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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jesus Son of Man and Son of the Most High, He came down to Earth to lift us up with Him.” Bells at Night by Bill and Evelyn Snyder

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

A sheep gate lets the sheep in and keeps the wolves out. So the function of a gate is to either let someone in or to keep someone out. By the same token, Jesus says that He is the gate for all humans who want to enter in and enjoy His full protection. Jesus is our proverbial safe haven.

If you have lived more than a day, then most likely you have experienced life’s pressures, one way or the other. While life certainly has its precious moments, it is also true that life is a constant battle; there are lots of things competing for our attention, not all of them in our best interest. Whether we like it or not, we have an enemy who wants to bring us down, destroy us, and ultimately kill us. On the other side of the spectrum there is Jesus who is our advocate and friend; He has dedicated His life to save us, and He wants us to experience a meaningful life with a positive impact, a life that is a blessing.

God’s way of saving the world clearly has rubbed some of us the wrong way. We may think this is outrageous that God chose to become powerless and relinquish Himself into human hands. Letting go of His power and submitting to our limitations, how in the world could God save us this way? It doesn’t make any sense! Puzzling as this may seem, obviously God’s method of salvation is not ours to choose. The Trinity selected one of them, Jesus, to be the door opener to a fresh beginning for mankind. Through Jesus we are offered a reboot, a start over, however you want to call it, to wipe clean the past and introduce us to a brand new world – also known as the kingdom of God.

Jesus is the gate to this kingdom, and behind this particular gate amazing opportunities unfold. There is life in abundance, hope for the nations, and purpose for every life lived; most of all: we get a chance to know the Almighty, and that, my friend, is priceless!

I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say; but this is such a strange way to save the world. (David Allen Clark, Donald A. Koch, Mark R. Harris)

John 15:5-8: “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”

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

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

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

“We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden”     
Joni Mitchell

 

John 11:25: “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.’”

I was in first grade when our teacher told us one morning that one of our class mates had just passed away.  I was shocked! Subsequently, I began pondering about the end of my own existence. The only trouble was: I could not wrap my head around the idea that on any given day my life would come to a screeching halt, and I would cease to exist. I was wondering: do we really evaporate into thin air? Is there nothing left of us when we die?

Death just didn’t make much sense to my little heart back then. It really never does, and rightly so, because we’re not set up that way. An interesting verse in the book of Ecclesiastes talks about how human hearts are wired (Ecclesiastes 3:11):

He [God] has also set eternity in the hearts of men.”

Like a watchmaker setting the clock as he is laboring over his handiwork – apparently our Creator has “timed” our hearts; and our heart clock is set on eternity. Evidently, eternity is in our DNA. Man is meant to live forever – implying that we are not a fluke, here today, gone tomorrow.

Why would we live forever if there was no purpose to our life? I would venture to say that we actually do matter; our life does have a purpose and death is detrimental to this purpose. I believe that’s why Jesus hates death. And as the Author of Life it was His mission to put an end to death by conquering it! The tomb stone was rolled away, and Jesus emerged from the grave, the physical evidence that He had overcome our worst enemy.

We all have to face our physical departure one day when our body gives out and our heart stops beating. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that our physical passing is not the ultimate end. If our life story had to be written down, death would be the mere beginning of our book; there are still countless pages waiting to be filled. What a wonderful prospect that is!

Thanks to Jesus, death is not the end but just the beginning. He’s waiting on the other side. Do we believe that?

 “Through desert sand to the Promised Land; it’s where we’re gonna see His face, it’s where we’re gonna find a place to live a great tomorrow.” (A Great Tomorrow by Bill & Evelyn Snyder)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe Jesus’ way of life is basically love in action – no broken life goes unnoticed.  Jesus loves indiscriminately, with total abandon, and no strings attached. Interacting with Jesus on a daily basis, we can learn from His example as He walks with us, through highs and lows – all the way!

“Through it all I’ve learnt to trust in Jesus, I’ve learnt to trust in God. Through it all I’ve learnt to depend upon His Word.” Andre Crouch

Posted in Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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