Psalm 33:4-5: “For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

Creativity is the pulsing drive of creation and originates from the Godhead; the big bang was a firework display of His genius. Countless star systems were created. In the Milky Way Galaxy alone, astronomers have discovered more than 2,500 stars with planets orbiting them. Our planetary system is officially called “solar system”, but is probably not the only solar system around.

Bound by gravitational attraction, the planets of our solar system began orbiting our Sun. Meanwhile on Planet Earth, oceans spilled all over our planet and turned it blue. Because of its abundance in water, Earth became home to millions of species of plants and animals. Continents were forged while vegetation sprouted. Streams were formed and cut their way to the sea. The ocean habitat developed while on dry land wildlife showed up.

God built us an amazing home. Builders take pride in their building projects and God is no less attached to His work than any other builder we know. We need to remember that and not take our home planet for granted.

A world abounding in sounds, colors and smells, Planet Earth is a vivid reminder of God’s love. Think of the myriads of details that hold our universe together. The love of God flows through each and every aspect of creation, which is why His presence is so tangible in the outdoors.

We hold a sponge soaked with water, dripping wet, ready to wipe a window. We could say the sponge is saturated with water. Similarly, our home planet is saturated with the love of the Lord. His unfailing love fills Heaven and Earth.

Psalm 18:1-2: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Reading the footnote of Psalm 18: “For the director of music; Of David the servant of the Lord”, over time King David had become a prolific song writer. He captured what moved him. Working with the director of music he made his poetry accessible to the public.

King David was a man devoted to God. Throughout his lifetime he continued to write very candidly about his experiences and turned them into poetry. He wrote down his prayers even in the worst time of his life; and on the flip side he also captured his times of triumph and success. Whether passing through a deep valley or arriving on an illustrious mountaintop, King David shared all these moments with the Lord.

Psalm 18 represents such a mountaintop moment. Another footnote of this particular psalm paints the picture:

“He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”

King Saul’s leadership led the nation of Israel into a crisis. David served in King Saul’s army at the time, and his continued success in battle eventually brought on King Saul’s deadly jealousy. As a result, a great portion of David’s life was the life of a refugee. Eventually, King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle and this chapter of his life closed. When David was elected the new king of Israel, he celebrated with the Lord.

In his moment of triumph he took the time to remember that everything he had came from the Lord. His victory was the result of many steps of faith that had led him to this place. On his way he needed protection from his enemies, deliverance in battle and a Rock to hold on to. He could not have reached the mountaintop without the Lord. David was acutely aware of the gift he had been given, and he turned his gratitude into a prayer that we are privileged to read today (Psalm 18:2):

“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

It is good to remember the gifts we have been given. Gratitude is humility’s sister and opens our eyes to the wonder of God’s love while inspiring our love for Him.

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

Heaven runs on humility because God is humble; genuine humility originates in Him.

We can learn humility by watching how God’s Spirit operates. Thanks to the Holy Spirit we have life on Earth. It was the Spirit of God who hovered over chaos in the story of our creation and turned it into a Garden of Eden. And it was thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead.

Despite all of His power, the Spirit of God is still respectful of our boundaries. If we vote against Him, He respects our decision, even if it is detrimental to our well-being. The gentle Spirit of God is the best example of humility I can think of. He does not overpower us, He guides us only if we ask Him to, and He immediately withdraws if He is not welcome.

How do we humble ourselves? I believe we humble ourselves by surrendering completely into God’s almighty hands.

In the palm of His hand we can find out who we are. We are God’s creation – intricate and complicated, mysterious and wonderful – a reflection of our wonderful and mysterious Creator. However, if we forget that, we become disjointed and self-centered. And now we begin to blow things out of proportion as we lose our grip on reality.

Surrendered to God we are grounded in the truth. The closer we draw to God, the humbler we become. He puts things into perspective without belittling us. God the Giant and we His little dwarfs is definitely not His idea. He is our Father and He is “giantly” in love with His creation. We are considered family.

Our significance derives from the Lord. He made us, He is endeared to us and we have His undivided attention. In God’s eyes we are very special. We stand out because He is the One who lifts us up. In the palm of His hand we can truly be ourselves, and maybe this is what humility is all about.

“I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees
Your grace provides for me” – Ron Block

Psalm 63:6: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.”

A few years back, I had a near-death experience after an unsuccessful second heart surgery. For a while I felt my life was drawing to a close. Naturally, this had a profound impact on my psyche. Thinking I would soon be gone I wanted to leave a good impression; so outwardly I gave it my best shot, though in all reality I was wrapping up my life to get my affairs in order.

Meanwhile, I have made it through yet another heart surgery, and here I am, still kicking. Eventually, I had to shift gears, because my life was not about to end any time soon. I had to give my life another chance.

I did not want to admit to it at the time, but I felt hopeless when my health went south. In the book of Proverbs we find a brief description of the effects of hopelessness (Proverbs 13:12):

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

It is a medical reality that lack of hope eventually catches up with us and affects us physically. Sometimes our struggles go unnoticed, and that is very unfortunate. Suicide rates are up – a sobering indicator that we live in a lonely society.

How can we help a hopeless person? Pep talk in a depressed state may not be the best approach. Self-help groups promote positive thinking, and that is perhaps a good start, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Lord is the answer to our deepest needs. Ultimately He is the One who can fix what is broken inside of us. I believe, in our frailties we mostly depend on God’s mercies to get us through a valley and beyond.

We all need the Lord. Turning to Him for encouragement is a wise move. God is not stuck in a mold and He can get us out of ours; He is able to help us see things differently. Regardless of how much or how little lifetime we have left, we do have things working for us; God is able to open our eyes so we can become aware of these things.

The Lord walks with us on difficult roads – and I cannot stress this often enough – His presence is the best gift He can give us in most confusing times.

When we feel lost, we need to remember the Lord.

Galatians 6:7-8: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Sowing and reaping are agricultural terms. The history of agriculture reaches far back to the beginning of mankind’s domestication. A farmer has to nurture the plants all the way down to harvest, or there is no harvest; so after the first seeds were sown, mankind began to settle down; townships were formed, some of which developed into the first big cities.

Seemingly, there is more to the story of sowing and reaping in the eyes of the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the Galatians he mentions that God cannot be mocked. That’s one serious way of describing a farmer’s business.

Looking at the onset of mankind in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, it is curious to note that there was no sowing or reaping whatsoever in Paradise. Adam and Eve had free food whenever they were hungry. Change came after Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of knowledge. From then on they had to take care of themselves. Toiling the soil was meant to be a curse, which is why God said to Adam (Genesis 3:17-19):

17 “Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

In light of the fall of mankind, leaving paradise made it necessary to sow. Food was no longer provided for us. Besides physical sustenance, spiritual inspiration too was no longer readily available. Adam and Eve used to enjoy face to face encounters with God back in the Garden. Those encounters were now history; still this did not mean that God could no longer be accessed. People understood this and they developed a corporate way to seek Him out (Genesis 4:26):

“Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.”

In Adam and Eve’s family history, it was in their grandson Enosh’s generation that people began to organize worship services to formally call on the name of the Lord.

I believe that it is important to realize that both agriculture and organized religion started outside of Eden. It is safe to say that outside of Eden things have never been the same. Although now we have experience under our belt and we know a thing or two about survival, the most important lesson we can learn is how to stay connected to the Lord in this life.

Obstacles to a genuine connection with God are the things we consider more important than Him. If we hold on to anything that separates us from Him, most likely God is currently working on removing those obstacles.

To make the most of our lives we need to focus on our heart and soul, the part of us that can connect with the Lord. Our heart and soul is the engine of our existence. It is our connection with God that carries us into the future, beyond death. As such it takes precedence. We sow into our connection with God, and we harvest a dynamic relationship that will continually lift us up, here on earth and throughout eternity.

Luke 5:15-16: “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

At set times Jesus went into the wilderness to pray. His regular practice of personal prayer manifested itself through the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit wherever He went.

Jesus knew busyness. According to the gospel writers, Jesus was the man of the hour. He was wanted everywhere. In His generation, people were looking for leadership that would free them from the political super power of their time – the Roman Empire. Some had Jesus on their agenda to manipulate Him (which by the way never worked). Others sought Him out to receive healing. Wherever Jesus and His disciples went, a crowd gathered quickly. People were fascinated with His message of the kingdom of God. He spoke with authority. And from dusk to dawn, there were people – people – people.

Who has not become tired and frustrated at times with people constantly knocking on our doors? We keep up the good work until one morning we wake up and have nothing left to give. In sport terms, we have been tossed a Red Flag and need to review a challenge.

God gave us freedom of choice for a reason. He empowered us to say “yes” and “no.” Jesus remarked in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37):

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Life happens without our permission. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed because we simply have too much on our plate. If this happens to be the case then it is probably time to exercise some portion control. We need to determine what belongs on our plate. On a personal note, my husband and I have developed the habit to pray before saying yes to any new commitment.

Never underestimate the power of prayer. Our alone-time with God is a sacred time when everything else stops and the noise of the day subsides. We can clear our heads to listen to the voice of the Lord. Jesus once said, “My sheep know my voice”, and this is what our private audience with God is all about. It takes time to sort through all the voices in our heads. In order to receive the Lord’s input we sometimes have to wait things out. Our hearts are wired with sensors and we will know when the Lord has spoken to us.

Alone-time with God is time well-spent – and it pays in dividends of wisdom and joy.

Philippians 2:14-16: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.' Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

“Harsh light” is a figure of speech used by painters and photographers when it exposes and draws attention to unpleasant features of a subject. God’s light, however, does not work that way. The Light of the world is not known to be harsh.

Jesus exposes the truth without shaming everybody. In fact, God has no intentions of shaming us. We on the other hand have earned a Master’s degree in blaming ourselves and others. We need to get away from the harsh light of human discernment and leave the judgment up to God. In His light we do not look so bad after all.

Who would bandage a bruised reed? Jesus would. Prophet Isaiah describes the gentleness of Jesus who does not crush a broken blade of grass but instead repairs it (Isaiah 42:3):

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

Jesus has all the authority given by the Father – and that is a lot of authority – and yet, His presence is not intimidating. We are familiar with despots that are full of themselves and walk all over people. Jesus is not full of Himself. He is full of mercy. He is gentle with the brokenhearted, but firm with the hypocrites.

What is the antidote to power abuse? Is it force? Not according to Jesus. He did not draw a sword to defend Himself. He could have gone down that route and He would have won the battle, but lost the war. Crushing all of His opponents, His rule would have been based on dominance alone, and the world does not need that. This world has seen enough empires come and go.

Jesus has His way with broken people. He makes them shine. Aligned to a shining star, planets are lit up in dark space; and so are God’s children following Jesus. They shine in a crooked generation, as the Apostle Paul puts it. And I believe this is the only hope left to reach even the most hardened heart: not by force – but by light.

John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

If life had a name, then I’m sure its middle name would be Trouble with a capital T. First and last name? Constant Change! And we can get overwhelmed; we can get stuck; we can get overly attached; we can get numb; we can get depressed; we can get sweetened or hardened dealing with whatever life throws at us. Note that our hearts are fragile. We need to take good care of our hearts, or else we’ll be overcome by life’s middle name.

How we handle trouble is similar to digestion. Food is worthless and can actually kill us if our bowels refuse to work and our whole digestive system shuts down. Food has to be processed to be of any value. So does life. We need to take time to process life’s events, especially life changing events.

Allow yourself a break when lots of things happen, when we arrive at a crossroad; when changes come our way, when we feel pushed in a corner, when we feel powerless, when we feel angry, especially when we feel defeated and don’t see a way out of a situation. All of that are sure indicators that we need a Time Out.

Jesus spoke words of life into everybody’s struggle when He said:

  • “Take heart!”

We need to take our hearts seriously. The best favor we can do to ourselves is to reconnect with our Creator.

Jesus said:

  • “I have overcome the world”.

Knowing and believing that Jesus can work through every issue with us will guard our hearts from descending into desperation. Jesus added:

  • “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.”

The most precious ointment on a wounded and broken heart is the ointment of peace: the peace of knowing everything is going to be alright; the peace of knowing that God cares; the peace of knowing we are not alone; the peace of realizing that God is near; the peace of knowing we are being carried.

Jesus can connect us to peace because He is the source of peace. Shortly before His death He told His followers (John 14:27):

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

“Peace be with you” is not an empty wish of His. It is quite real. And Jesus wants to lay it on us. Take it from the One who knows you best and let His peace reign in your heart and soul.

John 14:1-3: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

His heart is fully vested in His creation. Jesus was there when the stars and the moons were put into place. He knows the inner workings of the universe. He knows all the intimate details of star systems, galaxies, our home turf, the Milky Way, and specifically, how planet Earth was put together, how plant life came to be, how the animals were created and finally, how the first human beings were introduced. He was there. As Builder and Creator, Jesus is attached to everything He has laid hands on, and His fingerprints are all over creation.

Then the Creator became flesh and lived among us; born into this world, the Son of God became Son of Man. Incidentally the Builder of the universe was born into a carpenter’s family. Growing up under Joseph’s tutelage, they must have spent a lot of time in the wood shop. They worked with their hands to build things out of wood. Jesus had always been a builder, but when God became man, He came with the mission to restore what He had previously built.

Creation suffered a mortal blow; death crept into His beautiful and perfect creation. But, death was not supposed to have the last word in the matter. At age 30, Jesus began His public ministry, preaching about the kingdom of God. He began to heal the sick, wake up the dead and spread God’s compassion everywhere He went.

The night before His death Jesus talked to His closest friends, His disciples. He shared with them that He was going back to the Father. His disciples were deeply disturbed and unsettled. How could they live a single day without Jesus?  Jesus told them (John 14:1):

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”

Nothing seemed to make sense to His disciples. How could Jesus save them if He were to leave them the very next day?

It was a hard thing to understand. As it turned out, Jesus did not leave them to their own devices. He left them with God’s Spirit. And to this day the Spirit of God has been working all around the globe to guide people’s hearts towards the truth.

Jesus left planet Earth to reunite with the Father. He also left to build places for people in Heaven, in preparation for their home coming. Passionate as He is about building, we can be sure that His love is carved into the very structures He is working on. We will see them – handcrafted homes in Heaven, custom made by Jesus for the people who believe in Him. This is what He says to you and me (John 14:1-2):

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

Psalm 103:1-2: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits”

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 and make it our daily habit to praise Him.

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

Luke 2:28-32: “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

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 long dry-spell. Israel had seen many prophets come and go, but for centuries on end there had been a pronounced silence. No new prophet spoke to them and no fresh message was received. God seemed remote and withdrawn.

Israel had been repeatedly subjected to a long list of empires: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. The more freedom eluded the people of Israel, the more they craved it. They called for a Redeemer who would set them free once and for all, which is really humanly impossible. Only God can free us for good. And so it happened that, under the Roman Empire, God sent His Son Jesus, and an influential movement began that would go all around the world.

We sometimes hear the saying: “Be careful what you wish for.” People see us pursuing a dream, but foresee a problem if this dream actually comes true. The Messiah was such a dream. God answered prayer and Israel’s Messiah finally came. He came to deliver the Jews; actually, He came to deliver the entire human race. This clearly went beyond everybody’s expectations. God made a wish come true, but the Son of God was not what Israel had bargained for.  

Before we start pointing fingers at Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, let’s stop right here and ask ourselves this question: Don’t we all sometimes wish that God answers prayers our way? Well, if we do, then chances are we won’t recognize God’s answer to our prayers when it actually happens – as in Israel’s case. Of course, God is never beholden to our expectations. He knows what He is doing, and He will answer all our prayers His way. We can ask for His help – but we cannot tell Him how to help us. That is definitely His call.

God has sent us Emmanuel, God with us – and God is indeed with us, albeit unbeknownst to the world. At some point in the future, we will collectively lay eyes on the Messiah when He arrives in the clouds publicly, for everybody to see. Until then, it is up to us to recognize Jesus whenever He shows up in our lives. God’s Spirit speaks to us – are we listening?

When Simeon laid eyes on the Messiah in the Jerusalem temple, He believed. Now, it is our turn.

“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”
Roderick Williams

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

Mary and Joseph had just begun to feel relaxed. Every day well-wishing people came to pay homage to the child. Some offered help, others brought expensive gifts. Three distinguished visitors had traveled a long distance to present them with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Shepherds had been spreading word of their special baby in the local neighborhood. Everybody was excited and happy. The Messiah was born!  

As they retired for the night, Joseph considered prolonging their stay in Bethlehem to give Mary a chance to fully recuperate before hitting the road again. – That’s when it happened. – He looked around and saw an angel standing in the room. It was the angel of the Lord. Time seemed to stand still for a moment. Then the angel addressed him (Matthew 2:13):

“Get up”, he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Joseph woke up, startled to realize, it was a dream. He immediately woke Mary, and they left within the hour.

Mary and Joseph were in the eye of a storm as they packed up and left for Egypt. They fled just in the nick of time, right before Herod’s soldiers arrived who methodically killed all infants and toddlers in Bethlehem and its vicinity.

And so it was that Jesus narrowly escaped the massacre. Still, other babies were killed on that horrible day. Does this make any sense? – No, that’s the point! These are senseless murders, and they are symptomatic for the greater problem humanity has: We were created human but we evolved and became inhuman. The killings are a sobering reminder why the Messiah had to come in the first place.

The life of Jesus was no Rose garden. Early on, he had to deal with offense and life threatening situations, which is why He can appreciate what we are going through. He empathizes with us and carries us through our worst nightmares, even death; He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

This world is badly broken. Jesus came to heal the world. The Prince of Peace is more than just a pat on the back and a quick fix. His mission is to get to the bottom of things. Jesus’s parting words to His followers were (John 14:27):

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Healing our hearts, Jesus heals the world. Having turned our affairs over to Him, we have made peace with God. Peace on earth is a revolution from within and begins in the temple of our hearts.

“Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God “
Songwriters: Buddy Greene / Mark Lowry

Luke 2:16-20: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

It was an exceptional night. Cruising the streets of Bethlehem, a group of men looked for a particular house. They were local shepherds who have just had an epiphany. Previously, angels had filled them in about the birth of the Messiah. He was born in the area; actually, within reaching distance, or so they heard. The angels sang beautifully and handed them specific directions to the location; and so they took off to pay the family a visit.

Bethlehem lay quiet and deserted after the rush and business of the prior day. It didn’t take too long until they noticed the brilliant star that seemed to be fixed on a location, a certain place that had a barn with a family inside…. and there was the baby! He was in a manger, soundly asleep, just as the angels had told them.

Mary and Joseph looked surprised as the shepherds entered the room. After introducing themselves, they started sharing the news they had previously received from the angels. Meanwhile, Mary hung on every word they were saying and treasured up these things in her heart; to her it must have felt like puzzle pieces were falling into place. Hearing the good news from other people made it all the more real.

Imagine this happening to you: an angel shows up with a message. This angel tells you that God wants you to be the parent of His Son – God’s Son – asking for your permission to adopt Jesus into your family. Can you picture the skepticism of your friends and neighbors? I am assuming that Mary and Joseph dealt with similar reactions among their peers, which is why it was so important for them to meet the shepherds.

The shepherds played no minor role in the chain of events when they shared their story with Mary and Joseph. A stranger’s tale adds a lot more to an existing story; we hear an added perspective, and so the story grows in validity and depth. Faith stories from other people are important because it strengthens our faith. Faith is not meant to be walked out alone. We need each other to be strong.

God continues to choose people for His purpose, and sometimes people have a hard time believing in God’s choices. However, if we think we need to be perfect to be chosen by God we are completely missing the point. It is God who makes things perfect. And He is the One who perfects us as we follow His call.

Isn’t it wonderful that God invites us to be part of His story? Potentially, He could have done every little thing on His own. God does not need to include us into His plans. I love that He does it anyway; and by using regular human beings for His divine purpose on a star-filled night, God has forever made us part of the miracle of Christmas.

Luke 2:8-11: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Mary’s boy came in the wee-hours of the morning. – Jesus, beloved member of the Trinity, arrived as a human baby. His birthplace was in the Bethlehem hill country of His ancestor King David, who used to be a shepherd by trade; incidentally, shepherds were only a stone’s throw away from the place where Jesus was born.

Born in a barn, Jesus was outside protective palace walls – and I believe this was intentional. Despite being King of the universe, the Son of God does not seek the status of the privileged;

Born in a barn, Jesus did not wake up to an illustrious neighborhood. – Shepherds were in the neighborhood, and they stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder;

Born in a barn, Jesus welcomes everybody. People meet there on an equal playing field. Shepherds and foreign dignitaries kneel on the rugged barn floor to worship Jesus, alongside the resting cattle. Jesus is in touch with all of creation.

In the corporate world, an open-door policy means that every manager’s door is open to every employee. In the same spirit, the TV series “Undercover Boss” has upper management take on the role of a regular employee to gain a deeper insight into their business operation. Comparatively speaking, the Boss of Creation went undercover in His own created universe. By doing so, He got to experience the full spectrum of our humanness. The immortal became mortal. The timeless God reported to a time schedule on a human scale. He was born in the Middle East a couple of millennia ago.

From an angel’s perspective, they had known Jesus long before His arrival on planet Earth; they had experienced His glory in Heaven. It must have been a powerful witness to the mighty angels seeing their Maker transformed into a helpless babe.

Jesus would grow up to become a sought-after man of God who began His public 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 after His resurrection, when He returned to His Father in Heaven.

Having walked in our shoes, Jesus has become our premier advocate. 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)

“Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day
And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day”
Songwriters: Fred Jay / Frank Farian / Jester Hairstone

Luke 2:1, 4-5: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

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

After returning from her aunt and uncle’s house and three months into her pregnancy, Mary had to face her family and husband-to-be Joseph. Thankfully, Joseph believed the angel of the Lord that Mary’s child was the Son of God, and a short time later they got officially married.

Then, out of the blue, Augustus’ decree was requesting all citizens of Israel to register in their ancestral towns.  This would be Mary’s second trip to Judea during her pregnancy, only now she was in her third trimester.  They had to travel 90 miles to the city of Joseph’s ancestors: south along the flat lands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on into Bethlehem. It must have been a fairly grueling trip, especially in Mary’s condition.

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? Although 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 King David and fulfilling ancient prophecy.

If we feel that God’s timing often seems to be out of sync with human timing, then here is a good analogy for you: life’s unforeseen seasons and surprising events are similar to following a syncopated beat in the realm of music. Syncopation is a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm. Dancing to God’s heartbeat, we must be prepared for surprises. God is a wonderful dance teacher. We will get the hang of it as we get to know Him better.

We are 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. Trusting Him, we will be better equipped to deal with life’s curve balls. Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem is a great example. Life is a journey, and with God we’ll have the trip of a lifetime.

Luke 1:76-78: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven.”

Zachariah was as happy as could be. He held his newborn son John in his arms. A prophecy whispered in His heart as looked at his son. John would prepare the way for the Messiah.

Fast forward to 30 years later, 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, like the Jordan River.

The Jordan River is 156 miles long and flows roughly north to south through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea, which gave John a nice radius for his ministry. The Jordan River also serves as East/West border separating Israel from neighboring countries. It is reasonable to assume that foreigners were also attracted to John’s ministry. In John’s lifetime, the Roman Empire ruled Israel and the neighboring countries with an iron fist. People were looking for a king to free them from current oppression and lead them into freedom.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the Messiah did not come to address their political situation, as desperate as it was. As a general observation, personal freedom exceeds political freedom; regardless how restrained we are from the outside, our hearts and minds can still be free.

Never despise the small beginnings. John the Baptist started a revolution that began at the Jordan River and went all around the globe. By immersing ourselves in water we symbolize a new beginning, and the new beginning is in our heads. Jesus came to revolutionize our way of thinking, and John the Baptist prepared the crowd by preaching repentance. This is what repentance is all about: a change of mind. We all have to let go of our old mindset. There is no freedom in preconceived notions and close-mindedness.

In God’s kingdom, common sense 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. This is why Jesus has come. Are we ready to receive the King?

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Luke 1:68-70: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David as he said through his holy prophets of long ago.”

As members of the priesthood, Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth were celebrities; 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. Everybody knew that Zachariah had not spoken in a long time, and rumor had it that their child was special because of the unusual circumstances leading up to Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

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.

For the past nine months Zachariah had witnessed his wife’s and his visiting niece Mary’s pregnancy, both announced by angels, both a miracle. He had doubted God’s messenger, and he had been silenced by God because of it. For the time being, no word came out of his mouth. 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. In his prophetic words he addressed Mary’s son first. It was only in his closing remarks that 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 transformation is a miracle in its own right and illustrates how God can profoundly change a person. Entrusting our hearts into His care, God is able to give us a new perspective – while turning our life around in the process.

Matthew 1:20-21: “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”

What would you do if your fiancé told you a story that sounded like a lame excuse?  Nothing made sense to Joseph anymore after seeing his fiancé returning from her recent family visit, three months pregnant. Pregnancies usually serve as physical evidence that a man and a woman had sexual relations. Claiming otherwise would be foolish, which is why Mary’s pregnancy is still controversial today. A woman getting pregnant without a guy being involved – why would God do such a thing?

Joseph was confused. It pained him to think that Mary would go behind his back with a secret relationship, dishing a lie to explain away her pregnancy, and then asking him to marry her to cover it all up. 

In sleepless nights to follow Joseph would wrestle with the prospect of putting Mary’s life on the line if her pregnancy out of wedlock became publicly known. After agonizing over his decision, he finally considered quietly breaking the engagement. Anticipating Joseph’s reaction, God sent His angel. In a dream God’s messenger confirmed that Mary had in fact told him the truth.

600 years before these events transpired, Isaiah wrote down a famous prophecy (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.”

God has sent prophets and angels to broadcast His intentions centuries ago, long before they became reality; He did that so that we are able to put two and two together and recognize a sign from God when there is one. “A virgin bears a child” is a prediction fulfilled. Nonetheless, despite angel accounts and prophet proclamations, it still requires faith to believe Mary. We know that Joseph believed that the child she carried in her womb was the Son of God. Similar to Joseph, we too have a choice to make.

Would you take that leap of faith and believe the outrageous story of Christmas to be true?

Luke 1:46-47, 49: “And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.’”

In a society where pregnancy out of wedlock prompted the death penalty, a pregnant, unwed teenager was bad news. Conceiving and raising the Son of God – what a great honor, and yet – what a daunting task! When Mary heard that her aunt Elizabeth was also expecting a child, she set off to visit her. The trip was a 70-mile walk, which must have kept her on the road for several days.

The reception 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 her aunt’s instant awareness of her condition was truly inspired.

Elizabeth herself was no stranger to a miracle pregnancy. She had been past her childbearing years when angel Gabriel announced that she would have a son. Her husband Zachariah, unfortunately, doubted the messenger, and as a result found himself grounded by God. His ability to speak was taken away from him for an undisclosed time period.

Zachariah’s forced silence actually may have been a blessing for Mary. If he had trouble believing Angel Gabriel, it’s also possible that he would have raised some serious doubts about her mysterious pregnancy. Had he been able to talk, Mary’s visit could have gone very differently – at least that’s what I imagine – but since he was unable to speak, Zachariah had to take the back seat in the family for a while. A silent witness of incredible things unfolding before his eyes, the words of Psalm 46 could have gone through his head (Psalm 46:10):

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

Reportedly, it was Mary’s habit to stand back and listen with her heart. Pondering about the things she picked up on probably gave her some remarkable insight and wisdom. Taking note of the good things happening around us has a great side effect: we cultivate gratefulness.

Rushing through life, we gain nothing worth mentioning; even miracles could potentially go unnoticed. Let’s find the time to be still today. Lifting up the Lord, we will be uplifted.

Luke 1:30-33: “But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants 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.

What is the kingdom of God?

Jesus summed up the Golden Rule when He preached His sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:12):

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus did it. He lived the Golden Rule like no other. By doing so He brought Heaven down to Earth. Jesus is the walking, talking, living, breathing Kingdom of God. Ironically, the Golden Rule is no rule. It’s a way of life. And we have trouble living this way, unless we have met Jesus who is capable of renewing us from within.

A change of heart does not happen overnight, it is something that happens gradually. Jesus compared the progression of God’s kingdom to yeast permeating dough (Matthew 13:33):

He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.'”

We mostly think about the advancement of God’s kingdom in terms of introducing Jesus globally. And this is one part of the truth. The other part of the truth is discovering Jesus on a personal level. The knowledge of Him sinks in slowly, until our hearts are saturated with the love of God. We get to know Him better every day as we take His hand and take our faltering steps in a broken world.  By doing so, we become agents of hope.

It’s a natural phenomenon: Yeast bacteria permeating the dough make sourdough bread; and a child of God grasping the hand of Jesus spreads the kingdom of God.

Luke 1:26-28: “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’”

Two miraculous pregnancies within six months and within the same family (since Elizabeth and Mary were related) are remarkable, to say the least.  Like a door opening to a mysterious room, God’s carefully designed plan began to unfold. And the world was watching.

Pregnancies are always miraculous, given that a brand-new being is developing within a mother’s womb. Think about that. That in itself is amazing. Adding wonder to amazement, the Christmas miracle happened right in a woman’s womb when God became a man; God went to town, specifically, to the town of Bethlehem.

Trusting Jesus, He will move in and become a resident of our hearts. The apostle Paul explained in one of his letters (Ephesians 3:17):

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”

While Mary carried Jesus physically for nine months, all of us can carry Jesus spiritually over a lifetime. Like any other endeavors we are pursuing, believing in Jesus is a growing experience. Similar to roots growing deeper into the soil supporting the weight of a tree, so our understanding of God’s love grows deeper over time, which supports us in tough times and considerably lightens the load we bear. I dare say that this is something God and His angels never tire to see – the weight lifted off of our shoulders as new hope is nourished inside of us.

The story of Christmas is in fact open-ended and has many sequels. As we make room in our hearts for Jesus, a new chapter is being written. And so, my friend, the Christmas miracle continues.

“I hope and I pray that someday you will see that He’s the only truth. His love can heal all wounds cuz only God can make us see there’s a miracle plan for you and me. A Christmas miracle inside of you and me.” (George Canyon)

Matthew 2:4-6: “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

The town of Bethlehem, Hebrew בֵּית לֶחֶם Bet Leḥem for “House of Meat” is a place with a long history. Located in the fertile hill country of Judea, Bethlehem has always been a premier spot for shepherding. It was the home of father Jesse of King David of Israel and the site of David’s anointment by the prophet Samuel.

King David came from a shepherd’s family. From ancient times, large numbers of sheep were crisscrossing the countryside. Tending sheep in the Middle East 2000 years ago was a demanding and dangerous job. Wolves were common, and there was no compensation for livestock taken as prey. In general, shepherding was frowned upon as a sub-par profession. Shepherds shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers.

Bethlehem – Israel’s sheep metropolis – this was the chosen location where Jesus was born. Why not a more prestigious place? Why not Jerusalem? Good question! Nobody really knows. As a general observation, God seems to have a knack for the small and despised things in this world – contrary to popular demand. He likes to choose unlikely people, and this may rub us the wrong way; ideally though, God’s way of loving people should inspire all of us to let go of any prejudice we have towards others.

When Israel exited Egypt in 1500 BCE, they were despised slaves. God rose to the occasion, and the nation of Israel was born as they passed through the Red Sea into the Sinai Peninsula. God comes through for us in unlikely circumstances; and He chooses unlikely places to do His work, such as Bethlehem in Judea.

Never underestimate humble beginnings. Don’t despise a small manger in an inconspicuous little town. This manger held a special baby, the King of the universe, the Shepherd of God’s people and the Messiah of the world.

Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

If you have trouble believing in the virgin birth, then think about the way the first human being was constructed. Out of mud Adam was formed. Then God took Adam’s rib and fashioned another human being, his partner Eve. God uses matter and turns it into living and breathing beings. What a way to create life! His first original creation then must have been matter. God literally created something out of nothing. Matter progressively evolved into the ever-changing universe we see today. Matter never stays the same. Only God does.

The Son of God was born of a woman. That is an entirely different matter. The Son of God did not need to be created, He was already there. He was the One who had created matter, and now He Himself became matter. A precious member of the Trinity materialized in a woman’s womb. That’s the Christmas miracle we are celebrating.

God who created matter could have easily materialized out of thin air. In fact, this is what people expected from the Messiah. The apostle John wrote about a situation in the Jerusalem temple where people were divided over who Jesus is. Here is what they said (John 7:25-27):

“At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, ‘Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.’”

Nobody was supposed to know where Jesus is from, and yet there He was, born into a carpenter’s family growing up in a despised neighborhood.

Have you ever noticed that God’s way of doing things never conforms to our expectations? Well, here is a surprise for you – God chose to collaborate with human beings to send His Son into the world; her name is Mary, and we know that God first sent a messenger, Angel Gabriel, to ask for her permission. When Mary accepted she welcomed the Son of God. So did Joseph, her fiancé, when he married her. Mary and Joseph both adopted Jesus, and the rest is history.

Here is the beauty of God’s plan when it comes to fruition: Mary and Joseph adopted God’s Son into their family, so that we in turn get adopted into God’s family. Merry Christmas to you all!

“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”
Songwriters: Chris Eaton / Amy Lee Grant

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.”

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 right 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):

“Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a 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.

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

One day, in the presence of Moses and the people of Israel, God came down with fire and thunder on Mount Horeb to deliver the Ten Commandments. People were beside themselves with fear. Terrified, they were too shocked to listen to God’s message (Exodus 20:18-19):

“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

The Lord’s response to the people’s fearful reaction was later recorded. Moses wrote (Deuteronomy 18:17-18):

“The Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.’” 

About 1443 years later, Jesus was born. He grew up to become a mighty man of God who quickly grew a following. When Jesus called Philip to follow Him, Philip went to break the news to Nathanael. (John 1:45-46):

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

Nathanael’s response is classic. Certainly, a carpenter’s son from a humble town is not the kind of Messiah people have expected. – A catch 22, isn’t it? People are either too overwhelmed or too underwhelmed to listen to what God has to say.

Meanwhile, centuries have passed and people are still discussing the phenomenon of Jesus of Nazareth. Who is to say that Jesus is more than a prophet? How do we know that He is the Son of God? I believe that this is something we will have to find out for ourselves; Of course, there are many different voices out there competing for our attention. However, one distinctive voice stands out and brings peace and clarity. It’s the still quiet voice of the Holy Spirit.

Our part is to step back, take our time, focus and listen, and the Spirit of God will speak to our hearts. This is why Jesus says (Matthew 7:7): 

“Seek and you will find.”

When we seek Him out we will certainly find Jesus. He is ready to meet with you and me in a heartbeat. 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

John 15:5,8: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

We call God respectfully our Creator. Yes, He is the Creator of the universe, but that is just one side of God. If we limit Him to this one, albeit powerful, aspect of His deity then we focus on His productiveness alone. He is more than Creator of the universe. He is our Heavenly Father.

When God created us He was happy. He danced over us and blessed us.

God loves His creation. Thankfully, that is His most defining feature. If this wasn’t the case then He would just be a production machine dropping off His creation without further involvement. – Well, nothing could be further from the truth. God is not a heartless genius. God has a beautiful mind and a beautiful heart. We need to realize that, otherwise, why would we want to meet Him?

I believe this is why Jesus always refers to the Father in His prayers. Jesus loves the Father and the Father loves Him. Jesus came to invite us to be a part of this beautiful relationship and uses a trailing vine as an example to describe how close we can be to God.

Climbing vines adhere themselves using tiny aerial rootlets. Some types of climbing vines present small, disk-like adhesive tips that attach to any type of surface. I believe this is a great metaphor illustrating attachment. With this imagery in mind, can we imagine how attached God is to us? In a love relationship, ideally this goes both ways. God is attached to us, and we are attached to Him – however, look around you! Obviously, mankind is not very attached to its Creator.

When the Trinity split and sent Jesus down to Earth, God reached out for us in a dramatic way. To use Jesus’s imagery: we saw God’s trailing vine in action. Grabbing the hand of Jesus, our trailing vine is reaching out in turn. Now love goes both ways.

Taking the hand of Jesus is no one-day-affair. It’s a life style. Jesus picked a grape vine to further illustrate that being with our Creator produces much fruit. I can almost hear Him saying: “Don’t go off on your own, buddy!” Reaching out and grabbing the hand of Jesus simply makes the best version of ourselves – reflecting well on God’s excellent parenthood. He is a very good Father, and His children are His pride and joy.

Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea – Anne Murray

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

Jesus has a heart-to-heart talk with His disciples on the evening before His death. 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 up 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 The Living Bible):

(Jesus said) “And you know where I am going and how to get there.”

 “No, we don’t,” Thomas said. “We haven’t any 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 (John 14:6):

“I am the way and the truth and the life.”

How come that Jesus was so confident while His disciples apparently were not? Despite all our discoveries and advancements, human nature has not changed very much; still today, truth can walk right in front of us while going completely unnoticed.

God is mysterious. The key to unlocking the mystery is finding out who Jesus is. Jesus is more than an inspirational preacher. He represents our road-map to heaven. We study this road-map by getting acquainted with Jesus and looking at His way of life. His way of life is basically love in action – no broken life goes unnoticed.  Jesus loves indiscriminately, with total abandon, and no strings attached.

We live in God’s kingdom in the here and now when we go about our business with Jesus on our side. Living His way brings heaven down. In a sense we have arrived and are 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

John 10:14-15: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down 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 very 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 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 (Psalm 23:1-4):

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they 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):

“Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

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

John 10:7, 9-10: “Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’”

A fence-less society is God’s for dream us, and this 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. – Welcome to God’s kingdom!

God has rolled up His sleeves and paved a way to fulfill His dream by sending us the Prince of Peace. Jesus is the door opener to God’s peace on Earth.

Whether we like it or not, we have an enemy to our soul. This enemy has many names and may look like the nightmare figure of a fairy tale, but his hate for us is very real. Satan has affected all of us one way or the other. Despite his vicious activities though, he will not bring us down if we trust in the Lord.

As part of His salvation plan, God chose to become powerless and relinquish Himself. This goes against everything we believe. We believe in warfare and conquering by force. How in the world could God save us by letting go of His power and submitting to human limitations? As puzzling as it may be, God’s method of salvation is clearly not ours to choose.

The devil mistakenly believed that by having Jesus killed on the cross he would emerge as the winner. Ironically, Jesus won the war by letting Himself get killed. Jesus upholds the principle of peace to His dying breath.

In a world full of fences and ongoing violence we are offered a different way of thinking and a new code to live by. Jesus introduces all mankind to this new world, the kingdom of God, starting in the here and now. Among all the gifts Jesus has given, friendship with God is His greatest gift of all.

John 8:12: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

Bill and I have lived in Arizona for almost two decades now, and we have fallen in love with the local desert. Exploring the outdoors, nature trails usually are very uneven. Hikers keep their eyes glued to the ground to avoid tripping and falling. We have both done our fair share of hiking; I particularly like the early morning hikes.

In Arizona it gets light outside long before the Sun actually shows up on the horizon. The early light paints the awakening desert in pastel colors. Sunsets and Sunrises are quite a show around here.

Hiking before the Sun is up is magical, but can be a bit hazardous. On one occasion I forgot to bring my flashlight, BIG mistake! As a result, I stumbled more than I walked. Thankfully, the Sun rose in time before I got seriously hurt. Wilderness walks are unforgiving if we are not properly equipped.

We don’t need to be hikers to be able to relate to the wilderness experience. Life can resemble a wilderness walk, metaphorically speaking. Randy Newman’s song “It’s a jungle out there!” is a humorous way of putting it. God helps us through that jungle. The Light of the World has a way of seeing us through the most confusing times.

During the Christmas season it’s a custom in North America to decorate our homes, yards and streets with a myriad of Christmas lights; I believe this is one way of depicting Jesus bringing God’s Light into the world.

Jesus will change our fears and tears into hope and radiant joy, much like the sun shining through the drizzling rain will create a beautiful rainbow. The Lord dips our life in color. I know it because that’s what He has done for me. Walking with Him, we have the Light that leads to life.

John 6:35: “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”

Our soul, similar to our physical body, is in need of healing after a traumatic event. Our Western culture has a tendency to overlook such things – probably because souls do not show up with physical evidence.

Imagine we could see each other’s soul-bodies and recognize how malnourished or wounded some of us are. The Lord certainly can. Connected with God, His children will become sensitized to the demands and longings of their soul.

There are countless references to the human soul in the Bible; one of the most prominent is to love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5). In the book of Psalms our soul is encouraged to cry out to the Lord, to praise the Lord, to sing to the Lord. As the body gets hungry, so does the soul. The body craves physical food while the soul craves spiritual food; God has plenty of spiritual food in store for the longing soul. In Peter’s first letter we read (1 Peter 2:2):

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” 

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

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

On that note, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread”, we request the physical and the spiritual bread, since we are in dire need of both.

Let us follow the urges of our soul and pursue God’s wonderful Bread of Life.

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
 Give us today our daily bread.
 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.”
 (Matthew 6:9-13)

Hebrews 1:1-2: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”

Most of us are familiar with upgrades. Technology is constantly improving, and it has affected the way we communicate. The invention of the telephone (not to mention the wireless phone) has connected us globally and revolutionized human communication. Remember how long it took to get a letter from one continent to another? Letters had to be shipped, and if your letter happened to be on a ship that never made it to shore you would have to send another one. With the invention of the telephone and especially the computer we effortlessly bridge long distances today.

If cellphones and computers represent a major breakthrough in long distance communication, certainly our perception of God has been revolutionized when the Word became flesh and lived among us. It is so much easier for us to grasp God’s message of love by just looking at Jesus. Jesus walked the talk. In Him God’s Word comes alive.

We have a God who communicates. He has shared the truth with us for as long as there have been people. What God has proclaimed through His prophets in preceding centuries is now plain to see in His Son.

Good things are going to happen when we explore the life of Jesus. I know that my life has never been the same.

John 1:1-2, 14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

A couple of millennia ago, God became a human baby. God Almighty, who has everything and does not need anything, turns into this bundle of joy, helpless without His parents.

Why did God become human and needy? Why would He put Himself in such a position?

I think we need to stop expecting anything conventional from the creative Godhead, the One who thought up the entire universe. It is in His nature to be extraordinary and solve problems with out-of-the-box thinking; our estrangement from God was developing a great divide between Him and His creation on planet Earth. This represented a major problem that needed to be addressed.

The problem was created a long time ago, when seeds of distrust were sown. A snake asked one simple question: “Did God really say?” This question threw us permanently off. We started assuming things about God that aren’t true. Ever since, there has been fear, misinformation, and a lot of superstition.

Death puts the stamp of futility on everything we hold dear. That’s quite a painful experience for us. Our eternal God, on the other hand, is untouched by death and decay – and this is why we commonly think He is out of touch with our reality. Well, quite the opposite is true. God empathizes with us, so much so, that He decided to walk in our shoes.

Actions sometimes speak louder than words. Here is one very loud action: the Word became human; the Immortal became mortal; God became one of us. God came to our home turf and lived in the neighborhood. We could literally touch Him. We could put a face to His name. Looking into His face, we could see the One whose name is ‘Yahweh saves’, also known as Jesus, the Messiah. He came to bridge the great divide.

“There He was to everyone’s delight in the middle of the night. What a beautiful wondrous sight!” – Basically Two

2 Peter 3:10-11: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.”

Planet Earth has always been subject to change, as other planets have. Planet Mars is thought to have been once habitable. Owing to change in Earth’s orbit, geological factors and fluctuations in solar output, Earth has seen a variety of ice ages. Periods of ice age are characterized by the growth and expansion of ice sheets across the Earth’s surface, which in turn has manipulated propagation or elimination of certain species. Catastrophic events further impacted Earth’s history. The most recent and arguably best-known mass extinction of animal and plant species occurred approximately 66 million years ago when 75% of all species became extinct, including dinosaurs. Most widely supported explanations of mass extinctions are major flood events, sea level falls and asteroid impacts. A large meteorite impact is associated with the mass extinction event of 66 million years ago.

The day of the Lord is a cataclysmic event predicted in several books of the Bible, also known as doomsday. Since the Earth has seen major catastrophic events before, there is no reason to believe it couldn’t happen again. However, false predictions (trying to figure out the date of doomsday for instance) brought about public criticism and a whole lot of sarcasm. The abuse of doomsday lies in the abuse of the scriptures endorsed by false teachers. Brimstone and hell preaching represents preachers who manipulate the crowds by pushing the fear button. Their preaching has produced either a blind following or angry rebels. Godless preaching has damaged God’s reputation probably more than godless living does. If preachers pretend to know God, then they obviously spread lies about Him, and this kind of damage is difficult to undo. The apostle Peter once mentioned how Paul’s letters were misinterpreted by certain individuals (2 Peter 3::16):

“His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Godless living brings about destruction; so does distorting scriptures.

Godlessness by definition is forgetting where we came from. This sort of amnesia has some serious consequences (2 Peter 3:5-7):

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Forgetting that all the elements came from God will eventually turn the elements against us – because the elements don’t forget its maker. Jesus warned the godless who were trying to hush the jubilant crowds on the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:40):

“‘I tell you’, he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’”

Nature will always bear the testimony of its Maker. Stones will cry out in our stead if we forget where we came from.

We have the Lord’s promise that He is always with us. That’s the best promise He could have given us, especially when things are not looking so good. It is a good idea to mention that the Lord doesn’t just end things. He paves the way for a new beginning (2 Peter 3:13):

“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

The Lord is famous for His patience, His belief in us and His undeterred hope. Thanks to Him an exciting future is coming our way. Even though the beautiful dawn of the kingdom of God happens sometime in the future, it is rooted in today. Look around you. You can already see the kingdom of God in places where Jesus left His footprints in people’s hearts.

Psalm 136:1+26: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.”

Sometimes, the holiday season can be hard on us. The holidays are designed to be celebrated with family and friends. If both friends and family members are missing, the most wonderful time of the year will quickly turn into the least desirable time of the year. We feel disjointed and alone while everybody else seems happy.

Even if this goes against everything we currently feel, God encourages us to look up and thank Him for His goodness. In the end, it’s the Lord’s goodness that sees us through. When everything else is falling apart, He is still the Rock. When life gets dark, He is still the Light.

Nothing is as dark as walking through the valley of the shadow of death. My husband and I sat beside loved ones on their deathbed on several occasions. Grieving, we have to let go of the person passing, and the person passing has to let go of the physical body. God knows, letting go is not easy. What a relief that the Lord is with us, especially when we need Him the most.

God is faithful. His love for us is independent of our love for Him. God loves us, even if we don’t love Him back. However, if we do love Him back we get to experience His love here on Earth and beyond, when we pass on to the other side. As far as the Lord is concerned, He can’t wait to welcome us into His arms.

Jesus is the Light of the world. We’ve seen the light when we’ve seen the Lord. However, we should not base our lives on a one-time-experience. In fact, we need to continually reach out for His light to find our way. If we feel lost in the dark, we need to ask for His vision. If we feel confused, we need to ask for His wisdom. God will not hold back, and He will generously provide. The Light of the world is with us every step of the way; that is how we can walk in the dark; that is how we can successfully navigate through life.

The Lord is good. His love endures forever; God loves us always, throughout eternity, and nothing – absolutely nothing – can change that. That’s why we thank Him.

“Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness; open my eyes, let me see.” Tim Hughes

1 Chronicles 16:8: “Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.”

I’m getting misty-eyed this morning – The first book of Chronicles contains the first Bible verse I have ever blogged about. It was in 2016, and this is what I wrote:

“Bragging about the Lord!  Here is a Bible verse that talks about broadcasting worldwide what the Lord has accomplished.  In today’s day and age with Internet access readily available this could be easily done, and we have been posting on Social Media on a regular basis; but now Bill and I would like to create a blog where we can post a Bible verse, elaborate on its meaning, and share with anybody who also likes to think about the Bible. This would be our very first blog. Let’s see where this takes us!”

Years later after this entry I’ll say this: Sitting down and thinking about a Bible verse is an experience that I don’t want to miss. The Lord knows His own Word, and He also knows what He wants to say to you and me. Unless we set aside time to meet Him it won’t happen.  Studying the Bible records, going through Paul’s letters, the gospels, David’s psalms, Isaiah’s prophecies, the five books of Moses, is special.

Some of us may think: why is it so special? – Generations of believers have read the Bible; there is nothing special about it. – Exactly! The fact that generations of believers have read the Bible and it still gives us new insight as we dig into it, is very special. The Bible is no old hat. It’s as alive as the Lord.

Proclaiming the Lord’s greatness – I initially thought the Internet could do that; however, the Internet is a very impersonal medium. Nothing beats personal delivery! What I came to realize though is that habitual blogging about the Lord has blessed me in many ways. I strongly believe the world changes one person at a time. Inasmuch blogging about the Lord has blessed me the world around me will be blessed too, starting a domino effect of good things happening. That’s the power of the Internet in my case.

Yesterday I went outdoors and admired the colors of fall. I often look at something beautiful outside and then jokingly say to the Lord: “Stop bragging!” Well, He won’t! He can’t help Himself – everything He created is so good! God is brilliant. He does not need to speak to us, He could just let His work speak for itself. And yet, He does not stop talking. His Word is like gentle rain that softens hardened callouses in our hearts.

Colossians 3:16: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Wo man singt, da lass dich nieder. Böse Menschen haben keine Lieder” – a German saying, which loosely translated means: “Wherever people get together to sing, join them. You won’t run into bad company there; evil people don’t have songs.”

My grandmother’s Dad was Walter Seelheim who knew how to play the accordion. At night, he played in dance halls, which were popular in Germany in the 1920s. Well-paid jobs were scarce after the Germans had lost World War I; playing music at night probably helped my great grandfather to feed his nine children.

My grandmother had seven sisters and one brother. Times were hard, but they knew how to have fun. At night, the girls who shared a bedroom fell into harmony singing old folk songs to pass the time.

I find it interesting that the apostle Paul encouraged the readers of his letter to spread the message of Christ in song. Singing together is such a bonding activity. About choral singing Julia Layton wrote in her article: “The Physical Effects of Singing”:

“A study published in Australia in 2008 revealed that on average, choral singers rated their satisfaction with life higher than the public — even when the actual problems faced by those singers were more substantial than those faced by the general public. A 1998 study found that after nursing-home residents took part in a singing program for a month, there were significant decreases in both anxiety and depression levels. Another study surveying more than 600 British choral singers found that singing plays a central role in their psychological health.”

It’s no secret that not everybody can sing in tune, which would be a major deal-breaker for joining a choir. Singing in the shower, it won’t matter whether or not we sing out of tune. Singing is simply good for the soul, which is why the Lord encourages us to keep it up (Psalm 33:3):

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”

An added bonus of making music is that we typically don’t engage in violence as we sing. How do we change the world for the better? Obviously, not by violence; the message of Christ is a message of peace. The peace movement initiated by Jesus starts within the human heart. Making peace with God, we spread peace wherever we go. That’s the power of Christ’s message in a nutshell, and we can sing about it.

Mom and I singing together in 2015

Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Volcano explosions, Meteorite impact – our planet has seen it all. The history of planet Earth is a history of evolution. As much as we like to take root and cling to life on Earth as we know it, we’re destined to grow wings and fly to a kingdom that is unshakable.

God is eternal; so are His children.

We live in a temporary setting in a temporary body housing an eternal soul. If you are comfortable with that, you are my champion. However, most people I know, myself included, don’t like to live on the brink of change.

Here is where faith comes in. Take marriage for instance: We believe we made the right choice when we married our spouse, so we promise to be faithful to this spouse we’ve selected. Our marriage vows say “for better or worse, in good times and bad”. Years go by, and our marriage develops from a young shoot into a matured tree. In a temporary setting within our temporary bodies we have grown old together. Faith connects and faithfulness produces roots and new young shoots. There are families out there that once grew into a village; the village became a tribe, and eventually the tribe turned into a nation.

Legacies aside, your very own soul is not destined to live on in your children and children’s children; your soul is destined to live on in a body of your own, a body that is equipped to live forever. The apostle Paul calls our current physical appearance a “tent” (2 Corinthians 5:1):

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”

Paul is referring to the new body that awaits us as we pass on from this life into our next. God made you unique, which means you won’t be reproduced in your exact likeness. Once you die, there won’t be another one just like you. Every life matters.

Our soul comes from God. It is necessary to connect with the Eternal One, or our soul will remain rootless. Eternal rootlessness is hell, and hell is not what God has planned for you and me. God wants us to find our roots and live. Finding God is finding home; we are home for good, and nobody can take that away from us.

To be alive and knowing that the Lord is our home are two wonderful reasons to be grateful. Praise the Lord, we’ve seen the light!

Psalm 1:1-2: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”

My husband and I went to San Francisco on our honeymoon, and there we had plenty of photo ops with the Golden Gate Bridge serving as backdrop.

Historically speaking, connecting San Francisco with Sausalito was no easy feat. Due to the complex challenges presented by the strait; strong tides, wind, fog, and the San Andreas Fault located just 7 miles offshore, the Golden Gate Bridge was considered “The Bridge that couldn’t be built”. But one engineer came forward with a plan that he claimed could be built. His name was Joseph Baermann Strauss. His idea was to build a suspension bridge.

Suspension bridges suspend the roadway by cables, ropes or chains from two tall towers. The pressure applied to the ropes travels from there to the towers. The towers then dissipate the compression directly into the earth.

Strauss believed a suspension bridge would be a solution to their problem, and he was right. Finalized and opened to the public on May 27, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge has meanwhile stood the test of time.

Comparing our lifetime to a suspension bridge, Lloyd George Elliott (1919-1970), a Canadian nuclear physicist wrote:

“The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables called habits, attitudes, and desires. What you do in life depends upon what you are and what you want. What you get from life depends upon how much you want it, how much you are willing to work and plan and cooperate and use your resources. The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables that you are spinning now, and that is why today is such an important day. Make the cables strong!”

Habits, attitudes, and desires – a lot of our daily actions are driven by them. To avoid decision overload, our brains establish neuron pathways each time we learn something new. Going forward, we will revert back to past experiences. Thus a new habit is formed. Our brains are very much like sponges. They soak up the good and the bad. Blessed are the people who develop good habits and avoid the corrosion of bad influences. The first psalm of the book of psalms says as much (Psalm 1:1-2)

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked (…) but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”

A beacon to our thought life is the Word we receive from the Lord. Through the noise and distraction, it’s well worth our effort to set aside time to be alone with Him. Let God speak to your heart, my friend! His affirmations are the solid rock withstanding the test of time.

Psalm 95:1-2: “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

Harvey Mackay once said:

“It’s only lonely at the top if you forget all the people you met along the way and fail to acknowledge their contributions to your success.”

Thankfulness obviously is not humanity’s natural ingredient. Humans aren’t exactly born grateful. We like to look at the things we lack and unwittingly diminish the value of everything we’ve already been given. Despite our natural tendencies, however, we need to sit back from time to time and count our blessings.

Put yourself in God’s shoes for a minute – strictly hypothetical of course since these are big shoes to fill – and imagine all the people talking to you only want your attention because they want something from you. How would that make you feel?

I’m sure God loves to be addressed when we are in need. Life is no joke. Bad things happen to good people. And yet, if prayer is used only in times of an emergency, then we really don’t know God very well. The apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters (1 Thessalonians 5:17):

“Pray continually”

Praying continually means that God is a genuine part of our lives. Our prayers have extended beyond emergency situations and we have an ongoing conversation with Him. As we go through the day we share our thoughts with Him, which is the good, the bad and the ugly. God is with us when we are at our worst and He is with us when we are at our best. He is the best Friend we will ever have, and for that it is easy to be thankful for.

As a happy side effect, thankfulness is a great way of combating negativity. It is easy to get depressed in times of trouble. We tend to focus on the dark side when we have problems. Gratefulness snaps us out of this way of thinking and turns our eyes to the bright side.

We need some joie de vivre especially in tough times. For our own sake and most importantly for God’s sake – let us be thankful!

“Always look on the bright side of life” Eric Idle

John 17:17: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

Thanks to gravity we can walk the ground. Up is up and down is down, as simple as that. However, climbing into a rocket and pushing through Earth’s atmosphere, we experience things very differently. Where is up and down after loss of gravity? Our human experience is very much tied to our personal point of view. In fact, we can get so stuck in our opinions that it is hard to see the truth.

 “What is truth?” Pilate retorted after Jesus told him (John 18:37b):

 “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Finding the truth can be as elusive an experience as trying to catch the wind. Pilate certainly thought so. At the time when Pilate met Jesus he seemed to have given up on finding the truth. “What is truth?” he asked. Not expecting an answer, he turned around and left Jesus.

So, what is truth?  

It is very human that our point of view evolves. What we believe to be true today may no longer hold true tomorrow. Pilate’s sarcasm would then be justified. Truth, however, is not truth if it can change overnight. Truth does not change. Unimpressed by shifting times and unimagined by any human mind it stands forever. We don’t dream up truth; truth just is.

It was Jesus’s mission to come into the world and share the truth with us. He testified to the truth, which still rocks our world. Interceding for all people, Jesus prays (John 17:17):

“Sanctify them by the truth” 

Learning the truth will change us for the better, or to use Jesus’s terminology: learning the truth will sanctify us. On a different occasion He said (John 8:32):

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The only way to learn the truth is to believe Jesus. Truth cannot be proven, but the results of truth-finding are very tangible. Attached to the Lord’s bird-eyed view, believers develop a much broader perspective. They become vested in the greater good and contribute to healing the world.

Truth is alive and breathing and has the name of God written all over it. When Jesus walked this Earth, He left indelible footprints. He said about Himself (John 14:6):

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

When Jesus turns our lives around, we start going into a completely different direction. The truth will set us free, and we will never be the same.

Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”

Life’s path is no eight-lane freeway. It’s more of a bumpy hiking trail. Plugging along, we always tread on unexplored ground. Nobody knows what to expect around the next corner.

Life’s pathway is a long journey. We better travel light or we’ll get stuck somewhere with our heavy load. Unburdened is the way to go.

Life is not a burden. Life is a precious gift. We realize that in moments when we hold a newborn baby. However, the thrill of being alive clearly wears off when we are in pain. In light of tragic circumstances we may even lose our desire to be alive. Especially when we feel lost in the dark, we are in desperate need of God’s light.

The light of God is different from any other light source we know. Regular light sources simply won’t hold up. Batteries go low; a camp fire won’t burn unless it’s fed; a candle will flicker and die once it has burnt through the candle wick. God’s eternal flame, however, burns independently without being fed. His light is always shining, which is why we fare a lot better in His presence. Close to the Lord, we are able to see through the dark. Leaning on Him, it is so much easier navigating through life’s highs and lows.

Times will change; God, however, is timeless. He is the Rock of Ages who becomes our stronghold as we call on Him. If we earnestly seek the Lord, we will find Him. Moses encouraged the Israelites with these words (Deuteronomy 4:29):

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

God is hidden from the naked eye, and yet, He is very hard to miss. In fact, we have to be determined to ignore Him to not notice the brilliant Light that outshines the stars, the Moon and the Sun. Eventually, somewhere along life’s bumpy road, we will run into Him.

Life is no hide-and-seek game. God wants to be found; He wants to enlighten us; Heaven’s door is easily opened. All we’ve got to do is start knocking.

Psalm 119:143: “Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.”

King David loved the Lord, and He loved His law. In Psalm 119, he says (Psalm 119:62):

“At midnight I rise to give you thanks
    for your righteous laws.”

To be enthused with the law of God as much as King David professes it in his psalms strikes many of us as strange. Interestingly, the initial reaction at the time when the Ten Commandments were published was fear. Here is how people reacted as they witnessed God speaking from Heaven (Exodus 20:18):

“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance.”

I believe fear can be a good thing if it keeps us from harm. The fear of getting hurt prevents us from touching fire. Kids learn that really quickly. Beyond that, however, we expect kids to grow into adults who can use fire to their benefit.

God is an eternal flame. He appeared to Moses in the form of fire, the burning bush. It seems that Moses had quickly grown past the fear of fire. A friendship developed between Moses the prophet and God Almighty that the Bible depicts as exceptional, although I’m not sure God wants friendship with people as an exception.

Life is more than just two-dimensional. Unless we want to live like cartoon characters, at some point in our lives we need to outgrow the idea that the world around us only falls into two categories: right and wrong; good and evil.

Ultimately, the Lord’s commandments, written in stone, represent the stepping stones towards God’s world that knows no commands and is entirely built on love. If we get hung up by His commands, then God’s law turns from stepping stones into a murderous weapon. A rigid, rule-driven life simply leaves us no room to breathe. God’s commands were not written to stone us, but to guide us. King David understood that profoundly. He didn’t lead a flawless life, but he is known to be a big believer in God’s mercies.

The law of God was written down to lay out righteous living. Stepping onto the building stones of human decency, we will step into God’s presence. And approaching Him, we’ll make a Friend for a lifetime.

1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

God’s Spirit brings life. Jesus was brought back from the dead when He was resurrected. Thanks to the Spirit of God He was revived and walked out of the tomb, never to return.

If Jesus needed to be revived, how much more are we in need of revival? And I don’t think we should wait for that experience until we pass. Unlike Jesus, we carry a dead human spirit inside of us that needs to come back to life. The Holy Spirit has the uncanny ability to open our eyes and help us see God. It’s like we were in a dream state before, and now we’ve woken up to reality. Jesus calls this experience rebirth, and it’s one of the great mysteries of God. What exactly happens as we get reborn, who can tell? From personal experience I know, life as a believer is as different from my prior life experience as day is from night. It’s the Holy Spirit who makes all the difference.

Our dead human spirit is one thing, the burdens we have accumulated over a lifetime is quite another. If there is anybody out there who has compassion for our cause, it’s God. God is not asleep, nor is He dead. He is in a pristine unpolluted environment called Heaven; His ears are not distracted by noise pollution, and His eyes are ever turned towards His creation. We have His complete attention, and His heart breaks over the things we are going through. God is love. He wants to effectively help us, not just put a Band-Aid over the situation. He wants to save us. That’s why Jesus came.

Jesus says (Matthew 11:29):

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Jesus was publicly killed. After He was raised from the dead He went back to heaven. How can we learn from Jesus when He is no longer here? – Well, that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit who teaches us about Him. In fact, we will become friends with Jesus long before we actually see His face. There is still so much left to discover even after we have crossed over to the next life. Life is a journey that definitely does not end with our physical departure.

The Holy Spirit has a lot to say about God. If you are searching for answers, why don’t you ask Him to introduce God to you? That’s what I did, a long time ago, and the Holy Spirit is still not done introducing.

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on”
– Bill Withers

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

The story of the cross has changed everything. Mankind has never been the same.

Estranged from God, the Lord had become a vague concept; we gave up on Him as He seemed more and more removed from our reality; disconnected from the Lord as we were, we paid a price: navigating through the maze and trip-falls of life we learnt the hard way that our connection to other human beings is no substitute for knowing our Creator.

Our prospects of being reunited with the source of all life were slim to none. This profoundly changed with Easter, triggered by events occurring two millennia ago. On a scull-shaped hill in Jerusalem Jesus died nailed to a cross. It was a horrible day for His disciples and family. As much as His life had triggered hope, His death brought deep despair. If Jesus could not overcome His enemies then who else could? His grieving friends and relatives carried Jesus to the burial site, a rich man’s tomb that was donated to them. There they buried Him.

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

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

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul asks us a crucial question:

If Jesus’s death brings blessing to mankind, how much more will His life?

The gift of eternal life is the greater gift. We are not saved to go on a guilt trip; we are saved to live life with God. The opportunities arising from our friendship with our Creator are absolutely limitless.

No one is happier about the results of the cross than Jesus Himself. He loves us so much; His heart is like a treasure trove, and we need to keep digging to get to know Him. One day we will see Him – face to face – and what a day that will be!

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

Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.”

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

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

Here is an open secret: God loves to be found. He will put heaven and hell to work to make it happen. Yes – even hell can be helpful at times. Finding God during life’s darkest hour is not so unusual. Pain can sharpen our senses and help us distinguish between counterfeit and original.

We all want to know what is real. We do not want to live a lie. In pursuit of the real deal we will stop dead in our tracks when we have an “aha moment”, when we realize that God exists and that God cares.

We know when we have struck gold. We know when we have found unfailing love.

Mark 9:35: “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”

The topological ordering of rivers is based on their distance from the source. The classic stream order is a “bottom up” hierarchy that awards the number “1” to the river with its mouth at the sea.

On their way to Capernaum a group of men had a heated discussion about their particular stream order. Who among them was closest to Jesus? They kept their voices down so Jesus wouldn’t hear what they were talking about. But then – Jesus had super-hearing. So He brought up the issue at dinnertime (Mark 9:33-35):

 “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”

“Got it!” some might have thought to themselves. “I’m going to out-serve everybody. I’m going to be a super servant”

To make a point, Jesus hugged a child and put it in the middle, right in front of everybody. This child had not done anything in particular to be set apart as an example, but here it was, small and defenseless, enjoying a good hug while smiling a toothless grin at the twelve men. Jesus certainly got their attention, so He went on to explain (Mark 9:37): 

“‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

We live in a competitive world, but that is not how the kingdom of God works. Jesus brought a small child without any credentials to everybody’s attention illustrating that we do not need to be outstanding to stand out. – We already do in God’s eyes.

Instead of being concerned about our recognition, let us rather recognize a need and let the person next to us become our concern. Caring is the genuine reason why we serve – and by the way, servants have each other’s backs.

A society with a short attention span creates a lot of unheard people. Let us follow suit and be the ones who actually listen up and pay attention. What difference one caring person can make in this world is for you and me to find out.

Psalm 118:5-6: “When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

When booking a flight I always try to get an aisle seat. Without having to climb over several people’s legs it is much easier to get out of the seat. I guess I am a bit claustrophobic. Claustrophobia is an irrational fear. It is unlikely that a small, stuffy room poses any mortal danger and yet, this is exactly how a claustrophobic person feels – threatened to be running out of space, air, and time.

Tight places

Overdue bills can have a claustrophobic effect on us. When we don’t know where to go and what to do to gain access to the money needed to pay our next bills, then we are financially in a tight place.

Tight places

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. Bullies can pin us to a corner and we feel that there is no escape.

Tight places

How do we humanly react to tight places? If in trouble, we instinctively revert to fright or fight. A frightful person goes into hiding. An aggressive person fights back. Neither approach works in tight places. How do we fight back in a small stuffy room? And how do we hide from being trapped?

Locked into a tight place we need outside help. It is practically impossible to free ourselves since this is the very nature of tight places. We are stuck! However, there is still one thing we can do – We can cry out.

Even though it does not sound very attractive, crying like a baby is the smartest move in tight places. The key to freedom is heartfelt prayer. We cry out to God and immediately the tides have turned: We are no longer powerless when we entrust ourselves to the King of kings and Lord of lords.

It is not our smart minds that move the world. Our prayers do. Prayers are by no means our last resort. Prayers write history. How often prayers have changed the destiny of a whole country we won’t know on this side of heaven. I strongly believe that God is the heartbeat of human history.

Whether or not the Lord is with us simply makes all the difference in the world. In the middle of a crisis, the Lord gives us unexplained peace. God is the Redeemer in the most unfavorable of circumstances. Just look at His track record, and you know you can trust Him. 

“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 deep peace” – Irish Blessing

Isaiah 1:16-17: “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

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 meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
   Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
   When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!”

A litany of things God absolutely hates:

  • Thoughtless 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 and pursues extramarital activities behind your back. 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 righteous living in a nutshell.

Righteousness develops over a lifetime. There is no shortcut to this lifestyle. We don’t age overnight, and we don’t turn into righteous people overnight. Pretending to be good won’t do. God wants us to be real since He is only interested in genuine relationships, not fake ones.

Think about it as a compliment: God pursues and loves the real you. He won’t put up with a copycat. Shed the copycat and let His waves of mercy wash all over you.

Getting real is how we get clean.

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

Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Following a prolonged siege, Jerusalem’s city walls were destroyed. 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?”

To be clear, God hates any form of human sacrifice, certainly child sacrifice. Micah reminded the people of Israel: “You already know what God wants. He told you what is good. Do what is right, love mercy and walk humbly with your God!”

With their backs against the wall and no place to go, people basically declared bankruptcy before the Lord. In a way, this was Israel’s first step to disassociate themselves from their enemies. Declaring bankruptcy, Israel was no longer in the hands of their oppressors. They put themselves completely into God’s hands – an example how freedom starts with the right mindset.

Do we need to go bankrupt before we see how much we need God? Hopefully not! We tend to panic when we run out of money and options, and that’s understandable. Money rules this planet. However, not everything can be, or should be, paid for. Do we pay our parents for their services? What price-tag do we put on giving birth and raising a child? It’s obvious that we don’t charge for the most important things in life. They are being provided.

Kids grow up and turn into providers. And yet, even as adults our Heavenly Father will continue to care for them. How do we pay for His care? As much as we paid our parents: Nothing.

Try as we may, we can never out-give God, nor do we need to. He gave us His Son Jesus, and there is no paying for this precious gift either. The only thing God wants from us – and I believe you have 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!

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

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

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

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

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

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