Psalm 95:1-2: “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

Harvey Mackay, a successful businessman once said:

“It’s only lonely at the top if you forget all the people you met along the way and fail to acknowledge their contributions to your success.” * (*Harvey Mackay Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved November 20, 2020, from BrainyQuote.com; web link: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/harvey_mackay_528735)

Thankfulness is not humanity’s natural ingredient. People aren’t exactly born grateful. We like to look at the things we lack and unwittingly diminish the value of everything we’ve already been given. Despite our natural tendencies, however, we need to sit back from time to time and count our blessings.

Put yourself in God’s shoes for a minute – strictly hypothetical of course since these are big shoes to fill – and imagine all the people talking to you only want your attention because they want something from you. How would that make you feel?

I’m sure God loves to be addressed when we are in need. Life is no joke. Bad things happen to good people. And yet, if prayer is used only in times of an emergency, then we really don’t know God very well. The apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters (1 Thessalonians 5:17):

“Pray continually”

Praying continually means that the Lord is the center of our lives. Our prayers have extended beyond emergency situations and we have an ongoing conversation with Him. God is with us for better or worse, in good times or bad. He is the best Friend we will ever have.

It is easy to get depressed in times of trouble. When we have a problem we tend to focus on the dark side which doesn’t really help. Turning our eyes to the Lord and taking note of His wonderful gifts will pull us out of a vortex of negativity.

It benefits us to develop an attitude of gratitude. Our demeanor changes and people find us more attractive; nobody likes a nag. So for God’s sake and our own – let us be thankful.

“Always look on the bright side of life” Eric Idle

Psalm 1:1-2: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”

My husband Bill and I went to San Francisco on our honeymoon, and there we had plenty of photo ops with one of the most iconic suspension bridges in the United States: the Golden Gate Bridge. Comparing our lifetime to a suspension bridge, Lloyd George Elliott (1919-1970), a Canadian nuclear physicist, wrote:

“The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables called habits, attitudes, and desires. What you do in life depends upon what you are and what you want. What you get from life depends upon how much you want it—how much you are willing to work and plan and cooperate and use your resources. The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables that you are spinning now, and that is why today is such an important day. Make the cables strong!”* (*Source: greatthoughtstreasury.com; web link: http://www.greatthoughtstreasury.com/author/l-g-elliott-fully-lloyd-george-elliott)

Our brains function much like sponges soaking up everything, whether it’s good or bad. Bad influences are counteracted by our healthy habits. In this context Psalm 1 talks about the value of meditating on the Word of the Lord (Psalm 1:2-3):

“But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”

It is ultimately our habits, attitudes, and desires that drive us. One healthy habit is prayer. Sincere prayer allows God’s Spirit unlimited access to our hearts. His affirmations are the solid rock amid waves of trouble and tribulation rolling over our head. Jesus is our lifeline, especially when times are tough. He once said (John 7:38):

“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

The living water Jesus provides turns into a well within us that not only nourishes us, but also blesses the people we are in contact with. People rooted in God are a blessing to the world. Our connection to the Lord is paramount and I believe the Canadian physicist is right – we need to make those cables strong.

John 17:17: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

Thanks to gravity we can walk the ground. Up is up and down is down, as simple as that. However, climbing into a rocket and pushing through Earth’s atmosphere, we experience things very differently. Where is up and down after the loss of gravity? Our human experience is tied to our personal point of view.

Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea around A.D. 26-37 and is most famous for presiding over the trial of Jesus. Before the trial Pilate tested the waters and asked Jesus: “Are you a king”, to which He replied (John 18:36-37):

“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’

‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’”

It became clear to Pilate that Jesus neither had a political agenda nor posed a threat to Rome. But then the interrogation quickly got personal when Jesus reached out to him and said: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” In other words: “Which side are you on? Are you listening to me?” Pontius Pilate’s reaction was that of a cynic. “What is truth?” he asked. Not expecting an answer, he turned around and left Jesus.

So, what is truth?  

Truth is no opinion. It is human that our point of view evolves. What we believe to be true today may no longer hold true tomorrow. Pilate’s sarcasm would then be justified. Truth however does not change overnight. Unimpressed by shifting times and unimagined by human minds truth stands forever. We don’t dream up truth; truth just is; it is alive and breathing and has the name of God written all over it.

When Jesus walked this earth, He left indelible footprints. He said about Himself (John 14:6):

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Truth cannot be scientifically proven, but the results of truth-finding are very tangible. We learn the truth when we believe in Jesus. Embracing Him will change us for the better, or to use His terminology: truth will sanctify us. We will never be the same.

Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”

Life’s path is no eight-lane freeway. It’s more of a bumpy hiking trail. Plugging along, we always tread on unexplored ground. Nobody knows what to expect around the next corner.

Life’s pathway is a long journey. We better travel light or we’ll get stuck somewhere with our heavy load. Unburdened is the way to go.

Life is not a burden. Life is a precious gift. We realize that in moments when we hold a newborn baby. However, the thrill of being alive clearly wears off when we are in pain. In light of tragic circumstances we may even lose our desire to be alive. Especially when we feel lost in the dark, we are in desperate need of God’s light.

The light of God is different from any other light source we know. Regular light sources simply won’t hold up. Batteries go low; a camp fire won’t burn unless it’s fed; a candle will flicker and die once it has burnt through the candle wick. God’s eternal flame, however, burns independently without being fed. His light is always shining, which is why we fare a lot better in His presence. Close to the Lord, we are able to see through the dark. Leaning on Him, it is so much easier navigating through life’s highs and lows.

Finding God is as straight forward as asking and receiving. God will reveal Himself when we seek Him out. Moses encouraged the Israelites with these words (Deuteronomy 4:29):

“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Even though God is hidden from the naked eye He is very hard to miss. In fact, we have to be determined to ignore Him to not notice the brilliant Light that outshines the stars, the Moon and the Sun. Eventually, somewhere along life’s bumpy road, we will run into Him. Heaven’s door opens when we knock. God wants to be found.

Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”

The Bible is a mysterious book. Initially, as a young teenager I could not make heads or tails of it. I have always loved poetry and so the ancient poetic texts of the Bible stood out to me at first, especially King Solomon’s “Song of Songs”. Growing up in an agnostic household I was the only one in our family reading the Bible. One day a classmate noticed my interest and invited me to join a Bible study. I decided to give it a shot and accepted the invitation.

As it turned out, the Bible study took place in a private home and was led by high school and college students. Tea was served as one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians was discussed. I had trouble following the discussion – quite frankly, this was all new to me; all the time I kept wondering whether God exists at all. And while I was bent over the Bible taking notes, I noticed for the first time a quiet voice inside of me affirming: it’s true. God is real.

The fact that the Bible spoke to me was my very first clue that God exists. All of a sudden a piece of poetry turned into something much more potent. And so the Bible unlocked the mystery of God’s presence to me. From then on I have become more and more intrigued with the Scriptures. Not sure how else to put this: The Bible is alive. It breathes God’s Spirit and reveals the truth. Translated into almost every contemporary language spoken on this planet, its message went all around the world.

Unless our vision is impaired or we are legally blind, our natural eyes are able to distinguish the things around us. However, there is a second set of eyes that God has given us. This set of eyes recognizes the spiritual world. Unfortunately at some point in the history of mankind we went spiritually blind. Thankfully God can restore our sight. All we have to do is ask.

We can pray with King David and petition the Lord to open the eyes of our heart. What happens next is God’s decision, but so much is clear: we will understand things that were incomprehensible to us before and most of all we will recognize the Lord.

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you” Paul Baloche

Psalm 119:143: “Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.”

King David loved God’s law and prayed (Psalm 119:62):

“At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.”

To be as enthused with the Law of Moses as King David professed it in the book of Psalms may strike some of us as strange. Interestingly, when the Ten Commandments were first revealed on Mount Sinai the common reaction was fear. According to the story from the book of Exodus, the people of Israel reached the Sinai desert three months after they had left Egypt and proceeded to set camp near Mount Sinai. Meanwhile Moses went up the mountain to speak with the Lord.

One day the Lord announced to Moses that He would make an appearance in the sight of all the people. This would happen three days later allowing the people to prepare for this event and get ready. And so the Israelites assembled in front of the holy mountain early in the morning of the third day. As promised, the Lord came down on Mount Sinai. While He spoke the mountain shook and fumed, lightening stroke and thunders rolled. At the foot of the mountain the people of Israel stood – shaking and trembling – while for the very first time the Ten Commandments were submitted to mankind (Exodus 20:18):

“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance.”

Fear can be a good thing that keeps us from harm. For instance the fear of getting hurt prevents us from touching fire. Children learn that really quickly. But when we grow up we use fire for our benefit. God is an eternal flame. He appeared to Moses in the form of fire, the burning bush. However it seems that over time the prophet grew past the fear of fire and a friendship developed between him and the Lord – a relationship the Bible depicts as exceptional, although I don’t believe God wants friendship with people to be an exception.

Life is more than just two-dimensional. Unless we want to live like cartoon characters, at some point in our lives we need to outgrow the idea that the world around us only falls into two categories: right and wrong; good and evil. The Lord’s commandments, written in stone, represent the stepping stones towards God’s world that knows no commands and is entirely built on love. A rigid, rule-driven life simply leaves no room to breathe. God’s commands were not written to stone us, but to guide us. King David understood that profoundly. He didn’t lead a flawless life, but he is known to be a big believer in God’s mercies.

1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

Departmentalizing is a human thing. We put God in heaven and we leave things on earth up to us, humans. And where does this leave us? “Stranded” is one way to put it. God can do immeasurably more than we can imagine. Should we therefore stop imagining? I don’t think so. John Lennon put his imagination to work, and this is what he came up with:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today”
 * Source: 1971 album “Imagine”

Controversial lyrics – especially when we happen to believe that heaven and hell are real places. – Still, I think that John Lennon’s imaginations have a method to the madness, and here it is: As long as we live on planet Earth we can contribute to making this world a better place or we can turn it into a war zone. The choice is ours.

I think one of the worst things we can do is to check out prematurely. There is no better hope than the hope for a better tomorrow, and we actively contribute to a better tomorrow with our lives today – yours and mine. If we care about people, then we literally contribute to heaven on earth. Do you think God is opposed to that? We don’t have to wait for heaven to see freedom, beauty and peace; we can live in this mindset right now. God endorsed this kind of lifestyle when He sent His Son Jesus.

Jesus became God’s physical presence here on earth when He was born in Bethlehem; this goes to show that while God is in heaven He is also right here with us. The Lord Almighty is not otherworldly as many picture Him to be; He has created every world there is, and He is particularly interested in the world we live in. God entrusted this world into our care; and this is why I believe it is our calling to care.

Let us never give up dreaming – God never does. Let us never give up on people – God hasn’t. Let us never withdraw into our own little world of exclusivity and leave the rest of the world standing in the rain. Jesus never did.

1 Peter 2:15-16: For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

In the Lord’s eyes a fool is a person who lives in God’s world but refuses to admit that God exists. This is why we read in Psalm 14:1:

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Basically this means a fool denies the obvious and does not acknowledge reality.

In his lifetime the apostle Peter wrote several letters to his congregations, two of which are recorded in the New Testament. The young congregations had to deal with a lot of harassment and intimidation. Jesus was officially declared dead. Why? He died for all to see on the cross. His death was no secret. It was a public event.

All humans die. So did Jesus. But then He rose on the third day. Saying the resurrection is real would be admitting that Jesus is beyond human – in other words He is the Son of God. The Romans who guarded the tomb of the Lord saw Jesus step out of His grave. Back then people contested this spectacular piece of information as people do these days. Again we see the pattern of a fool here: closing the eyes to the truth.

People who publicly spoke about the resurrection of Jesus Christ were openly opposed and persecuted. The apostle Peter gets to the point and says rather than fighting the opposition believers should be focusing on doing good. The blessings of a productive child of God would eventually silence the bad rumors the enemies of the kingdom of God were trying to spread. Deeds speak louder than words.

In God’s point of view, the end does not justify the means – never has and never will be. “Live as free people,” Peter says, “but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” The Crusaders back then had it all wrong and unfortunately, the Crusader’s breed hasn’t died out just yet. Make no mistake about it: Wherever we see Christians follow the wrong mantra corruption sets in. It is ironic that nowadays the worst opposition seems to come from people claiming to be Christians. But then, it’s not surprising. After all, Jesus was betrayed and delivered into the hands of the Roman authorities by His own people. And it seems that history is doomed to repeat itself.

Now that we are in the 21st century, the followers of the Way the Truth and the Life are active all over the globe. Unfortunately, wide-spread Christianity does not necessarily mean that foolishness is on the decline. We need to remember that the word “Christianity” in itself is just a label. As in Peter’s days Christians are asked to fill this label with positive meaning. Instead of focusing all our energies on opposing the opposition we want to be focused on doing the Lord’s will.

The Lord loves people. His heart goes out to them. We do God’s will when we help people and have their best interest at heart. So let’s do this. Let’s be a blessing to our contemporaries.

Matthew 12:31-32: “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

A demon-possessed, blind and mute person was brought to Jesus, and He cast out the demons and healed him. The formerly blind and mute person now spoke and was able to see. Everybody was amazed, except a group of religious leaders who tried very hard to downplay a miracle of God (Matthew 12:24):

“But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Religious leaders are supposed to know God, and they would fight you tooth and nail if you said otherwise. I personally doubt that Jesus’s contemporaries who critiqued His every move really knew God because their behavior did not show it. However, the trick is, they said so. Saying we know God on one hand and slandering God’s deeds on the other insults the Holy Spirit, and for such behavior, Jesus says, there is no forgiveness left. Why? Well, here is a surprise: God cannot forgive a person who thinks he or she is right. This seems to be the only limit to God’s mercy.

Similar to the situation with a tax collector and a religious leader who both prayed in the temple, the tax collector humbly asked for forgiveness, while the religious leader essentially congratulated himself in his prayer. Jesus points out that these two prayers have two very different outcomes (Luke 18:14):

[Jesus said] “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The only lid we can put on God’s mercy is me, myself and I. We can be the lid. We have the power to limit God’s mercy by simply stating: “I don’t need it.”

On a different note: do you think we have issues with mercy when we always try to find a reason NOT to forgive? Why do we try so hard to find boundary lines to God’s amazing grace, e.g.: “this is how far God’s mercy goes, surely God can’t forgive that!” Isn’t it interesting that we like to use the term “The sky is the limit” when it comes to success, dreams, and ambitions, but when it comes to God’s mercies we want to put a lid on? The truth is: There is no lid on God’s mercy. His mercies are new every morning according to prophet Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:22-23):

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

There is a reason why we are born naked and can’t take anything with us when we die. All we really need is God, especially His tender mercies, every waking day.

1 John 2:15-16: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

If we love the world we are part of a worldwide problem. If we love the people in the world then we are part of the solution. When the apostle John wrote his letter he didn’t want to encourage its recipients to take an eternal leave of absence and become a recluse. He wanted us to engage in peacemaking.

What are peacemakers?

Let me begin to paint the picture by saying peacemakers are no doormats. Peacemaking has nothing to do with keeping our eyes closed to avoid ruffling feathers. They have a voice and they speak up.

Even though peacemakers love people, since they are controversial they probably won’t win a popularity contest. Power-hungry people feel exposed for what they really are in the presence of peacemakers. People who are devoted to money, success and power will usually lash out and oppose peacemaking efforts every step of the way. It can get ugly sometimes. It requires guts to stand up for what is right.

As peacemakers we invest ourselves. We are passionate about people and this planet; we fight to protect the weak and better the cause of those who cannot fight for themselves. We protect our environment and become advocates; we do the little things that few notice but make a big difference.

It is difficult to swim upstream. That’s exactly what peacemakers do, all the time. Don’t even think for a moment that peacemaking is something you can do on your own. Idealistic humanitarians get stranded and it’s a tragedy when something good goes by the wayside.

Thankfully God’s goodness can’t be destroyed. God is good all the time, and we need His goodness to keep our hearts at peace. Jesus pioneered peacemaking, which is why He is called the Prince of Peace. People were drawn to Him but at the same time people were highly offended by Him. Ironically, our number one peacemaker in the world, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t go peacefully. He was brutally murdered. A genuine peacemaker as He was, He did not fight back to defend himself and yet He stood up for the truth.

To become a peacemaker we embrace Jesus. That’s how we change the world, one person at a time. Peacemakers write history. They are ahead of their time. Thanks to them humanity is still around. And thanks to peacemakers there still remains a solid hope for a better world to come.