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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Medley “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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