2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

A flowering shrub named “Lantana”, very popular in desert climates, also grows in our backyard. Once a year we cut her down to the bare bones. All that is left are leafless twigs, quite a depressing sight for any gardener. But wait – if you come back in a week or so, then voilà: tiny new leaves show up on the sticks. I guess this could count as an example for: “struck down, but not destroyed.”

Praying to God will give us a different outlook. God will bless us with a vision when life resembles bare and leafless twigs. Opening our eyes, He lets us see the signs of spring in the middle of a long and dreary winter. We come across wintry situations everywhere in the Bible, probably because life’s dark seasons, as much as we hate them, happen to everybody; God encourages us to look up to Him in those situations, just as He encouraged Prophet Elisha and his servant.

In the second book of Kings we read about Prophet Elisha befriending King Joram who ruled Israel for 10 years, between 850-840 BC.  During his reign war broke out between Aram-Damascus and Israel. Regardless which way Aram-Damascus’s army turned, Israel seemed to anticipate every move and the battle stalled. The enemy camp investigated the matter and soon found out that thanks to Prophet Elisha their battle plans had been revealed to Israel’s king on several occasions. Once the enemy got wind of the situation, they threatened to kill Elisha. So, under night cover an army of soldiers closed in on Dothan, Elisha’s hometown, and in the morning Dothan was militarily surrounded with no way out. Terrified, Elisha’s servant addressed the situation with his master. Following is an excerpt of their conversation (2 King 6:15-17):

‘Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?’ the servant asked.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’

And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

It is all a matter of perspective – of course there is no perspective at all when we are blind to the things that are actually working for us. In the end, we all need the Lord to remove our blinders, just as He did for Prophet Elisha’s servant.

God can take care of you and me in life’s bleak situations. When we are in the dark and can’t see the light, we need to pray to the Light of the World, Jesus. He will open our eyes and we will see the proverbial rose hidden beneath the deepest snows. To see that rose we must believe.

“Beneath the deepest snows,
The secret of a rose
Is merely that it knows
You must believe in Spring!” 

(Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Jacques Demy, Michel Legrand)

Genesis 8:21: “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.’”

In the aftermath of the big flood, the sole survivors of the human race – Noah and his family – came out of the boat to build an altar and sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. In response, the Lord swore the rainbow oath saying that He would never again curse the Earth as He had done even though the human heart is evil from childhood (Genesis 9:13):

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

There are two camps judging the nature of the human heart: one is the self-loathing “I’m-no-good” camp, the other is the oblivious “it’s-not-my-fault” camp. At first glance, God’s judgment of the human race seems to support the “I’m-no-good” camp; but if we dig a little deeper we will find that God’s intention is not to condemn but to save. And He saves us by removing the one thing that could potentially destroy us (Psalm 103:12):

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

There is a walking distance of 12,429 miles between the North and the South Pole. In absence of a West or East Pole the distance between East and West remains undefined and is thereby immeasurable. Metaphorically speaking, this is how far God has removed our sin – immeasurably far – to cleanse and restore us into mint condition.

Looking into the treacherous mirror of self-assessment, our evaluations are mostly tainted and manipulated by our ego or other people. Accepting God’s assessment of us instead, we are blessed indeed. The Lord wants to lift us up, not tear us down.

God sent His Son Jesus into the world to heal our brokenness. Discovering Jesus is similar to getting connected to God’s heartbeat. With our hearts belonging to Him He is able to turn our lives around; He wants to grow us similar to a Gardener tending the soil. Under His care we flourish.

Genesis 11:9: “That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

An ambitious building project came to a screeching halt. What happened?  In the 11th chapter of the book of Genesis we read how people got together to build a great city with an enormous tower. Their goal was to unify the world under one capital – incidentally the goal of many rising and falling empires in the history of mankind. With the introduction of foreign languages, however, God threw a mighty curve ball. People divided into their respective language groups to form tribes and nations. And so they began to scatter into the four corners of this world forever abandoning the construction project of the Tower of Babel.

With Babel came native and foreign tongues, and ever since we have been in dire need of translators to be able to communicate with people all over the world. “Babel” sounds like the word “confusion” in Hebrew. And the confusion is profound indeed – even among people speaking the same language. We have a hard time understanding each other and much less can we make sense of God’s Word. Consequently, God has been misunderstood, and in the realm of human relations people have been misunderstood.

We worship God in Spirit and in truth. Without God’s Spirit we don’t know how to worship the Lord. The same is true with studying the Word of God; the Spirit of God breathes life and meaning into the Scriptures and explains God’s thoughts to us. He could be seen as our interpreter from Heaven. Jesus introduced the Holy Spirit to His followers as an advocate and His representative before He left this earth to return to the Father. In John’s gospel Jesus said to His disciples (John 14:26): 

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” 

The gift of the Holy Spirit has become the powerful antidote to the Babel event. He opens the door to a better understanding between God and His children and naturally also between believers. The Spirit of God was poured out worldwide to teach us God’s ways and is currently knocking on doors of human hearts to bring all people back to God (Revelation 22:17):

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let anyone who hears this say, ‘Come.’ Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.”

Acts 17:26: “From one man he made all the nations that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”

The book of Genesis starts out with the creation of a new species: mankind. And so the first human beings arrived on the scene. In the generations to follow human DNA diversified. Mankind became something like a variety show. We have different acts and different sets of actors. What we certainly don’t have is unity, even though we originally came from the same source.

The key to unity is to realize we are family. Family feuds are common but can be overcome. The way to oneness is respect. When we respect the otherness of the family member we gain access to resources that were previously unavailable – simply because of lack of communication. Defensiveness is such a waste!

Getting together from different angles and viewpoints is much more powerful than sticking together without venturing out. Unity does not require conformity. Agreeing to disagree is much more authentic than thinking alike. I believe the Trinity is a great role model for getting together authentically. Members of the Trinity are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and they differ greatly from one another, however, their distinctiveness apparently is not driving them apart; if anything, the members of the Trinity are the glue of the universe. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created us, carry us, know us, hear us, and love us dearly; last but not least: The Trinity saves us.

If we are coming from one man and are loved by one God, then unity is a possibility – actually better than a possibility and much more like a prophecy. The last chapter of the Bible talks about world peace, which is authentic peace as opposed to fake peace (Revelation 7:9):

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. “

God’s peace embraces different viewpoints and respects each individual. Embracing God we open ourselves up to widening our horizon. We learn to love like Jesus when we follow Him. His love is generous and unpretentious. The crowd of people worshiping God before the throne and before the Lamb comes from nations and tribes all around the world. Worshiping God in diversity is the future of mankind, made possible through the sacrificial intervention of the Trinity – because, let’s face it: if it wasn’t for God’s intervention peace would have remained an unattainable dream.

God has a dream, and we will live to see it. It will be better than our wildest imaginations. Best of all: we don’t have to wait for it; we can live this dream right here and now. We can, because God changes our heart if we give Him permission.

“Love is but the song we sing,
And fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Know the dove is on the wing
Though we don’t know why
C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Come on and love one another right now”                 
(Chet Powers)

Revelation 22:2: “On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.”

In the beginning God planted beautiful, fruit-bearing trees meant to be enjoyed. Sadly, one of the trees became deadly to mankind, namely, the ominous tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God issued a stern warning to stay away from that particular tree (Genesis 2:16):

“You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden – except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

We know how the story goes. The fruit of that tree was consumed anyway introducing death to creation. Thus it gained the bad reputation of a tree bearing the fruit of death.

Let’s pause here for a minute and think about what this tree stands for. Obviously it does not mean pursuing knowledge equals evil. There is a vast array of knowledge to be gained – not the least of which is getting to know people. Some English Bible translations employ the verb “know” when it comes to intimate relations between a man and a woman (Genesis 4:1):

“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have gotten a man from the Lord.’”

Children are born as a result of Adam “knowing” his wife. Another prominent example of knowledge pursuit in the Bible is King Solomon’s desire for wisdom and understanding. At the onset of his reign he asked God for discernment to govern the nation of Israel wisely and the Lord gladly granted his wish.

So apparently, there is good knowledge and bad knowledge. The opening chapter of the book of Proverbs, largely authored by King Solomon, says to this effect (Proverbs 1:7):

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.”

Fear of the Lord puts God in the middle of all aspects of life. We love Him, we walk with Him and we explore with Him. God will reveal things unknown to us. I believe that all great scientific discoveries are based on divine revelation. Although knowledge in itself does not kill us, attempting to know better than the Lord unfortunately does. 

In the book of Deuteronomy the prophet Moses talks about the death penalty, specifically execution on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22-23):

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.”

The fact that God initiated a law to ensure proper treatment for people on death row shows that He cares for criminals and intends to protect their rights. Paying last respects to an executed person by providing a grave is an act of decency. But there is more.

I believe the Law of Moses requesting to remove a dead body from the tree was also written in anticipation of Jesus’s execution. Approximately 1400 years later the Son of God was killed, His hands and feet nailed to a wooden beam. A law-abiding Jewish citizen, Joseph of Arimathea made sure that the Lord was taken off the cross and placed into his tomb. Jesus emerged from there three days later – resurrected from the dead. He would become the one and only antidote to death, saving God’s creation from corruption. Jesus turned a tree of death, the cross, into a tree of life.

Metaphorically speaking we are like trees and if our roots dig deep to get to know the Lord we turn into the tree as described in chapter 22 of John’s book of Revelation. Growing on both sides of the river, we bear fruit in and out of season and our leaves are used to bring healing to the world – which is what God’s peacemakers are called to do.

Psalm 27:4: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

These days we provide animal sanctuaries for certain species when their kind is on the brink of distinction. When the people of Israel were camping in the desert near Mount Sinai God asked for a sanctuary. He said (Exodus 25:8):

“Have the people of Israel built me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.”

God wants to move in – not to be protected from distinction, but to be near us.

We know how a place changes when somebody else moves in – whether it’s a newborn or a college student, sharing the home with someone new changes the living space. This can be good or bad depending on whether the person moving in is good news or bad news. What happens when God moves in? To answer this question we need to take a closer look at the sanctuary as described in the Old Testament.

The design of the sanctuary is the Father’s love letter to His Son indicating that His Son’s sacrifice is highly appreciated. For this reason the sanctuary is full of imagery of God’s Son Jesus. It contains:

  1. Ark of the Covenant containing God’s law; Jesus said about Himself that He is the fulfillment God’s law.
  2. Mercy Seat; Jesus is the embodiment of God’s mercy, and He said about himself that He came to seek and save what is lost. (Matthew 9:13): “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
  3. The table for bread; Jesus said about Himself that He is the bread of life.
  4. The Golden Lamp stand; Jesus said about Himself that He is the light of the world.
  5. Incense, Olive Oil; incense always stands for prayer, and there was an olive grove in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus submitted to the Father’s will and prayed: “Thy will be done”
  6. Bronze Altar; Jesus sacrificed His life and was the first to rise from the dead.
  7. Tabernacle curtains and veils; the veil hiding the Ark is decorated with Cherubim and is a reminder of the garden entrance of Eden guarded by Cherubim. Adam and Eve were not allowed back into the Garden after they sinned; but after Jesus’ sacrificial death these same curtains ripped apart indicating that now there is access back into God’s presence.

The people of Israel were still on their way to the Promised Land when God asked them to build Him a sanctuary. And so the first building of the tabernacle (Hebrew: Tent of Meeting) happened in the desert. After everybody chipped in and donated the raw materials needed to start the building project, the craftsmen went to work. The construction period of the tent of meeting is a faint reminder of the days of creation. God’s Spirit hovered over the surface of the deep and created the building blocks of today’s reality, the reality we call universe – all of time and space and its contents. God’s construction period was interspersed with evenings and mornings. Evening gave way to morning; darkness gave way to light; indistinguishable monotony gave way to hustling and bustling creativity; death gave way to life.

God creates order before moving in. That’s what He does.

Each human being carries a precious sanctuary – the sanctuary of the heart that is – and God wants to move in; are we ready for a change of heart?  If we accept Jesus’s sacrifice, our heart will become move-in ready; and when God’s Spirit moves into our heart He makes everything new.

Exodus 13:14: “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’”

Customs and traditions become disembodied and meaningless when we don’t know the back story. Jewish heritage is rich in customs and traditions, and the purpose of these is to remember God’s faithfulness. After leaving Egypt the prophet Moses announced to the people of Israel (Exodus 13:3):

“Then Moses said to the people, ‘Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.’”

We can easily see that the custom of eating unleavened bread (bread without yeast) for seven days in spring would raise questions in following generations. These questions are encouraged because they serve as a reminder (Exodus 13:8-9):

“On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

Israel was forced into slavery by Egyptian kings for a time period of approximately 400 years. Leaving Egypt for good left these horrible memories behind; however, a seemingly endless journey through the Sinai wilderness made Egypt look attractive again. Time and again the Israeli refugees lost hope that they would ever reach the Promised Land; they figured their only chance of survival was to turn around and go back to where they came from.

We could say that the wilderness became a place of Israel’s identity crisis. Transitioning from an enslaved people group to a free sovereign nation is not an easy thing to do. Like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, a group of slaves evolved into a sovereign nation. It’s a miracle of God to be remembered.

Perhaps we have a similar wilderness experiences today and are going through an identity crisis of our own. In every identity crisis we can resort to some sort of survival mode, or we can embrace the Lord. He is faithful. If we have encountered His redemptive power in the past, then we know He will come through for us in present times as well. We need to remember who He is and whose we are.

“In the wilderness
In the wilderness
He calls His sons and daughters
To the wilderness
But He gives grace sufficient
To survive any test
And that’s the painful purpose
Of the wilderness”
– Michael Card

Isaiah 48:17: “This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.’”

God’s history with the children of Israel is a narrative spun all throughout the books of the Bible. It’s a story of astonishing faith, but also a rather sobering example of human inconsistencies. The God of Israel says it in no uncertain terms: He hates competing with idols. We can see His response to human unfaithfulness in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 48:10-11):

“See I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.”

God has every intention to upgrade the covenant relationship with His children – and so He purifies the children of Israel by allowing all kinds of trouble. He is a jealous God who does not want to share His children’s affections. He won’t have it. It’s as simple as that. On that note the prophet Moses proclaimed the words of God to the people of Israel in the Sinai desert (Deuteronomy 32:21):

“They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

I believe God is referring to the “heathen nations” when He says that He is going to make the people of Israel envious by those who are not a people. It is certainly not a very flattering statement to hear that the nations outside of Israel have no understanding. But here we are centuries later and faith in the God of Israel has spread all over the globe. This is the only good form of jealousy that I know: Envious to know the Lord.

The truth is the nations of this world have run into the same relationship issues with God Almighty as the people of Israel previously have. We are all frail human beings, prone to make mistakes. As a result we all go through a furnace of trouble to learn how to fully depend on the Lord. He wants to get our attention so He can show us the way.

The Lord knows what is best for us, so we can put our trust in Him – especially in times of trouble.

Psalm 51:17: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

Once we had a young pet, our little cat Malinka, who got involved in an accident, which left her with just a few more hours to live. She died in the course of the night before we could see our veterinarian. Malinka had crawled into a corner of our bedroom where she would breathe her last. Animals know when it’s their time to go.

Everybody is familiar with the concept of change, which requires saying goodbye to one thing to make room for another. This is always easier said than done, especially when we are not ready to let go. Goodbyes may hurt, but life is impossible to live without changes. If we cannot leave when it’s time to go then we end up being stuck.

When we are going through the motions because our life has been turned upside down we have to remember that garden soil too is turned upside down – and to what purpose? – We prepare the soil for the new seed. While going through tough times is all a puzzle to us, brokenness is no reason to give up, but to look up.

Among the 66 books of the Bible, the book of Psalms has always stood out to me. Similar to a cry room in a public building, where people take their babies or small children for privacy reasons, that’s how God’s children take their worries and cares into their personal prayer closet. Venting to the Lord is the best therapy when it comes to brokenness and pain. God has always been very close to the brokenhearted. As a matter of fact, He is closest when we are at our lowest. He is right there with us when we need Him most, whether we can feel His presence or not (Psalm 34:18):

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Instead of trying to piece it all together on our own, let’s protect our sanity by letting God catch our broken pieces. We are safe in His hands. Let Him heal our wounds, work with us through our pain, and help us in our distress.  Broken in God’s hands, He can mend us so we can rise again and embrace a new tomorrow.

“Broken
Broken world
Broken dreams
Alone in the crowd
Unspoken
Unspoken fears
Unspoken anger
Just acting out
Can’t see the light in the night
Don’t understand the events of the day
But there’s the hand of the living God
Holding me in the midst of it all”               
(Basically Two, Bill & Evelyn Snyder)

Proverbs 22:6: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Anybody who is a parent knows what happens when children are left to their own devices: nothing good comes out of it. That puts parents into a teaching position. Parents teach their children what they know. Since parents are in-house teachers, children get to not only hear their words but also see practical life applications. It’s a powerful witness for children to see their parents adhere to their own teaching.

Parents could not teach their children well, unless they themselves are taught well. The Holy Spirit is a wonderful teacher constantly speaking truth into our lives. Have you ever been on a crossroads and listened to that still small voice inside of you nudging you to do the right thing? That is God’s Spirit parenting us.

If there was a point in your life when you first realized who Jesus is, then this was revealed to you. Believers are receivers, and truth-receiving is a gift from God. Like any precious gift that we receive, we need to cherish it. By respecting the Holy Spirit we guard this precious gift. Conversely, if we ignore the Spirit of God long enough, that gift will be taken from us; and without God’s input our life quickly becomes bad news.

God wants us to find the truth. He has exponentially grown a movement that started with a famous few. When Jesus walked this earth He revealed Heaven’s Kingdom to us. Jesus taught His contemporaries well, and His legacy continues on.

Getting to know the Lord is the beginning of a very good story. Personally delivered, our loved ones are the first to read us. If we are no parents we are still teachers. Perhaps unbeknownst to us our life story has many teaching moments. We touch lives and change the world for the better when we follow God’s voice. That’s what the Lord hopes for placing the seeds of His teaching in us and that’s what parents hope for placing the seeds of their teaching in their children.