Isaiah 43:16,18-19: “This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

In a time of need, Jacob had to move his entire family to Egypt where he was received with open arms. One of his sons – Joseph – had become an influential man in Egypt, and so Jacob’s family was treated with much respect. Unfortunately, 400 years later all of this was distant memory. Jacob’s offspring had grown in leaps and bounds. Feeling threatened by their explosive population growth the tides had turned against them. Egypt’s Pharaoh forced them into slave labor.

It was time to leave Egypt.

Israel’s exodus from Egypt was no minor feat. In order to arrive at their destination – a region southeast from the Mediterranean Sea – they had to pass through treacherous desert terrain and get past the Red Sea. With the Egyptian army on their heels, the Red Sea quickly turned into a death trap. There simply seemed no escaping from the Egyptians.

And Israel cried out to the Lord.

All of a sudden the waters began to recede until a pathway opened up, right ahead of them. Led by Moses they ventured into the dried-up seabed to cross the Red Sea on foot. With their children, their livestock and all of their belongings they fled to the other shore. Meanwhile the Egyptian army had arrived and they were stunned to see the mysterious pathway through the Red Sea. After a moment’s hesitation the Pharaoh ordered his army to continue their pursuit – but when the last Israelites reached the other shore the waters of the Red Sea returned and the waves crushed over the pursuing soldiers, their horses and chariots. All of Pharaoh’s army drowned. A day of tragedy and triumph, it was on this occasion that the nation of Israel was born, a pivotal moment in their history.

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

If every piece of information on the internet was a tree, we would have an endless forest of information right at our fingertips – but how do we get to the bottom of things? To cut through a sea of data, we need to remember that only one tree matters to humanity: the tree Jesus was nailed to. Back in Paradise, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil offered the fruit of death. On Golgotha, the tree that Jesus was nailed to offers the fruit of eternal life. His subsequent resurrection stands for victory over death. Jesus draws every human being to Him. He brings peace to a broken world – thus the arrival of God’s Son surpasses the miracle at the Red Sea.

The Lord makes a way in the wilderness. Let us not dwell on the past and look forward to better things to come.

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! 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. Nourishment has to be processed to be of value. So does life – and we need to invest time to processing life events, especially life-changing events.

I remember when my dad was unable to get to the phone I would listen to his voice message which said:

“Sorry I can’t take your call right now, but you can leave me a message right after the beep. Lay it on me!”

My dad’s sense of humor came through in the last four words of his message: “Lay it on me!” Well, the Lord has also left us with a message – a message 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.”

We are doing ourselves a huge favor when we allow God into our lives. Jesus’ foremost mission is to reconnect us with God, the source of all peace. Believing that the Lord can help us will guard our hearts from descending into desperation. God cares for us – His love is the most effective ointment for a broken heart.

Laying down our burdens brings long-lasting relief. Sometimes the only thing hindering us is pride. We think we can manage alone and don’t want to appear weak. The truth is that we all have our limitations. So don’t hesitate to lay it on Him. He can take it. Trusting the Lord is our way to peace.

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.”

Jesus was there when the stars and the moons were put into place. His heart is fully vested in His creation. He can tell you all about the inner workings of the universe; intimate details of star systems and galaxies are on His mind. He knows 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.

When God became man, the Builder of the universe was born into a builder’s family, and I think this is no coincidence. Under Joseph’s tutelage Jesus worked with His hands and built things out of wood. In His childhood He probably spent a good amount of time in His father’s workshop.

Spiritually, Jesus came with the mission to rebuild what had been torn down previously. Death had crept into His beautiful creation and rendered everything transient. But, death was not supposed to have the final say 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 wherever 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 followers were deeply disturbed and unsettled. How could they live a single day without Jesus? And the Lord comforted them and said [John 14:1]:

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

As people of the Jewish faith the disciples already believed in God. But then Jesus happened – and He brought us closer to God. Similar to seeing the Moon with the naked eye as opposed to looking at the Moon through a telescope, we see more of the intricate details. And having been brought near spiritually, we recognize that God is Trinity seeing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in action.

In times of trouble we hold on to God – but we especially hold on to the Son who became Man walking in our shoes. He’s the One who redeemed us and His new kingdom is built to last.

Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

A cardinal mistake is to believe that everything is up to us. Maybe this is one of the reasons why humans get so tired and burnt out.  We are putting too much on our plate. Aware of our human tendencies Jesus kindly addresses us. “Come to me”, He says, followed by another invitation [Matthew 11:29-30]:

“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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

A yoke is a wooden beam used between a pair of work animals so they can pull on a load together. What Jesus is referring to here is team work; paired up with the Lord our burdens are much easier to carry. 

Working together is no new concept. God’s operating as Trinity suggests He invented team work, and I believe we are blessed to follow His example. We’ll be both inspired by the Lord and by the people we are teaming up with. Jesus did not come to order us around. He rolls up His sleeves and gets down to the nitty-gritty; He wants to share our burdens. Welcoming Him is the onset of humility in our hearts.

Humility makes a tremendous difference in this world. It takes the pressure off of us because we know that we are not the ones running the show, God is. And when the time comes for us to step aside, we can do so with confidence – knowing that life will go on without us. While everyone is irreplaceable, the person picking up where we left off will bring a new perspective. Once again, this shows the beauty of teamwork.

By trusting the Lord, we know that our life on earth is not in vain. God’s children leave indelible footprints.

Psalm 103:1: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”

“Elephant memory” has become a coined term and refers to the ability to retain information for a very long time. Saki, a British writer who was born in Burma in 1870, once said:

“Women and elephants never forget an injury.”* [*Source: quotes.yourdictionary.com; web link: https://quotes.yourdictionary.com/author/saki/101236 ]

Living in Southeast Asia, Saki was very familiar with elephants and appreciated the smartness of the animal. Working elephants can commit to memory a large number of commands. They recognize other animals and people, thus remembering both kindnesses and injuries. With a life-span of 50 to 60 years, these memories are long-lived, which is why in their natural habitat it’s always the older elephants that lead the herd to the waterholes. Matt Lewis, the Senior Program Officer with the World Wildlife Funds Species Conservation Program says:

“The tragedy,” says Lewis, “is that when one of these [older elephants] 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.”* [*Source: theweek.com; web link: https://bypass.theweek.com/articles-amp/443717/true-that-elephants-never-forget ]

In the wild it is crucial to remember to survive. I believe the same is true spiritually. If we don’t keep in mind the good things the Lord has orchestrated in our lives, it is just a matter of time that we feel disjointed and become dissatisfied.

With advanced age comes experience; but old age in itself does not warrant wisdom. We need to learn from our experiences or we just continue to make foolish decisions. The key to wisdom is to use the brain God has given us to our advantage. Let us think about all the situations the Lord has helped us through and be thankful. With David we pray [Psalm 103:2]:

“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—”

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 no fresh message was received. God seemed remote and withdrawn.

In their history, Israel had been brutally subjected by empires: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. The more freedom eluded the people, the more they craved it. They called for a Redeemer who would set them free once and for all. And so it happened that, under the Roman Empire, God sent His Son Jesus.

We sometimes hear the saying: “Be careful what you wish for.” People see us pursuing a dream, but foresee a problem, should this dream ever come true. The Messiah was such a dream. God answered many prayers and Israel’s Messiah finally came to deliver the Jews – actually, He came to deliver the entire human race. This clearly went beyond everybody’s prayers and 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 answers to our prayers – as in Israel’s case. Of course, God is never beholden to our expectations. He knows what He is doing, and He continues to answer all our prayers His way. We can ask for His redemption – but we cannot tell Him how to redeem us. That is definitely His decision.

God has sent us Emmanuel, God with us; and God is indeed with us, albeit unbeknownst to the world. All the while God’s Spirit continues to speak to us – are we listening? When Simeon laid eyes on the Messiah in the Jerusalem temple, He believed. It’s our turn now.

“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.

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. Bethlehem lay quiet and deserted after the rush and business of the preceding day. Local shepherds were walking the streets of Bethlehem. They were looking for the newborn Messiah. A brilliant star seemed to be transfixed on a certain location – a barn …. They opened the barn door, and there was the baby! He was in a manger, soundly asleep, just as the angels had told them.

Mary and Joseph looked surprised when the shepherds entered the room. After introducing themselves they related to the stunned couple what the angels had said. Mary hung on every word of their story and treasured up everything they said; to her it must have felt like puzzle pieces falling into place. Hearing the good news from strangers made it all the more real.

Imagine an angel has a message for you. This angel tells you that God wants you to become parents to His Son and asks 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 went through that, which is why it was so important for them to meet the shepherds. Faith is not meant to be lived out alone. We need each other to be strong. In this respect the shepherds played an important role in the chain of events. When they shared their story Mary and Joseph’s their faith was strengthened.

God continues to choose people for His purposes, and sometimes we 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 while we follow His call.

Isn’t it wonderful that God invites us to play a role in His story? And by using regular human beings for His divine purposes on a star-filled night, God has made us part of the miracle of Christmas.

Luke 2:11-14: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Camping out in the desert under the Middle Eastern skies were local shepherds. Day in and day out they would work and sleep outdoors. It was their job to lead the flocks to good grazing locations. At night they had to stay vigilant and watch out for predators. Desert nights can be quite cold. The shepherds on guard duty were seated around a fire when on the spur of a moment night turned into day.

Out of the blue angels appeared. They came with exciting news: “The Messiah is born!” – Startled, the shepherds just stood and stared trying to decide whether or not this was a dream. One of the shepherds had the presence of mind to ask: “The Messiah is born? Here, in this neighborhood? Where would we find Him?” The angels replied: “You will find the baby sleeping in a feeding trough.” And as sudden as the angels appeared they vanished into the night leaving the stunned shepherds with an open invitation to go see the Messiah. Immediately the shepherds left the campsite to look for the mysterious baby. The heavenly messengers had given them one specific clue – an infant sleeping in a manger is unusual to say the least.

Meanwhile, Mary, Joseph and the newborn rested in their quarters. Their long and arduous journey had been topped off by Mary’s going into labor. The couple was exhausted, but they were probably too excited to sleep. Gazing at their baby in wonder, many questions must have raced through their minds. Then, there was a knock on the barn door. The door quickly opened and closed, and stepping inside came a group of complete strangers. They identified themselves as local shepherds. Apparently, they had listened to angel reports – how else would they have known about a baby sleeping in the manger? Nobody could have guessed that. And how come they knew that Mary’s baby is the Messiah? God had to have revealed it to them.

God still speaks to us through signs and wonders. At times God can be very obvious (it’s hard to overlook a host of angels), but mostly He is very subtle – probably not to overwhelm us. Whenever we take notice of Him, we have a story to share. And I believe one of the best tales from God’s point of view is sharing how we met Him.

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.

Jesus did not wake up to an illustrious neighborhood. He 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 welcomes everybody. People meet there on an equal footing. Alongside resting cattle shepherds and foreign dignitaries come to worship Him. Jesus is in touch with all of creation.

From an angel’s perspective, they had known Jesus and experienced His glory in heaven long before His arrival on planet Earth. It had to be a powerful witness to them 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 around the age of 30.  He was admired by many, but would also suffer rejection, pain, and loneliness. He loved people unconditionally, even those who hated Him.

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 [Luke 2:13-14]:

“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!’” * [*The Living Bible]

Luke 2:6-7: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

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

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Working in road construction without getting our hands dirty is impossible. Isaiah’s message, however, is clear. God wants us to get involved.

Two travelers needed a place to spend the night, but were turned down everywhere until a local from Bethlehem came to their rescue. Since the name of this person is undisclosed, I am asking you to fill in your name today. Picture yourself in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. The streets of Bethlehem are teeming with visitors; and here they are: a young couple in dirty clothes with their sole mode of transportation: a donkey. His pregnant wife has gone into labor and the poor man looks shell-shocked. Assessing the situation you want to get in touch with the local midwife as soon as possible. Then it dawns on you and you say: “Oh! I know just the place for you.  It’s a barn, nothing fancy, but it’s dry and at least you have a roof over your head. Come with me!”

It’s in extraordinary circumstances that the best or the worst in us will be brought to light. Life is messy and unpredictable and we are asked to engage in the name of love. Let’s get our hands dirty – and make room for the King.

“The night before Christmas
Seemed to be so dark
Yet it held a wonderful spark
The night before Christmas,
Unlike any other night
Brought us the Light of Life”
Songwriters: Basically Two, Bill & Evelyn Snyder

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 he looked at his child. 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 at the Jordan River. The Jordan Valley of Israel is part of a rift valley running north and south that extends from Southern Turkey southward via the Red Sea and into Eastern Africa. Due to the river’s location it is reasonable to assume that many foreigners came to see John. Moved by his words people from all walks of life 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 an immersion in a natural collection of water, like the Jordan River. Even so, John’s baptism was novel in that the immersion symbolized a new beginning and change of mind. We all have to let go of our old mindset. There is no freedom in preconceived notions and close-mindedness.

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. God knows that personal freedom exceeds political freedom; regardless how restrained we are from the outside, internally we can still be free.

Jesus came to revolutionize our hearts and minds, and John the Baptist prepared the world by preaching repentance. Repentance is all about changing our mind and obtaining a different point of view. Welcome to God’s way of thinking – In His kingdom the last come first and the first come last; what seems foolish is wise; and what seems wise is indeed foolish. Jesus came to broaden our vision. Are we ready to receive the King?

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. Initially he had doubted God’s messenger, and had been silenced by God because of it. His predicament, however, had given him the opportunity 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 address he mentioned Mary’s son first. It was in his closing remarks that he turned his attention to his firstborn (Luke 1:76):

“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”

Zachariah’s transformation is a miracle in its own right and illustrates how God can profoundly change a person. When we give our heart to God He gives 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.”

The Lord has sent prophets and angels to broadcast His intentions so that we can 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 her. Similar to Joseph, we too have a choice to make. Would you take that leap of faith and believe the story of Christmas to be true?

“Perhaps you think this story’s too good to be true,
And everything’s a fairy tale
Generations come and go, and this still holds true:
God is faithful and He saves.”
Songwriters: Basically Two, Bill & Evelyn Snyder

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. 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 approximately a 100-mile walk, which must have kept her on the road for about a week. The reception was warm and heartfelt. Here they were – two expectant mothers standing in the doorway weeping with joy as they embraced each other. Her aunt’s instant awareness of her condition had to be inspired [Luke 1:42]:

“In a loud voice she [Elizabeth] exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’”

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

Actually, Zachariah’s forced silence may have been a blessing for Mary. If he had trouble believing Angel Gabriel, he could have raised some serious doubts about her mysterious pregnancy. Had he been able to talk, I imagine Mary’s visit could have turned out differently. Instead, Zachariah had to take the back seat in the family for a while. A silent witness of incredible things happening before his eyes, the words of Psalm 46 may have gone through his head [Psalm 46:10]:

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

Reportedly, it was Mary’s habit to listen with her heart. Pondering the things she observed along the way gave her remarkable insight and wisdom. We gain nothing worth mentioning rushing through life; even miracles could potentially go unnoticed. 

In order to listen we need to be still. 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.’”

Long time ago an important announcement was made – God prophesied over the first couple, Adam and Eve. His riddled message conveyed that the woman’s Seed would crush the Serpent’s head while the Serpent in turn would strike His heel.

Only moments ago the first couple had listened to the deceiving message of a conniving Serpent. This had led to a chain of unhappy events – For the first time, Eve committed an act of disobedience and so did Adam. I cannot imagine how they must have felt when everything came to light and God had to evict them from Paradise. Mankind was doomed, so it seemed, but this is not how God operates. He lifted them up by bringing a message of hope: He announced the coming of the Messiah. One of Eve’s daughters would give birth to God’s Son.

Then the day arrived when Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a young teenage-girl who lived in Israel, in the town of Nazareth. He went to her and said [Luke 1:28]: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Gabriel greeted her like a queen. Mary was startled by the angel and wondered why he addressed her in this fashion. He quickly got to the point and delivered the message telling her that she was chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah.

Finally God’s prophecy materialized and came true, and heaven waited with baited breath to hear Mary’s answer. Meanwhile Mary addressed the heavenly messenger: “How can I give birth to a child when I am a virgin?” she asked. The angel clarified that she would conceive the child through the Holy Spirit if she allowed it – and Mary said ‘yes’. And just like that Mary fulfilled prophecy becoming part of a groundbreaking movement that would sweep across the globe and come to everyone’s doorsteps. When we welcome the Messiah we get to discover the Lord on a personal level. Following Him we spread His kingdom and become agents of hope. “His kingdom will never end”, Angel Gabriel said. We’re on for eternity.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” Matthew 6:10
Posted in Yes

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 develops in a mother’s womb. Adding wonder to amazement, the Christmas miracle happened inside a pregnant teenage girl; this is where God became a man. The Lord went to town, specifically, 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.”* [*New Living Translation]

While Mary carried Jesus physically for nine months, all of us can carry Jesus spiritually over a lifetime. Like any other endeavors we pursue, believing in Jesus is a growing experience. Similar to roots growing deep into the soil to support the weight of a tree, so our understanding of God’s love grows deeper over time and this 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 more sequels. As we make room in our hearts for Jesus, a new chapter is being written. And so, my friend, the Christmas miracle continues.

“And if the Lord could just make you see the Christmas Miracle inside of you & me.
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.” Songwriters: 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.’”

When Israel exited Egypt in 1500 BCE, they were despised slaves. God rose to the occasion – the nation of Israel was born as they passed through the Red Sea and traversed the Sinai Peninsula where they received God’s law written in stone. He comes through for us in very unlikely circumstances and chooses unlikely places, such as Bethlehem in Judea, to do His work.

The town of Bethlehem, Hebrew בֵּית לֶחֶם Bet Leḥem for “House of Meat” is a place with a long history. It was King David’s hometown; he came from a shepherd’s family. From ancient times, large numbers of sheep were crisscrossing the fertile hill country of Judea, a premier spot for shepherding. 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 His eye on common people. He likes to choose the unlikely, and this may rub some of 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 outsiders.

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.

“He came for all the people, that’s why we sing this song. And everyone who’s glad sings along” Songwriters Basically Two, Bill & Evelyn Snyder

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. He did not need to be created, He was already there. He was the One who previously had created matter, and now He Himself became matter. A precious member of the Trinity materialized in a woman’s womb. That’s why we celebrate Christmas.

God who created matter could have easily materialized out of thin air. In fact, this is what people had expected from the Messiah. The apostle John wrote about a situation in the Jerusalem temple where people were divided over Jesus; and this 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 rarely conforms to our expectations? 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 that came to fruition: Mary and Joseph believed, and so they adopted God’s Son into their family; now we get to be adopted into God’s family when we believe. What a Christmas miracle that is!

“Winter’s grip is upon  the world
Chills go up and down our spines
It seems life has come to a screeching halt
And lifeless nature pines
Despite the cold there’s no need to despair
Hope melts all icicles away
Every winter’s night has a dawn approaching
And soon the Holidays are here!” Songwriters: Bill & Evelyn Snyder

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 split into the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel. The division happened right after King Solomon’s death. Ever since, the two kingdoms had been at odds. One day Pekah, the King of Israel, made an alliance with the Syrian king to overturn the kingdom of Judah. And so Ahaz, the king of Judah, found himself in a pickle. From a military standpoint he was clearly outmatched; naturally he began to worry about the impending war. In this situation God spoke words of encouragement to King Ahaz and the people of Judah saying that the planned invasion of Israel and Syria would not take place. 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 comply. His official statement [Isaiah 7:12]:

“But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’” And here is Prophet 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:’” Apparently, the Lord insisted on choosing a sign, since this was not just about King Ahaz and the nation of Juda but concerned all of mankind; and the sign God chose is unusual to say the least [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: “I Am with you” remarkably 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.

700 years later Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when the Virgin Mary gave birth to a baby boy. Miracles such as stopping the Sun in its tracks or parting the Red Sea show God’s unlimited power. As a vulnerable baby He stripped Himself from such power. Born into Mary and Joseph’s family, the Lord demonstrates that He wants to be near us, so near that He becomes a close relative. This very special relative of ours has a name: “The One who saves”, aka Jesus.

“I know my Redeemer lives and He will stand upon the earth at last” Job 19:25

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.”

On a set day, in the presence of Moses and the people of Israel, God came down with fire and thunder on Mount Horeb. It was the day when He delivered the Ten Commandments. However the people were too scared to pay any attention. When they saw the spectacle on Mount Horeb they trembled with fear and asked Moses to go up the mountain and speak to the Lord on their behalf.

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 his friend 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 come and gone; and people still discuss the phenomenon of Jesus of Nazareth. 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. Naturally, there are many different voices out there competing for our attention. However, one distinctive voice stands out and brings peace and clarity. It is 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 the Lord we will find Him. Jesus is ready to meet us at any place, at any time – 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.”

When God created us He danced over us and blessed us. More than being the Creator of the universe, God is the Father of creation; otherwise He would just be a production machine, dropping off His creation without further involvement – but nothing could be further from the truth. God is no heartless genius; He loves His creation and thankfully, this is His most defining feature. He has a beautiful heart and mind; and we miss out on His tender fatherhood if we fail to recognize that. Jesus calls Him “Abba”, which means “Dad” and the Father and His Son trust each other completely.

On account of trust our cat taught me a lesson this morning. He jumped on my desk to be petted – expecting me to drop everything else I was doing. He purred with his belly up, exposing his most vulnerable parts. Our cat knows I would never do him any harm, and He is right of course. I love him very much.

Jesus loves the Father as much as the Father loves Him; and the Lord invites us to be a part of this close-knit relationship. Our connection with Him produces a crop of fruit. Jesus says that we can recognize a tree by its crop. We can have good nourishing fruit or we can produce sour grapes that give us a stomach ache. Our good fruit hinges on knowing the Lord. – On this note, I know a dirty little secret: the underlying reason for most fruitless efforts is doing things on our own; but when we stay with the Lord our good fruit reflects back on Him and gives Him glory.

We are called to know God intimately; and Jesus uses a grapevine to illustrate this kind of closeness: Some types of climbing vines have small disk-like adhesive tips that can attach to any type of surface; spiritually, we can be attached to the Lord anywhere, anytime. With this imagery in mind, can we appreciate how close God is to us? He is a very good Father and His children are His pride and joy. Reaching out and taking His hand makes the best version of ourselves and brings healing to the world.

“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
Take a look at yourself
And you can look at others differently
Put your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee” – Songwriters: Gene Mac Lellan

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

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.

Jesus had a heart-to-heart talk with His disciples on the evening before His death. He talked about the future and encouraged them to stay on course. He also gave them a little sneak peek of heaven. Heaven is a real place, and there is an unmistakable path that leads there. The Lord told His disciples that He was confident they knew the way – but they were not so sure about that. Here is a snippet of their conversation [John 14:4-5]:

[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?”* [*The Living Bible]

This is when Jesus utters His famous statement, which precisely answers their question [John 14:6]:

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

God is mysterious. The key to unveiling the mystery is recognizing who Jesus is. Believing in Jesus is like marrying into God’s family. Through Him we cry “Abba” – “Daddy”. Growing close to the Almighty and calling Him “Daddy” was unheard of prior to the birth of Jesus.

By getting acquainted with the Lord we study the road-map to heaven. His way of life is basically love in action – no broken life goes unnoticed.  Jesus loves indiscriminately, with total abandon and absolutely no strings attached. Following Him we live in His kingdom already – and we know our way home.

“Yeshua, Light of the World, whoever follows You will not walk in the dark but will have the Light of Life” Songwriters: Basically Two, Bill & Evelyn Snyder

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

Not everybody is on board with the afterlife – assuming that once our bodies are dead, we are completely gone. However, a person is more than just a physical phenomenon.

If you are skeptical of the claim that there is an “eternal human soul”, then the terminology “spiritually dead” will probably make even less sense. Maybe it’s helpful to think of a spiritually dead person as a human being without a conscience. We all are born with one. If we succeed in overriding this God-given inner compass we’ll end up spiritually dead. Despite our physical heart still beating, we have no heart.

In matters of the heart, the Christmas story “How the Grinch stole Christmas” comes to mind. The author Dr. Seuss wrote about his main character, the Grinch:

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”* [*Source: Goodreads.com; web link: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7415529-the-grinch-hated-christmas-the-whole-christmas-season-now-please ]

A heart two sizes too small is no good. Our hearts need to be infused with love – and not just around the Christmas season. Without roots, a plant withers and dies; heartless, a human being turns into a walking dead, metaphorically speaking. We need God to come alive. He called us into being, that’s why we need to return to Him to be complete.

The Lord’s resurrection is an amazing milestone in the history of mankind. When Jesus was resurrected His body and soul were reunited and He was restored to heaven; the same will happen to us when we believe in Him.

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.”

When people speak about themselves they usually do so to hijack some attention. I see it all the time – in conversations people get frustrated with short attention spans and so they brag a little and appear flashier than they really are. Not so the Messiah. When He talks about Himself He simply states the truth. To make His statements understandable He cloaks His self-portrayals in imagery. “I am the gate” is one; “I am the good shepherd” is another one.

On that note – I find it interesting that Jesus refers to Himself as a shepherd, not a sheepherder.  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 flocks differ from herds. 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 10:14-15]:

“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.”

Our relationship with the Lord is designed to grow past mere acquaintance. We are invited to know Him intimately – just as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father – a level of intimacy that is special indeed.

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 dream for 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 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 another. 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.

Like yeast permeates the dough, that’s how God’s kingdom permeates the earth. In a world full of fences and ongoing violence we are offered a different way of thinking and a new code to live by. Following Jesus we become the light of the world, the salt of the earth and are blessed beyond compare. However, among all the gifts that Jesus has given – friendship with God is His greatest gift of all.

Christmas is upon us
It is Christmas time
And a longing for peace
Lives inside of men
In a broken world
In any nation at any time

Throughout time people pray
Crying out to the Most High
Our Heavenly Father
With great compassion
Gave His Son to us
On Christmas morn

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.’”

For two decades Bill and I have lived in Arizona, and we have fallen in love with the local desert. Nature trails around here are usually 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. 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 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. 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 complex 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 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.’”

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. It is wise to pay attention to the urges of our soul and pursue God’s wonderful Bread of Life.

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 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, which took weeks at a time. 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. What God has proclaimed through His prophets in preceding centuries is now plain to be seen in His Son. It is so much easier for us to grasp God’s message of love by just looking at Jesus. Jesus walked the talk. In Him God’s Word literally comes alive.

God has shared the truth with us for as long as there have been people. His Spirit stirs us up from deep within; He works subtly, but we can distinguish His voice if and when we receive His Spirit. We will find that He prods, excites, convicts, and motivates us on a daily basis; God wants to guide us and He speaks to us in many different ways. Especially He inspires us through His Son – and Jesus is presently in heaven interceding for us that we all can receive His signals.

“Peace be on earth
Announcing Jesus’s birth
The light of the Lord shines upon you
Glory to God
Goodwill to men
And peace to everyone with whom He’s pleased.”
Songwriters: Basically Two, Bill & Evelyn Snyder

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 precarious 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.

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

Our estrangement from God has caused a substantial rift. Death puts a stamp of futility on everything we hold dear. Our eternal God, on the other hand, is untouched by death and decay – and this is why we commonly think that He is out of touch with our reality. Well, quite the opposite is true. God empathizes with us, so much so, that He decided to walk in our shoes. The Son of God came to bridge the rift that has come between us and our Creator.

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

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.”

Like other planets, Earth has been subject to change. In its volatile history it has gone through several ice ages; additionally our home planet has been shaped by a fair amount of global disasters. The most recent and probably best-known mass extinction of animal and plant life happened approximately 66 million years ago. 75% of all species became extinct, including dinosaurs. Most widely supported explanation of this catastrophe is a large meteorite impact.

The day of the Lord is a cataclysmic event predicted in several books of the Bible, also known as “doomsday”. Since Earth has seen major disasters before, there is no reason to believe it won’t happen again. Like a thief who breaks into our house the events will unravel unexpectedly.

On that note, it’s of no use trying to figure out the date of doomsday. The Bible expressly denotes that nobody knows the day or time. The abuse of doomsday lies in the abuse of the Scriptures, endorsed by false teachers. Brimstone and hell preaching represents preachers who manipulate the crowds by pushing the fear button. Their preaching has produced either a blind following or angry rebels. This kind of damage is difficult to undo.

Jesus warned the people who tried to hush the jubilant crowds on the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem [Luke 19:40]:

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

Stones will cry out and praise the Lord in our stead if we refuse to acknowledge Him. Ignoring that all the elements come from God turns the elements against us. Godlessness by definition is forgetting our roots. Nature on the other hand is rooted in the Lord and will always bear the testimony of its Maker – as do God’s children.

The children of God have the Lord’s promise that He is with them at all times. That’s the best promise He could have given them, especially when things are not looking so good. It is worth mentioning that God doesn’t just end things. He paves the way for a new beginning. On this note the apostle Peter wrote [2 Peter 3:13]:

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

Even though the dawn of God’s kingdom happens sometime in the future, it is actually entrenched in the here and now. Look around you. You can already notice the signs of His kingdom wherever Jesus left footprints in people’s hearts. When the Spirit of God moves and His will is being done – then His kingdom has already come.

Come at the sound of shofar oh King of kings – unlike Your first appearing all creation sings!

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 can quickly turn into the least desirable time of the year. We feel disjointed and alone.

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

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

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

Jesus is the Light of the world. We have seen the light when we have seen the Lord. Seeing Him is no one-time-experience. In fact, we need to continually reach out for His light to find our way. If we feel lost in the dark, we need to ask for His vision. If we feel confused, we need to ask for His wisdom. God will not hold back, and He will generously provide. The Light of the world is with us every step of the way; that is how we can walk in the dark; that is how we can successfully navigate through life.

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

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

1 Chronicles 16:8: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations 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 it with the world. This would be our very first blog. Let’s see where this takes us!”

Years after this entry I can say that thinking and writing about a Bible verse is an experience I don’t want to miss. This habit has blessed me more than anything else. The Lord knows His own Word and He also knows what He wants to say to you and me. Reading the Scriptures – studying the apostles’ letters, the prophets’ writings, the gospels, the psalms, the five books of Moses – is our lifeline.

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

Yesterday I went outdoors and admired the colors of fall. Looking at something beautiful outside I often say jokingly to the Lord: “Stop bragging!” Well, He is not really bragging – He’s just brilliant. Everything the Lord has created is so good! His deeds have left an indelible footprint. Inasmuch His actions speak for itself, but so does He communicate through His Word; He talks to us in person through His Holy Spirit. His Word is like gentle rain that softens the hardened callouses of our hearts.

We all know the Internet is an impersonal medium; and nothing beats sharing the gospel in person. Still I hope that the thoughts the Lord inspired me to write down initiate a domino effect of good things happening. At least that’s my prayer.

There is a lot to discover when it comes to the Lord, and the apostle John once wrote that no amount of books could cover all the things Jesus has done or is doing. Still this won’t keep us from trying – I for one will do just that: keep on writing.

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. He knew how to play the accordion. At night, he played in dance halls, which were very popular in Germany in the 1920s. Well-paid jobs were scarce after the Germans had lost World War I; playing music at night probably helped my great grandfather to feed his nine children. My grandmother had seven sisters and one brother. Times were hard, but they knew how to have fun. At night, the girls who shared a bedroom fell into harmony singing old folk songs to pass the time.

Singing together is such a bonding activity. About choral singing Julia Layton wrote in her article: “The Physical Effects of Singing”:

“A study published in Australia in 2008 revealed that on average, choral singers rated their satisfaction with life higher than the public — even when the actual problems faced by those singers were more substantial than those faced by the general public. A 1998 study found that after nursing-home residents took part in a singing program for a month, there were significant decreases in both anxiety and depression levels. Another study surveying more than 600 British choral singers found that singing plays a central role in their psychological health.”* (*Source: science.howstuffworks.com; web link:  https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/singing-happy1.htm)

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

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

Inspired by God’s Spirit His children sing. Let’s join them and sing a song to the Lord – He gave us all we have and without Him we wouldn’t be here in the first place. An added bonus for making music is that we typically don’t engage in violence as we sing. How do we change the world for the better? Maybe one song at a time!

My mother and I singing together in German in 2016

Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

The prophet Zechariah who predicted the coming of the Messiah had night visions. An angel came to him and said (Zechariah 4:6):

“So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’” says the Lord Almighty.”

The Messiah’s unwavering reliance on the Holy Spirit is truly remarkable. This is another example how the Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are submitted to one another. Their relationship is sealed with a trust that cannot be broken. Jesus went wherever the Spirit led Him, and because He blindly banked on His leadership, Jesus has forever changed our world.

One day the Lord asked His disciples: “Who do you say I am?” the apostle Peter famously answered: “You are God’s Anointed, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then made the following statement (Matthew 16:17):

Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.’

It is the privilege of the Holy Spirit to disclose Jesus to the world. Peter openly acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of God, to which the Lord replied (Matthew 16:18):

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then the Spirit of God has revealed it to us. We have this experience in common with Peter. And everybody who believes that Jesus is the Son of God becomes part of the movement the Lord calls “church”. On a side note, the church Christ talks about has little to do with buildings and denominations, but has everything to do with people led by the Holy Spirit, also called the body of Christ.

Whatever we do, whether in word or deed, we do it in the name of Jesus when we follow God’s Spirit. His Spirit authenticates our faith. The reason why the Jesus-movement is still relevant today lies in its authenticity. God endorses it, His Spirit proclaims it, and open hearts receive it.

Colossians 2:6-7: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Germans have a straight forward way of saying things. “Wer Feuer frißt, scheißt Funken” is a German idiom which translated means – He who eats fire s**ts sparks. It’s a warning – he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. Simply put, weaponry is never the answer.

Receiving Christ as Lord has consequences. Everything is different when we follow Jesus. Following Him means we adjust to Jesus, not the other way around. His is the way of peace while ours is the way of violence. The apostle Peter discovered first-hand that violence does not solve any problems. When soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter attacked them with a sword. The Lord’s reaction to his zealous attempts to save His life was dismissive (Matthew 26:52):

‘‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’”

Jesus points to the deadly potency of the sword. There is no justification for advancing any cause, even a good one, at gunpoint. On that note, words can be daggers too. Throwing verbal darts at one another can destroy a relationship. So before starting to defend ourselves we should ask the obvious question: what is there to lose when we don’t win the argument? We don’t have to be right all the time – but we know that we will regret it when we use our words as a weapon.

Ironically the way of peace and love has been ridiculed and at times brutally opposed, all to imply that the way of Jesus has no future – and yet the opposite is true: the Lord’s way is the future. The world to come is built on love entirely – love that completely overrides evil – a great reason to celebrate and be thankful.

When we live according to the principles of life and love the kingdom of heaven sprouts and spreads. Jesus builds us up when we follow Him. Rooted in the Lord we are inspired and on fire. You too can jump on that bandwagon and become inspired. There is only one catch – and yes you may have guessed it: You have to let go of that sword.

Psalm 100:4-5: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

There’s many a reason to be thankful – thankful to be alive, thankful for our friends, thankful for any kind of material and spiritual blessing. The Lord is good; the Lord is love; the Lord is faithful.

Speaking of His faithfulness: Yesterday I was practicing Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” on the piano. And while I was going through the bridge section of the song something in his lyrics caught my eye:

“What will it take till you believe in me the way that I believe in you?”* (Source: “Just The Way You Are” from 1977 album: “The Stranger”)

It suddenly occurred to me that believing in God is a two-way street. Have you ever thought about the fact that God believes in us? If He didn’t, He wouldn’t do what He does. He has expressed His belief in us faithfully throughout human history.

Take Job’s story for instance. When Satan was badmouthing Job, God was undeterred in His belief that this man would not jump ship and abandon his faith even after everything was taken from him – a truly fascinating testimony of God’s faith in human beings. However His deep commitment to us culminates in the sacrifice He made. God gave us His Son; His Son Jesus became the Son of Man who died for us; and His Spirit is poured out on planet Earth to help us. None of this would have happened without God’s undeterred belief in you and me.

God is on our side and He will always go to bat for His children. He is fully invested in us. So what will it take till we believe in Him the way that He believes in us? – That’s a question only we can answer.

Colossians 3:15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Protected by thick walls, the city of Jericho was under lockdown. Heavily armed the people of Jericho waited in ambush, prepared to attack. Clearly, the Israelites were at a disadvantage. Their army could be easily shot down from behind the city walls. On the evening before the battle Israel’s military leader Joshua decided to take a closer look at the perimeter of the city. He then noticed a man with a drawn sword in his hand. So Joshua approached the man and asked (Joshua 5:13-14):

“‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’

‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’”

We often falsely assume that God takes sides. We are mistaken. When asked on whose side he is on, the angel of the Lord said in no uncertain terms: ‘Neither side.’ In other words, God is for every person on this planet. Preferential treatment is foreign to Him. He loves all people.

With this in mind it is easy to see that pursuing peace in controversy is important to God. In all disputes remember that the Lord is impartial. He is for both sides and pursues what is in the best interest for all parties involved. This especially applies to the body of Christ. Can you imagine Christ’s body torn apart? It’s not a pretty sight and yet this is the result of a family feud. When children of God attack each other they are hurting the body of Christ – or to put it in more personal terms, they are hurting Christ. I don’t think anyone wants to do such a thing, unless of course we hate Jesus.

On a completely different note: How boring would the world be if we agreed on everything? Praise the Lord for open-mindedness! Could you imagine where we would be without curious and exploring people questioning the status quo? Let us be thankful for those questions, thankful for conflict arising out of these questions and thankful to God who guides us through the mystery and gives us peace in the midst of the unknown.

May the peace of Christ rule in our hearts – and let’s be thankful that we have each other.

“You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew”
Stephen Schwartz

1 Corinthians 1:4-5: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—.”

A rich young man had a question weighing on his mind. He asked Jesus what needed to be done to secure his place in the kingdom of heaven. The Lord kept it general in His initial answer. He said we receive eternal life by keeping God’s commands. Interestingly, the rich young man was dissatisfied with His response and kept prodding. “What else must I do?” he asked. Unfortunately the Lord’s reply to his follow-up question quickly ended the conversation (Matthew 19:21):

“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”

Matthew’s gospel describes how the young man went away sad – knowing he would not want to part from his many possessions. Probably unbeknownst to him His possessions possessed him.

We don’t need to be rich to share in a rich man’s worldview. The Messiah once said that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. That’s a strong statement! Does this mean that God is partial to the poor and less accepting of rich people? I don’t think so. I believe the point is that self-sufficiency creates a lonely society. Our desire to be independent and run a one-man-show gets all of us into trouble and a rich person may have a harder time recognizing that. A rich man’s world is a cold and desperate place. God’s kingdom on the other hand is the place to be.

Christ preached the kingdom of God while He walked this earth. Jesus enriches us in every way so that we enrich others, similar to a river that originates in heaven and feeds the world. The trick is not to stop that river and thereby hijack the Lord’s flow of generosity. Don’t build a dam and try to keep everything to yourself. Let the river flow and pass on what God has given you.

We have received Christ and have given ourselves away. In the kingdom of heaven receiving and giving is a cycle that goes on in perpetuity. Everybody is rich in God’s world because we are all sold out. This is the spirit of generosity Jesus tried to impress on the rich young man – and it’s the same generous spirit that creates community and unity. We come together and praise the Lord from whom all blessings flow.

The River of God sets my feet a-dancing
The river of God fills our hearts with cheer
The river of God fills our mouths with laughter
And we rejoice for the river is here
Songwriter: Andy Park

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, a successful businessman once said:

“It’s only lonely at the top if you forget all the people you met along the way and fail to acknowledge their contributions to your success.” * (*Harvey Mackay Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved November 20, 2020, from BrainyQuote.com; web link: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/harvey_mackay_528735)

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

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

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

“Pray continually”

Praying continually means that the Lord is the center of our lives. Our prayers have extended beyond emergency situations and we have an ongoing conversation with Him. God is with us for better or worse, in good times or bad. He is the best Friend we will ever have.

It is easy to get depressed in times of trouble. When we have a problem we tend to focus on the dark side which doesn’t really help. Turning our eyes to the Lord and taking note of His wonderful gifts will pull us out of a vortex of negativity.

It benefits us to develop an attitude of gratitude. Our demeanor changes and people find us more attractive; nobody likes a nag. So for God’s sake and our own – let us be thankful.

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

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 Bill and I went to San Francisco on our honeymoon, and there we had plenty of photo ops with one of the most iconic suspension bridges in the United States: the Golden Gate Bridge. Comparing our lifetime to a suspension bridge, Lloyd George Elliott (1919-1970), a Canadian nuclear physicist, wrote:

“The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables called habits, attitudes, and desires. What you do in life depends upon what you are and what you want. What you get from life depends upon how much you want it—how much you are willing to work and plan and cooperate and use your resources. The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables that you are spinning now, and that is why today is such an important day. Make the cables strong!”* (*Source: greatthoughtstreasury.com; web link: http://www.greatthoughtstreasury.com/author/l-g-elliott-fully-lloyd-george-elliott)

Our brains function much like sponges soaking up everything, whether it’s good or bad. Bad influences are counteracted by our healthy habits. In this context Psalm 1 talks about the value of meditating on the Word of the Lord (Psalm 1:2-3):

“But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”

It is ultimately our habits, attitudes, and desires that drive us. One healthy habit is prayer. Sincere prayer allows God’s Spirit unlimited access to our hearts. His affirmations are the solid rock amid waves of trouble and tribulation rolling over our head. Jesus is our lifeline, especially when times are tough. He once said (John 7:38):

“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

The living water Jesus provides turns into a well within us that not only nourishes us, but also blesses the people we are in contact with. People rooted in God are a blessing to the world. Our connection to the Lord is paramount and I believe the Canadian physicist is right – we need to make those cables strong.

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 the loss of gravity? Our human experience is tied to our personal point of view.

Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea around A.D. 26-37 and is most famous for presiding over the trial of Jesus. Before the trial Pilate tested the waters and asked Jesus: “Are you a king”, to which He replied (John 18:36-37):

“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’

‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

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

It became clear to Pilate that Jesus neither had a political agenda nor posed a threat to Rome. But then the interrogation quickly got personal when Jesus reached out to him and said: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” In other words: “Which side are you on? Are you listening to me?” Pontius Pilate’s reaction was that of a cynic. “What is truth?” he asked. Not expecting an answer, he turned around and left Jesus.

So, what is truth?  

Truth is no opinion. It is human that our point of view evolves. What we believe to be true today may no longer hold true tomorrow. Pilate’s sarcasm would then be justified. Truth however does not change overnight. Unimpressed by shifting times and unimagined by human minds truth stands forever. We don’t dream up truth; truth just is; it is alive and breathing and has the name of God written all over it.

When Jesus walked this earth, He left indelible footprints. He said about Himself (John 14:6):

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

Truth cannot be scientifically proven, but the results of truth-finding are very tangible. We learn the truth when we believe in Jesus. Embracing Him will change us for the better, or to use His terminology: truth will sanctify us. We will never be the same.

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.

Finding God is as straight forward as asking and receiving. God will reveal Himself when we seek Him out. Moses encouraged the Israelites with these words (Deuteronomy 4:29):

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

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

Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”

The Bible is a mysterious book. Initially, as a young teenager I could not make heads or tails of it. I have always loved poetry and so the ancient poetic texts of the Bible stood out to me at first, especially King Solomon’s “Song of Songs”. Growing up in an agnostic household I was the only one in our family reading the Bible. One day a classmate noticed my interest and invited me to join a Bible study. I decided to give it a shot and accepted the invitation.

As it turned out, the Bible study took place in a private home and was led by high school and college students. Tea was served as one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians was discussed. I had trouble following the discussion – quite frankly, this was all new to me; all the time I kept wondering whether God exists at all. And while I was bent over the Bible taking notes, I noticed for the first time a quiet voice inside of me affirming: it’s true. God is real.

The fact that the Bible spoke to me was my very first clue that God exists. All of a sudden a piece of poetry turned into something much more potent. And so the Bible unlocked the mystery of God’s presence to me. From then on I have become more and more intrigued with the Scriptures. Not sure how else to put this: The Bible is alive. It breathes God’s Spirit and reveals the truth. Translated into almost every contemporary language spoken on this planet, its message went all around the world.

Unless our vision is impaired or we are legally blind, our natural eyes are able to distinguish the things around us. However, there is a second set of eyes that God has given us. This set of eyes recognizes the spiritual world. Unfortunately at some point in the history of mankind we went spiritually blind. Thankfully God can restore our sight. All we have to do is ask.

We can pray with King David and petition the Lord to open the eyes of our heart. What happens next is God’s decision, but so much is clear: we will understand things that were incomprehensible to us before and most of all we will recognize the Lord.

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you” Paul Baloche

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

King David loved God’s law and prayed (Psalm 119:62):

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

To be as enthused with the Law of Moses as King David professed it in the book of Psalms may strike some of us as strange. Interestingly, when the Ten Commandments were first revealed on Mount Sinai the common reaction was fear. According to the story from the book of Exodus, the people of Israel reached the Sinai desert three months after they had left Egypt and proceeded to set camp near Mount Sinai. Meanwhile Moses went up the mountain to speak with the Lord.

One day the Lord announced to Moses that He would make an appearance in the sight of all the people. This would happen three days later allowing the people to prepare for this event and get ready. And so the Israelites assembled in front of the holy mountain early in the morning of the third day. As promised, the Lord came down on Mount Sinai. While He spoke the mountain shook and fumed, lightening stroke and thunders rolled. At the foot of the mountain the people of Israel stood – shaking and trembling – while for the very first time the Ten Commandments were submitted to mankind (Exodus 20:18):

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

Fear can be a good thing that keeps us from harm. For instance the fear of getting hurt prevents us from touching fire. Children learn that really quickly. But when we grow up we use fire for our benefit. God is an eternal flame. He appeared to Moses in the form of fire, the burning bush. However it seems that over time the prophet grew past the fear of fire and a friendship developed between him and the Lord – a relationship the Bible depicts as exceptional, although I don’t believe God wants friendship with people to be an exception.

Life is more than just two-dimensional. Unless we want to live like cartoon characters, at some point in our lives we need to outgrow the idea that the world around us only falls into two categories: right and wrong; good and evil. The Lord’s commandments, written in stone, represent the stepping stones towards God’s world that knows no commands and is entirely built on love. A rigid, rule-driven life simply leaves no room to breathe. God’s commands were not written to stone us, but to guide us. King David understood that profoundly. He didn’t lead a flawless life, but he is known to be a big believer in God’s mercies.

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.”

Departmentalizing is a human thing. We put God in heaven and we leave things on earth up to us, humans. And where does this leave us? “Stranded” is one way to put it. God can do immeasurably more than we can imagine. Should we therefore stop imagining? I don’t think so. John Lennon put his imagination to work, and this is what he came up with:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today”
 * Source: 1971 album “Imagine”

Controversial lyrics – especially when we happen to believe that heaven and hell are real places. – Still, I think that John Lennon’s imaginations have a method to the madness, and here it is: As long as we live on planet Earth we can contribute to making this world a better place or we can turn it into a war zone. The choice is ours.

I think one of the worst things we can do is to check out prematurely. There is no better hope than the hope for a better tomorrow, and we actively contribute to a better tomorrow with our lives today – yours and mine. If we care about people, then we literally contribute to heaven on earth. Do you think God is opposed to that? We don’t have to wait for heaven to see freedom, beauty and peace; we can live in this mindset right now. God endorsed this kind of lifestyle when He sent His Son Jesus.

Jesus became God’s physical presence here on earth when He was born in Bethlehem; this goes to show that while God is in heaven He is also right here with us. The Lord Almighty is not otherworldly as many picture Him to be; He has created every world there is, and He is particularly interested in the world we live in. God entrusted this world into our care; and this is why I believe it is our calling to care.

Let us never give up dreaming – God never does. Let us never give up on people – God hasn’t. Let us never withdraw into our own little world of exclusivity and leave the rest of the world standing in the rain. Jesus never did.

1 Peter 2:15-16: For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

In the Lord’s eyes a fool is a person who lives in God’s world but refuses to admit that God exists. This is why we read in Psalm 14:1:

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Basically this means a fool denies the obvious and does not acknowledge reality.

In his lifetime the apostle Peter wrote several letters to his congregations, two of which are recorded in the New Testament. The young congregations had to deal with a lot of harassment and intimidation. Jesus was officially declared dead. Why? He died for all to see on the cross. His death was no secret. It was a public event.

All humans die. So did Jesus. But then He rose on the third day. Saying the resurrection is real would be admitting that Jesus is beyond human – in other words He is the Son of God. The Romans who guarded the tomb of the Lord saw Jesus step out of His grave. Back then people contested this spectacular piece of information as people do these days. Again we see the pattern of a fool here: closing the eyes to the truth.

People who publicly spoke about the resurrection of Jesus Christ were openly opposed and persecuted. The apostle Peter gets to the point and says rather than fighting the opposition believers should be focusing on doing good. The blessings of a productive child of God would eventually silence the bad rumors the enemies of the kingdom of God were trying to spread. Deeds speak louder than words.

In God’s point of view, the end does not justify the means – never has and never will be. “Live as free people,” Peter says, “but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” The Crusaders back then had it all wrong and unfortunately, the Crusader’s breed hasn’t died out just yet. Make no mistake about it: Wherever we see Christians follow the wrong mantra corruption sets in. It is ironic that nowadays the worst opposition seems to come from people claiming to be Christians. But then, it’s not surprising. After all, Jesus was betrayed and delivered into the hands of the Roman authorities by His own people. And it seems that history is doomed to repeat itself.

Now that we are in the 21st century, the followers of the Way the Truth and the Life are active all over the globe. Unfortunately, wide-spread Christianity does not necessarily mean that foolishness is on the decline. We need to remember that the word “Christianity” in itself is just a label. As in Peter’s days Christians are asked to fill this label with positive meaning. Instead of focusing all our energies on opposing the opposition we want to be focused on doing the Lord’s will.

The Lord loves people. His heart goes out to them. We do God’s will when we help people and have their best interest at heart. So let’s do this. Let’s be a blessing to our contemporaries.

Matthew 12:31-32: “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

A demon-possessed, blind and mute person was brought to Jesus, and He cast out the demons and healed him. The formerly blind and mute person now spoke and was able to see. Everybody was amazed, except a group of religious leaders who tried very hard to downplay a miracle of God (Matthew 12:24):

“But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Religious leaders are supposed to know God, and they would fight you tooth and nail if you said otherwise. I personally doubt that Jesus’s contemporaries who critiqued His every move really knew God because their behavior did not show it. However, the trick is, they said so. Saying we know God on one hand and slandering God’s deeds on the other insults the Holy Spirit, and for such behavior, Jesus says, there is no forgiveness left. Why? Well, here is a surprise: God cannot forgive a person who thinks he or she is right. This seems to be the only limit to God’s mercy.

Similar to the situation with a tax collector and a religious leader who both prayed in the temple, the tax collector humbly asked for forgiveness, while the religious leader essentially congratulated himself in his prayer. Jesus points out that these two prayers have two very different outcomes (Luke 18:14):

[Jesus said] “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The only lid we can put on God’s mercy is me, myself and I. We can be the lid. We have the power to limit God’s mercy by simply stating: “I don’t need it.”

On a different note: do you think we have issues with mercy when we always try to find a reason NOT to forgive? Why do we try so hard to find boundary lines to God’s amazing grace, e.g.: “this is how far God’s mercy goes, surely God can’t forgive that!” Isn’t it interesting that we like to use the term “The sky is the limit” when it comes to success, dreams, and ambitions, but when it comes to God’s mercies we want to put a lid on? The truth is: There is no lid on God’s mercy. His mercies are new every morning according to prophet Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:22-23):

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

There is a reason why we are born naked and can’t take anything with us when we die. All we really need is God, especially His tender mercies, every waking day.

1 John 2:15-16: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

If we love the world we are part of a worldwide problem. If we love the people in the world then we are part of the solution. When the apostle John wrote his letter he didn’t want to encourage its recipients to take an eternal leave of absence and become a recluse. He wanted us to engage in peacemaking.

What are peacemakers?

Let me begin to paint the picture by saying peacemakers are no doormats. Peacemaking has nothing to do with keeping our eyes closed to avoid ruffling feathers. They have a voice and they speak up.

Even though peacemakers love people, since they are controversial they probably won’t win a popularity contest. Power-hungry people feel exposed for what they really are in the presence of peacemakers. People who are devoted to money, success and power will usually lash out and oppose peacemaking efforts every step of the way. It can get ugly sometimes. It requires guts to stand up for what is right.

As peacemakers we invest ourselves. We are passionate about people and this planet; we fight to protect the weak and better the cause of those who cannot fight for themselves. We protect our environment and become advocates; we do the little things that few notice but make a big difference.

It is difficult to swim upstream. That’s exactly what peacemakers do, all the time. Don’t even think for a moment that peacemaking is something you can do on your own. Idealistic humanitarians get stranded and it’s a tragedy when something good goes by the wayside.

Thankfully God’s goodness can’t be destroyed. God is good all the time, and we need His goodness to keep our hearts at peace. Jesus pioneered peacemaking, which is why He is called the Prince of Peace. People were drawn to Him but at the same time people were highly offended by Him. Ironically, our number one peacemaker in the world, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t go peacefully. He was brutally murdered. A genuine peacemaker as He was, He did not fight back to defend himself and yet He stood up for the truth.

To become a peacemaker we embrace Jesus. That’s how we change the world, one person at a time. Peacemakers write history. They are ahead of their time. Thanks to them humanity is still around. And thanks to peacemakers there still remains a solid hope for a better world to come.

Job 37:5-6: “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’”

Sitting on the porch I listen to the waves crushing on the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. I love that sound. Since the Almighty created everything around here and out there (looking at the night skies right now), I believe, that’s another sound representing God’s voice. These waves come in steady, one after the other. So is the whisper of His voice when He speaks to my heart. It comes in waves. Sometimes I hear Him quite distinctively, sometimes I’m not listening. The sounds of God’s creation never stop, whether we listen or not. God’s creation is not silent, and neither is the Lord.

God speaks. He has a voice. But sometimes, for various reasons, our heart is hard of hearing. Take Prophet Jonah for instance who had a job to do for the Lord, but ran away. In the belly of a fish he began to pray. And wouldn’t you know it, he had a close encounter with the Lord in the bowels of a big sea creature. This is where he finally listened – and I believe that’s what unusual circumstances are there for: to get our attention – especially when we purposefully avoid the Lord’s input.

What if we want to hear God’s voice, but all we hear is silence? I believe all of God’s children go through this kind of experience from time to time. It’s tough not to hear from God, but whenever this dry spell happens, it will test our limits and build our character as in Job’s case. With the exception of his life Job had lost everything almost overnight, but he did not lose his faith in God. He announced to the world after he had stood the test (Job 37:5):

“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.”

The Lord’s handwriting is in the skies with lightening for all to see and roaring thunderbolts for everyone to notice: God is very much alive, and He cares. He is not deaf, nor dead, nor asleep, or indifferent. The one who needs to wake up to reality is actually you and me. We need to wake up and face the music. It often takes an unusual crisis to get our attention.

We draw closer to God when we see Him in action. Being saved from death, carried through a disaster and shown the light at the end of a dreadful tunnel, we get to know the Lord in a more personal way. His love is no longer hidden to us but becomes as clear as day. It is like ‘Captain Obvious’ – “Wow! God does love me. I heard of His love, but now I have experienced it”.

God is love. To know that is to know everything.