Isaiah 53:3-4: “He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!”

Jesus was despised because we thought He was being punished by God.

That reminds me of the situation Job ran into, when He lost everything, including his health; and when he sat in the dust scratching the sores he had all over his body, his friends came and essentially said: “Everything’s your fault! God is punishing you for your sins.” Jesus experienced with Job how cruel and judgmental we can be, and of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Neither Job nor Jesus was being punished for his sins.

Whether we become witnesses of a sad scene, or we see someone at his or her breaking point, we should never jump to conclusions. In most cases our hasty conclusions are plain wrong, and the damage our snap judgment calls create may cause a lifetime of pain.

Who likes to hear that Jesus’s suffering on the cross is our fault? Well, unfortunately, it’s the truth. Jesus didn’t do anything wrong, so His pain is 100 percent our doing – but here is the good news: Jesus is not mad at us. He suffered greatly at our hands, but He suffered willingly. He wanted it that way, because His goal was to eliminate all judgment calls, whether they are inappropriate or justified. He took the blame and accepted all punishment there is. Now, what is left for us?

  • Peace – with nothing left to blame, punish, or judge;
  • Healing – coming from a Savior who has been in our shoes and has all the empathy for our cause that we can hope for.

Jesus was absolutely serious about accepting all punishment on our behalf. We can bank on that. Provided we believe that this is for real and accept His costly gift, we will indeed experience healing and wonderful peace. Jesus picks up our broken pieces and makes us whole again. It’s the beginning of a friendship that goes beyond our lifetime. And who does not want to be befriended by God’s Son?

“On my way, as I travel on this road of life, I know I’m not alone. Jesus, You are my friend.” (Song lyrics by Basically Two, Bill and Evelyn Snyder)

Philippians 1:29: “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.”

Do you think a life free from trouble brings us happiness? I’m not so sure about that. There’s a German idiom that somewhat makes fun of the desire to live in a world without problems: “Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen!” which loosely translated means: “Everything’s just hunky-dory!” I have met people who picture heaven to be a rather boring place. Their concept of heaven is a conflict-free life with nothing else to do but sitting on a cloud and singing Kumbayah. I believe we don’t give God too much credit if we have such low expectations! I suspect that heavenly peace has a lot more substance to it than just sitting on a cloud. God’s peace comes to full fruition especially in times of trouble, which is why it’s known to surpass all understanding.

I believe problems ultimately are our friends! Times of trouble, vexing issues, and even heart-wrenching suffering are an unwanted but essential part of life. Suffering shapes us, especially if we include Jesus in the equation.

The way Jesus suffered has always baffled me. He wasn’t arguing, He wasn’t defensive, He wasn’t lashing back at those who made Him suffer, yet He was no doormat either. He suffered like a champion. He was the King in chains. Pilate took note of that when he saw Jesus in his interrogation room. Pilate asked Him point-blank (Luke 23:3):

“So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied.”

Jesus took the bull by the horns and fully cooperated when He was apprehended by the Roman authorities. He knew it would happen, and He was prepared. So instead of being preoccupied with resisting His arrest and defending His case, His mind was free to look around and notice a need. Until He took His last breath He continued to make life better for the people around Him. Here is a list of things He did while on trial and even while dying on the cross:

  • He healed someone’s ear (Luke 22:49-51).
  • He made arrangements for His mother so she was taken care of after His passing (John 19:25-27).
  • He consoled the person crucified next to Him (Luke 23:42-43).

We too can take a different approach to our own suffering. As we’re trying to make sense of our bad situation, we might throw a pity party, or we might play the blame game and get angry. All these kinds of approaches are a waste of our time and energy. Whatever we’re going through, if we work through the issues instead of fighting them, our minds get freed up, and we begin to see the world around us with different eyes. We will suddenly take notice of people struggling with similar issues. And thanks to our resume of trouble we can now relate and become a blessing to them. Wouldn’t you consider this a blessing in disguise?

Each time we look up and seek God in our trouble or look around and have empathy for others in trouble, this is the beginning of what the Apostle Paul calls suffering for Christ. Paul goes as far as calling it a privilege to suffer for Christ, the best part of it being: we draw closer to God’s heart and understand Jesus just a little bit better. When Jesus suffered and rubbed shoulders with criminals, that’s when He was closest to us. And we will rub shoulders with Jesus when we suffer for Him. This will yield a blessing much bigger than we can imagine.

“What if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise”    Laura Story

 

 

John 19:1-3: “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’”

As soon as we love, we suffer. Love hurts. Everybody who decided to have kids will agree to that. Or ask anybody who fell in love and it didn’t work out. Or talk to pet owners – with a few exceptions, we are very likely surviving our pets, that means, as soon as we decide on a cute puppy or take in a stray cat, we set up our hearts to be broken. However, would we want to have it any other way? How about never having kids to spare us the worries and heartaches related to raising them? We could avoid animal shelters and pet stores for the rest of our lives to not even be tempted to bring one home. How about deciding to stay single? Our hearts wouldn’t be broken, or would they? Loneliness is a high price to pay!

Since God has lived forever and nobody has created Him, there must have been a time when God was on His own so-to-speak. I know, “God on His own” sounds a bit awkward. What I am trying to say is that before the Trinity created anything it was just the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit conversing with each other. At some point in time the Trinity decided to become parents. God wanted to have kids – knowing full well (to put it mildly) that it would upset the apple cart. God took that chance, and so He created living beings with a free will, angels, humans, animals, complete with a very complex universe, a star system that we call space and a home planet that we call Earth. And the rest is history.

Why would God set Himself up for heartache and pain? Ever since He created living beings there has been nothing but trouble: A small group of angels attempted to overthrow the existing government of the Trinity. Heaven has never been the same. War broke out, the coup d’état failed, and approximately one third of the angel population left to create their separate empire. Last I’ve heard: The relationship between the fallen angels and the Trinity has not yet been repaired.

You would think that this experience had to have influenced God’s decision to not have any more kids, however, that’s definitely not the case. In the aftermath of the revolutionary war the Trinity made plans for a new species; God decided (Genesis 1:29):

“Let us make man.”

We know what came out of that idea. Mankind left the Garden of Eden and ventured out on its own. Today’s world has people on speaking terms with God and people who are not. If we had a chance to interview God, one of the questions would certainly be: “Why did you expose yourself to so much pain by creating living beings with a free will who would spite You in Your face and hurt the world around them?” What do you think His answer would be?

If you are a parent and have several kids, some of them turned out decent adults, maybe some of them (or one of them) not so much. Would you regret ever becoming a parent? I believe answering this question puts us closer to the heart of God. God chose to become a parent because even though love hurts, according to His assessment, it’s well worth it. The joy outweighs the pain. The joy of resurrection outweighs the pain of the cross. That’s why love is willing to suffer. That’s why love goes the extra mile.

Even though it may be painful, love’s worth taking the risk. If you don’t believe me, take it from the One who has loved His creation from the beginning. God would probably say something like this: “Better to love and get hurt than not to love at all.”

“Love hurts
Love scars
Love wounds and marks
Any heart not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud, it holds a lot of rain
Love hurts”                         Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant

Psalm 139:8: “If I go up to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in hell, you are there.”

As you make your bed, so you must lie on it.” That’s one of the idioms my grandmother used to say. It meant that I had made up my mind for a certain course of action, and now I had to bear the consequences. I never liked it when she said that to me, but of course she was right. I had to own up to my mistakes and not try to blame other people. So, we all make our own beds, and we all lie in them, whether we like it or not!

The bed we make in our quote from Psalm 139 is clearly alluding to the afterlife. Looking at the Hebrew root words of this text, we read (using the OJB, Orthodox Jewish Bible):

“If I ascend up into Shamayim, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, hinei, Thou art there.”

The Hebrew word for “heaven” (literally heavens, plural), is one component of the three-part cosmos. The other two elements are Erets (the earth), and Sheol (the underworld). Shamayim is the place where God and other heavenly beings reside, Erets is the home of the living, and Sheol is the realm of the dead. No one on Earth is exempt from death; whether it’s animals or humans, Sheol cannot be avoided. We all die at some point, as we are aware.

“Go to hell!” is a rude curse word thrown at a person we deeply despise. What we mean by that could be: “I hate you, and I want you to be as far away from me as possible, I never want to see you again, just go to hell!”

Have you ever considered that sending a person to hell entails sending God to hell?

The worst place we can come up with, a place where we never want to return to – maybe something terrible we saw growing up, maybe a horrible situation we got ourselves into – let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that God was not there, because He was. God is familiar with all places, and that includes terrible places.

“Hell” by definition is a God-forsaken place, and God’s absence makes any place a hellhole. At the same time, God certainly is not oblivious to such places. Shocking as it may seem, God knows hell very well. To put it lightly, when it comes to the experience of hell, Jesus can rightfully say: “Been there, done that!” When He struggled on the cross, He cried out a prayer He remembered from the book of Psalms (see Psalm 22:1); recorded in the gospels, we read (Matthew 27:46):

“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)”

Jesus, the Son of God, for the first time ever, felt God-forsaken – and so He was. For a moment that probably felt like an eternity to Him, Jesus experienced the God forsaken-place that both humans and fallen angels have seen. Hell constitutes absence from God, and that is exactly what Jesus went through. Jesus knows what it means to hit rock bottom, and He descended to the bottom of the pit with a rescue mission: to save and to restore what is lost. On one occasion, while His disciples were competing for the best seats in God’s house, Jesus pointed out (Matthew 20:28):

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus went through hell to save us. This is wonderful news for us, because it means that no place is too low where God can’t reach us.

“There’s no mountain too high, no valley too low, no place you’ll ever find where His mercy won’t go. You can run and you can hide, but His love won’t let you get away, cause there’s no place too far from grace”            Justin Todd Herod

Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

At age 17 I realized that God is real. It was wonderful to get connected to God Almighty and to experience His love. However, the suffering of Christ was beyond me. Quite honestly, I could not grasp why Jesus had to be punished so badly to introduce us back to Heaven. It made me feel bad. So I did what I always do when I don’t understand something: I focused on the things that I did understand.

If I had to choose a favorite from among the members of the Trinity, it has always been the Father. Growing up without a father probably had something to do with it. Talking to our Heavenly Father, I was introduced to His love. And as time progressed, I could not help but notice that besides loving us, the Father dearly loves His Son. Isn’t that how it works? You get involved with one member of the Trinity, and pretty soon you get introduced to all of them: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a little bit like dating. I got to know my husband Bill as we started hanging out together, and pretty soon he introduced me to his family.

“Cheer up, God loves you” – a well-meaning statement, isn’t it? The late Rich Mullins once observed:  “God apparently has no taste since He loves everybody.” A love so vast that it includes every single person on this planet is another conundrum, hard to grasp for humans who love one person and hate another. If God loves everybody, then He also loves villains; He loves the cruel and the kind. And if we have a problem with God’s bighearted approach then we need to ask ourselves some hard questions: Shouldn’t we be glad that God loves Nero and Hitler? What hope do we have if God’s love had boundaries? Where would we want Him to draw the line? Isn’t it a better world with God’s love not limited to just a selected few? I believe it is – and this is where Easter comes in!

Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to die the way He did – nailed to two wooden beams? If you have seen any of the motion pictures showing Jesus on the cross, you too may have wondered about that. I mean, dying for us is one thing, being martyred to death is quite another! Of course, Jesus was not the only one dying on the cross. And since many criminals in the Roman Empire had to die that way, I don’t believe that Jesus’ death was meant to be a competition to die the cruelest death ever. Jesus died that way, because nailed to the cross is where He needed to be to talk to the criminals dying next to Him. They were in the same boat, and Jesus took advantage of that. Here is the unfolding conversation between the three dying men (Luke 23:39-43):

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

We understand that there’s more to having a real conversation than just being physically present. An American Indian proverb basically says that we’re not supposed to criticize people unless we have “walked a mile in their moccasins”. Well, walking in our shoes is exactly what Jesus did when He talked to the crucified criminals next to him. Being crucified with them, He was physically present and He felt their pain. That’s love going the extra mile.

How could a fire department accomplish a rescue mission without ever being on the scene of the accident? That doesn’t make much sense, does it? By the same token, God had to go through hell to pull us out of hell. That’s redemption in a nutshell! If there was a different way of saving us, I’m convinced that God would have done it. As it is, He chose His Son to perform the biggest rescue mission ever – saving the world – by dying on the cross. Thank God that He did!

“Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man”
              Rich Mullins

Psalm 55:6: “I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”

In my younger years, I used to have a stress-dream that would reoccur every once in a while. In my dream I was supposed to fly. Fighting the laws of gravity to make it happen, the biggest challenge for me always was the takeoff. – On a side note, it had never occurred to me to simply ask for help. I was used to trying harder and harder – even if it was more than I could bear. If this sounds like you, stop it! Reality check: Constant work overload will ruin your health, and that’s simply not worth it – whatever you’re trying to achieve.

Back to my dream: sometimes I was actually able to part with the ground, and once I was up there, it was easy cruising, like sailing with the wind. Unfortunately, these glorious moments were just fleeting. – I rarely got to fly, and mostly I had to work incredibly hard to take off.

Obviously, we weren’t born to fly. Birds are. From the earliest times though, there have been legends of men mounting flying devices. The Chinese have understood that hot air rises and have applied this principle to a type of small hot air balloon called “sky lantern”. Fueled by the rediscovery of Leonardo da Vinci’s realization that manpower alone was not sufficient for sustained flight, various designs of flying machines were attempted in the 17th century, but it took two more centuries to get to the powered, controlled flight pattern that we’re familiar with today.

Sophisticated technology gave mankind wings; however, have you ever noticed that our souls, too, crave freedom from gravity? As problems weigh us down and sore disappointments crush us, we want to escape such turmoil by spreading our wings and fly. On this note, in the book of Psalms King David wrote (Psalm 55:5-6):

“Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”

Gravity is not on our side, my friend! The good news is that wings are given to our soul  – not only to fight gravity, but to beat it. We are not designed to be held down. God’s intention is to lift our spirits and reunite us with Him. We are created to look up, not to look down! Whether it’s looking down on people or constantly hovering over a problem – looking down is the wrong approach; it means we are not appreciating the wings God has given us.

I believe our Creator has designed our souls to soar. Our souls are really little flying machines! Only trouble is: we have to discover our wings. So – what is holding you back? Why not looking up instead of down? Why not use the wings God has given you?

A free soul is a beautiful thing! Under the shadow of God’s wings we are free to live, free to love, free to be the way we were meant to be. And being who we are – what could be better than that?

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise”
     Paul McCartney / John Lennon

Posted in Fly

Ephesians 3:20-21: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

God can do immeasurably more than we can imagine. Should we therefore stop imagining? I don’t think so. The challenge is ours to be inspired and imagine what could be if we leave God in the equation of life, life on Earth that is. 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.

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”

Controversial lyrics – especially for people who believe that heaven and hell are real places – however I believe that John Lennon’s imaginations have a method to the madness, and here it is: As long as we live on planet Earth we have the power to make the world a better place or to turn it into a hellhole. The choice is ours.

I think one of the worst things we can do is to check out. 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 and if we don’t care about boundaries, then we literally contribute to Heaven on Earth. Do you think God is opposed to that?

God’s hopes and plans for this world blows our wildest imagination. He has good plans, plans of freedom and beauty, plans of coming together from a variety of angles and experiences, plans of discoveries and learning something new every day, plans of being there for one another as opposed to be there just for me, myself and I. We don’t have to wait for heaven to see freedom and beauty; we can live like this right now. As a matter of fact, God endorsed this kind of lifestyle when He sent Jesus with His healing touch. God is famous for making things whole. His tender heart puts our broken pieces together.

This goes to show that while God is in Heaven, He is also right here with us. He is not otherworldly; He created every world there is, and He is particularly interested in the world we live in. I think there is nothing wrong imagining that this universe is all there is, because when God created the world, He entrusted this world into our care, and caring we should!

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 most of the world standing in the rain. Jesus never did that.