Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people”

In a present world not ruled by love the odds are against life. Based on survival of the fittest, the weak die and the strong prevail, soon to be outdone by something yet stronger. Driven to dominate and subdue, earthly empires leave behind a trail of blood. And so, the battle rages on. Reading up on our history books, we can’t help but notice that all man-made empires seem to have an expiration date. Telltale signs that an empire is on a downward trend:

  • National self-absorbedness: The nation or empire does not care about the rest of the world. It only fosters matters of national self-interest.
  • Power hunger – The nation or empire wants to grow bigger and dominate more people instead of collaborating with other nations.
  • Favoritism of rich people and the upper class and lack of support of the poor and the disadvantaged is the mantra.
  • Trashing the environment pointing to lack of interest in the generations to come.

To save our world, we need an empire of a different kind. Instead of the kingdom of man we need the kingdom of God, a kingdom based on the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Interestingly, the concept of the Golden Rule occurs in nearly every religion and ethical tradition of the world, which leads me to believe that God has been openly promoting the Golden Rule all throughout human history:

  • In ancient Egypt a late period papyrus (664 BC – 323 BC) contains an early negative affirmation of the Golden Rule: “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”
  • In ancient India the Sanskrit tradition says to treat others as you treat yourself.
  • In ancient Greece Socrates (436-338 BC) says: “Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you.”
  • Ancient Persia: (300-1000 AD) “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself.”
  • In ancient Rome Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 654 AD) expressed the Golden Rule with regards to the treatment of slaves: “Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you.”
  • Lastly, in Judaism and Christianity the Bible spells out a number of rules of fair conduct, such as in Matthew 7:22: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Specifically, in the Law of Moses we find the following instructions (Leviticus 19:18): “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

A nation’s welfare is based on righteousness; and righteousness begins with a change of heart – one person at a time. Faith in God changes the world inside of us – and revolutionizes the world around us.

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. No message could have been any clearer: If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change” – Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett

Jeremiah 17:9-10: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

The proverbial rug has been pulled underneath your feet the day you realize, you have been lied to. It’s a horrible feeling. Lies destroy our integrity making us less a man, less a woman. We were created to walk upright and live in the truth. Anything less noble ends up breaking us apart.

A heart does not turn deceitful overnight – it is led astray. A straying heart is an aimlessly wandering heart, which never arrives, never feels at home, has lost touch with its true self and slowly has become corroded; this is the story of the deceitful heart.

Who can understand the deceitful heart and tell its story? – God can. He searches every heart and examines every mind. God listens well. And as a result, He knows your backstory and mine.

Where does the deceitful heart go?  – Running away from the Lord, all we can do is continue to deceive ourselves and others. Running towards the Lord, we courageously step up to the plate and face the truth. Truth-seekers invite the Lord to shine His light on them. His light shines through and through, accessing the most remote corners in our heart.

How can we heal the deceitful heart? – Prophet Ezekiel wrote in his scroll that a deceitful heart is actually beyond cure. That would be truly devastating news if it wasn’t for the Lord. God is not known to give up that easily. He fought with passion for the good hope bestowed to us. In order to completely renew the compromised heart inside of us, He gave us His Son Jesus. Through Him human beings can be adopted into the family of God. God’s children let go of their unresponsive heart and receive a sensitive heart instead, a heart that can hear the Lord’s voice (Ezekiel 36:26):

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

Receiving a new heart from God is an incredible gift. With a new heart, our inner being wakes up to a brand new world: the kingdom of God. Listening to the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, the love of God begins to ring true in our hearts. We start walking in His footsteps and our life will never be the same. It is the power of God’s love that makes all things new – starting at the very core of our being – our heart.

Just like a blind man I wandered along
Worries and fears I claimed for my own
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light
” – Hank Williams

Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

Is the life of one human being worth more than the life of another? Hopefully, we all agree that the answer is no. Every life is equally precious. Problems come up when we forget that.

“Thinking of ourselves with sober judgment”, as the apostle Paul puts it, is tricky. We have the tendency to either be full of ourselves or we feel small and inconsequential and don’t appreciate who we are. It is funny that the golden middle, which means loving ourselves without overindulgence, is so hard to do. I believe it’s probably impossible to do, unless we have met the Lord.

God loves us like no other, so chances are, if we accept this reality, we also accept His perception of us. “I am loved by the Lord” is a healthy self-assessment. In addition, what puts things into perspective is our understanding that God loves both me and my neighbor. This knowledge comes in handy, especially when I have a fight with the neighbor.  

I remember a work relationship that slowly went from bad to worse; and no amount of business meetings seemed to be able to resolve the issues at hand. We were simply not on the same page, and I had to accept that. For the sake of my sanity, I finally resigned and moved on. Careful not to burn any bridges, I made sure not to broadcast any negativity. As a result, my ex-employer and I have stayed in touch and remained on friendly terms.

Processing conflicts, I have learnt this simple truth: God loves me, but He loves the other person too.  We need to remember that when we don’t see eye to eye. Continue to respect a person, even though this person represents a different school of thought and has a world view that you cannot buy into. After all, we don’t know it all; only God knows everything. In times when old friends divide over political opinions I have found this approach extremely helpful.

As a general rule of thumb, let’s refrain from snap judgments. Nobody is perfect. When we are offended by someone, we can always err on the side of caution by applying plenty of grace.

Zechariah 14:9: “The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.”

Single-mindedness is not part of our current reality. Division and strife on the other hand, is what we are familiar with. Division is like cancer ailing our society and even splitting up families and friends. What makes us strong? – Community and unity, love and friendship, humility and understanding.

Division weakens us. The prophet Zechariah looks at the people of Israel in his generation and does not find much unity there. Into the chaos of wars and revolutions; into battlefields littered with blood, sweat and tears; into human desperation and loneliness, the prophet speaks words of encouragement.

Words of encouragement – God has a knack for that. He speaks: “Let there be light” when there is utter darkness and confusion. And guess what – God’s Word makes all the difference. He says: “Let there be light” and there is light.

Prophet Zechariah speaks: “The Lord will be king over the whole earth”. The prophet spoke the Word of God, and it will come to pass. There will be a new heaven and a new earth devoid of division. There will be no more wars; instead there will be respect for every living being.

How do we get there? We won’t. It is not by human endeavor that we achieve unity. Only by God’s Spirit and His might can we come together. Meanwhile, the Lord keeps prodding every human being on this planet to listen to what His Spirit has to say. He invites everyone to jump on His peace train before the new heaven and the new earth come to pass and a new chapter in the history of mankind begins. Jesus spoke to John, His disciple (Revelation 21:5):

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

We can trust His Word. When we find God we find unity. He alone knows the way to peace.

“Now I’ve been smiling lately,
Thinkin’ about the good things to come
And I believe it could be,
Something good has begun
Oh Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train
Come on now Peace Train
Yes, Peace Train holy roller”
– Yusuf Cat Stevens

Psalm 138:8: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me. Lord, your love is eternal; do not abandon the work of your hands.”

Broken pieces; a pile of rubble; chaos; nothing seems to make much sense.

Yeah, life can be a puzzle sometimes – our lives are strangely unorthodox with curve-balls flying, flawed decisions backfiring, raw emotions taking its toll. We may not see it, but somehow life still works out with God working behind the scenes. All we need is faith.

Faith is a weird thing, kind of a balancing act between doing something and waiting things out. Faith creates optimism; we don’t know which kind of happy ending awaits us after the show is over, but we do know it’s going to be a happy ending. We might as well enjoy the ride!

From God’s perspective we are a piece of art – broken, yet beautiful; lost, yet restored. God is immensely proud of His creation. Human beings have been the Wildcard. On countless occasions and all throughout history, God has shown His mercy and patience. He is the Healer of broken hearts; at the same time, God is an accomplished Artist. He knows how to make things beautiful.

Trusting in God – this means having faith in the One who can turn things around. God doesn’t just overrule a bad situation and – poof! Abracadabra – turns it into something completely different. He takes our broken pieces and builds something exquisite with it. He creates, protects and endorses life. God never throws a life away. He hates to see us go to waste and works with what we’ve got. His devotion and dedication ultimately conquers death. Resurrection from the dead is based on God believing in us and us believing in Him.

Our triune God is dedicated to making things better; that is why Jesus is our Savior. The Lord is life giver, but most importantly to me: He is Life restorer.

2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God’s patience is different from people’s patience. His patience is so remarkable that it is often misunderstood and interpreted as slowness, or worse, as indifference. “Why is God doing nothing?” is sometimes the question. Well, God is doing something. Believers know, the Lord is always up to something. Everything He does and does not do is premeditated. He can do that – He is God.

It is difficult for our human minds to grasp God’s thought process. Starting with the fact that the Lord is Three in One – God the Father, the Holy Spirit and the beloved Son Jesus are an entity that converses with each other. Human beings are on God’s mind day and night, night and day. I imagine that decisions on how to react to certain situations, how to answer prayers and how to interfere into human circumstances are not processed lightly. We have a hard time understanding God’s patience because we do not see what He sees and we do not know what He knows. But what we do know is that the Lord will make good on His promises in His time. He comes through and the door opens when it is beneficial for many.

Specifically, when we think about human tragedies, the Lord’s patience seems out of place. Think about the collective human suffering of the past and present. Think about the people of Israel who were enslaved by the Egyptians for 400 years. 400 years of prayers you would think went unanswered for too long. By the time Israel left Egypt, the Egyptians had had a close encounter with God. The plagues that happened, the signs and wonders in connection with Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt left an indelible mark. Slavery is a terrible thing. God delivered Israel from the hands of their taskmasters, but not without appealing to their conscience. God loves His people, but He loves the Egyptians too.

To this day people are mistreated, disrespected, hurt and killed. Slavery is not just a thing of the past. The international labor organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150-billion-industry worldwide. Where is God in all this? God is in heaven, but most importantly, God is with His people. God’s interaction is sovereign, but He is also expecting His people to see where injustice happens and act as His agent. In the above example of human trafficking, the first line of defense for those labor organizations is to receive a call from a witness who identified a victim and dialed the National Human Trafficking Hotline to get help.

We want God to come through for us in personal matters. I believe God also wants us to come through for other people, people who are hurting, people who need our attention, people who have been waiting for justice and retribution. When God opens our eyes and shows us a need, we as believers are the ones God has been patient with – at the cost of the people waiting for us to wake up and face the music. Those victimized, overlooked and abandoned individuals who have been in our neighborhood and cried out to God had to be feeling like the Israelites in Egypt who prayed for deliverance for 400 years. They had to be exceedingly patient.

To save all parties involved and not wanting anyone to perish, the Lord’s patience has a significant reason in a roundabout way: He hopes that in the end everyone will come to repentance. A beautiful fruit of God’s spectacular patience – is a change of heart.

Matthew 16:25: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

Personally, I’ve been a health nut for as long as I can remember. Eating healthy, working out have been non-negotiables. All in all, I have taken good care of my body as best as I could. All through my life, however, I’ve been battling a chronic cough, and my lung function has progressively diminished over the years. My husband Bill and I have spent an inordinate amount of time and money in medical services to find out what exactly is causing this situation. We have learned it the hard way that we had to let go of this battle.

Presently, we are no longer looking for a diagnosis. Instead, we are learning how to manage my symptoms better. This is a powerful release of all anxiousness connected with medical procedures, tests, doctor’s visits and looming medical bills. Best of all, we are able to move on with our lives.

There is a time for holding on, and there is a time for letting go. Holding on to dear life, I have survived three open heart surgeries in the past ten years. This gave Bill and me additional years together, which we both consider borrowed time. However, in order to make the best use of the time allotted to us, I find it equally important to learn to let go. By letting go of my health concerns we can turn our attention to the things the Lord puts in our hands for us to do – and let Him worry about the rest. Living like that is finding life.

Letting go is the key to mental sanity. We get unstuck that way. Turns out, “Letting go and letting God” is no empty byword at all. It represents a life style that leads to peace.

Jeremiah 23:24: “‘Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.”

Shame is a very uncomfortable feeling. We don’t want anybody to see us when we feel ashamed. So, we hide. Hiding is a coping mechanism as long as there have been people. We read about this behavior in the oldest story of the Good Book: Adam and Eve’s attempt to hide from the Lord in Paradise after having eaten the one fruit in the Garden they were not supposed to touch. I believe the ensuing conversation between the Lord and mankind’s first couple is worth paying attention to. Here it is, in Genesis 3:8-13:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Ever since I read this piece of Scripture quoted above I was wondering what would have happened if Adam and Eve had admitted to the truth – instead of hiding behind fig leaves and shifting the blame. Maybe God had them exiled from Paradise anyway, but of course we don’t know that for sure. What we do know (after looking at the outcome of this unhappy conversation), hiding from the Lord simply does not work. Outside of Eden, things quickly went from bad to worse causing a deep rift between the Lord and mankind, a rift that only Jesus was going to be able to heal.

Before the expulsion from Paradise, God related the consequences of their sin to the serpent, the woman and the man. Addressing the serpent first, the Lord said (Genesis 3:15):

“And I will put enmity
    between you [the serpent] and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

As our rainbow of hope, Jesus was announced in the same paragraph where God pronounced His judgment. The Son of God was going to step on the serpent’s skull. And by crushing the serpent’s head Jesus addressed the root of all evil, namely the lying, the blaming and the hiding.

It is a good thing that we cannot hide from the Lord. The Lord brings everything to light – not to shame or blame us, but to set things right. If we put our cards on the table and ask God for His help, He will have mercy on each and every one of us. The Lord fixes what is broken and sets us on the path to righteousness. Righteousness is something we hunger and thirst for ever since we lost Paradise so many years ago. We can make things right when we turn to the Lord and discontinue hiding behind fig leaves. Adam and Eve are the first to tell us that fig leaves are unsuitable means for cover up.

The only sane course of action after the damage is done is to step out in the open and trust in the Lord. May His light shine on us and fill us up to overflowing so we can bring peace wherever we are going.

Let the healing begin.

2 Thessalonians 3:3: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”

Knowing we have the same enemy unites us, as demonstrated in the 1996 film “Independence Day”.  Its story line is about a worldwide alien attack and subsequent resistance of humankind culminating in the battle on Fourth of July. In the movie script, the acting President of the United States rallied his troops before releasing them to the battlefield. Here is an excerpt of his televised speech:

“In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world, and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind… Mankind. That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.”

Unity has never been our forte. Strife and division on the other hand, we could say we have a Master’s degree. Global peace hangs on the precarious balance based on threat. I am certain  that the combined weaponry of all nations could potentially blow up our home planet Earth many times over. I have always said we don’t need a devil to destroy humankind. Mankind is pretty proficient in self-eliminating. However, that does not mean there is no evil force currently working behind the scenes.

Obviously, the best way to wage a good battle is to have the right allies. In God we have a powerful ally, but we need to understand that God is for all people. And He will support us if we have the same mindset. We need to be interested in everybody’s welfare. We need to learn what it means to love our enemies. And we need to understand that all God’s creatures are equally loved by their Creator.

In times of crisis when we fight for our survival we need to be extra-careful not to lose our humanity. God has equipped us for battle, but He especially has equipped us for love. We need to use both our brains and our hearts to address the challenges and problems presented to us in our lifetime.

The most important thing there is to know, is to know the Lord. I believe that with all of my heart. Loving God and loving people grows out of knowing Him. Living the love command, we will see how faithful the Lord is. He strengthens His people and protects them from the evil one.

Isaiah 40:31: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

The soaring technique of an albatross over the ocean is called “Dynamic Soaring”. Dynamic Soaring takes advantage of the difference in wind speed between the ground and higher up, which causes the bird to climb up facing the wind and heading back to the ground downwind. The wings are angled slightly, which allows the soaring bird to deflect the air downward and produce a lift.

Flapping-Wing flight in birds uses an altogether different technique. The wings flap with an up-and-down motion pushing the bird forward through the air. While doing that, the bird reduces the wingspan and partially folds its wings to eliminate the draggy outer part of the wing to maintain smooth cruising.

The difference between flapping and soaring is obvious: the former relies on the wind; the latter relies on the bird’s ability to manoeuver.

Yesterday I watched a documentary about conserving water. In arid areas with low rainfall, water becomes a precious commodity, not to be wasted. To that end, water has to be recycled to make the most of it. In most drought-ridden countries bordering the ocean, water plants are built to turn seawater into freshwater. Lack of water dictates prudence to be able to manage wisely the water resources that are still available.

The same scenario applies when we weaken and run out of steam. With our energy almost gone, we start managing our remaining strength in a different manner. In this context, Prophet Isaiah recommends soaring over flapping. Why? As opposed to flapping, soaring is a much more energy-efficient approach. And when we have come to the end of our rope, it is appropriate to think energy efficient.

We are only human and our strength will eventually deplete. God on the other hand never grows tired. Tapping into His power, we can carry on for a very long time, and this is in fact the moment we begin to soar. The wind of His Spirit carries us, and all we have to do is trust the aerodynamics of the Holy Spirit to carry us wherever we need to be.

Soaring birds can teach us a lesson or two: Faith lets us spread our wings wide while hope lets us soar. This is the spiritual reality of God’s children when they trust in the Lord and put their hope in Him.

“Some glad mornin’ when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To a home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away”
– Albert E. Brumley

Psalm 121:7-8: “The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Some Jews place a copy of Psalm 121 in the delivery room to ask God for an easy labor. I think it is a beautiful tradition to involve the Lord in this manner and thus pave the way for a new human being about to be born. The psalmist here asks the Lord to watch over our coming and going, which implicates our birth and death. Life on earth has a distinctive beginning and specific end – and in between we have a lot of mountains to climb.

Going in and out of exile represented a major mountain in the 3300 years of Israel’s history. Jews were repeatedly exiled from their home country. And even though the deportations were devastating, the traumatic experience seemed to have had a refining effect in the end. Instead of being assimilated into their diverse host countries and disappear forever, the Jews emerged and defined themselves as a people. During Babylonian exile for instance, their oral traditions were put to paper. In the process of writing down their history with God, a collection of fifteen Psalms were grouped under the category “Song of ascents”, among which is also Psalm 121. When the captive Jews were released, I imagine the pilgrims singing the words of these psalms to God while climbing the temple mountain for the first time in a very long while. What a day that must have been!

The world is currently experiencing an exile of a different kind, and it’s called “Quarantine”. At the time of this writing, we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, which requires ongoing isolation to curb the infection rate of a threatening virus. As a result, we are taken out of our routine and placed into a strange, confusing situation for an undefined period of time. Instead of descending into despair, we can learn from the experience of our Jewish brothers and sisters and take this opportunity to redefine ourselves as a people and make things better.

For the sake of our sanity, now is the time to seek the Lord. We won’t notice much of God, unless we look up to Him. And when we turn our attention to Him, we escape confusion and see things more clearly, not to mention the blessings of being in His presence, which has a thoroughly calming effect on our soul. Remember: The Lord will keep us from all harm — He will watch over our life; the Lord will watch over our coming and going both now and forevermore.

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion
There the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
Now how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
 (Boney M, song lyrics based on Psalm 137

Psalm 91:1: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

In 2018, my husband Bill and I moved into our new home. The backyard was not exactly a wilderness, but it was no Garden of Eden either. The previous owner of the property had minimized maintenance to be able to keep up, and so what we saw was a combination of gravel and three fruit trees. I always wanted a big yard, so now that I had the opportunity, I went to town. Arizona gardening has its challenges due to extreme heat in the summer. Even the most sun-loving plants get tired in Arizona heat, so the best bet for successful desert gardening is to create shelter and provide the right amount of water. We had three mature trees at our disposal, and I planted my first plants underneath those trees. The more plants we have, the more cooling effect to the yard because all plants create shade. While the mature trees sheltered the new plants, my mints, garden herbs and flowers cooled the soil and trapped the moisture so the trees benefited too, a classic symbiotic relationship.

I moved from Cologne/Germany to Phoenix/Arizona approximately three months prior to September 11, 2001, when on a quiet Tuesday morning a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks was launched. Two planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In the aftermath of the attacks an economic crisis hit the nation. As a result, I lost my job along with many others. Fast forward to almost 20 years later, and today due to the COVID19 pandemic, I am also without work. Watching the latest news this morning, I felt like an immigrant all over again.

In hindsight, migrating from Germany to the United States of America felt a bit like moving into a new home. While switching countries is a far car from switching domiciles, there are some similarities. Like it or not, after having lived long enough in one place, operational blindness gradually settles in. It means we run our place the way we always do and overlook the same things due to our lack of attention. This is why immigrants have 20/20 vision when they come into our country while the vision of longstanding citizens is somewhat impaired. Immigrants usually do not question or criticize their host country because they are the ones seeking shelter under a new tree.

If I compared our country to a garden, I would say that the state of affairs are close to the backyard conditions we’ve seen when we moved into our recent home, which is to say – our country runs on minimal maintenance. Over time, care taking gardeners can turn a wasteland into an oasis. I believe the same is true with running a country. How is our approach? Minimal maintenance or do we exhibit care taking efforts? Do the strong and mature trees in our country provide shade? Do their relief efforts encourage growth? Besides the wealthy, how does life look like for a person with medium income? What about people with reduced income? What about people with no income? How much shade is there, how much shelter is provided?

The psalmist says (Psalm 91:1): “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Sheltered people find rest. Unsheltered people have no rest. Anxieties, violence and eruptions are the result. These are the symptoms assailing our country, which are to be taken seriously. I believe the Lord will empower us to deal with those symptoms if we let Him. He is a Master Gardener and generations of believers have found shelter under His mighty wings. I am certain the Lord wants us to follow His example and provide shelter to the people in need.  We lovingly take care of our country as He takes care of us, and He will bless us abundantly, like never before.

“Under His wings I am safely abiding.
Tho’ the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him; I know He will keep me.
He has redeemed me, and I am His child.” – William Cushing

Ephesians 5:25-26: “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.”

Sacrificial love meets supportive love – the husband and wife team in a nutshell! Successful marriages are built that way. It’s interesting how the same words read by different people can evoke different interpretations where sacrificial love goes out the window and makes way for conditional love: “I only love you if you do what I say” and then on the other side of the spectrum comes the enabler saying: “Whatever you’re doing, whichever way you’re going, I’m going to support you.” That marriage would be a toxic cocktail and couldn’t be further from the intentions of the author of this letter to the Ephesians.

Relationships are challenged where self-interest gets in the way. A marriage partnership is unequally yoked if one partner keeps on giving and the other partner keeps on receiving, a classic example of marital dysfunction.

I believe there is no better training ground teaching us how to love well than that of a marriage relationship. I got married late in life, so I missed out on the fun for the better part of my life. I learned more about love in a decade of marriage than all the preceding decades of my adult life combined. Of course this is not to underestimate the effects of friendships or partnerships, however, according to my experience there is only so much commitment we have in friendships. At the end of the day I go home and do what I please. Not so in a marriage. When I come home from work and close the door, my spouse is still there. Marriage forces us to work things out. If we can’t work things out, we stop being married. That’s why marriage is a force to be reckoned with. If marriage works it rocks. If it doesn’t work it sucks.

When we had the chance to learn the ABCs of sacrificing and supporting through team work, we can bring this experience to the table, and this will contribute to the success of our marriage. Bottom line is: we need to learn how to support one another and how to love sacrificially. Both go against the grain of human nature.

As with many other things in life, the lifestyle of love boils down to learning by doing. In Christ we see a Teacher who does what He says. We can learn from Him. Awareness is our first step. Our second step: we need to practice the lifestyle of love. As time goes by, we will discover two things: We will never stop learning and our love grows ever so deeper.

Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” *Bible Version: New Living Translation (NLT)

Discipline is often misunderstood to turn a person into a machine. We will not do ourselves any favors to even try. People are obviously no robots and mankind will never run like well-oiled machinery. There will always be surprises. Family life is full of them and before applying any disciplinary action we will need to apply discretion.

In connection with disciplining children, corporal punishment comes to mind. Corporal punishment refers to intentional application of physical pain as a method of changing behavior. Spanking is the most common form. The use of spanking as a disciplinary method remains controversial. A better way is leading an honorable life, which will also build honor and respect in our family relationships in the long run. Granted, this takes more effort on the side of the parents but really makes more sense to the children.

A father and mother cannot expect children to respect them if both parents have double standards and lead a hypocritical life. This leads me to believe that raising children is probably a more disciplinary event for the parents than it is for their children. We need to do our homework first and get our values straight before even trying to apply them to our offspring.

We are God’s handiwork, and we need to be treated with respect. The keyword in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is “discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Man-made discipline is often harsh and unyielding. Lord-induced discipline comes from knowing the Lord, and the Lord is gentle. He teaches us discipline while giving us a lot of room for grace.

Psalm 68:4-5: Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

My parents divorced when I was a toddler. We lived in California, but my mother decided to return to her family in Germany after the divorce.  I was 2 ½ years old when we left and did not see my father again until I was 21. Growing up, I didn’t really know what it meant to have a Dad. This made it difficult for me to relate to the Father in Heaven.

In my soul-searching teenage years God introduced Himself to me. Getting to know God, I have been on a road to discovery. He taught me that wounds will heal, they only needed my attention. I used to be the kind of person that liked to ignore pain thinking: “If I ignore it long enough it will go away.” Unfortunately, this approach never works. A little scratch can develop into a sore. A festering wound ends up poisoning our life. One thing leading to another, we can get so caught up in our own hurt that we are unable to pay attention to anybody else but ourselves. It’s a chain reaction leading up to complete isolation. The way out of this mess is honesty. Say it as it is, don’t sweep issues under the carpet, and don’t act like nothing happened. God taught me to be honest to myself and to others.

To me, God is a relationship giant. He knows people. He knows me. Over the years we have developed a special father/daughter bond that makes me happy to think about. As I am writing about it I become more and more aware what an excellent Father God is. He truly is father to the fatherless.

Every relationship starts somewhere. Mine started with God when I accepted His help. I let Him into my life, and the rest is history. I can highly recommend to any person on this planet to give God a shot. He has His way with people. He will have a way with you.

Psalm 103:13: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”

God is the Engineer of the universe, but what defines Him the most is how He relates to His creation – as a father. He is the Lord of lords, the King of Kings and the Father of fathers. God is family. And if we don’t relate to Him as such we are estranged and not part of His family.

God wants to adopt human beings so they become His children again. That’s how it was in the beginning. In Paradise Adam and Eve knew God as their Father. It wasn’t until outside of Eden when human beings developed a more distant relationship.

When Jesus came, He demonstrated the most beautiful Father/Son relationship. He taught us His prayer, which starts out with “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name”. Everywhere Jesus went He promoted God’s Fatherhood. And through Jesus we are invited back to having a family relationship with our Creator.

God dramatically reached out to us when He gave us His Son Jesus. Think about that. He calls us His sons and daughters, which makes Jesus our brother. As the Father of Creation, God is the original Dad. God’s heart is big and tender. We can always count on His empathy and compassion. He is the best father we will ever have.

Proverbs 23:24: “The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.”

Ask any parent: It makes them happy when their children are doing well while it grieves them to no end when they are in trouble.

It takes the combined effort of a father and mother to properly bring up children, just as much as it takes the collaboration of a man and a woman to bring new life into this world. For this reason single parents are smart when they consciously include relatives and friends into their family life so their children have the opportunity to bond with both female and male role models. It takes a village to bring up a child.

Home is the training ground where parents help their children mature into responsible adults. The responsibility of raising children is great. We need to be humble enough to recognize that we cannot do this on our own. I believe isolation in today’s Western societies is the main culprit for family problems in general. Healthy family relationships have neighbors and friends.

Before anything was created, the Trinity was the first community – Father, Son and Holy Ghost are interconnected, and one is not without the other. Being connected with the Trinity is the most important relationship we entertain as individuals and as a family. Knowing God pays off in dividends of wisdom and righteousness. Wise and righteous children don’t grow on trees overnight. Our communion with God blesses our friendships, our family relationships and most of all our children.

Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

It was several years ago when my siblings and I began to notice that our mother had changed. She began to displace things on a regular basis and became extremely suspicious of people. Our mother is the one person out of nine people aged 65 and older who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that deposits abnormal protein in the brain while destroying cells in the areas that control memory and mental functions.

Memory loss causes a lot of grief for both dementia patients and their loved ones. I expressed some of these emotions in a poem I wrote for my mother.


I forgot my brain today
I must have left it in the kitchen sink
From there it went down the drain
And continued into the City sewage
I think this must be why
The language coming out of my mouth
Smells suspiciously
And I guess that is why
I feel so miserable
Just like a piece of forgotten news.

Lord help me
Where did my brain go?
Tell me, where did my brain go?

I don’t remember your name
Please don’t take it the wrong way
Talking heads is all I see

Nothing makes sense to me

Lord help me
Where did my brain go?
Tell me, where did my brain go?

I can see it in their eyes
When I sing my song
They hate what I have become
With my memory gone
But even if you don’t recognize me anymore
It’s still me
I’m still here
I’m not that far gone
You can still hold me
You can still touch me
My brain left me
Don’t you leave me too.

Lord help me
Where did my brain go?
Tell me, where did my brain go?

I’m placed with the lost and found
Aimlessly wandering around
Our frail bodies bear precious cargo
When our bodies fail
Where does the cargo go?

The Lord scoops me up at the end of the day
Even if I don’t remember
Thank God – He remembers me anyway.

When our brain functions deteriorate we may forget who we are. But does this mean we cease to exist? I believe the essence of us is not tied to our brains. The essence of who we are is tied to the Lord. He thinks of us like parents do, like a father and mother combined.

God is love and He never forgets who He is. His love does not change. He is who He is, and we are always on His mind. Should we not remember Him, we can rest assured that the Lord does not forget us – not today, not tomorrow and not in a million years.

“I’m the only daughter of her oldest son
I knew her well before her spirit was gone
And her life is a thread woven into every part of me
She is unraveling, she is unraveling”

Liz Longley

Luke 11:13: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

God knows how to give. One of His finest gifts is the outpouring of His Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was given to the world so that every person on this planet could get connected to God. In a worldwide movement, the Spirit of God was poured out everywhere to introduce God to people estranged from heaven. It is the most far reaching and long lasting ad campaign in the history of humankind.

Our hearts have inbuilt sensors to notice God, albeit in bad need of repair. The human condition is such that we commonly won’t recognize God’s voice. This is where the Holy Spirit steps in – so that we can tune into God’s wavelength and receive what He is saying. He is an ear- and eye-opener, healer of broken hearts, and stimulator of the human spirit.

God is extremely familiar with the multi-layered, complex human heart. He patiently waits for the slightest signal, a green light, a “go ahead” from you and me. He won’t break into the door to our heart. Instead, He knocks. He waits. And when we open the door, His Spirit enters in.

God is Trinity, which remains a mystery. The Holy Spirit is a distinct eternal being and Creator just as the Father and the Son. We can offend the Holy Spirit. He will withdraw if we so insist. Nevertheless, if we welcome Him, He will keep the communication lines open between us and God. The Holy Spirit is like the Rainbow in the clouds connecting Heaven and Earth. Thanks to His work, God’s kingdom has already arrived.

God is with us in our day-to-day affairs. If you believe that, then the Holy Spirit has opened the eyes of your heart.

“Holy Spirit, you are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your Glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by your presence, Lord”
– Jesus Culture

Psalm 19:1-2: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”

There are more languages to the universe than the language that comes out of our mouth; and nonverbal language is just as powerful as verbal language.

Silent witnesses at night are the stars and the Moon. The physical universe beyond the earth’s atmosphere is an enormous billboard advertising God’s glory. On planet Earth, majestic mountain ranges are silent witnesses. They are as solid as rocks can be, and yet God formed them like clay. If He wanted to, He could move mountains. Nothing is impossible to Him. The vegetation on this planet is yet another silent witness spreading God’s glory. Whispering trees and fragrance emitting flowers and herbs – they all wordlessly praise their Creator. A not so silent witness is the animal world. Elephants trumpet, birds twitter, wolves howl – they all spread the word without using words.

God’s thumbprints are visible all over creation; and creation proclaims that God is great – day and night, night and day. If you can hear it, why don’t you join the choir? God’s praise gains momentum when you do. Every voice counts.

“All of God’s creatures got a place in the choir
Some sing low and some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they got”    
(Bill Staines)

Psalm 46:10: “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’”

God works in mysterious ways. Let be and be still and realize that God is God. “Let be” does not mean we give up and do nothing. We do not lay down in resignation. Faith in the Lord is raising us up to good expectations.

As long as the Sun rises upon the earth we have work to do. Change naturally requires a lot of work, which can quickly become overwhelming. I believe that is why God gave us a regular day of rest. This is when we hit the Pause button. This is our Time Out. Without rest we forget who we are and who God is, and with scarcely any rest we cannot keep up the good work, as much as we try and as good as our intentions may be.

In the midst of challenging times we need to be reminded that the Lord is sovereign. “Stop fighting your own fight,” God says, “and know that I am the Lord, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.” God is right here, fighting the good fight with us. His heart is with us, His Spirit is all over us. Looking at a serious problem is one thing; looking up is quite another. We need to do both to be successful.

Change is not impossible and God is real. He is the reason for the hope we have. God will be exalted among all nations. He will be exalted in the earth.

“When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be”

Songwriters: John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Habakkuk 3:19: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. (For the choir director: This prayer is to be accompanied by stringed instruments.)”

A number of hopping, moving specks on a brick wall is all you can see from afar: Alpine ibexes have taken to scaling the nearly vertical Cingino Dam in Italy. Ibex are very nimble. They can jump more than 6 feet straight up without a running start. To escape predators, these wild goats can climb inaccessible mountain heights in just a moment’s notice. This ability is their key to survival.

Needless to say, rock climbing can be very dangerous. An accidental fall from a precipice will most likely result in serious injuries or death. Professional mountain climbers work with all kinds of safeguards, robes and harnesses to avoid a tragic accident. By the same token, life is no walk in the park. The Lord will guide His children through life’s treacherous terrain when they ask for His help. He catches them when they fall. His hands are like a mighty harness.

The older we get, the more likely we have experienced our personal limitations. Life has an uncanny way of humbling us. When we get at the end of our rope and experience how the Lord catches us, this creates a bonding moment that nobody can take away from us. For Prophet Habakkuk, this was a good reason to sing. He exclaimed in the third chapter of his book:

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.”

The prophet turned his personal experience into song lyrics. Not only that, he decided to share his song with other people. He put music to his words and gave instructions to the choir director so that others could learn his song and sing along. It is good to express our gratitude in song. Generations before us have sung to the Lord, not to mention the many angels whom we mostly can’t see with our naked eyes. Let us join in their song, especially when we hit the more difficult mountain trails.

“For the road less traveled ain’t for the faint of heart
For those who choose to play it safe and never stray too far
Me I wanna live my life and one day leave my mark
And it all might come together
And it all might come unraveled
On the road less traveled” George Strai

1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

Who needs encouragement? I believe we all need it, although some more than others. The first encouraging thing we can do is to acknowledge when someone is struggling. I believe the simplest human action is to not look away and dare to feel some of the pain the other person is going through. It is hard to be of any encouragement, unless we try to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. If we avoid this step, all we can offer are empty words. Worse yet, we find nothing useful to say. Our silence breeds ignorance and in a worse-case-scenario kills people, as it presently happens in our country.

We have a homegrown problem that spreads its poison worldwide, and it’s called racism.  World War II is no longer fresh on our minds, but the horrors of holocaust are immortalized in movies, photo footage and written testimonies. Unfortunately, similar human atrocities have continued in the modern world.

We have mountains to climb and overcome. Racism is a major mountain of collective hate. If hate is targeted to certain groups of people, it is like a boomerang that comes back and hits us in the face. If we hate people groups, in some fashion we also hate ourselves. If we feel the need to distinguish ourselves via the color of our skin then we really don’t like ourselves very much and we fail to understand how much God loves each and every one of us.

In this time of crisis, actions are important. But before taking any action we need to listen well and take a good look. When our body feels pain, then we know that something inside of us is broken. Pain is a sure indicator that something has to change. Our society is in pain right now, and we need to voice our pain and confusion. Even if the ensuing dialogue is awkward, speaking up leaves room for hope. As long as we put our pain into words there is a chance that we find our way out of this predicament.

With an open heart, I am convinced Jesus will provide opportunities to take steps into the right direction. We need to work hard and seek reformation for the long haul. Our determination and dedication is an important part of the solution.

It takes time for a mountain to form; hopefully it won’t take as much time to eliminate it. Words and deeds are needed for encouragement – both create hope and build a better tomorrow. May God help us.

Ephesians 3:17-19: “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Growth is the most astonishing thing. In early spring I planted some sunflower seeds. Three months later, the stalks stood taller than our five-foot-fence showing off its beautiful sunflower faces.  What a powerful allegory to faith! Jesus compared faith to a mustard seed that grows into a full-fledged tree where birds can nest. God plants the seed of faith into the soil of our heart; and depending on our heart’s welcoming state, this seed will develop.

The apostle Paul prayed for the churches he planted. Here is a snippet of one of his prayers (Ephesians 3:18):

“May [you] have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

God’s love existed long before the conception of the space time continuum. Higher than our highest expectations, deeper than the deepest mystery, wider than this universe is His love. God’s love cannot be measured; no vessel can contain all of His love. That is why God pours His Spirit into many diverse vessels. And I believe that diversity is needed to more fully express His greatness. As we grow into maturity, our roots grow deeper and deeper into God’s love. We become like a deeply rooted tree attracting all kinds of wildlife. When Christ lives in our heart we attract people and give hope to many.

Darkness is devastating and can rob us of all hope. God is able to shed light in the darkness and help us see the truth. When we let Him in, we experience a change of mind. We are promised a new heart, a more suitable container for His love.

Where does Christ live? Yes, He lives in heaven (if this was your answer), but most importantly, He lives in the hearts and minds of His followers. Christ completes us. We are made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

1 Chronicle 29:9: “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly.”

Depicted in the first book of Chronicles, King David had inspired his people as he went ahead and donated all of his resources, even dedicating his personal treasures to the building of the temple. This was a happy day for King David. An outpouring of generosity marked this very special occasion. Everybody chipped in with gifts. Generosity can stir up even more generosity. King David devoted all he had to the One he loved with all of his heart – and the crowd followed in his footsteps.

God’s generosity prominently shows up in nature. We have three fruit trees in our backyard. Last season our trees produced so much fruit, we could have fed our entire neighborhood – certainly, we could not eat it all. So we called over our neighbors and friends asking them to take as much as they liked.

God is generous and so is His love. I am sure the word “stingy” is not even included in heaven’s vocabulary. Common pitfall for humans is to hold back. I guess, we are rather safe than sorry; even though holding back and closing up like an oyster leads to isolation and we are never “safe” in isolation.

The more love we give away, the more love we have to give. God knows this secret. He has lavished His love upon His creation since the beginning of time, and He is famous for His unfailing love. God’s love bucket is always full to overflowing, and He does not hold back. Under His wings life flourishes.

May the Lord of Life and Love stir us up and move us to respond generously when we see a need.  Just a moment ago my husband and I were watching our cat showing his belly to a neighbor, offering her to pet him. Our cat Buddy is very generously spreading his love. We all have something to contribute. Needs are diverse and so are we. Let loose of your talents, gifts and expertise. If nothing else, give of your time. Time is a precious resource.

Heart to heart – that’s how we are connected to the Lord and this is how we are all interconnected. The blood flow of interconnection is generosity.

Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

After moving into our current house, my husband Bill set up a small home studio. Soon we started recording. The recording process can be time consuming. Vocal cords don’t respond the same all the time. Sometimes there are tech issues or other hang-ups. On one occasion, due to an oversight, previously recorded tracks disappeared and we had to rerecord. It would have been impossible to keep up the good work without patience. Patience and gentleness go hand in hand.

Gentleness is a rare gem. Jesus says of Himself that He is gentle (Matthew 11:28):

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus (Isaiah 42:3):

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

In dealing with the broken, gentleness is paramount. However, we all could use a little gentleness. A kind word goes a long way.

With pent-up anger inside, it is hard to be gentle. Anger is usually a symptom that something is wrong. An unaddressed elephant in the room can grow into a monster. There can be no true harmony without speaking up and voicing our concerns. And without being honest, there is no real intimacy. We do not need to bury simmering anger for long to see it reaching boiling temperatures. We know how misdirected anger blows up into our face with lots of collateral damage.

Thankfully, there is constructive anger. When we see dog poop on the floor, we better eliminate it, or it will be carried all throughout the house and cause a lot of stink. I guess we all know what that means. Constructive anger does the house cleaning. We address what is wrong and thereby eliminate those emotional triggers that are like buried grenades. Removing those triggers ultimately paves the way to gentleness. We need to be honest – so we can be gentle.

Hebrews 9:28: “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

When we sit down in a movie theater and watch a documentary about somebody’s life, then we walk out of the movie theater feeling more connected to the person portrayed in that movie. More than just passively watching us from a distance, God has always been deeply involved in the fabrics of our lives. Like getting up from our seats in the movie theater to be injected into the action of the movie, in a manner of speaking, that’s what happened 2000 years ago. The Son of God came to earth and became part of the human experience.

Jesus appeared – not just out of thin air; He was assembled in a mother’s womb, born to his doting parents Joseph and Mary, grew up transitioning from boyhood to adulthood, ran a business and for the later part of His life ran a ministry – all that to come alongside the human race and deal with our predicaments which is summarized in the word “sin”.

We all have a conscience, and whenever we do something that our conscience marks as wrong, we feel bad about ourselves, which is why sin and shame is a couple. Sin always carries the sting of judgement. I don’t know of anybody who likes to feel this sting – nobody likes to be judged. Nevertheless, we all like to be understood. Jesus took all the blame and shame and submitted to judgment and execution – even though He had not done anything wrong to deserve it. That was God’s way of setting us free. Sin traps us. Jesus is the only One who can free us to live the quality life we were created for. To reap such benefits we need to believe.

When Jesus makes His second appearance on earth it will be very different from the first time He came. His first visit to earth was completely dedicated to the issue of sin. Second time around, He comes to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him. Waiting for Jesus is a lifestyle. Life can pull us down. Jesus will come through for us every single time when we put our trust in Him. He guides us through steep canyons and valleys, and all through our challenges we learn how to love.

We are saved to learn how to love. I believe this is what God’s salvation is all about. We cannot take anything with us when we die, except our love – our love carries over to the next life. Love is also the only thing of value we leave behind. Love always leaves a legacy.

Revelation 21:4: “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

John’s jubilee towards the end of his book of Revelation is famous and source of comfort for the believers. Heaven is a good place. God’s presence, His overwhelming joy and peace and the absence of human sorrow and pain is something to look forward to.

Does this mean there is no pain left in heaven? What about God’s loss due to our free will? God is no dictator, and we can choose not to love Him. Rejecting Him reaps a world of pain and all parties suffer from it – both God and His estranged creatures; I’m assuming the parental pain He must feel somehow factors in, and I don’t think heaven can be oblivious to that. Don’t we share both His joy and pain, especially as we get closer to Him? I believe we do, and heaven would be one-dimensional if we had it any other way. There is more depth to our joy when we also embrace the undesirable feeling of sadness.

I am writing about this topic today because I have lost someone. The worst part of grief is thinking to be alone in this. That, quite frankly, is a lie. Even if (hypothetically speaking) nobody should be able to empathize with what you are going through, God certainly can. However, in more cases than not, people can usually relate. Nobody is exempt from grief; and when pain bears the fruit of empathy it will create community. If nothing ever makes sense in our sufferings, this always will: Your pain will equip you to be a good friend to someone in your life who is facing similar challenges. We are made for one another. God has created community so we get through life in one piece.

We are not alone – our tears will be wiped away. Source of all comfort is God who can relate to all of our sorrow. Here it is, plain and simple written in the skies: Money does not make us rich. Relationships do.

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on”
Bill Withers

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

The Greek port city of Thessaloniki, also known as Thessalonica, Saloniki or Salonica, is presently the second-largest city in Greece with over 1 million people in its metropolitan area. In his letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul talks about a red letter day in the future, the dawn of a new age when heaven and earth form a unit.

Generations of believers gone before us will lead the way, which is a great way of honoring them; the dead in Christ will rise first to meet the Lord in the air before the living generation catches up in the clouds to join the party. We will wake up to a new chapter in the history of mankind, actually, a new chapter in the history of the universe. The old order will end making way for the new order of a wonderful world to come, a world no longer dictated by death. It is the conclusion of all wars and the beginning of peace time with unrestrained access to the heart of Heaven, the Trinity.

The King of kings will be the center of the new world, a King unlike any leader we know. Jesus does not rule with an iron fist. His lifeblood was shed to stop violence for good. The Lord knows that violence only creates more violence. Back in the Garden of Gethsemane, when soldiers attacked Him and Peter drew his sword, Jesus said (Matthew 26:52):

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

Even with the best of intentions, all our wars combined do not bring lasting peace – but Jesus does. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace.

This mental leap into the future paints a strangely beautiful picture and may feel a bit like utopia. However, we need to be reminded from time to time that “utopia” will come true one day, especially when things in the here and now look grim. The world we live in has an expiration date. Let’s not get eaten up by the status quo and raise our heads in hope. The future established by God is going to be forever, and forever is a very long time.

Psalm 56:4: “In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

What can one creature of God do to another creature of God? Certainly a lot of good – or a lot of damage, but this is exactly where it ends: damage control is our mortality. God weighs in with promises no mortal can offer. The promise of eternal life opens the door to heaven. While heaven is great, the promise of God’s faithfulness is even greater. Without His faithfulness our chances to arrive in heaven would be slim to none.

Reading up on God’s history with mankind, we can appreciate the fact that He is not One to give up on us. God never leaves us nor forsakes us. Thanks to His faithfulness, the people of Israel reached the Promised Land after wandering in the desert for decades. It took many detours to arrive at their destination, but ultimately, they arrived – not because of their abilities but because of God’s many interventions, His willingness to forgive and start over, and His never-ending mercies. The apostle Paul wrote this encouraging note to his friend Timothy (2 Timothy 2:13):

“If we are faithless,
    he [God] remains faithful,
    for he cannot disown himself.”

We are prone to mess up – we could say that this is one of our defining features. One of God’s defining features is His faithfulness. He is powerful, passionate, creative, and He knows what He is doing; it is our end of the bargain not to lose faith in Him. We may not fully understand His ways, but we know that our current journey of faith will be much more rewarding if we continuously put our trust in Him.

Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960) who wrote the lyrics of the beloved hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, explained towards the end of his life:

“My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

Walking with God, we will reach our destination; we have His promise, and He is known for keeping it.

“Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever will be”
Songwriters: Thomas Chisholm / W.M. Runyan

Psalm 103:17-18: “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.”

The blessings God extends over creation speak of His love and righteousness. When God is with us, His love and righteousness is with us too. In the book of Psalms we read (Psalm 103:17):

“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children”

Love and decency are the pillars of every community. In the absence of love and decency, no good life is possible and communities fall apart. God is the center of the universe. Under His umbrella we are brought together. Connected to Him, we are connected with the heart of creation. In Him, we are able to connect with others.

When God created heaven and earth, He created connection. All of creation is set up as community. We are interconnected and depend on one another. God made us and we mean something to Him. No life form moving and breathing is without meaning. God will always look after His creation. It’s deeply personal.

With the snake entering the scene, isolation began to interfere. The snake ripped community apart and God’s heart is bleeding over this. Isolation is as counterproductive to creation as it is destructive. The death of community always brings death to the individual. We are not meant to fend for ourselves.

Community is everything; and a presently disconnected world still needs healing. God wants to heal what is broken and rekindle a friendship that goes way back to the beginning of humankind; but we have to turn around to see Him. God is with those who remember Him.

Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

A young boy rose to the occasion. They were in the middle of the desert. It was a spontaneous gathering of people who had followed a certain teacher for a while. It was Jesus of Nazareth. Clearly, the crowd was fascinated with His teachings. They hung on every word that came out of His mouth. People could sense that Heaven was open.

Then the gathering came to a close, and here they were, in the middle of nowhere. No food, no water, nothing as far as the eye could see! A young boy got up and handed his lunch to Jesus – a few fish, some bread. His lunch was distributed to the crowd and something miraculous happened: Everybody got fed.

Just as Jesus multiplied the bread and fish a boy decided to donate, this is how joy multiplies when we share our happiness with one another. Here is what’s astonishing: we get more when we share. This might sound like a paradox, still it’s true.

Happiness is meant to be experienced together, and when we do, it multiplies. Sharing our time, our gifts, our affections, we will find that we suddenly have more time, more gifts to give and more love to share. Sharing our grief with others on the other hand, our pain is a little less hard to bear.

Be happy with those who are happy; be sad with those who are sad. We are better people when we share.

Acts 20:24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

The Olympic flame first became a tradition of modern Olympic Games in 1928, when a flame was lit and remained burning at the entrance to the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam. In 1936, the Berlin Games began with torchbearers running the flame into the Olympic Stadium. The relay of their torches had begun 12 days earlier with the flame ceremony in Olympia, Greece. As in any relay race, each runner carries the torch for only one short leg of its trip. As a runner completes a leg, he lights the torch of the next person in the relay, thus passing on the torch through the various countries participating in the Games.

Modern torch relay history has its roots in ancient Greece where the flame was kindled using a skaphia (a type of crucible). From Olympia, the flame was carried across Greece to Athens, and in a ceremony at the Panathenian Stadium, the flame was handed over to the host committee of the Games.

Torch relays suggest the light of spirit, knowledge and life is handed down from generation to generation, which is a beautiful metaphor for the children of God. While preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed believers as “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-15):

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Love is the bright light of God’s kingdom and everything Jesus stands for. He encourages His followers not to hide their light. Everybody who knows the Lord holds a torch and spreads light in the dark. I like to think that we pass on the torch to the next generation before we die. We will finish the race with success when we don’t give up on love.

John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

In the drift sand of anarchy and lawlessness mankind has no chance of survival. I believe this is the reason why the law was given to mankind; it is basically our crutch to lean on. Still, the law does not bring us salvation.

Every day people pass judgment or are being judged; however, the only perfect judge of a situation or a human being is God. And although God is a fair judge, we do not benefit from His keen understanding of our infractions and shortcomings because His verdict for sin is death. Thankfully, the Lord is the first One to lament the finality of this judgment. That is why God sent His Son into the world – particularly not to judge the world – since judgment obviously initiates no happy ending – God sent His Son into the world to restore and save humanity.

God’s passion for us is an undying flame. His divine love declaration is written in the skies. God looks for the lost, and His call goes all around the world. Given all the effort He has invested, can you imagine His joy and relief when we answer His call and grab His hand?

Saving us is no easy business. It requires blood, sweat and tears, but feeling guilty about that would be against the Lord’s intentions. If we asked Jesus how He feels about us after all that He has been through on the cross, He would probably say, the last thing He wants for us is to feel guilty all the time. His gift comes with absolutely no strings attached. We make Him happiest when we accept His wonderful gift and never look back.

James 1:19: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Cats have excellent hearing. In comparison, human ears are not as well-equipped. While cats hear sounds about as low as humans, they can hear much higher pitches than we can, and their range goes even above that of dogs.

Even if we had catlike ears, the question is, would we take advantage of our enhanced hearing? Here is another question for you: How easy is it to listen? The talkers among us will probably say it’s easier to talk than to listen. But what about people who don’t like to talk? Do introverts have an advantage over extroverts when it comes to listening? Perhaps – but keeping silent doesn’t necessarily mean a person keeps listening.

I googled synonyms for the word “listen”, and here goes:

Give one’s attention to a sound, pay attention to, take heed of, heed, take notice of, take note of, mind, mark, bear in mind, take into consideration, take into account, tune into

God speaks. We know that He speaks when we seek Him out; and when our heart is open, we will receive His input. His Spirit speaks to human beings all around the world. We can drown out the Lord’s voice with our own, but we are losing our soul if we do.

Listeners promote peace. When we learn to listen to God’s voice I believe this also upgrades our listening skills in general; and listening to what others have to say, we grow a better understanding of other people. In a world that’s deeply divided with angry voices competing for our attention, listeners don’t join the angry choir but lend an unbiased ear. As a result, listeners have a far better reception when it is their turn to speak up. Paying attention always pays off.

Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

We have our reservations when it comes to loving everybody. Jesus once had a conversation about this very topic with a teacher of the law. Discussing the specifics of loving God and particularly our neighbors, a teacher of the law spoke up and asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told a story of an unnamed person who got mugged and left on the road to die. After a Priest and a Levite had passed by and conveniently ignored the victim, a despised Samaritan finally came to his rescue.

At the end of the story Jesus answered the law expert’s question with a question of His own (Luke 10:36-37):

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

According to Jesus’s story, a person who loves saves life. Love is the only answer to every problem on earth.

Love brings life. Families are physical reminders of that. God created us affectionate and capable of love, but He also knew we would make decisions that would hurt us and Him. He created us anyway. Apparently, the joy of our love outweighs the pain. We know from our own experience how love can hurt us – still, it’s all worth it according to our Creator.

So, we continue to love, even though it is difficult sometimes. Looking to Jesus, we learn from the best. His love honors and respects people regardless of status, gender and tribe. Jesus loves humans indiscriminately, always has, and always will; and His followers live by His example.

Romans 15:2: “Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’” *Bible Translation: The Message (MSG)

When it comes to purposeful use of strength, we can learn from the horses.

In 2004, Claudia Feh raised a herd of Przewalski horses in France and reintroduced some of them to their natural habitat, the Mongolian Gobi Desert. Niobe Thompson, a Canadian anthropologist and documentary film maker, interviewed her. The following paragraph is an excerpt of the PBS show “Equus ‘Story of the Horse’-Episode 1: Origins”:

“Horses in the wild are constantly negotiating for a rung in the ladder. Each horse has its place. Hierarchy gives the herds strength and ensures only the fittest stallions get to mate. But surprisingly, it isn’t just the toughest stallions that rise to the top. [Claudia Feh, an expert on social behavior of free-living horses, observed]: ‘the dominance [of a leading horse] is not based on size, it’s not based on physical strength – it’s mental strength; it’s personality. This translates to the horse/human relationship because obviously horses are about 5 to 10 times heavier than its rider. How can we ride a horse? We are so much smaller, and yet we dominate the horse. It’s mental.’”

Interacting with these beautiful and intelligent beasts and experience their funny quirks, the ensuing bond that develops between horse and rider is very special. Horses allow us to use their strength, which is a wonderful example how strength is graciously put to service.

We too are given strengths, talents, and gifts. Our strengths are supposed to serve others, not ourselves. When strength is used to overpower, dominate and hurt, it turns into a curse. Strength-abuse has been a scourge in the world ever since there are people.

In God’s kingdom the strong serve the weak, not the other way around. Our strengths turn into a blessing when we serve a need. Not only do we bless the ones we serve; we will find that the blessing goes both ways. The ones we serve bless us also.

Service reaps multiple benefits – the greatest benefit of all is making new friends. 

Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

Thanks to God there is freedom. God is a freedom-lover. In His realm every creature is free. We are well-advised to approach Him to explore what freedom is all about. The first thing I noticed, to be free does not necessarily mean we are lawless.

Exploring the laws of nature we quickly become aware that every system is fine-tuned. The universe contains organized structures on different scales, from small systems like the earth and our solar system, to galaxies that contain trillions of stars, and finally extremely large structures that contain billions of galaxies. Planets of any given solar system orbit the Sun.

Thanks to the way our home planet Earth orbits the Sun, our terrestrial days are 24-hour sequences. Plants use the sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water to produce the lush green pigment chlorophyll while generating oxygen as a byproduct. Land mammals breathe in the oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, which plants in turn use to synthesize foods – a beautiful partnership of vegetation and land mammals.

This is just a little tidbit of information illustrating there is an underlying law in everything we see. Without an underlying law there wouldn’t be a universe to begin with – and there would be no lifeforms to give freedom to.

Just as the laws of nature promote life on Earth, the law of love promotes freedom. Constantly catering to our own needs and urges is like a vortex that sucks us in. Needless to say, we won’t see the end of trying to satisfy ourselves. Our world gets smaller and smaller and we become enslaved to our own ever-growing demands. That’s the opposite of freedom, called “hell”.

God’s command “Love your neighbor as yourself” is our ticket to freedom, and we are encouraged to be super-generous with our love. Contrary to seeing our resources dwindle as we give them away, the more love we give, the more our love increases. Once we realize how invigorating it is to give, we won’t stop sharing. Serving one another is truly freeing – and it is to freedom that we all have been called.

1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Unity is precious, but seems elusive on a larger scale. In an attempt to unite people, we have created hierarchies and empires. This is how we rule, and it is very human to imagine that God reigns in the same fashion. However, the Lord does not run creation like an army. A prominent example: His hands-off approach with planet Earth. He gave humans the earth as an assignment and made them chief administrators (Genesis 1:28):

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

If we had fully understood our function as caretakers of this planet, this would have ruled out human greed, the seedbed of many wars and conflicts. As it is, we have taken full ownership of the earth, although the earth belongs to God, not to us.

While an institution can enforce rules of human behavior, it does have its limitations. This is why the criminal justice system is no cure for crime. Disassociated from God, all human attempts to properly rule this planet ultimately fail. Struggling especially in the area of unity, human societies without God have never known peace.

The bottom-line is that we can’t obtain unity without the Lord. God’s concept of peace took on flesh and blood with the arrival of the Prince of Peace, Jesus. He preached in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:9):

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Mostly unbeknownst to us, we bring peace everywhere we go when we love the Lord. The peace Jesus creates in our heart has a strong impact. Little by little we change the world – thus ushering in the Kingdom of God.

Romans 15:5-6: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When I was young I often felt insecure. At the time I graduated from high-school, my art teacher encouraged me to pursue the fine arts professionally; however I did not take his advice to heart. In hindsight, I am not sure why I did not rally around his encouraging words. I would have lived a different life. Professionally, I ended up becoming a Jack of all trades. I did not stay too long in one profession because nothing could capture my interest the way art did. Eventually returning to painting and delving into my first art projects after decades of abstinence, it felt like meeting an old long-lost friend.

God gives us talent, but He also gives us endurance and encouragement. We can have all the talent in the world – without endurance and encouragement all our talent goes to waste. Most importantly, we must believe. One of the reasons why I did not thrive professionally was not giving credit to the input I had received from others regarding my gifts and talents. On a much more serious level, it won’t do us any good to live life without believing what God has to say.

The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that we need to encourage one another as Christ did. Christ does not give up on people because He cares. There is much to be said about caring. A garden minus a caring gardener is no garden. It’s a wilderness. And a planet without caring people will soon become inhabitable. To prevent the human race from extinction, we need the same attitude of mind toward other people that Christ had when He lived among us.

Jesus is the bread of life. Just as consuming carbs gives us physical energy, believing in Him is life to our soul. He vitalized this world like no other. As a result, believers around the globe praise Him with one voice and glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James 3:17-18: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

Wisdom does not grow overnight. We have to obtain it, although there are different sources of wisdom. One type of wisdom is gained through experience; the other type of wisdom comes from heaven. The apostle James describes wisdom from heaven as “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” – which is the kind of wisdom peacemakers bring to the table.

God understands everybody and He is the only One who can bring us together. We often use the term “one nation under God” – the Lord’s desire goes beyond that. His vision is “all nations under God”. Jesus was born in Israel, but He did not come exclusively for the Jews; He came for all the nations.

God’s peacemaking abilities are astonishing. He is truly impartial, looks at both sides of the coin and has the best interest of all parties at heart. This cannot be said of human wisdom which I would describe as “street-smart.” Based on experience, humans learn to look out for themselves and recognize an opportunity when it presents itself. A street-smart person may get ahead at the cost of his or her integrity.

As opposed to human wisdom focused on personal advantage, God’s wisdom is all-inclusive. That’s the kind of wisdom we cannot produce, regardless how many years of experience we have under our belt.  

Godly wisdom in a human’s heart is always the work of the Holy Spirit. His still small voice leads us often contrary to human wisdom. Acts of faith don’t always resonate well with mainstream thinking.

God’s wisdom comes as a gift, and we receive it through prayer. As a result we begin to see the world with different eyes. God’s wisdom revolutionizes our way of thinking and opens us up to other people – and this is how peacemakers are born.

“Jesus Christ is coming.
All the earth rejoice!
The waves of the sea
Clap their hands in glee.
Hills sing songs of joy
For the Risen Lord.
He came to change the world.
Shout and sing glory to the King!”

Songwriters: Bill and Evelyn Snyder

Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

Bad movies are usually set up with a flawless hero and a super-bad anti-hero with no shred of conscience. This is a figment of our imagination. There is no such thing as one-dimensional people. People are many things, which is why it is not easy to judge them. I dare say that our judgement calls are mostly flawed.

All we can sometimes see are blurry lines while the Lord cuts through those gray zones like a skilled surgeon. Actions are not just exposed as they appear to be; its intentions are also laid bare. Sometimes bad things happen with good intentions. Sometimes good things are motivated by selfishness and deceit. Weighing one against the other, God’s mercies come into full fruition.

God is as merciful as He is justice-oriented. On one hand we have His brilliant mind, profound wisdom and impeccable discernment, and on the other hand His mercies bless us every morning. God gives sunshine and rain to the good and bad, which is something we tend to have a problem with.

God is love. This means that all of His actions, including His judgment calls, are motivated by love; His intentions towards us are always good; God does not judge us to condemn; He never forgets anything good we have done.

God’s love for us is not cheap but involves sacrifice. This may be the reason why He so highly appreciates the sacrifices we make to help someone in need. Whatever we do for other people is noted. God does not miss a beat. He sees us when we go the extra mile. When we give our best at work, if nobody else notices, God does. In the time of a crisis our love and sacrifices weigh even more. 

The Lord remembers us. He will not forget the love we have shown Him by being a good friend, a good neighbor, a good parent, a good sister and brother.

Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Will all mysteries ever be solved? Most likely the answer is “no”. There is always stuff to learn and new things to discover. That is the side effect of living in a God-created universe.

God comes in layers. We get to peel back one beautiful layer at a time when we encounter Him. After all, we find Him in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged to dig deeper – and even though there is no end to the digging, getting to know God is the most thrilling experience I know.

Creation comes in layers too. Digging into the micro cosmos and macro cosmos, there seems to be no end to learning more about the universe we live in. Literally, the sky is the limit. If the universe is so interesting, the more is the Author of the universe. God is limitless, endless, timeless and impossible to fathom. Still, we are encouraged to seek Him out. Ultimately, we will find His foot prints everywhere. Every stone has His signature. Every leaf carries His thumbprint.

God may come across reserved and withdrawn, but He is no introvert. He loves people and does not hold back His blessings. He gave us His Son Jesus so we can find Him. However, that does not make Him an extrovert either. Even though He leaves His business card everywhere, He is not in plain sight. In order to find Him, we need to look for Him.

I encourage everyone to address the Lord in prayer. God listens, and He can be found. Sooner or later you will discover that He was looking for you in the first place.

Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

I want to be there when the Lord breaks out in song. And why would He do such a thing? I believe His joy is founded in great relief, the kind of relief we feel when we have arrived after an arduous trip; or the relief of hearing good news after a period of dead silence. I believe all that applies in prophet Zephaniah’s description of a very special day: the day of the Lord.

It is the day when the Lord comes home from a long waging battle. In His arms he holds the redeemed. He brings them home safely. All the angst, blood and tears are now forgotten. With the battle stains still on Him, the Lord kicks off His warrior boots and starts singing. There is no “I told you so!” and “If you had only listened you would have avoided trouble”. Our Savior wastes no time with the past. He is in the “here and now.” The Lord tremendously enjoys the moment when He sees us safe and sound.

In the beginning of all things, I imagine the Trinity singing three-part harmony and dancing with joy when the first life forms were created. God, the pioneer of song and dance, initiated the first song and danced the first dance.

Dance steps go well with a song. Indeed, dance and music are inseparable. And music is one of the most inspiring mediums I know. I believe singing is a primal human need just as eating and sleeping. Music gives us wings.

It is better to dance than to walk and to sing than to talk. We see dancers hit the dance floor who don’t seem to have a contract with gravity; we hear spectacular vocal performances that move us. Maybe this stops you from singing your own song and dancing your own step, but don’t let someone else deter you from doing what only you can do.

Nature swaying to the heartbeat of the universe, the Lord invites all of us to His dance floor. We could not make Him any happier when we accept His invitation. The Lord does not take the trust we put in Him for granted. He is glad when we choose Him; in fact, He is so enthused that He sings over us.

Life with God is no walk in the park; it’s more like a dance to an unknown melody. In His embrace we swing in rhythm with His steps. We adapt to the constant changes and never stop learning. We go forward in faith and know that the Lord our God is with us every step of the way.

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance”

Songwriters: Tia Sillers / Mark Sanders

Ecclesiastes 11:5: “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

Life is a mystery – all life comes from God, and God is mysterious. Personally, I have stopped asking why this or that happened. What if nothing ever happened? We would have a bunch of nothingness. Thankfully, God happened. The Trinity decided to create life at some point in the history of the universe. Even though the Trinity is complete and is in no apparent need of anything or anybody, God decided to add relationships. Then the first lifeforms emerged, and the rest is history.

Speaking of lifeforms, God created an endless variety – marine life in the oceans, vegetation on dry land, and species that move in the oceans, on dry land and in the air. The Trinity bonded with all of creation. God’s mind is bigger than this universe. The stories and letters penned down in the books of the Bible give us a small glimpse of His beautiful heart.

  • God loves the animal kingdom; He is not unaware of tiny birds falling from the sky (Matthew 10:29): Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”
  • God loves His angels; He laments Lucifer’s fallout in the book of the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 14:12): How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!”
  • God loves people; He wants to restore the broken relationship with humans, which Jesus illustrated in a story. In the parable of the lost and found son, one of the main characters who was believed dead, showed up in his hometown, back at his father’s doorstep. His father’s reaction was profoundly joyful (Luke 15:24): For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

God created living beings, free to love or reject Him, with all the nasty side-effects. God took a risk, but even though it backfired, it’s probably worth it.  Free will has caused a tremendous amount of pain and heartache but has also created amazing stories of bravery and love.

The wind’s path is hard to predict. So is the Lord. Following Him, the children of God become part of His mystery. They may not know what tomorrow brings, but they do know that their destination is home, where God resides.

Psalm 139:13-14: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

The other day I was watching an advertisement praising the efficiency of a certain bug trap. This product is designed to attract those unwanted critters and kill them, at which point they fall into an internal trash bin so the bug corpses can be easily discarded. This is when it struck me: We have designed a bug killing machine because we don’t like bugs. However, none of us could ever create a single fruit fly.

The Psalmist prays: “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!” Being thankful for our complexity is preceded by our awareness. Without noticing that we are complex, how could we be thankful for it? So, ever since there were people, we looked at ourselves. We noticed our physical makeup, our cell structure, our DNA. We explored how our organs function and work together. We learnt how to intervene when there is a malfunction – hence the medical profession was born.

Like clockwork, our complex bodies work seamlessly when they are healthy. Sickness, however, robs our bodies of this unity and causes them to disintegrate and die. The same is to be said about the complex world we live in. Without pursuing unity, our world falls ill and is at risk of dying. Unity is often misunderstood as conformity. All totalitarian systems do. As much as demanding conformity stifles the human spirit, embracing complexity makes the world come alive. Seeing things from a variety of angles and working together despite different point of views, that’s the magic of unity without conformity.

God’s world is wonderfully complex and the more we find out about it, the more we can see how extraordinary His works prove to be. Let’s open our senses wide and take in what there is to explore. Each of us is a unique creation of God and His universe is bigger than we can imagine. Thanks to generations of scientific research we can appreciate this even more.

Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.”

Forgiveness is priceless – it comes at a high cost, but it cannot be purchased; forgiveness is freely given and solely based on grace.

Ever since there is offense, there is a need to forgive. We cannot demand forgiveness, nor can we expect it from anyone, but here is what an unforgiving attitude accomplishes: absolutely nothing. If anything, not forgiving a person makes a bad situation worse.

Everyone gets hurt at some point, which is why we all need to learn how to deal with pain. In medical terms, a festered wound can cause blood poisoning. An unforgiving heart has the power to poison our life in the same way a festering wound poisons our body. Not forgiving a person is really not a healthy option for us. We hurt ourselves the most if we refrain from doing so.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean we have to let the person who hurt us back into our lives. The process of forgiveness is no one-size-fits-all approach. While it is big of us to say the three freeing words: “I forgive you”, we know there is a lot more to it. Sometimes the person who hurt us never comes to apologize. Sometimes the person who hurt us is dead. Sometimes we even have a hard time forgiving ourselves. That is why we cannot depend on human beings for forgiveness. We need divine intervention.

Checks and balances only work for bank accounts, not for people. We do not arrive at forgiveness by inflicting as much pain as was dished out to us. The freedom associated with forgiveness lies in the power of letting go and this very act will start the healing process.

Jesus was hurt beyond repair on the cross. A lot of resentment and ill will brought Him there. Even though He was physically nailed to a tree, internally He was free. His mind was unclouded by anger. He forgave everyone involved and that includes us. “What does that mean?” you may ask. “I wasn’t there when it happened. I did not kill Jesus. He does not have to forgive me for a crime I haven’t committed.” While this is true – historically speaking we were not present when Jesus was killed – still the event of the cross addresses all of humanity. Jesus died for the forgiveness of all sins, which is wonderful news because we all are in need of forgiveness at some point in our lives.

Extending forgiveness is every bit as difficult as obtaining it – because pain is no easy process; it seems we best deal with past hurts on the road to compassion. Jesus has traveled this very road; in fact He represents the road map to forgiveness. He will help us sort through our issues and get past our anger. When we trust in Jesus we experience what freedom means. No longer bound by past hurt, we have the opportunity to mature into kind human beings.

Matthew 5:38-39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

Jesus of Nazareth came to expand our horizons. He addresses many things in His Sermon on the Mount, one of which is our approach to revenge. Under the Law of Moses the Israelites were allowed to request an “eye for an eye”; in other words, punishment for wrongdoing had to be within reasonable limits.

It used to be common practice to exaggerate punishment. Here is a true story: The sons of Jacob committed murder and devastated an entire tribe over the rape of their sister Dinah. An example of insane revenge, the book of Genesis describes their punitive actions in sobering detail (Genesis 34:25-29):

“Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.”

The eye for an eye law was very progressive at the time; it clearly reduced unjust and cruel punishment. Jesus, however, progressed even further. In His mind revenge is completely off limits – and for good reasons: We know that nobody wins if we insist on revenge. “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind” is Mahatma Gandhi’s input who endorsed nonviolent resistance.

Following Jesus will change our perspective and teach us a new way of life – a life less exclusive and more inclusive, and a heart that grows bigger because we are no longer restricted to a mindset that solely revolves around us.

Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

The evidence is stacked against us; it is unfair and will probably cause us to fail. Like an attorney in the courtroom, the apostle Paul went through the evidence piece by piece. Here is what he wrote (Romans 7:14-15):

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

A slave by definition cannot do what he or she wants to do; a slave has to do what he or she is told to do. Paul compares this situation with the human condition in general. Human beings, as much as they want to be free, find themselves stuck in their skin and their pathways; they obey the law of the flesh. They may have the best intentions of following the law of the Spirit, but the law of the flesh pulls them into the opposite direction every single time. They end up doing what they hate to do, not what they want to do, the classic situation of a slave.

Paul’s description of a human being is very humiliating, if you think about it. Like children, we don’t know what we are doing. That’s not very flattering, that’s actually very depressing. Apparently, we can’t help ourselves, we always end up getting into trouble. Even if we try so very hard to do what is right, we end up doing what is wrong. It is in this context that Paul wrote (Romans 7:24-25):

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I think the first step to redemption through Jesus Christ is to understand that we don’t understand. Meeting Jesus is consequential and trusting Him will profoundly change us. The first sign of change is evidenced in our perception. The astonishing results of Jesus’ life and death here on earth is our transformation into spiritual beings that can understand and follow the law of the Spirit.

The English translation of a German phrase “Ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln” would be “a book with seven seals”, which expresses that a thing or an action is a riddle for someone, that is, it is unclear and incomprehensible. While the saying comes from the Bible and refers to the revelation of John in the New Testament, I believe “a book with seven seals” is everything that God says. Basically, all human beings need the Spirit of God to be able to understand His Word.

God wrote mankind a sealed love letter. Its seal is broken the moment we receive His Spirit. God communicates to us through His Holy Spirit, and it is thanks to His Spirit that we can see the light.

Leviticus 19:18: “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.’”

Self-love has had a bad reputation. Still, there’s a good way to love ourselves, and there’s a bad way.

When we think of self-love we tend to think of narcissists who believe the world revolves around them. It goes without saying that narcissists do themselves no favors with that mindset. Narcissists are in a lonely world of one. We don’t love ourselves very well when we prefer ourselves over the rest of the world.

Apparently, self-love doesn’t necessarily mean self-preference. We don’t need to be better than our neighbors to be satisfied with ourselves. No need to compare and compete! This kind of self-endorsement causes division and is nothing but foolish pride.

Despite self-love’s bad rap, God strongly encourages us to love ourselves. Why? I believe if we love ourselves poorly we will love our neighbors poorly. One doesn’t go without the other. Loving ourselves and others belongs together. Sometimes easier said than done, ain’t that the truth? Seems to me, we tend to either overindulge or go into the opposite direction and despise ourselves.

On a personal note, it tremendously helped my self-esteem to try seeing myself through God’s eyes. God loves the true me, not an image I’ve created as a representation of myself. By the way, He absolutely hates it when we create an image of God and love that instead of Him. We can do better than that. We can get to know Him and love who He really is. God is no fairy tale. And we are no fairy tale either.

Self-love in God’s eyes is accepting our essence. Appreciating who we are is a “Thank you” to the Creator who skillfully made us.