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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seek and you will find.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Songwriters: Henry Garza / Joey Garza / Ringo Garza

Salvador live performance of “Heaven”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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