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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songwriters: Bill and Evelyn Snyder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songwriters: Tia Sillers / Mark Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colossians 4:5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Pickles dipped in a salt solution stay edible for a long time. Salt is a funny thing. A little salt brings out the best in food. Too much of it, and the food becomes inedible. A high concentration in salt is toxic. My husband uses a salt-based weed killer to get rid of the weeds in our yard. He also told me the story that the Romans dumped salt on Israel’s fertile soil after they had defeated the Jews and driven them out of the country. Nothing grew on the contaminated soil for centuries until the Jews came back and reclaimed their homeland. Salt contaminates, Salt enhances and Salt preserves – and I believe that the Apostle Paul knew that as much as we do. In his letter directed to the believers in Colossae, he asks them to season their conversations with salt, which is to say to use discretion.

Colossae (/kəˈlɒsi/; Greek: Κολοσσαί) was at one time an important city in the Roman province of Asia and belongs to southern Anatolia (modern Turkey) today. In Paul’s time the city was under Roman dominion. It is safe to assume that most of the believers in Colossae were employed by Romans, which paints the picture regarding Paul’s written remark: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders”. Paul was talking about a believer’s conduct toward non-believers.

Protective of their sphere, clubs keep insiders in and outsiders out. In a sense, being kicked out of Paradise made the whole human race outsiders; thankfully heaven is no inaccessible club. God wants us back inside His realm, but He will not force us. So, He invites all outsiders to become insiders, but leaves it up to us whether or not we honor His invitation.

Boundaries protect from hostile invasion, but also create isolation. Ultimately, separation can only be seen as a temporary solution, which is why God has been working so intensely on reconciliation with the human race. This is what Jesus stands for and believers understand that.

Believers are touched and transformed by the Lord, but still they are no super humans. There are the pitfalls of extremism: one extreme is to become a holy club inaccessible to outsiders, another is to relax on God’s values, disintegrate into society and become inconsequential. There is no doubt, the situation is tricky, but we are not alone in this. We can ask God for wisdom and He will probably say: “I thought you would never ask”. He is glad to assist and we need all the help that we can get.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

An attitude of gratitude means making it a habit to express thankfulness and appreciation in all parts of our lives, on a regular basis, for both the big and small things alike. To quote Oprah Winfrey: “Be thankful for what you have; you‘ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

I am looking at the Apostle Paul’s letter directed to the Greek believers in Thessaloniki and this is what he wrote (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18):

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Thanking God in all circumstances takes gratitude to another level; needless to say, some circumstances are quite daunting. How can we be thankful in all situations and stay positive and upbeat? There is a good chance that we are losing it when the rug is pulled underneath us and the world as we know it ceases to exist. We can break – that is normal. However, when a human being meets Christ, this person will have to redefine “normal”.

I believe seven words of Paul’s statement referenced above pull everything together: “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. “In Christ” we are bound to experience things differently.

In the book of revelation, Jesus says (Revelation 3:20):

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

Jesus is asking us to open up to Him. Christ is in us when we let Him in, and then we become a part of something that is much bigger: God’s kingdom. While its administrative capital is located in heaven, God’s kingdom is present everywhere; believers are considered ambassadors of Christ and to date His embassies are found all over the world; this is how God chooses to make His presence known.

In God’s kingdom all is not lost when we lose everything. When believers lose their life it only means they move from the embassy to the administrative capital. It takes a lot of pressure off of us knowing that our lives are in God’s very capable hands. This frees us up to look beyond our immediate circumstances, be there for others and – last but not least – be thankful.

James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

There is only one way in and out of a cave; and I believe this describes a human situation: Caved in, we all can get stuck.

Caving in by definition is a dead end, and so is sin. The only way out of sin is confession, which is why addiction recovery programs are based on it. “I am an alcoholic” is spoken out loud in therapy sessions. Confessing is the first step out of the cave.

Sin always leaves destruction in its wake. The drama of confession is realizing the damage sin has done. It can be quite overwhelming, which is why confession alone does not fix a deep-seated problem. There needs to be a support system. Every addiction recovery program has one. We need to confess to the people who support us.

God promises us healing when we confess our sins and pray for one another. We are mostly unaware of the potency of prayer, but a person out of the cave and out in the open has God’s ear. That is why confessing is such a blessing. A person who has come clean is the greatest relief effort a hurting world can have, because that person is no longer dragged down by unresolved issues and is able to care.

King David once said (Psalm 63:7):

“Because you are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of your wings.”

God is our helper and under His wings we grow wings. Singing expresses that. We all have a song – the song is our life story. And God can turn a sad song into a beautiful anthem. Eventually, all life stories that God has turned around will swell into a mighty symphony of praise. I can see it with my mind’s eye. All creation will break out in jubilation because the Lord has done the impossible: He has healed the world.

2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

The Lord appeared to King Solomon after he had finished building the temple and the royal palace. On the day of the dedication of the temple King Solomon prayed in public submitting to the Lord a specific request (2 Chronicles 6:26-27):

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance.

King Solomon’s request was granted. God assured him that He will heal the land when people turn from their inhumane and self-centered ways, humble themselves and pray.

Heal our land – We know how it feels when our bodies are under attack. Sickness and disease is our mortal enemy. Many prayers go out addressing the issue of healing our bodies. However, the Lord who has the power to heal our bodies also has the power to heal our land.

There is no wrong time for prayer. The right time to pray is right now. There is a communication flow going on between Heaven and Earth, and we are in that flow when we pray. The communication flow goes both ways: God speaks to us, and we listen; we speak to God, and He listens. While it is certainly normal to vent to Him and spill all our beans, prayer remains a two-way-conversation. God wants to impress His wisdom and encouragement. We need an open heart and mind to receive His input.

Dishonesty represents a major obstacle to our communication flow with God. We can lie to our neighbor, we can lie to ourselves, but lying to God does not work. Actually, lying never works – and hiding from God does not work either. Adam and Eve were the first to try, without success. And why would we want to hide? There is absolutely no question about God’s merciful attitude. His patience is legendary.

God forgives and forgets. He gives us a fighting chance – we just need to be honest with Him. He will right our wrongs, and He will heal our land.

Sweet hour of prayer
That calls me from a world of care
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known
In seasons of distress and grief
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By Thy return, sweet hour of prayer

 William B. Bradbury (1816-1868)

Romans 12:12: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Jacob, founding father of the twelve tribes of Israel, had an audience with the Egyptian Pharaoh towards the end of his life. When Pharaoh asked him how old he was, Jacob answered (Genesis 47:8-10):

“I have had a short life with many troubles. I am only 130 years old. My father and his ancestors lived to be much older than I am.” * Bible Translation: Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

Taking stock of his life, Jacob did not dwell too much on sweet memories. His unenthusiastic assessment: Life is short and troubled. Jacob’s view of his own life may seem a bit disheartening, but he makes a valid point: In hindsight everybody’s lifetime on earth is short, whether it lasts 130 years or just a few hours. And regardless how long we live, problems are the norm, not the exception.

We all go through enough trouble in this life that we need to be reminded not to lose hope. The apostle Paul wrote in a letter addressed to the congregation in Rome (Romans 12:12):

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Facing adversity, it is important not to lose hope, because once we have lost all hope, our joy goes out the window. Impatience only makes matters worse. Impatient people have no friends. Prayer keeps us going. Our soul breathes through prayer. Giving up on prayer would deprive our soul from oxygen.

In an inspiring statement Paul encourages us to keep up hope, patience and prayer. It’s a life motto, which will navigate us through any storm.

1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

God understands us better than we understand ourselves. We may pray for certain things to happen, but unbeknownst to us, we may be praying for a second-best solution; God on the other hand has the best way for us in mind, and He will answer our prayers in His own good time – an answer that will surprise us.

Our Creator has original ways to deal with our problems. So, let us not throw in the towel simply because we feel God is not answering our prayers. We know that He will give us everything we need. Lack of vision is sometimes the reason why our prayers seem to be bouncing off the walls instead of getting through to God. Spiritual vision requires faith, and faith believes that God hears us when we cry out to Him. Incidentally, the apostle John wrote (1 John 5:15):

“And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Is God’s mind too narrow to understand what we mean? Is His heart too small to not let everybody in? I believe the answer to both questions is a clear and resounding “No”. Especially in troubled times we need to remember who God is. God’s compassion is great. His love is not just a word. His love implies action. He loves us – always has and always will. We have to put faith in Him and His wonderful qualities to survive a crisis intact.

Confidence grows from learning who God is. Knowing God’s empathy will give us much-needed peace in times of turbulence.

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”

“Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me”
Songwriters: Thomas Chisholm / W.M. Runyan

Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Drawing a connecting line between “Almighty God” and “impossible”, there are just few things impossible for Him: it is impossible for God to lie and it is impossible to please Him without believing in Him.

Our impossibilities on the other hand are numerous. It is impossible for us to get a grip on aging. It is impossible for us to beat death. Unfortunately, it is not impossible for humans to lie. However, like God, we will have a problem with people who don’t believe in us. And in a strange sort of way, that puts us in God’s shoes.

Granted, there is no way that we could fill His shoes, but that is beside the point. It is in instances like these when I notice that we are related to the Father of all creation. We were made in His image, so it is no surprise that we find we have things in common with God.

Job asks us an interesting question (Job 11:7):

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?”

Well, can we? Probably not – another impossible thing for humans is to understand God fully. Personally, I am fine with that. How boring would it be if we could figure out everything? Where is the element of surprise? Still, this does not mean we give up trying to understand the Lord; in an attempt to decipher God’s handwriting we have been exploring the universe.

Back to God’s impossibilities: there is nothing we could do to please Him, unless we have faith in Him. And while this may sound a bit outrageous, imagine a person in your life who refuses to believe in you. Every time you needed encouragement to make a bold move, this person would point out your weaknesses as a potential hazard. Picture yourself being around that person for any length of time and ask yourself this question: Would it be possible for this particular person to please you with expensive gifts? This is highly hypothetical of course, but I think this gets the point across why in the realm of faith we show our true colors and exhibit signs that we are related to God Almighty.

If God is just a word, He dissolves into black and white and the dos and don’ts begin to dominate our thinking. Without faith, God becomes a lifeless rule book, and we need to ask ourselves: how good are we really at playing by the rules? I would suggest, this has never been our forte. Even if it was, God would still not be pleased with us.

Let us put our trust in God. We believe in God, and God believes in us – this is how faith works and without faith, nothing really works.

“And I know this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song not sung in vain
I feel thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And with the prairies I am calling out Your name”

Rich Mullins

Ephesians 4:15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

A truth statement is easy to accept when it is pleasant. Let’s say you auditioned for a show and afterwards someone says to you: “Truthfully, you are one of the most talented people I have ever seen.” We like to hear that kind of truth. Unfortunately, telling the truth includes both the good and the bad. What if you had to tell the ugly truth to a friend? I think we all agree that this is not so easy.

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus, an ancient Greek settlement in modern-day Turkey: “Speak the truth in love.” Our heart has to be in the right place before we open our mouth and share something that is difficult to accept. Without love, everything we have to say will fall on deaf ears. And unless our intentions are to condemn the person we speak to, we should be communicating the truth in hopes that our message is well-received.

Everything we do or say is triggered by our motivation. Jesus’ motivation has always been to restore, which is why He said (John 3:17):

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

Condemnation does not believe in recovery or restoration and ruins any prospects of a better life. On the other hand we exhibit faith when we invest in a person others have already given up on. Speaking the truth in love has a wonderful effect since it builds people up instead of tearing them down. Love is God’s trademark. The apostle John wrote in one of his letters (1 John 4:8):

“But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

If God is love, so are His children. We have the wisdom of ages, the Spirit of God, aka the Holy Spirit on our side. In difficult situations He will help us choose our words wisely and with love.

Job 19:25: “But as for me, I know that my redeemer lives, and He will stand upon the earth at last.”

Job went through tremendous loss. Almost overnight he lost everything.  To make matters worse, his friends completely misread the situation claiming that God was punishing him. Job disagreed and he made his famous statement (Job 19:25):

“But as for me, I know that my redeemer lives.” *Bible Version: New Living Translation (NLT)

Job put his “but” at the beginning of an amazing statement. He says “But as for me, (…).” That in itself speaks volumes. With these four words Job expresses his faith.

Reality can be overwhelming; and yet we need to keep our eyes on the prize. Our prized possession is our faith. Faith is a gift from God, and the name of the gift is Jesus. Proclaimed by angels and currently preached in the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a groundbreaking message that shakes the universe, just like it shook up the shepherds, when they heard the message for the first time (Luke 2:10-11):

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” 

“No ifs and buts!” – That’s what our mother used to say when we were arguing with her about something she did not want to hear about. The Lord listens to our cries and technically speaking, Jesus is the “if” and “but” of our worst situations.

Joshua once challenged the Israelites when they renewed their covenant with God at Shechem (Joshua 24:15):

But if you see no benefit in serving the Lord, then choose for yourselves today whomever you will serve—whether the gods that your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household—we will serve the Lord!” *Bible Translation: Evangelical Heritage Version (EHV)

The world we live in pulls us in ten different directions. We can put our foot down and focus on one direction: the road to heaven. With Joshua we can say: “But as for us, we will serve the Lord” – and if He is for us, what can be against us?

Faith changes everything.

Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

In Walt Morey’s story “Gentle Ben”, an adult bear helped a trapped man. This was the same man who had hunted the bear down just a little while ago. Gentle giants are that way – they could squash a person in a moment’s notice, but they choose to save a life instead.

There is a direct link between freedom and humility, demonstrated by the life of God’s Son. Jesus knew the secret of relinquishing power and not holding on to any privileges. Paul described the nature of Jesus in a letter to the Philippians in East Macedonia, and here are his remarks (Philippians 2:5-8):

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”

The Son of God was not forced to become a human being; it clearly was His choice. Nobody took His life from Him. He voluntarily gave it away. And by doing so He opened the door to freedom. There is a big difference between relinquishing our power because we have to and relinquishing our power even if we don’t have to do it. That’s the way of humility.

Don’t let false humility deter you – wherever there is fraud, the original is not far away; so all we need to do is keep looking. We recognize false humility in people acting like doormats. That’s not what humility is all about. When Jesus was asked who He was, He did not answer: “I’m a doormat.” He answered (all quotes taken from John’s Gospel):

“I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am the good shepherd. I am God’s Son. I am the resurrection and the life.”

The Lord knows Who He Is. And as humble people, we also know who we are. Learning from the gentle Giant, the great I Am, we become gentle and humble in heart and find rest for our souls.

“Don’t expect a free ride from no one
Don’t hold a grudge or a chip and here’s why
Bitterness keeps you from flying
Always stay humble and kind”

Lori McKenna

Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Some time ago, I got lost in a painting. I have a photograph of a friend of mine with one of her dogs. You can tell from the picture that they enjoy a special bond. She calls him her “boyfriend dog” and the dog clearly adores her. Intrigued with this picture, I decided to paint the scene. All went smoothly until I started working on my friend’s face. Multiple times I changed her chin line, her eyes, her twinkles, the curve of her mouth, her hair line, her complexion, her nose – all without a satisfying result. I still felt something in her face was missing and this was driving me absolutely crazy … Obviously, I had arrived at a dead end and needed assistance in my art project – an art teacher perhaps who could point me in the right direction.

If we are lost, we need input. Has your GPS ever directed you to a dead end? Ask a local. Stuck in repair work and not getting anywhere with your project? Ask an expert. The trick is not to be oblivious about it – as in a state of denial – or too proud to ask.

When it comes to finding heaven we all need help. Heaven is quite elusive and we won’t be able to locate it, unless God helps us. Thankfully, God goes out of His way to find us and He calls a search party to do so. God does not work solo. Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father collaborate to find the lost.

I was in my teenage years when God found me. Meeting Jesus was no happy ending, it was a happy beginning. My life has had its ups and downs. Like everybody else I had to pay the price for the mistakes I made, but I was never alone. Jesus has never left me. We have been together for a lifetime. And when my time comes I will recognize His face when I see Jesus for the first time.

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

The author of the letter to the Hebrews is unknown, but it was obviously written by someone steeped in Jewish tradition. In his letter, the author is broaching the subject of salvation – which is the one topic the whole world seems to be disagreeing on, starting with the question as to whether or not we need to be saved, and, if we needed saving, how to be saved.

Jewish understanding of salvation is closely tied to the priesthood; Priests were seen as mediators who stood between God and people, interceding on their behalf; they were people’s advocates. Advocacy is of great value, especially in situations when we cannot speak for ourselves.

While human advocacy is a blessing, it is also flawed; there is misrepresentation, there are errors in judgement, and we suffer the consequences. – Thankfully, we have a perfect mediator in heaven. The Son of God, Jesus, has assumed the role of mankind’s mediator and advocate. He understands us like no other; daily interceding on our behalf, He is the One who effectively represents our cause. Jesus fights for us.

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

God’s hands are big – both for saving and for holding. The One whose hands hold the universe holds us close to His heart.

1 Peter 1:18-19: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

Have you ever considered storing your silver and gold items in a refrigerator? Most likely this never crossed your mind – and yet the apostle Peter calls silver and gold perishables. As is always the case when it comes to reading any passage of scripture, there is more to it than meets the eye at first glance.

Peter calls things perishable that leave us empty. He is talking about “the empty way of life” which has been handed down to us generation after generation and goes back to Adam and Eve. Jesus broke with this family tradition. He paid with His life blood to redeem us from the empty way of life.

King Solomon was a wealthy man and he experienced firsthand how perishable silver and gold can be; here is his take on life (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2):

“The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
    says the Teacher.
‘Utterly meaningless!
   Everything is meaningless.’”

In his book “Ecclesiastes”, King Solomon described life without a purpose, and he went into much detail about it. Reading between the lines, his resulting depression is apparent. King Solomon experienced the empty way of life.

Thankfully, we were not created to live a futile life. We were created to live eternal life, and Jesus makes all the difference. We won’t find fulfillment outside His realm. Through Him, we have everything.

Meaningful, meaningful – utterly meaningful is everything when God is with us – on this side of heaven and beyond.

Romans 14:11: “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

We are all equals in the eyes of the Lord; there is no hierarchy in His love. God’s love seems strange to us, because we usually love some people more than others.

We live in a world of hierarchies and that is all we know. The strong ones make it to the top and the weak ones are being dominated. That has been our reality for as long as we can remember. However, this is not God’s reality.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans he lived in the time of the Roman Empire, and the Roman Empire was based on conquest and rule by the sword. The gods of strength were worshiped in Rome. Submission of peoples and tribes all over the ancient world added to the Roman Empire and left a trail of blood. Somehow this mindset seeped into the Roman congregation and so, intolerance reared its ugly head. Established believers began to look down on other believers who did not measure up. The apostle Paul recognized that and wrote (Romans 14:1)

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”

He goes on to say (Romans 14:10):

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”

Accepting the weak without judging them is a novelty to the Roman mind and I dare say to a degree also to our minds today. Acceptance begins with distinguishing disputable matters and letting things go instead of insisting on being right. 

Every knee will bow and recognize God one day. God is indisputable; however, He gains no one through the sword.  God has children, no blind following and His children know they do not need to compete for His love. God loves His children no less than He loves His Son.

Romans 1:20: “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

God is invisible – but then He isn’t. I have always felt closer to God walking the outdoors. The lush variety of animal species and vegetation simply speaks for itself.

If we are not impressed with the intricacies of life on this blue and green planet, then maybe we should check out the rest of the universe? According to current thinking, the observable universe is about 93 billion light years in diameter. We’ve been taking astonishing pictures from outer space. Through 25 years of Hubble Space Telescope research we found existing galaxies beyond our Milky Way, confirmed that the universe is expanding and discovered the role dark energy plays in this scenario; Hubble Space Telescope also gave us the first look at black holes; we have come up with names for new planets we saw in the far reaches of our solar system; we have discovered birthplaces of stars with clusters only about two million years old – which in stellar terms is very young! The sky is literally the limit to our discoveries – as far as I can see it, there are no limits.

Why would we want to find an excuse for not knowing God? What is the benefit of ignoring Him? Who wouldn’t want to meet this Genius who came up with everything? And why is it so outrageous to think that this Genius loves us? Looking around, it becomes pretty obvious that He likes to create. Is it far-fetched to believe that He loves what He creates?

What I find remarkable about God is His reluctance to manipulate us into loving Him. While He certainly has the power to manipulate us, He refrains from doing so. God respects His own creation enough to give us space to arrive at our conclusions in our own good time.

In the criminal justice system fingerprints play a crucial role to identify a perpetrator. God very generously left His fingerprints everywhere for us to uncover. It’s a telltale sign that God wants to be found.

John 10:28-30: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

God defends what He values. The treasure He is so protective of is us, His children. To this end, Jesus says (John 10:29):

“Nobody can steal [God’s children] from me.”

It is impossible to bypass heaven’s security system. If you dare to mess with God’s children, you are dealing with the Lion of Judah.

We are highly treasured. God paid a high price to win us back. He gave us His Son so we might live through Him. Eternal life represents the fulfillment of God’s dearest wish: to be reunited with His children.

A long time ago mankind had lost access to Paradise and it seemed we could not get back. We have been paying for our mistakes, only to find out that we could not possibly pay our way back to heaven. The gap between the Godhead and humankind seemed impossible to bridge, but Jesus made it possible.

Reconciliation is Jesus’s gift to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God. It is a family reunion. The door to this family reunion is wide open. Once we recognize that and walk through that door we have eternal life.

The afterlife is not what eternal life is all about. That would be a misunderstanding. Eternal life begins on this side of heaven and is just another word for living with God. Life with God starts right here – to be continued in the afterlife.

There is such a thing as heaven on earth and it does not represent fame, success and wealth. Fame, success and wealth always come with strings attached and it would be a lousy existence if that was to represent eternal life. God gives us something far better: His heart – and His heart is an unconditional gift. Walking with God and experiencing His love is the greatest treasure there is.

This is what eternal life is all about: we love God and He loves us. In heaven our eyes will see what our heart already knows.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “’Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We don’t like to be finite – here today and gone tomorrow. There is something deeply disturbing about it.

So, we have been fighting back. Battling against all kinds of diseases, people with access to medical services generally live a little longer. Still, nobody has found a pill to combat mortality.

It has never been a problem for God to change our physical make up. Actually, He thought about that. The story of our creation in the beginning of the Bible talks about it. He could have turned us immortal in a split second, but that is really no good solution (Genesis 3:22):

“And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ ”

Bailing us out of death would have just placed a band aid on a cancerous situation. In other words, simply removing our physical aging process to give us immortality would have made matters worse.

Imagine everybody would have stayed alive in this deeply dysfunctional state that we are in; can you imagine the resulting chaos? Even though death feels unnatural to us – and it is: we were not meant to die – death does damage control.

Nevertheless, the introduction of death to creation was meant to be only a temporary solution. Meanwhile, God has come through for us and has changed the nature of death forever. The period signifying the end of a sentence has turned into a semicolon. Death, the ultimate end, has become a prelude.

What happened?

Jesus happened.

To redeem us from death, Jesus had to address our emancipation from the Godhead, which is sin. Sin has many terrible outlets, but the root cause of all sin is independence from God.

Freedom and independence are words often used interchangeably. However, complete independence brings complete isolation.  If I didn’t need a soul I would not need to be inspired by any outside source. Completely self-sufficient, I would not need access to any sort of help.

I’d be all by myself – utterly alone.

That’s hell.

Without any interaction there is no “we”; there is only “I”, and “I” is the loneliest word I know. Interestingly, even the Godhead is Three. There is simply no benefit in being alone.

Jesus came to redeem us from isolation. Being reintroduced to communion with the Godhead is the only effective antidote to sin and death. And that’s exactly how freedom is spelled.

1 Corinthians 15:20-22: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Fate would have it that two criminals were scheduled to be executed with Jesus. While suffering the agonies of crucifixion, a conversation took place between the three men. We understand that there is more to having a real conversation than just being physically present. A Native American proverb says that we are not supposed to criticize people, unless we have “walked a mile in their moccasins”. Crucified with them, Jesus was more than just physically present. He walked in their shoes and literally felt their pain.

How could a fire department accomplish a rescue mission without being on the scene of the accident? That does not make much sense, does it? By the same token, through Jesus, God arrived on the scene of the accident and went through hell to pull us out. If there was a different way of saving us, I am convinced that God would have done it. As it is, He chose His Son to perform the biggest rescue mission ever.

Death entered the world when we disconnected from God. Sometimes there is genius in simplicity. Death is a complex problem affecting all of creation. We got ourselves into this mess and there was no way out of it. How could God save His own creation? God decided if death entered the world through a man, the first to rise from the dead should also be a man. This is why the Trinity split and sent Jesus to Earth, and this is why God became a man and submitted to mortality to rescue us from death. Jesus has become the very first to rise from the dead.

Jesus walked in our shoes all the way to the deep end, which is why He can meet us literally everywhere. In life and in death He holds the key to eternal life. In Adam our prospects are grim. We live in this mortal body and once our bodies become inhospitable we are gone. The real reason for death, however, is our disconnection from God. Returning to the Source of Life is the true resurrection that happens when we meet Jesus.

In Jesus we are made whole. All who belong to Him shall be raised to life, which will make Jesus happiest. His mission has been to save us; and it is our resurrection that will complete His mission.

Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Approximately three years before His death, Jesus of Nazareth went public with His message of the kingdom of God. Thanks to His counter-cultural ministry Jesus developed into a controversial figure. He had devoted friends and powerful enemies. Those who hated Him tried to trap Him publicly with tricky questions. On one occasion He was asked to voice His opinion on paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar. The loaded question was submitted to Jesus while both Jews and Romans were present. Following is His reaction (Matthew 22:18-22):

“But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’

‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.”

It is very eye-opening to see how Jesus dealt with His opponents. While He did not mince the words and called His interviewers ‘hypocrites’ he did provide a wise answer that surprised all parties involved.

There are a lot of extraordinary things to notice about Jesus, and one is His freedom from prejudice. He sat down with old and young, rich and poor, Roman oppressors and homegrown insurrectionists. When Jesus spoke, He addressed every person with tact and spoke in a language they all could understand.

Keeping an open dialogue with the opposition has a great side-effect: we keep an open mind. The sound of silence is deadly when opposing parties have stopped talking with one another. I believe we need Jesus the most when we are tempted to throw stones for the sake of winning an argument or show little to no interest in people we typecast as our enemies.

We are on the right track when we stop resenting the opposition and start treating every person with respect. Many have preceded us in this endeavor and have left their footprints in the history of mankind. Loving our enemies, we rub shoulders with Jesus who gave His life for friends and enemies alike.

1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4: “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

In one of his letters to the Corinthians the apostle Paul summarizes the bedrock of our faith: Jesus died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day.

Death runs in the family, that is to say – everybody must die at some point. That is all we know and can remember; still, there was a brief time in the history of mankind when there was no death. At the dawn of creation death was absent. Earth was Paradise on the day we were born. God was connected with mankind. We walked and talked with Him. This season ended when we left God and went our own way; as a result, all of creation was put on death roll. “Why?” you may ask – “Animals and plants had nothing to do with our decision to leave God, why would they suffer alongside with us?” The Trinity is a community and so is His creation. When one part of creation is affected, all are affected.

There are all kinds of issues arising from death. One is separation anxiety. I went through separation trauma when I lost my Dad through divorce. I was two years old at the time. If I could have voiced my confusion back then, I would have said something like this: “Dad, why did you leave me? I thought you loved me!”

My Dad really didn’t leave me. He was divorced from me.

Death does the same thing. Death divorces people from us.

Death divorced Jesus from the Trinity. For a while the Trinity was reduced to two. It is one thing when families are torn apart; it is quite another when the Godhead is torn apart. Here is what Jesus prayed when He went through the agony of separation (Psalm 22:1):

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

God did not leave Jesus. He was divorced from Him.

The pain of separation has scarred all of creation. “It is finished” Jesus prayed shortly before His physical death on the cross. What is finished? Is Jesus finished? Obviously not, otherwise His last word would have been: “I am finished.” How about: “Death is finished”? Well, He is about to die, so that can’t be it. How about: “My punishment is finished?” Still, this doesn’t ring true to me because His punishment was the death sentence, and He was not dead yet. How about: “My mission is accomplished?” I believe this with all of my heart. It is His mission to save us from death and bring us back to God.

God hates divorce. He sacrificed His Son to bring us back together. The door to reconciliation is wide open and Heaven can’t wait to welcome us home.

“Heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb”

Rich Mullins

Luke 9:23-24: “Then he [Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it’”

Jesus knew of His upcoming arrest. On the road to Jerusalem He was knowingly walking into a death trap. Still, He kept on walking; His mind was made up. Approaching the city gates, Jesus addressed the crowd with the following words (Luke 9:24):

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

We are invited to follow the footsteps of Jesus; following Him, we relinquish all self-defense. God will always come through for us – but He will save us His way.

Israel was part of the Roman Empire in Jesus’ time. True to His own word, Jesus willingly surrendered when He was arrested by the Roman authorities. Rome’s punishment was a painful and public death by crucifixion. Crucifixion was a method of capital punishment until about the 4th century CE, in which victims were nailed to a large wooden beam and left to die. Along with two criminals who were executed with Him, Jesus died a slow and painful death on the cross.

After His death, family and friends were granted permission to take Jesus off the cross. Someone had offered his grave site for proper burial, and so Jesus was laid in a rich man’s tomb.

On the third day after His execution, two women went to look at the tomb in the early morning hours, when they were surprised by a violent earthquake. Like a flash of lightning, an angel of the Lord appeared. Without hesitation he rolled back the tombstone and sat on it. To his shocked audience the angel proclaimed (Matthew 28:5-6):

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

Christ is risen – Praise God, He is risen indeed!

The Trinity has fully invested in us withholding nothing and giving everything. I believe this is why the apostle John wrote in his gospel (John 3:16)

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

Our Heavenly Father believes in us – so much so that He bet His Son’s life on it and poured out His Spirit all over the earth. Jesus died so we can live. Finding the Lord is finding life. God shows us the way home, and our homecoming is thanks to enduring faith: God believes in us and we believe in God.

1 Peter 2:24: “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’”

Healing is in God’s name, and there is a lot in this world that is broken and in need of healing. Healing brings order into chaos. Healing brings peace. Healing breathes the universal sigh of relief.

The Trinity has been working tirelessly to restore sick bodies and repair broken relationships. Like soothing ointment the Holy Spirit interacts with a hurting world. Jesus spilled His lifeblood to draw all people back to Him. And the Father poured out His heart sacrificing everything, not even withholding His Son in order to restore Adam and Eve’s children to His kingdom. Jesus’s public ministry during His time on earth is the visible part of the Trinity’s efforts of reconciliation. Presently, Jesus is working behind the scenes sitting at the right hand of the Father intervening on our behalf while the Holy Spirit tirelessly knocks on human heart doors.

Our healing comes at a high cost; God paid it all and I believe He has no regrets whatsoever. The question is do we think God is worth everything? Here is what is dangerous about this question: Overwhelmed by everything He has done for us it is common to feel we have to pay God back. And I cannot emphasize this enough – No, this is definitely not what God expects from us. If we paid Him back we would put God in the position of a wage earner, and we would become His employer (God forbid) deciding on His wages.

If we seriously want to pay Him back, how much is it going to be? Will it ever be enough? I do not believe so – and where would this leave us? Our friendship with God would go out the window. The moment we put a price tag on God’s sacrifice we have officially turned our friendship into a business relationship.

So back to the question at hand: The Trinity gave everything to restore peace and bring healing to this world. What do we give in return? – Nothing less than our heart.

Human beings are the heart of the matter in the Trinity’s passionate pursuit to heal the world. And for us God becomes the heart of the matter; His love kisses us awake from death coma. Thanks to Him there is eternal life, life beyond this mortal body. God breathes immortality into mortality. Together forever, God gives us everything while we hold nothing back.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fighting and fears within without
O Lamb of God, I come, I come

Romans 5:6-8: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Imagine sacrificing your life to save an enemy. In times of war this would be called a treason. In times of peace we may tolerate our enemies, but we certainly don’t embrace them or even try to help them at the cost of our lives, and yet this is exactly what Jesus did.

Why would the Son of God love His enemies? That’s the puzzle of Good Friday. His interactions on the cross speak volumes. Here He is, in excruciating pain, and another man going through the same ordeal is insulting Him (Luke 23:39):

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Jesus is neither offended nor does He condemn the man. He is able to see past the insult. That’s the heart of grace. I believe His reaction was an eye-opener for another criminal bleeding on the cross. His name is unknown, but He was deeply moved by Jesus’ reaction and didn’t mince words when he addressed the angry individual who insulted Jesus just moments ago (Luke 23:40-41):

“But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’”

When the person who spoke up for Jesus asks Him a favor, He answers kindly (Luke 23:43-43):

“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

The angry criminal on the cross must have overheard this conversation. We don’t know whether or not he was moved, but I love the fact that this man may have died condemned by men, but not condemned by the Lord. All this is possible because God loves His enemies. A revolution happened on the cross. Jesus extended a hand of grace so we in turn, touched by grace, give room for grace when others have offended us. Grace turns a horrible Friday afternoon with condemned and bleeding individuals on the cross into Good Friday – a Friday of hope – with resurrection just around the corner.

Hebrews 1:3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Who is the Son of God? In a letter written to Jewish believers, the answer is as follows (Hebrew 1:3):

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”

The central star of our solar system is the Sun. Interestingly the radiance of the Sun is independent of distance. At larger distances (e.g. on Mars) the Sun appears smaller but not less bright. Jesus reminds me of this wonderful aspect of light. The brilliance of His light is undiminished by distance. Even from far away we can notice Him.

Light is both particle and wave; one would think particle and wave are mutually exclusive – light is either a particle or a wave – still, light is both. Following are some well-known facts about God that are also mutually exclusive:

– Jesus called himself the Son of Man and at the same time He is the Son of God.

– God is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, which are three entities. At the same time God says of Himself that He is “One” (Deuteronomy 6:4):

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Embracing paradox, we get inspired. In a roundabout way, we understand God better when we acknowledge that there are things we don’t understand. And accepting that God is mysterious, we actually grow closer to Him – which is another paradox if you will.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote that Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father. Notice that the left side of the Father is not mentioned. I would assume the Holy Spirit sits on His left side, but that seat is currently empty. Jesus returned to the Father while the Holy Spirit was poured out globally to spread the knowledge of God.

Lastly, this powerful verse in same letter talks about a wonderful gracious act. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, and here is the action: Jesus purified us before He sat down at the right hand of the Father.

If you have ever seen a diamond in the rough, then you would agree that there is not much of a diamond to be seen in its original state. The processing of a diamond goes through several stages until it gets to be a crown jewel. The beauty of our salvation story is that God saw the diamond in us when nobody else could. Jesus purified us so we can shine and show our true colors – a story of wonder is the story of grace.

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

The story of the cross changes everything.

Outside of Paradise, mankind has never been the same. We became estranged from the Lord as He seemed more and more removed from our reality; so we clung to each other and started idolizing human beings. However, our connection to other people is no substitute for knowing our Creator.

Our situation profoundly changed with Easter, triggered by events two millennia ago. On a scull-shaped hill in Jerusalem Jesus died nailed to a cross. It was a horrible day for His family and friends. His grieving disciples and relatives carried Jesus to the burial site, a rich man’s tomb that was donated to them. There they buried Him.

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

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

The grave was sealed and guarded, but no human effort could keep Jesus inside the grave. The tombstone was rolled away and Jesus walked out of the tomb, a walking talking witness that death was overcome once and for all. Jesus died to free us from death – what a powerful blessing! And yet the greater blessing is the life Jesus has for us. He freed us to have eternal life with God. The opportunities arising from our friendship with God are absolutely limitless.

The heart of Jesus is like a treasure trove; we need to keep digging to get to know Him. One day we will see Him – face to face – and what a day that will be!

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

Jim Hill

Galatians 2:20: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

When God invented a new life form – human beings – we were inherently good. Things changed when we got involved with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result we came under the law and with that, our identity changed. Like computer software attacked by a virus, we became corrupted.

The age of the law ran its course, and at the right time the Son of God came to save us from corruption. At the cost of His life He both satisfied the law and freed us from it. We are now free to reclaim our original identity. We can leave the life under the law and live our lives by faith believing in Jesus’ sacrifice, in the power of the cross.

It’s easy to believe and it’s hard to believe. We can get distracted by human history – people claiming to do things in the name of Jesus, and Jesus never authorized it. Still, it’s not impossible to get past all that and meet with Jesus, the original, not Jesus the counterfeit.

Cutting through the chase of misconceptions and misinterpretations, we get to the bottom of the message of the cross when we turn our eyes to the Son of God and understand what He has accomplished. He didn’t die on the cross because He had to; He died because He wanted to. God missed us. In our prior life, in the Garden of Eden, we had a close relationship with Him. The incredible gift of the cross is our opportunity to regain that closeness.

The very first step to reclaiming our original identity is to walk through the open door that God provided. When the message of the cross sinks in, we revert back to our true self: God’s creation, beautiful and free. Praise the Lord – let the healing begin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 1:18: “[Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom] For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

It is the Spirit of God who discloses and reveals the message of the cross. He endorses this message and gives it its seal of authenticity.

The idea of God dying on the cross for us is just as mind-blowing as the idea of God becoming a human being – for real – not just for a week or so, no, the entire human experience. Jesus was born into a human family; he grew up, went through puberty, became a man and ran his own business before He went into public ministry. All of that is part of the story of the cross. He did not just appear out of the blue. The Son of God was a local citizen, had a nationality and belonged to a family tribe.

Jesus’s mission entailed more than redeeming us from death. Immersing Himself into the human experience, He also came to redeem our lives. The Son of God did not just dip His toe into the water, He got His hands dirty. He laughed and He cried; He had relatives and built friendships; He experienced love and rejection; He was revered and disrespected.

And Jesus prayed. Whether on earth or in heaven, His prayers have been the one constant. Jesus still prays. He prays for us. We are on His heart day and night.

When Jesus passed from this life He died publicly in front of everybody a very cruel death. Dying in itself is tough. Why He had to be humiliated and murdered is incomprehensible, but so is human brutality that happens on a daily basis. The point being, Jesus came to redeem us from all of that. He came to save us from ourselves.

Saved is a state of being, not an end result. Jesus’s greatest joy is to see our healing process as a result of His sacrifice. We accept the truth God whispers into our ear, and we shed off all the things that tie us down and hold us back. Being saved simply means we get to be real. Turning to God and allowing Him to heal us, turns us into the person we were designed to be.

The story of the cross is a story we need to listen to from beginning to end so we do not miss a point. It is tragic that the glorious Son of God had to suffer because of us, but this is only part of the story. The other part is His passion for us. He did it because He loves us.

Jesus creates beauty from ashes. Life comes from the cross.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” Job 19:25

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

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 when we fail to experience life in its fullness. 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.

Can a circle be unbroken? I believe so. That is why Jesus came. He came to restore a broken connection, which occurred when mankind and God separated. It is an unnatural split. 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.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if God hadn’t sent Jesus at just the right time – which is any time other than the time He was born in Bethlehem. What would have happened, let’s say, if Jesus was born in the Stone Age or in this day and age? Just imagine Jesus on the evening news! Thankfully, God’s timing is impeccable. He sent His Son at just the right time.

There is a right time for everything, and God, the Author of time, never misses a beat; we on the other hand don’t want to miss the boat. Now is the time to be reconciled. Now is the time to get acquainted with the Son of God.