Luke 9:23-24: “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

In chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel we read about the tell-tale signs that Jesus’ ministry on Earth was coming to a close. On His way to Jerusalem where His own life would be taken Jesus addressed the crowd with the following words: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it.” Jesus walked the talk. He did not hang on to His own life; giving up His life He saved it when God resurrected Him on the Third Day; and by freely giving His life He ultimately saved ours.

However, ever since we walked out on Eden we’ve been in the habit of hanging on to our own life, our own way, and rely on our own best judgment. It’s the human condition. “East of Eden”, a novel written by John Steinbeck and transformed into a movie in 1955 is showcasing the pain of faltering human relationships. There’s plenty of pain involved living outside of Eden; though we’ve also experienced the amazing goodness of the Lord for not dropping us like a hot potato. Once life on Earth becomes a mere memory, we are able to look back and recognize without a shadow of a doubt that life without God is no life at all.

After Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave He sat down at the right hand of God. That says it all. He is a hero in the Father’s eyes because what His heart wanted most – extending grace to all His estranged children – is now happening on any given day. People realize one by one that they are loved by God, that the doors to reconciliation are wide open. Reunions take place. People find Heaven or Heaven finds them. Jesus’ sacrificial death enables grace upon grace!

If food goes bad we throw it in the trash. When mankind turned bad God didn’t do that. The longer we’ve lived seeing what is happening on this planet (and has been going on for generations) the more God’s belief in us becomes apparent. Yes, this is an astounding fact: God believes in us – so much so that He bet His Son’s life on it. He invests in us by withholding nothing and giving it all! If God so full-heartedly believes in us, shouldn’t we believe in Him?

John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”

Airports are an awesome place to visit.  All kinds of drama will take place at the gate where passengers either depart or arrive. There are tears of joy when loved ones arrive, while in the departure zone arms are holding on just a little bit longer when it’s time to say goodbye. I believe the same kind of drama – or maybe more so – is going on in the spiritual world around us when a child of God comes home!  We can read about that in the 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel. In this chapter Jesus tells us a story about a son who first went missing and then thankfully returned home. Every day the son’s father was standing at the edge of his property checking to see whether or not his son was coming home. And when he finally was, he ran! The father rushed out to meet him and received him in a warm embrace. What a huge relief, jubilant joy is written all over this moving scene! We can tell from that story that Heaven’s door is truly wide open for anyone who wants to return to God.  It gives us a glimpse of God’s yearning heart.

Let’s go back to the airport for a minute: When parents are seeing off their grown-up kids in the departure zone do you think it’s “out of sight, out of mind” once their children boarded their plane? If you are a parent you’re probably shaking your head in disbelief right now.  “What a weird question!” you’d say, “Of course not!” Well, neither does our Heavenly Father ever lose sight of any of His children. His heart is always with them – from their first cry to their very last breath.

Have you ever noticed that we remain our parent’s children, no matter how old we become? There is no age expiration date like: “Oh you’re 21, now you’re on your own, buddy!” In the same fashion we’re always God’s sons and daughters, we’re always His children, no matter how much time passes. Why am I writing that? Well, I noticed that we have mixed feelings towards getting older. While we gain experience with advanced age we really don’t like to be called “old.” Have you ever picked up on the saying: “It gets old”, which basically means we’re getting tired of something? Using “old” and “tired” interchangeably is just one of many indicators that old age is simply not very popular in our culture.  I think it’s good to step out of our culture’s way of thinking from time to time and try to see things a little differently.  Age groups should not define who we are; and although our bodies wear out, our soul will not. Our soul is ageless and lives forever!

Our time on Earth on the other hand is very limited and will be over sooner or later. So one day each one of us will be able to look back and remember the good ol’ days on Earth, which compared to eternity is just a bleep on the radar, a tiny second; nevertheless it is a consequential and meaningful second, a time where we can make an enormous difference. Our time on Earth is precious; it’s the chance of a lifetime! Looking back on our life there might be some regrets – and I am absolutely certain we will not be regretting that we did not make more money. We might be regretting moments we have missed with our loved ones, or, we might be regretting if we missed significant God-moments. His heartbeat is pulsating all throughout creation, and yet somehow we missed it. He writes us love letters with every glorious sunrise and sunset, and still, we missed that. He intervened on our behalf through His Son Jesus, and we missed it. He is the Father who constantly keeps an eye out hoping to see us coming to rush into our embrace. Let’s not miss out on His embrace – let’s not miss out on the most important things in life!

Here on Earth we will leave a legacy. We will leave behind all the love that we give and the difference that we make as a result. Obviously, we won’t be able to make a difference on Earth once we passed on; David once pondered about that praying (Psalm 30:9): “What will you gain if I die, if I sink into the grave? Can my dust praise you? Can it tell of your faithfulness?”

So let’s make a difference now, while we’re still here; I believe this is what the Psalmist is referring to in his beautiful prayer: “teach us to realize the brevity of life.” Each moment here is a gift. We need to use it wisely.

“Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life. I love You!”

Genesis 41:51-52: “Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, ‘God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.’ Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, ‘God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief.’”

The other day Joseph’s son accidentally ran into a stranger as he was running backwards to catch a ball. The stranger, clearly annoyed, yelled at him: “Hey you! What’s your name?” “I Forget” “No really! What’s your name?” “My name’s I forget” “You’re weird! How can you forget your own name?”

Of course I made this up, but couldn’t a conversation like this potentially happen if you apply names to your children that mean a lot to you but maybe not so much to your children? The names of the two brothers Ephraim and Manasseh represent his father Joseph’s life experience. And what a life experience he has had! A roller coaster of events one might say: from favorite son of his father Jacob back home to slave in a foreign country; from a no-name slave in Egypt to Potiphar’s Personal Attendant; from Potiphar’s Personal Attendant to a forgotten prisoner in an Egyptian dungeon; from a forgotten prisoner to the Prison Warden‘s Assistant Manager; from the Prison Warden’s Assistant Manager to Pharaoh’s Second in Command. That’s Joseph’s story, and so he named his kids “Forget” and “Fruitful” because God made him forget the past and made him fruitful in a foreign country. His own name was changed from Joseph to Zaphenath-paneah as if to make the transition into his new life complete. A different name, a different life, a different identity!

Well, not quite! Joseph’s past would catch up to him when a worldwide famine brought his brothers to his doorsteps – the same brothers who sold him to the Midianites as a slave to teach him a lesson. The lesson they tried to get across to Joseph: “You may be Dad’s favorite but you’re not better than we are!” As it turned out, they too had to learn a lesson or two. Lesson #1: You will be treated just the same way you’ve been treating others.  Lesson#2: Lies will eventually catch up to you. More than two decades went by when a time of testing came for both parties: Would Joseph bear a grudge? Would his brothers finally get real? The story fortunately ends on a happy note: his brothers confessed the ugly details of what they have kept secret for so long and Joseph completely forgave them. As a result the family was reunited, a dead relationship rekindled and his family saved from starvation in a seven-year drought. Joseph lived up to his new name Zaphenath-paneah. Zaphenath-paneah means, “He who calls is life” or “God speaks life”, and Joseph certainly spoke life into a very bad situation.

The question on my mind today is: what kind of words do I speak over my bad situation? Do I assess it, call it “bad” and be overcome with grief or do I assess the situation and pray to God who might see some potential? When God speaks, life flourishes.  That’s His very nature.  We see the world around us as living proof. Connected with Him we can become His Life agents. We see someone struggling with addiction, and we speak life into the situation.  We struggle with unemployment, our health, our finances, and we find that God is navigating us through very confusing times – if we dare to look up. Joseph put his trust in God when people meant to harm him, and we need to do the same. We need to stop obsessing and start confessing that we do not need to be in control. Even though it’s quite unsettling to let things go, at the same time I have to say it’s a huge relief for me. And the lesson in trust can be quite rewarding if we look into Joseph’s life. The same God Joseph believed in we believe in today. Your faith transforms into your very own life’s story, and you’ll encourage more people than you’ll ever know!

Isaiah 43:2; “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”

 

 

 

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19: “I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea. “But forget all that— it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

Robert Frank, a Swiss immigrant to the United States of America, became a famous art photographer. He traveled through the country taking iconic pictures that made him “The Man Who Saw America”. Seeing life from a different angle is expressed in one of his famous quotes: “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” In a similar fashion God is asking us today to open our eyes to see.  The question: “Do you not see it?” challenges all people who feel stuck. All they can see is untamed wilderness, impassable obstacles, impossible living conditions, unsolvable problems.  God speaks into their bewilderment by repeatedly asking: “Do you not see it?”  In other words: “The solution is here, right in front of you.  You’re too clogged up to even notice.”

There was a man named Jacob, one of the many descendants of Abraham. On one memorable day, following a spectacular God-moment, Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel” which translated means “Strong Man of God”. This Strong Man of God also had many descendants.  As fate would have it, his descendants got stuck in Egypt where they had been enslaved.  When the time came to leave, the children of Israel migrated from Egypt to a piece of Real Estate located on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. In order to arrive there they had to pass through treacherous desert terrain with their Egyptian slave-masters on their heels. The Egyptians were eventually finished off as they were beginning to close in on the children of Israel. They ran into the Red Sea – an impassable obstacle without a boat.  But the Red Sea was momentarily held back by its Creator so that the children of Israel could pass through.  When they arrived on the other side of the seashore, the Red Sea went back to its normal state drowning the persecuting Egyptians. On this day one can say that the nation of Israel was born. A pivotal point in the history of a nation and a great example of how God makes way in the desert removing impassable obstacles!

However, now the Lord says: “Forget the miracle at the Red Sea! This miracle is nothing compared to the miracle about to happen.” God is comparing one miracle with another here, and He basically says that the second miracle is greater than the first. Evidently, His people were so taken by the first miracle that they were not even expecting a greater one. Yet, in hindsight, we all know that the second miracle that was about to happen in Israel would become world-renowned: The birth of the Messiah! The birth of a nation versus the birth of the Messiah – we find that both are miraculous, but the second miracle is greater than the first because it concerns all people and has worldwide consequences.

Now in the aftermath of all these events still the question remains: Can you see it?  Sometimes one can’t see the forest from the trees and after a 2000-year coverage of the Jesus-event there is a forest of information out there – but really only one piece of information needs to be zeroed in on: the one tree Jesus was nailed to. Looking at this one tree, Jesus’ death and resurrection pulls it all together, draws every human being from any nation to Him, because regardless of who we are and where we are from, we all seek our way through the wilderness of life, and in the end, we all die.  The good news is that Jesus has passed through the impassable, and conquered the impossible: which is death. That would be a pivotal point in the history of mankind! The tree Jesus was nailed to stands for victory over death and offers the fruit of the Tree of Life to you and me: Life Eternal.

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see Jesus!”(Paul Baloche’s song lyrics)

2 Corinthians 5:17: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

A complete makeover!  We all know these TV shows showcasing women who are brought to a beauty salon and fashion boutique for a quick change, head to toe. The most impressive part comes at the end, when the audience is presented with the contrast of the before and after. It is sometimes amazing how different a person can look within a short period of time! However, a physical makeover is really a far cry from what is happening spiritually when a person is made new as Paul describes in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul is addressing a God-inspired transformation process resulting in a person with a completely new outlook on life. The work of the Holy Spirit has a profound effect on the human psyche, and the difference between the state of mind before and after the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit could not be more dramatic.

It is hard to come to a good understanding of the kind of transformation Paul is talking about here. Nicodemus, a spiritual leader of his time and contemporary of Jesus was exploring the same issue in a personal conversation with Him.  We read in the third chapter of John’s gospel how Jesus uses the phenomenon of human birth and compares it to the phenomenon of spiritual birth. When a baby is born everybody understands that a new person who has never existed before is entering this world. This baby is not a mere copycat or an upgraded version of a previous human being; it is a brand-new individual who has never existed before, and is completely unique. The variety of human DNA is known to be endless; no human DNA is alike; as published in the Ensembl database of the European Bioninformatics in July of 2012, the total length of the human genome is over 3 billion base pairs. That number is expected to increase as further personal genomes are sequenced and examined. This gives us a rough idea of a human being’s uniqueness.

While human birth brings forth a brand-new individual, spiritual birth brings forth a brand-new believer. A person, who previously did not believe in the miracle of Christmas and Easter, now believes.  A new believer is born into God’s family, and as such, Jesus explains, this person is born again. All of this ties into Paul’s description of a new life. The newness of believing is just as much a miracle as a new human being entering this world. However, it is only the beginning. The transformation process following spiritual birth is yet another wonder to behold. Both the spiritual birth and the gradual transformation are the work of the Holy Spirit.

We see the Holy Spirit at work all over the Bible, a prominent Bible record being in the first chapter of Genesis. There we read that during the creation process, God’s Spirit moved, brooding over a formless mass to overcome chaos and to create new life. Imagine – the same Holy Spirit hovering over the surface of the deep is now hovering over your heart to overcome confusion and to create a new sense of being, an awakened state of mind, an acute awareness inside of you. This opens up a whole new world around you, a world where God is alive as opposed to a world where God simply is not part of the equation.  The same powerful God who spoke life over the surface of the deep when He created the world now speaks life into your own heart; His Word changed the world in ages past and can change your world today. “For the Word of God is alive and powerful.” (Hebrews 4:12).

“Dear Heavenly Father, it is a miracle that we are.  Thank You for eternal life.”