James 1:12: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

The apostle James wrote a letter to believers whom he most likely could not contact in any other way. Writing letters was the social media of his day and age. There was no telephone, no internet, no TV, no radio. Long distance communication had to be in writing, which in turn required literacy.

Every generation has its own problems, so the topic of James’ letter – persevering under trial – is always current and very applicable to any time in history; however, what does this even mean – a person who faces difficulties is being tested? What exactly is our test in situations when we are stuck between a rock and a hard place?

New prescription drugs and complex machinery such as cars, rockets and airplanes are routinely submitted to rigorous tests; – so are human beings – albeit for different reasons. We are constantly tested, whether it is for educational, career, or athletic purposes; however, I believe the hardest of all is the character test.

Italy became a great inspiration to the world when appearing on global news during the 2020 pandemic. Confined to their homes to curb the infection rate, the Italian population stepped on their balconies using everything they could lay hands on to make loud and cheerful music. If they had no instruments available, they banged against pots and pans while singing their hearts out to boost the morale of their countrymen.

We live well when we love well. Love looks out for one another, which is why love is so big, especially in tough times. Living life in this fashion, we will discover that we have everything, especially in times of adversity.

Ephesians 6:10-11: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Strange but true: Fearing God, we learn to abandon our fears. This may sound a bit crazy, but in all reality tables are turned when God begins to matter in our lives. As far as I am concerned, finding the Lord has totally changed my perspective. Demons shrink; self-erected walls break down; my world gets bigger and my fears smaller. An interesting revelation in the book of Proverbs tells us that fearing the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7):

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Back in Paradise, Adam and Eve were fascinated by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge is an attraction to the curious mind, and we all are born with an innate curiosity. However, if fearing the Lord is only the beginning of knowledge, then the source of all knowledge is in the Lord; hence the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has been a misleading source of information. That tree was a deception that threw mankind off pointing us in the wrong direction.

Knowing the Lord we know it all, the good, but also the bad and the ugly. The Lord is good, there is no shadow in Him, and He alone knows how to properly deal with darkness. His light dispels it. In this life we need to learn how to stay true to ourselves. We need to learn how to beat our demons. We have plenty of reasons to be discouraged and dragged down. The Lord teaches us to stand up and successfully fight these things.

There is a lot to be learned in battle, but our finest moments in life are the occasions when we respond to hate with love. This is how the Lord wages His battles. Love overrules all conflicts and is the solution to every problem. Again, we won’t know how to love if it wasn’t for the Lord. We go to the source to learn from Him. His love draws us to Him in the first place.

Without His love there would be nothing worth fighting for. We need to stay strong in trying times by seeking His presence daily. We need all the encouragement we can get.

“Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home”

Songwriters: Andrew Pearson / Greg Holden

Jeremiah 17:7-8: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Trees have always fascinated me. When I was a little girl, I painted a big tree on my bedroom wall. Next, I attached a hook on top of my painting, and on that hook I hung my guitar. Hanging a guitar on a painted tree has a curious effect. It’s basically mixing a two-dimensional painting with 3-D reality. Later in life I did it again, when I painted a tree on our backyard fence planting flowers right in front of it. My husband and I called it our “fence tree”.

Painted trees on fence and bedroom wall remind me of the nature of our hopes and dreams. Our dreams come two-dimensional at first. They take shape in our hearts and can be as defined as a good painting. Dreams turn into three-dimensional reality when we start acting upon it. We often call this action a leap of faith – and leaping we must when the time comes; life poses a variety of challenges that require faith.

Walking with the Lord, we experience peace, regardless the circumstances. In agricultural terms, we thrive under His care, even in the driest desert conditions. – Speaking of thriving in the desert, the people of Israel had wandered the Sinai desert for decades after their exodus from Egyptian slavery. A contemporary named Balaam took a good look at their vast campsite as the young nation was in the trenches, preparing to claim the territory east of the Mediterranean Sea. He prophesied over them saying (Numbers 24:6-7):

“How beautiful are your tents, Jacob,
    your dwelling places, Israel!

Like valleys they spread out,
    like gardens beside a river,
like aloes planted by the Lord,
    like cedars beside the waters.
Water will flow from their buckets;
    their seed will have abundant water.”

Rooted in the Lord, nothing is impossible. The Prophet Jeremiah compared a believer to a fruit-producing tree that is undeterred by drought. We thrive like trees planted alongside a river, a river that never runs dry.

1 Peter 2:2-3: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Babies crawl on the floor in exploratory wonder. To them everything is brand new. Wide-eyed and curious, they intensely study their surroundings. Humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. The sensing organs associated with each sense send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us. Unfortunately for us, our sensory systems are not equipped to perceive God, unless He reveals Himself to us. Metaphorically speaking, we all wear blindfolds until the day our eyes are opened and we begin to see the light.

The apostle Peter compares our spiritual awakening to early childhood experiences. Like babies curiously explore the world around them, so are we encouraged to go after the Lord and find out who He is, as referenced in the book of Psalms (Psalm 34:8):

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Understanding that the Lord is good is core knowledge. Everything else we learn about Him builds on that. In other words, we don’t know the Lord when we don’t know that He is good.

Jesus’ story about the narrow door has always intrigued me. He was on His way to Jerusalem when someone asked him: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” That question in itself is odd and shows that the person asking is not convinced that God is merciful and good. Interestingly, Jesus does not reply with a “Yes” or “No”. Instead, He tells the story of the narrow door that will close at a certain point, never to be opened again. Jesus looks at the person asking Him that question, and this is what He says (Luke 13:25):

“Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’”

The people knocking on the narrow door do not know that God’s door of welcome is wide. They knock on the wrong door, so-to-speak. Whoever does not know that God is good completely misses the boat.

On the other side of the spectrum, Jesus knows who we are at our deepest level. When we open up to Him, He becomes our internal compass pointing to our True North – to God who is our eternal home.

Children of God grow up and spread their wings. The wind of the Holy Spirit carries us through highs and lows. Our love matures as we grow up in our salvation – because we have indeed tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

“You took a sparrow and let it fly with the eagles
I can see a long ways – I feel love again”

Tony Joe White

Psalm 23:1-3: “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.”

The law is like a checkerboard; it is painted black and white. Applying the law to life is what law experts do when they meet in court. The challenge lies in the nature of the beast – people are not black and white. They are not one way or the other. Guess what: Neither is the Lord. Even though His 613 commandments summarized in the Law of Moses could make Him look like a law expert, I do not think we do Him justice to confine Him to the law alone. If we do, our view of God is black and white.

David’s sigh of relief as he breathed his prayer is like a splash of color:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”

We need to get familiarized with the diverse color nuances of the Lord. David could tell you all about it. He is no model citizen. If we look into his life story we will find that he did many great and noble things, but he also committed murder in cold blood to protect his interests. And yet, even when David got caught red-handed, he relied on God’s judgment rather than on people’s judgment. People have a tendency to condemn. God doesn’t. God is a God of color and He understands the subtleties of a human being. God is our judge without being judgmental.

The best way to describe the effect God has on my life is like a fog lifting from the valley. Becoming aware of God, the fog slowly lifts. The first things I detected about God were His outlines, His do’s and don’ts. But as any friendship, my relationship with God has matured over the years. I study Him like a painting to see His nuances and subtleties and I see more than just His outlines when I look at Him now.

Sticking to a world of black and white just because it feels more defined, we are definitely missing out. Granted, life with God is no walk in the park, but it is rich; it is a rainbow of experiences. We don’t lack a thing in His presence.

2 Peter 1:5-8: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Monsters and mountains – we have to conquer them. There is no way around it. Try as we may, our avoidance of the elephant in the room is only a detour that will bring us right back to the place where we don’t wish to be. We need to fight every step of the way to climb our mountains; we need to chase our monsters instead of our monsters chasing us.

The apostle Peter probably never forgot the horrible night when he was too weak to stand up for his best friend, the night when he cowered by the fire, denied who he was, and betrayed a friendship. The one person he admired most, the precious person near and dear to his heart, the One to whom he defiantly said just moments ago: I will die for you – he betrayed Him. And the worst thing about it: His friend already knew. He turned around and looked him in the eye right about the time the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered. His friend had actually predicted his failure. How ashamed he felt that night, how miserable and worthless, nobody can tell. But the same person who predicted his failure also predicted his success. “Peter” was his given nickname because when Jesus looked at Peter, He saw his potential. He saw that Peter would become rock-solid and help ignite a movement that to this day is still moving.

Peter’s nightmare became his greatest triumph when he addressed his monsters. His legacy speaks for itself inspiring us to do the same.

Yeah, let’s kick our monsters in the behind! What are yours by the way? Mine is being stuck, a claustrophobia nightmare of sorts. One of my bad dreams at night is sitting in my car approaching a stoplight. Instead of hitting the breaks I’m frozen. Last thing I remember before willing myself to wake up from this dream – I’m in a major car crash, and of course I’m unable to get out.

What do we do when monsters are in the room? Well, we need to identify and chase them. If we duck, fear will rule our life, and that does not bode well for us.

Here is Peter’s recommendation: Add to your faith. In other words: grow. Never stop growing. Nothing stays the same, everything changes; so must our faith. Our faith matures. Our inability to accept change stunts our growth and keeps our faith small. On the other hand, when we embrace change, face our fears, and move with the changing seasons our faith is bound to grow. God knows what we will find on the other side of that mountain. Based on His track record, it is going to be very good.

But I’m not your son, you’re not my father
We’re just two grown men saying goodbye
No need to forgive, no need to forget
I know your mistakes and you know mine
And while you’re sleeping, I’ll try to make you proud
So daddy, won’t you just close your eyes?
Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn
To chase the monsters away

James Blunt

Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

King Solomon is the author of the book of Ecclesiastes. Curiously, Solomon used language related to clockwork when he wrote down his thoughts on eternity. Like a watchmaker setting the clock as he is laboring over his handiwork – our Creator has “timed” our hearts, and guess what: our heart clocks are set on eternity. Somehow, eternity is in our DNA.

I was in first grade when our teacher told us that one of our classmates had passed away in a car accident just the other day.  It disturbed me to learn the bad news. Up to this point I had never known anybody in person who had passed away. All of a sudden, death hit close to home and it made me aware how fragile we are. Anybody could die in a car accident. Just like that, Ruth (that was the name of my late classmate) was killed. Yesterday I played with her, today she was gone. I wondered – where did Ruth go?

Death just didn’t sit well with me. It never really does, and rightly so, because – as Solomon puts it – our Creator has not set us up this way. We are made for eternity.

Our lives have a purpose, but unfortunately death is detrimental to this purpose. This is probably a major reason why the Son of God hates death. His mission is to save us so we have a chance to live out our purpose. He emerged from the grave, giving us physical evidence that He has conquered death.

Is it easy to believe? Yes and no. We cannot fabricate faith. We cannot make believe that the story of Easter is true. However, it is still easy to believe because faith ultimately is a gift from God. He lifts the veil so we can see.

We all have to face our physical departure one day when our bodies give out and our hearts stop beating. Nevertheless, our physical passing is not the end of us. If our life story had to be written down, death would be the mere beginning of our book – with countless pages still waiting to be filled.

Thanks to Jesus, the end of our lives will only be the beginning; following our passing, eternity has just begun.

“Deep in your soul is your identity 
The essence of you, the immortal part of you
Since I was few years old I’ve known. 
The truth was sown inside of me: my soul lives eternally.”
Songwriters Bill & Evelyn Snyder