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 samples 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 difference 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.

Isaiah 9:6: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The words of Prophet Isaiah ring in many people’s ears these days thanks to an oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frederic Handel, titled “Messiah”, with scriptural reference to Isaiah 9:6:

“Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”

Especially when going through troubled times, God’s peace will carry us through. Nevertheless – and this might come as a surprise – His peace can be quite controversial! Opposition was predicted to Mary and Joseph when Jesus was but a few days old.

It happened when Mary and Joseph brought their firstborn to the Jerusalem temple to be circumcised. Suddenly, a stranger approached them.  The stranger’s name was Simeon.  He asked Mary if he could hold the baby, and with Jesus in his arms he began to prophesy.  He exclaimed: “Now I can die a happy man because I have seen the One who saves, the light to reveal God to the nations!”  Before he handed the baby back to Mary he said (Luke 2:34):

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise.  He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.”

Many years later, Jesus entered the same temple to cause quite an uproar. His follower Matthew wrote about the event in his gospel (Matthew 21:12):

“Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” 

When people began questioning Jesus’ behavior He simply stated (Matthew 21:13):

“The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

The humble Messiah entering Jerusalem on a donkey is causing a ruckus in the temple!  How does this add up? I believe, it all goes back to the temple of our hearts.

If Peace was a coin it would have “Accept” on one side and “Reject” on the other. Taking this coin at face value means to accept peace.  Judging this coin to be a fake currency means to reject peace.  Opposition arises from these two opposing views.  The good news is that we can have tremendous peace if we accept Jesus’ peace terms.  The bad news is that we will experience a personal roller-coaster if we don’t.

Jesus’ parting words to His followers were (John 14:27):

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Having turned our affairs over to Jesus the Messiah, we have made peace with ourselves first before passing it on. Peace on earth is a revolution from within and begins in the temple of our hearts.

Luke 2:11-14: “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Angels were giving out clues to local shepherds who were camping out in the desert under the Middle Eastern Skies. For days on end, shepherds would work and sleep outdoors, allowing the flock to graze on the steep slopes and spending the nights guarding the open sheepfolds. Desert nights can be pretty cold. They most likely had a fire burning while taking turns in their night watch when, all of a sudden, night turned into day. Angels from Heaven came with some exciting news: “The Messiah is born!” The shepherds were awestruck. “The Messiah is born? Here, in this neighborhood? Where would we find him?” This is where it gets interesting. And here goes: “You’ll find the baby sleeping in a feeding trough.” Then the angels were gone. Armed with a very good clue – baby sleeping in farm equipment is a good one – the shepherds went to meet Jesus.

From Mary’s and Joseph’s point of view, out of the blue there was a knock on the barn door. Resting after a long and treacherous journey, which was topped off by Mary going into labor, the couple must have been exhausted; but they were probably too excited to go to sleep right away. Gazing at their newborn in wonder, many questions must have raced through their minds.

And then, there they were: Shepherds who have listened to angel reports; Shepherds who could not have known that Mary just gave birth to an extraordinary baby; Shepherds who knew that they were laying eyes on the Son of God. Overwhelmed, everybody bowed their heads and prayed.

I believe God still speaks to us through signs and clues. We all can have our divine moments. However, we need to pay attention. God may have been speaking to us all along, but we’re too busy to notice. Although at times God can be very obvious (it’s hard to overlook a host of angels), I believe most of the time He is more subtle. And if we pick up on God’s language, we too have a story to share – one of the best stories in God’s point of view is our story how we met Him. As we continue to pick up on God’s way of communicating we’ll find that our story has just begun!

Luke 2:8-11: “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!’”

Shepherds were among the first to give eye witness accounts of the exciting news surrounding the birth of the Messiah. They were the first to arrive on scene and the first to receive the Good News, hand delivered by angels. Mary and Joseph were both related to King David, who was a shepherd by trade.  The couple was staying in Bethlehem, King David’s home town, and they may have been lodging close to the fields where David used to roam as a boy when watching over his family’s flock. Jesus’ birth place happened to be right on His ancestor’s stomping ground.

Previously, Mary had gone into labor. In the wee hours of the morning her baby was born. This incident caused no minor excitement in the heavenly realms.  Jesus, beloved member of the Trinity, arrived on planet Earth as a human being. He was not born a rich man. Though King of the universe, He did not seek the status of the privileged. Without protective palace walls He was a very approachable human being; and so His doors were always wide open to welcome people from every walk of life. Anybody who wanted to see Jesus was encouraged to come. His unconditional love attracted the crowds, and He gave hope especially to the dejected.

In the corporate world an equivalent to Jesus’ approach is known as “Open Door Policy”. Company executives use this policy as a way of getting in touch with their employees. Another way is depicted in the TV series “Undercover Boss”, where executives take on the role of a regular employee outside middle- or upper management in order to get a raw look at the inner workings of their respective companies.  Similarly Jesus, who is the ultimate Boss of creation, went undercover in His own created universe to experience the full spectrum of our humanness.

Attempting to fit the human experience of the Son of God into a small paragraph, following is a brief synopsis:

Jesus was a healthy little boy growing up in the inconspicuous rural town of Nazareth. With other students He learned how to read and write, studied the Torah, developed friendships, and learned His father’s trade; He felt the love of His doted parents as well as the love of the Heavenly Father whom He sought out whenever He could; He would frequently set aside alone-time to pray. Jesus started His ministry at age 30; He was admired by many but would also suffer rejection, pain, and loneliness. He loved everybody unconditionally, even those who hated Him. Facing His enemies, He ultimately died a criminal’s death. His earthly mission was accomplished when He was resurrected from the grave three days later; He then returned to the Father in Heaven. Having walked in our shoes, Jesus has become our premier advocate.

The angels had known Jesus long before He came to Earth; they had seen His glory in Heaven. On that fateful night they must have been amazed to see the Maker of the universe transformed into a helpless babe. Knowing God’s plan and the impact Jesus was going to make – no wonder the angels broke out into praise!

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God saying: ‘Glory to God in highest heaven and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14)

Luke 2:1+4-5: “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.”

Sometimes when life happens, it happens fast! Put yourself in Joseph’s and Mary’s shoes for a minute:

After returning from Jerusalem and three months into her pregnancy, Mary had to face her family and husband-to-be Joseph.  After his initial doubts, Joseph believed the angel of the Lord that Mary’s child indeed was the Son of God. Instead of breaking the engagement he married her.

A few months later, Augustus’ decree was requesting all citizens of Israel to register in their ancestral towns.  This was Mary’s second trip to Judea during her pregnancy, only now she was in her third trimester!  The direct distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles. Mary and Joseph probably walked more than 90 miles before they reached Bethlehem.

Why this untimely decree? Without it Mary could have delivered the baby in the comfort of her own home. Embracing life sometimes feels like embracing a cactus, doesn’t it? Though in the end it all comes together and falls into place. The child had to be born in King David’s hometown, thereby drawing the family connection to David and fulfilling ancient prophecy.

This is a great example how God’s timing often seems to be out of sync with human timing. I’ve been playing guitar all my life, and to me navigating life is a bit like navigating music.  There are some complicated rhythms out there, and musicians, attuned to this kind of thing, effortlessly play in time and in tune, a mystery to people without a musical ear or rhythm in their blood. “Get rhythm”, an old popular Johnny Cash song – easier said than done! Have you ever tried to teach a person with no sense of timing how to dance? This is a good analogy of us trying to dance to life’s odd rhythms, its surprising seasons, and unforeseen events. We’re poor life’s dancers if we impatiently expect a problem to be solved yesterday and feel that God’s way of intervening is slow or seems to make matters worse. By the way – God is a wonderful dance teacher! We’re learning our very first dance steps as we open up to Him.

Try it: Put your life in God’s hands; trust Him that He has your back; that, my friend, is dancing to God’s heartbeat. And guess what: we’ll enjoy the kaleidoscope of life’s ever-changing seasons a whole lot more!

“And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance!”
Songwriters: Tia Sillers / Mark Sanders

Luke 1:76-78: “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us.”

Israel was devastated. After Jerusalem was conquered by Roman General Pompey in 63 BC the nation suffered greatly. By the time Jesus was born, people grew increasingly restless looking for new leadership; specifically, they were looking for the promised Redeemer of Israel, the Messiah who would turn things around.

Meanwhile, Jesus’s cousin John went to work. He was the herald who publicly announced the good news:

“The Messiah is coming! Prepare your hearts and get ready to receive the King of kings!”

Throngs of people flocked to the area where John preached, which was down by the banks of the Jordan River. Those who were moved by his words stepped into the water and got immersed. In Judaism, a bath called “Mikveh or mikvah Hebrew: מִקְוֶה / מקווה” is used to achieve ritual purity. It is understood that most forms of impurity can be nullified through the immersion in any natural collection of water; hence the Jordan River came in handy for John.

So, people got immersed and stepped out of the water in hopes to live a better life. Expectations were at an all-time-high. They were looking for a king freeing them from dictatorship and leading them into freedom. Freedom fighters all around the world will testify how elusive freedom can be, and how hard it is to obtain and maintain freedom.

However, contrary to popular belief, Israel’s Messiah did not come to address their political situation. In fact, Israel’s Messiah is not Israel’s alone. Redeemer of all nations, Jesus actually fights for every one of us. His precious gift prominently exceeding political freedom is: freedom of heart, freedom of mind, and freedom of soul.

There is neither freedom in preconceived notions, nor is there any freedom to be found in close-mindedness. Try to have a friendly discussion with an opinionated person, and you know what I’m talking about. In God’s kingdom our common way of thinking is turned upside down.  The last comes first, and the first comes last; what seems foolish is wise; and what seems wise is indeed foolish – welcome to God’s world! It is His intention to broaden our vision.

John the Baptist incited a revolution because God wants to revolutionize our way of thinking. He wants to revolutionize you and me.

Jesus has come. The ball is in our court now. Are we ready to receive the King?

Luke 1:68-70: “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.”

When Elizabeth was six months into her pregnancy, she and her husband Zachariah had a very special visitor: her relative Mary who was pregnant with Jesus.  Mary stayed with the couple for approximately three months. She left Zachariah’s household before Elizabeth gave birth to her son – possibly to avoid drawing undue attention to her own pregnancy.

As members of the priesthood, Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth were public figures; so the birth of their first son was no minor event, it was practically the talk of the town. Needless to say, the circumcision ceremony held in the Jerusalem temple was well attended and drew the crowds – especially because of the unusual circumstances leading up to Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Everybody knew that Zachariah had not spoken a single word ever since Elizabeth got pregnant, and rumor had it that this was a God-ordained event.

Then, in the middle of the circumcision ceremony there was confusion! It was tradition that the first male child carried on his father’s name; “Zachariah” would have been the logical name choice.  But then Elizabeth interfered; she insisted that their son’s name was supposed to be “John”. Immediately the attention turned to her husband Zachariah.

Meanwhile, Zachariah had been a silent witness of extraordinary events.  For the past nine months he had witnessed his wife’s and Mary’s pregnancy – both announced by angels, both a miracle. Zachariah had initially doubted God’s messenger, and he had been silenced by God because of it. His predicament, however, gave him plenty of time to contemplate, which seemed to have softened his heart; as a result Zachariah rose up to the occasion a much humbler man; and when publicly addressed with the question of how to name his son, His answer on the writing tablet was very clear: “John”, just as God’s angel had requested in their earlier encounter.

It was then and there that God broke his silence, and the first words coming out of Zachariah’s mouth were heartfelt praise. He then uttered a prophecy by addressing Mary’s son first (Luke 1:68-70):

“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.  He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised.”

In his closing remarks he turned his attention to his firstborn (Luke 1:76):

“And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.”

Zachariah’s profound transformation is a great example of how God can change a human heart.  And once we’ve submitted our own hearts into His hands we’ll see how He can change yours and mine.

Christmas time, most wondrous season of the year – thinking of the time when Jesus Christ appeared. He came for all the people. That’s why we sing this song, and everyone who’s glad sings along.” Songwriters: Bill & Evelyn Snyder

Matthew 1:22-21: “As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

Faith sometimes means acting against your own instincts!

Joseph, engaged to Mary, found himself in a challenging situation. What would you do if your fiance tells you a story that sounds like a lame excuse?  Nothing made sense to Joseph anymore after seeing his fiance returning from her recent family visit, three months pregnant. Pregnancies have always been evidence that a man and a woman had sexual relations. Claiming otherwise is foolish, which is why Mary’s pregnancy remains a hot topic. A woman getting pregnant without a guy being involved – why would God do such a thing?

However, this is Mary Joseph was dealing with here, his very own Mary.  He thought he knew her.  It puzzled him to think that she would go behind his back with a secret relationship, dishing a lie to explain away her pregnancy, and asking him to marry her to cover it all up.  That certainly was not the Mary he was familiar with.

In sleepless nights to follow Joseph would wrestle with the prospect of getting married to cover up what he believed to be a lie. After agonizing over his decision, he was prepared to quietly break the engagement. God, however, anticipated Joseph’s reaction and sent Him an angel with an important message reassuring him that Mary had told the truth. According to Matthew’s gospel, this is what the angel told Joseph (Matthew 1:20):

“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” 

Not only had God anticipated Joseph’s reaction, He had also anticipated the world’s skepticism regarding the whereabouts of Mary’s pregnancy. So, 600 years before these events transpired, God foretold them. Isaiah wrote the famous prophecy (Isaiah 7:14):

“The Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son.”

Even though God had revealed His intentions and sent angels and prophets to confirm His message, it still requires faith to believe Mary’s account.  We know that Joseph believed and followed through with the angel’s instructions. He became Mary’s husband, named Mary’s child “Jesus”, and believed that the child she carried is the Son of God.

Similar to Joseph, we too have a choice to make. Would you take that leap of faith and believe the story of Christmas to be true?

“Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of Your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy”

(Mary’s Song co-written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton)

Luke 1:46+49: “Mary responded, ‘O how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me’”

Mary, Mary, quite contrary!

Contrary to everybody’s expectations, Mary was pregnant well before her wedding. That was an absolute no-no in a society where pregnancy out of wedlock prompted the death penalty! Probably to protect herself from any unwanted attention, Mary decided to disappear for a while; and when she heard that her relative Elizabeth was also expecting a child she went to see her. With a 70-mile-walking-distance, the trip must have taken her several days.

The reception at Elizabeth’s home was warm and heartfelt. Here they were – two expectant mothers standing in the doorway weeping with joy as they embraced each other. In her first trimester Mary could not have been obviously pregnant. So the fact that Elizabeth immediately knew about it was quite the revelation, not to mention her understanding of the unusual circumstances leading up to it.

Elizabeth herself was no stranger to a miracle pregnancy. She had been well past her childbearing years when angel Gabriel announced that she would have a son. Her husband Zachariah, unfortunately, doubted the messenger and found himself grounded by God. For a while his ability to speak was taken from him according to the motto: if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all! 

As it turns out, there was a lot of wisdom in his God-imposed silence. If Zachariah had trouble believing his aging wife could have a son, what do you think would have come out of his mouth as he ran into Mary, Mary, quite contrary? It wouldn’t have been pretty, I’m sure! Instead, he now stood back and watched incredible things unfold before his very eyes.  The words of Psalm 46:10 may have gone through his head (Psalm 46:10):

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

In this day and age, are we able to settle down, be still, and listen with our hearts?  Rushing through life without taking meaningful breaks, we will definitely miss out on the good things God has in store for us; miracles in our lives may very well go unnoticed.

God is good – and it is good to tell Him just that! Not that God needs to be reminded of His goodness, but most of all: we need to be reminded. Christmas is as good a time as any to pick up new habits.  Why don’t we make it a new habit to take note of the good things around us and be thankful? We will find that by lifting up the Lord, we will be uplifted.

“There can be miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill”
Stephen Schwartz

Luke 1:30-33: “‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!’”

God’s kingdom will never end – that’s what Angel Gabriel told a baffled teenage girl when he announced the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. And it was Jesus, the Messiah, who introduced us to the concept of God’s kingdom. In a nutshell: the concept is to love your neighbor as yourself and to love God with all your heart. According to Jesus, that summarizes all books of God’s laws. However, God’s Kingdom is more than just a concept – it already exists! In fact, that’s why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10):

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

God’s kingdom has its roots in Heaven, and Heaven is everywhere where God’s will is being done.

As we all know, there is a lot of bad stuff happening on Earth that is contrary to God’s will, but, on the bright side: there is a lot of good stuff happening too! And wherever good things are happening, the kingdom of God advances. If we’re doing the right thing, the type of thing that is not easy to do – the type of thing we think may go unnoticed or doesn’t make a dent in the grand scheme of things, well, nonetheless, here is the very good news: it makes a big difference because we help usher in God’s kingdom. His kingdom comes as His will is being done! That’s what Mary did when she decided to say “yes” to Angel Gabriel’s question. That’s what Joseph did when He made up his mind to marry Mary. That’s what happens today every time someone goes out of his or her way to do the right thing.

We may have a discouraged outlook on the world’s affairs these days, but know that God is the eternal optimist, and He has a very good reason for being one:

Light always beats the dark.

Have you ever seen darkness snuffing out light? It’s always the other way around, isn’t it? Light emerges, a candle is lit, and boom! The room wakes up and all of a sudden we can see our surroundings.

Everywhere where people stand up for what is right, they light up the world. And as a side effect, they give hope! God’s kingdom is permanently on the rise and never on the decline, in fact, God’s kingdom permeates the fabrics of our society not unlike yeast permeates the dough. At least, that’s what Jesus, the Son of God, compared the progression of God’s kingdom to. Let’s hear what He has to say (Matthew 13:33):

Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

If yeast bacteria can invade the dough enough to make sourdough bread, how much more will the children of God spreading light in the darkness make God’s kingdom on Earth?

Lord’s Prayer in Swahili

Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

Orphaned children adopted at an older age usually struggle before opening up to their new parents.  As a result, prospective parents who enlist for adoption mostly prefer adopting children at a younger age – because they are less likely to cause them as much trouble.

Contrary to this practice, our Heavenly Father has been adopting children of all ages and walks of life since the beginning of the human experience. He went through a lot of trouble to free us from the most unfavorable of circumstances, which the Bible depicts as slavery. To free us from slavery God Himself became a slave. How God’s infinite mind works and how He resolves issues never seems to make sense to the finite human mind; nevertheless, here is the outcome:  by paying the ultimate price, the death penalty, God has officially bailed us out. And with His adoption comes a happy side effect: we establish family ties.

Establishing family ties is a process. Everybody knows that the transition from stranger to children is quite a bumpy road in the process of adoption.Adopted children mostly suffer from a distorted world view and need some time to get adjusted to their new identity.

The same is true with God’s adopted children. We see for instance that the people of Israel wandered the Sinai desert for decades before they were able to embrace their new identity as a free people and leave their former slave experience behind. Their exodus from Egypt was just the first step. While they were physically removed from slavery, still their hearts had to learn what it means to be free.

It will always take time and patience to embrace a new identity.  We all have our personal hang-ups and natural tendencies that want to drag us down.  The Prince of Peace is lending us a helping hand here.  Jesus informs us (John 16:33):

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart,because I have overcome the world.”

To be adopted by God is our glorious first step – but still, it’s just the first step. Carrying God’s family name has no meaning whatsoever, unless we experience the family life attached to the name. God has adopted many different children from many different places. There is a lot to be learnt, not the least of which is people skills. Growing up with very interesting siblings and experiencing God’s expert parenting skills is certainly part of the family experience. A profound joy lies hidden in the gradual discoveries of God’s wonderful heart.  It’s great to be adopted by God and to realize more and more what it means to belong to Him. The family of God is quite the motley crew- and God is quite the amazing Father!

“There are no strangers
There are no outcasts
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah
There are no orphans of God”          Written by Joel Lindsey, Twila J. Labar

Isaiah 7:14: “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”

During Prophet Isaiah’s lifetime the home country of the Jews was divided between the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel. The split happened after King Solomon had died, and ever since the two kingdoms had been at odds.

Now Judah’s King Ahaz was threatened by Israel’s King Pekah. King Pekah made an alliance with the Syrian King to overturn the kingdom of Judah. Naturally, King Ahaz became extremely anxious about the impending war.

In this situation God spoke words of encouragement to King Ahaz and the people of Judah by saying that the planned invasion of Israel and Syria won’t happen. And in order to confirm the prophecy, God asked King Ahaz to request a sign from Him. For reasons unknown to us, King Ahaz refused to do so. His official statement (Isaiah 7:12):

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Here is Isaiah’s response to King Ahaz’s reaction (Isaiah 7:13-14a):

“Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign.”

So, the Lord insisted on choosing a sign, since this was not really just about King Ahaz but about every son and daughter of Adam and Eve. And here is the sign God chose (Isaiah 7:14):

 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Virgins don’t get pregnant, so this is obviously a supernatural phenomenon. Also, the name of the virgin’s son is very remarkable: “I Am with you” contains God’s name “I Am”. What would you think God is suggesting with this kind of name choice other than bestowing His family name to the baby, thus implying that a pregnant virgin will give birth to the Son of God.

When Virgin Mary gave birth to a baby boy 700 years later, Isaiah’s stunning prophecy was fulfilled.

The virgin birth stands out and is different from any other demonstration of God’s involvement in human history. Supernatural phenomena such as stopping the Sun in its tracks or parting the Red Sea show God’s unlimited power. God born into a human family, Mary’s and Joseph’s family, shows His desire to be near us, so near that He becomes our relative. This very special relative of ours has a name: “The One who saves”, aka Jesus.

Bells of Night written and performed by Bill and Evelyn Snyder, recorded by Alpha Recording LLC. All rights reserved.

Deuteronomy 18:15: “Moses continued, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.’”

When God came down with fire and thunder on Mount Sinai, people were terrified; paralyzed with fear, they were too shocked to listen to God’s message.

Then God announced to the world that He would come to Earth as a human being. If God was human, there was no reason to be afraid, and people could receive His message.

And so it happened: God came down as a baby on the day when Jesus was born. We know that shepherds came to worship at His feet on the night of His birth, and that in His later adult years, Jesus had a following of people that He ministered to– but we also know of a number of people who chose not to believe and still refused God’s message.

A catch 22, isn’t it? People are either too overwhelmed or too underwhelmed to listen to what God has to say!

Meanwhile, as we all know, prophets have come and gone competing for our attention. Who is to say that one particular prophet is the Son of God? How would we know who the real deal is?

We are left to find out for ourselves, and there is only one way to do so: We need to tune in with our hearts and take a good listen! Only by listening can we begin to discern, can we make a distinction, and can we embrace what we find to be true. There are many voices in the world out there, voices that want to harm us, distract us, and disorient us. Among this choir of voices there is one distinctive voice that brings peace, clarity, and light in the dark. Our hearts will recognize this voice. Our hearts will be able to single out this one voice and drown out all the others. All we got to do is step back, take our time, focus and listen, and the Holy Spirit will speak to our hearts.

That is why Jesus says (Matthew 7:7): 

“Seek and you will find.”

You will find Him when you seek Him. Jesus is ready to meet you. Don’t you know? He was born ready!

“Now, I’m not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strange
Way to save the world” 
Songwriters: David Allen Clark / Donald A. Koch / Mark R. Harris

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”

A Creator creates. Productiveness is the very essence of our Creator. We too are made to create. At the dawn of creation our Creator uttered His famous request: “Be fruitful and multiply!” Procreation is a funny thing. It almost comes across as if we were partnering up with our Creator in ushering in brand new life. And so we did. Along with plants and animal species we multiplied and spread out over the entire globe, our home planet Earth. Tragically, we have lost our innocence along the way. We’ve discovered how to be bad. Joni Mitchell wrote so pointedly: “We are stardust, we are golden. We are caught in the devil’s bargain and we got to get ourselves back to the Garden.”

Returning to the Garden is a great concept. So is recycling. There’s “cycle” in the word“recycle”, and for a reason. Something was created and used, but instead of landing in the trash it’s being recycled for further use. At the dawn of salvation mankind was recycled when Jesus came to restore our innocence. Now Jesus asks us to “produce much fruit”, a haunting reminder of the initial command: “be fruitful and multiply.” Coming full circle, now we know how not to be fruitful. We are God’s children, but we have fallen. There is a way to be productive without becoming the worst version of ourselves. Instead of evolving into a pain in the neck we can evolve into a light in the world: “Remain in Me”, Jesus says. That’s the secret.

Trailing woody-stemmed plants, vines derive from the grape family. Vines are climbers by nature. In order to climb they cling to something – such as a pole or a wall – in order to grow.  Jesus uses the imagery of a growing vine to symbolize a close-knit relationship. I believe Jesus picked the grape vine because they are so extremely attached, which is a great way of illustrating our friendship with Him.  I can almost hear Him saying: “Don’t go off on your own, buddy!”  Jesus’ words “I am with you always”, encourage us to grab His hand as we follow our Creator’s footsteps and plunge into our daily activities – with a friendly reminder to remain in Him!

John 14:6: “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’”

Jesus had a heart-to-heart talk with His disciples before He died. He is mapping out the future for them, encouraging them to stay on course and giving them a little sneak peek of heaven. He says that there is plenty of room there; He is preparing a place for them, and, when everything is ready, Jesus will personally welcome them. Heaven is a real place, and there is an unmistakable way that leads there. Jesus is confident that His disciples know the way; His disciples on the other hand – not so much. Here is a snippet of the unfolding conversation between Jesus and His disciples (John 14:4-5):

Jesus: “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

Thomas: “No, we don’t know, Lord. We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

This is when Jesus utters His famous statement, which precisely answers the question at hand:

“I am the Way the Truth and the Life.”

How come that Jesus was so confident while His disciples apparently were not? Well, I think human nature has not changed very much, and still today truth can walk right in front of us while going completely unnoticed. The secret His followers were about to discover boils down to this:

  • Jesus represents the road map to heaven.
  • Getting acquainted with Jesus, we study this road map by exploring His way of life.

I believe Jesus’ way of life is basically love in action – no broken life goes unnoticed.  Jesus loves indiscriminately, with total abandon, and no strings attached. By living His way we actually bring heaven down. We can have heaven on earth by just going about our business the way Jesus went about His. People were always on His agenda. People always came first. If we all think this way, we have heaven on earth. In a sense we have arrived. We’re already home!

“I’ve been lost in my own place, and I’m gettin’ weary
How far is heaven?
And I know that I need to change my ways of livin’
How far is heaven?”  

 Songwriters: Henry Garza / Joey Garza / Ringo Garza

Salvador live performance of “Heaven”

John 11:25: “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.'”

Death always means separation, because the dead are separate from the living. We dig graves for that very reason, and we say goodbye when a loved one passes; it often bugs us to no end when we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye before their passing. Death is final that way. On this side of heaven we won’t see this person again.

However, when it comes to death there’s still more separation involved than meets the eye.

  • There’s separation of body and soul, once our hearts stop beating. Not everybody is on board with an afterlife – assuming that once our bodies are dead, we are completely gone. Well, here is the good news: a person is way more than just a body (a good thing to remember if you happen to struggle with yours). The soul is the part that passes on, the body is the part that is buried in the ground.
  • And then there’s separation from God, also known as spiritual death. If one has a hard time grasping the fact that human beings have souls moving out of the body at the time of death, then spiritual death will probably make even less sense. Maybe it’s helpful to think of a spiritually dead person as a human being without conscience. We all are born with one. If we succeed in overriding this God-given inner compass we’ll be spiritually dead.

The Bible calls our physical passing “first death” and refers to our separation from God as “second death”. Getting separated from God is like severing roots from a thriving plant. Without roots this plant withers and dies. By the same token, without God our soul withers and dies. So theoretically, we could very well be physically alive but spiritually dead and vice versa. Worst case scenario: we’re both spiritually and physically dead.

Jesus’s resurrection is an amazing milestone in the history of mankind, because His resurrection counteracts both first and second death. Case in point: His body and soul were reunited when He rose from the grave, and He was restored to the Trinity when He went back to heaven. That is brokenness completely restored! Creation suffers from the death grip, animals included. All of this is reversed in one big swoop! The ripple effect is enormous. Can you imagine the kind of impact Jesus’s death and resurrection has made in the entire universe? Can you imagine what this means for you?

John 10:14-15: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”

Jesus portrays Himself in various ways.  In one of His “I am” statements He refers to Himself as the good shepherd.

One of the things that piqued my interest is the fact that Jesus does not refer to Himself as a sheep herder but as a shepherd.  There is a significant difference between the two:  Sheep herders drive their herds much like cowboys drive their cattle by pushing them from behind, while shepherds guide their flocks by leading them from the front.   Also herds and flocks carry different notions.  While herding associates with feeding and running together, a flock is meant to congregate in places or alternatively head towards a location.  To put it bluntly:  Jesus is no cowboy and God’s children are not mindless sheep driven by one.  In Psalm 80 we address God as the beloved Shepherd (Psalm 80:1):

“O Shepherd of Israel who leads Israel like a flock;”

In Psalm 23 we put ourselves in sheep’s shoes (that is to say if sheep wore shoes) because King David wrote the lyrics of Psalm 23 entirely from a sheep’s perspective:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me”

Psalm 23 could not showcase the relationship between sheep and shepherd more beautifully.  I believe this is what Jesus is referring to when He says about His sheep (John 10:15):

“They know me, just as my Father knows me, and I know the Father.”

There is intimate knowledge, not just mere acquaintance, of all the parties involved.  What a gift to know Jesus and to be known by Him!

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)

Marielene’s rendition of Keith Green’s song: “The Lord is my Shepherd. 

John 10:7, 9-10: “So he explained it to them: ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.’”

Imagine wide open spaces….imagine a fence-less society … hey, how about a fence-less world? “Yeah, dream on!” you might say. Well, it is dreams and hopes that keep us going, I think. John Lennon wrote in his song “Imagine”: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.” – And I couldn’t agree with him more! Most importantly, that’s God’s dream for our world today. God rolled up His sleeves and went to work to pave a way to the fulfillment of this dream by sending us the Prince of Peace. He is the gate to this dream, and this dream is definitely not a pipe dream. We will live to see a society built solely on love and mutual respect, a world where even animals will stop killing each other, a world void of crime and abuse, a world where we can devote our energies to build, create, invent, explore, interact, and inspire. I rest my case.

Unfortunately, as we all know, our world today is quite different. While life certainly has its precious moments, we devote most of our energies to battle; just take a quick look at our country’s budget to see how much money actually goes into warfare.

On a personal level we’re battling too. There are lots of things competing for our attention, not all of them in our best interest. Whether we like it or not, we have an enemy to our soul. This enemy is somewhat mysterious and carries many different names: Lucifer, Devil, and Satan, just to name a few.  He may be mysterious, but his hate is very real and has affected all of us one way or the other. It’s on his agenda to bring us down, destroy us, and ultimately kill us. Thankfully, he got overwhelmingly defeated! That’s the reason why the dream of a world of peace is not dead. It will come true. We can bank on it.

God’s way of saving the world clearly has rubbed some of us the wrong way. We may think this is outrageous that God chose to become powerless and relinquish Himself. Letting go of His power and submitting to our limitations, how in the world could God save us this way? It just doesn’t make much sense! Yet, puzzling as this may seem, obviously God’s method of salvation is not ours to choose.

The Trinity proceeded to select one of them, Jesus, to be the door opener to a new beginning for mankind. He conquered the devil by letting Himself get killed. Jesus upholds the principle of peace to His dying breath. That’s the principle of love, the kind of love that does not force, coerce, or take away. That kind of love beats evil. That kind of love brings about a fence-less society.

In a world full of fences and ongoing violence we are offered a different way of thinking and new code to live by. Jesus introduces us to this new world, starting in the here and now. He wants us to experience a meaningful life with a positive impact, a life that is a tremendous blessing, and friendship with God, which really is the greatest gift of all!

John 8:12: “Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’”

If you’re visiting Arizona and one day decide to go on a hike, you’ll quickly discover that most hiking trails here are quite uneven. With boulders strewn all over the desert, hikers keep their eyes glued to the ground to avoid tripping and falling. I’ve done my fair share of hiking in the local deserts, and I especially love early morning hikes. Hiking before the Sun is up can be a bit hazardous as you may imagine. I once forgot to bring my flashlight, BIG mistake! To put it mildly, I stumbled more than I walked. Thankfully, the Sun rose just in time before I got hurt, and my faltering steps quickly turned into confident strides.

Witnessing how the horizon lights up long before the Sun actually arrives is quite a sight to behold! I think I’ll never grow tired of watching the Sun rise. As the Sun progresses higher and higher, the scenery is dipped in light. The world around me becomes distinguishable, and all the grey color tones slowly disappear and vanish into the morning mist. Dawn takes over. The early light paints the desert in soft hues of greens, yellows, reds and blues.

Since we’re all on a journey, probably more arduous than the toughest outdoor experience, we can all relate. In our wilderness walk through life we constantly need light, not just to see where we’re going but also to notice the different shades of color around us; life is meant to be colorful, and seeing that is to enjoy life in all its fullness.  No doubt, dark days and troublesome seasons continue to affect us, still, we can actually see in the dark when the Light of Life is walking right next to us. I think one of the reasons why Christmas lights so many candles – in our homes, in our yards, and in the streets of our towns and cities – is to celebrate the fact that Jesus’s foremost feature is being the Light of the world. He will literally light up our life if we let Him.

The Lord changes our fears and tears into hope and radiant joy, much like sunlight through the rain creates a rainbow. A life well-lived tends to have all the color hues of a rainbow. Jesus dips our life in color! That’s His specialty.

Walk with Him, and you will have the light that leads to life.

John 6:35: “Jesus replied, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'”

The soul, similar to our physical bodies, gets hungry and thirsty; it can also get hurt and needs healing.  Our Western culture has a tendency to overlook such needs – probably because souls do not show up with physical evidence.

Imagine we could see each other’s soul-bodies and could recognize how malnourished or wounded some of us are.  God certainly can.  And as children of God we’re aware of the importance to address the demands and longings of our soul.  There are countless references to the human soul in the Bible, not the least of which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5).

In the book of Psalms our soul is encouraged to cry out to the Lord, to praise the Lord, to sing to the Lord.  As the body gets hungry, so does the soul. The body craves physical food while the soul craves spiritual food; God has plenty of spiritual food in store for the longing soul. In Peter’s first letter we read (1 Peter 2:2):

“Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.” 

It is the Lord’s kindness the soul is after.  No amount of fame or fortune can satisfy the extravagant cravings of the soul, not even the love we experience from other people.  That is why Jesus says (Matthew 4:4):

“People do not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

On that note, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread” this request combines the physical with the spiritual bread, since we are in dire need of both. So let’s keep praying for God’s wonderful Bread of Life!

“Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honored; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day the bread we need, forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil.” Matthew 6:9-13

Hebrews 1, 1-2: “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.”

Let’s be honest: there are times when we feel God is a million miles away, and during such times we’re not even sure He speaks into our lives. If we feel this way we need to remember that generation after generation God has never been silent. He is actually way too passionate about us to not try to get our attention. And He has done so in various ways. Yes, we have a God who communicates! He has shared the truth with us for as long as there have been people. And while times have changed, truth never did. Neither did God.

We are all familiar with upgrades. Technology is always improving, and it has affected the way we communicate. The invention of the telephone (not to mention wireless phones) connected us globally and revolutionized human communication. Remember the snail mail? Remember how long it took to get a letter from one continent to another? Letters had to be shipped. And if your letter happened to be on a ship that never made it to the harbor you had to send another one. Long distance communication was difficult to say the least.

If cellphones and computers revolutionized human communication, how much more did divine communication improve with the arrival of God’s Son on planet Earth? It is so much easier for us humans to grasp God’s message of love by just observing the life of His Son Jesus. Jesus walked the talk. He is called “The Word” for a reason. In Him God’s Word became flesh and bones. Whatever God has been trying to say through His prophets throughout the centuries is now plain to see in His Son. The difference in communication is like night and day – similar to shipping an important letter to a distant country versus using a telephone. The question is: have we picked up the phone yet? Do we give God the time of day and lend Him an ear? That’s for you and me to decide. However, if we do pick up the phone and let God speak into our lives, good things are going to happen. Our lives will never be the same.

God speaks to us through His Son. How wonderful is that!

John 1:1-2, 14: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son”

Isn’t it amazing that God, who made everything and is the source of life, recreated Himself in the form of a human baby? God, who was never born because He has always been, is now working Himself through His mother’s birth canal. God who has everything and does not need anything, turns into this bundle of joy demanding constant attention – food, shelter, clean up. All of you parents can probably relate. Not sleeping through the night because Baby needs food! Or Baby has other issues. Diaper needs changing, we can smell it! Oh boy, who is getting up now?

So God became human and needy. That’s just so odd and mind boggling! Why would God do such a thing?

Well, don’t expect anything conventional coming from the creative Godhead, the One who thought up the entire universe! It’s in His nature to come up with something extraordinary, something unexpected to solve a problem – and bridging the ever-widening gulf between the Godhead and His creation is a major problem.

It all began when the seed of distrust was sown, a long time ago, when the fateful words were spoken: “Did God really say?” Ever since there is fear, misinformation, and a lot of superstition. Death puts the stamp of futility on everything we know. The eternal God on the other hand is untouched by death – and seemingly out of touch for us humans.

Then a couple of millennia ago – boom! The Word became human. The Immortal became mortal; God became one of us, and if this is not bridging the great divide, then what else does? The God from way out there touched ground and lived on planet Earth, in the here and now. We could literally touch Him. We could put a face to His name. Looking into His face we see love, and we see glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son: Jesus.

“There He was to everyone’s delight in the middle of the night. What a beautiful wondrous sight!” (Christmas Bolero by Bill & Evelyn Snyder)

Luke 2:6-7: “And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

In chapter 40 of his book, Isaiah translates the business of making room for the King into hands-on road construction (Isaiah 40:3-5):

“Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,

‘Clear the way through the wilderness

For the Lord!

Make a straight highway through the wasteland

For our God!

Fill in the valleys,

And level the mountains and hills.

Straighten the curves,

And smooth out the rough places.

Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

And all people will see it together.

The Lord has spoken!’”

Is it possible to work at road construction without getting dirty? Only if we stay out of it, which means we’re either at the sidelines watching or leaving the scene entirely because we don’t want any part in it. The message in Isaiah is clear, however. God encourages us to get involved and get our hands dirty.

A young couple in desperate need of a place to spend the night was turned down everywhere until a local from Bethlehem came to their rescue. Since the name of this person is undisclosed, I am asking you to fill in your name today. Picture yourself in Bethlehem teaming with visitors; crazy traffic in the streets while you are trying to get home with an endless to-do-list on your mind – but here they are: travelers in dirty clothes and their sole mode of transportation: a donkey. With his mate going into labor, the poor man looks shell-shocked. Assessing the situation, you rack your brain to find a way how to help these people. You’re determined to find a midwife, and then, out of the blue, you have a brilliant idea. You say: “I know a place where you can stay.  It’s just a barn, but it’s dry and at least you have a roof over your head. Come with me!”

And the rest is history.  It’s in extraordinary circumstances that the best or the worst will be brought out in us.  There are people who shut their doors, and there are people who make room.  God is appealing to you and me to make room today.

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s make room for the King!

Noel, Noel, Noel, Born is the King of Israel