Jeremiah 17:9-10: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

The proverbial rug has been pulled underneath your feet the day you realize, you have been lied to. It’s a horrible feeling. Lies destroy our integrity making us less a man, less a woman. We were created to walk upright and live in the truth. Anything less noble ends up breaking us apart.

A heart does not turn deceitful overnight – it is led astray. A straying heart is an aimlessly wandering heart, which never arrives, never feels at home, has lost touch with its true self and slowly has become corroded; this is the story of the deceitful heart.

Who can understand the deceitful heart and tell its story? – God can. He searches every heart and examines every mind. God listens well. And as a result, He knows your backstory and mine.

Where does the deceitful heart go?  – Running away from the Lord, all we can do is continue to deceive ourselves and others. Running towards the Lord, we courageously step up to the plate and face the truth. Truth-seekers invite the Lord to shine His light on them. His light shines through and through, accessing the most remote corners in our heart.

How can we heal the deceitful heart? – Prophet Ezekiel wrote in his scroll that a deceitful heart is actually beyond cure. That would be truly devastating news if it wasn’t for the Lord. God is not known to give up that easily. He fought with passion for the good hope bestowed to us. In order to completely renew the compromised heart inside of us, He gave us His Son Jesus. Through Him human beings can be adopted into the family of God. God’s children let go of their unresponsive heart and receive a sensitive heart instead, a heart that can hear the Lord’s voice (Ezekiel 36:26):

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

Receiving a new heart from God is an incredible gift. With a new heart, our inner being wakes up to a brand new world: the kingdom of God. Listening to the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, the love of God begins to ring true in our hearts. We start walking in His footsteps and our life will never be the same. It is the power of God’s love that makes all things new – starting at the very core of our being – our heart.

Just like a blind man I wandered along
Worries and fears I claimed for my own
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light
” – Hank Williams

Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

Is the life of one human being worth more than the life of another? Hopefully, we all agree that the answer is no. Every life is equally precious. Problems come up when we forget that.

“Thinking of ourselves with sober judgment”, as the apostle Paul puts it, is tricky. We have the tendency to either be full of ourselves or we feel small and inconsequential and don’t appreciate who we are. It is funny that the golden middle, which means loving ourselves without overindulgence, is so hard to do. I believe it’s probably impossible to do, unless we have met the Lord.

God loves us like no other, so chances are, if we accept this reality, we also accept His perception of us. “I am loved by the Lord” is a healthy self-assessment. In addition, what puts things into perspective is our understanding that God loves both me and my neighbor. This knowledge comes in handy, especially when I have a fight with the neighbor.  

I remember a work relationship that slowly went from bad to worse; and no amount of business meetings seemed to be able to resolve the issues at hand. We were simply not on the same page, and I had to accept that. For the sake of my sanity, I finally resigned and moved on. Careful not to burn any bridges, I made sure not to broadcast any negativity. As a result, my ex-employer and I have stayed in touch and remained on friendly terms.

Processing conflicts, I have learnt this simple truth: God loves me, but He loves the other person too.  We need to remember that when we don’t see eye to eye. Continue to respect a person, even though this person represents a different school of thought and has a world view that you cannot buy into. After all, we don’t know it all; only God knows everything. In times when old friends divide over political opinions I have found this approach extremely helpful.

As a general rule of thumb, let’s refrain from snap judgments. Nobody is perfect. When we are offended by someone, we can always err on the side of caution by applying plenty of grace.

Zechariah 14:9: “The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.”

Single-mindedness is not part of our current reality. Division and strife on the other hand, is what we are familiar with. Division is like cancer ailing our society and even splitting up families and friends. What makes us strong? – Community and unity, love and friendship, humility and understanding.

Division weakens us. The prophet Zechariah looks at the people of Israel in his generation and does not find much unity there. Into the chaos of wars and revolutions; into battlefields littered with blood, sweat and tears; into human desperation and loneliness, the prophet speaks words of encouragement.

Words of encouragement – God has a knack for that. He speaks: “Let there be light” when there is utter darkness and confusion. And guess what – God’s Word makes all the difference. He says: “Let there be light” and there is light.

Prophet Zechariah speaks: “The Lord will be king over the whole earth”. The prophet spoke the Word of God, and it will turn into reality. There will be a new heaven and a new earth devoid of division. There will be no more wars. There will be blessed peace.

How do we get there? We won’t. It is not by human endeavor that we achieve unity. Only by God’s Spirit and His might can we come together. Meanwhile, the Lord keeps prodding every human being on this planet to listen to what His Spirit has to say. He invites everyone to jump on His peace train before the new heaven and the new earth come to pass and a new chapter in the history of mankind begins. Jesus spoke to John, His disciple (Revelation 21:5):

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

We can trust His Word. When we find God we find unity. He alone knows the way to peace.

“Now I’ve been smiling lately,
Thinkin’ about the good things to come
And I believe it could be,
Something good has begun
Oh Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train
Come on now Peace Train
Yes, Peace Train holy roller”
– Yusuf Cat Stevens

Psalm 138:8: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me. Lord, your love is eternal; do not abandon the work of your hands.”

Broken pieces; a pile of rubble; chaos; nothing seems to make much sense.

Yeah, life can be a puzzle sometimes – our lives are strangely unorthodox with curve-balls flying, flawed decisions backfiring, raw emotions taking its toll. We may not see it, but somehow life still works out with God working behind the scenes. All we need is faith.

Faith is a weird thing, kind of a balancing act between doing something and waiting things out. Faith creates optimism; we don’t know which kind of happy ending awaits us after the show is over, but we do know it’s going to be a happy ending. We might as well enjoy the ride!

From God’s perspective we are a piece of art – broken, yet beautiful; lost, yet restored. God is immensely proud of His creation. Human beings have been the Wildcard. On countless occasions and all throughout history, God has shown His mercy and patience. He is the Healer of broken hearts; at the same time, God is an accomplished Artist. He knows how to make things beautiful.

Trusting in God – this means having faith in the One who can turn things around. God doesn’t just overrule a bad situation and – poof! Abracadabra – turns it into something completely different. He takes our broken pieces and builds something exquisite with it. He creates, protects and endorses life. God never throws a life away. He hates to see us go to waste and works with what we’ve got. His devotion and dedication ultimately conquers death. Resurrection from the dead is based on God believing in us and us believing in Him.

Our triune God is dedicated to making things better; that is why Jesus is our Savior. The Lord is life giver, but most importantly to me: He is Life restorer.

2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God’s patience is different from people’s patience. His patience is so remarkable that it is often misunderstood and interpreted as slowness, or worse, as indifference. “Why is God doing nothing?” is sometimes the question. Well, God is doing something. Believers know, the Lord is always up to something. Everything He does and does not do is premeditated. He can do that – He is God.

It is difficult for our human minds to grasp God’s thought process. Starting with the fact that the Lord is Three in One – God the Father, the Holy Spirit and the beloved Son Jesus are an entity that converses with each other. Human beings are on God’s mind day and night, night and day. I imagine that decisions on how to react to certain situations, how to answer prayers and how to interfere into human circumstances are not processed lightly. We have a hard time understanding God’s patience because we do not see what He sees and we do not know what He knows. But what we do know is that the Lord will make good on His promises in His time. He comes through and the door opens when it is beneficial for many.

Specifically, when we think about human tragedies, the Lord’s patience seems out of place. Think about the collective human suffering of the past and present. Think about the people of Israel who were enslaved by the Egyptians for 400 years. 400 years of prayers you would think went unanswered for too long. By the time Israel left Egypt, the Egyptians had had a close encounter with God. The plagues that happened, the signs and wonders in connection with Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt left an indelible mark. Slavery is a terrible thing. God delivered Israel from the hands of their taskmasters, but not without appealing to their conscience. God loves His people, but He loves the Egyptians too.

To this day people are mistreated, disrespected, hurt and killed. Slavery is not just a thing of the past. The international labor organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150-billion-industry worldwide. Where is God in all this? God is in heaven, but most importantly, God is with His people. God’s interaction is sovereign, but He is also expecting His people to see where injustice happens and act as His agent. In the above example of human trafficking, the first line of defense for those labor organizations is to receive a call from a witness who identified a victim and dialed the National Human Trafficking Hotline to get help.

We want God to come through for us in personal matters. I believe God also wants us to come through for other people, people who are hurting, people who need our attention, people who have been waiting for justice and retribution. When God opens our eyes and shows us a need, we as believers are the ones God has been patient with – at the cost of the people waiting for us to wake up and face the music. Those victimized, overlooked and abandoned individuals who have been in our neighborhood and cried out to God had to be feeling like the Israelites in Egypt who prayed for deliverance for 400 years. They had to be exceedingly patient.

To save all parties involved and not wanting anyone to perish, the Lord’s patience has a significant reason in a roundabout way: He hopes that in the end everyone will come to repentance. A beautiful fruit of God’s spectacular patience – is a change of heart.

Matthew 16:25: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

Personally, I’ve been a health nut for as long as I can remember. Eating healthy, working out have been non-negotiables. All in all, I have taken good care of my body as best as I could. All through my life, however, I’ve been battling a chronic cough, and my lung function has progressively diminished over the years. My husband Bill and I have spent an inordinate amount of time and money in medical services to find out what exactly is causing this situation. We have learned it the hard way that we had to let go of this battle.

Presently, we are no longer looking for a diagnosis. Instead, we are learning how to manage my symptoms better. This is a powerful release of all anxiousness connected with medical procedures, tests, doctor’s visits and looming medical bills. Best of all, we are able to move on with our lives.

There is a time for holding on, and there is a time for letting go. Holding on to dear life, I have survived three open heart surgeries in the past ten years. This gave Bill and me additional years together, which we both consider borrowed time. However, in order to make the best use of the time allotted to us, I find it equally important to learn to let go. By letting go of my health concerns we can turn our attention to the things the Lord puts in our hands for us to do – and let Him worry about the rest. Living like that is finding life.

Letting go is the key to mental sanity. We get unstuck that way. Turns out, “Letting go and letting God” is no empty byword at all. It represents a life style that leads to peace.

Jeremiah 23:24: “‘Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.”

Shame is a very uncomfortable feeling. We don’t want anybody to see us when we feel ashamed. So, we hide. Hiding is a coping mechanism as long as there have been people. We read about this behavior in the oldest story of the Good Book: Adam and Eve’s attempt to hide from the Lord in Paradise after having eaten the one fruit in the Garden they were not supposed to touch. I believe the ensuing conversation between the Lord and mankind’s first couple is worth paying attention to. Here it is, in Genesis 3:8-13:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Ever since I read this piece of Scripture quoted above I was wondering what would have happened if Adam and Eve had admitted to the truth – instead of hiding behind fig leaves and shifting the blame. Maybe God had them exiled from Paradise anyway, but of course we don’t know that for sure. What we do know (after looking at the outcome of this unhappy conversation), hiding from the Lord simply does not work. Outside of Eden, things quickly went from bad to worse causing a deep rift between the Lord and mankind, a rift that only Jesus was going to be able to heal.

Before the expulsion from Paradise, God related the consequences of their sin to the serpent, the woman and the man. Addressing the serpent first, the Lord said (Genesis 3:15):

“And I will put enmity
    between you [the serpent] and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

As our rainbow of hope, Jesus was announced in the same paragraph where God pronounced His judgment. The Son of God was going to step on the serpent’s skull. And by crushing the serpent’s head Jesus addressed the root of all evil, namely the lying, the blaming and the hiding.

It is a good thing that we cannot hide from the Lord. The Lord brings everything to light – not to shame or blame us, but to set things right. If we put our cards on the table and ask God for His help, He will have mercy on each and every one of us. The Lord fixes what is broken and sets us on the path to righteousness. Righteousness is something we hunger and thirst for ever since we lost Paradise so many years ago. We can make things right when we turn to the Lord and discontinue hiding behind fig leaves. Adam and Eve are the first to tell us that fig leaves are unsuitable means for cover up.

The only sane course of action after the damage is done is to step out in the open and trust in the Lord. May His light shine on us and fill us up to overflowing so we can bring peace wherever we are going.

Let the healing begin.

2 Thessalonians 3:3: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”

Knowing we have the same enemy unites us, as demonstrated in the 1996 film “Independence Day”.  Its story line is about a worldwide alien attack and subsequent resistance of humankind culminating in the battle on Fourth of July. In the movie script, the acting President of the United States rallied his troops before releasing them to the battlefield. Here is an excerpt of his televised speech:

“In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world, and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind… Mankind. That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.”

Unity has never been our forte. Strife and division on the other hand, we could say we have a Master’s degree. Global peace hangs on the precarious balance based on threat. I am certain  that the combined weaponry of all nations could potentially blow up our home planet Earth many times over. I have always said we don’t need a devil to destroy humankind. Mankind is pretty proficient in self-eliminating. However, that does not mean there is no evil force currently working behind the scenes.

Obviously, the best way to wage a good battle is to have the right allies. In God we have a powerful ally, but we need to understand that God is for all people. And He will support us if we have the same mindset. We need to be interested in everybody’s welfare. We need to learn what it means to love our enemies. And we need to understand that all God’s creatures are equally loved by their Creator.

In times of crisis when we fight for our survival we need to be extra-careful not to lose our humanity. God has equipped us for battle, but He especially has equipped us for love. We need to use both our brains and our hearts to address the challenges and problems presented to us in our lifetime.

The most important thing there is to know, is to know the Lord. I believe that with all of my heart. Loving God and loving people grows out of knowing Him. Living the love command, we will see how faithful the Lord is. He strengthens His people and protects them from the evil one.

Isaiah 40:31: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

The soaring technique of an albatross over the ocean is called “Dynamic Soaring”. Dynamic Soaring takes advantage of the difference in wind speed between the ground and higher up, which causes the bird to climb up facing the wind and heading back to the ground downwind. The wings are angled slightly, which allows the soaring bird to deflect the air downward and produce a lift.

Flapping-Wing flight in birds uses an altogether different technique. The wings flap with an up-and-down motion pushing the bird forward through the air. While doing that, the bird reduces the wingspan and partially folds its wings to eliminate the draggy outer part of the wing to maintain smooth cruising.

The difference between flapping and soaring is obvious: the former relies on the wind; the latter relies on the bird’s ability to manoeuver.

Yesterday I watched a documentary about conserving water. In arid areas with low rainfall, water becomes a precious commodity, not to be wasted. To that end, water has to be recycled to make the most of it. In most drought-ridden countries bordering the ocean, water plants are built to turn seawater into freshwater. Lack of water dictates prudence to be able to manage wisely the water resources that are still available.

The same scenario applies when we weaken and run out of steam. With our energy almost gone, we start managing our remaining strength in a different manner. In this context, Prophet Isaiah recommends soaring over flapping. Why? As opposed to flapping, soaring is a much more energy-efficient approach. And when we have come to the end of our rope, it is appropriate to think energy efficient.

We are only human and our strength will eventually deplete. God on the other hand never grows tired. Tapping into His power, we can carry on for a very long time, and this is in fact the moment we begin to soar. The wind of His Spirit carries us, and all we have to do is trust the aerodynamics of the Holy Spirit to carry us wherever we need to be.

Soaring birds can teach us a lesson or two: Faith lets us spread our wings wide while hope lets us soar. This is the spiritual reality of God’s children when they trust in the Lord and put their hope in Him.

“Some glad mornin’ when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To a home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away”
– Albert E. Brumley

Psalm 121:7-8: “The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Some Jews place a copy of Psalm 121 in the delivery room to ask God for an easy labor. I think it is a beautiful tradition to involve the Lord in this manner and thus pave the way for a new human being about to be born. The psalmist here asks the Lord to watch over our coming and going, which implicates our birth and death. Life on earth has a distinctive beginning and specific end – and in between we have a lot of mountains to climb.

Going in and out of exile represented a major mountain in the 3300 years of Israel’s history. Jews were repeatedly exiled from their home country. And even though the deportations were devastating, the traumatic experience seemed to have had a refining effect in the end. Instead of being assimilated into their diverse host countries and disappear forever, the Jews emerged and defined themselves as a people. During Babylonian exile for instance, their oral traditions were put to paper. In the process of writing down their history with God, a collection of fifteen Psalms were grouped under the category “Song of ascents”, among which is also Psalm 121. When the captive Jews were released, I imagine the pilgrims singing the words of these psalms to God while climbing the temple mountain for the first time in a very long while. What a day that must have been!

The world is currently experiencing an exile of a different kind, and it’s called “Quarantine”. At the time of this writing, we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, which requires ongoing isolation to curb the infection rate of a threatening virus. As a result, we are taken out of our routine and placed into a strange, confusing situation for an undefined period of time. Instead of descending into despair, we can learn from the experience of our Jewish brothers and sisters and take this opportunity to redefine ourselves as a people and make things better.

For the sake of our sanity, now is the time to seek the Lord. We won’t notice much of God, unless we look up to Him. And when we turn our attention to Him, we escape confusion and see things more clearly, not to mention the blessings of being in His presence, which has a thoroughly calming effect on our soul. Remember: The Lord will keep us from all harm — He will watch over our life; the Lord will watch over our coming and going both now and forevermore.

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion
There the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
Now how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
 (Boney M, song lyrics based on Psalm 137
)