In agricultural terms, we thrive under His care, even in the driest desert conditions. – Speaking of thriving in the desert, the people of Israel had wandered the Sinai desert for decades after their exodus from Egyptian slavery. A contemporary named Balaam took a good look at their vast campsite as the young nation was in the trenches, preparing to claim the territory east of the Mediterranean Sea. He prophesied over them saying (Numbers 24:6-7):

“How beautiful are your tents, Jacob,
    your dwelling places, Israel!

Like valleys they spread out,
    like gardens beside a river,
like aloes planted by the Lord,
    like cedars beside the waters.
Water will flow from their buckets;
    their seed will have abundant water.”

Rooted in the Lord, nothing is impossible. The Prophet Jeremiah compared a believer to a fruit-producing tree that is undeterred by drought. We thrive like trees planted alongside a river, a river that never runs dry.

1 Peter 2:2-3: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Babies crawl on the floor in exploratory wonder. To them everything is brand new. Wide-eyed and curious, they intensely study their surroundings. Humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. The sensing organs associated with each sense send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us. Unfortunately for us, our sensory systems are not equipped to perceive God, unless He reveals Himself to us. Metaphorically speaking, we all wear blindfolds until the day our eyes are opened and we begin to see the light.

The apostle Peter compares our spiritual awakening to early childhood experiences. Like babies curiously explore the world around them, so are we encouraged to go after the Lord and find out who He is, as referenced in the book of Psalms (Psalm 34:8):

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Understanding that the Lord is good is core knowledge. Everything else we learn about Him builds on that. In other words, we don’t know the Lord when we don’t know that He is good.

Jesus’ story about the narrow door has always intrigued me. He was on His way to Jerusalem when someone asked him: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” That question in itself is odd and shows that the person asking is not convinced that God is merciful and good. Interestingly, Jesus does not reply with a “Yes” or “No”. Instead, He tells the story of the narrow door that will close at a certain point, never to be opened again. Jesus looks at the person asking Him that question, and this is what He says (Luke 13:25):

“Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’”

The people knocking on the narrow door do not know that God’s door of welcome is wide. They knock on the wrong door, so-to-speak. Whoever does not know that God is good completely misses the boat.

On the other side of the spectrum, Jesus knows who we are at our deepest level. When we open up to Him, He becomes our internal compass pointing to our True North – to God who is our eternal home.

Children of God grow up and spread their wings. The wind of the Holy Spirit carries us through highs and lows. Our love matures as we grow up in our salvation – because we have indeed tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

“You took a sparrow and let it fly with the eagles
I can see a long ways – I feel love again”

Tony Joe White

Psalm 23:1-3: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”

The law is like a checkerboard; it is painted black and white. Applying the law to life is what law experts do when they meet in court. The challenge lies in the nature of the beast – people are not black and white. They are not one way or the other. Guess what: Neither is the Lord. Even though His 613 commandments summarized in the Law of Moses could make Him look like a law expert, I do not think we do Him justice to confine Him to the law alone. If we do, our view of God is black and white.

David’s sigh of relief as he breathed his prayer is like a splash of color:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”

We need to get familiarized with the diverse color nuances of the Lord. David could tell you all about it. He is no model citizen. If we look into his life story we will find that he did many great and noble things, but he also committed murder in cold blood to protect his interests. And yet, even when David got caught red-handed, he relied on God’s judgment rather than on people’s judgment. People have a tendency to condemn. God doesn’t. God is a God of color and He understands the subtleties of a human being. God is our judge without being judgmental.

The best way to describe the effect God has on my life is like a fog lifting from the valley. Becoming aware of God, the fog slowly lifts. The first things I detected about God were His outlines, His do’s and don’ts. But as any friendship, my relationship with God has matured over the years. I study Him like a painting to see His nuances and subtleties and I see more than just His outlines when I look at Him now.

Sticking to a world of black and white just because it feels more defined, we are definitely missing out. Granted, life with God is no walk in the park, but it is rich; it is a rainbow of experiences. We don’t lack a thing in His presence.

2 Peter 1:5-8: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Monsters and mountains – we have to conquer them. There is no way around it. Try as we may, our avoidance of the elephant in the room is only a detour that will bring us right back to the place where we don’t wish to be. We need to fight every step of the way to climb our mountains; we need to chase our monsters instead of our monsters chasing us.

The apostle Peter probably never forgot the horrible night when he was too weak to stand up for his best friend, the night when he cowered by the fire, denied who he was, and betrayed a friendship. The one person he admired most, the precious person near and dear to his heart, the One to whom he defiantly said just moments ago: I will die for you – he betrayed Him. And the worst thing about it: His friend already knew. He turned around and looked him in the eye right about the time the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered. His friend had actually predicted his failure. How ashamed he felt that night, how miserable and worthless, nobody can tell. But the same person who predicted his failure also predicted his success. “Peter” was his given nickname because when Jesus looked at Peter, He saw his potential. He saw that Peter would become rock-solid and help ignite a movement that to this day is still moving.

Peter’s nightmare became his greatest triumph when he addressed his monsters. His legacy speaks for itself inspiring us to do the same.

Yeah, let’s kick our monsters in the behind! What are yours by the way? Mine is being stuck, a claustrophobia nightmare of sorts. One of my bad dreams at night is sitting in my car approaching a stoplight. Instead of hitting the breaks I’m frozen. Last thing I remember before willing myself to wake up from this dream – I’m in a major car crash, and of course I’m unable to get out.

What do we do when monsters are in the room? Well, we need to identify and chase them. If we duck, fear will rule our life, and that does not bode well for us.

Here is Peter’s recommendation: Add to your faith. In other words: grow. Never stop growing. Nothing stays the same, everything changes; so must our faith. Our faith matures. Our inability to accept change stunts our growth and keeps our faith small. On the other hand, when we embrace change, face our fears, and move with the changing seasons our faith is bound to grow. God knows what we will find on the other side of that mountain. Based on His track record, it is going to be very good.

But I’m not your son, you’re not my father
We’re just two grown men saying goodbye
No need to forgive, no need to forget
I know your mistakes and you know mine
And while you’re sleeping, I’ll try to make you proud
So daddy, won’t you just close your eyes?
Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn
To chase the monsters away

James Blunt

2 Peter 1:4: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

One day in 1749, while walking to the Bastille, Jean-Jacques Rousseau noticed an advertisement for an essay contest. Hosted by the Academy of Dijon, the essay posed a simple question: has science made us better or worse, more or less moral?  As Rousseau recalls, he fell asleep in the park, had a vision, awoke in tears, and started to write his “Discourse on the Sciences and Arts”. He ended up winning the contest and instantly rose to fame. His basic thesis: “Man is naturally good.”

While Romantic philosophy assumes the innate goodness of men, a believer is acutely aware of men’s leaning toward bad. The apostle Peter puts it quite bluntly:

“(…) having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires”

Evil desires are inside of us. Nobody put them there. There are ours to deal with. Technically, every person is like a ticking time bomb that can go off and self-destruct at any moment. Our psyches are frail. Given the circumstances, we all can be broken very easily. Besides our psyches, also our bodies are subjected to corruption – the aging process being a visible reminder.

Steven Austad, a bio-gerontologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham delved into the question: Why do we age? Here is his explanation:

“Reproduction is the name of the game. Basically, we age because it’s not in nature’s best interest to perfectly repair our bodies. The main thing is to keep us reproductive as long as possible, and then let our bodies deteriorate.”

In other words, ultimately we are here to be replaced – a pretty sobering thought. Of course we all know that no human being can actually be reproduced. Our DNA is unique. Each person is as irreplaceable as they come.

The word “gospel” is an old English combination of the words “God” and “spel”, which in modern English translates into news, a story. The news that God exists is the heart of the gospel and that is very good news. The gospel ventures beyond biology: There is a God who created matter out of nothing and this same God is the reason why we exist. By acknowledging Him, faith infinitely increases the value of human life. As a creature of God, we are no accident. We all matter.

Recognizing who God is, we will move past corruption. As we grow closer to Him, we essentially find out that God is a team of three. It is a delight to get to know the Son of God. The Spirit of God is tirelessly introducing Jesus to every generation. And the Father of all is our soul’s destiny and home. By getting to know God we escape corruption and engage in eternal life. We become an integral part of His family. Faith is precious because we are no longer slaves to corruption, but we are set free to participate in God’s divine nature.

The incorruptible, inconceivable, beautiful and generous nature of God wants to include us because He dearly loves us.

“You dance over me
While I am unaware
You sing all around
But I never hear the sound
Lord, I’m amazed by You
Lord, I’m amazed by You
Lord, I’m amazed by You
How You love me”

Jared Anderson

1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

The apostle Peter wrote his letter in a time when Christianity was still in its infancy. Sometimes eyed with suspicion and downright hostility, it was probably not easy to treat everybody with respect. Today the question still remains – how can we be gentle in a violent world?

Growing up, I had issues with a violent stepfather. He scared me. I would get up in the morning and the living room was trashed; or I would wake up at night to find my mother sitting next to me in the bedroom with doors locked while my stepfather hammered against the door demanding to get in. Domestic violence was not even a buzzword back then. Thankfully this marriage ended after five years. While the divorce eliminated the violence from our home, it did leave a lasting impression in my heart. I had become afraid of men and afraid of life, which is why most of my decisions in my young adulthood were fear-driven.

At age 19 I moved from my childhood home into the city where I enrolled in college to study foreign languages, but I did not graduate. Within a year’s time I dropped out of school and moved into an apartment with a group of people who, like me, had decided to join a young mission. For years following I stayed behind the walls of a religious community that dictated every aspect of my life and separated me from family and friends. Eventually, I became fed up with the situation and left.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to deal with violence, but there are certainly wrong approaches; seeking revenge is one, escapism is another. I chose the latter and I can say that we don’t escape from violence by going into hiding. When we hide from a problem, the problem follows us and grows bigger in the process.

Back to the initial question: how to be gentle in a violent world – To me the key is getting to know Jesus. The Son of God is gentle and fearless. He never defended himself from violent people, but He was not afraid of them either. I have grown from fearful to hopeful and know that Jesus is the reason for the hope that I have. Without Him I would still be stuck in a very small world. I do not have all the answers, but what I do have is hope.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Throughout time and everywhere on this planet, people deal with problems. A life without trouble simply does not exist. Going through trouble I personally have found strength in the quiet presence of God’s Spirit. Still, I also strongly believe that God’s presence is fully expressed in human compassion.

Nobody’s heart likes to be broken. Moments of exasperation won’t be listed as our favorite memories. We like to think of the day we met the love of our life; the day we held our first child; the day we experienced a significant breakthrough. We like to revisit our mountaintop moments while we do not like to dwell on our losses and failures.

Whether we go through a moment of victory or a moment of loss – God is in both moments. – While victories have a tendency to set us apart, our failures may have a lot of hidden potential also. People admire a hero from afar, but they can probably better relate to a flawed anti-hero who does not always win. It is very human to fail. Loss reminds us of our humanness – and I believe it is good to be reminded, at least from time to time.

Loss puts us into a position where we need God the most. God is our merciful Father and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of all comfort; healing is under His wings; in Him we find enduring hope. Experiencing His peace in the face of adversity, we can in turn encourage others. Hope is contagious. Who knows – you may very well be somebody’s ray of hope today without even realizing it.

If loss has created any kind of empathy in us, then we have gained more than all of our prior victories combined. Success may feel exhilarating, and yet it is not our victories that connect us to our fellow human beings. Compassion however connects and soothes the pain.

The theme song of “The Last of the Mohicans” is a musical outcry expressing the pain of attempted genocide. Converting our pain into a song, triggers hope. As long as we cry out, there is a chance that we will be heard.

Who cares about our trouble? Maybe more people than we think. Certainly God cares – and I believe He is the One creating awareness and stirring empathy. Empathy ignites compassion; compassion ignites hope, and hope is the reason why we are still here.

Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

It is interesting that David would ask God to test him. I for one have never asked such a thing, partially because I know if God tested me, most likely it would be a rude awakening for me and partially because I am quite content with the amount of stress my life offers for free without having to ask God for more. Looking into some of the preceding verses to find out what motivated this kind of prayer, these were David’s thoughts (Psalm 139:19-21):

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?

David’s musical skills had always served him well. Singing his prayers became a sacred habit of his. He would often pray while plucking his harp. A shepherd by trade, he was a man who had spent his days and nights looking after his sheep ever since he was a little boy – until one day, when he was summoned to play for the king.

To his surprise, his musical skills had been recognized by someone at court. This led to a chain of events that took him away from the sheepfold and moved him closer to the palace – apparently too close for comfort. Against his wishes, David was drawn into politics. Due to his military successes, his popularity grew to the point that Saul, who was elected first king of Israel, became severely jealous and felt the need to protect himself from David whom he thought was about to usurp his throne. David had no such plans whatsoever, but few believed him; and so, he had to go into hiding for years to come.

As a political refugee and suspect for treason, I can imagine that self-doubts assailed David in the dark moments of his life and that he asked God repeatedly: “Am I a man of integrity or am I just like those bloodthirsty men that are trying to kill me? Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”

David rose to fame as a man after God’s own heart, a shepherd who became the second king of Israel. Obviously, I had no chance to meet him in person and the words I added to King David’s prayer were pure speculation on my part, but what I am learning is this:

It is healthy to question our motives, especially when we are about to make a decision that will affect a lot of people. We are well-advised to seek God when in self-doubt. He is the best source of information when it comes to judging our own thoughts since the Lord knows us like no other. With King David we can pray (Psalm 139:24):

“See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

If we are on the wrong track, we should be the first to know. Submitting our ways to the Lord is the wisest decision we could ever make.

“My heart is known to You and all that is in me is plain to You; You know my every thought.” (Psalm 139:1-2)

Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Today I was going through some old photo footage and found a picture of my mother and me working in the kitchen. When my mother was visiting from Germany she liked to cook us a special German meal. One dish in particular stands out in our memory, and that is her Sauerbraten. A traditional German recipe, Sauerbraten is basically Beef marinated in Red Wine Vinegar.

My husband Bill and Mom always went together to shop for the meat. Bill wanted to buy her the most tender cuts of beef available on the market, but Mom turned everything down. The toughest areas of the animal are the shoulder and leg muscles because they are worked the most; Mom selected a beef brisket, a beef cut right above the legs, which is probably the toughest piece of meat one could get. At home then she proceeded to marinate the brisket in vinegar for about a week. The result was a yummy meal with dumplings, red cabbage and an incredibly tender Sauerbraten. Obviously, along with my mother’s expert cooking and seasoning, marinating did the trick.

Remembering how my mother handled meat, I couldn’t help but drawing a parallel this morning; I find that when the Lord speaks to our hearts He breaks up our toughness. “Marinating in His Word” is the best experience for my heart I can think of. Going through trouble, it has helped my heart to stay at peace.

Writing blogs on Social Media has become my way of digging deeper into God’s Word. A lot of time I wrestle with the Lord about a meaning. The Bible has so many layers. Digging deeper, the things of God begin to move my heart and develop into more than just a passing thought.

A hardened individual is often a person who has closed down like an oyster after a traumatic experience. Paradoxically, a toughened heart does not fare so well in tough times. Faced with adversity, it can turn unforgiving and bitter. A softened heart, however, is flexible enough to get through the ups and downs of life unscathed.

A human heart is subject to change. God has the power to soften the most hardened of hearts. Listening to God speak brings life to our bones and transforms our life forever.

Isaiah 55:8-9: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

God thinks different and He acts different from us. In theory we know that. However, when the rubber meets the road we sometimes get offended by His otherness. There are moments in our lives when we question Him. “Why God?” is not an unusual inquiry. Wrestling with God, we are in very good company. Prophets and kings have been in our shoes. Below listed are a few examples:

Job asked the question (Job 13:24):

Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?

King David asked the question (Psalm 22:1):

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?”

Prophet Isaiah asked the question (Isaiah 63:17):

Why, Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?” 

Prophet Jeremiah asked the question (Lamentations 5:20):

Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?

Actually, God asks us why sometimes (Isaiah 50:2):

“When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to deliver you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you?”

Jesus asked Saul a crucial why-question that changed his life (Acts 9:4):

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

It seems we have a true wrestling match. God wrestles with us and we wrestle with Him. I believe, as long as the wrestling continues we have a vibrant relationship. We do not offend God with our emotions, our struggle and pain. He is not offended when we question Him. Only our indifference does.

“Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat

Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You’re up there just playing hard to get?”

Rich Mullins
Posted in Why

Psalm 120:1 “[A song of ascents.] I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.”

Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), an English philosopher and statesman brought an old Turkish proverb to fame when he retold the birth of Islam. As his story goes, during a public assembly the prophet Mohammed apparently called Mount Hera to come to him. When the mountain did not move he said, “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain.” And so it happened that Mohammed went up Mount Hera where reportedly the angel Gabriel spoke to him, making him the prophet of Islam.

The point of the old saying is to take action in order to make things happen. The mountain was not going to come to the prophet; he had to go to it.

A proverb older than a millennium has evolved over the years. Growing up in Germany, I heard a different version: “If the prophet won’t come to the mountain, the mountain must come to the prophet”, which I always interpreted as a call to prayer.

In whichever version we have heard the proverb it leads to the same course of action: We go up the mountain to seek audience with God, which is exactly what Jewish pilgrims have done for thousands of years. On occasion of the feast of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, the pilgrims ascend the temple mountain while singing and reciting certain Psalms that are listed in today’s Book of Psalms – specifically Psalm 120 through Psalm 134. It is safe to assume that Jesus Himself went up this very mountain numerous times reciting psalms on His many journeys to Jerusalem from Galilee.

Try to climb a mountain and sing at the same time – it does not come easy. Life is not easy, and problems seem particularly daunting at night. Instead of being dragged down, a believer needs to get up and pray. We can climb our prayer mountain anywhere in the world even if we live in the plains; climbing our personal mountain, we seek alone-time with God. Removed from distractions we can focus on our Maker.

On top of a mountain we are able to see far. Looking at our lives from a bird’s eye perspective, confusing and overwhelming problems become more clear and defined. We will be better equipped to deal with our issues once we descend from our prayer mountain.

What do we do when things go from bad to worse? The answer is simple: We ascend.

1 John 4:9: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

God has a myriad of ways to show His love. The outdoors are His love letter. I sometimes think, the more we stay indoors, the more we get removed from His handiwork. Step outside for a minute, wherever you are, and look at the skies above. Whatever you see is awesome. God shows His love in His awesomeness.

God has shown His love among us in a very unique way: He sent His Son into the world; what a great way of getting in touch! God sought to become part of mankind – and the rest is history.

God sent His Son into the world so we can get rooted into the kingdom of Heaven; our fruits show where our roots are. If we have root rot, then there will be hardly any fruit; if the soil is unforgiving and we lack nutrients, then there will be barely any foliage to speak of. Rooted in the kingdom of God, however, we will thrive and our foliage and fruit will be plenty.

God sent His Son into the world so we understand what eternal life is all about; the way Jesus lived is an open book for everyone to read. In fact, even without being acquainted with Jesus His words ring true to a lot of people. His Sermon on the Mount is a wonderful example. Life gains momentum when we read and internalize His message of peace. As the Prince of Peace, Jesus is the authority on the subject; I personally believe that our peacemaking efforts will have a more lasting effect if we actually have met the Prince of Peace in person and believe in Him.

God sent His Son into the world so we might live through Him. Jesus opens our eyes to God’s world. Our hearts expand as we let the Savior in. This is a mystery, but so is His appearing in the flesh. How could God turn into a human being? Well, nothing is impossible to Him, which works out in our favor. God brought Himself in front of our doorsteps. He is more interested in being our next-door neighbor than being a remote deity that nobody knows. Our mysterious God wants to be known. That is why He came; that is why He walked around in a human body. Jesus is the invisible God made visible and the embodiment of His love.

God cares.

Psalm 33:4-5: “For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

Creativity is the pulsing drive of creation and originates from the Godhead; the big bang was a firework display of His genius. Countless star systems were created. In the Milky Way Galaxy alone, astronomers have discovered more than 2,500 stars with planets orbiting them. Our planetary system is officially called “solar system”, but is probably not the only solar system around.

Bound by gravitational attraction, the planets of our solar system began orbiting our Sun. Meanwhile on Planet Earth, oceans spilled all over our planet and turned it blue. Because of its abundance in water, Earth became home to millions of species of plants and animals. Continents were forged while vegetation sprouted. Streams were formed and cut their way to the sea. The ocean habitat developed while on dry land wildlife showed up.

God built us an amazing home. Builders take pride in their building projects and God is no less attached to His work than any other builder we know. We need to remember that and not take our home planet for granted.

A world abounding in sounds, colors and smells, Planet Earth is a vivid reminder of God’s love. Think of the myriads of details that hold our universe together. The love of God flows through each and every aspect of creation, which is why His presence is so tangible in the outdoors.

We hold a sponge soaked with water, dripping wet, ready to wipe a window. We could say the sponge is saturated with water. Similarly, our home planet is saturated with the love of the Lord. His unfailing love fills Heaven and Earth.

Psalm 18:1-2: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Reading the footnote of Psalm 18: “For the director of music; Of David the servant of the Lord”, over time King David had become a prolific song writer. He captured what moved him. Working with the director of music he made his poetry accessible to the public.

King David was a man devoted to God. Throughout his lifetime he continued to write very candidly about his experiences and turned them into poetry. He wrote down his prayers even in the worst time of his life; and on the flip side he also captured his times of triumph and success. Whether passing through a deep valley or arriving on an illustrious mountaintop, King David shared all these moments with the Lord.

Psalm 18 represents such a mountaintop moment. Another footnote of this particular psalm paints the picture:

“He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”

King Saul’s leadership led the nation of Israel into a crisis. David served in King Saul’s army at the time, and his continued success in battle eventually brought on King Saul’s deadly jealousy. As a result, a great portion of David’s life was the life of a refugee. Eventually, King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle and this chapter of his life closed. When David was elected the new king of Israel, he celebrated with the Lord.

In his moment of triumph he took the time to remember that everything he had came from the Lord. His victory was the result of many steps of faith that had led him to this place. On his way he needed protection from his enemies, deliverance in battle and a Rock to hold on to. He could not have reached the mountaintop without the Lord. David was acutely aware of the gift he had been given, and he turned his gratitude into a prayer that we are privileged to read today (Psalm 18:2):

“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

It is good to remember the gifts we have been given. Gratitude is humility’s sister and opens our eyes to the wonder of God’s love while inspiring our love for Him.

James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Heaven runs on humility because God is humble; genuine humility originates in Him.

We can learn humility by watching how God’s Spirit operates. Thanks to the Holy Spirit we have life on Earth. It was the Spirit of God who hovered over chaos in the story of our creation and turned it into a Garden of Eden. And it was thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead.

Despite all of His power, the Spirit of God is still respectful of our boundaries. If we vote against Him, He respects our decision, even if it is detrimental to our well-being. The gentle Spirit of God is the best example of humility I can think of. He does not overpower us, He guides us only if we ask Him to, and He immediately withdraws if He is not welcome.

How do we humble ourselves? I believe we humble ourselves by surrendering completely into God’s almighty hands.

In the palm of His hand we can find out who we are. We are God’s creation – intricate and complicated, mysterious and wonderful – a reflection of our wonderful and mysterious Creator. However, if we forget that, we become disjointed and self-centered. And now we begin to blow things out of proportion as we lose our grip on reality.

Surrendered to God we are grounded in the truth. The closer we draw to God, the humbler we become. He puts things into perspective without belittling us. God the Giant and we His little dwarfs is definitely not His idea. He is our Father and He is “giantly” in love with His creation. We are considered family.

Our significance derives from the Lord. He made us, He is endeared to us and we have His undivided attention. In God’s eyes we are very special. We stand out because He is the One who lifts us up. In the palm of His hand we can truly be ourselves, and maybe this is what humility is all about.

“I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees
Your grace provides for me” – Ron Block

Psalm 63:6: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.”

A few years back, I had a near-death experience after an unsuccessful second heart surgery. For a while I felt my life was drawing to a close. Naturally, this had a profound impact on my psyche. Thinking I would soon be gone I wanted to leave a good impression; so outwardly I gave it my best shot, though in all reality I was wrapping up my life to get my affairs in order.

Meanwhile, I have made it through yet another heart surgery, and here I am, still kicking. Eventually, I had to shift gears, because my life was not about to end any time soon. I had to give my life another chance.

I did not want to admit to it at the time, but I felt hopeless when my health went south. In the book of Proverbs we find a brief description of the effects of hopelessness (Proverbs 13:12):

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

It is a medical reality that lack of hope eventually catches up with us and affects us physically. Sometimes our struggles go unnoticed, and that is very unfortunate. Suicide rates are up – a sobering indicator that we live in a lonely society.

How can we help a hopeless person? Pep talk in a depressed state may not be the best approach. Self-help groups promote positive thinking, and that is perhaps a good start, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Lord is the answer to our deepest needs. Ultimately He is the One who can fix what is broken inside of us. I believe, in our frailties we mostly depend on God’s mercies to get us through a valley and beyond.

We all need the Lord. Turning to Him for encouragement is a wise move. God is not stuck in a mold and He can get us out of ours; He is able to help us see things differently. Regardless of how much or how little lifetime we have left, we do have things working for us; God is able to open our eyes so we can become aware of these things.

The Lord walks with us on difficult roads – and I cannot stress this often enough – His presence is the best gift He can give us in most confusing times.

When we feel lost, we need to remember the Lord.

Galatians 6:7-8: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Sowing and reaping are agricultural terms. The history of agriculture reaches far back to the beginning of mankind’s domestication. A farmer has to nurture the plants all the way down to harvest, or there is no harvest; so after the first seeds were sown, mankind began to settle down; townships were formed, some of which developed into the first big cities.

Seemingly, there is more to the story of sowing and reaping in the eyes of the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the Galatians he mentions that God cannot be mocked. That’s one serious way of describing a farmer’s business.

Looking at the onset of mankind in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, it is curious to note that there was no sowing or reaping whatsoever in Paradise. Adam and Eve had free food whenever they were hungry. Change came after Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of knowledge. From then on they had to take care of themselves. Toiling the soil was meant to be a curse, which is why God said to Adam (Genesis 3:17-19):

17 “Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

In light of the fall of mankind, leaving paradise made it necessary to sow. Food was no longer provided for us. Besides physical sustenance, spiritual inspiration too was no longer readily available. Adam and Eve used to enjoy face to face encounters with God back in the Garden. Those encounters were now history; still this did not mean that God could no longer be accessed. People understood this and they developed a corporate way to seek Him out (Genesis 4:26):

“Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.”

In Adam and Eve’s family history, it was in their grandson Enosh’s generation that people began to organize worship services to formally call on the name of the Lord.

I believe that it is important to realize that both agriculture and organized religion started outside of Eden. It is safe to say that outside of Eden things have never been the same. Although now we have experience under our belt and we know a thing or two about survival, the most important lesson we can learn is how to stay connected to the Lord in this life.

Obstacles to a genuine connection with God are the things we consider more important than Him. If we hold on to anything that separates us from Him, most likely God is currently working on removing those obstacles.

To make the most of our lives we need to focus on our heart and soul, the part of us that can connect with the Lord. Our heart and soul is the engine of our existence. It is our connection with God that carries us into the future, beyond death. As such it takes precedence. We sow into our connection with God, and we harvest a dynamic relationship that will continually lift us up, here on earth and throughout eternity.

Luke 5:15-16: “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

At set times Jesus went into the wilderness to pray. His regular practice of personal prayer manifested itself through the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit wherever He went.

Jesus knew busyness. According to the gospel writers, Jesus was the man of the hour. He was wanted everywhere. In His generation, people were looking for leadership that would free them from the political super power of their time – the Roman Empire. Some had Jesus on their agenda to manipulate Him (which by the way never worked). Others sought Him out to receive healing. Wherever Jesus and His disciples went, a crowd gathered quickly. People were fascinated with His message of the kingdom of God. He spoke with authority. And from dusk to dawn, there were people – people – people.

Who has not become tired and frustrated at times with people constantly knocking on our doors? We keep up the good work until one morning we wake up and have nothing left to give. In sport terms, we have been tossed a Red Flag and need to review a challenge.

God gave us freedom of choice for a reason. He empowered us to say “yes” and “no.” Jesus remarked in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37):

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Life happens without our permission. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed because we simply have too much on our plate. If this happens to be the case then it is probably time to exercise some portion control. We need to determine what belongs on our plate. On a personal note, my husband and I have developed the habit to pray before saying yes to any new commitment.

Never underestimate the power of prayer. Our alone-time with God is a sacred time when everything else stops and the noise of the day subsides. We can clear our heads to listen to the voice of the Lord. Jesus once said, “My sheep know my voice”, and this is what our private audience with God is all about. It takes time to sort through all the voices in our heads. In order to receive the Lord’s input we sometimes have to wait things out. Our hearts are wired with sensors and we will know when the Lord has spoken to us.

Alone-time with God is time well-spent – and it pays in dividends of wisdom and joy.

Philippians 2:14-16: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

“Harsh light” is a figure of speech used by painters and photographers when it exposes and draws attention to unpleasant features of a subject. God’s light, however, does not work that way. The Light of the world is not known to be harsh.

Jesus exposes the truth without shaming everybody. In fact, God has no intentions of shaming us. We on the other hand have earned a Master’s degree in blaming ourselves and others. We need to get away from the harsh light of human discernment and leave the judgment up to God. In His light we do not look so bad after all.

Who would bandage a bruised reed? Jesus would. Prophet Isaiah describes the gentleness of Jesus who does not crush a broken blade of grass but instead repairs it (Isaiah 42:3):

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;”

Jesus has all the authority given by the Father – and that is a lot of authority – and yet, His presence is not intimidating. We are familiar with despots that are full of themselves and walk all over people. Jesus is not full of Himself. He is full of mercy. He is gentle with the brokenhearted, but firm with the hypocrites.

What is the antidote to power abuse? Is it force? Not according to Jesus. He did not draw a sword to defend Himself. He could have gone down that route and He would have won the battle, but lost the war. Crushing all of His opponents, His rule would have been based on dominance alone, and the world does not need that. This world has seen enough empires come and go.

Jesus has His way with broken people. He makes them shine. Aligned to a shining star, planets are lit up in dark space; and so are God’s children following Jesus. They shine in a crooked generation, as the Apostle Paul puts it. And I believe this is the only hope left to reach even the most hardened heart: not by force – but by light.

John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

If life had a name, then I’m sure its middle name would be Trouble with a capital T. First and last name? Constant Change! And we can get overwhelmed; we can get stuck; we can get overly attached; we can get numb; we can get depressed; we can get sweetened or hardened dealing with whatever life throws at us. Note that our hearts are fragile. We need to take good care of our hearts, or else we’ll be overcome by life’s middle name.

How we handle trouble is similar to digestion. Food is worthless and can actually kill us if our bowels refuse to work and our whole digestive system shuts down. Food has to be processed to be of any value. So does life. We need to take time to process life’s events, especially life changing events.

Allow yourself a break when lots of things happen, when we arrive at a crossroad; when changes come our way, when we feel pushed in a corner, when we feel powerless, when we feel angry, especially when we feel defeated and don’t see a way out of a situation. All of that are sure indicators that we need a Time Out.

Jesus spoke words of life into everybody’s struggle when He said:

  • “Take heart!”

We need to take our hearts seriously. The best favor we can do to ourselves is to reconnect with our Creator.

Jesus said:

  • “I have overcome the world”.

Knowing and believing that Jesus can work through every issue with us will guard our hearts from descending into desperation. Jesus added:

  • “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.”

The most precious ointment on a wounded and broken heart is the ointment of peace: the peace of knowing everything is going to be alright; the peace of knowing that God cares; the peace of knowing we are not alone; the peace of realizing that God is near; the peace of knowing we are being carried.

Jesus can connect us to peace because He is the source of peace. Shortly before His death He told His followers (John 14:27):

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

“Peace be with you” is not an empty wish of His. It is quite real. And Jesus wants to lay it on us. Take it from the One who knows you best and let His peace reign in your heart and soul.

John 14:1-3: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

His heart is fully vested in His creation. Jesus was there when the stars and the moons were put into place. He knows the inner workings of the universe. He knows all the intimate details of star systems, galaxies, our home turf, the Milky Way, and specifically, how planet Earth was put together, how plant life came to be, how the animals were created and finally, how the first human beings were introduced. He was there. As Builder and Creator, Jesus is attached to everything He has laid hands on, and His fingerprints are all over creation.

Then the Creator became flesh and lived among us; born into this world, the Son of God became Son of Man. Incidentally the Builder of the universe was born into a carpenter’s family. Growing up under Joseph’s tutelage, they must have spent a lot of time in the wood shop. They worked with their hands to build things out of wood. Jesus had always been a builder, but when God became man, He came with the mission to restore what He had previously built.

Creation suffered a mortal blow; death crept into His beautiful and perfect creation. But, death was not supposed to have the last word in the matter. At age 30, Jesus began His public ministry, preaching about the kingdom of God. He began to heal the sick, wake up the dead and spread God’s compassion everywhere He went.

The night before His death Jesus talked to His closest friends, His disciples. He shared with them that He was going back to the Father. His disciples were deeply disturbed and unsettled. How could they live a single day without Jesus?  Jesus told them (John 14:1):

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”

Nothing seemed to make sense to His disciples. How could Jesus save them if He were to leave them the very next day?

It was a hard thing to understand. As it turned out, Jesus did not leave them to their own devices. He left them with God’s Spirit. And to this day the Spirit of God has been working all around the globe to guide people’s hearts towards the truth.

Jesus left planet Earth to reunite with the Father. He also left to build places for people in Heaven, in preparation for their home coming. Passionate as He is about building, we can be sure that His love is carved into the very structures He is working on. We will see them – handcrafted homes in Heaven, custom made by Jesus for the people who believe in Him. This is what He says to you and me (John 14:1-2):

“You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”

Psalm 103:1-2: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits”

Sean Hutchinson writes about elephant memory:

“At The Elephant Sanctuary — a non-profit organization based in Hohenwald, Tennessee — in 1999, an elephant named Jenny became very animated when a new elephant named Shirley arrived. After looking into the animals’ backgrounds, workers at the Sanctuary found that the two had performed with the same circus for only a few months—22 years earlier. The elephants are able to use their whopping 10.5-pound brains to encode identification and survival details, imprinting the key/// data to their memory to be recalled later. But an elephant’s amazing memory comes only with age and experience—and older, larger elephants are often a target of hunters. “The tragedy,” says Lewis, “is that when one of these is lost to poaching, the information dies with her,” leaving the rest of the herd at a disadvantage—and having severe consequences for the species as a whole.”

In the wild it is crucial to remember in order to survive.  I believe the same is true spiritually.  If we quickly forget about the good things the Lord has orchestrated in our lives, it’s just a matter of time that we feel disjointed and become dissatisfied.  With advanced age comes advanced experience.  All the more reason to look back and count our blessings!  While the aging population has been driven to the margins of Western society, it is important to note that they do not play a marginal role in God’s kingdom. Leviticus 19:32 encourages us to value and respect the elderly:

“Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord.”

On the opposite side of the age spectrum Paul wrote to Timothy, a young fellow believer, to not underestimate himself because of his young age (1 Timothy 4:12):

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

So let’s not fall into the trap of thinking less of ourselves because we belong to a certain age group.  Instead, let’s think about the good things the Lord has done for you and me and make it our daily habit to praise Him.

“Time makes you bolder; children get older, and I’m getting older too.”
Stevie Nicks
Posted in Age

Luke 2:28-32: “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon held Jesus, the Messiah, in his arms; this little bitty baby was going to save the world! He looked at Him in awe and wonder, and he believed.

To Simeon, the news of the Messiah’s arrival must have felt like rainfall after a long dry-spell. Israel had seen many prophets come and go, but for centuries on end there had been a pronounced silence. No new prophet spoke to them and no fresh message was received. God seemed remote and withdrawn.

Israel had been repeatedly subjected to a long list of empires: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. The more freedom eluded the people of Israel, the more they craved it. They called for a Redeemer who would set them free once and for all, which is really humanly impossible. Only God can free us for good. And so it happened that, under the Roman Empire, God sent His Son Jesus, and an influential movement began that would go all around the world.

We sometimes hear the saying: “Be careful what you wish for.” People see us pursuing a dream, but foresee a problem if this dream actually comes true. The Messiah was such a dream. God answered prayer and Israel’s Messiah finally came. He came to deliver the Jews; actually, He came to deliver the entire human race. This clearly went beyond everybody’s expectations. God made a wish come true, but the Son of God was not what Israel had bargained for.  

Before we start pointing fingers at Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, let’s stop right here and ask ourselves this question: Don’t we all sometimes wish that God answers prayers our way? Well, if we do, then chances are we won’t recognize God’s answer to our prayers when it actually happens – as in Israel’s case. Of course, God is never beholden to our expectations. He knows what He is doing, and He will answer all our prayers His way. We can ask for His help – but we cannot tell Him how to help us. That is definitely His call.

God has sent us Emmanuel, God with us – and God is indeed with us, albeit unbeknownst to the world. At some point in the future, we will collectively lay eyes on the Messiah when He arrives in the clouds publicly, for everybody to see. Until then, it is up to us to recognize Jesus whenever He shows up in our lives. God’s Spirit speaks to us – are we listening?

When Simeon laid eyes on the Messiah in the Jerusalem temple, He believed. Now, it is our turn.

“Children go where I send thee, 
How shall I send thee? 
Well, I’m gonna send thee one by one
One for the little bitty baby
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem”
Roderick Williams

Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Mary and Joseph had just begun to feel relaxed. Every day well-wishing people came to pay homage to the child. Some offered help, others brought expensive gifts. Three distinguished visitors had traveled a long distance to present them with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Shepherds had been spreading word of their special baby in the local neighborhood. Everybody was excited and happy. The Messiah was born!  

As they retired for the night, Joseph considered prolonging their stay in Bethlehem to give Mary a chance to fully recuperate before hitting the road again. – That’s when it happened. – He looked around and saw an angel standing in the room. It was the angel of the Lord. Time seemed to stand still for a moment. Then the angel addressed him (Matthew 2:13):

“Get up”, he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Joseph woke up, startled to realize, it was a dream. He immediately woke Mary, and they left within the hour.

Mary and Joseph were in the eye of a storm as they packed up and left for Egypt. They fled just in the nick of time, right before Herod’s soldiers arrived who methodically killed all infants and toddlers in Bethlehem and its vicinity.

And so it was that Jesus narrowly escaped the massacre. Still, other babies were killed on that horrible day. Does this make any sense? – No, that’s the point! These are senseless murders, and they are symptomatic for the greater problem humanity has: We were created human but we evolved and became inhuman. The killings are a sobering reminder why the Messiah had to come in the first place.

The life of Jesus was no Rose garden. Early on, he had to deal with offense and life threatening situations, which is why He can appreciate what we are going through. He empathizes with us and carries us through our worst nightmares, even death; He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

This world is badly broken. Jesus came to heal the world. The Prince of Peace is more than just a pat on the back and a quick fix. His mission is to get to the bottom of things. Jesus’s parting words to His followers were (John 14:27):

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Healing our hearts, Jesus heals the world. Having turned our affairs over to Him, we have made peace with God. Peace on earth is a revolution from within and begins in the temple of our hearts.

“Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God “
Songwriters: Buddy Greene / Mark Lowry

Luke 2:16-20: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

It was an exceptional night. Cruising the streets of Bethlehem, a group of men looked for a particular house. They were local shepherds who have just had an epiphany. Previously, angels had filled them in about the birth of the Messiah. He was born in the area; actually, within reaching distance, or so they heard. The angels sang beautifully and handed them specific directions to the location; and so they took off to pay the family a visit.

Bethlehem lay quiet and deserted after the rush and business of the prior day. It didn’t take too long until they noticed the brilliant star that seemed to be fixed on a location, a certain place that had a barn with a family inside…. and there was the baby! He was in a manger, soundly asleep, just as the angels had told them.

Mary and Joseph looked surprised as the shepherds entered the room. After introducing themselves, they started sharing the news they had previously received from the angels. Meanwhile, Mary hung on every word they were saying and treasured up these things in her heart; to her it must have felt like puzzle pieces were falling into place. Hearing the good news from other people made it all the more real.

Imagine this happening to you: an angel shows up with a message. This angel tells you that God wants you to be the parent of His Son – God’s Son – asking for your permission to adopt Jesus into your family. Can you picture the skepticism of your friends and neighbors? I am assuming that Mary and Joseph dealt with similar reactions among their peers, which is why it was so important for them to meet the shepherds.

The shepherds played no minor role in the chain of events when they shared their story with Mary and Joseph. A stranger’s tale adds a lot more to an existing story; we hear an added perspective, and so the story grows in validity and depth. Faith stories from other people are important because it strengthens our faith. Faith is not meant to be walked out alone. We need each other to be strong.

God continues to choose people for His purpose, and sometimes people have a hard time believing in God’s choices. However, if we think we need to be perfect to be chosen by God we are completely missing the point. It is God who makes things perfect. And He is the One who perfects us as we follow His call.

Isn’t it wonderful that God invites us to be part of His story? Potentially, He could have done every little thing on His own. God does not need to include us into His plans. I love that He does it anyway; and by using regular human beings for His divine purpose on a star-filled night, God has forever made us part of the miracle of Christmas.

Luke 2:8-11: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Mary’s boy came in the wee-hours of the morning. – Jesus, beloved member of the Trinity, arrived as a human baby. His birthplace was in the Bethlehem hill country of His ancestor King David, who used to be a shepherd by trade; incidentally, shepherds were only a stone’s throw away from the place where Jesus was born.

Born in a barn, Jesus was outside protective palace walls – and I believe this was intentional. Despite being King of the universe, the Son of God does not seek the status of the privileged;

Born in a barn, Jesus did not wake up to an illustrious neighborhood. – Shepherds were in the neighborhood, and they stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder;

Born in a barn, Jesus welcomes everybody. People meet there on an equal playing field. Shepherds and foreign dignitaries kneel on the rugged barn floor to worship Jesus, alongside the resting cattle. Jesus is in touch with all of creation.

In the corporate world, an open-door policy means that every manager’s door is open to every employee. In the same spirit, the TV series “Undercover Boss” has upper management take on the role of a regular employee to gain a deeper insight into their business operation. Comparatively speaking, the Boss of Creation went undercover in His own created universe. By doing so, He got to experience the full spectrum of our humanness. The immortal became mortal. The timeless God reported to a time schedule on a human scale. He was born in the Middle East a couple of millennia ago.

From an angel’s perspective, they had known Jesus long before His arrival on planet Earth; they had experienced His glory in Heaven. It must have been a powerful witness to the mighty angels seeing their Maker transformed into a helpless babe.

Jesus would grow up to become a sought-after man of God who began His public ministry at age 30.  He was admired by many, but would also suffer rejection, pain, and loneliness. He loved everybody unconditionally, even those who hated Him. Facing His enemies, He ultimately died a criminal’s death. His earthly mission was accomplished after His resurrection, when He returned to His Father in Heaven.

Having walked in our shoes, Jesus has become our premier advocate. Knowing God’s plan and the impact Jesus was going to make – no wonder the angels broke out into praise!

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God saying: ‘Glory to God in highest heaven and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14)

“Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day
And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day”
Songwriters: Fred Jay / Frank Farian / Jester Hairstone

Hebrews 7:25: “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

Before having a meaningful conversation with people from a different country, we need to get acquainted with their culture. Such is the case here – the letter to the Hebrews was written by someone extremely familiar with Jewish tradition. Most likely the author of the letter to the Hebrews was Jewish; so a Jew is addressing issues with fellow Jews in writing.

In this letter, the Hebrew author is broaching the subject of salvation – which is the one topic the whole world seems to be disagreeing on, starting with the question as to whether or not we need to be saved, and, if we needed saving, how to be saved. No easy discussion! Should you ever bring up “salvation” in an otherwise friendly exchange of thoughts, that conversation could quickly turn sour.

Looking at the language of this letter, we quickly see that insider-vocabulary is used, similar to family talk, which we wouldn’t apply around strangers. Hebrew understanding of priesthood is connected to sacred traditions and deeply held beliefs. Priests were understood to be the mediators who stood between God and people, interceding on their behalf. This is where the author of the letter is coming from when pointing out that we have a perfect mediator in heaven who intercedes for us daily.

Let us forget about ethnic boundaries for a little while – whether we are steeped in Hebrew tradition or identify more with people that skirt rituals and priests altogether – and imagine having a strong advocate who intercedes on our behalf. Advocacy is of great value in situations when we cannot speak for ourselves. Such situations occur when we have to appear in court. In the court room we need an attorney who speaks on our behalf. The Son of God, Jesus perfectly fulfills that role. I dare say, we all could use someone who has our backs, and if that “Someone” is the Son of God, our chances for acquittal are positive.

God saves us every day – He can do that because He has the foresight to see what comes our way. All the while He checks ancillary things like our body temperature, the numbers of hair we carry on our bodies, our current mood; – God knows everything about us and He uses that to our advantage.

God has very big hands – both for saving and for holding. The One whose hands hold the universe hold us close to His heart.

Romans 13:6-7: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

Jesus liked to tell a good story. Matthew wrote in his gospel (Matthew 13:34):

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.” 

Story telling has been Jesus’ preferred way of explaining things to us, especially when we cannot relate. Ingrained in our world system, we have trouble imagining what Heaven is really like.

So, one day Jesus sat down and told several stories about the kingdom of God. Here is an excerpt (Matthew 13:44-46).

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

The kingdom of Heaven is worth everything. That is why the merchant and the farmer sold all they had so they could purchase the field with the hidden treasure and claim the pearl.

Selling out is heaven’s mindset. God gave everything to restore a lost relationship. And we give everything to own the hidden treasure, the lost pearl. Finding heaven, we have found all that matters. Heaven is our priceless treasure.

Heaven runs on God’s kindness, but the world does not run on human kindness; the world we have created runs on money. Historically speaking, we established the money system a long time ago in order to facilitate the exchange of goods, information and services. Money then quickly became an instrument of political control; taxes are extracted to support the local government.

Mankind in its infancy needed no money. Everything was provided for in the Garden of Eden. However, when we left Paradise we chose to sustain ourselves. Outside of Eden we pay for our sustenance, which is the deeper reason why we pay taxes.

Graciousness and generosity is a way of life. We do not pay taxes because we have to, but because we want to. This comes closer to God’s generous mindset showering us with His blessings – not because He has to, but because He wants to.

Posted in Pay

Luke 9:23-24: “Then he [Jesus] said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.’”

Jesus’ ministry on Earth was drawing to a close when He began predicting His upcoming arrest. He was on the road to Jerusalem where He would face certain death, but He still kept on walking; His mind was made up. Approaching Jerusalem, Jesus addressed the crowd with the following words (Luke 9:24):

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

True to His own word, Jesus did not defend Himself when He was arrested. He did not hold on to His own life when He was nailed to the cross. And so He died. On the morning of the third day after His execution something incredibly wonderful happened: Jesus emerged from the tomb. To everybody’s amazement He came back to life.

Human beings are invited to follow Jesus’ footsteps. As we stop defending ourselves we let God defend us. God saves us – but He saves us His way. Our way of saving ourselves is self-defense. God’s way of saving us is giving up self-defense.

Entrusting our lives into God’s capable hands we will receive a much better life in return: Life Eternal.

Jesus died so we can live.

Finding the Lord is finding life. Living life in His presence, it begins to dawn on us how much He loves us.

Our Heavenly Father believes in us – so much so that He bet His Son’s life on it and poured out His Spirit all over the earth to show us the way home. The Trinity has fully invested in us withholding nothing and giving everything. I believe this is why the apostle John wrote in his gospel (John 3:16)

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The beauty of our homecoming is thanks to enduring faith: God believes in us, and we believe in Him.

Romans 5:10: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

The story of the cross has changed everything. Mankind has never been the same.

Estranged from God, the Lord had become a vague concept; we gave up on Him as He seemed more and more removed from our reality; disconnected from the Lord as we were, we paid a price: navigating through the maze and trip-falls of life we learnt the hard way that our connection to other human beings is no substitute for knowing our Creator.

Our prospects of being reunited with the source of all life were slim to none. This profoundly changed with Easter, triggered by events occurring two millennia ago. On a scull-shaped hill in Jerusalem Jesus died nailed to a cross. It was a horrible day for His disciples and family. As much as His life had triggered hope, His death brought deep despair. If Jesus could not overcome His enemies then who else could? His grieving friends and relatives carried Jesus to the burial site, a rich man’s tomb that was donated to them. There they buried Him.

The grave site was guarded by Roman authorities when it happened. Eyewitness accounts report that the tomb was opened at dawn on the first day of the week. Matthew wrote in his gospel (Matthew 28:2-4):

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul asks us a crucial question:

If Jesus’s death brings blessing to mankind, how much more will His life?

The gift of eternal life is the greater gift. We are not saved to go on a guilt trip; we are saved to live life with God. The opportunities arising from our friendship with our Creator are absolutely limitless.

No one is happier about the results of the cross than Jesus Himself. He loves us so much; His heart is like a treasure trove, and we need to keep digging to get to know Him. One day we will see Him – face to face – and what a day that will be!

“What a day that will be
When my Jesus I shall see
When I look upon His face
The One who saved me by His grace
When He takes me by the hand
And leads me to the Promise Land
What a day, glorious day that will be” – Jim Hill

1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.”

God’s uncanny timing! Not at any given time, but at just the right time Jesus was born in Bethlehem – even though He came while His parents were on a trip far away from home and the circumstances of His delivery were less than accommodating.  Still, Jesus came at the proper time.

God’s timing definitely veers from human timing. Like clockwork our days are scheduled while our lives go through various seasons. The spring, summer, fall, and winter season of our lives represent our maturing process with its unique challenges:

1)      Spring: the challenge to grow

2)      Summer: the challenge to produce

3)      Fall: the challenge to harvest

4)      Winter: the challenge to accept that life has come to a full circle

While God is not subject to human season or time clock, He is well aware of it.  We on the other hand have no way of understanding God’s timing.  All we can do is trust in Him – knowing that God is always on time. Trusting God can be difficult in times when we feel our world is falling apart and answers to our prayers are needed yesterday.

Looking back, we are sometimes able to put the puzzle together and understand why things did not happen yesterday but today. But even if we don’t see it in hindsight, we still know that God’s timing is perfect. Remember that Jesus came at just the right time to save the world; this also means that God will always come through for you and me – at just the right time!

Psalm 121: 1-4: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Hope is paramount, at least in the eyes of the apostle Paul. As he wrote a letter to his friends in Rome, he introduced God to them as the God of Hope. From Paul’s perspective, hope is one of God’s defining features – and it makes perfect sense because hope is the fuel that runs life’s engine. Giving up hope is similar to suicide. Hope is the underlying reason why we keep trying.

My German grandmother had always kept her dry sense of humor in situations that weren’t funny. She raised three of her five children mostly on her own – initially because her husband was engaged in World War II, later because she divorced him. One of her sayings as her children sat around the dinner table:

“Alles da
Nur kein Papa!”
which translated means:

“Everything there
Just no Dad!”

That was her way of saying: “We’re doing pretty well without him.” My grandmother had guts and spunk. She was one of those people we call in German “Stehaufmännchen” – a tumbler who always gets up. In tough situations she has inspired me to do the same.

However, contrary to my grandmother’s awareness, nobody is fatherless. In the course of my life I have come to know God as the epitome of a parent. God is our Father and He is very protective of us. He cares. We have a place in His heart, and we have a place in this life. To misquote my grandmother:

Everything there
Especially Dad!

Deuteronomy 7:9: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”

Born in 1910, my German grandmother lived through two world wars and saw the beginning of the 21st century in her nineties. During her lifespan cars, airplanes, movies and long-playing records became popular, the lie detector was invented, Insulin discovered, the world’s first computer was installed, the T-shirt introduced, and DNA was first used to convict criminals. She had five children, saw the Berlin wall rise and fall, purchased her first television set, learnt to use the telephone, but never touched a computer. Just shy of 6 years, my grandmother lived almost a century and went through an enormous amount of changes in her 94-year lifespan.

On a much larger scale, God has been around forever. Try to envision His experience with generations of human beings, their kindness and their temper tantrums, their frailties and their heroism. Add all of this to God’s ongoing experience with His angels, our older siblings. At some point in angel history a revolutionary war broke out when Lucifer and his cohort ganged up against the rest of the world to usurp God’s throne. Imagine His disappointment when a sizable amount of His angels all of a sudden turned against Him.

And yet, all throughout time God has stayed true to Himself and has stuck to His mantra of love and faithfulness. God has never stopped believing in His creation. He has kept His promises for thousands of generations pouring out His mercies and love. Unfortunately for us, we will not notice, unless we open our hearts and minds to this incredible Holy Being, the Father of all Fathers, the Spirit who created the Universe, our Savior.

Times change, but the love of God does not change. As we get acquainted with the wonders of His love we are able to find peace even in the unlikeliest of circumstances. He is the one constant, the rock we can hold on to. The book of Psalms talks about the eternal dwelling place we find in the Lord. In closing, here is an English translation of this beautiful piece of poetry, authored by the prophet Moses:

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
    Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” 
       (Psalm 90:1-2)

Job 23:10-11: “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside.”

Dysfunction Junction – have you ever been there? Job was in this place, a place where the tides had turned against him.

In Germany when someone has to break bad news to a person, they bring a “Hiobsbotschaft”, which loosely translated means sharing “Job-news”, in other words: tragic news.  Job’s bad luck rose to fame in a story where God allowed Satan to take everything from Job, except his life. The resulting trauma he had to go through is legendary. In a short period of time he lost everything. Four messengers informed him of the tragedy (Job 1:13-18):

“One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house,  a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby,  and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’”

Bereaved of their children and their estate, Job’s wife decided to leave him too. Her parting words (Job 2:9):

“His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’”

To make matters worse, Job broke out with a skin disease, which further isolated him for fear of getting infected. Besides health concerns, superstition may have played a role too. Nobody wanted to get drawn into Job’s streak of bad luck. And yet, some of his former friends did show up; unfortunately for them and for Job, they completely misread the situation and expressed it in no uncertain terms (Job 20:4-5 The Message):

“Don’t you even know the basics, how things have been since the earliest days, when Adam and Eve were first placed on earth? The good times of the wicked are short-lived; godless joy is only momentary.”

Job’s friends were not very subtle. According to their point of view, everything was his fault. This story has many facets, and “avoid jumping to hasty conclusions” is one of them.

There is no adequate replacement for a lost home; certainly no one can replace a lost family. Job had to cope with both.  The turbulence of the tragedies befalling him threw Job into a deep depression. Mad at God, he began to question Him; still, despite all his doubts he held on to God and would not renounce Him as his exwife previously did. In the end, Job made peace with God and prayed (Job 42:5-6 The Message):

“I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

His friends had misjudged him; Job on the other hand had misjudged God. While nobody likes to go through a crisis, the results can be both eye-opening and life-changing. Depending on how we negotiate the pain, we can more easily connect with other people in low places. However, the greatest blessing a crisis could possibly yield is realizing God’s proximity; The Lord has been with us all along; we just could not see it.

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus” 1867 Spiritual

1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Have you ever been there? You needed to jump, but fear held you back and all you could do was freeze? I can completely relate. Here is my story:

All things music and art have always come natural to me. Math and science on the other hand not so much! Professionally, instead of going after my natural talents, I signed up for a profession less suited to my abilities. My reasoning was, rather than trying to make it as an artist it was much safer to apply for an administrative position. And so the story goes – until 40 years later. My husband and I have been going back and forth on the issue for a while until finally in October 2018 I resigned from my safe corporate position and became self-employed. Evelyn’s Art & Music Entertainment was born. Yesterday I sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow” with dementia patients humming along. I had goose bumps.

It is always against our instincts that we perform a leap of faith. This is exactly what makes the leap so challenging. On the other hand, avoiding risks at all costs, we may just miss out on an adventure of a lifetime.

Against all odds, the love of God somehow manages to overcome anything and everything. I cannot explain it, but once several steps into my new adventure, things just happen. There is trial and error, there are good days and bad, but overall I am a happier person because I do what I love to do.

We have a very good reason not to be afraid. God’s love empowers us to be bold. Walking with God, we can face our daily uncertainties. His love drains our fears, and we know we are safe in His hands.

“If happy little bluebirds fly above the rainbow tell me why can’t I?” Yip Harburg

Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.”

Love can be thorny. Love can hurt. It is very human to look for love in all the wrong places. It is also very human to look for God in all the wrong places. Just as fake friends are a sore disappointment, so are fake gods. Can we live happily ever after with a lie? Probably not! If we have been through any kind of heart break we know what disillusionment feels like. Should we now close down like an oyster and never trust a soul again? Wouldn’t that be like slicing all remaining tires of our car after having one flat tire? (A relative of mine posted this analogy on social media. Pretty funny, isn’t it?)

True love originates from the Godhead – Three in One. One could say that the Trinity possesses the patent for love. God has the good stuff: Love tried and true; true love. 

Here is an open secret: God loves to be found. He will put heaven and hell to work to make it happen. Yes – even hell can be helpful at times. Finding God during life’s darkest hour is not so unusual. Pain can sharpen our senses and help us distinguish between counterfeit and original.

We all want to know what is real. We do not want to live a lie. In pursuit of the real deal we will stop dead in our tracks when we have an “aha moment”, when we realize that God exists and that God cares.

We know when we have struck gold. We know when we have found unfailing love.

Mark 9:35: “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”

The topological ordering of rivers is based on their distance from the source. The classic stream order is a “bottom up” hierarchy that awards the number “1” to the river with its mouth at the sea.

On their way to Capernaum a group of men had a heated discussion about their particular stream order. Who among them was closest to Jesus? They kept their voices down so Jesus wouldn’t hear what they were talking about. But then – Jesus had super-hearing. So He brought up the issue at dinnertime (Mark 9:33-35):

 “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”

“Got it!” some might have thought to themselves. “I’m going to out-serve everybody. I’m going to be a super servant”

To make a point, Jesus hugged a child and put it in the middle, right in front of everybody. This child had not done anything in particular to be set apart as an example, but here it was, small and defenseless, enjoying a good hug while smiling a toothless grin at the twelve men. Jesus certainly got their attention, so He went on to explain (Mark 9:37): 

“‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

We live in a competitive world, but that is not how the kingdom of God works. Jesus brought a small child without any credentials to everybody’s attention illustrating that we do not need to be outstanding to stand out. – We already do in God’s eyes.

Instead of being concerned about our recognition, let us rather recognize a need and let the person next to us become our concern. Caring is the genuine reason why we serve – and by the way, servants have each other’s backs.

A society with a short attention span creates a lot of unheard people. Let us follow suit and be the ones who actually listen up and pay attention. What difference one caring person can make in this world is for you and me to find out.

Isaiah 1:16-17: “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

Give up your evil ways – God says. What evil ways? To answer this question, let’s take a look at Prophet Isaiah’s preceding statement. Here goes (Isaiah 1:13-15):

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
   Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
   When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!”

A litany of things God absolutely hates:

  • Thoughtless gifts;
  • Celebrations void of any meaning;
  • Pretend-prayers;
  • Predator attitude;
  • Bloodshed;

Ask yourself how offensive it would be if your spouse only pretends to be in love with you and pursues extramarital activities behind your back. God has feelings too. Ignoring His values and blatantly disregarding other people while pretending to love Him is highly offensive to God. Taking Him seriously is to respect His feelings. Honoring Him is to be honest with Him. That’s righteous living in a nutshell.

Righteousness develops over a lifetime. There is no shortcut to this lifestyle. We don’t age overnight, and we don’t turn into righteous people overnight. Pretending to be good won’t do. God wants us to be real since He is only interested in genuine relationships, not fake ones.

Think about it as a compliment: God pursues and loves the real you. He won’t put up with a copycat. Shed the copycat and let His waves of mercy wash all over you.

Getting real is how we get clean.

All day I’ve faced a barren waste
Without the taste of water, cool water

Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Following a prolonged siege, Jerusalem’s city walls were destroyed. On that devastating day, Jewish homes were ransacked and many were forced to migrate. Robbed of their homeland, all their hopes and dreams for a better future turned into smoke and ashes.

Here they were: people from all over the country clinging to prophet Micah’s words. Desperate, they questioned Micah:

 “Look, we have nothing left to give. The only thing left are our children. And since we have no future to offer them, we might as well sacrifice them to God and hope for the best. What else can we do, so that God will take our side? What is it He wants from us?”

To be clear, God hates any form of human sacrifice, certainly child sacrifice. Micah reminded the people of Israel:

“You already know what God wants. He told you what is good. Do what is right, love mercy and walk humbly with your God!”

With their backs against the wall and no place to go, people basically declared bankruptcy before the Lord. In a way, this was Israel’s first step to disassociate themselves from their enemies. Declaring bankruptcy, Israel was no longer in the hands of their oppressors. They put themselves entirely into God’s hands – an example how freedom starts with the right mindset.

Do we need to go bankrupt before we see how much we need God? Hopefully not! We tend to panic when we run out of money and options, and that is understandable. Money rules this planet. Still, not everything can be, or should be, paid for. Do we pay our parents for their services? What price-tag do we put on giving birth and raising a child? It is obvious that we do not charge for the most important things in life. They are being provided. God continues to care for us from crib to deathbed. How do we pay for His care? As much as we paid our parents: Nothing.

Try as we may, we can never out-give God, nor do we need to. He gave us His Son Jesus, and there is no paying for this precious gift either. The only thing God desires – and I believe you have already guessed it: Do what is right, my friend, stay humble and love mercy.

Just know you’re not alone, cause I’m going to make this place your home!