Romans 8:35, 37: “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.”

Nothing can separate us from God, with one exception: we can. Our little ego has that power and is instrumental to separation from God. We know that nobody is born selfless. We all come with an ego. Our ego is a tricky monster.  Try to negate it, and it rears its ugly head anyway. Try as you may, ego’s always in the way!

If that’s the case, what hope do we have to get connected to God? Never despair my friend! God has means to overcome obstacles even as big as the human ego, extraordinary means! Wouldn’t you think that splitting the Trinity and sending the Son of God down to Earth is extraordinary?

The important message that we should internalize is that God is always here, in good times and bad. He is literally everywhere, and He is constantly reaching out. It’s up to us to take His hand.

“Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus,
You’ve got to help me make a stand.
You’ve just got to see me through another day.
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
And I won’t make it any other way.”
                        James Taylor

Posted in Ego

1 John 3:11: [ More on Love and Hatred ] “For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”

Cain and Abel – the brotherhood that didn’t work out!

Cain was the firstborn of the family, and Eve was fascinated with him. Anyone with a first child can probably relate. She looked at Cain, counted all his fingers and toes, noticed every little finger had a proper fingernail, looked at his face and detected family resemblance. Proudly she turned to Adam and exclaimed (Genesis 4:1):

“With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man!”

Eve gave birth to more children, but Cain remained the special someone, the first kid she ever had. Firstborn status in the Middle East was bound to give preferential status to the eldest son.

Adam and Eve taught their kids from an early age to express their thankfulness to God by bringing choice gifts. As Cain grew up, he became a farmer. When it was time to offer his gift, he brought a selection of his produce. Meanwhile his brother Abel had learned to take care of his father’s flocks and herds. He brought one of the most promising looking specimens of his flock.

It is unclear how God’s favor materialized, but at the end of the day Abel’s gift stood out, while Cain’s gift was not well received at all – and Cain was not smiling! His frustration was written all over his face, and the relationship to his brother quickly soured. God addressed the issue at hand with Cain (Genesis 4:6-7):

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain obviously had his mind already made up because he refused to listen. Soon after, he killed his brother in cold blood.

This is the incident John was referring to in his letter. He wrote (1 John 3:12):

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.

Comparing Cain with Abel is a puzzling affair since none of the brothers neglected to offer gifts to the Almighty. What makes Cain’s gift so undesirable? In order to answer this question we have to dig a little deeper – past appearances!

Reality check is asking ourselves why we do what we do. Doing the right thing has everything to do with right intentions. We all know how wrong motives can be harmful. Certainly no good comes out of hatred. Love on the other hand puts everything into the right perspective. And love must have been the overriding factor that initiated Abel’s gift, while Cain’s gift was probably motivated by something less worthy.

There are all kinds of wrong reasons to give gifts, however, God is only interested in gifts given for the right reasons. So in all we do or don’t do today, let’s remember: love is king!

1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

What is love? And the answer is: God is love.

It’s easy to forget who takes center stage, especially when that Someone is invisible to human eyes. We are so concerned with our visible surroundings that we sometimes forget God was here first. He was here when no one else was because God knows no beginning and no end.

So, His love naturally came first, and like a candle lights another candle, He lit up the universe with life and love. Some of the life forms He gave the power to procreate and with that life and love exponentially grew in leaps and bounds.

Then death entered into the equation. Death not only opposed growth of life and love, death’s intention was to swallow up life and love. Something had to be done and an epic battle begun.

Have you ever done a sneak peek when reading through a book? I’m guilty of that. I routinely read the end first and then settle back reading through the chapters of the book in chronological order. I get more out of the reading experience because now I can appreciate the narrative even more without being rushed along, anxious to find out what’s happening in the end. But for those of you who never check out the end of a book and don’t want to know the outcome of a recorded game, well – here’s a spoiler alert for you: we already know who won that epic battle I mentioned earlier. Remember death wants to take over? Well, the opposite ended up happening, and God’s future victory celebration is depicted in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 25:6-7):

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples (…),
 On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.”

Death didn’t eat life for breakfast; no! death got swallowed up by life and love. Knowing this, we can be at peace as we live through our story. As it is, death is like a mortally wounded warrior still kicking. Yet in spite of the ongoing killings, life and love continues to grow exponentially and will do so eternally. Death on the other hand was already put in its place, and there will be a time when death is no more. That’s wonderful news!

Especially when the tides seem against us and life’s ferocious waves want to drag us down: remember who won.

John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

If your life story had a title, what would it be? – I’m not quite sure how to title mine yet, but I have an idea for Job’s life story. How about:

“Love under the Microscope”?

Job was put under the Microscope when Satan tested him – with God’s permission that is. God showed Satan and the world that there is such a thing as true love, a love that cannot be bought.  However, Satan didn’t think so. In a meeting with God Satan ridiculed Job and questioned his motives (Job 1:9-11):

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Apparently, the tempter does not believe in true love. In his lab work he stares at this phenomenon day in, day out, and he puts his test objects under tremendous stress hoping to see that in the end love fails.

Thankfully, love does not fail. Love always wins.

And on that note: we know how Job’s story ends. He held on to God for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, which is precisely what we say in our marriage vows – and so the story of love continues to this day proving Satan wrong time and again. – BTW Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!!!

We can say that the love between a man and a woman is a beautiful mystery. How about the love that God has for His creation? People were clearly stunned when they met Jesus. The apostle John remarks in one of his letters (1 John 1:1):

“We saw him (Jesus) with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.”

People were mystified way back then when they ran into Jesus, and it looks like we’re still mystified today. How God loves is just a strange concept to the human mind – who would have thought of turning God into a human being? That’s where faith steps in. Embracing God, we embrace a mystery we don’t need to understand. We just go for it, receive His love and enjoy the ride!

Let the love of God sweep you up, embrace you, heal you, carry you, and reform you – one day at a time – and the world around you will get a taste of the same Jesus who walked this earth 2000 years ago, by seeing Him alive and well inside of you!

Hosea 6:3: “Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Acknowledging the Lord is seeing the big picture. We become aware of the inherent connection that all creation has with its Creator. Once we’re aware it’s hard not to notice. We’re free to ignore Him of course, however, that’s like pulling the power plug. And we know that without power there’s not much going on in our lives.

A few years back, a micro burst knocked down the power lines in our area, which left us sitting in the dark. In search of light, my husband and I got up and drove around the neighborhood. We finally came across a little restaurant a few blocks away that was lit like a Christmas tree – and there we stayed until the power was back on. In today’s interconnected world a permanent electrical outage would be unimaginable.

We probably appreciate electricity more when we don’t have it. However, besides having access to an electric grid, we also want to be plugged in on a social level – family, colleagues at work and friends matter. Take all of that out of the equation, and we’re subject to isolation. Remember Cast Away? Or maybe you’ve read the classic: Robinson Crusoe?

Embracing the Lord is like reconnecting. Electricity is on. We’re going back to our roots, the bedrock of our existence. We are reconnected to vibrant life, tireless love, the great I Am! This brings life to our bones, joy to our hearts, and hope for the future.

Realizing we are created naturally opens the door to our Creator – and that’s a big deal. It means we belong. It means we know where we are from and where we are headed. It means we matter, and we were created for a reason. It also means we are loved – because our Creator is quite attached to His creation, to say the least. He comes to us like the winter rains; He softens the soil of our hearts and gives us the opportunity to thrive.

1 Corinthians 13:6-7: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

“Ben, you’re always running here and there
You feel you’re not wanted anywhere
If you ever look behind and don’t like what you find
There’s something you should know, you’ve got a place to go”
(Song lyrics by Don Black / Walter Scharf )

A love song about a rodent pretty much says it all. Love sees things differently! If you’re a pet owner you would agree. Pets become way more than four-legged furry balls. Most likely the pet’s lifespan is shorter than ours, and inevitably the day comes when we have to let our pet friend go. I am writing this, and I still have tears in my eyes as I think of our cat that passed away less than a year ago. My mother decided never to have a pet again after she had lost her pet. And some people won’t.

Ultimately, whenever we open our hearts and let somebody in, we run the risk of our hearts being broken. Still, look around. I see risk takers everywhere! We like to say: “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

When God decided to put humans on the map of the history of the universe, I believe He deliberately chose to accept the pain that came with it. If we had an interview with God and asked Him: “Why in the world did you create humans? That really backfired, didn’t it?” – He probably wouldn’t agree that inventing humanity was just one great big mistake of His. If that’s how He felt about us, I don’t think we would still be here. But here we are – still kicking! We’re here because we’re loved. I’m not sure that God would say it this way, but apparently, we’re worth the pain.

Whenever we see love acted out, we know that’s God’s heartbeat, right there. His love never gives up, and neither do we. There are a million reasons to become a cynic and give up on love, yet we soon discover that life without love is no life at all. Despite what you and I have been through, as long as we choose life we choose to love again.

Love perseveres. Love never gives up. That’s the beauty of love!

1 Corinthians 13:4-5: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.”

It’s easy to see through the schemes of pretended love. We know what love is and isn’t. Love isn’t rude and does not demand its own way. If somebody claims to love us but never listens, that’s no love at all.

Love bears fruit. There are fruitless efforts, but there’s no such thing as fruitless love. I think that’s good news. We can rest assured that we’ve never loved in vain. We might not get the response that we had hoped for, but then what do we know? One of the finest things our loving acts produce is peace in our heart. We know we have done the right thing. If our love is ill-received, we can let go and move on. That’s why a loving heart is free and without the baggage of grudge. We don’t keep a to-do-list of revenge. We wish people well, whether they like us or not.

Our loving acts create a ripple effect that continues in perpetuity. We touch more people than we will ever know. Love makes this world a better place. Hold on to this thought when you’ve been wronged, somebody hurt you, or certain people are walking all over you. Love is patient, but love is no doormat. Whatever it is you have to do to move out of a situation of abuse, needs to be done. But then, when everything is said and done, let it go for your sanity’s sake. That will give your broken heart the capacity to heal and you can love again, unfettered and free. Love is patient and love is kind and doesn’t need to keep records of being wronged.

God is famous for His loving kindness. Under His wings we are safe and free – free to be ourselves and certainly free to love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

One day Paul mailed an important letter to Corinth. It is one of the letters that are recorded in the New Testament.

As a Roman colony in 44 BC, Corinth flourished and became the administrative capital of the Roman province of Achaea. Still today Corinth is a major road hub and back then I imagine was a cultural melting pot with an influx of visitors from all over the world. Paul’s friends lived in an exciting city and they met a lot of interesting people. Apparently, in their daily interactions they couldn’t help but become impressed with certain people’s resumes. So they started inviting them over and listened to what they had to say. Some of their advice came to Paul’s attention and it did not sit well with him.

So Paul sat down and wrote a letter, basically a 101 on how to check out people. In a laundry list of human accomplishments Paul featured some remarkable stuff, brilliant people who are multi linguist, perform major breakthrough in scientific research, move mountains – only to top it off with sacrificing their lives for a good cause. Wonder Woman or Superman if there ever was one! And yet, Paul didn’t think so. He basically says that great deeds rely on great motivation. As an example, we know that sacrificing one’s own life can be the utmost expression of altruism – or it can be marred by cold fanaticism. Terrorist suicidal missions are a glaring example.

Heart of the issue then is the presence or absence of love in all we do or don’t do.

To live a life of love, we need to be connected to the Originator of the universe. Original love comes from God. Love is real because God is real; love is authentic because God is authentic; and love is the greatest because God is the greatest!

1 Corinthians 13:13: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

2 Thessalonians 1:3:[Encouragement during Persecution] “Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.”

Whoever lives in the American Southwest knows that with the right amount of rain desert flowers sprout and spread everywhere in springtime. Brittlebush and California Gold Poppies turn the desert into gold. It’s quite the sight for sore eyes! But then Arizona spring turns into summer. The same procedure as every year: When the brutality of the raging desert heat happens, all springtime flowers shrivel up and die. A lot of plants will go dormant while the Gold Poppies leave their seeds behind, ready to sprout in the next season.

Flourishing faith bears some resemblance to resilient Gold Poppies: Dying heroes scatter their seeds of inspiration. How would our world look like today without the likes of Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa (Just to name a couple of modern-day faith heroes)?Although Mother Teresa has passed away, the Society of Missionaries she initiated has spread all over the world, including the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries.  And although Martin Luther King was shot, his dream didn’t die with him.

Of course we don’t have to become famous to be a hero of faith. Even if you don’t feel like one, you are a hero if you have kept faith. Weathering the storms of life, we unwittingly turn into a sign of hope for someone else having a tough time. Holding on, you scatter seeds of inspiration to a person who is ready to give up. Often without knowing it, you have made a big difference!

God knows we need heroes from every walk of life. They turn things around just like wildflowers turn the desert into gold!

Matthew 5:43-45: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”

“Love your enemies” gives our opponents a human face. The enemy turns from an animal into another human being, someone like me, a person I could relate to.  

Who is your enemy? Have you identified one lately?

In times of war it seems easy to pinpoint the enemy. War crimes are committed. People die. The brutality of killing people during war has coined the term “post-traumatic stress disorder”. It became a buzzword in the 1970s in large part due to the diagnoses of U.S. military veterans of the Vietnam War. Essentially, even in war times when we have the license to kill to defend our country, at the end of the day we’re still killing people. Our human makeup is not as tough as it seems. Killing people catches up with us eventually. It’s deeply disturbing to the human psyche, which explains why people get sick over it.

It’s easy to see that we’re thriving in times of peace. If a profession was assigned to the human race, would it be professional killer? Hopefully not. If anything, we’re professional lovers not killers. After all, God is love, so His children naturally reflect love in their ways of dealing with other people. We’re here to procreate, spread out, discover the universe and build something new. To kill not only brings death to the people we killed, it also kills our spirit, it messes with our psyche and kills us physically further down the line. What goes around comes around.

In the end, it is much more inspiring to be generous. God gives sunlight to both evil and good. Whoever is our enemy, he or she is a person. We don’t know the entire picture of our enemy. Instead of hating this person, we need to give it a rest. It’s detrimental to our own health to even just wish destruction on anybody. Essentially, ill wishes will hunt us down and come true in our own life. We’re made to bless not to curse.

So, instead of making matters worse, let’s focus all our energies to solve problems, building bridges where we find an opportunity, and reconciling whenever we can.

As we embrace today, let us love in all forms, shapes and sizes!

Psalm 97:10: “You who love the Lord, hate evil! He protects the lives of his godly people and rescues them from the power of the wicked.”

Love and hate are the opposite poles on the spectrum of emotions. The equator line of indifference lies smack in the middle and is frowned upon by the Trinity. Jesus calls indifferent people “lukewarm”. He further describes them as delusional, detached from reality. Here are His words (Revelation 3:17):

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

There is no indifference in taking a stand. It takes passion to love, and with the same fierce passion we will hate anything that wants to destroy what we love. Passion in a way offers a shield of protection. Interestingly, the North and the South Pole with its magnetic fields similarly offer a shield of protection against the sun’s powerful radiation. Without the magnetic fields the earth as we know it would cease to exist and our current life forms had no chance of survival.

If we don’t protect our relationships they will disintegrate over time; that’s why all good relationships take a lot of work. We love with passion, and we protect with passion – following the footsteps of God Almighty who loves us passionately and who is our shield, day and night, night and day!

Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.”

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

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

Here is an open secret: God loves to be found. He’ll put heaven and hell to work to make that happen. Yes – even hell can be helpful at times. Have you ever noticed that light shines ever more brilliant in the dark? Light is more noticeable in shady places. Finding God during life’s darkest hour is not so unusual, after all. Of course that does not mean that God uses pain to manipulate us. It simply means that pain can sharpen our senses and help us distinguish between counterfeit and original.

We all want to know what’s real. We don’t want to live a lie. In pursuit of the real deal we will stop dead in our tracks when we have that “aha moment”, when we realize there is a God who cares.

We know when we’ve struck gold. We know when we’ve found unfailing love.

Psalm 33:4-5: “For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does. He loves whatever is just and good; the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.”

We hold a sponge soaked with water, dripping wet, ready to wipe a window. We could say the sponge is saturated with water. Similarly, Earth is saturated with the love of the Lord.

Planet Earth remains an outspoken testimony of God’s love with its wide variety of wildlife, its astonishing makeup of continents and islands and their different climate zones, sounds, colors and smells. The best thing about His creation: it procreates, because God created living beings. The best thing about creating us: We can be creative too! Human beings are known for coming up with new ideas all the time. That’s how they make contributions to human history.

Despite its many challenges, planet Earth is a wonder to behold.  Any project that is seen through from start to finish has details attached to it. The devil is in the details, isn’t it? Well, think of the myriads of details that hold our whole universe together. Any builders who take pride in their work tend to be attached to their building projects. God is certainly no less attached to His work, which is His creation.

However, His attachment comes with a great price. Imagine something you have invested in, and along comes someone who decides to sabotage all your hard work. How would you feel about that? Well, God’s creation story represents just that: God worked the universe. Once He completed His job, He looked around and was very satisfied with the results. But then the Snake entered the scene – and the rest is history.

God, who controls the mechanics of a whole universe, deliberately stands back and lets us do our own choosing. Freedom of choice was first invented by God. It certainly worked against Him in the Garden of Eden, but then the gift of our love is given freely, and that, my friend, means the world to Him.

God’s way of standing back and letting us choose to reject Him is a hallmark of His love. His love His generous and freely given, but by no means manipulative. He lets us do whatever we think we need to do and will not love us any less. Dolly Parton’s song “I will always love you” reflects some of this generous spirit in her lyrics:

“If I should stay
I would only be in your way
So I’ll go but I know
I’ll think of you every step of the way
And I will always love you.”

The unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth; He loves us – and He always will.

Genesis 5:23-24: “Enoch lived 365 years walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.”

If we had a chance to talk to Enoch and asked him how he felt about his life on Earth, chances are that his answer would be:

“Years just flew by. Looking back, life feels real short – more like 365 days instead of years!”

Some people say that life feels like a brief second. – Enoch could have said that life feels like a brief year, LOL!

Jokes aside; Enoch’s existence has left us a great legacy: apparently, as long as he lived, he walked through life’s hills and dales in close fellowship with God. Monday through Sunday, rain or shine, he clung to his Rock!

It’s when we’re on our own that we usually get lost. We need landmarks; we need a tour guide; we need a roadmap to make it through unknown territory; life – if anything – is unknown territory the minute we are born. Growing up, we remember our past, we know where we are today and maybe we know where we’re headed, but we never know what the future holds; God who holds the future is well equipped to navigate us through life’s pitfalls and changes. And here is one major pitfall – the mother of all changes – our eviction!

Whether we’re comfortable or uncomfortable in our bodies –the sobering truth is that we don’t own them; they are leased to us, much like a home we rent. Some people take good care of their rental; some are a little more negligent. Death is rude and comes uninvited. We may receive an eviction notice when we’re diagnosed with a terminal disease. Or death may happen in a snap of a second in an unforeseen event, a freak accident – nobody knows. What we do know: when our lease is up, we will move out of our bodies for good.

Walking with the Lord, we’ve already been through various leaps of faith, big or small. That’s what happens as we walk with Him. The exodus from our bodies, while a traumatic event, really represents yet another leap of faith. If Jesus has left any footprints in our hearts and minds, the prospect of death won’t terrify us too deeply. The best part of our passing: we will finally get to meet Him in person. We have become familiar with His voice. Now we get to see His face! He has been our Friend all along. Now we move into His neighborhood! Jesus has left us with a powerful promise, which John penned down in his gospel for everyone to hear (John 14:2):

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

The answer to His question is no. Jesus would not tell us a lie about heaven. He is from heaven and so we can assume that His report is authentic and reliable. We do well to believe in Him!

Psalm 59:16: “But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.”

There is enough craziness going on that could drive us insane; there is enough brokenness that could dip us into deep depression – I believe that we all could use a safe place to lick our wounds and heal, to chill and collect our thoughts, or to just unwind and be ourselves. Nobody runs on steroids 24/7 without paying the price at some point. We need room to breathe. Actually, that’s where weekends come in handy. A 7-day-week with one day set aside to step out of the box of busyness is a great concept, isn’t it?

Like any great concept, we might agree to it in theory, but in all reality it’s tempting to be always busy. Life is demanding enough. It’s up to us to periodically step away from life’s demands and draw the line in the sand. In other words: we have to make a concerted effort. The place of safety doesn’t come to us by accident. Like any hotel room, we need to book this place in advance. If we have a full calendar, we need to block out the time we need for ourselves.

Personally, I relish the excitement of productivity, and I love it when God inspires me with His kind of prompting in my heart as the day wears on. However, we have a different kind of access to God when the curtains fall and productivity is out of the picture. If we’re missing out on this special time with Him, we’re also majorly missing out during our productive times.

Meet God in your pajamas and you’ll meet him in your business suit. If you make this your habit, it will feel more natural to retreat to Him in times of distress. We all need His love, but we especially need it when we are broken. It is good to remember that His love never fails.

Give Him the time of day and you’ll have the time of your life.

Isaiah 64:4: “For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!”

Who likes to wait? Oh boy! My middle name is Impatience. We actually have a family member who is named – not Impatience – but Patience, and I often thought if I was named Patience it would take more than a lifetime to live up to that name. I tend to make rash decisions, just to get it over with. I don’t wait, I rather act. If I have to wait and there is no other way, then soon I feel stuck and get depressed. That’s how I’m wired. I like results. I like to see. I don’t like mystery.

Well, if you feel like that, then I have bad news for you: God is mysterious. One minute He is gloriously near, the other minute we look for Him and He seems to have vanished. We expect Him to show up in some way, and all we hear is silence. We have to bide our time and wait.

Isaiah went through a situation like that. In his book he wrote (Isaiah 63:19-Isaiah 64:1):

“Sometimes it seems as though we never belonged to you,
    as though we had never been known as your people. 
Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down!
    How the mountains would quake in your presence!”

In other words: “Please, God, do something, will you?”

There is no way that our finite minds are big enough to wrap around the intricate details of our infinite God, but there is one thing we do know about Him: He is good. We have to trust Him on that.

Here is another way to look at it: God could never be boring! It takes all eternity to get to know Him. We have subscribed to a discovery channel of a very special kind when we walk with God, and we will continue to discover all sorts of delightful details about Him. If life is a journey, eternity certainly is too. I personally think life is a wild ride – so many ups and downs all the while dealing with a mysterious God. Oh yeah! Welcome to God’s world!

In many ways our relationship with God reminds me of a relationship between a man and a woman. There is a lot of mystery going on between the two. Girls often scratch their heads and don’t quite understand what is going on in a guy’s mind. And guys have the same to say about girls. Even as we get married, a portion of the mystery remains. Nobody is completely predictable. Why? God made us and we carry some of His mystery in our genes. Yep, God is mysterious, and so are we!

There is a time for everything“, the Bible says – so, if it is time to wait, that’s what we’ll have to do. We know that God will come through in His own good time.

Psalm 86:5: “O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.”

People can be hard to please, but this does not apply to God.  We don’t need to jump through the hoops to please Him. We don’t have to bend over backwards to get into His graces. He already loves us. The Lord is good, and it’s His desire to be good to us. Asking Him triggers a boatload of blessings:

  • God is ready to forgive and forget. Often a major hurdle for us is to forgive ourselves, God help us! The blessing of getting unstuck, the blessing of moving on, the blessing of experiencing God’s tender mercies are a huge milestone in many people’s lives.
  • Unloading burdens not meant for our shoulders is another huge blessing. I for one have a tendency to obsess over things I have no control over.
  • God is good. His goodness is a great blessing. What a relief to know that He’s on our side, He’s our advocate and He has our best interest at heart!
  • God is love. Goodness and loving kindness will follow us for the rest of our lives. Think about that for a minute. His love never goes away!

The beauty lies in the simplicity: we unlock His blessings by asking. Just ask Him and see what happens.

Posted in Ask

Ephesians 4:2: “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”

Paul mailed a letter from prison to his friends in Ephesus (which is modern day Turkey). Previously, he had been arrested for no other reason than publicly expressing his beliefs. He could have gotten hung up on injustice and unfair treatment. Instead, the first thing Paul wrote in his letter was this (Ephesus 4:2):

“Always be humble and gentle.”

This morning as I was browsing the Internet, I listened to Tim McCraw’s rendition of “Humble and kind”. One part of the song lyrics got my attention. Here it is:

“Bitterness keeps you from flying, always be humble and kind.”

In the comment section of this particular video clip Lessie Perreves wrote:

“Even though I’ve been raised on this whole rule the song proposes, I do get really bitter/salty sometimes. Whenever that happens, I listen to this. It helps me feel better and helps remind me no one likes a bitter jerk.”

God knows we go through some really bad situations sometimes. Dealing with our emotions as we’re processing loss is our number one priority. Bitterness is not very attractive and actually adds to our existing problems because nobody wants to be in the presence of a “bitter jerk” as Lessie so rightly observes.

If we’re going through an awful experience we need to allow our hearts to be broken. As painful as it sounds and as counter intuitive as it seems, ultimately only a broken heart can be healed. A hardened heart on the other hand will continue to be stuck in trauma and won’t be able to heal.

It’s humbling to admit failure. It’s humbling to accept we’re broken and bruised. In our humility however always lies the kernel of hope that our weakness of today pours into our strength of tomorrow. Bad experiences can make us stronger and as a byproduct create empathy. Our newfound empathy will make us a better friend, parent, coworker, and spouse.

Let’s take it from Paul who has weathered quite a few storms: always be humble and gentle, my friend!

Mark 9:39: “He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, ‘Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.’”

We have friendly or unfriendly competitions going on all the time. Someone wants to be the greatest comedian, another wants to be the greatest pop star, and our businesses are thriving on the notion that we’re offering the greatest product. The most popular movies are celebrated, but did you know that the worst movies are listed also? This goes to show that in a way everything that stands out gets our attention, whether it’s extremely good or extremely bad.

How about nobody wins and nobody loses? Imagine the Olympic games without winners and losers. “That’s no fun!” we say. We compete against each other to find out who is the greatest. We all don’t want to be the same, and competition is the antidote to sameness. We want to stand out – hopefully in a good way. If we can’t achieve that, sometimes we go the opposite way, just to attract attention.

Jesus chose a group of followers who were with Him every day. Twelve guys were chosen, which already set them apart from the rest of the world. But of course that was not enough. So, on their way to Capernaum they had a discussion going on revolving around the subject of who among them was Jesus’s greatest choice. They kept their voices down so Jesus wouldn’t hear what they were talking about. But then Jesus has super-hearing. So He brought it up at dinnertime (Mark 4:33-35):

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

“Got it!” some of his disciples might have thought to themselves. “I’m going to be the greatest servant of all times! I’m going to out-serve everybody until the cows come home!” To make a point, Jesus hugs a child and puts it in the middle, right in front of His disciples. This child hadn’t done anything spectacular to be set as an example, but here it was, small and defenseless, enjoying a good hug while smiling a toothless grin at the twelve men staring at him. Jesus certainly got their attention, so He went on to explain (Mark 4:37):

“Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

Instead of being concerned about greatness let’s be concerned about each other. That’s what we do when we serve: we look out for each other, and we have each other’s backs.

In a society with a short attention span and people constantly craving attention – let’s do everybody a favor and pay attention. See what happens if somebody listens and somebody cares. Wouldn’t you know it? Just one caring person – isn’t it amazing what a difference that makes?

John 4:24: “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The old rift between Samaritans and Jews began in 930 BCE. Way back then, jealousy ignited a tribal war, which ended in Israel’s split into two countries. The tribe of Judah became the southern kingdom with its capital Jerusalem, while the other ten tribes formed the northern kingdom with its capital Samaria (hence Jews of the northern kingdom were called Samaritans). Ongoing conflicts between the Jewish tribes further aggravated political hostility and opposition as centuries went by.

It is with those centuries of opposition and incidents between their peoples that we can understand the surprise of a Samaritan woman when Jesus addressed her out of the blue. Jesus had been touring Israel for a while. Wherever He walked He talked about the kingdom of God. He was sitting at a well resting after a long day’s journey when the Samaritan woman showed up. That’s when He asked her for a favor: a drink of water.

In the ancient Middle East a man wouldn’t strike up a conversation with a woman, unless she was family. Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman carried many counter-cultural notions, not the least of which was gender equality. If a woman is more than the extension of her husband, she becomes a human being whose input is valued, whose opinion matters, and whose questions are taken seriously.

And here is the loaded question that must have bothered the Samaritan woman for a while. She asked Jesus point-blank (John 4:19):

“So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Essentially, she was asking Jesus: “Where do we worship God?” This question was based on the assumption that worship is bound to one particular location and nowhere else. However, can God really be tied to one location? God is Spirit, isn’t He – and His Spirit is known to be like the wind. No-one can fence Him in. The wind of His Spirit blows everywhere. Our hearts are brushed by His wind whenever He speaks to us.

If God had chosen a capital, it wouldn’t be Jerusalem or Samaria or any other location on this planet that we deem sacred. God capitalizes on our hearts. It’s within our hearts that we worship God in Spirit and in truth. And our hearts are indeed the one and only location where God wants to be worshiped.

Ephesians 6:12-13: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.”

God made us human. Humans live their lives on Earth in a body. We have lived in our bodies for as long as we can remember, and it’s the same place where God’s Spirit dwells if we invite Him in, which is why Paul wrote in one of his letters (1 Corinthians 6:19-20):

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

The Holy Spirit is our telephone connection to Heaven. We won’t hear from God, unless we let His Spirit speak into our hearts. Without the Spirit of God, flesh and blood is like an accident waiting to happen. Perhaps we know how to wage war against our human enemies; however flesh and blood does not know how to fight a spiritual battle. Only the Spirit of God is equipped to deal with the unseen world and will help us fight our spiritual battles. As flesh and blood naturally deals with flesh and blood, so God’s Spirit naturally deals with the spiritual world.

Even if we don’t know of any human enemies, we all have a spiritual enemy who passionately hates us, and he does not go away by simply being ignored. Paul calls the enemy force the “mighty powers in this dark world, and evil spirits in the heavenly places”. This enemy force wants to destroy us and is the deeper reason why life is such a battle. Our fragile hearts need protection. It’s our precious centerpiece, the seat of our passion and love, the temple of our heart where we worship God, and God will do everything in His power to protect this heart of ours.

Personally, I don’t like to over-spiritualize things. We desperately need God’s Spirit – we are lost without Him – but we also need other human beings; let’s face it: we don’t function very well on our own. I like to close today with a quote from one of Johnny Cash’s song lyrics, incidentally called “Flesh & Blood”:

“I leaned against a bark of birch
And I breathed the honey dew
I saw a North-bound flock of geese
Against a sky of baby blue
Beside the lily pads
I carved a whistle from a reed
Mother Nature’s quite a lady
But you’re the one I need
Flesh and blood needs flesh and blood
And you’re the one I need.”                           
Johnny Cash

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

Whenever we think: “Time is money – I have more important things to do”, we need to think again. Even if we don’t put it that way, even if we have something super-important listed on our calendar that we use as an excuse, there is an undercurrent going on, and this undercurrent will sweep us away if we’re not careful.

One of the first illusions as kids growing up is that we tend to think that time runs in slow motion. If we are bored, time even seems to drag its feet.

Then we grow into adulthood, and time no longer drags its feet. Decades seem to accelerate in speed. Yesterday we were kids playing in the Sun, today we see our grandchildren growing up. What happened? Life happened, and it usually happens fast. Life accelerates all on its own. But we can slow down if we are so inclined.

Life is not a race – we’re often pressed into thinking it is, but in all reality it’s not. We grab life at its tail when we enjoy the moment.

I understand we all have a calendar and stuff needs to happen to make the world go round. Well, here is the thing though: The globe spins entirely without our doing. As a matter of fact, planet Earth would be probably better off without the human race if we look at our ecological footprint.

A humble outlook on life is simply a realistic assessment: we’re not as big as we think we are – just looking at the vastness of the universe puts things into perspective – and what we deem important at the moment is maybe not so important after all. We need to allow ourselves to slow down to get in touch with reality and to put things into perspective.

Slowing down may not be an easy thing to do. I’m currently working on it, and sometimes I fail. Just recently I got a speeding ticket because I was racing to get to my next appointment. However, I have my moments when I’m doing it right, and you know what? Life is enjoyable that way. Speeding actually takes the fun out of life.

Do yourself a favor today: Instead of breaking the speed limit, hit the brakes. For Heaven’s sake slow down!

Philippians 4:8: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

It’s no secret that our thought life impacts our actions and well-being. If we think that our life is worth living, if we believe that there is hope for our future, if we have plans and ideals that we strive for and people we love and care for, this tremendously influences our outlook on life. However, we all know how it feels when we run into a dry spell. How we negotiate such dry spells depends entirely on how we think about it, and this is what Paul addresses in his letter to his Greek friends in East Macedonia.

A few years back, I had a near-death-experience after an unsuccessful second heart surgery. For a while, I felt my life was drawing to an end. Naturally, this has had a profound impact on my psyche. Thinking I’d soon be gone, I wanted to leave a good impression, so in all life aspects I gave it my best shot. I was really wrapping up my life to get my affairs in order so-to-speak. However, this was back in 2014. Meanwhile, I’ve made it through another heart surgery, and here I am, still kicking. Eventually, I had to shift gears because my life was not about to end any time soon.  At some point I had to resolve to give life another chance. Think about it: regardless how much time we have left, we have things working for us. We need to open our eyes, we need to get inspired, and as we keep thinking about these things hope rises in our hearts. A life without hope is no life at all. The Bible says very wisely (Proverbs 13:12):

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

The trick is not to lose hope. God for One never does, so we turn to Him for encouragement. God also uses people to encourage us.  Whatever our outlook on life, let’s not forget, it’s never as dark as it seems. And after a long night – here comes the Sun and with it a brand-new day!

Galatians 6:1: “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.”

It’s a modern miracle that Jewish identity persisted even after losing their home country to live in various nations all over the globe. A great example of preserving their cultural identity is the reintroduction of the Hebrew language. The process of the Hebrew language revival began on October 13, 1881, as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his friends agreed to exclusively speak Hebrew in their conversations. As a result, the language, which had not been spoken as a mother tongue since the second century CE, once again became the national language of Israel.

To protect their integrity, Jewish upbringing emphasized separation: stay away from that, avoid mingling with these. This approach served two purposes:

  1. Maintain Jewish identity;
  2. Avoid disintegrating into foreign cultures

While this protective mode has worked very well to survive all kinds of cultural invasions, the same approach has a tendency to isolate. When Jesus came along He mingled with everybody, He did not stay away from foreigners, outsiders, and He had relations with all sorts of troubled people; this was highly counter-cultural!

What is easier: to learn something new or to unlearn something? I believe both can be hard, but unlearning a bad habit can be a lot harder, especially unlearning prejudice. Jesus carried no baggage. There is no labeling or defensiveness in the Son of God. Learning to let go of our baggage will immensely contribute to removing walls that we put between ourselves and our neighbor.

Paul recognized that in his letter he wrote to his friends in Galatia, which is modern-day Turkey. He encouraged to reach out rather than to stay away from troubled people. He encouraged to build bridges rather than to burn them. Let’s keep that in mind as we embrace today!

James 1:5: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

The first step to wisdom is asking for advice. Of course ultimately it also depends on whom we ask for advice, but still the first step is asking. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? For some reason I used to have a hard time realizing that. It didn’t occur to me to ask until I was in the middle of a problem.

Asking is involving. My husband and I are currently working on a music album. For the first time we’re using an online studio. A lot of team work and communication is involved. Songs are being shaped. Instruments are chosen. It’s our first time ever we’re doing this sort of thing. So what did we do? We hired a production manager, and we ask him questions. We ask and we value his input.

I’m sure there are lots of things that come our way, and we just lack the experience or expertise to handle it. Stop trying to handle everything yourself. Ask for advice.

James wrote in his letter to involve God in our day to day lives. His advice is to ask God for wisdom, and He will give it to us.

I feel that I need a lot of wisdom these days! I don’t believe that God puts a lid on wisdom. He won’t say: “Oh here we go again! Another question to help solve a problem! That’s it – you’ll have to figure it out on your own this time!”

Let’s not be shy about needing advice. It never hurts to ask. It hurts us more if we don’t!

Posted in Ask

Galatians 6:7-8: “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.”

Quoting Charles Caleb Colton who once said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, we often imitate the person we admire. In the spiritual realm this habit can become problematic. If we put a person between us and God, we’ll have problems accessing Him and vice versa. God likes to have a direct connection with you. He wants to get your attention. If there are obstacles to this connection, most likely God is currently working on removing them, however, your involvement is required at some point. God is not in the habit of violating your will.

Whatever we value sums up who we are. Of course we’re not one-dimensional. We value many things, but then there’s a tendency. We look at time and effort we invest, and we just know what is important to us.

If good looks are vital to us we’re in for a heart break. Aging will change our looks.

If family is everything to us, then most likely we’ll get very frustrated. Family units change all the time. Children move away, family members pass away. Then there is divorce and miscommunication. “We can pick our friends, but we can’t pick our family” is a proverb illustrating complicated family relationships.

If work is number one, then obviously we’ll run into all kinds of problems with the people in our lives. Nobody likes to be number two, and if work comes first your dearest friends will be number two – that is if you have any friends left.

I’m going to stop here – there are plenty of other examples, but the bottom line is: we harvest what we sow. It does not make much sense to invest into something that has little or no future. To make the most of life is to focus on our heart and soul, which is the engine of our existence; it’s the part of us that can connect to God.

It’s our connection to God that carries on into the future, beyond death. As such it takes precedence. We sow into our connection with God, we harvest a dynamic relationship that will continually amaze us. And I will say only this: God is very interesting to explore!

James 1:2-3: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”

Trouble and worry go together like peanut butter and jelly! Quoting from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, a former tax collector by the name of Matthew wrote in his gospel (Matthew 6:34):

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Matthew didn’t grow up dreaming of a career in tax collecting. This profession came his way probably because it was offered to him by the Romans who occupied Israel at the time Matthew was alive. Maybe he was an educated man or had other qualities that made him stand out. He got the job because he was qualified and because he needed it. His own finances may have left him no choice – who knows? What we do know about Matthew is his instant attraction to Jesus when He came along. And Jesus, who knows human hearts, read him like a book.

Inspired by Matthew’s heart, Jesus told a story about a tax collector. In His story a Pharisee, obsessed by his own virtue, is contrasted with a tax collector who humbly asks God for mercy. Here was Matthew, who had never met Jesus before, and the first thing he hears from Him is a story of a tax collector; he couldn’t believe his own ears when it dawned on him that the tax collector actually was the hero of the story! Wow, someone like him – a hero?

Trouble had come Matthew’s way in the form of public rejection. People just hated his guts because he was viewed as a collaborator. Matthew knew he could get killed any day by a fellow citizen if he was not careful. He grew tough so the hateful comments of the people around him wouldn’t offend him any longer. But Jesus’s story cut him to the core. This was a no-brainer for him. He got up and left his tax collector’s booth right then and there. He wanted to be near this man Jesus for the rest of his life. And he trusted Him enough to throw all his worries overboard. Following Jesus, he began to live just one day at a time.

Trouble is a standard byproduct of living in this world. There is no such thing as an untroubled life for anybody around here! What Jesus is suggesting is that our Creator can give us solid peace of mind if we let Him take care of us. Living like the birds in the air or the flowers in the field – that is living one day at a time without worrying about the future. God won’t take away our troubles, but He is well able to take away our worries.

Matthew 7:12: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

In one of my favorite stories, Jesus talks about a certain landowner who had a record year. His vineyard had produced a large amount of grapes. They had been picking grapes like crazy, and they were still falling behind schedule. Now it was way down in the fall, and those grapes had to be picked pronto! So the landowner decided to hire some additional crop workers just for a day or two to get this taken care of.

He started hiring early in the morning, and those guys went right to work. He had offered them good pay, a rather generous amount of money really. “This is a great opportunity to catch up on some bills”, one of the crop workers remarked as they started picking grapes. “Well then – pick away!” the other jokingly said.

As the day went on, more and more crop workers joined them in the morning, mid-morning, around noon, in the afternoon, and even late in the afternoon. A few more guys came in at the very last hour. This landowner apparently was serious about getting the job done!

And so it happened. The crop workers picked every last grape off of those vines. Then the Sun went down, and they were done for the day. The landowner sat at a table near the exit of his property to hand out their day’s wages, and everybody received their money. Celebration was in the air; everybody was happy, except …. the guys who were hired first. As it turned out, every crop worker received the same amount, and so they began to murmur among themselves: “Wait a minute! Those guys came in at the very last hour and now they receive the same wages?!” – “Do you have a problem with my generosity?” The landowner asked the incensed crop workers, and here is where the story ends.

Jealous people are no fun! They take the Golden Rule for instance and measure it against you. Secretly they think:

“I’ve done this for you, now I expect you to do this for me.”

That’s no Golden Rule, that’s blackmail.

Jealous people aren’t really that happy either, because they are busy comparing. Unlike arrogant people who think they are better than the rest of the world, jealous people feel somehow slighted; they habitually think that in most regards they come out short, and they clearly don’t like it.

If a group of jealous people had a conversation with Jesus and Jesus would ask them pointblank: “What is up with you guys? Is there anything I can do to help? You don’t seem to enjoy life very much.” Their answer would sound something like this: “How about some fairness when you created us! You have lathered some with gifts and talents, and others you seem to have overlooked. Give to us as you have given to others, that is Your Golden Rule, right?” Jesus looked at each of them compassionately before He answered their question with a question of His own: “Why would you have a problem with my generosity?”

The Golden Rule is not so golden when misinterpreted!

We’re golden if we stop comparing and start with some self-respect. I respect myself and guess what: I find myself respecting others.

We’re golden if we stop comparing and start with some appreciation of ourselves. I appreciate my gifts and talents and what do you know: all of a sudden I find myself discovering and appreciating other people’s gifts and talents.

The Golden Rule works like magic – if we start at our own front door. Learning to love and appreciate ourselves we’re prone to love and appreciate others.

1 Corinthians 10:13: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

Looking at that fruit dangling from a forbidden tree once caused a ruckus in the Garden of Eden. Giving in to temptation, we lost our innocence, and mankind has never been the same.

Temptations are bred by cravings, and we crave all kinds of things: power, recognition, chocolate, revenge, success, talent, looks, money, just to name a few. It’s our weakness. We wouldn’t be tempted to commit a single crime if we weren’t craving. So in order to get to the bottom of this we need to ask why. Why are we craving?

Eve’s temptation was preceded by one simple question: “Did God really say?”

Somehow doubts and insecurities have wormed their way into Eve’s heart, and she was ready to take advice from a snake, for crying out loud. Why is she even listening? She’s been doubting all along, and all it took was a little push, and off she went – into the wrong direction.

God on the other hand has no problems with doubts, He does not crave anything, He does not need anything. How then could He be tempted? James wrote in a letter (James 1:13):

“And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. “

So here it is, concise and clear: God can’t be tempted. His love knows no fear. No doubts are assailing Him. He is completely immune to any kind of temptation.

But then God became a baby, slipped into flesh and bones and inherited our human DNA. The Son of God can tell us a thing or two about temptation. He was rattled, He was in pain and agony, but He did not give in to temptation. How did He do it?

The gospels describe how Jesus was tempted at various times. Here is one example:

Jesus was wandering in the desert. He went without food for 40 days. He was beyond hungry, His body was running out of fuel; all His body cells were screaming for sustenance. The interesting part of the temptation to me is that the tempter didn’t just dish Him freshly baked bread. He asked Him to turn stones into bread. So the temptation here was really two-fold: the struggle to overcome the urges of hunger, and the struggle to misapply His power. He could have easily turned stones into bread. He fed 5000 souls in the desert with only a few pieces of fish and bread. No problem here!

But Jesus didn’t misapply His power; instead He relinquished His power to God – not to the tempter – and whichever temptation came His way, He wasn’t going to do it. He dug in His heels and did not give in. Jesus trusted God on all accounts, especially when He had to face a gruesome death.

Trusting God is the key ingredient to beating temptation. However, trust is organic. It grows and it shrinks. Trust really depends on keeping in touch. Jesus definitely kept in touch. He is known for His alone time with God. He sought Him out regularly.

Our alone time with God nourishes our faith and our trust in Him. Cutting down on quality time with God, we get estranged faster than we know. Pretty soon God is an acquaintance, and we quote the truth without being personally vested in it. Our words become hollow and meaningless. Temptations come our way, and we fail big time. But then again, every twist and turn of our life’s journey provides the opportunity to come back to God.

God, who can’t be tempted, is also not tempted to drop us like a hot potato when we fail. And Jesus who knows how it feels to be tempted couldn’t be more empathetic.

Galatians 5:16: “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”

Life stories are the most interesting stories to follow, I find, and the Bible is full of them! Here is the story of a guy named Lot:

Lot would never forget that day when they left everything they’d ever known. His grandfather Terah decided to move away from their hometown Ur to embark on a journey into the unknown. He invited Lot and his uncle Abraham to come along.

Following the caravan route, they arrived in Haran one day, a major city near modern day Baghdad in Iraq. They must have temporarily settled there to do some business when an unforeseen event hit the family hard: their beloved patriarch passed away. Lot was in shock! Here they were in a strange city without their clan leader. What now? Were they turning around to go back to Ur? He was seriously considering it. Lot didn’t like to live like a nomad. He liked the city. He liked to build business relationships and settle. But then his uncle Abraham seemed to see things differently.

After some debate, Lot felt that his uncle had a point. They were family, and they should stick together. Finally, Lot decided to travel on with Abraham, and God guided the two families to their destination: the land of Canaan, a region bordering the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Conflict arose between the two families after they had settled in Canaan. Their livestock had grown exponentially, and the land could no longer support all of them. Lot didn’t think he could stay with his uncle Abraham any longer. He felt it was time to separate and be on his own. He had his eye on a region near the Jordan River for a while. It was the perfect location for his flocks and herds. Best of all: two thriving cities were close by. He could finally settle down and build business relationships! So Lot took his wife and children and moved to the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley near Sodom and Gomorrah. Unfortunately, Lot’s decision did not bode too well for him and his family. As it later turned out, his moving location was on the brink of a major disaster!

Lot’s life is a vivid example of how a conflict of interests affects important life decisions. The Holy Spirit wants to guide our lives, but we often think we know better, and for various reasons we fight that inner voice.

Life events and people often overthrow our neat plans. One door closes, another one opens, and we’re grieving over the closed door and are not sure where the open door leads. God is a great change agent, and He uses such things to inspire our hearts; He guides us through the mystery into our destiny. God is not against us, He is for us, and He has a dream for you and me. Guess what: God always dreams big!

Be inspired by the Holy Spirit – and may all of God’s dreams for your life come true!

Genesis 9:12-13: “Then God said, ‘I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth.’”

What do we do when we have a fruit platter with bad apples covered in fruit flies?  We take out the trash after setting aside the few apples unaffected by their rotten neighbors. And that’s exactly what happened with Noah’s generation. Desperate times call for desperate actions, but even so, the Lord was heartbroken and grieved over His spoiled creation (Genesis 6:6-8):

“So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth.  It broke his heart.  And the Lord said, ‘I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth.  Yes, and I will destroy every living thing – all the people, the large animals, the small animals, and even the birds of the sky.  I am sorry I ever made them.’ But Noah found favor with the Lord.” 

Here was Noah with his wife and children who lived a life different from the rest of the world. He walked with God, regardless what other people did or didn’t do. It must have been a lonely life. He probably didn’t have many friends outside the family circle. And if he did, then their bad influence would have caught up with him eventually. So God decided to separate him and his family from the bad apples around them. To give His creation another chance and to save land mammals from complete extinction, the world’s biggest life boat was constructed, aka Noah’s ark.

In case you’ve been going back and forth on the issue whether or not the big flood really happened and whether or not Noah’s ark is indeed a myth – would it make a big difference to you if somebody could prove that Noah’s Ark actually existed? Personally, I think it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What does matter is the message of the story; but maybe even the message of the story poses a problem – or how do you feel about God drowning a large amount of people and animals to purge the planet?

Let’s not forget that God leaves us with a rainbow of hope at the end of the story. God decided to reboot and start over instead of completely writing us off. Even as the majority of humankind was moving into the wrong direction, God still found a reason to believe in us. I find this very encouraging, especially in view of today’s crazy world.

God set a rainbow in the clouds so we’ll never forget: Our God is merciful! His love connects us. Heaven came to Earth when Jesus came along, and His heart is with us still today. He sticks closer to us than a brother, and most importantly: He does not give up on us!

 Medley “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World

1 John 4:20-21: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.”

Medications often come with side effects. My husband always likes to read the fine print for this very reason. Well, loving God also comes with major side effects: Our hearts get bigger! Embracing the person next to us, treating animals with respect, caring for our environment are the known side effects of loving God. Loving God, we love everything He loves. That just comes with the territory!

As our hearts expand, so expands our horizon. We notice things we haven’t noticed before. We develop empathy. We want to help. We want to be involved. We care. However, our hearts may run into some growth problems when old habits interfere.

Professionally, I used to prefer working on my own. For the longest time in my career I worked administrative positions that required attention to detail but involved little interaction with people. I have loved God all my life, but I used to be wary when it came to people. And this is a disconnection of a sort: God cares for people. If I really don’t care that much about people, how much do I really care about God?

God has a way of shaking things up, and today I find myself in a profession that has everything to do with people. I sing for a living now, and I find the greatest pleasure singing for memory care patients – that’s quite a long shot from running payroll, which is what I used to do in my administrative heydays.

I find that loving people brought me closer to God’s heart. And I believe this is where John was getting at in his letter. If we deny ourselves the opportunity to love people, we deny ourselves the opportunity to grow closer to God. Of course there are various reasons why we get stuck, and we will have to face our fears, resentment and past hurts to overcome these barriers. God will help us as we do. He has helped me.

The ripple effect of our love journey goes a long way, even though we’re not aware of the blessings we leave in our wake. It’s an adventure of a lifetime; it may not be easy at all, but it’s a wonderful life.

2 Corinthians 5:19-20: “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’”

We all know that Jesus from Nazareth is no longer physically present. If that were the case, TV cameras and reporters would be behind every street corner of His stomping ground; His ministry would be on the evening news; He would be the hot topic on social media. If people were climbing Sycamore trees to catch a sight of Him way back then, imagine what would happen if Jesus was physically present on planet Earth today!

Physical presence is highly underrated these days. A lot of my communication is via texting. It’s great to keep in touch with people in writing. It’s even more effective to actually pick up the phone and talk to the person. It’s quite another story to have a face-to-face conversation. My mother lives overseas, and we talk on the phone each week. In less than a month I’ll cross the ocean to hug her, which is far better.

Physical presence is powerful, but it’s temporary. We all die at some point, Jesus included. The news of His resurrection from the grave is tremendous. It means that He conquered death. Today Jesus is spiritually present as we go about our daily business, and we will meet Him in person after our physical death.

A lot of people, me included, get carried away at this point of the story. Sometimes our life on Earth seems so redundant, futile, and predominantly painful, that we lose sight of the blessings that come with being alive. We wish ourselves at the finish line; we think Heaven is where we are free from all that stuff that burdens us here.

While this is true, the other aspect is just as true, and here it is: Once in heaven, we are no longer able to make an impact. All that’s left are our memories. That is why Paul writes: “We are Christ’s ambassadors;” Since Jesus is no longer physically on Earth, this is where we come in, because guess what: we’re still around! Physical presence is powerful. Let’s appreciate it, because God does – why else would He call His children Christ’s ambassadors?

“Mother is gone, her journey unending
We’ll see her pass by in the night sky a-glowing
And she’ll see the blue of the oceans rising
The tides of a teardrop suspended in heaven”
Andrew Marlin 

Luke 15:4:“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?”

Jesus told us a story about a lost sheep. Here is His story in a nutshell:

A man owning a hundred sheep performed a head count and found out that one of his sheep was missing. So he left the 99 to search for the one who got lost. And when he found it, he carried it home on his shoulders. As he went, He shared with all his friends what had just happened, and everybody rejoiced.

We all love the fact that this one lost sheep mattered so much that the man went out of his way to find it. And when he found it he was extremely glad. He spread the good news that his lost sheep was found, and everybody cheered! What a wonderful happy end, right? – Well, wait a minute: what about the other 99? What if, after finally getting hold of the stray, the sheep owner returns to camp to find out that all his other 99 sheep had meanwhile slipped away?

First there is one straying sheep, then there are 99 sheep scattered all over the place – that’s a lot of slipping and sliding! Maybe, just maybe, the story of one lost sheep in all reality is the story of 100 lost sheep?

One thing is for certain: Jesus will never give up on us, and He won’t let us down when we’re slipping and falling. He only has a problem with the ones in denial who think everything is fine when in all reality they’re in big trouble.

Jesus is looking for seekers. He looks for those who know they’re lost. When we’re drifting away, when we slip and cry out to Him, He comes to our rescue. We can bank on that. Best of all: He’ll carry us home on His shoulders, the very best place to be!

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

Psalm 118:5-6: “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”

What can people do to us? A whole lot! People can uplift us, encourage us, but they can also mislead us, shame us, and even destroy us if we let them. People influence people, and no one is immune to that.

On the other hand, however hard we try, we can’t be alone either. God created us a human society; whether we like it or not, we need to learn how to live well with one another.

The key is prayer. When everything is said and done, ultimately not our smart minds move the world; it’s our heartfelt prayers that move it. God is the heartbeat of human history. He’s the provider of peace in the middle of a crisis and redemption in the most unfavorable of circumstances.

“Deep peace of the running wave to you. Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. Deep peace of the shining stars to you. Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.” (Irish Blessing)

1 Peter 1:15-16: “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

A criminal investigation will match DNA samples with tissue found at the crime scene. DNA samples have to match to identify the criminal. If the DNA samples don’t match up, the suspect is home free, and the criminal investigators still have work to do. If the DNA samples match, then the case is closed.

Case in point: God’s way of identifying His children is that they carry His identifying feature: holiness. God is holy, so His children must be holy; in other words, there is no such thing as an unholy child of God. This is as mutually exclusive as matching up DNA samples.

Now I don’t know about you, but to me that’s kind of scary. It’s like demanding perfection when you know that perfection is just not the way humans work. When we say: we’re human – that’s what we’re implying: we’re imperfect human beings! So what ends up happening: people become actors and they act “holier than thou”, which to me is like watching a bad movie – not very convincing! Then there are people who throw their hands up in the air, mock those attempts and make a parody out of it. Ever seen those skits where priests and nuns are involved?

Here is the deal though: just like DNA samples aren’t produced and can’t be faked since they are authentic body tissues, holiness can’t be faked either. Holiness has to be issued by God Himself. In other words, God puts His stamp of holiness onto His people, and thereby they become identifiable as His children.

That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? That’s why Jesus uses the analogy of being born into a family. Your offspring carries your DNA information. Why? It’s your son or daughter. Parents, whether you like it or not, your children carry your DNA information.

And it’s no surprise that a person born into God’s family carries God’s DNA: holiness.

Now for the skeptics among you who want to put everything under a microscope, here is where the analogy ends. Being born again is just an attempt to describe a miracle. And by the way, a newborn is a miracle in itself – or wouldn’t we stop to think that this newborn we rock gently in our arms is anything less than a miracle?

I guess what I am trying to say is that holiness is part of the deal of being born into God’s family. It comes with His DNA. We cannot fake it, we cannot make it; it is issued by our Creator.

Regarding perfectionism, that’s not what God’s holiness is all about. Anybody having babies can attest to the fact that learning how to walk involves many trials and errors. Similarly, God’s babies go through trial and errors. They aren’t any less His children if they fail. Stumbling and falling simply comes with the territory of growing up. And as babies grow up and learn many other things besides walking, God’s babies grow up and get to know God as they learn to walk in His ways. It’s a beautiful thing!

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. ” Psalm 139:13-15

Matthew 6:19-21: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

Rust is another name for iron oxide, which occurs when iron is exposed to oxygen and moisture for a long period of time. Over time, the oxygen combines with the metal at an atomic level, forming a new compound called an oxide which weakens the bonds of the metal itself.

Focusing our energies on the wrong things has the same effect on our life as rust has on metal. When we expose ourselves to negativity over longer periods of time, eventually we combine with a bad attitude forming a new compound called “rotten life”, and—voilà!— in a manner of speaking we’re rusting; over time we’ll become the worst version of ourselves and our own worst enemy.

Physically we evolve every day. Our body goes through changes all the time. We grow up, come to our peak performance and then, as years go by, our bodies disintegrate. Trying to conserve our physical appearance at all costs would be fighting an uphill battle and focusing on the wrong thing again. Time may not be kind to our bodies, but we can choose to be kind to ourselves. Kindness is life to our bones while bitterness is toxic, similar to cancer cells taking over our body. In this vein, we read in the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 14:30):

“A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones.”

When our mind’s eye is narrowed and we only see darkness, let’s not forget that there is light at the end of any tunnel. When life turns on us darkening our horizon, let’s remember: it’s still a blessing to be alive. After holding on just a little bit longer we may run into the treasures we’ve had all along: More people love us than we know. More people are blessed through us than we are aware. And even if this was not the case – one thing never changes and is not subject to rust: the love of our Creator.

God’s love for you and me never disintegrates. To know His love is to know hope. May His amazing love always be on the corners of our minds!

Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for – George Harrison

Amos 5:14-15: “Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live! Then the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will be your helper, just as you have claimed. Hate evil and love what is good; turn your courts into true halls of justice. Perhaps even yet the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will have mercy on the remnant of his people.”

Do the right thing, especially when it seems to be working against you. Isn’t it ironic that self-interest actually does not have our best interest at heart? It’s a lonely society when people are just looking out for themselves. Even though it’s understandable why we think that way, especially when we are hard-pressed in a crisis; however, life is so much more than living in mere survival mode.

Try this today: be kind to someone you don’t know, and see where this takes you. It may make someone’s day, but it will certainly put a smile on your face too. That’s how we are wired by our Maker. Love others as you love yourself.

Go make it a great day!

Ephesians 5:1-2: “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”

Ask any actor preparing for a character role: To deliver a great performance, actors immerse themselves in the life style, way of thinking, and mannerisms of the person they are impersonating. This is what sets apart good acting from bad acting.

The same is true when it comes to imitating God. We all need to take a good look at His ways to become His imitator. God is so many things, but one of His finest features is His untiring ability to love. His love never stops. Imitate that, and you have a lifelong assignment!

Here’s a problem: God is God, and we are not. How are we supposed to love like God? We’re only human! Well, God knows that, and He gave us His Son so that we have a hands-on example how to love as a human being. We have the great opportunity to study Jesus, look at His behavior and get inspired by just reading the gospels.

What I love about the gospels is that they were written by four different people: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Four different people, four different angles! Reading these four accounts is a great way to do a character study, don’t you think?

If our life stinks, here is a way to introduce a new perfume: Get closer to Jesus by studying His life. Jesus has a way of changing our hearts and spreading His perfume there.

Take new parents for instance. Ask them about their first child. How did that impact their life? Parents will tell you that having children has totally changed their lives. Their hearts got bigger with every child they added to the family. And just like a new son or daughter causes a parent’s heart to grow, that’s similar to how Jesus operates. We open our hearts and let Him in, and our hearts get bigger. We walk with Jesus, and our hearts keep growing. And as we learn to love the God-way, we’re getting more and more involved in the world around us.

How exhilarating it is to love … falling in love is a prominent part of it. Staying in love is the weightier part. People who have been married for 50 years talk about that kind of love. But love has many faces. Investing in people without expecting anything back is another expression of love. Then it hits you from behind. The lifestyle of loving generously is actually fun! Granted, we run into disappointments, our hearts get broken multiple times, but in hindsight everybody will say: better to love than not to love at all.

And guess what: as we spread the sweet perfume called “love”, our lives no longer stink!

1 Peter 1:13: “So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.”

Have you ever noticed that God does not give up easily? Following is a great example. We read in the beginning pages of the book of Genesis (Genesis 1:1):

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” 

Wait a minute – God created Heaven and Earth and the outcome is formless and empty? How does that add up? Well, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – unless we’re looking at a time span between those opening lines of the Bible, time enough for a drama to unfold, a drama that went down like this:

God created beauty.  After beauty was destroyed, God cleaned up a big mess and brought back beauty.

Creation story is our first clue that God does not like to give up. What did He do after all He had built was ruined? He raised new life out of dead ashes! And life exploded into an endless variety of species. One of the new species God created was mankind.

God created mankind to be caretakers of planet Earth. After all the destruction that went on before we were created, I think that’s quite understandable. We didn’t come as a single edition, but were created male and femaleMade in God’s image, we work as a team, not unlike the Trinity who also operates as a team.

Unfortunately, mankind parted ways with their Creator at some point in history. That choice is affecting our world today. Again God sees His creation suffering.

Picture yourself building something exquisite with your own hands. Then someone comes along and destroys it. What an outrage! Well, against all odds you decide to start from scratch one day and build something completely different. Again, you love the outcome. You’re really proud of it. But guess what: it happens again! Someone comes along and spits on your creation. Would you now give up?

Well, God did not give up. Jesus, a member of the Trinity, came to Earth to become a member of human society. He lived to help us and died to set us free. As a result, we’re still here today. We live because God wants us to live. That’s God’s salvation in a nutshell.

If you happen to look at a dead situation right now wondering what good can come out of it, look up to God. Remember: He revived the universe. He can revive you!

Hallelujah, Thine the glory! Hallelujah Amen! Hallelujah, Thine the glory! Revive us again!

Isaiah 1:16-17: “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.”

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

” Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
    Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
    for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.”

A litany of things God absolutely hates:

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

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

Doing good is a learning experience – since no one is born “good”. A lifestyle of doing good always develops over time. There is no shortcut to this lifestyle. We don’t age overnight, and we don’t turn into good people overnight. Pretending to be good won’t do. God won’t let us get away with it. He wants us to be real. He is only interested in genuine relationships, not fake ones.

All of this is actually a compliment for us. Think about it: God pursues the real you. He won’t put up with a copycat. So shed the copycat and let His waves of mercy wash all over you. Getting real is how you get clean.

Everything important starts in our hearts. And as we walk out the door today, let’s walk with God!

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

Micah 6:8: “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

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

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

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

With their backs against the wall and no place to go, people basically declared bankruptcy before the Lord. And in a way this was Israel’s first step to disassociate themselves from their enemies. Declaring bankruptcy, we’re no longer in the hands of our creditors. Declaring bankruptcy, Israel was no longer in the hands of their oppressors. They put themselves completely into God’s hands.

Freedom does not start when physical walls come down. Freedom starts with our mindset.

So Micah reminded them:

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

Do we really need to be bankrupt to understand that we need God? Here is the deal: we’re so caught up in this mindset of having to pay for everything that we panic when we run out of money and options. The reality though is: Not everything can be or should be paid for. Do we pay our parents for their services? What price-tag do you put on giving birth and raising a child? How about all the ancillary services of washing, cleaning, and cooking?

It’s obvious that the most important things in life can’t be paid for. They are being provided.

Kids grow up. That’s how it goes. And as adults it’s their turn to become providers. Yet even as adults our Heavenly Father cares for them. And how do they pay for His care? As much as they paid their parents: Nothing.

Try as we may, we’re never going to out-give God, nor do we need to. He gave us His Son Jesus, and in case you were wondering: there is no paying for this precious gift either. The only thing God wants from us – and I believe you’ve already guessed it:

Stay on track, my friend, do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God!

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

Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.”

When I was a little kid we had to move. As a result, I had to go to a new school. We all have been in situations where we’re the only stranger in the room. First day at a strange school is that kind of experience. I don’t know about you, but when I’m the only stranger I feel awkward. When I get introduced I usually hold back. I won’t reveal a whole lot about me, and if I do, I stick to the basics: name; where I’m from; favorite color.

What does God do when He is the stranger in the room? I have discovered that He acts similarly – which is not to say that God is shy. Mysterious He is though, and when He introduced Himself to me, He started with the basics like I did back in my schooldays. God 101 for me was something like this:

“Hi! My name is God. Pleased to meet you. By the way: I do exist!”

Yeah that was wild! What a revelation for a kid growing up in an agnostic household! God exists and He is actually pleased to meet me!

Well, that incident happened almost four decades ago. And by now the Almighty and me are past the basics. Bit by bit God reveals Himself to me, and it is a pleasure to get to know Him!

These were the things that went through my head as I read Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul of all people was distinctly aware what it means to get to know the Almighty. There was a time in his life when He thought he knew everything about God, but in all reality he knew nothing about Him. He was set straight not in a subtle way when he fell off his high horse near Damascus. That was quite the revelation for Paul when he laid eyes on Jesus for the first time. He looked at Him, but He didn’t know who He was. So he asked him (Acts 9:5):

“Who are you, lord?”

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!”

Thinking he was doing God a favor, Paul had killed people left and right who were affiliated with Jesus. Now he was shocked to find out that he had been murdering God’s people. For days to follow Paul fell into a deep depression. He was without eyesight sitting in a room in Damascus refusing to eat or drink. Paul’s God 101 was similar to a reboot. Something like this:

Forget everything you thought you knew about God and start from scratch. You think you can see? Now you’re blind! You think you are a murderer and deserve to die? Here is some news for you:

“Hi my name is God and I am gracious! That’s why my Son Jesus came to extend a hand of mercy to you. You are forgiven. You get to start over.”

After three days of blindness a local believer named Ananias came into the room to pray for him. Paul then regained his eyesight, and the rest is history.

Paul has seen God’s grace revealed, because that’s what God does. He actually wants to reveal Himself to all people all over the globe, from the East to the West, from the North pole to the South pole. Are you ready to get to know Him?

“Anyone can tell you think you know me well, but you don’t know me.” Ray Charles

2 Corinthians 5:17: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Paul wrote in his letter to his Greek friends in Corinth how a new believer leads a new kind of life. What does it all mean? Have you ever thought about that?

Well, apparently Nicodemus did! He dropped in unofficially one day and decided to meet up with Jesus under the cover of night. As a religious leader, Nicodemus knew he was taking a risk of being seen with Him as Jesus was considered an outlaw in the eyes of the religious elite. Nevertheless, his questions seemed far too important to ignore, so Nicodemus sat down and had a personal conversation with Jesus, whom he respectfully addressed as “Rabbi” (in English: “Teacher”).

After a brief introduction, Jesus replied to an unspoken question of his when He broached a sensitive subject (John 3:3):

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus must have hit a nerve there, because Nicodemus immediately questioned Him (John 3:4):

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

So Jesus went on to explain that newborn life is just as fresh as a new mindset. While physical birth generates a brand-new being, spiritual birth generates a brand-new believer, and for that we have to thank the Holy Spirit!

About the Holy Spirit we read in the first chapters of the book of Genesis: At the dawn of creation, God’s Spirit was brooding over a formless mass to overcome chaos and create new life. Imagine – just image for a minute now how this powerful Holy Spirit who created an entire universe is now hovering over your very own heart! Think of the potential of what could be if you allow Him access. He would open your eyes and you could see a whole new world around you.

The Holy Spirit is God’s agent moving around in the world whispering God’s truths into people’s ears. Listening to Him, we will wake up and notice that God is real. Imagine a world with people listening to what God has to say! That’s God’s Kingdom on Earth right there! And His kingdom is currently advancing with every person who listens to the Holy Spirit and believes.

Discover what God has to say to you and life as you know it will never be the same. The old life is gone and the new life has just begun!

Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”

Brevity of life – what the Psalmist is referring to here is obviously our lifetime on Earth, which is indeed limited. Our soul, however, is ageless and lives forever!

Certainly, not everybody believes in an afterlife. But even if you don’t, all the more is it important to reap the benefits of being here. What are the benefits? The greatest benefit we derive from being alive is giving back to people. My experience is even if we give just a little bit, we receive so much more in return. It may be a little counter-intuitive to live that way, but then, everything God says is counter-intuitive. Take His famous love commandment for instance (Mark 12:30-31):

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

It’s not easy to love a random neighbor. And at times it’s not easy to love yourself. Counter-intuitive, to say the least! And yet, if you go for it and love yourself as well as your neighbor, your life is well-lived. Loving God adds the much-needed third dimension into our lives. Without God, life would be just two-dimensional – my neighbor and me. Include God into the equation, and we gain depth perception. With God comes love that outlasts us. He has loved us long before we even recognized Him. With God comes purpose. Yes, Virginia, there is an afterlife, and God is our eternal home. He created us, we came from Him, and that’s where we belong.

The fact that we’re all going to die at some point is our daily reality. Wrestling with death we hold on to dear life! So did King David when he asked God the question (Psalm 30:9):

“What will you gain if I die, if I sink into the grave? Can my dust praise you? Can it tell of your faithfulness?”

The end of our life marks the end of all our activities on Earth. Our activities during our lifetime – good or bad – leave a mark. That’s the kind of legacy we leave. Let’s make a positive impact now, while we’re still here. Let’s invest ourselves; be passionate; fight indifference; love like there’s no tomorrow. Remember: life is short, and each moment here is a gift. We need to use it wisely!

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19: “I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea. “But forget all that— it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

In a time of need, Jacob (one of the many descendants of Abraham) had to move his entire family to Egypt. There he was received with open arms. One of his sons – Joseph – was an influential man in Egypt. That is why Jacob’s family was treated with utter respect and admiration.

Nevertheless, 400 years later all of this was distant memory. Feeling threatened by Israel’s explosive population growth, the Egyptian government sought to wipe them out by enslaving them.

Now it was definitely time to leave Egypt!

Israel’s exodus from Egypt was no minor event. In order to arrive at their destination – a region southeast from the Mediterranean Sea – they had to go through treacherous desert terrain and get past the Red Sea. With their former Egyptian slave-masters on their heels, the Red Sea quickly became a death trap. With their back against the wall, there was simply no way to go!

And Israel cried out to God.

All of a sudden, right before their very eyes, the waters began to recede. Bit by bit water levels decreased until they were able to safely cross over to the other side with their children, their flocks and herds. All of Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground! Well, so did the Egyptians, in hot pursuit of the Israelites, but they didn’t get very far. Soon after the last Israelite had set foot on the other shore, the waves of the Red Sea came crashing down; and as the water levels rose, the Egyptian soldiers drowned.

This was the day when the nation of Israel was born. A pivotal point in history for sure and an extraordinary miracle!

And yet, now the Lord says: “Forget this miracle at the Red Sea! This is nothing compared to the miracle about to happen.”

Can you see it?  Sometimes we can’t see the forest from the trees. If every piece of information was a tree, we’d have a forest of information out there; thanks to internet access, all these pieces of information are at our fingertips.  That’s great, but at the same time, that’s a ton of information to sort through.

To cut through this sea of data, I think it’s helpful to remember that there is one tree out there that matters most to humanity: the tree Jesus was nailed to. Looking to this one tree, Jesus’s death and resurrection pulls us all together and draws every human being to Him.

Regardless who we are and where we are from, we all seek our way through the wilderness of life, and in the end, we all die.  The good news is that Jesus has passed through the impassable, and conquered the impossible: death – a crucial turning point for all people, since death enslaves us all! The tree Jesus was nailed to stands for victory over death and offers the fruit of Eternal Life.

In all the good times I find myself longing for change and in the bad times I fear myself.
I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now!

John 14:1-3: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”

It’s the other way around. Note that Jesus says “When everything is ready I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” So basically – once your residency in Heaven is lined up and Jesus finished building your place, then it’s time to go.

For some reason, I always thought, it’s time to go when my work on Earth is done.

I guess, that has little or nothing to do with it.

In any event, time is a precious commodity. Time has seasons. That’s why we have to enjoy them, season by season, to take advantage of them.

It’s dangerous to get stuck in a season. We might miss the boat. But then, God is faithful, and Jesus is more than a friend. He is both our Savior and friend. And He is famous for rescuing people out of the places they are stuck.

Jesus unstuck me more than once.

I was hung up on the past. I was hung up on what could have been. I was hung up on dreams without taking any action. I was hung up on rules. I was hung up on people who were trying to dominate me. Oh, the list goes on and on.

Bottom-line: Jesus gets me out of there. He gets me unstuck.

In all of the above cases, I had to turn my thoughts around and see things differently; see things bigger; be more inclusive of other people; more generous; more openhearted. Immediately, life takes on a different color.

Heaven is much bigger than Earth. Heaven has endless space for people, all the places that Jesus prepares indicating: He is never running out of space. Think about it: so many people have died already, many more are born and many more will be added when their citizenship is applied. Heaven is full of life, full of living beings. No offense, but there are no dead people in Heaven. In Heaven we’re all alive, as alive as we are on this side of Heaven, maybe even more so.

Jesus grew up under Joseph’s tutelage who is a carpenter by trade. He probably loved to hang out in the workshop with Joseph. In the home-building industry, carpenters literally run the show. Without carpenters, no house! So, Jesus is a builder. He built the entire universe for crying out loud, and I think He especially loves building places for people. Why? He loves people. So He handcrafts a place for us. And once it’s good and ready, it’s time to go.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to find a good answer for what we feel is an untimely death. I only know this: God is never surprised. And: Heaven is never running out of space.

Poor young grandson, there’s nothing I can say
You’ll have to learn, just like me
And that’s the hardest way

Psalm 103:1-2: “Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 2:28-32: “Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God saying, ‘Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!’”

Yesterday I woke up with a gospel song in mind. It goes something like this:

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

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

To Simeon, the news of the Messiah’s arrival must have felt like rainfall after a very long dry season. Israel had seen many prophets come and go, however, for several centuries no prophet’s voice was heard, no fresh message was received. God seemed silent and withdrawn.

Suffering under various empires which took turns in brutally subjecting Israel, people turned to God as they cried for deliverance. Finally, under the Roman Empire, God sent their deliverer when Jesus was born. Better yet, their deliverer came to deliver the whole world – including but not limited to the nation of Israel, which was clearly beyond all of their prayers, hopes and dreams.

Here is a great example of God’s unexpected ways of answering prayers!

Yet in spite of all it all, don’t we sometimes wish that God answers prayers our way? Well, if that’s what we want, we set ourselves up for some major disappointments. Here is the deal: God does not need our creative assistance for problem solving. We do not need to sit down with God doing brainstorming sessions to come up with the best solution. In the end, God will come through for us, but He will do it His way.

We need to trust in God as we reach out to Him. He will help us indeed – but it never ends there. In the process of answering our prayers He will bless the world around us; yes, our timeless and eternal God always sees the bigger picture! And since God is in the habit of exceeding all our expectations, isn’t that encouragement enough to keep on praying?

Luke 2:16-20: “They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”

The shepherds were rushing to see Jesus and found Mary and Joseph with their baby boy who perfectly fit the description the angels just gave to them: a baby lying in a manger. Out of town visitors, the family found shelter in a barn where Mary gave birth to her baby. She converted a feeding trough into a baby bed, so that’s where Jesus laid sleeping. This confirmed the angel’s report, and the shepherds got really excited. As they related their story to Joseph and Mary, Mary soaked up every word coming from the shepherds’ mouths.

This is a great example how faith works. Faith without steps of faith is really dead in its tracks, literally. In all reality, faith expresses itself in action. Mary and Joseph both did some huge steps of faith – Mary accepting to carry Jesus, the Son of God, inside her womb and Joseph accepting to marry pregnant Mary, knowing the child was not his. Both were separately approached by Angel Gabriel, and the rest is history.

Imagine this had happened to you. Can you picture the skepticism of your friends and neighbors? Yes, you had one life-changing event: an angel spoke to you when no one else was around. This was it though – this angel never showed up again. Angels are God’s messengers and are not supposed to be the sole reason why we believe. The reason why we believe lies in the reason for the Christmas season. God puts things into perspective, and He throws out seeds of hope. Our willing hearts receiving those seeds represent the fertile soil, and our subsequent growth in maturity is the result.

Mary treasured the conversation with the shepherds and stored it away in her heart, which is really the wise thing to do. And should you experience an affirmation or encouraging situation that means a lot to you: follow her example and store it away in your heart. We all have precious moments from time to time, and we better commit them to memory when they occur. Life is an ongoing battle! Guess what:

We need to remember the good times; this will keep us going through the hard times.

Faith is never meant to be walked out alone. Joseph and Mary had each other, but even that is not enough. Faith cannot be lived out very well in isolation; faith is meant to be experienced together. The shepherds played a crucial role here. They brought their faith experience to the table and shared it with Mary and Joseph. This was music to their ears and life to their bones. It encouraged them. Listening to those shepherds talk strengthened their faith. So don’t be surprised if your faith is not growing without having friends around who share their faith experience with you. Mary and Joseph needed that. So do you and me. Take it or leave it:

We need each other to keep going.