Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”

Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody starts out with a haunting confession. Following is a brief excerpt of the lyrics written by the late Freddie Mercury:

“Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
Mama, life had just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away”

Make no mistake about it; every human being is capable of murder. Following the slippery slope of anger and hate leads to death. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus once said that we are held accountable if we are angry at someone. Anger should be taken as seriously as murder.

Towards the end of the book of Genesis, Jacob, a dying man, calls his children to his bedside for his last blessing. While he addresses each of his children individually, he puts Simeon and Levi on the spot with a harsh rebuke saying (Genesis 49:5):

“Simeon and Levi are brothers—
    their swords are weapons of violence.”

Jacob is referring to an incident that happened several years ago when they lived near the city of Shechem in Canaan. There he bought a parcel of land from the children of King Hamor. Other than having trade agreements with the people of the land, Jacob’s tribe did not mingle much with the Canaanites. That changed overnight when the shocking news transpired that one of King Hamor’s sons, Prince Shechem, had raped Jacob’s daughter Dinah. In his defense, the prince later proposed to marry Dinah, but Jacob’s family still was deeply offended; and with Simeon and Levi as ringleaders, Jacob’s sons took revenge for the rape, not only by killing the offender Prince Shechem, but also by wiping out the entire male population of the area. On his deathbed Jacob stood up to his sons and distanced himself from such cruel behavior saying (Genesis 49:7):

“Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
    and their fury, so cruel!”

Nobody was really fighting for Dinah when Jacob’s sons took revenge. In their cruelty they destroyed all prospects of a good future for her, not to mention the bereaved Canaanite families who lost their providers in these senseless killings.

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

“My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.”

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

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.”

Apparently, a major trigger stirring up God’s wrath is abusing the helpless. If we trample on the weak we are stepping on God’s toes. He is the defender of the poor. We cross the line when we disrespect them, and we will trigger God’s wrath when we abuse them.

Human temper tantrums have little in common with God’s anger. The former is an expression of our selfishness; the latter is God’s way of defending the defenseless. When God’s love spells w-r-a-t-h, we know that He intervenes. He intervenes so wrongs are righted and to help those who cannot help themselves. We are on God’s side when we have the best interest of the disadvantaged at heart.

Exodus 33:7: “Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting.’ Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp.”

Desolate places are uncluttered and quiet. From the far distance you could see them coming – a seemingly endless stream of people traveling the Sinai desert. They were the descendants of Israel who had left Egypt and now were headed to the Promised Land. A pillar of cloud would lead the caravan by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Once the Sun sets in the desert it gets dark pretty quickly. In anticipation of dusk the caravan halted and the people began to spread out and set up camp. Tents rose up in clusters – tribal families camped together. But there was one man in particular who went outside the tribal formations and pitched a tent some distance away from the camp. His name was Moses and the tent he set up was called the “tent of meeting”. He was God’s designated leader of the people and His prophet.

Whenever Moses went into the tent of meeting, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, an indicator that the Lord had a conversation with the prophet. There had been serious issues, and the Lord considered delegating His leadership to an angel of His choosing. He said (Exodus 33:2-3):

 “I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

In the tent of meeting Moses fought for his countrymen in prayer. He said to the Lord: “Don’t send us to the Promised Land if your Presence does not go with us. Remember that this nation is your people.”

Remarkably the prophet convinced the Lord to stay with His nation. To his relief God confirmed that He would do the very thing Moses asked Him to do and instead of seeking a substitute guide, lead the people of Israel to the Promised Land Himself. Moses boldly added another request (Exodus 33:18):

“Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

God’s glory is in His goodness, mercy and compassion. Moses stood hidden in a cleft of a rock which the Lord covered with His hand until His glory had passed by. After the Lord removed His hand the prophet was allowed to see His back, but not His face, thus witnessing God’s glory from a close distance. In the end however the prayer of Moses was answered above and beyond his expectations. 1400 years later God sent His Son Jesus into the world so everybody could see the face of God.

Today the Tent of Meeting still stands. I believe that the people of prayer are the heartbeat of their nation. God’s children have conversations with the Lord in the tent of their heart. Their heart is the holy meeting place where they hear His voice. Following God’s lead as His dearly loved children, they change history and bring hope into the world.

Genesis 28:16-17+19: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.”

A place in the Middle East called “Luz” became very special to a man named Jacob, so special indeed that he changed the name of the location to “Bethel”.  Here is his story:

Jacob was on the run because he had angered his brother Esau to the point that he was planning to kill him. And so he had to leave his childhood home in a rush and was now headed to his uncle Laban, who lived in Harran. It was a long trip and eventually he had to stop for the night. Camping under the stars and in lack of a pillow he chose one of the stones in the area and put it under his head. Probably not the most comfortable way to go to sleep, but since Jacob was completely exhausted he soon nodded off.

In his sleep he had a vision. He saw a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending on it. Above stood the Lord and He affirmed Jacob’s faith by saying that He was with Him. He also promised him and his offspring the land on which he was lying and told him that His descendants will be many and bless all peoples on earth – a powerful prophesy that has been fulfilled in the nation of Israel.

What a surprise this must have been for Jacob to hear God speak. He probably felt bad about the family crisis he had caused earlier and couldn’t have imagined that God was with Him. But God is faithful and merciful and He gives us new beginnings and another chance. Jacob was deeply moved. When he awoke from the dream he exclaimed: “I have slept on holy ground. I had no idea that this place was the gateway to heaven!” So he got up and took the stone he had placed under his head, set it up as a memorial and poured oil on top of it. He called this place “Bethel”, “House of God” because he was visited by God there.

There is a stairway resting on the earth connecting us to God’s home. The Lord is closer to us than we might think. Often unbeknownst to us we are accessed by travelers from heaven who climb up and down this imposing ladder. Angels travel between worlds to draw us to God. When the Lord reveals Himself to us He will impact the way we see things. Jacob memorialized the place where He saw God. It is good to remember the Lord, especially when life gets overwhelming; He reminds us where we come from, where we are headed, and who we are.

1 John 4:16: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

There is no such thing as stagnant love. Love is always on the move. A person who is loved will naturally spread love. To him or her it’s as natural to love as it is to breathe. We will love generously in as much as we receive love abundantly.

There is abundant love to be had – but the question is do we know that? And if we know it, do we receive it? God has always loved us; the problem is that we don’t always notice. God’s love is the big elephant in the room that some of us don’t care to acknowledge. Of course God is way ahead of us in the love-game. He has made up His mind about us a long time ago. He promises to love us forever and ever.

We won’t notice His love unless we believe in the Lord. So, in a way it’s a catch 22. But then, God is the One who knocks on our doors and who does all the work to get our attention. God is not known to be quiet. It’s actually pretty difficult not to notice Him. An Elephant in the room is pretty obvious.

We have our reasons for being reluctant with God. God is God, and we are not. How can we love God who is beyond anything we can imagine? The answer is simpler than we might think. In the book of Genesis we read (Genesis 1:27):

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

We were made in His image. We have more in common with God Almighty than we are probably aware of. The bond that exists between Creator and Created is very real. God sees Himself in us, and we can see ourselves in Him. This does not mean we are God, but it certainly means we are from God. And related to God as we are, we can certainly learn to love Him.

If love is missing in our lives, we feel as good as dead. Loveless, we are aching to receive love and end up looking for love in all the wrong places. We may be estranged from the Godhead, but we are not too far gone. We can meet Him and get to know Him. Moved by His love we love others in return, and love moves the world.

Philippians 2:1-2: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

We recognize an auto immune disease when a body’s immune system goes bonkers and starts attacking and damaging its own tissues. We also recognize a family in trouble when family members won’t stop hurting each other. We all need unity and peace. Our bodies can’t function without it. Societies can’t prosper without it.

Jesus, aka the Prince of Peace, is the source of peace. Wouldn’t it behoove the Prince of Peace to eliminate global warfare? Curiously, ending military conflicts has never been the first on His agenda – His peace movement will eventually lead to that, but first and foremost Jesus is interested in bringing peace to the human soul. Wherever we are, whoever we are, His peace offer stands – if He finds you knocking on Heaven’s door, He will open it wide and let you in.

In the 66 books of the Bible peace is mentioned 249 times. Today’s world is riddled with friction, and this is probably the reason why the Bible emphasizes our need for peace. A disciple whom Jesus nicknamed Peter wrote in one of his letters (1 Peter 3:8):

“Finally all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.” *New Living Translation

There is such a thing as a recipe for peace – according to Peter’s recommendations here are its listed ingredients:

  • Be of one mind – in order to be on the same page with another person we need to refrain from assumptions, ask questions to clarify and explain our own thought process.
  • Sympathize – walking in someone else’s shoes is generally an eye opener.
  • Love – treat every person with respect.
  • Be tenderhearted – empathy goes a long way and is a blessing for anybody facing life’s rough patches.
  • Be humble – humility brings people together; pride will drift us apart.

Nobody understands people better than God. When we have trouble understanding each other He is the best source of wisdom. Agreement, consensus and harmony require a lot of work, but believers are not without help. With the Holy Spirit in their midst God’s children have a very efficient means of communication. God’s Spirit will guide them into all the truth giving them understanding even in most perplexing matters. United in Spirit and in truth, the bond that connects believers goes deep. Loving one another and working together with one mind and purpose, God brings peace into this hurting world.

Psalm 116:5: “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.”

The Lord is loving and kind. If we know Him we have experienced His mercies on a daily basis. People who do not know the Lord are not aware of His kindness, but they can discover His love in His children. The Lord shows up through their compassion. I read about a remarkable example of compassion by a man who for the past two decades has made it his habit to visit with mourners in the aftermath of a catastrophe. Here is an excerpt of a CNN report about a man by the name of Zanis:

“Since 1996, when he found his father-in-law murdered, Zanis has built 26,680 crosses, he said on the drive. He would add nine names to his orange notebook after Dayton [Referring to the Dayton shootings on August 4, 2019], he said.

He estimates 21,000 are shooting victims. He’s also taken his white crosses to the aftermath of tornadoes and wildfires, bus and boat crashes, and to Martha’s Vineyard after JFK Jr. and his relatives died in a plane crash. He took five in February to the Henry Pratt Company after a shooting unfolded in his hometown.

Asked how he staves off sadness, he said he doesn’t.

“I break down. You’re going to see me cry. I don’t mind,” he said. “I hug victims all the time, and I try to be strong, but I’m really not. I’m OK with that. I feel so good afterwards because I’ve done something.”

In our lifetime there are plenty of occasions where we can show empathy. We don’t have to do much; we only have to show up and be there. Empathy even comes before action and practical help. People need to hear that they are not alone. Helping each other out is both the most human and divine thing happening here on planet Earth.

Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

From the wilderness he came – Zechariah’s son John and cousin of Jesus traveled up and down the Jordan River in Israel preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Word had spread about his ministry and crowds began to show up. People were excited that there was a new prophet in town. The last recognized prophet in Israel had died 400 years ago and ever since it seemed that the heavens had been closed shut. God appeared to be silent. Within a short period of time John had become the attraction of the day and had risen to superstar status, something he was very wary of.

John stood in the Jordan River and looked at the people standing in line to be baptized. He had to find out for himself who really wanted to repent and who was there just for show. And so he turned to the crowds, determined to sift the wheat from the chaff (Luke 3:7-9):

“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him,’You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’”

As expected, the mood of the crowd changed instantly and they began to question him. Then out of the blue a man stepped into the water and approached him. John looked Him in the eye and recognized his cousin Jesus. He hadn’t seen Him in years but he knew from his mother that they were about the same age. She had told him the story of his aunt Mary coming for a visit while she was pregnant with Jesus and the miraculous circumstances of her pregnancy. Now here they were 30 years later and John knew in his heart that he was in the presence of the Son of God the minute he laid eyes on Him. He was stunned.

“Who am I to baptize you?” John said to his cousin. “You should be the One baptizing me.” Jesus shook His head and said: “This is how it’s supposed to be. We should do whatever God says is right.”

So John went ahead and baptized Him. As soon as Jesus stepped out of the water He saw the Spirit of God descending on Him like a dove and a voice from Heaven said (Luke 3:22):

“You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” *New Living Translation

It is both touching and inspiring that the Heavenly Father tells His Son He brings Him great joy. This happened publically after Jesus had been baptized along with other people in the Jordan River.  Something stirred the Almighty to trigger this affirmation of love at this precise moment – maybe because Jesus fully identified with the human cause and didn’t think He was better than us. Surely He didn’t need to be baptized. He hadn’t done anything wrong and no sin to repent of. His cousin John felt it was inappropriate to baptize Him. But Jesus followed His Father’s directions.

I believe if God is pleased with His Son so is He pleased with His followers. And if God finds joy in His children, then maybe His children find joy in the Lord. Joy in the Lord is a two-way-street and it’s a beautiful thing. It has no negative side effects. We don’t wake up the morning after with a big headache. It’s not a feeling that comes and goes, based on fortunate events. The joy in the Lord is what I call “great joy” because it stays with us. Knowing that the Father in heaven is pleased with His children makes His children happy.

Psalm 121:1-2: “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.”

Looking up we can see the sky, but the sky isn’t the limit. Looking up we can see the Lord.

Seeing the Lord depends on our outlook. We can put our head in the sand and refuse to see anything. We can put our head in the clouds and keep on dreaming. Or we can be curious, open our eyes wide and discover the truth.

We can paint the world around us black and white and only notice our differences instead of seeing what brings us together. What is the magic bond connecting us? Here it is: We are all human and we are all created by one wonderful Creator.

Looking up comes natural. In our heart of hearts we know God is there. We want to connect with Him because He is the reason we are here. Who can understand the intricately woven fabrics of our hearts? Who can get through the maze of neurons firing up in our brains? Our thought processes are many, our shifting emotions multi-layered. None of us is one-dimensional. The more we understand this, the better we fare.

Looking up is a change in perspective. I believe one reason why people climb mountains is to get a better view. And a better view is what we crave when we temporarily step away from an overwhelming reality. We want to see the big picture, the grand scheme of things.

Looking up is talking with God and listening to His input. Listening to God expands our world view and shapes us into strong and patient human beings. What the world needs now, more than ever, is patience. Impatience successfully eradicates life. Patience, on the other hand, builds up and heals. Here is an illustration of God’s patience by the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:3):

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

We know what often happens to bruised people: They get more bruises. A smoldering wick needs to be rekindled, not thrown out and trampled into the dust.

Looking up, our heart is transformed and that changes the way we see things. We look at the world through eyes of mercy.

Isaiah 46:4: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

As a young kid I was oblivious to old age, oblivious in the sense that I did not see old age ever happening to me. It felt as if my grandmother had always been old – even though the old black and white pictures in her photo album told a different story. It didn’t cross my mind that I would look just like my grandmother if I lived to be 94. As youngsters we think we live forever.

If we are blessed with a long life we will experience how our body switches gear over time. It’s not pleasant to see physical features disintegrate. It is humiliating to lose our faculties. Aging is hard and none of us know what we will have to deal with. God knows it and He says that He will sustain and carry us when the time comes.

The “circle of life” is deeply embedded into the human psyche. If we have children we generally take comfort in the fact that our gene pool lives on past our death. When Jacob, aka Israel was reunited with his son Joseph he had believed dead, he was ready to pass on the torch to the next generation and die (Genesis 46:30):

“Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”

The best we can hope for towards the end of our life is a sense of fulfillment. Israel had this sense of fulfillment when he embraced his son. Children can help us transition from this life to the next, but not everybody has children and not everybody has good relations with them. Probably we should not pin our hopes too much on people. God alone provides solid peace of mind.

Finding God is finding life. God’s Spirit is poured out all over the world. I hope every person on this planet hears His voice and does not walk alone. Following God’s Son Jesus is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the best thing to do. If you have not met Him yet, pray to Him and He will welcome you. If you have encountered Him, hold on to Him. He will see you through this life and beyond the valley of the shadow of death.

We need God when we are young and strong just as much as we need Him when we are old and grey. However short or long our life turns out to be, walking with God we will leave a legacy.

I need thee every hour
Most gracious Lord 
No tender voice like thine
Can peace afford
I need thee oh I need thee 
Every hour I need thee
Oh bless me now my savior 
I come to thee

Songwriters: Annie Hawks

2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

A flowering shrub named “Lantana”, very popular in desert climates, also grows in our backyard. Once a year we cut her down to the bare bones. All that is left are leafless twigs, quite a depressing sight for any gardener. But wait – if you come back in a week or so, then voilà: tiny new leaves show up on the sticks. I guess this could count as an example for: “struck down, but not destroyed.”

Praying to God will give us a different outlook. God will bless us with a vision when life resembles bare and leafless twigs. Opening our eyes, He lets us see the signs of spring in the middle of a long and dreary winter. We come across wintry situations everywhere in the Bible, probably because life’s dark seasons, as much as we hate them, happen to everybody; God encourages us to look up to Him in those situations, just as He encouraged Prophet Elisha and his servant.

In the second book of Kings we read about Prophet Elisha befriending King Joram who ruled Israel for 10 years, between 850-840 BC.  During his reign war broke out between Aram-Damascus and Israel. Regardless which way Aram-Damascus’s army turned, Israel seemed to anticipate every move and the battle stalled. The enemy camp investigated the matter and soon found out that thanks to Prophet Elisha their battle plans had been revealed to Israel’s king on several occasions. Once the enemy got wind of the situation, they threatened to kill Elisha. So, under night cover an army of soldiers closed in on Dothan, Elisha’s hometown, and in the morning Dothan was militarily surrounded with no way out. Terrified, Elisha’s servant addressed the situation with his master. Following is an excerpt of their conversation (2 King 6:15-17):

‘Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?’ the servant asked.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’

And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

It is all a matter of perspective – of course there is no perspective at all when we are blind to the things that are actually working for us. In the end, we all need the Lord to remove our blinders, just as He did for Prophet Elisha’s servant.

God can take care of you and me in life’s bleak situations. When we are in the dark and can’t see the light, we need to pray to the Light of the World, Jesus. He will open our eyes and we will see the proverbial rose hidden beneath the deepest snows. To see that rose we must believe.

“Beneath the deepest snows,
The secret of a rose
Is merely that it knows
You must believe in Spring!” 

(Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Jacques Demy, Michel Legrand)

Genesis 8:21: “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.’”

In the aftermath of the big flood, the sole survivors of the human race – Noah and his family – came out of the boat to build an altar and sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. In response, the Lord swore the rainbow oath saying that He would never again curse the Earth as He had done even though the human heart is evil from childhood (Genesis 9:13):

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

There are two camps judging the nature of the human heart: one is the self-loathing “I’m-no-good” camp, the other is the oblivious “it’s-not-my-fault” camp. At first glance, God’s judgment of the human race seems to support the “I’m-no-good” camp; but if we dig a little deeper we will find that God’s intention is not to condemn but to save. And He saves us by removing the one thing that could potentially destroy us (Psalm 103:12):

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

There is a walking distance of 12,429 miles between the North and the South Pole. In absence of a West or East Pole the distance between East and West remains undefined and is thereby immeasurable. Metaphorically speaking, this is how far God has removed our sin – immeasurably far – to cleanse and restore us into mint condition.

Looking into the treacherous mirror of self-assessment, our evaluations are mostly tainted and manipulated by our ego or other people. Accepting God’s assessment of us instead, we are blessed indeed. The Lord wants to lift us up, not tear us down.

God sent His Son Jesus into the world to heal our brokenness. Discovering Jesus is similar to getting connected to God’s heartbeat. With our hearts belonging to Him He is able to turn our lives around; He wants to grow us similar to a Gardener tending the soil. Under His care we flourish.

Genesis 11:9: “That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

An ambitious building project came to a screeching halt. What happened?  In the 11th chapter of the book of Genesis we read how people got together to build a great city with an enormous tower. Their goal was to unify the world under one capital – incidentally the goal of many rising and falling empires in the history of mankind. With the introduction of foreign languages, however, God threw a mighty curve ball. People divided into their respective language groups to form tribes and nations. And so they began to scatter into the four corners of this world forever abandoning the construction project of the Tower of Babel.

With Babel came native and foreign tongues, and ever since we have been in dire need of translators to be able to communicate with people all over the world. “Babel” sounds like the word “confusion” in Hebrew. And the confusion is profound indeed – even among people speaking the same language. We have a hard time understanding each other and much less can we make sense of God’s Word. Consequently, God has been misunderstood, and in the realm of human relations people have been misunderstood.

We worship God in Spirit and in truth. Without God’s Spirit we don’t know how to worship the Lord. The same is true with studying the Word of God; the Spirit of God breathes life and meaning into the Scriptures and explains God’s thoughts to us. He could be seen as our interpreter from Heaven. Jesus introduced the Holy Spirit to His followers as an advocate and His representative before He left this earth to return to the Father. In John’s gospel Jesus said to His disciples (John 14:26): 

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” 

The gift of the Holy Spirit has become the powerful antidote to the Babel event. He opens the door to a better understanding between God and His children and naturally also between believers. The Spirit of God was poured out worldwide to teach us God’s ways and is currently knocking on doors of human hearts to bring all people back to God (Revelation 22:17):

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let anyone who hears this say, ‘Come.’ Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.”

Acts 17:26: “From one man he made all the nations that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”

The book of Genesis starts out with the creation of a new species: mankind. And so the first human beings arrived on the scene. In the generations to follow human DNA diversified. Mankind became something like a variety show. We have different acts and different sets of actors. What we certainly don’t have is unity, even though we originally came from the same source.

The key to unity is to realize we are family. Family feuds are common but can be overcome. The way to oneness is respect. When we respect the otherness of the family member we gain access to resources that were previously unavailable – simply because of lack of communication. Defensiveness is such a waste!

Getting together from different angles and viewpoints is much more powerful than sticking together without venturing out. Unity does not require conformity. Agreeing to disagree is much more authentic than thinking alike. I believe the Trinity is a great role model for getting together authentically. Members of the Trinity are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and they differ greatly from one another, however, their distinctiveness apparently is not driving them apart; if anything, the members of the Trinity are the glue of the universe. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created us, carry us, know us, hear us, and love us dearly; last but not least: The Trinity saves us.

If we are coming from one man and are loved by one God, then unity is a possibility – actually better than a possibility and much more like a prophecy. The last chapter of the Bible talks about world peace, which is authentic peace as opposed to fake peace (Revelation 7:9):

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. “

God’s peace embraces different viewpoints and respects each individual. Embracing God we open ourselves up to widening our horizon. We learn to love like Jesus when we follow Him. His love is generous and unpretentious. The crowd of people worshiping God before the throne and before the Lamb comes from nations and tribes all around the world. Worshiping God in diversity is the future of mankind, made possible through the sacrificial intervention of the Trinity – because, let’s face it: if it wasn’t for God’s intervention peace would have remained an unattainable dream.

God has a dream, and we will live to see it. It will be better than our wildest imaginations. Best of all: we don’t have to wait for it; we can live this dream right here and now. We can, because God changes our heart if we give Him permission.

“Love is but the song we sing,
And fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Know the dove is on the wing
Though we don’t know why
C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Come on and love one another right now”                 
(Chet Powers)

Revelation 22:2: “On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.”

In the beginning God planted beautiful, fruit-bearing trees meant to be enjoyed. Sadly, one of the trees became deadly to mankind, namely, the ominous tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God issued a stern warning to stay away from that particular tree (Genesis 2:16):

“You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden – except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

We know how the story goes. The fruit of that tree was consumed anyway introducing death to creation. Thus it gained the bad reputation of a tree bearing the fruit of death.

Let’s pause here for a minute and think about what this tree stands for. Obviously it does not mean pursuing knowledge equals evil. There is a vast array of knowledge to be gained – not the least of which is getting to know people. Some English Bible translations employ the verb “know” when it comes to intimate relations between a man and a woman (Genesis 4:1):

“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have gotten a man from the Lord.’”

Children are born as a result of Adam “knowing” his wife. Another prominent example of knowledge pursuit in the Bible is King Solomon’s desire for wisdom and understanding. At the onset of his reign he asked God for discernment to govern the nation of Israel wisely and the Lord gladly granted his wish.

So apparently, there is good knowledge and bad knowledge. The opening chapter of the book of Proverbs, largely authored by King Solomon, says to this effect (Proverbs 1:7):

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.”

Fear of the Lord puts God in the middle of all aspects of life. We love Him, we walk with Him and we explore with Him. God will reveal things unknown to us. I believe that all great scientific discoveries are based on divine revelation. Although knowledge in itself does not kill us, attempting to know better than the Lord unfortunately does. 

In the book of Deuteronomy the prophet Moses talks about the death penalty, specifically execution on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22-23):

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.”

The fact that God initiated a law to ensure proper treatment for people on death row shows that He cares for criminals and intends to protect their rights. Paying last respects to an executed person by providing a grave is an act of decency. But there is more.

I believe the Law of Moses requesting to remove a dead body from the tree was also written in anticipation of Jesus’s execution. Approximately 1400 years later the Son of God was killed, His hands and feet nailed to a wooden beam. A law-abiding Jewish citizen, Joseph of Arimathea made sure that the Lord was taken off the cross and placed into his tomb. Jesus emerged from there three days later – resurrected from the dead. He would become the one and only antidote to death, saving God’s creation from corruption. Jesus turned a tree of death, the cross, into a tree of life.

Metaphorically speaking we are like trees and if our roots dig deep to get to know the Lord we turn into the tree as described in chapter 22 of John’s book of Revelation. Growing on both sides of the river, we bear fruit in and out of season and our leaves are used to bring healing to the world – which is what God’s peacemakers are called to do.

Psalm 27:4: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

These days we provide animal sanctuaries for certain species when their kind is on the brink of distinction. When the people of Israel were camping in the desert near Mount Sinai God asked for a sanctuary. He said (Exodus 25:8):

“Have the people of Israel built me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.”

God wants to move in – not to be protected from distinction, but to be near us.

We know how a place changes when somebody else moves in – whether it’s a newborn or a college student, sharing the home with someone new changes the living space. This can be good or bad depending on whether the person moving in is good news or bad news. What happens when God moves in? To answer this question we need to take a closer look at the sanctuary as described in the Old Testament.

The design of the sanctuary is the Father’s love letter to His Son indicating that His Son’s sacrifice is highly appreciated. For this reason the sanctuary is full of imagery of God’s Son Jesus. It contains:

  1. Ark of the Covenant containing God’s law; Jesus said about Himself that He is the fulfillment God’s law.
  2. Mercy Seat; Jesus is the embodiment of God’s mercy, and He said about himself that He came to seek and save what is lost. (Matthew 9:13): “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
  3. The table for bread; Jesus said about Himself that He is the bread of life.
  4. The Golden Lamp stand; Jesus said about Himself that He is the light of the world.
  5. Incense, Olive Oil; incense always stands for prayer, and there was an olive grove in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus submitted to the Father’s will and prayed: “Thy will be done”
  6. Bronze Altar; Jesus sacrificed His life and was the first to rise from the dead.
  7. Tabernacle curtains and veils; the veil hiding the Ark is decorated with Cherubim and is a reminder of the garden entrance of Eden guarded by Cherubim. Adam and Eve were not allowed back into the Garden after they sinned; but after Jesus’ sacrificial death these same curtains ripped apart indicating that now there is access back into God’s presence.

The people of Israel were still on their way to the Promised Land when God asked them to build Him a sanctuary. And so the first building of the tabernacle (Hebrew: Tent of Meeting) happened in the desert. After everybody chipped in and donated the raw materials needed to start the building project, the craftsmen went to work. The construction period of the tent of meeting is a faint reminder of the days of creation. God’s Spirit hovered over the surface of the deep and created the building blocks of today’s reality, the reality we call universe – all of time and space and its contents. God’s construction period was interspersed with evenings and mornings. Evening gave way to morning; darkness gave way to light; indistinguishable monotony gave way to hustling and bustling creativity; death gave way to life.

God creates order before moving in. That’s what He does.

Each human being carries a precious sanctuary – the sanctuary of the heart that is – and God wants to move in; are we ready for a change of heart?  If we accept Jesus’s sacrifice, our heart will become move-in ready; and when God’s Spirit moves into our heart He makes everything new.

Exodus 13:14: “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’”

Customs and traditions become disembodied and meaningless when we don’t know the back story. Jewish heritage is rich in customs and traditions, and the purpose of these is to remember God’s faithfulness. After leaving Egypt the prophet Moses announced to the people of Israel (Exodus 13:3):

“Then Moses said to the people, ‘Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.’”

We can easily see that the custom of eating unleavened bread (bread without yeast) for seven days in spring would raise questions in following generations. These questions are encouraged because they serve as a reminder (Exodus 13:8-9):

“On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

Israel was forced into slavery by Egyptian kings for a time period of approximately 400 years. Leaving Egypt for good left these horrible memories behind; however, a seemingly endless journey through the Sinai wilderness made Egypt look attractive again. Time and again the Israeli refugees lost hope that they would ever reach the Promised Land; they figured their only chance of survival was to turn around and go back to where they came from.

We could say that the wilderness became a place of Israel’s identity crisis. Transitioning from an enslaved people group to a free sovereign nation is not an easy thing to do. Like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, a group of slaves evolved into a sovereign nation. It’s a miracle of God to be remembered.

Perhaps we have a similar wilderness experiences today and are going through an identity crisis of our own. In every identity crisis we can resort to some sort of survival mode, or we can embrace the Lord. He is faithful. If we have encountered His redemptive power in the past, then we know He will come through for us in present times as well. We need to remember who He is and whose we are.

“In the wilderness
In the wilderness
He calls His sons and daughters
To the wilderness
But He gives grace sufficient
To survive any test
And that’s the painful purpose
Of the wilderness”
– Michael Card

Isaiah 48:17: “This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.’”

God’s history with the children of Israel is a narrative spun all throughout the books of the Bible. It’s a story of astonishing faith, but also a rather sobering example of human inconsistencies. The God of Israel says it in no uncertain terms: He hates competing with idols. We can see His response to human unfaithfulness in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 48:10-11):

“See I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.”

God has every intention to upgrade the covenant relationship with His children – and so He purifies the children of Israel by allowing all kinds of trouble. He is a jealous God who does not want to share His children’s affections. He won’t have it. It’s as simple as that. On that note the prophet Moses proclaimed the words of God to the people of Israel in the Sinai desert (Deuteronomy 32:21):

“They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

I believe God is referring to the “heathen nations” when He says that He is going to make the people of Israel envious by those who are not a people. It is certainly not a very flattering statement to hear that the nations outside of Israel have no understanding. But here we are centuries later and faith in the God of Israel has spread all over the globe. This is the only good form of jealousy that I know: Envious to know the Lord.

The truth is the nations of this world have run into the same relationship issues with God Almighty as the people of Israel previously have. We are all frail human beings, prone to make mistakes. As a result we all go through a furnace of trouble to learn how to fully depend on the Lord. He wants to get our attention so He can show us the way.

The Lord knows what is best for us, so we can put our trust in Him – especially in times of trouble.

Psalm 51:17: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

Once we had a young pet, our little cat Malinka, who got involved in an accident, which left her with just a few more hours to live. She died in the course of the night before we could see our veterinarian. Malinka had crawled into a corner of our bedroom where she would breathe her last. Animals know when it’s their time to go.

Everybody is familiar with the concept of change, which requires saying goodbye to one thing to make room for another. This is always easier said than done, especially when we are not ready to let go. Goodbyes may hurt, but life is impossible to live without changes. If we cannot leave when it’s time to go then we end up being stuck.

When we are going through the motions because our life has been turned upside down we have to remember that garden soil too is turned upside down – and to what purpose? – We prepare the soil for the new seed. While going through tough times is all a puzzle to us, brokenness is no reason to give up, but to look up.

Among the 66 books of the Bible, the book of Psalms has always stood out to me. Similar to a cry room in a public building, where people take their babies or small children for privacy reasons, that’s how God’s children take their worries and cares into their personal prayer closet. Venting to the Lord is the best therapy when it comes to brokenness and pain. God has always been very close to the brokenhearted. As a matter of fact, He is closest when we are at our lowest. He is right there with us when we need Him most, whether we can feel His presence or not (Psalm 34:18):

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Instead of trying to piece it all together on our own, let’s protect our sanity by letting God catch our broken pieces. We are safe in His hands. Let Him heal our wounds, work with us through our pain, and help us in our distress.  Broken in God’s hands, He can mend us so we can rise again and embrace a new tomorrow.

“Broken
Broken world
Broken dreams
Alone in the crowd
Unspoken
Unspoken fears
Unspoken anger
Just acting out
Can’t see the light in the night
Don’t understand the events of the day
But there’s the hand of the living God
Holding me in the midst of it all”               
(Basically Two, Bill & Evelyn Snyder)

Proverbs 22:6: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Anybody who is a parent knows what happens when children are left to their own devices: nothing good comes out of it. That puts parents into a teaching position. Parents teach their children what they know. Since parents are in-house teachers, children get to not only hear their words but also see practical life applications. It’s a powerful witness for children to see their parents adhere to their own teaching.

Parents could not teach their children well, unless they themselves are taught well. The Holy Spirit is a wonderful teacher constantly speaking truth into our lives. Have you ever been on a crossroads and listened to that still small voice inside of you nudging you to do the right thing? That is God’s Spirit parenting us.

If there was a point in your life when you first realized who Jesus is, then this was revealed to you. Believers are receivers, and truth-receiving is a gift from God. Like any precious gift that we receive, we need to cherish it. By respecting the Holy Spirit we guard this precious gift. Conversely, if we ignore the Spirit of God long enough, that gift will be taken from us; and without God’s input our life quickly becomes bad news.

God wants us to find the truth. He has exponentially grown a movement that started with a famous few. When Jesus walked this earth He revealed Heaven’s Kingdom to us. Jesus taught His contemporaries well, and His legacy continues on.

Getting to know the Lord is the beginning of a very good story. Personally delivered, our loved ones are the first to read us. If we are no parents we are still teachers. Perhaps unbeknownst to us our life story has many teaching moments. We touch lives and change the world for the better when we follow God’s voice. That’s what the Lord hopes for placing the seeds of His teaching in us and that’s what parents hope for placing the seeds of their teaching in their children.

Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”

When unrighteousness is revealed, bloodshed disclosed and the guilty are called out, the prophet Isaiah asks the faithful to pray. Interestingly he calls them to go home and shut the door (Isaiah 26:20):

Go, my people, enter your rooms
    and shut the doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
    until his wrath has passed by.

Coincidentally this resembles current shelter-in-place orders, a decree for people to stay in their homes, one of the key strategies to avoid COVID-19 infection. On March 11, 2020 the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. On March 13, 2020 a national emergency was declared in the United States concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to the prophet Isaiah there is a time for disclosure (Isaiah 26:21):

See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling
    to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
The earth will disclose the blood shed on it;
    the earth will conceal its slain no longer.

In the US there have been public disclosures of long-hidden sexual abuse cases and especially cases of racial hate crimes. Examples of injustice and innocent bloodshed have been videotaped and publicized. These things are no longer concealed, but revealed. Injustice is a festering wound of a people; only by cleansing and dressing the wound can there be a chance of healing. In this respect time of disclosure represents time of hope. At last we address the overlooked issues and allow ourselves to grieve and initiate the necessary change.

Heaven cries as earth is going through terrible times (Isaiah 24:4):

“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth.”

Nobody relishes the time of judgment. It is however a necessary evil. In tumultuous times prophet Isaiah asks the children of God to continue trusting their Heavenly Father. Perfect peace is promised to people devoted to the Lord.

Psalm 116:1-2: “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”

Lazarus is a person who had more than just a near-death experience. Dead for four days is more of a full-death experience. Psalm 116 could have been Lazarus’s prayer (Psalm 116:3-4):

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “Lord, save me!”

On the fourth day after Lazarus’s passing Jesus stood outside his tomb. What happened outside the tomb was just as interesting as what was going on inside the tomb.

A week ago the sisters Martha and Mary had sent word to the Lord to come see them because their brother Lazarus had fallen ill and his condition was worsening. Then He succumbed to his illness and passed away. Martha and Mary had been mourning the loss of their brother for several days when Jesus finally reached Bethany. Jesus decided to wait outside the village with His disciples. Meanwhile, word spread quickly about His arrival and as soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him. Seeing Jesus she stated, had He been there in time, Lazarus would still be alive. She firmly believed that Jesus would have had the power to heal her brother. But then she went a step further and boldly declared (John 11:22):

“But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

This was the moment Jesus openly talked about resurrecting Lazarus. Martha who moments ago claimed that God will do anything Jesus asks for seemed to doubt her own words. When Jesus point-blank asked her whether or not she believed that He is the resurrection and the life Martha said (John 11:27)

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

This did not exactly answer His question, and her heart was revealed later when they went to see Lazarus’s tomb and Jesus requested the tomb stone removed. (John 11:39):

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

And so, the tomb stone was rolled away. Outside the open tomb in front of everybody Jesus prayed to the Father (John 11:42):

“I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

It is probably a good idea to mention that the loss of a close relative is followed by a week-long mourning period in Judaism. The custom is referred to as “sitting shiva” and involves the immediate family and friends of the deceased. It seems that Mary, Martha and Lazarus had many friends and relatives sitting shiva with them at the time Jesus arrived. It was clearly a public event and many witnessed what happened next. With a strong voice Jesus called Lazarus “Come out!” and Lazarus emerged from the grave with his grave clothes still on him.

In Psalm 116 we read (Psalm 116:15):

The Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die.

As long as we have breath, let’s use it to pray. Prayer opens our eyes and paints the picture that the Lord is real. He does not just sit there to receive our prayers, He bends down to listen. He cares. He is there – especially when we need Him most. Death is no walk in the park. We all have to face it, and we are reminded of our mortality when loved ones pass away. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. We are called to trust in Him. Believing in Jesus we will see God’s glory.

2 Corinthians 10:17-18: “But, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

Located in south-central Greece, Corinth is a city-state of antiquity and important seaport. Ancient Greece was the basis of much of Western culture today, including the belief in democracy, equality under the law and even trial by jury. In 4th-century democratic Athens every citizen who wished to prosecute a lawsuit had to come up with a speech. Not every citizen was able to write his own speeches – which introduced the practice of employing a speech writer. Demosthenes’ skill in his speeches was quickly recognized. And so began his lifelong career at court pioneering the profession of a modern-day lawyer.

Still today Demosthenes is seen as one of the greatest ancient Greek orators. With that in mind I can see why Paul’s speaking skills were even a topic. Members of the Corinthian congregation remarked he was better at writing letters than delivering speeches. In response Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 10:10):

“For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’ Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.”

Paul’s clash with the Greek intellectuals of his time is similar to what happens today. Carrying the gospel torch, believers are in public view and subject to all kinds of criticism. When our pride gets hurt we almost automatically switch gears and get defensive. Not Paul – attacked as he was, he did not fall into this trap. He concluded that it did not matter what anybody thought about him because he did not seek anybody’s approval. His ministry was not based on self-recommendation, but on the Lord’s recommendation.

Everything we have – and that includes our gifts and talents – comes from the Lord and is a reason to be thankful, not boastful. The only thing left to boast about is to know the Lord. The prophet Jeremiah wrote (Jeremiah 9:24):

“‘But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.”

2 Corinthians 7:1: “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

God gives us space and lots of grace – no doubt about that. We have a master’s degree in imperfection but that does not seem to deter His favor. He is willing to help us and His door is always open.

More than once have I stumbled; my foolish pride comes in disguise and wears different outfits all the time. Struggling with the limitations of my body, my spirit gets weary. It seems, the older I get, the more grace I need. Having said that, the older I get, the more grace I apply to the people around me.

God’s grace makes our imperfections beautiful. I am not sure how He does it. – I’ve done my fair share of dumb mistakes and repented over it; but God seems to have a knack to use the mistakes I’ve made and work out something good. Please do not get me wrong. I am not encouraging you to be careless; I am encouraging believers to trust in the Lord. He has our backs. He works with us and our imperfections. What a wonderful and merciful God we have!

We have the Lord’s promise that He is with us and will never leave us. He not only listens to our prayers, He favors them. Restoration is on His mind; that is why He came to earth, died on the cross and rose from the grave. Isaiah predicted (Isaiah 49:8):

“This is what the Lord says: In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances.”

Isaiah prophesied Israel’s return to the land of their forefathers. Beyond the restoration of Israel’s land – which is a miracle in its own right – the Lord is now our portion; He is the portion of God’s people all over the world. Jesus restores us to His Father and our Father; His God and our God. And we complete His efforts of restoration when we grab His hand, hold on to it and remove anything that distracts us or pulls us away from the Lord.

Holiness comes from the Lord – and from the humbling realization how much we need Him.

Revelation 3:14: “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”

Jesus had nicknamed his disciples James and John “Sons of Thunder”. In the days of the Lord’s earthly ministry there were situations where the sons of Thunder would come across rash and fierce – as in one evening when Jesus wanted to stop at a Samaritan village on His way to Jerusalem, however the Samaritans did not welcome Him because he was headed for Jerusalem. James and John were furious and asked Him: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” but Jesus would have none of that and He openly rebuked them.

John, the Son of Thunder was now an old man. Exiled to the prison island of Patmos situated off the west coast of Turkey and the continent of Asia, he had a vision one Sunday morning. He saw Jesus in His glory. John was familiar with Jesus walking the dusty roads of Israel. There was no glory in that. Certainly there was no glory in being rejected and hung on the cross. But now John encountered Jesus in His glory whom the Father had given authorization without limit. Stunned and awestruck he fell to the ground. Jesus however stooped down and placed His right hand on him and said: (Revelation 1:17-20)

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

The Risen Lord had a long and complex message to convey and it needed to be written down. The beginning was directed to the seven churches in Asia – mind you there were no churches when Jesus walked this earth; these were the young emerging congregations that birthed the Christian movement after His resurrection and return to heaven – and now Jesus had a message for them, which in most part was a warning. To the church of Laodicea He said among other things (Revelation 3:20):

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

There is such a thing as an established church that has Jesus standing outside knocking at the door. On a personal note this can happen to any believer. We can turn our faith into empty religious rituals. Jesus keeps knocking at the door of our heart in hopes that we let Him in and abandon religious exercise.

Faith in Jesus is no ritual. In fact, Jesus did not come to this earth to start another religion. I believe He is adamantly opposed to that. He came to invite everybody to return to God so the sons and daughters of Adam become sons and daughters of God. Growing the family of God is the desire of the Alpha and Omega, the faithful and true witness and ruler of God’s creation. Presently He stands at the door and knocks; He does not barge in. – When we open up we will meet Him at the door.

Ephesians 2:10: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Jesus taught that we cannot see the kingdom of God unless we are born again. Created in Christ Jesus, our spiritual eyes are opened; we know that God is real and that the salvation story is true. The new life in Christ gives us eyes to see and a heart that is moved by the Spirit of God.

Watching the news can be overwhelming. We witness a lot of brokenness all over the globe, but we are not meant to carry the world on our shoulders. We can only be in one place at a time. Wherever we are, this is where God has called us to serve.

God’s children are called to be a blessing. If believers are more prominently known for bickering and fighting, then we know that something is wrong and it has nothing to do with Christ. Created in Christ Jesus our first calling is to love. The apostle John wrote about this topic – apparently division is not a new problem – and he said (1 John 2:10-11):

“Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

God’s children glorify God when they love one another. If people can witness love and respect in the way believers treat each other, then they see Jesus in them. This is how the Prince of Peace is introduced in a world that is deeply divided – and I believe sharing Jesus is the good work all God’s children are called to do.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

We have grown accustomed to our mirror image when we brush our hair or clean our teeth. We think the mirror image looking back at us, that’s who we are. However, what we see in the mirror is an outer shell. On the day we die it becomes apparent that our bodies are nothing but a temporary boarding place, a tent if you will. Our spirit leaves our body behind when we part with this world. On this note the apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters (2 Corinthians 5:1):

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”

Nomads live in tents. They are desert dwellers who are constantly on the move because that’s how they feed their livestock. Pitching their tents on feeding ground they move on once the feeding ground is exhausted. Our body is a tent and it is designed to house our human spirit only temporarily. Obviously, we can desecrate and defile our tent in many ways, but Jesus bought us at a price, and by receiving Him we can get rid of the filth and stains. Those of us who believe in Him turn their tent into a temple where the Holy Spirit resides.

Our bodies are receptacles. Ever since we were conceived this body of ours carries our human spirit. Amazingly our body also becomes the physical location where God’s Spirit and human spirit meet. This is how we hear God’s voice inside of us. His Spirit guides us this way. Paul encourages us to honor the Lord with our bodies. How do we make guests in our home feel welcome? Basically, we entertain them. The Holy Spirit will not stay, unless we treat Him like an honored guest. We listen to Him and don’t ignore Him.

A believer’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This may be as astonishing a miracle as God becoming flesh and living among us.

Psalm 55:6: “I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’

Free as a bird – we say that because a bird is not stuck to the ground but can take off and fly wherever its wings will carry.

Inspired by birds men have created flying devices. The Chinese have understood that hot air rises and have applied this principle to a type of small hot air balloon called “sky lantern”. In Europe various designs of flying machines were attempted in the 17th century, but it took two more centuries to get to the powered, controlled flight pattern that we are familiar with today.

Sophisticated technology gave mankind wings; however, have you ever noticed that our souls, too, crave freedom from gravity? As problems weigh us down and sore disappointments crush us, we want to escape such turmoil by spreading our wings and fly. On this note, in the book of Psalms King David wrote (Psalm 55:5-6):

“Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”

We are not meant to be held down. Our Creator has designed our souls to soar. Whether looking down on people or constantly mulling over a problem – looking down is the wrong approach; we are created to look up. Calling on the Lord is the most natural thing to do.

God’s intention is to lift our spirits and reunite us with Him. Returning to Him is our takeoff. Under the shadow of His wings we soar.

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise”
     Paul McCartney / John Lennon
Posted in Fly

Psalm 46:1: [For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.] “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Realizing we are God’s creation, we could not have come to this conclusion on our own. The Holy Spirit reveals this truth to us. One way or another, every person on this planet is on a quest to discover the truth. And we approach life differently after understanding where we are from.

We come from God and we all need Him. His absence promotes dysfunction while His presence completes us. God is our refuge and strength. He helps us through life’s darkest hours. And our personal trials will yield a precious crop: humility.

Humility is a crown best worn on a mountain top. We shouldn’t forget how we got there. All mountain tops will pass. Around the corner new experiences and unknown challenges are waiting for us; and armed with humility we will do better negotiating the rough territory of life’s crazy surprises.

People weathered by various storms on the road of experience will sense when someone else is down. Using Gordon Lightfoot’s terminology, they are “rainy day people” who can relate because they have been through a rainstorm or two. Personally, I don’t know of anything more gratifying and satisfying than connecting with other people on a deeper level.

God profoundly delights in us when we care, because He cares. That’s who He is – our ever-present help in trouble – and He loves it when we begin to resemble Him.

Luke 12:6-7: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

On one occasion, Jesus called His twelve disciples to send them on a short mission trip all on their own. Knowing that He was going to get killed soon, Jesus prepared His friends for the days ahead when they had to manage without Him. He said to them (Matthew 10:16):

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Sheep among wolves is a scary prospect and Jesus did not mince His words as He painted the picture of their not so distant future. He warned them (Matthew 10:17+28):

“Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

It is hard not to be intimidated knowing what people are capable of doing. To encourage His disciples Jesus began to talk about a certain little bird in brown plumage. Sparrows are indigenous to Europe, Africa and Asia. In the Americas, Australia and other parts of the world, settlers imported some species which quickly naturalized, particularly in urban and degraded areas.  Sparrows are a common occurrence and were sold for less than a penny in Jesus’s day. Naturally they would be prized differently if they were rare and had feathers like a peacock.

Feeling proud like a Peacock today or more like one of those countless sparrows, overlooked, underrated and unappreciated? Know that God remembers you. And people moved by His Spirit remember you too. You are not alone. No sparrow goes unnoticed, Jesus says, and if a sparrow falls from the sky, our Father in Heaven knows about it. If the Lord of the universe keeps track of the number of our hair even more so is He aware of everything else that is going on in our lives. Birth, death, marriage, divorce, love life, work life, global warming, war and peace, friends and foes, nothing escapes His attention. He looks at every detail in our lives because He cares about us. And knowing how much He cares we don’t need to be afraid.

God knows, the road ahead of us is not easy. Knowing we have such a strong advocate in heaven, why not approach Him, why not trust in Him, why not call on Him? We don’t need to convince Him to love us – He always has and He always will.

Psalm 149:4: “For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory”

Have you ever worked on a project with someone who completely dominated every step of the process? I know I have, and it was a nightmare. True collaboration requires maturity. We need to be grown up enough to know that we could use some input. I personally think only with a good dose of humility can we truly collaborate.

We are God’s creation – it’s humbling to realize how imperfect we are, but on the other hand this is our saving grace. I think we would all be a little full of ourselves if everyone was perfect. Limitations teach us that we need each other and most of all that we need the Lord – a blessing in disguise if you ask me.

God loves companionship, and when He sees us teaming up and working together in harmony He is pleased. David noted in one of his psalms (Psalm 133:1+3)

“How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.”

If it wasn’t for Mount Hermon, Israeli winters don’t normally have snow. Mount Hermon’s moisture is a special blessing as summers in Israel are without rain. And there is also a special blessing reserved for God’s children getting along. God smiles when His people live together in unity.

The Lord takes delight in His people; He looks at them the same way He looked at the results of His six-day-labor on the seventh day of creation – He absolutely likes what He sees.

Isaiah 33:22: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us.”

Believers obey the laws of God’s kingdom. This is why they get in trouble in countries whose legislature is contrary to God’s laws. In World War II the Ten Boom family got in conflict with the law when they started hiding Jews from the Nazis. As a result the family got arrested and some of them died – a brave example of civil disobedience because the laws of the German Reich were in direct conflict with God’s laws.

Fast forward to today, we may not have experienced the horrors of World War II; nevertheless the world we live in does not run on God’s law, and so believers will naturally run into all kinds of issues. Some believers pay with their lives. Most recent examples on US soil are civil rights martyrs. The Southern Poverty Law Center researched the deaths in connection with the Civil Rights Movement – between 1954 and 1968 and counted 40 people from age 11 to 66. Eight were white, and 32 were black. They came from all walks of life – students, farmers, ministers, truck drivers, a homemaker and a Nobel laureate. They died to end American Apartheid.

The world runs on self-promotion and beating the competition while God’s kingdom runs on loving God and our neighbor. Living the kingdom of God in a world that operates completely differently requires guts and endurance. It means that God’s children constantly swim upstream, against the main stream. Without the Holy Spirit this would be a hard thing to do, if not impossible. With Isaiah we pray (Isaiah 33:22):

“The Lord is our king; it is he who will save us.”

Following the Lord Jesus we can rest assured that He will see us through our battles until we arrive home safely.

Psalm 119:160: “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.”

Human law is not always righteous nor is it eternal. In recent US history the Jim Crow laws are a prominent example. These were state and local laws enforcing racial segregation. As a body of law, Jim Crow institutionalized economic, educational, and social disadvantages for African Americans living in the South. The Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Human beings are flawed – and so are their laws. God’s laws on the other hand are righteous and they won’t be overruled. His laws continue on in perpetuity. Even so, misinterpreted by flawed human beings God’s law can become skewed. Jesus addressed this issue while walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, picked some heads of grain and ate them. This did not escape the attention of some Pharisees and teachers of the law who happened to be close by. Their interpretation of the law made the innocent act of snacking on grain an infraction of the Sabbath rest. They said to Jesus: (Matthew 12:2):

“Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

Jesus is the Word made flesh. If anyone is an authority on God’s law, Jesus is. Quoting from the book of the prophet Hosea (Hosea 6:6): “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” He challenged the Pharisees and teachers of the law. On yet another occasion Jesus pointblank called them hypocrites. Hypocrite is the Greek word for actor. Ignoring an important part of the law they turned into actors who just pretended to follow the law. Here is what Jesus said to them (Matthew 23:23):

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Besides justice and faithfulness, mercy is an integral part of God’s law. Neglecting mercy we actually violate His law. God’s love shines through every letter of His Word. His love is eternal. So is His Word.

Psalm 119:130: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

Snuffing out the light leaves us in the dark. Darkness is great for sleeping purposes. However, if we want to get somewhere, we need to be able to recognize our surroundings.

Sailors sailing the seven seas and Nomads traversing the Sahara Desert traditionally have relied on StarlightThe North Star or Pole Star – aka Polaris – is famous for holding nearly still in our sky while the entire northern sky moves around it. This is essential for our orientation when the sameness of the endless sea or desert wasteland won’t give us any hint as to which direction we’re going.

Life can be compared to sailing – with winds of opportunity arising, a storm brewing or a nice easy breeze coming our way. We will get lost at sea if we drift anywhere the wind blows. Sailing through life, we all need direction. So, we look up; and instead of studying the stars in the sky we study God Almighty. He is the eternal flame, the Holy One – Creator of the universe. Everything evolves around Him. Depending on how close we get to the source of all light we’ll see more and more what life is all about.

King David prayed (Psalm 119:130):

“The unfolding of your word gives light.”

The depth of God’s communication is astounding; His Word has so many layers. Studying His Word is similar to looking at a well-crafted piece of art from every possible angle. There is always something new to discover that we haven’t noticed before. God’s Word becomes more meaningful to us as we dig deeper. Giving us hope, His Word becomes our lifeline and provides us direction especially as we sail through stormy seasons.

God’s Word sheds light – and light is what we need to see clearly.

Jeremiah 33:2-3: “This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’”

New discoveries are exciting. Nonetheless, there are things no scientific effort will be able to reveal. God remains a mystery, and I think that’s beautiful. While the universe runs like well-crafted machinery, life is no machinery. Life is mysterious. So is love.

Personally, I think that a good portion of our discoveries actually stem from the innate relationship God has with each of His creatures. The driving force of our curiosity is like a river God leads into areas where we’ve never been. If you are a gifted scientist you’ll discover things you have never dreamed of. If you are a gifted musician you’ll bring a fresh musical breeze into the arena.

Our hearts and minds are like our fingerprints – unique. And God who made us understands us like no other. He chimes in from the inside. He can see what moves us – similar to watching a drama on a big movie screen He can read our thoughts and feelings. While it may come to us as a shock to realize that God knows absolutely everything about us, we do not need to be afraid of Him. He has no bad intentions. Mind control is so very much opposed to what He stands for.

All life comes from God. Approaching Him is life. Separating from Him means death. Death is no mystery. There is nothing to explore in death. Death is absolute nothingness while life is absolute everythingness. And God is in everything, which is why He relates to everything and can reveal in depth and at a capacity foreign to us.

Seeking God has many layers to it. The primal quest is reaching out for Love with a capital “L”, Love that embraces us completely as a person. God is excited about life, and He is excited about you. Discovering God is the mother of all discoveries.

1 Samuel 16:7: “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Previously, King Saul’s son Jonathan had provoked their arch enemy, the Philistines, by attacking a Philistine outpost. Then the king had the trumpets blown throughout the land of Israel and summoned his people to join the army at Gilgal. Meanwhile, Prophet Samuel instructed the king to wait seven days at Gilgal at which point he would join them to present the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings to the Lord before they went to war. So Saul and his men waited. When the prophet delayed and Saul’s army began to scatter the king got nervous and took matters into his own hands. He went ahead and offered up the burnt offering himself. And wouldn’t you know it, just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived. The prophet did not like what he saw and said (1 Samuel 13:13-14):

 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

So the prophet went back home and the king went to war. A short time later the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to Jesse of Bethlehem. His mission was to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the future king of Israel. He took a heifer with him and invited Jesse to join him for the sacrifice. Jesse had eight sons. When Samuel laid eyes on one of them, Eliab, he was impressed and thought to himself – “This must be the future king of Israel” to which the Lord replied (1 Samuel 16:7):

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

As it turned out, the son the Lord had selected was not even present at the time. Jesse had left his youngest son David at home to tend to his sheep. So they sent for him and brought him in. And Samuel anointed David in the presence of his family.

The Lord looks at the heart, and the king of His choosing has a heart of worship. A millennium later King David’s lineage would bring forth the King of kings Jesus who remarked in a conversation with a Samaritan woman (John 4:23-24):

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

Without God’s Spirit we are doing things on our own like King Saul did – and he was rejected by the Lord. God is Spirit and only through His Spirit can we connect with Him. Listening to His Spirit we will find God. Worship inspired by His Spirit pleases Him. We are called to listen and follow the Spirit of God to worship Him in the Spirit and in truth.

James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

When we are born, the first thing we do is cry. Hearing that first cry, the mother is happy that her baby is alive and healthy. Crying out comes natural to us. We all want to be heard. Listening on the other hand, not so much! Listening takes a concerted effort. The more we absorb, the more we learn. Part of growing up is learning to listen.

Prejudice impairs our hearing. With preconceived notions we hear things we want to hear. Have you ever encountered a person who asks the same question in ten different ways, just to get the answer he or she wants to hear? That’s not listening for an answer, that’s suggesting one.

God Himself is a great listener. He listens to our heart all day long. And when He speaks to us, the thoughts He shares is something we need to hear; however His Word will only inspire us and build us up if we act upon it. The apostle James points out in his letter that we deceive ourselves if we know what God wants from us but don’t do it.

Well-received, God’s Word changes our heart. It is fuel in our tanks and builds our life, our relationships.

God’s input, while invisible, visibly shapes us.

Psalm 119:114: “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”

From the Trinity flows eternal encouragement and good hope. And good hope is what we need. False hope or no hope is devastating.

Life can be quite overwhelming sometimes. My husband Bill and I have been out of work since the beginning of this year due to an economic downturn. Thanks to the Lord we are encouraged in a rather bleak situation. We have seen how He shields us from the storm, but beyond that He opens up new avenues. Presently Bill and I step out in faith by opening our own business.

God speaks to us and His Word revives us. Words we receive from God nourish the good hope inside of us and drive us forward. It is God’s good hope that lets us see beyond current circumstances and imagine a better future, a future worth living for, a future worth fighting for.

We need the Lord all the time, but especially when we are in distress – no doubt about it. The Lord is our refuge and strength in times of trouble and He is our vision in dark times. Hope is ignited when we embrace the Lord. The language of hope is prayer.

John 1:12-13: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

God’s name reflects who He is. So, what is His name? The prophet Moses asked this very question.  He was leading his flock near Horeb, the mountain of God, when he noticed a bush on fire that did not seem to burn up. As he approached the strange sight God called him from within the bush (Exodus 3:5-6):

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” 

Notice that God introduces Himself as Abraham’s, Isaac’s and Jacob’s God – not by name, which is something Moses brings up as he is about to accept the mission the Lord had in mind for him (Exodus 3:13-14):

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am and I will be what I will be. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

When God revealed His name to Moses, His Son was yet to be revealed. Jesus was hidden in “I Will Be What I Will Be.” When the time came that His Son became flesh and lived among us, we saw God in human form. His Hebrew name Yeshua means Yahweh saves. God loves us so much that He saves us by giving us His Son.

God’s name “I Am” is an open invitation to get to know Him. Knowing Him by name means we believe in Him. We believe that He indeed is who He is, has been and will be. As believers we are adopted into His family and “I Am” becomes the family name of God’s children.

God is who He is, and the children of God are who they are: a sign of God’s love and part of His mystery – visibly rooted on earth and invisibly connected forever to the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:13-14: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”

In the years of His public ministry Jesus drew a large following. News about Him spread beyond Israel’s borders all over Syria. The crowds that followed Him were people from all walks of life ranging from locals to foreigners. On one occasion Jesus sat down on top of a hill to answer questions people had, thus inspiring the Sermon on the Mount. The traditional location for the Mount of Beatitudes is on the northwestern sea shore of Galilee.

While Jesus spoke to the multi-ethnic crowd He also had His countrymen in mind. To reach this very diverse group of people the Lord used word imagery. For instance He picked salt and light to address some issues He noticed among God’s people. “When salt loses its flavor it’s no longer good for anything.” Jesus said; in other words, believers lose their flavor when their love grows cold.

Another issue Jesus brought up was a religious obsession He observed in some law-abiding Jews of His day. Not to mingle with the unclean increasingly alienated them from common people. The salt and light allegory picks up on that. In nature focused light develops into devastating wildfires while salt landscapes are known to be sterile. Believers who do not mingle represent this kind of barren landscape metaphorically speaking. Light and salt can only serve its purpose when spread.

Sitting on the patio at night with a light source, we know what happens after a short while. All kinds of flying critters will come straight toward the light. Light attracts. Regardless where we are from, there is a common denominator: we are all drawn to the light.

God is light. Whoever walks with God walks in the light. And whoever walks in the light is very noticeable and attracts other people. We mingle with others to reveal God’s mysteries and share His love. This is the destiny of God’s children. Spreading light and salt they make this world a better place – and point to an even better world to come.

Psalm 119:93: “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life.”

Perishables need to be preserved. We pickle them, we freeze them, we dry them – that’s what we commonly do for food to keep it from going bad. A similar experience holds true for the core of our being. We go through the heat of temptations, experience dry seasons and are exposed to all kinds of negativity and adversity. Trusting the Lord as we negotiate life’s challenges will shape our integrity.

Seedbed of corruption is isolation from the Lord. And in that respect we are not unlike perishables. We disintegrate just like food that is exposed to bacteria. So here comes King David’s recipe. Quoting from his insightful prayers, we read in Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in the Bible:

 “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life.”

Walking life’s bumpy road without God’s guidance is like negotiating the desert without water. The conscience God has put inside of us will give us some direction, but we won’t make it through this life in one piece with just our moral compass. We need to connect with God and stay connected to not get lost.

Looking back, the Lord has carried me through many difficult seasons in my life and I am grateful for that. At the time of this writing the whole world is grappling with social unrest and a pandemic that has not been contained as of yet; and as a result the mortality rate has risen exponentially. Beyond our physical expiration date we have a heart and soul that lives on, and I pray that we all find the Lord at such a time as this. He knows how to preserve us. We are safe in His hands.

Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

As entertainers, we love cheering crowds. My husband and I usually perform in small venues, so we certainly can’t speak of football stadium experience, but I’ve been told how exhilarating it is for a performer to have that kind of charged up audience. Well, here is an interesting aspect of the spiritual world around us: Call it the favorite reality show of heaven – we have been watched with fascination and genuine interest. Without us knowing it, we have been cheered on in our adventure called: “Life”.

Angels are part of this cloud of witnesses. They do much more than watching and cheering us on. They fight for us. The other portion of the cheering crowd is people of faith who have walked through life before us and understand our situation as we sweat, weep and sometimes bleed on the steep climbing road to heaven. And this is exactly what the heavenly crowd loves to see: they love watching us as we go by faith and not by sight.

The world rallies around hierarchies, power, money and greed, a recipe for disaster. Going against the mainstream, believers follow the Light of Life in a world that seems to become darker every day. This requires every bit of their endurance and strength. Strangely enough, sometimes believers burden themselves with extra weight. Life as tough as it is, the last thing we need is adding stress. We need to shed the weight we are not meant to carry.

We have a crowd of witnesses cheering us on. Let’s tap into that as we walk by faith. As little as it seems, our steps of faith are big in the eyes of the Lord. And He is with us every step of the way.

Psalm 112:5: “Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.”

Psalm 112 describes a believer as a gracious, compassionate and generous person who pursues honesty and fairness in everyday life. All throughout his prayer, the psalmist counts a believer’s blessings (Psalm 112:2-3):

“Their children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.”

In other words: Be good and good things will happen to you.

“Be a good girl! Be a good boy!”– Or so we hear growing up; and a popular holiday tune “Santa Claus is coming to town” puts it like this:

“He sees you when you’re sleeping
And he knows when you’re awake
And he knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!”
                  

Make no mistake about it – trying to be good for goodness sake makes people miserable. Life ruled by the moral index finger is quite frustrating. Thankfully, this is not what goodness stands for.

We need to believe Jesus when He says (Mark 10:18):

“No one is good – except God alone.”

According to Him, all goodness comes from God. – Incidentally, the word “good” in the English language is actually rooted in the word “God”.

Goodness is God.

God is good.

Moral behavior does not make us good people – It is the Lord who makes us good; but we need to let Him into our lives. He has loved us forever. And we are blessed when we love Him back.

Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Obeying God honors Him. Our blind obedience speaks louder than words and shows that we trust Him infinitely. Father Abraham is a wonderful example. He left home to travel to an unknown country – solely based on God’s instructions that came to him one night (Genesis 12:1):

“Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

In the course of a lifetime Abraham’s faith was tested multiple times. He certainly had his personal hang-ups and imperfections, but he followed through with whatever the Lord had called him to do. When we venture out in faith we too may falter in our steps, but God is not asking for perfection. All He is asking for is our trust.

Jesus had Peter’s back when He invited him to get out of the boat in the middle of a storm.  It was the night after Jesus had fed a large crowd with five loaves of bread and two fish. Sending His disciples ahead He stayed behind to pray. Suddenly a storm rolled in and caught their boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. It wasn’t long before the break of dawn that Jesus decided to catch up with His disciples and took to walking on the lake, towards the boat. When they spotted Him they screamed; everybody in the boat thought He was a ghost, but Jesus reassured them – it was Him. Then Peter had something to say (Matthew 14:28-31):

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

We may get wet as Peter did – trying to get out of the boat and walking on water – but we won’t regret it. We must continue to act on faith – otherwise we won’t have much faith left to speak of. Believers cause a ripple effect: every leap of faith, whether big or small, serves to inspire others.

Stepping out in faith we bless more people than we know and in the process we grow closer to God’s heart.

Psalm 119:57-58: “You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.”

Psalm 119 is a very special prayer. Divided into 22 subsections, each one begins with one of the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Heth-section of the Hebrew alphabet starts out with a profound statement (Psalm 119:57):

“You are my portion, Lord;”

Although the Lord gave us a big blue planet to live on, He is our portion, not the material world we live in. We are lost if we live in this world without realizing the love God has for us. Driving the point home at the end of the current paragraph, the Psalmist observes (Psalm 119:64):

“The earth is filled with your love, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.”

The earth is filled with God’s love. Sunrises and sunsets are like light symphonies He creates in the skies. None of these are the same. Depending on the amount of cloud cover and the angle of the Sun, the filtered light produces original artwork each day. Vividly displayed on the horizon we see color progressions from violet hues to pink, from orange to golden. Seems to me this is God’s love letter written in the skies.

Flowers growing in inhospitable places; fresh green grass pushing through scarred soil after devastating wildfires – the outdoors is like an open book where we can read up on our Creator. He is the Bread of Life that leaves bread crumbs everywhere. Following the trail of His bread crumbs we become seekers of the Lord. We will most certainly find Him when we look for Him because He wants to be found.

In a broken world with broken people we need to know that God does not change. He does not turn on us – He loves us the same as He always has and nothing can change that. Evil forces cannot turn the Lord. He is who He is and always will be: the light shining in the dark. We have seen the light when we notice Him.

We can distinguish the Lord in His children. God’s children are the light of the world because they stepped into His light. With every loving word spoken and each act of kindness as a token we experience God’s love all around us – a love that cannot be broken.

Matthew 19:14: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”

Children are relentlessly human and live entirely in the moment. When they are hungry, they are hungry. When they play, they play. They are affectionate, they can be quite blunt, they are impressionable, and they quickly adapt to changes. They effortlessly learn, they pick up their mother tongue within a few years, and they believe in fairy tales. They are curious, test boundaries, and get dirty – a noisy ball of energy, as active as the days are long. To their parents’ relief they eventually get tired and fall asleep only to wake up in the morning and do it all over again.

To study children is to study humanity. When God created us, He created us as children first and adults second. I venture to say that our adulthood suffers when we didn’t have much of a childhood. I also believe that we experience a more successful adulthood when we stay in touch with our inner child.

Growing up and dealing with our responsibilities, there’s one thing that doesn’t change: we will always be sons and daughters. Even with our parents long gone, we are who we are thanks to our roots.

Estranged from God as we may be, we still come from Him. God fathered us; we are the result of His genius. It was His idea to create not only human beings, but an amazing array of astounding species that fills the universe today. What we see on Earth is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Jesus says not to hinder the children to come to Him. Why? He goes on to say: the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Faith is not complicated. We essentially accept what the Holy Spirit whispers in our heart, and we go for it. Embracing Jesus like a child would, we can rest assured that the kingdom of heaven is ours.

Matthew 16:15-16: “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the living God.”

Broaching this topic with His closest friends, Jesus asks “Who am I?” while they were traveling to the area of Caesarea, an ancient port on the Mediterranean coast of present-day Israel south of Haifa. He prefaces His question by asking His disciples what others think about Him, and the answers were quite diverse: Some saw in Him His cousin John, the Baptist. Others said about Jesus that He had to be a resurrected prophet of old, like Elijah or Jeremiah.

Identifying who Jesus is remains a controversial topic today. Who is He? Have you asked this question lately? I believe only the Spirit of God can provide the accurate answer. And inspired by the Holy Spirit Simon Peter rose to the occasion and declared (Matthew 16:16):

“You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the living God”.

Peter’s enthusiasm was palpable. He also emphatically spoke up when Jesus and His disciples had their Last Supper together. After the Lord broke the news that He was going to be executed, Peter said (Luke 22:33):

“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

In response to these two public statements of Peter’s, Jesus said two very different things to him (Matthew 16:18 and Luke 22:34):

“You are Peter. On this rock I will build my church.” 

“Peter, you will say three times that you don’t know me. And you will do it before the rooster crows today.”

Obviously the apostle Peter is not the only person misjudging himself on occasion. It is difficult to know ourselves. Jesus on the other hand knows exactly who we are. He sees the good, the bad and the ugly inside of us, and the good news is: He still loves us. In fact, God gave us His Son because He loves us so much. And His Son Jesus gave His lifeblood to save the world. Believing in Him we are added to His tribe, adopted into His family and counted amongst the children of God. Whoever does not believe has no way of knowing that God loves us. And as long as we are oblivious to His love we don’t know who we really are.

Who am I? It’s an important question to ask. We have a lifetime to get to know ourselves and most importantly, we have a lifetime to get to know God. Further down the line we will discover that finding God and finding ourselves is closely related. God is love, in other words: Love – this is who God is, and loved – this is who we are. Unlocking this open secret, we will find our true identity.

Ecclesiastes 7:28: “While I was still searching but not finding — I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all.”

A popular song of Neil Young’s: “I’ve been searching for a heart of gold” expresses how people are searching high and low for integrity. Apparently, so did King Solomon in his lifetime. He authored the book of Ecclesiastes, which he finished toward the end of his life. In the first six chapters of his book he discounts everything, one by one, as being meaningless: wisdom, pleasure, work, accomplishments, wealth and reputation. In chapter seven Solomon turns his attention to honesty, and here is what he wrote (Ecclesiastes 7:28-29):

“I searched and searched but found very little. I did find one honest man among a thousand. But I didn’t find one honest woman among a thousand. Here’s the only other thing I found. God created human beings as honest. But they’ve made many evil plans.”

To put his aforementioned remark into context: Based on his life experiences he came to the conclusion that it is very hard to find an upright person, especially an upright woman. The question is, why would King Solomon mention lack of righteousness and hone in on women in particular?

We can assume that when King Solomon wrote about people he wrote about the people in his life. Solomon lived in a palace. He was surrounded by his staff and wives. Whenever he came in touch with people outside his realm it was either dignitaries from foreign countries or people who wanted something from him. I have never been in a position of political power and influence, but I imagine that it is hard to find a true friend in situations like these.

Marriage celebrates the fact that two people are partnering up to tackle life together. The spouse is supposed to be the person who has your back. Well, how many wives did King Solomon have? According to historical records, the size of his harem was legendary. Marriage is simply not designed for more than two. Any added spouse devastates this covenant relationship. In King Solomon’s case, the more women he accumulated, the more his chances dwindled to find a true friend.

Offending women – or any human being for that matter – never remains an isolated incident. Abuse begets more abuse and soon rears its ugly head everywhere. It did not take very long until this kind of attitude carried over into King Solomon’s business affairs. He employed slaves to build two very extravagant and elaborate buildings: the temple and his palace. Turning people into slaves significantly reduces prospects of having good and worthy relationships. That’s just a general observation.

Everything God has created is wonderful and special but becomes utterly meaningless when we fail to draw the connection. I believe the first step to healing a distorted world view is acknowledging that we are God’s creation. We give glory to Him that way – and giving glory to God renders everything meaningful.

John 6:29: “Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.’”

Western society coined the term “rat race”. Wikipedia defines a rat race as:

“An endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit; it conjures up the image of lab rats racing through a maze to get the ‘cheese’ much like society racing to get ahead financially.”

Bills have to be paid and in order to pay our bills we need to work. It is very human to think that the kingdom of God is set up the same way, i.e. we have to earn our way to heaven. This is probably the reason why Jesus was asked more than once (John 6:28):

“Then they asked him [Jesus], ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’”

From a human perspective this is an understandable question. We assume we have to do something so that God can bless us. “There is no such thing as free lunch” we typically say. Well, actually, there is – When Jesus fed 5000 people He did not get paid.

Obviously, we don’t have to pay God to love us. There is such a thing as unconditional love. God loves us, period.

So, what is there left to do? Nothing! Absolutely nothing – and this is the rationale of Jesus’s reply saying: ‘All work is done!’ Interestingly, He puts it this way (John 6:29):

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Even the one condition that grants us salvation – believing in the One God has sent – is God’s work, not ours, and that makes perfect sense. Have you ever tried to love someone because you were told to? How did that work out for you?

In all reality, both faith and love are a gift from God. We love the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit not because we worked hard to believe but because faith was given to us as a free gift.

That’s God’s amazing grace in action.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!” (John Newton)

Genesis 1:26: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Since God has lived forever and nobody has created Him, there must have been a time when God was on His own so-to-speak. I know, “God on His own” sounds a bit awkward. What I am trying to say is that before the Trinity created anything it was just the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit conversing with each other. At some point in time the Trinity decided to become parents. God wanted to have kids – knowing full well (to put it mildly) that it would upset the apple cart. God took that chance, and so He created living beings with a free will, angels, humans, animals, complete with a very complex universe, a star system that we call space and a home planet that we call Earth. And the rest is history.

Why would God set Himself up for heartache and pain? Ever since He created living beings there has been nothing but trouble: A small group of angels attempted to overthrow the existing government of the Trinity. Heaven has never been the same. War broke out, the coup d’état failed, and approximately one third of the angel population left to create their separate empire. Last I’ve heard: The relationship between the fallen angels and the Trinity has not yet been repaired.

You would think that this experience had to have influenced God’s decision to not have any more kids, however, that’s definitely not the case. In the aftermath of the revolutionary war the Trinity made plans for a new species; God decided (Genesis 1:26):

“Let us make man.”

We know what came out of that idea. Mankind left the Garden of Eden and ventured out on its own. Today’s world has people on speaking terms with God and people who are not. If we had a chance to interview God, one of the questions would certainly be: “Why did you expose yourself to so much pain by creating living beings with a free will who would spite You in Your face and hurt the world around them?” What do you think His answer would be?

If you are a parent and have several kids, some of them turned out decent adults, maybe some of them (or one of them) not so much. Would you regret ever becoming a parent? I believe answering this question puts us closer to the heart of God. God chose to become a parent because even though love hurts, according to His assessment, it’s well worth it. The joy outweighs the pain. The joy of resurrection outweighs the pain of the cross. That’s why love is willing to suffer. That’s why love goes the extra mile.

As soon as we love, we suffer. Love hurts. Everybody who decided to have kids will agree to that. Or ask anybody who fell in love and it didn’t work out. Or talk to pet owners – with a few exceptions, we are very likely surviving our pets; that means, as soon as we decide on a cute puppy or take in a stray cat, we set up our hearts to be broken. However, would we want to have it any other way? How about never having kids to spare us the worries and heartaches related to raising them? We could avoid animal shelters and pet stores for the rest of our lives to not even be tempted to bring one home. How about deciding to stay single? Our hearts wouldn’t be broken, or would they? Loneliness is a high price to pay!

Even though it may be painful, love is worth taking the risk. If you don’t believe me, take it from the One who has loved His creation from the beginning.

“Love hurts
Love scars
Love wounds and marks
Any heart not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud, it holds a lot of rain
Love hurts”                         Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant

Psalm 3:4 “I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.”

A prayer is just a beginning. We pray for certain things and hope for specific outcomes while God answers our prayers in unexpected ways. Life stories recorded in the Bible speak about answered prayer, as in Jacob’s case. Jacob’s parents Isaac and Rebekkah had been childless for the longest time and so they prayed to the Lord (Genesis 25:21):

“Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant (with twins no less).”

Rebekah’s twins were named Jacob and Esau. Sibling rivalry led to Jacob’s departure from home when he was still very young. Without the protection of his father’s tribe he felt extremely vulnerable. So Jacob fell to his knees and submitted this request to the only One who could help him now (Genesis 28:20-22):

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Jacob’s prayer consisted of three emergency items:

  • Protection
  • Food to eat
  • Clothes to wear

God granted his request, and then some; in fact He went above and beyond Jacob’s humble request and blessed him with:

  • Protection
  • Food to eat
  • Clothes to wear
  • Wives
  • Children
  • Livestock, which in modern terms could mean a thriving business

Jacob left home with just the clothes on his back and not a penny to his name and came back a Patriarch of a new tribe, a tribe God created to bring hope into the world. Ultimately, God’s Son Jesus would come from Jacob’s tribe. And Jesus is the ultimate answer to all prayers spoken for the sake of freedom and redemption.

Who could have come up with an idea such as this: God slipping into the role of a human being to free us? These are God-sized answers to human-sized prayers.

Joel 2:23: “Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.”

Spring rains bless the world with new life sprouting behind every corner. Autumn rains soften the scorched soil when the summer heat finally lets up. – Spoken like a true Arizonan! Like many desert dwellers we know all too well what it means when autumn and spring rains delay. In May 2018, after a prolonged drought, nearly 200 Wild Horses were found dead, stuck in the mud near a watering hole in Cameron, Arizona.

Currently going through another dry spell, we are essentially looking at an ongoing drought spanning over the past two decades producing devastating wild fires and progressively sinking water tables. Water negotiations in the American Southwest have been difficult. John Schwartz from the New York Times wrote:

“In March 2019 seven Western states have agreed on a plan to manage the Colorado River amid a 19-year drought, voluntarily cutting their water use to prevent the federal government from imposing mandatory squeeze on the supply. State water officials signed the deal after years of negotiations.”

Water means life and not just in a desert environment. The human body will die of dehydration much quicker than of starvation. A human being can go without food for about three weeks but would typically only last three to four days without water. That’s why Prophet Joel loves the spring and autumn rains. He celebrates the water of life coming from our Creator.  We need to remember and not take things for granted. Joel does the appropriate thing: He thanks the Lord. I believe gratefulness is the foundation of abundance, but there’s more.

When God gave us the world to inhabit He entrusted the earth into our care. If our Creator conducted a performance review with His caretakers of planet Earth, I don’t think they would fare too well. We were never meant to do this on our own. For this reason Jesus said to His disciples (John 15:5):

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Apart from the Lord we won’t be able to take good care of this planet and the global community has to bear the consequences with accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense tropical storms and heat waves.  We share common ground – we all live on the same globe. It makes a big difference to understand that the earth belongs to the Lord. Connecting to Him we will have a different approach and not waste our resources. Meanwhile I pray with Prophet Joel that the Lord sends us abundant showers in the desert, both autumn and spring rains.