Our soul, similar to our physical body, is in need of healing after a traumatic event. Our Western culture has a tendency to overlook such things – probably because souls do not show up with physical evidence.
Imagine we could see each other’s soul-bodies and recognize how malnourished or wounded some of us are. The Lord certainly can. Connected with God, His children will become sensitized to the demands and longings of their soul.
There are countless references to the human soul in the Bible; one of the most prominent is to love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul [Deuteronomy 6:5]. In the book of Psalms our soul is encouraged to cry out to the Lord, to praise the Lord, to sing to the Lord. As the body gets hungry, so does the soul. The body craves physical food while the soul craves spiritual food; God has plenty of spiritual food in store for the longing soul. In Peter’s first letter we read [1 Peter 2:2]:
“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”
It is the Lord’s kindness the soul is after. No amount of fame or fortune can satisfy the extravagant cravings of the soul, not even the love we experience from other people. That is why Jesus says [Matthew 4:4]:
“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
On that note, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread”, we request the physical and the spiritual bread, since we are in dire need of both.
Let us follow the urges of our soul and pursue God’s wonderful Bread of Life.
Most of us are familiar with upgrades. Technology is constantly improving and has affected the way we communicate. The invention of the telephone [not to mention the wireless phone] has connected us globally and revolutionized human communication. Remember how long it took to get a letter from one continent to another? Letters had to be shipped, and if your letter happened to be on a ship that never made it to shore you would have to send another one. With the invention of the telephone and especially the computer we effortlessly bridge long distances today.
If cellphones and computers represent a major breakthrough in long distance communication, certainly our perception of God has been revolutionized when the Word became flesh and lived among us. It is so much easier for us to grasp God’s message of love by just looking at Jesus. Jesus walked the talk. In Him God’s Word literally comes alive.
We have a God who communicates. He has shared the truth with us for as long as there have been people. What God has proclaimed through His prophets in preceding centuries is now plain to be seen in His Son.
A couple of millennia ago, God became a human baby. God Almighty, who has everything and does not need anything, turns into this bundle of joy, helpless without His parents.
Why did God become human and needy? Why would He put Himself in such a precarious position?
I think we need to stop expecting anything conventional coming from the creative Godhead, the One who thought up the entire universe. It is in His nature to be extraordinary and solve problems with out-of-the-box thinking.
A major problem was created a long time ago, when seeds of distrust were sown. A snake asked one simple question: “Did God really say?” This question threw us off. We started assuming things about God that were not true. Ever since, there has been fear, misinformation and a whole lot of superstition.
Our estrangement from God has caused a substantial rift. Death puts a stamp of futility on everything we hold dear. Our eternal God, on the other hand, is untouched by death and decay – and this is why we commonly think that He is out of touch with our reality. Well, quite the opposite is true. God empathizes with us, so much so, that He decided to walk in our shoes. The Son of God came to bridge the rift that has come between us and our Creator.
Actions sometimes speak louder than words. Here is one very loud action: the Word became human; the Immortal became mortal; God became one of us. He entered our home turf and lived in the neighborhood. We could literally touch Him. We could put a face to His name. Looking into His face, we could see the One whose name is “Yahweh saves”, aka Jesus, the Messiah.
Like other planets, Earth has been subject to change. In its volatile history it has gone through several ice ages; additionally our home planet has been shaped by a fair amount of global disasters. The most recent and probably best-known mass extinction of animal and plant life happened approximately 66 million years ago. 75% of all species became extinct, including dinosaurs. Most widely supported explanation of this catastrophe is a large meteorite impact.
The day of the Lord is a cataclysmic event predicted in several books of the Bible, also known as “doomsday”. Since Earth has seen major disasters before, there is no reason to believe it won’t happen again. Like a thief who breaks into our house the events will unravel unexpectedly.
On that note, it’s of no use trying to figure out the date of doomsday. The Bible expressly denotes that nobody knows the day or time. The abuse of doomsday lies in the abuse of the Scriptures, endorsed by false teachers. Brimstone and hell preaching represents preachers who manipulate the crowds by pushing the fear button. Their preaching has produced either a blind following or angry rebels. This kind of damage is difficult to undo.
Jesus warned the people who tried to hush the jubilant crowds on the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem [Luke 19:40]:
“‘I tell you’, he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’”
Stones will cry out and praise the Lord in our stead if we refuse to acknowledge Him. Ignoring that all the elements come from God turns the elements against us. Godlessness by definition is forgetting our roots. Nature on the other hand is rooted in the Lord and will always bear the testimony of its Maker – as do God’s children.
The children of God have the Lord’s promise that He is with them at all times. That’s the best promise He could have given them, especially when things are not looking so good. It is worth mentioning that God doesn’t just end things. He paves the way for a new beginning. On this note the apostle Peter wrote [2 Peter 3:13]:
“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”
Even though the dawn of God’s kingdom happens sometime in the future, it is actually entrenched in the here and now. Look around you. You can already notice the signs of His kingdom wherever Jesus left footprints in people’s hearts. When the Spirit of God moves and His will is being done – then His kingdom has already come.
Sometimes, the holiday season can be hard on us. The holidays are designed to be celebrated with family and friends. If both friends and family members are missing, the most wonderful time of the year can quickly turn into the least desirable time of the year. We feel disjointed and alone.
Even if this goes against everything we currently feel, God encourages us to look up and thank Him for His goodness. In the end, it’s the Lord’s goodness that sees us through. When everything else is falling apart, He is still the Rock. When life gets dark, He is still the Light.
Nothing is as dark as walking through the valley of the shadow of death. My husband and I sat beside loved ones on their deathbed on several occasions. Grieving, we have to let go of the person passing, and the person passing has to let go of the physical body. God knows, letting go is not easy. What a relief that the Lord is with us, especially when we need Him the most.
God is faithful. His love for us is independent of our love for Him. God loves us, even if we don’t love Him back. However, if we do love Him back we get to experience His love here on earth and beyond. When we pass on to the other side the Lord can’t wait to welcome us into His arms.
Jesus is the Light of the world. We have seen the light when we have seen the Lord. Seeing Him is no one-time-experience. In fact, we need to continually reach out for His light to find our way. If we feel lost in the dark, we need to ask for His vision. If we feel confused, we need to ask for His wisdom. God will not hold back, and He will generously provide. The Light of the world is with us every step of the way; that is how we can walk in the dark; that is how we can successfully navigate through life.
The Lord is good. His love endures forever; God loves us always, throughout eternity, and nothing – absolutely nothing – can change that. That’s why we thank Him.
I’m getting misty-eyed this morning – The first book of Chronicles contains the first Bible verse I have ever blogged about. It was in 2016, and this is what I wrote:
“Bragging about the Lord! Here is a Bible verse that talks about broadcasting worldwide what the Lord has accomplished. In today’s day and age with Internet access readily available this could be easily done, and we have been posting on Social Media on a regular basis; but now Bill and I would like to create a blog where we can post a Bible verse, elaborate on its meaning, and share it with the world. This would be our very first blog. Let’s see where this takes us!”
Years after this entry I can say that thinking and writing about a Bible verse is an experience I don’t want to miss. This habit has blessed me more than anything else. The Lord knows His own Word and He also knows what He wants to say to you and me. Reading the Scriptures – studying the apostles’ letters, the prophets’ writings, the gospels, the psalms, the five books of Moses – is our lifeline.
Some of us may think: Generations of believers have read the Bible; there is nothing special about it. – Exactly! The fact that generations of believers have read the Bible and it still gives us new insights is very special. The Bible is no old hat. It’s as alive as the Lord.
Yesterday I went outdoors and admired the colors of fall. Looking at something beautiful outside I often say jokingly to the Lord: “Stop bragging!” Well, He is not really bragging – He’s just brilliant. Everything the Lord has created is so good! His deeds have left an indelible footprint. Inasmuch His actions speak for itself, but so does He communicate through His Word; He talks to us in person through His Holy Spirit. His Word is like gentle rain that softens the hardened callouses of our hearts.
We all know the Internet is an impersonal medium; and nothing beats sharing the gospel in person. Still I hope that the thoughts the Lord inspired me to write down initiate a domino effect of good things happening. At least that’s my prayer.
There is a lot to discover when it comes to the Lord, and the apostle John once wrote that no amount of books could cover all the things Jesus has done or is doing. Still this won’t keep us from trying – I for one will do just that: keep on writing.
“Wo man singt, da lass dich nieder. Böse Menschen haben keine Lieder” – a German saying, which loosely translated means: “Wherever people get together to sing, join them. You won’t run into bad company there; evil people don’t have songs.”
My grandmother’s dad was Walter Seelheim. He knew how to play the accordion. At night, he played in dance halls, which were very popular in Germany in the 1920s. Well-paid jobs were scarce after the Germans had lost World War I; playing music at night probably helped my great grandfather to feed his nine children. My grandmother had seven sisters and one brother. Times were hard, but they knew how to have fun. At night, the girls who shared a bedroom fell into harmony singing old folk songs to pass the time.
Singing together is such a bonding activity. About choral singing Julia Layton wrote in her article: “The Physical Effects of Singing”:
“A study published in Australia in 2008 revealed that on average, choral singers rated their satisfaction with life higher than the public — even when the actual problems faced by those singers were more substantial than those faced by the general public. A 1998 study found that after nursing-home residents took part in a singing program for a month, there were significant decreases in both anxiety and depression levels. Another study surveying more than 600 British choral singers found that singing plays a central role in their psychological health.”* (*Source: science.howstuffworks.com; web link: https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/singing-happy1.htm)
It’s no secret that not everybody can sing in tune, which would be a major deal-breaker for joining a choir. Singing in the shower, however, it won’t matter how we sound. Singing is simply good for the soul which is why the Lord encourages us to keep it up (Psalm 33:3):
“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”
Inspired by God’s Spirit His children sing. Let’s join them and sing a song to the Lord – He gave us all we have and without Him we wouldn’t be here in the first place. An added bonus for making music is that we typically don’t engage in violence as we sing. How do we change the world for the better? Maybe one song at a time!
The prophet Zechariah who predicted the coming of the Messiah had night visions. An angel came to him and said (Zechariah 4:6):
“So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’” says the Lord Almighty.”
The Messiah’s unwavering reliance on the Holy Spirit is truly remarkable. This is another example how the Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are submitted to one another. Their relationship is sealed with a trust that cannot be broken. Jesus went wherever the Spirit led Him, and because He blindly banked on His leadership, Jesus has forever changed our world.
One day the Lord asked His disciples: “Who do you say I am?” the apostle Peter famously answered: “You are God’s Anointed, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then made the following statement (Matthew 16:17):
“Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.’”
It is the privilege of the Holy Spirit to disclose Jesus to the world. Peter openly acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of God, to which the Lord replied (Matthew 16:18):
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then the Spirit of God has revealed it to us. We have this experience in common with Peter. And everybody who believes that Jesus is the Son of God becomes part of the movement the Lord calls “church”. On a side note, the church Christ talks about has little to do with buildings and denominations, but has everything to do with people led by the Holy Spirit, also called the body of Christ.
Whatever we do, whether in word or deed, we do it in the name of Jesus when we follow God’s Spirit. His Spirit authenticates our faith. The reason why the Jesus-movement is still relevant today lies in its authenticity. God endorses it, His Spirit proclaims it, and open hearts receive it.
Germans have a straight forward way of saying things. “Wer Feuer frißt, scheißt Funken” is a German idiom which translated means – He who eats fire s**ts sparks. It’s a warning – he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. Simply put, weaponry is never the answer.
Receiving Christ as Lord has consequences. Everything is different when we follow Jesus. Following Him means we adjust to Jesus, not the other way around. His is the way of peace while ours is the way of violence. The apostle Peter discovered first-hand that violence does not solve any problems. When soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter attacked them with a sword. The Lord’s reaction to his zealous attempts to save His life was dismissive (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.’”
Jesus points to the deadly potency of the sword. There is no justification for advancing any cause, even a good one, at gunpoint. On that note, words can be daggers too. Throwing verbal darts at one another can destroy a relationship. So before starting to defend ourselves we should ask the obvious question: what is there to lose when we don’t win the argument? We don’t have to be right all the time – but we know that we will regret it when we use our words as a weapon.
Ironically the way of peace and love has been ridiculed and at times brutally opposed, all to imply that the way of Jesus has no future – and yet the opposite is true: the Lord’s way is the future. The world to come is built on love entirely – love that completely overrides evil – a great reason to celebrate and be thankful.
When we live according to the principles of life and love the kingdom of heaven sprouts and spreads. Jesus builds us up when we follow Him. Rooted in the Lord we are inspired and on fire. You too can jump on that bandwagon and become inspired. There is only one catch – and yes you may have guessed it: You have to let go of that sword.
There’s many a reason to be thankful – thankful to be alive, thankful for our friends, thankful for any kind of material and spiritual blessing. The Lord is good; the Lord is love; the Lord is faithful.
Speaking of His faithfulness: Yesterday I was practicing Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” on the piano. And while I was going through the bridge section of the song something in his lyrics caught my eye:
“What will it take till you believe in me the way that I believe in you?”* (Source: “Just The Way You Are” from 1977 album: “The Stranger”)
It suddenly occurred to me that believing in God is a two-way street. Have you ever thought about the fact that God believes in us? If He didn’t, He wouldn’t do what He does. He has expressed His belief in us faithfully throughout human history.
Take Job’s story for instance. When Satan was badmouthing Job, God was undeterred in His belief that this man would not jump ship and abandon his faith even after everything was taken from him – a truly fascinating testimony of God’s faith in human beings. However His deep commitment to us culminates in the sacrifice He made. God gave us His Son; His Son Jesus became the Son of Man who died for us; and His Spirit is poured out on planet Earth to help us. None of this would have happened without God’s undeterred belief in you and me.
God is on our side and He will always go to bat for His children. He is fully invested in us. So what will it take till we believe in Him the way that He believes in us? – That’s a question only we can answer.
Protected by thick walls, the city of Jericho was under lockdown. Heavily armed the people of Jericho waited in ambush, prepared to attack. Clearly, the Israelites were at a disadvantage. Their army could be easily shot down from behind the city walls. On the evening before the battle Israel’s military leader Joshua decided to take a closer look at the perimeter of the city. He then noticed a man with a drawn sword in his hand. So Joshua approached the man and asked (Joshua 5:13-14):
“‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’
‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’”
We often falsely assume that God takes sides. We are mistaken. When asked on whose side he is on, the angel of the Lord said in no uncertain terms: ‘Neither side.’ In other words, God is for every person on this planet. Preferential treatment is foreign to Him. He loves all people.
With this in mind it is easy to see that pursuing peace in controversy is important to God. In all disputes remember that the Lord is impartial. He is for both sides and pursues what is in the best interest for all parties involved. This especially applies to the body of Christ. Can you imagine Christ’s body torn apart? It’s not a pretty sight and yet this is the result of a family feud. When children of God attack each other they are hurting the body of Christ – or to put it in more personal terms, they are hurting Christ. I don’t think anyone wants to do such a thing, unless of course we hate Jesus.
On a completely different note: How boring would the world be if we agreed on everything? Praise the Lord for open-mindedness! Could you imagine where we would be without curious and exploring people questioning the status quo? Let us be thankful for those questions, thankful for conflict arising out of these questions and thankful to God who guides us through the mystery and gives us peace in the midst of the unknown.
May the peace of Christ rule in our hearts – and let’s be thankful that we have each other.
A rich young man had a question weighing on his mind. He asked Jesus what needed to be done to secure his place in the kingdom of heaven. The Lord kept it general in His initial answer. He said we receive eternal life by keeping God’s commands. Interestingly, the rich young man was dissatisfied with His response and kept prodding. “What else must I do?” he asked. Unfortunately the Lord’s reply to his follow-up question quickly ended the conversation (Matthew 19:21):
“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”
Matthew’s gospel describes how the young man went away sad – knowing he would not want to part from his many possessions. Probably unbeknownst to him His possessions possessed him.
We don’t need to be rich to share in a rich man’s worldview. The Messiah once said that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. That’s a strong statement! Does this mean that God is partial to the poor and less accepting of rich people? I don’t think so. I believe the point is that self-sufficiency creates a lonely society. Our desire to be independent and run a one-man-show gets all of us into trouble and a rich person may have a harder time recognizing that. A rich man’s world is a cold and desperate place. God’s kingdom on the other hand is the place to be.
Christ preached the kingdom of God while He walked this earth. Jesus enriches us in every way so that we enrich others, similar to a river that originates in heaven and feeds the world. The trick is not to stop that river and thereby hijack the Lord’s flow of generosity. Don’t build a dam and try to keep everything to yourself. Let the river flow and pass on what God has given you.
We have received Christ and have given ourselves away. In the kingdom of heaven receiving and giving is a cycle that goes on in perpetuity. Everybody is rich in God’s world because we are all sold out. This is the spirit of generosity Jesus tried to impress on the rich young man – and it’s the same generous spirit that creates community and unity. We come together and praise the Lord from whom all blessings flow.
Harvey Mackay, a successful businessman once said:
“It’s only lonely at the top if you forget all the people you met along the way and fail to acknowledge their contributions to your success.” * (*Harvey Mackay Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved November 20, 2020, from BrainyQuote.com; web link: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/harvey_mackay_528735)
Thankfulness is not humanity’s natural ingredient. People aren’t exactly born grateful. We like to look at the things we lack and unwittingly diminish the value of everything we’ve already been given. Despite our natural tendencies, however, we need to sit back from time to time and count our blessings.
Put yourself in God’s shoes for a minute – strictly hypothetical of course since these are big shoes to fill – and imagine all the people talking to you only want your attention because they want something from you. How would that make you feel?
I’m sure God loves to be addressed when we are in need. Life is no joke. Bad things happen to good people. And yet, if prayer is used only in times of an emergency, then we really don’t know God very well. The apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters (1 Thessalonians 5:17):
Praying continually means that the Lord is the center of our lives. Our prayers have extended beyond emergency situations and we have an ongoing conversation with Him. God is with us for better or worse, in good times or bad. He is the best Friend we will ever have.
It is easy to get depressed in times of trouble. When we have a problem we tend to focus on the dark side which doesn’t really help. Turning our eyes to the Lord and taking note of His wonderful gifts will pull us out of a vortex of negativity.
It benefits us to develop an attitude of gratitude. Our demeanor changes and people find us more attractive; nobody likes a nag. So for God’s sake and our own – let us be thankful.
My husband Bill and I went to San Francisco on our honeymoon, and there we had plenty of photo ops with one of the most iconic suspension bridges in the United States: the Golden Gate Bridge. Comparing our lifetime to a suspension bridge, Lloyd George Elliott (1919-1970), a Canadian nuclear physicist, wrote:
“The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables called habits, attitudes, and desires. What you do in life depends upon what you are and what you want. What you get from life depends upon how much you want it—how much you are willing to work and plan and cooperate and use your resources. The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables that you are spinning now, and that is why today is such an important day. Make the cables strong!”* (*Source: greatthoughtstreasury.com; web link: http://www.greatthoughtstreasury.com/author/l-g-elliott-fully-lloyd-george-elliott)
Our brains function much like sponges soaking up everything, whether it’s good or bad. Bad influences are counteracted by our healthy habits. In this context Psalm 1 talks about the value of meditating on the Word of the Lord (Psalm 1:2-3):
“But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”
It is ultimately our habits, attitudes, and desires that drive us. One healthy habit is prayer. Sincere prayer allows God’s Spirit unlimited access to our hearts. His affirmations are the solid rock amid waves of trouble and tribulation rolling over our head. Jesus is our lifeline, especially when times are tough. He once said (John 7:38):
“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
The living water Jesus provides turns into a well within us that not only nourishes us, but also blesses the people we are in contact with. People rooted in God are a blessing to the world. Our connection to the Lord is paramount and I believe the Canadian physicist is right – we need to make those cables strong.
Thanks to gravity we can walk the ground. Up is up and down is down, as simple as that. However, climbing into a rocket and pushing through Earth’s atmosphere, we experience things very differently. Where is up and down after the loss of gravity? Our human experience is tied to our personal point of view.
Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea around A.D. 26-37 and is most famous for presiding over the trial of Jesus. Before the trial Pilate tested the waters and asked Jesus: “Are you a king”, to which He replied (John 18:36-37):
“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’
‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.
Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’”
It became clear to Pilate that Jesus neither had a political agenda nor posed a threat to Rome. But then the interrogation quickly got personal when Jesus reached out to him and said: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” In other words: “Which side are you on? Are you listening to me?” Pontius Pilate’s reaction was that of a cynic. “What is truth?” he asked. Not expecting an answer, he turned around and left Jesus.
So, what is truth?
Truth is no opinion. It is human that our point of view evolves. What we believe to be true today may no longer hold true tomorrow. Pilate’s sarcasm would then be justified. Truth however does not change overnight. Unimpressed by shifting times and unimagined by human minds truth stands forever. We don’t dream up truth; truth just is; it is alive and breathing and has the name of God written all over it.
When Jesus walked this earth, He left indelible footprints. He said about Himself (John 14:6):
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Truth cannot be scientifically proven, but the results of truth-finding are very tangible. We learn the truth when we believe in Jesus. Embracing Him will change us for the better, or to use His terminology: truth will sanctify us. We will never be the same.
Life’s path is no eight-lane freeway. It’s more of a bumpy hiking trail. Plugging along, we always tread on unexplored ground. Nobody knows what to expect around the next corner.
Life’s pathway is a long journey. We better travel light or we’ll get stuck somewhere with our heavy load. Unburdened is the way to go.
Life is not a burden. Life is a precious gift. We realize that in moments when we hold a newborn baby. However, the thrill of being alive clearly wears off when we are in pain. In light of tragic circumstances we may even lose our desire to be alive. Especially when we feel lost in the dark, we are in desperate need of God’s light.
The light of God is different from any other light source we know. Regular light sources simply won’t hold up. Batteries go low; a camp fire won’t burn unless it’s fed; a candle will flicker and die once it has burnt through the candle wick. God’s eternal flame, however, burns independently without being fed. His light is always shining, which is why we fare a lot better in His presence. Close to the Lord, we are able to see through the dark. Leaning on Him, it is so much easier navigating through life’s highs and lows.
Finding God is as straight forward as asking and receiving. God will reveal Himself when we seek Him out. Moses encouraged the Israelites with these words (Deuteronomy 4:29):
“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Even though God is hidden from the naked eye He is very hard to miss. In fact, we have to be determined to ignore Him to not notice the brilliant Light that outshines the stars, the Moon and the Sun. Eventually, somewhere along life’s bumpy road, we will run into Him. Heaven’s door opens when we knock. God wants to be found.
The Bible is a mysterious book. Initially, as a young teenager I could not make heads or tails of it. I have always loved poetry and so the ancient poetic texts of the Bible stood out to me at first, especially King Solomon’s “Song of Songs”. Growing up in an agnostic household I was the only one in our family reading the Bible. One day a classmate noticed my interest and invited me to join a Bible study. I decided to give it a shot and accepted the invitation.
As it turned out, the Bible study took place in a private home and was led by high school and college students. Tea was served as one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians was discussed. I had trouble following the discussion – quite frankly, this was all new to me; all the time I kept wondering whether God exists at all. And while I was bent over the Bible taking notes, I noticed for the first time a quiet voice inside of me affirming: it’s true. God is real.
The fact that the Bible spoke to me was my very first clue that God exists. All of a sudden a piece of poetry turned into something much more potent. And so the Bible unlocked the mystery of God’s presence to me. From then on I have become more and more intrigued with the Scriptures. Not sure how else to put this: The Bible is alive. It breathes God’s Spirit and reveals the truth. Translated into almost every contemporary language spoken on this planet, its message went all around the world.
Unless our vision is impaired or we are legally blind, our natural eyes are able to distinguish the things around us. However, there is a second set of eyes that God has given us. This set of eyes recognizes the spiritual world. Unfortunately at some point in the history of mankind we went spiritually blind. Thankfully God can restore our sight. All we have to do is ask.
We can pray with King David and petition the Lord to open the eyes of our heart. What happens next is God’s decision, but so much is clear: we will understand things that were incomprehensible to us before and most of all we will recognize the Lord.
King David loved God’s law and prayed (Psalm 119:62):
“At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.”
To be as enthused with the Law of Moses as King David professed it in the book of Psalms may strike some of us as strange. Interestingly, when the Ten Commandments were first revealed on Mount Sinai the common reaction was fear. According to the story from the book of Exodus, the people of Israel reached the Sinai desert three months after they had left Egypt and proceeded to set camp near Mount Sinai. Meanwhile Moses went up the mountain to speak with the Lord.
One day the Lord announced to Moses that He would make an appearance in the sight of all the people. This would happen three days later allowing the people to prepare for this event and get ready. And so the Israelites assembled in front of the holy mountain early in the morning of the third day. As promised, the Lord came down on Mount Sinai. While He spoke the mountain shook and fumed, lightening stroke and thunders rolled. At the foot of the mountain the people of Israel stood – shaking and trembling – while for the very first time the Ten Commandments were submitted to mankind (Exodus 20:18):
“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance.”
Fear can be a good thing that keeps us from harm. For instance the fear of getting hurt prevents us from touching fire. Children learn that really quickly. But when we grow up we use fire for our benefit. God is an eternal flame. He appeared to Moses in the form of fire, the burning bush. However it seems that over time the prophet grew past the fear of fire and a friendship developed between him and the Lord – a relationship the Bible depicts as exceptional, although I don’t believe God wants friendship with people to be an exception.
Life is more than just two-dimensional. Unless we want to live like cartoon characters, at some point in our lives we need to outgrow the idea that the world around us only falls into two categories: right and wrong; good and evil. The Lord’s commandments, written in stone, represent the stepping stones towards God’s world that knows no commands and is entirely built on love. A rigid, rule-driven life simply leaves no room to breathe. God’s commands were not written to stone us, but to guide us. King David understood that profoundly. He didn’t lead a flawless life, but he is known to be a big believer in God’s mercies.
Departmentalizing is a human thing. We put God in heaven and we leave things on earth up to us, humans. And where does this leave us? “Stranded” is one way to put it. God can do immeasurably more than we can imagine. Should we therefore stop imagining? I don’t think so. John Lennon put his imagination to work, and this is what he came up with:
“Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people living for today” * Source: 1971 album “Imagine”
Controversial lyrics – especially when we happen to believe that heaven and hell are real places. – Still, I think that John Lennon’s imaginations have a method to the madness, and here it is: As long as we live on planet Earth we can contribute to making this world a better place or we can turn it into a war zone. The choice is ours.
I think one of the worst things we can do is to check out prematurely. There is no better hope than the hope for a better tomorrow, and we actively contribute to a better tomorrow with our lives today – yours and mine. If we care about people, then we literally contribute to heaven on earth. Do you think God is opposed to that? We don’t have to wait for heaven to see freedom, beauty and peace; we can live in this mindset right now. God endorsed this kind of lifestyle when He sent His Son Jesus.
Jesus became God’s physical presence here on earth when He was born in Bethlehem; this goes to show that while God is in heaven He is also right here with us. The Lord Almighty is not otherworldly as many picture Him to be; He has created every world there is, and He is particularly interested in the world we live in. God entrusted this world into our care; and this is why I believe it is our calling to care.
Let us never give up dreaming – God never does. Let us never give up on people – God hasn’t. Let us never withdraw into our own little world of exclusivity and leave the rest of the world standing in the rain. Jesus never did.
In the Lord’s eyes a fool is a person who lives in God’s world but refuses to admit that God exists. This is why we read in Psalm 14:1:
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”
Basically this means a fool denies the obvious and does not acknowledge reality.
In his lifetime the apostle Peter wrote several letters to his congregations, two of which are recorded in the New Testament. The young congregations had to deal with a lot of harassment and intimidation. Jesus was officially declared dead. Why? He died for all to see on the cross. His death was no secret. It was a public event.
All humans die. So did Jesus. But then He rose on the third day. Saying the resurrection is real would be admitting that Jesus is beyond human – in other words He is the Son of God. The Romans who guarded the tomb of the Lord saw Jesus step out of His grave. Back then people contested this spectacular piece of information as people do these days. Again we see the pattern of a fool here: closing the eyes to the truth.
People who publicly spoke about the resurrection of Jesus Christ were openly opposed and persecuted. The apostle Peter gets to the point and says rather than fighting the opposition believers should be focusing on doing good. The blessings of a productive child of God would eventually silence the bad rumors the enemies of the kingdom of God were trying to spread. Deeds speak louder than words.
In God’s point of view, the end does not justify the means – never has and never will be. “Live as free people,” Peter says, “but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” The Crusaders back then had it all wrong and unfortunately, the Crusader’s breed hasn’t died out just yet. Make no mistake about it: Wherever we see Christians follow the wrong mantra corruption sets in. It is ironic that nowadays the worst opposition seems to come from people claiming to be Christians. But then, it’s not surprising. After all, Jesus was betrayed and delivered into the hands of the Roman authorities by His own people. And it seems that history is doomed to repeat itself.
Now that we are in the 21st century, the followers of the Way the Truth and the Life are active all over the globe. Unfortunately, wide-spread Christianity does not necessarily mean that foolishness is on the decline. We need to remember that the word “Christianity” in itself is just a label. As in Peter’s days Christians are asked to fill this label with positive meaning. Instead of focusing all our energies on opposing the opposition we want to be focused on doing the Lord’s will.
The Lord loves people. His heart goes out to them. We do God’s will when we help people and have their best interest at heart. So let’s do this. Let’s be a blessing to our contemporaries.
A demon-possessed, blind and mute person was brought to Jesus, and He cast out the demons and healed him. The formerly blind and mute person now spoke and was able to see. Everybody was amazed, except a group of religious leaders who tried very hard to downplay a miracle of God (Matthew 12:24):
“But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
Religious leaders are supposed to know God, and they would fight you tooth and nail if you said otherwise. I personally doubt that Jesus’s contemporaries who critiqued His every move really knew God because their behavior did not show it. However, the trick is, they said so. Saying we know God on one hand and slandering God’s deeds on the other insults the Holy Spirit, and for such behavior, Jesus says, there is no forgiveness left. Why? Well, here is a surprise: God cannot forgive a person who thinks he or she is right. This seems to be the only limit to God’s mercy.
Similar to the situation with a tax collector and a religious leader who both prayed in the temple, the tax collector humbly asked for forgiveness, while the religious leader essentially congratulated himself in his prayer. Jesus points out that these two prayers have two very different outcomes (Luke 18:14):
[Jesus said] “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The only lid we can put on God’s mercy is me, myself and I. We can be the lid. We have the power to limit God’s mercy by simply stating: “I don’t need it.”
On a different note: do you think we have issues with mercy when we always try to find a reason NOT to forgive? Why do we try so hard to find boundary lines to God’s amazing grace, e.g.: “this is how far God’s mercy goes, surely God can’t forgive that!” Isn’t it interesting that we like to use the term “The sky is the limit” when it comes to success, dreams, and ambitions, but when it comes to God’s mercies we want to put a lid on? The truth is: There is no lid on God’s mercy. His mercies are new every morning according to prophet Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:22-23):
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
There is a reason why we are born naked and can’t take anything with us when we die. All we really need is God, especially His tender mercies, every waking day.
If we love the world we are part of a worldwide problem. If we love the people in the world then we are part of the solution. When the apostle John wrote his letter he didn’t want to encourage its recipients to take an eternal leave of absence and become a recluse. He wanted us to engage in peacemaking.
What are peacemakers?
Let me begin to paint the picture by saying peacemakers are no doormats. Peacemaking has nothing to do with keeping our eyes closed to avoid ruffling feathers. They have a voice and they speak up.
Even though peacemakers love people, since they are controversial they probably won’t win a popularity contest. Power-hungry people feel exposed for what they really are in the presence of peacemakers. People who are devoted to money, success and power will usually lash out and oppose peacemaking efforts every step of the way. It can get ugly sometimes. It requires guts to stand up for what is right.
As peacemakers we invest ourselves. We are passionate about people and this planet; we fight to protect the weak and better the cause of those who cannot fight for themselves. We protect our environment and become advocates; we do the little things that few notice but make a big difference.
It is difficult to swim upstream. That’s exactly what peacemakers do, all the time. Don’t even think for a moment that peacemaking is something you can do on your own. Idealistic humanitarians get stranded and it’s a tragedy when something good goes by the wayside.
Thankfully God’s goodness can’t be destroyed. God is good all the time, and we need His goodness to keep our hearts at peace. Jesus pioneered peacemaking, which is why He is called the Prince of Peace. People were drawn to Him but at the same time people were highly offended by Him. Ironically, our number one peacemaker in the world, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t go peacefully. He was brutally murdered. A genuine peacemaker as He was, He did not fight back to defend himself and yet He stood up for the truth.
To become a peacemaker we embrace Jesus. That’s how we change the world, one person at a time. Peacemakers write history. They are ahead of their time. Thanks to them humanity is still around. And thanks to peacemakers there still remains a solid hope for a better world to come.
Sitting on the porch I listen to the waves crushing on the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. I love that sound. Since the Almighty created everything around here and out there (looking at the night skies right now), I believe, that’s another sound representing God’s voice. These waves come in steady, one after the other. So is the whisper of His voice when He speaks to my heart. It comes in waves. Sometimes I hear Him quite distinctively, sometimes I’m not listening. The sounds of God’s creation never stop, whether we listen or not. God’s creation is not silent, and neither is the Lord.
God speaks. He has a voice. But sometimes, for various reasons, our heart is hard of hearing. Take Prophet Jonah for instance who had a job to do for the Lord, but ran away. In the belly of a fish he began to pray. And wouldn’t you know it, he had a close encounter with the Lord in the bowels of a big sea creature. This is where he finally listened – and I believe that’s what unusual circumstances are there for: to get our attention – especially when we purposefully avoid the Lord’s input.
What if we want to hear God’s voice, but all we hear is silence? I believe all of God’s children go through this kind of experience from time to time. It’s tough not to hear from God, but whenever this dry spell happens, it will test our limits and build our character as in Job’s case. With the exception of his life Job had lost everything almost overnight, but he did not lose his faith in God. He announced to the world after he had stood the test (Job 37:5):
“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.”
The Lord’s handwriting is in the skies with lightening for all to see and roaring thunderbolts for everyone to notice: God is very much alive, and He cares. He is not deaf, nor dead, nor asleep, or indifferent. The one who needs to wake up to reality is actually you and me. We need to wake up and face the music. It often takes an unusual crisis to get our attention.
We draw closer to God when we see Him in action. Being saved from death, carried through a disaster and shown the light at the end of a dreadful tunnel, we get to know the Lord in a more personal way. His love is no longer hidden to us but becomes as clear as day. It is like ‘Captain Obvious’ – “Wow! God does love me. I heard of His love, but now I have experienced it”.
I love how God interacts with people – “Come now, let’s settle this,” is a very gracious and inviting manner to address our shortcomings. We usually don’t like to talk about our failures, but ignoring our mistakes and sweeping everything under the rug has spiritual consequences; we will get corrupted, which means:
We get dirty. Crimson red is a strong color. You would have to use a lot of bleach to turn a crimson red shirt into a white one. We all know that it’s always easier to stain a shirt than to get the stain out. Similarly our mind can harbor dirty thoughts, which are just as tough to remove.
We break up. Divorce represents brokenness. What formerly belonged together is now broken apart, and this is what happened between God and mankind and also explains political unrest, wars and division.
We lose our roots. Besides having an actual roof over our heads, the term “home” represents so much more. Home is where our heart is. Homelessness is devastating and we are homeless when we lose our roots in God. We all come from God and this is where we belong.
In Jesus God became flesh and blood. He moved from heaven into our neighborhood and became as involved in the mundane and ordinary life as can be – like growing a beard and cutting finger nails. He rolled up His sleeves and worked in a wood shop. The last three years of his life He abandoned His trade and traveled around the country. People were drawn to Him. He became a celebrity. Speaking publicly about the kingdom of God, He filled these words with new meaning by living out what He talked about for everyone to see. Whether He walked dusty desert highways, the streets of Jerusalem, or entered somebody’s home, everywhere He went He profoundly touched people, gave them hope, and taught them God’s values. And even though people loved and admired Jesus, He experienced firsthand how it feels to be singled out, rejected, misunderstood, ridiculed, tortured, and killed. Facing an unjust trial at the end of His life, he left an amazing legacy: He opened the door for us so we can pick up where we left off in the Garden of Eden and find our way back home to God.
The Lord’s life and mission on earth was to create the antidote to our separation from the Trinity and from each other. Somehow – and only God knows how – Jesus’s capital punishment became a stand-in. When He went through a torturous execution He represented all people and took all their punishment upon Himself. Although He was completely innocent and did not deserve to be executed, Jesus was not a victim. He chose to die that way.
God’s invitation still stands: “Come, let us settle this”, He says to you and me. What an extraordinary effort had to be made behind the scenes for this almost casual-sounding invitation! Quite the understatement isn’t it? And what about God’s question – ‘let us settle this’? Isn’t it God who does all the clean up? And yet, He respectfully seeks our approval first; He genuinely reaches out before approaching us.
So here is the Million Dollar Question: Are we willing to settle the issue that came between us and the Almighty? The answer lies inside of us, the battleground of all battlegrounds: the human heart.
After the Israelites had secured a territory for their nation to settle down, their leader Joshua assembled the elders, leaders, judges and officials of all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. In his address Joshua brings up the question as to who they are going to serve. Interestingly he does not say: “either serve the Lord or take a vacation”. Instead he says: “whom would you prefer to serve?” Not serving at all is not even an option. Why?
Everything is interconnected. We affect each other – both in good ways and bad – whether we look at human societies or ecosystems; the tiniest part of any system plays an important role and ultimately affects everything. And so we serve each other in some capacity: we either tear each other down or we build each other up.
The Trinity is the epitome of collaboration. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit serve each other well. Following are some highlights outlining how the Trinity operates:
The Son has the Father’s back; John 3:35: “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.”
Father and Son are seamlessly working together; John 5:17: “In his defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’”
Jesus loves to imitate His Father; John 5:19: “Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’”
The Father shows His Son everything – no secrets are kept; John 5:20: “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.”
The Father turns all authority of judging over to His Son; John 5:22: “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,”
The Holy Spirit serves as Jesus’s representative after His departure from planet Earth; John 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
The Holy Spirit came down and stayed with Jesus at the onset of His ministry; Luke 3:22: “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus listens to the Holy Spirit and follows Him into the wilderness; Luke 4:1: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”
Jesus is very protective of the Holy Spirit; Luke 12:10: “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
The Trinity is the first network there is and everything God created mirrors that. The universe was made by a serving Trinity, no wonder we are created interdependent. And while we are wired to serve one another, it is still up to us how we serve. It all hinges on our outlook on life. Whom do we look up to? Whom do we admire? That’s the one we serve.
We can look up to the Trinity as our role model, or we can look down to the unholy trinity – me myself and I – become self-serving and abuse the world around us. The choice is ours. Like night and day, there is a big difference between serving ourselves and serving the Lord. We basically choose to be either a blessing or a curse.
We will always serve – so let us make the right decision as to whom we are serving.
Prayer changes the world, and prayer also changes us. That’s the power of prayer in a nutshell.
We have an advocate in heaven who prays for us night and day. His name is Jesus. His prayers move mountains and work in conjunction with the Holy Spirit who is spread out all over the world. The Holy Spirit is on the move globally and challenges us to pray. Our prayers are like a breath of fresh air sweeping across our countries. We’d be suffocating without prayers, I’m sure.
The apostle Paul urges his friend Timothy in his letter to pray specifically for kings and authorities. Men and women in authority need a lot of prayer because they affect a lot of people. I think it’s hard to pray for authorities because most of us are not related to them. We all probably find it easier to pray for people we know, or at least for people we empathize with. A powerful person quickly becomes an abstract for us. We see the person primarily in their functions, and that’s what they become in our minds – the CEO of a company, the police officer, the king of England, the president of the United States – but this abstract person really only exists on paper. That’s like painting a picture and claiming the painting is reality. Paintings are just two-dimensional. Reality on the other hand contains a third dimension, depth. To pray effectively, we need to take this extra step in our hearts and minds, go past a person’s title and status and see a vulnerable human being.
God knows everybody from the inside out. He can help us relate to a person better. And wouldn’t you know it? All of a sudden we pray with empathy. That’s how prayer changes us.
Prayer changes the world because God listens to prayer, especially selfless prayer. People pray differently. I am writing this because some of us seem to be haunted by certain stereotypes triggered by such words as “prayer warrior” or “prayer closet”. Nobody prays the same, and we shouldn’t. That’s as if all love affairs were the same, and they aren’t. Prayer first and foremost is our communication with God. How that looks like depends largely on our personality. So be yourself and don’t give up on God or people. That’s what prayer life is all about.
We live in a world of three dimensions; however God’s world is multidimensional. Naturally there will be communication frustrations. This is the time of opportunity that allows us to push through to a deeper, more intimate level with God. Billy Joel once wrote a song about a mysterious woman, and in some ways this song reminds me of mankind’s courtship with its Maker, puzzled as we are in our attempts to get to know Him. King David’s poetry expresses the sentiment in the book of Psalms (Psalm 13:1-2):
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts And day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”
God is mysterious and this paves the way for some good wrestling matches. Wrestling with Him we explore His mysteries and this will draw us closer to the Lord. His will is a mystery sometimes, but as believers we trust that His will is good. This is why we pray with Jesus “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
Among many other things, God wants us to get along; unfortunately we have a problem just imagining unity. It seems the world is falling apart due to our inability to reach consensus. Internationally, nations have a hard time getting on the same page. On a smaller level, it’s sometimes even hard to be on the same page within a family unit. We have always known that lack of unity makes us weak and vulnerable. So we have come up with ways to cope with that issue. Dictatorship is our worst attempt and democracy our finest effort at uniting people. However, even democracy is flawed and a far cry from godly unity.
I believe God’s unity is best described as unity in diversity. Jesus came to reconcile us with the Father. He knows all about unity in diversity – in Christ heaven and earth is united. Similar to a multi-faceted diamond is our multilayered God. Don’t stop short at hearsay – especially when it comes to Christ. There is a laundry list of things people say about Jesus, some of them good, some of them bad. Be a gold digger! Find out for yourself who Jesus is. And once you have struck gold, don’t stop there. Keep on digging. There is more to God’s Son than just meets the eye.
People of faith are familiar with situations when they just don’t understand what God is doing. Maybe your prayers have not been answered, doors won’t open and things seem to be going from bad to worse. Make no mistake about it – God listens to your prayers. He will answer them in His way and in His time. We have to trust Him on that.
The other day Joseph’s son accidentally ran into a stranger as he was running backwards to catch a ball. The stranger, clearly annoyed, yelled at him: “Hey you! What’s your name?” “I Forget” “No really! What’s your name?” “My name’s I forget” “You’re weird! How can you forget your own name?”
Of course I made this up, but I simply couldn’t resist. The names of the two brothers Ephraim and Manasseh represent their father Joseph’s life story. And what a story he had! A roller coaster of events: from favorite son back home to slave in a foreign country; from a no-name slave in Egypt to Potiphar’s Personal Attendant; from Potiphar’s Personal Attendant to a forgotten prisoner in an Egyptian dungeon; from a forgotten prisoner to the Prison Warden’s Assistant Manager; from the Prison Warden’s Assistant Manager to Pharaoh’s Second in Command. That’s Joseph’s story, and so he named his kids “Forget” and “Fruitful” because God made him forget the past and made him fruitful in a foreign country. His own name was changed from Joseph to Zaphenath-paneah as if to make the transition into his new life complete. A different name, a different life, a different identity!
Well, not quite! Joseph’s past would catch up with him eventually. A worldwide famine brought his brothers to his doorsteps – the same brothers who sold him as a slave to get rid of him and teach him a lesson. The lesson they tried to get across to Joseph: “You may be dad’s favorite but you are not better than we are!” Although, as it turned out, they too had a lesson to learn.
Lesson #1: You will be treated just the same way you have been treating others.
Lesson #2: Lies will eventually catch up to you.
More than two decades went by when a time of testing came for both parties: Would Joseph bear a grudge? Would his brothers finally get real? The story fortunately ends on a happy note: his brothers confessed the ugly truth they had kept hidden from their father Jacob for so long; and Joseph completely forgave them. As a result the family was reunited and saved from starvation in a seven-year drought. A dead relationship was rekindled, and so Joseph lived up to his new name Zaphenath-paneah which loosely translated means: “God speaks life”; he indeed spoke life over a hopeless situation. When God speaks, life flourishes. That’s His very nature. We see the world around us as living proof. Connected with Him we become His life agents.
We may struggle with unemployment, our health, our finances, but God will see us through very confusing times – if we look up. Joseph put his trust in God when people meant to harm him. We believe in the same God Joseph believed in; our faith will create a story and encourage more people than we dare to imagine.
In the story of The Princess Bride the main character Inigo finally confronts his father’s killer with the words he had waited half his life to say: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Headhunters were pursuing Jesus with increasing intensity as their hatred grew. Even though they had no good reason to hate Him, they were hell-bent to find an excuse to execute Him. According to the Law of Moses, sexual immorality and blasphemy both deserve the death penalty. So the plan was to trap Jesus into saying something that could be used against Him.
When a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus, the idea was to kill two birds with one stone: Jesus for saying something that could be (falsely) interpreted as blasphemy, and the woman for the obvious reason of being caught in the act of illegal sex.
Prepared to die?
Here was their loaded question: “This woman committed adultery and deserves to die. What do you think, Jesus?”
And how did He respond? Jesus stooped down to write in the dirt.
Technically, that’s how mankind started out. God stooped down, got His hands dirty and formed the first man out of clay (Genesis 2:7):
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
While it is true that we are made out of clay, dust is not our major component. We come to life through the Spirit of God. That also means that once the Spirit is gone, our life is gone. Only our ashes are left behind when our Spirit returns to God, our Maker (Ecclesiastes 12:7):
“And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
What is true for our physical bodies is also true for the body of law in the Written Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The letter of the law is the mud in God’s hands. Through God’s Spirit the Law of Moses comes alive. However, take the Spirit out of the equation, and the same law kills.
Without God’s Spirit everything is futile, just like dust in the wind. So, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the lifeless dust because no life comes out of accusation and condemnation. The people who brought the adulteress to Jesus were ready to stone her to death. They kept pressuring Him saying: “Now what is the verdict?” The Lord finally got up to face the accusers and stumped them with an unexpected answer (John 8:7):
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
One by one everybody left until Jesus and the adulteress were all alone. After having dispersed the accusers He asked the woman: “Now where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” She shook her head and answered: “No, Lord, nobody accuses me anymore.” And the Lord’s response was: “Neither do I; you are free to go and leave your life of sin.”
All of us are made of dust; we are frail and finite. The letter of the law can kill us because we are prone to make mistakes. The Lord does not condemn us even if people do. He gives us the opportunity to change our ways. We get to start over with a clean slate – and I believe that is priceless.
God established boundaries. Why, you may ask. Well, let’s go back to the beginning of mankind’s story.
In the beginning, when everything was formless and empty, there was chaos in absence of boundaries. So God separated the light from the darkness paving the way for new life.
When mankind became a crowd governing authorities had to be established. I think we all know the reason why. An unruly crowd can quickly turn into a murderous mob. Anarchy is unhealthy and self-destructive. God however has our best interest at heart. He wants us to live, not to die, ergo the institution of human government is endorsed by Him.
We would not need a governing authority had we stayed with God in the first place.
The big rejection happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve’s emancipation from God’s leadership, which culminated in their ejection from Paradise. Exit Stage Right! Mankind’s first exodus was its exodus from God’s Garden. Isn’t the Garden of Eden a fairy tale? I don’t think so. Whether or not the Garden of Eden was a geographical place I’m not here to debate. However, was there a time when God and mankind was an item? I believe so. I call that Paradise.
No surprise, also Paradise has its boundaries. We need to ask ourselves: do we like boundaries? Probably nobody does, but meanwhile we have come to the painful conclusion that boundaries indeed are necessary. Adam and Eve first didn’t see that. They questioned a forbidden tree, and a snake used this mindset to plant some seeds of doubt. Those doubts really pulled the rug from underneath the first couple. Paradise is founded on trusting in God’s goodness. Distrust ended a Paradise relationship.
Back to those God-given government authorities. Well, the very first boundary, that forbidden tree, didn’t suit us. How about a forest of forbidden trees in a man’s rule book? Experiencing human rule versus God’s rule, we quickly discover that a whole lot more regulations are involved under human government.
Paradise still exists. Trusting in God, we are right back in that beautiful Garden. We might be governed by temporary authorities on the outside, but on the inside our hearts are free when submitted to God. Paradise is not bound by geographical distance. It is as close or as distant as we want it to be. In fact it is only one decision away – our decision to make peace with God.
Our heart can see things. Sometimes our natural eyes cannot pinpoint what we’ve perceived in our hearts. A great example is first impressions. A complete stranger walks into the room. There is something familiar about this person, and we don’t know why we feel this way, until we strike up a conversation. Turns out, this person happens to be a relative of ours. I had this kind of experience when I met my sister for the first time. We grew up in different countries and didn’t meet until well into our adulthood. As strange as it seems, we immediately had a connection as if we had known each other for a long time.
Much like our natural eyes, the eyes of our heart can run into vision problems. Feelings, strong emotions can cloud our vision. That’s when we see things the way we want to see them instead of accepting the truth.
A relative of mine went through denial when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He just wouldn’t have it, didn’t admit to his mental challenges and refused to let go of his car. Well, the disease progressed without his permission.
Our hearts can be asleep. An alert heart warns us when there is a dangerous situation. A heart fast asleep cannot do that. A person whose heart is put to sleep may function normally on the outside, but on the inside this person is as good as dead, auto-cruising through life with no enthusiasm to speak of.
It is essential that the eyes of our heart are enlightened so we find strength to do the right thing. An enlightened heart hopes. A shadowed heart has little to no hope. Paul writes in his letter that he wishes all our hearts were enlightened to see the beautiful things God has in store for us.
Listen to your heart, especially when it tells you something you don’t want to hear. Using the English language, here is a little pun for you: Have you ever noticed that the word “hear” is hidden in the word “heart”? Hear what your heart has to say, and I pray with Paul that the veil is lifted and your heart sees clearly.
The worst bear attack in Japanese history killed seven settlers in Rokusensawa, Sankebetsu, Tomamae, Rumoi, Hokkaidō, Japan. The incident took place between December 9 and 14, 1915, after a large brown bear woke up from hibernation and repeatedly attacked several houses in the area. At the time of the incident, Ōkawa Haruyoshi, the son of the Sankebetsu village mayor, was only seven years old. But he grew up to become a dedicated bear hunter and swore an oath to kill ten bears for every victim of the attack. By the time he reached the age of 62, he had successfully tracked and killed 102 bears.
The gruesome event in Japan, while tragic, also illustrates human tendencies to overshoot. Ironically, only a few decades later one of the endangered species listed worldwide was the Grizzly Bear. It’s an exception that human beings are hunted down by an animal. Usually it’s the other way around. We are the hunters.
In the spiritual world, however, the tables are turned; we are being hunted. Peter uses the imagery of a wild man-eating lion to depict a situation hard to digest. Personally, I don’t like to dwell on this topic too much and leave the monsters up to God who has an angel army fighting for His children. I don’t believe it is irresponsible to think this way. Clearly, the enemy force described in the Scriptures goes way beyond our own capacities and resources. Why even bother? So, I hide behind the Lord.
Peter reminds us in his letter to be aware of an enemy force dedicated to hate everything God has made, us included. It does not matter whether or not we believe in the existence of such forces. The devil does not need us to believe in him. He does what he does with and without our permission. The only way to resist him is in faith. Loving the Lord is our protection from anything life throws at us. It may not be evil forces attacking us when something goes terribly wrong, but regardless how bad things are, we are going to be OK. The Lord makes all the difference in the world. He will never let us down. My favorite psalm expresses this beautifully, and I want to close with these words today. The Lord says in Psalm 91 [Psalm 91:15]:
“He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”
God invented time. He created the space time continuum. Once we started sending people out into space we noticed that time passes slower on a Space Shuttle than on Earth. So there is Earth time, and then there is space time. It is all God’s time. Time is allotted to us, and it is a gift. Our lifetime is brief and we will gain the most satisfaction if we use our God-given time wisely.
Walking with God, time bends according to my experience. It is unbelievable how much meaning can fit into one second, how much beauty can be created within a day and how much goodness can transpire throughout a lifetime with God being in our lives.
God is everywhere, but He can also be conspicuously absent. We have the option to exclude God from our daily lives; however, time seems to wilt in His absence. It is what we refer to as wasted time. Our lifetime on Earth is a limited edition and we are meant to experience the wonder of God’s love as long as our hearts keep beating. God created us, which is why we feel most alive in His presence.
We need to return to the source of all being to be the best version of ourselves. No force of nature could keep us apart from God when we decide to return. God engineered His plan of salvation a long time ago; He wants to welcome us back home. The table is set, the place is prepared, and everything is ready. Reconciliation with the Godhead is within reach for every person on this planet. There is a right time for everything, and God, the Author of time, never misses a beat. Now is the time to be reconciled. Now is the time to get acquainted with the Son of God.
In his last album, Jim Morrison expressed his depressed world view in a song that would become a hit soon after his passing. Here is an excerpt of the song lyrics:
“Into this house we’re born, into this world we’re thrown like a dog without a bone, an actor out on loan.”* [*Source: “Riders on the Storm” from Jim Morrison’s 1971 studio album “L.A. Woman”]
Many people wrestle with melancholy because everything on earth has an expiration date, our lives included. We all age. Although everything on earth is transitory the Word of God remains. We need to remind ourselves that life in this world is not everything there is; there is more to come; our souls and spirits live on.
In Jesus we matter. He is known to be merciful and has the power to turn our lives around. Even as we age He renews us from the inside, which is why believers know hope. Their dusty frame carries precious cargo: the message of Christ. On this note the apostle Paul wrote [2 Corinthians 4:7]:
If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”* [*Bible Translation: The Message]
To be clear: believing in Christ does not exempt us from sadness. It is important to turn our eyes on Jesus and remember: we are loved. The message of Christ Paul refers to in his letter to the Corinthians is the good news of the gospels: Jesus is the Word-made-flesh who moved into the neighborhood and is now in heaven interceding for us. He came to seek and save the lost; those who believe in Him have eternal life.
Movies have been created speaking about time travelers changing the past and thereby changing their future. Although we are no time travelers who can go back to the past and fix things, we have a more powerful tool available: We can change our future when we change our minds.
Life happens and when the winds of changes blow we need to grasp hold of something good and steady. To encourage his congregations and strengthen their faith the apostle Paul wrote many letters. In one of his letters he asked the believers in Thessaloniki to identify what is good and then hold on to it.
We try to get things right, but it is very human to lose track. One of the popular traps believers slide into is legalism. The legalistic approach goes completely against Paul’s advice. Instead of holding on to what is good, legalism first identifies what is bad and then proceeds to build fences and walls around it. We are all familiar with “You shall not steal” from the Ten Commandments – well, legalism does steal! It mines away justice, mercy and faithfulness. On several occasions Jesus confronted his legalistic contemporaries (Matthew 23:23-24):
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
We can read between the lines how incensed the Lord had to have been. Jesus is strongly opposed to legalism because it undermines His redemptive work. He died to free us, but legalism puts the shackles back on.
Workers of the law seem to live exemplary lives, but we should not be fooled by mere appearances. In the eyes of the Lord they look miserable. When we open the door to legalism, love and joy will disappear. And if love is gone the Lord has officially left the building. The apostle Paul calls the legalistic Galatians “bewitched”. Here is what he what he wrote (Galatians 3:1-2):
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?”
With our legalistic attempts to satisfy the law we cannot meet God’s standard of holiness because we all fall short. Love is the heart of the gospel, most importantly, God is love. In the Son of God we hold on to everything that’s good; and Jesus will never forsake us – not now, not ever.
Denise Schmandt-Besserat is professor emerita of Art and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and has explored the origin of writing and counting. She says:
“Writing may have been invented independently three times in different parts of the world: in the Near East, China and Mesoamerica. The cuneiform script, created in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, ca. 3200 BC, was first. The evolution of writing from tokens to pictography, syllabary and alphabet illustrates the development of information processing to deal with larger amounts of data in ever greater abstraction.”
Before the written word, there was “only” the spoken word. Verbal communication was king. God has a history with humankind. Early on, people who were touched by God told other people about their experience. Stories were told and retold and carried on to the next generation. And so God has been remembered all throughout time and He left His footprints everywhere. When people started writing, they also captured God’s story with man, which is His story, or if you put the two words together: History.
Our History with God eventually filled the Scriptures – a collection of verbal communication, especially the more dated books of the Old Testament. The New Testament books were written by authors who were already steeped in the culture of the written word and familiarized with abstract thinking. Paul, who wrote at least thirteen letters that are included in the New Testament, is a good example. His letters clearly go beyond story-telling digging deeply into the matter of truth-finding – although there are still enough people out there who do not exactly relish abstract thinking. For this reason I love the parables in the gospels; Jesus knew how to tell a good tale. We all can retrieve gold nuggets from His inspiring stories.
The bottom-line is that the Lord speaks to us – verbally and in writing. He is not known to be silent; God hasn’t stopped communicating because He loves us.
Well, I believe, that’s how music started in the first place. Our voice is the first instrument given to us for free. Everybody has a significant voice. Voice recognition systems bank on that. Singing to the Lord adds our vocal fingerprint to the praise that has extended from the beginning of time.
All over the world people pray and sing. I believe that the song we sing to the Lord exceeds radio waves. It goes out into the universe and touches the heart of our Creator. That’s one of the best reasons why we want to join the choirs of praise. Angels praise Him, humans praise Him and also creation – here and there and everywhere – engages in tireless praise.
In the outdoors all of creation sings, but birds uniquely stand out. At dawn and dusk we hear their collective twitter. We may have noticed that some birds have veritable singing voices while other birds may sound a bit obnoxious – a great metaphor to help us move past a common human misconception: The sound of one’s voice is nothing to worry about when it comes to praising God: praise from the heart always sounds sweet in His ears.
In the symphony of praise, silent worship strikes a special chord and stems from the gratitude we feel in our hearts. “Have I told you lately that I love you?” [*Source: Van Morrison’s 1989 studio album “Avalon Sunset”] – a song written by Van Morrison – puts into audible voice what a lover silently feels. Silent praise, which is the devotion we feel, precedes our declaration of love. A devoted heart is the seedbed of genuine praise.
It is a good thing to express our love from time to time; this is true for both humans and the Lord. Have you told Him lately that you love Him? How about putting that in a song?
A definition of hierarchy according to the Oxford Dictionary is:
“a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.” Synonyms listed are: “Pecking order, ranking, grading, ladder, social order, social stratum, social scale, class system” * [*Source: Oxford Dictionary; web link: https://www.lexico.com/definition/hierarchy]
Hierarchy is the holy grail of how things are run on planet Earth; whether it’s a country or an organization – someone has to be the boss. It is our understanding that the absence of one constitutes anarchy.
What about the Trinity? Is the Trinity a hierarchy as we know it? Are two members of the Trinity submitted to a third member, the “ultimate Boss of Creation” or does Trinity stand for the rule of Three, and none of the Three would rule without one another’s input and consent? It seems to me that by asking such questions we could potentially learn from the Trinity how divine hierarchy operates.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul observes we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In other words, submission is something we learn from Christ Himself. Paul wrote in same letter [Ephesians 5:1-2]:
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
God Almighty submits to His own creation by respecting and working with the decisions His independent creatures make. His dealings with us are marked by sacrificial love. God’s Son Jesus gave His life for us. Following His example is walking in the way of sacrificial love, a love that serves and gives life. The Lord is not interested in dictatorship; He is not even interested in democracy where the majority rules. Submission to one another is His mantra. This is how He rules.
Following the example of Christ, we submit to one another regardless of gender, age group, race or position in society. God delights in our appreciation and respect for one another; this is how heaven operates, and ultimately this represents God’s kingdom coming to earth, a kingdom that never ends.
King David prayed that God’s law of life would bring light into the shadowy corners of his heart and mind. It is God’s will that we be changed by the renewing of our mind; little by little the Lord transforms us into children of light when we walk with Him. On that note Jesus says (John 12:36):
“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”
A heart devoted to the Lord brings heaven down to earth. The kingdom of heaven is among us whenever His will is being done.
A few years ago I attempted to build a gingerbread house. The end result was broken pieces scattered all over the floor. This project was probably doomed from the start because I lack the patience. Handicrafts are not my thing. Not unlike my failed gingerbread house this world is broken and hurts in many places, but it is still a world full of wonder and beauty thanks to the restorative power of the Holy Spirit. In the first chapters of the Bible we read about God’s Spirit at work. The beginning of the universe is described as chaos steeped in darkness (Genesis 1:2):
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Thanks to God’s uncanny ability to see in the dark He envisioned galaxies and solar systems when there was yet nothing to be seen (Genesis 1:14-19):
“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.”
At the dawn of creation when everything was dark, formless and empty God took nothing and made something. Only the Lord is able to do that. He has perfect night vision. Think about it. This also means He is well-equipped to navigate us through life’s darkest hours. When we are lost in the dark and open up to the Lord, the story of our heart will be as beautiful as the story of creation.
The Holy One is extremely generous. We have a greathearted God who is excited about His children. He knows us so well! As we grow to love Him His plans for our life begin to take shape.
Some people have strong visions and they build their lives around it and fight to promote it. However, God is going to open doors that lead to the fulfillment of dreams beyond our imaginations. And even if we have stopped dreaming or don’t know exactly what our vision is – God who knows our hearts, knows our purpose.
I once had a dream. It was a dwarf of a dream. I dreamed that I could make music on the side. My daytime job however consumed me and didn’t leave much room for anything else. One day, out of the blue, I received a phone call from my doctor’s office at work. I was told to go to the emergency room where I had the first in a series of three open heart surgeries. As a result I had to quit my job. Finally I began devoting myself to the things I love doing. And as it turned out, music was only part of it. Once I did the first step more avenues opened up.
The Lord Almighty catches our dreams. Under His care this dream will take on shape, color, and flourish; and before we know it, this dream will turn into reality. Whatever your dreams are, God’s dreams are bigger. Personally, I think that our own dreams are sometimes detrimental to the things God has in mind for us and they can very easily turn into a horrible nightmare. How many people have dreamed to become rich and famous, and when their dreams came true they had lost themselves along the way.
In God we find meaning. He is the catcher of dreams – let Him catch yours too.
God does not change, but our perception of Him will over the years. That’s quite normal. In our walk with God we have seen days when He seemed so close He was almost tangible; and we have seen other days when the Lord seemed far removed from us. If we have lost our way we get further and further away from Him. We need to check our direction, adjust our course and return to Him. The ability to turn around and honestly say “I am sorry” triggers a world of good: as a result we grow closer to the Lord and people.
Mistakes will be forgiven when we ask the Lord – we can always count on the Lord’s compassion – however His mercies aren’t cheap and serious mistakes usually have serious consequences. We may be sorry for what we have done, but we will have to deal with the collateral damage too, and there is a good chance that we will feel punished in such situations. If that is the case, then it’s probably true: we are being punished for the pain we have caused. And now is the time to do whatever is necessary to undo the damage we have done. Probably not all damage can be completely undone, but that is beside the point. We do what we can to initiate healing, and this shows that we care.
The purpose of punishment is repentance. And genuine repentance initiates a different course of action going forward because we have had a change of heart. Punishment however gets old if it produces the self-loathing, self-diminishing persona. The foul odor that comes across is like a virus spreading, getting people to beat themselves up. Not a good thing! Others who smell this kind of condemnation from afar make a beeline into the opposite direction.
Similar to the world of photography where shades bring out texture and add the dimension of depth to an image, God’s discipline adds more depth to our relationship with Him and people. Working through our hang-ups is the crucible of any relationship but especially our relationship with God. We reap the most benefits when we are open-minded while He is working with us. Understanding this process as transformation rather than condemnation, we mature.
The Lord disciplines us because He wants us to grow. And spiritual growth has everything to do with learning to love – after all, it’s all about love in the kingdom of God.
In the book of Proverbs we are asked to pay attention to ants and learn from them. Ants outnumber us. In New York City the ant population compared to human population is nearly 800 to 1. That’s almost 1.2 billion ants in a city with a population of 1.6 million people. They live off of the food that New Yorkers throw away. In the book of Proverbs ants are described as foragers (Proverbs 6:7-8):
“It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”
Looking at the behavior patterns of these industrious critters, we find that they know how to collaborate, forage nutrients and create storage. While an ant colony may only eat ounces a day, it can harvest pounds destined for storage.
I am amazed by the sheer amount of work these tiny insects can accomplish, but I don’t believe our take away from ants is: ‘Let’s immerse ourselves in work.’ Sometimes we use work as an excuse to avoid important issues at home. Or we hide our stagnant faith behind charity work. Oswald Chambers calls this ‘spiritual sluggishness’ and writes: “Active work may be the counterfeit of spiritual activity. The danger of spiritual sluggishness is that we do not wish to be stirred up, all we want to hear about is spiritual retirement. Jesus Christ never encourages the idea of retirement” * (*Source: “My Utmost For His Highest” Oswald Chambers; website: utmost.org; web link: https://utmost.org/the-spiritually-lazy-saint/)
In other words we never stop wrestling in our faith. That’s how we grow. And since ants are our role models, let us take a closer look at them. A couple of things I noticed as I studied them in more detail: one is collaboration, the other is separation.
Collaboration: It’s astonishing to see how millions of ants can work together so seamlessly. Ants communicate with each other using chemical signals, called pheromones. They use the soil surface to leave pheromone trails behind so that other ants can follow them to the food source.
Separation: Ants stay together to support their colony, however, to grow beyond one colony some ants must find new territory. Here is where wings come in handy. Only males and queens have wings, so it’s their responsibility to spread its kind; and for that reason they desert their home base when the time arrives.
While collaboration and separation seem mutually exclusive, they do go hand in hand. For obvious reasons we need each other – and yet, there will be times in our life when we have to separate to embark on the things God has in mind for us. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 2:10):
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We don’t want to be just busy but also productive. Metaphorically speaking we are fruit trees and the Lord wants to see us yielding a bountiful crop. We all have a job to do, a job that He has prepared for us.
Be encouraged to follow the Lord when He beckons you, even if this means you need to go out on a limb. Don’t be shy – spread your wings and fly! If ants can do it, you can do it.
Listening to the song “House of the Rising Sun” we get a little glimpse of the prostitutes’ plight. Jesus was well aware of their situation. Religious leaders of His time considered people who lived on the fringes of society a lost cause while Jesus sought them out. He sat down with prostitutes and held conversations with outcasts. As a result Jesus was invited to their homes and people clung to every word He said. He told them parables, beautiful little short stories of hope and mercy. The overriding theme of His tales: “Lost & Found”.
Perhaps we have read the Lord’s parables of “The Lost & Found Sheep”, “The Lost & Found Coin”, and “The Lost & Found Son”.
In the first story we read about a straying sheep which gets separated from the rest of the flock. When the owner realizes that one of his sheep is missing he calls a search party. Once the lost animal was spotted, he is so relieved that he puts it on his shoulders to carry it back home. Overjoyed he celebrates with his friends and neighbors.
In the second story the main character is a woman who owns ten silver coins. One of them gets lost. She proceeds to comb through the whole house until she finds that coin. When she finally discovers it, she is so happy that she lets everybody know.
In the first two stories the object did not get lost by choice. The owners felt responsible and were compelled to do everything in their power to restore the lost object. – Let’s pause here for a minute and think of unspeakable tragedies where people are born into slavery, sold into prostitution against their will, violated, drugged and raped, without a home, without identity. Lost coins are unidentified objects dropped into the dark corners of this world and seemingly forgotten, but in all reality the Owner of the universe is reaching out day and night to get a hold of these precious coins. And like the characters in Jesus’s story, God is not known to give up easily.
In the third story we hear about two lost sons. The wayward son wants to get out and spend all his cashed inheritance while his brother stays at home but seems to begrudge his life situation. Maybe he is even envious of his brother. Both sons are lost in the sense that they are not with their father. One is geographically absent; the other one’s heart is absent. In the end the wayward son returns home after he had squandered all of his wealth. His brother does not want any mercy for him and also doesn’t seem to think that he himself is in need of mercy.
The common theme of the Lord’s Lost & Found Narratives is His astonishing compassion. Mercy is 100 percent His doing; it is not triggered by rituals or initiated by anything we accomplish. The Lord is merciful – that’s who He is. And only through His mercies can we be found.
We all have lost something at some point in our lives. Grieving maybe the loss of our health, career, or a person dear to us – a common question keeps coming up: “Where is God in all of this?” I have spoken with grief-stricken people who expressed that they do not want to believe in a God who does not seem to care. According to the philosopher William L. Rowe, “agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist”. * (*Source: Routledge Encyclopedia of Philanthropy; Agnosticism by Rowe, William L “Article Summary”; web link: https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/agnosticism/v-1)
A rough life without detecting God’s footprints can lead to a disenchanted world view. The book of Ruth tells a story of a family struck by misfortune. Almost overnight Naomi lost her husband and both her sons while residing in a foreign country. Her late sons had married locals and now her two daughters-in-law was the only family she had.
Then Naomi decided to go back to Israel. She did not want to selfishly hang on to the young women and so she said to them, “You are young and beautiful and your whole life is still ahead of you. But I am an old woman and have no more sons to give to you. Why don’t you stay here and get married again?” – In Naomi’s mind these young women were better off staying in their home country rather than going along with her. And one agreed to stay behind while the other already had made up her mind. She wanted to migrate to Israel with her mother-in-law. Her name was Ruth.
Grieving Naomi may have lost all that mattered to her, but unbeknownst to her she still had a treasure, and that was her daughter-in-law. After their return to Israel Ruth married into Naomi’s next of kin and carried on the family name. She gave birth to a son, incidentally King David’s grandfather. As they were celebrating the arrival of the newborn whom they named Obed (Hebrew word for “worshiper”), Naomi’s friends and neighbors spoke up (Ruth 4:14-15):
“The women said to Naomi: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’”
Suddenly God’s footprints emerge. God does care. He holds us close when tragedy hits and sometimes this brings out the best in people as in Ruth’s case. Let us pray that the Lord opens our eyes so we can see His footprints in our lives.
Everything is interconnected. The Spirit of God has created everything and this commonality connects us. The Holy Spirit brings life – rich, reproducing, abundant life, the kind of life that swallows death – life that lasts forever. Take God’s Spirit out of the equation, and futility rules. Productivity without the Spirit of God inevitably leads to a dead end. On that note, Jesus observed (John 6:63):
“The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”* Bible Version: New Living Translation (NLT)
Since everything has sprung from God’s Spirit there is a noticeable spiritual bond between God and His creation. Unfortunately, human beings cut themselves loose at some point, and they strayed far from heaven. It has been the Lord’s mission to overcome the apparent disconnection, and this is why Jesus came.
Interestingly, as I’m writing out these thoughts our internet connection went down. The worldwide web has revolutionized our culture and made information more readily available. Imagine today’s world without having this powerful tool. It is safe to say, the interconnectedness provided by various computer devices has accelerated problem solving. The ratio of human inventions went through the roof with the introduction of the personal computer, especially when the computer reduced in size and became a portable device. Power outage and loss of connectivity, even if it is only for an hour, creates havoc in the modern world. However, the repercussions of being disconnected from the source of all beings are intrinsically more serious.
The Holy Spirit is poured out globally and not unlike the Internet accessible everywhere. When people pray, the Spirit of God listens. This is what Jesus was referring to in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:7):
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
To be reconnected to heaven all we have to do is ask and the Holy Spirit will re-establish the lost connection; His breath revives us. Reconciliation with the Godhead is only a prayer away.
The other day, I had to wait 50 minutes on the phone to get connected and speak with a representative. If someone tells me to wait, I know I have to equip myself with patience.
Technology has made worldwide exchange of information fast and efficient. We get to distant places faster, and we receive the latest news in a blink of an eye. Meanwhile, it’s no surprise that we have come to expect everything to be available on demand.
What about prayer? Do we feel we get God’s immediate attention when we pray? Well, it’s complicated since there is no such thing as button-pushing in the realm of prayer. It’s not like: prayers go out, God’s answers come in. We have to wait for His input and that puts us in the waiting room until we hear back from the Lord.
On one occasion I was looking for a professional change, but it just wasn’t happening. My husband and I kept praying for the issue. Then, one night I had a dream. I dreamed I was sitting in a car at a stoplight waiting for the light to change. When I awoke it felt as if the Lord was saying: “Hang in there! Traffic light will change and you will be able to move on.”
It wasn’t long after my dream that circumstances began to change. One of my job applications was accepted and I was hired on the spot – a perfect example of an open door in God’s own good time.
Waiting on the Lord is an expression of trust. It is an opportunity to hit the brakes and grow in our faith. On this note Prophet Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 64:4):
“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”
I remember situations where we simply had to wait things out for the sake of clarity. And we did see more clearly after the dust had settled and we took more time to think about the problem. Some decisions should not be processed overnight and we will find that the pressure is off once we stop pushing the issue. Submitting to the Lord we give Him control. For the sake of our peace of mind, that’s the thing to do. It will all work out and things will fall into place when we know how to wait on the Lord.
My husband likes to make an informed decision, which is why he typically takes his sweet time investigating. His research of pros and cons (which he calls “vetting”) comes before his buying decision.
Buying a product is simple in comparison to making life-changing decisions. Do we get married? Are we going to have children? Should I have this surgery? In fact, such life decisions hardly fit the profile of vetting a product, or are we going to google the pros and cons of having children? Are we going to perform a background check on the person we want to marry? It’s not like that at all, but still, we will look for advice when we are smart. We will interview seasoned parents about the aspects of raising children, ask our trusted friends what they think about the person we are dating and regarding the surgery in question we will look for a second medical opinion.
We know that despite all our planning the unplanned still happens and we sail into situations that catch us off-guard. Life is full of surprises. Besides looking for traditional advice we are well-advised to seek God’s counsel since He alone knows the future. On a personal note, my faith has helped me through many bumpy roads, and through it all I have gained a deeper connection with both God and people.
The best way to look at things we have no control over – and we actually don’t have control over a myriad of things – is to trust the Lord’s promise that He has good plans worked out for us. That is why we don’t want to lose hope even though our own plans may have fallen through. We sometimes think we know our purpose – or we haven’t even thought about it yet. The Lord knows each person’s purpose and wants to translate that into reality.
We are all a diamond in the rough. Since diamonds are made of the hardest material in the world, only a diamond can be used to mechanically cut another diamond. Comparatively speaking, the Lord is the diamond who cuts us into shape. It is His desire that we shine. As long or as short our life story may be, it’s meant to be a blessing. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we have everything figured out. We need to stay humbly curious and seek the Lord in all matters. It is His pleasure to reveal the plans He has for us and the reason why we are here.
Jacob chose to pack up and leave without telling his father-in-law Laban. The relationship with his father-in-law was complicated. On one hand Laban was the father of his wives and the grandfather of his children; Laban was family! On the other hand Laban was his boss who ran a profitable family business and had been taking advantage of Jacob. After 20 years of a working relationship Jacob fired his employer by not showing up to work one day and leaving without giving any notice.
The Exit Interview
Jacob must have known that it was not very likely for his father-in-law to let him go without an explanation – which is exactly what happened. In hot pursuit Laban went after him and caught up with his son-in-law in a week’s time. Extremely offended he got right to the point (Genesis 31:26-28):
“Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’”
In response Jacob said (Genesis 31:40-42):
“This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”
Laban saw that he had lost access to his daughters and grandchildren and that he could not control Jacob. His reaction was dismissive. He was not interested in restoring family relations by picking up on what Jacob said and apologizing; instead he now perceived Jacob as a threat and felt it necessary to protect his interests by establishing a non-aggression pact.
We all deal with bad relationships in the course of a lifetime. For various reasons we cannot always choose to simply avoid the person who is bothering us; it might be a work relationship or a family member. God does not take sides in the matter because He is for every person. However, we can count on God being against sin. So, if someone is abusive and makes our life a living hell God’s intention is to take us out of the abusive situation. Merciful as God is His heart always reaches out to all parties, so communication is God’s attempt to set the records straight and give each person the opportunity to repent – each person – because nobody is perfect. In Matthew’s gospel we read (Matthew 18:15):
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
If we all come to the table and communicate with the intention to listen what the opposing party has to say, there is a good chance of reconciliation. If both parties choose not to listen to each other, then reconciliation is as good as impossible. In the end, all Laban and Jacob were able to accomplish was a non-aggression pact. In God’s eyes this was not the best outcome, and sometimes we too have to live with these kinds of situations.
In our crisis management let’s always raise the bar in that we stay humble enough to listen, strong enough to seek open communication, and mature enough to understand when it is time to move on and let go of a relationship. Some things won’t resolve on this side of heaven. However, peace is promised to us; and peace we receive from the Lord who understands all things and is with us.
There are many gods spelled in lower case. They sound a bit like this:
“I am god; I can do whatever I want and you just have to deal with it.”
It is our exposure to such gods that tricks us into thinking we have to appease the deity somehow to win him over. We have to crawl on our bellies, cater to his whims and follow his bidding. We think with this capricious god on our side we gain power and can dominate the world just like he already does. This flawed god-perception has done a lot of harm and feeds into the attitude of an abuser. We wreck a planet to cater to our needs, and we wreck relationships because we act like little gods.
This attitude, however, is foreign to the God spelled with a capital G. This God is often mistaken to be one of the gods in lower case. I call this a tragic misunderstanding, and it leads to a couple of problems:
There are people who feel extremely frustrated with the gods and they rightly say: “I’m done with gods. We are better off without them.” Atheists have my vote, any time of the day. I too am done with gods, and the older I get, it seems, the less patient I become with those unpredictable beings with the god-complex.
There is another group of people who cling to the gods tenaciously in hopes to better cope with everyday living. The hotter their god-pursuit, the more fanatical they become shedding a real awkward light on the real deal, the God with the capital G. God calls His competitors “foreign gods”, because they are foreign to His character.
To distinguish Him from the lower-case gods I will call God with a capital G “Original God” going forward. Over the millennia mankind has grown used to false gods to the extent that many people have a hard time imagining there is actually a genuine One. It’s confusing, isn’t it? So the question is how do we differentiate between counterfeit and original? There are several dead giveaways which stand in stark contrast to the brazen and noisy gods competing for our attention:
Original God is subtle.
We have to search Him to find Him. Unless we take a concerted effort, get quiet and listen we won’t hear His still small voice. Another clue is His commitment to free will, and I believe this must prove difficult for the Lord at times:
Original God does not abuse His power.
We are so used to being manipulated by false gods that it escapes us how the all-powerful and almighty God would refuse to simply enforce His good will. Yes, He could do that in a heartbeat. That way He could get rid of all the false gods, but the outcome, true to His divine nature, would be highly unsatisfactory. Why? Here it is:
Original God does not seek God-copycats.
Instead He seeks face-to-face encounters with independent minds. Original God, the real deal, seeks the real deal with us and a relationship unburdened with fear and manipulation. He wants honest opinions, raw feelings, and openness. The ensuing communication flow is more precious to Him than anything else.
What does Original God do to get our attention? He reveals Himself, He saves and He proclaims; and He has been doing these three things consistently to help us out. If you are a God-seeker, welcome to His mysterious heart! You are encouraged to dive deep and explore.
Nobody is born patient. Patience is best expressed in the ability to wait. For that, we all have to grow up. Imagine telling a crying baby to wait – food is just around the corner. A baby doesn’t understand. A baby wants food now! Whining on the freeway when there is an hour’s delay, we are all behaving like babies.
It takes strength to wait.
It sometimes takes guts to wait.
And at all times hope will help us out.
In fact, I don’t believe patience is possible without hope. We lose hope, we usually also lose our patience. The trick is not to nourish false hope. If we’re betting on the wrong horse, chances are, we’re going to be sorely disappointed. I believe one of the things the psalmist is getting at is not to wait for any old thing – but wait for the Lord.
I’m a pusher by nature. I work hard, want to get things done and thrive on accomplishments without dwelling too much on them because I’m already pursuing the next project. I may exhibit patience at work because I love to work. I’m into details. I’m thorough. So I may fool some people into thinking I have all the patience in the world. – Well, no, not really! I’m only patient with the things that I like to do. I have little to no patience with the things I hate doing, such as repairing my bike for instance. I leave that to my husband.
Does that make me an impatient person? Maybe! Or maybe we are all impatient at the core and we all have to choose to be patient.
Honestly, I think that patience can’t be learned, it has to be chosen every waking moment. I choose to be patient, because I know better. I choose to wait on the Lord because I know He will come through for me.
Choosing the Lord, we choose life. Choosing the Lord, we choose to wait on Him. Remember, we are not choosing our circumstances, but we can always choose the Lord.
Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Volcano explosions, Meteorite impacts – our planet has seen it all. The history of planet Earth is a history of evolution. As much as we like to cling to life on earth as we know it, everything is transitory. We live in a temporary setting in a temporary body housing an eternal soul. If you are comfortable with that, you are my champion. However, most people I know, myself included, don’t like to live on the brink of change. This is where faith comes in.
In our wedding vows we promise to be faithful saying “for better or worse, in good times and bad”. Years go by, and our marriage grows from a young shoot into a matured tree. In a temporary setting within our temporary bodies we have grown old together. Faith connects and faithfulness produces roots and new young shoots. Family tribes grow into nations.
Legacies aside, we are not destined to live on in our children and children’s children; that’s a common misconception. Our soul is destined to live on in a body that is equipped to live forever (2 Corinthians 5:1):
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
The apostle Paul calls our current physical appearance a “tent” and the new body we receive after we die “eternal house”. There is permanency after all. God’s kingdom remains; He is eternal and so are His children. They are destined to grow wings and fly to a kingdom that’s unshakable.
God made us unique, which means that nobody is reproduced in the exact likeness. There won’t be another you or me. We are all priceless originals, one of the reasons why every life matters. All life comes from God. He is the Creator of all things. When we reconnect with Him we discover our roots.
Thanks be to God! He is our life and song. Forever we belong – He is the center of our being and our home, sweet home.