Genesis 31:1-3: “Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, ‘Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.’ And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been. Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.’”

Jacob chose to pack up and leave without telling his father-in-law Laban. The relationship with his father-in-law was complicated. On one hand Laban was the father of his wives and the grandfather of his children; Laban was family! On the other hand Laban was his boss who ran a profitable family business and had been taking advantage of Jacob. After 20 years of a working relationship Jacob fired his employer by not showing up to work one day and leaving without giving any notice.

The Exit Interview

Jacob must have known that it was not very likely for his father-in-law to let him go without an explanation – which is exactly what happened. In hot pursuit Laban went after him and caught up with his son-in-law in a week’s time. Extremely offended he got right to the point (Genesis 31:26-28):

“Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’”

In response Jacob said (Genesis 31:40-42):

“This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”

Laban saw that he had lost access to his daughters and grandchildren and that he could not control Jacob. His reaction was dismissive. He was not interested in restoring family relations by picking up on what Jacob said and apologizing; instead he now perceived Jacob as a threat and felt it necessary to protect his interests by establishing a non-aggression pact.

We all deal with bad relationships in the course of a lifetime. For various reasons we cannot always choose to simply avoid the person who is bothering us; it might be a work relationship or a family member. God does not take sides in the matter because He is for every person. However, we can count on God being against sin.  So, if someone is abusive and makes our life a living hell God’s intention is to take us out of the abusive situation.  Merciful as God is His heart always reaches out to all parties, so communication is God’s attempt to set the records straight and give each person the opportunity to repent – each person – because nobody is perfect. In Matthew’s gospel we read (Matthew 18:15):

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”

If we all come to the table and communicate with the intention to listen what the opposing party has to say, there is a good chance of reconciliation. If both parties choose not to listen to each other, then reconciliation is as good as impossible. In the end, all Laban and Jacob were able to accomplish was a non-aggression pact. In God’s eyes this was not the best outcome, and sometimes we too have to live with these kinds of situations.

In our crisis management let’s always raise the bar in that we stay humble enough to listen, strong enough to seek open communication, and mature enough to understand when it is time to move on and let go of a relationship. Some things won’t resolve on this side of heaven. However, peace is promised to us; and peace we receive from the Lord who understands all things and is with us.

Isaiah 43:11-12: “‘I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God.’”

There are many gods spelled in lower case. They sound a bit like this:

“I am god; I can do whatever I want and you just have to deal with it.”

It is our exposure to such gods that tricks us into thinking we have to appease the deity somehow to win him over. We have to crawl on our bellies, cater to his whims and follow his bidding. We think with this capricious god on our side we gain power and can dominate the world just like he already does. This flawed god-perception has done a lot of harm and feeds into the attitude of an abuser. We wreck a planet to cater to our needs, and we wreck relationships because we act like little gods.

This attitude, however, is foreign to the God spelled with a capital G. This God is often mistaken to be one of the gods in lower case. I call this a tragic misunderstanding, and it leads to a couple of problems:

  1. There are people who feel extremely frustrated with the gods and they rightly say: “I’m done with gods. We are better off without them.” Atheists have my vote, any time of the day. I too am done with gods, and the older I get, it seems, the less patient I become with those unpredictable beings with the god-complex.
  2. There is another group of people who cling to the gods tenaciously in hopes to better cope with everyday living. The hotter their god-pursuit, the more fanatical they become shedding a real awkward light on the real deal, the God with the capital G. God calls His competitors “foreign gods”, because they are foreign to His character.

To distinguish Him from the lower-case gods I will call God with a capital G “Original God” going forward. Over the millennia mankind has grown used to false gods to the extent that many people have a hard time imagining there is actually a genuine One. It’s confusing, isn’t it? So the question is how do we differentiate between counterfeit and original? There are several dead giveaways which stand in stark contrast to the brazen and noisy gods competing for our attention:

Original God is subtle.

We have to search Him to find Him. Unless we take a concerted effort, get quiet and listen we won’t hear His still small voice. Another clue is His commitment to free will, and I believe this must prove difficult for the Lord at times:

Original God does not abuse His power.

We are so used to being manipulated by false gods that it escapes us how the all-powerful and almighty God would refuse to simply enforce His good will. Yes, He could do that in a heartbeat. That way He could get rid of all the false gods, but the outcome, true to His divine nature, would be highly unsatisfactory. Why? Here it is:

Original God does not seek God-copycats.

Instead He seeks face-to-face encounters with independent minds. Original God, the real deal, seeks the real deal with us and a relationship unburdened with fear and manipulation. He wants honest opinions, raw feelings, and openness. The ensuing communication flow is more precious to Him than anything else.

What does Original God do to get our attention? He reveals Himself, He saves and He proclaims; and He has been doing these three things consistently to help us out. If you are a God-seeker, welcome to His mysterious heart! You are encouraged to dive deep and explore.

Psalm 63:1: “[A psalm of David. When he was in the desert of Judah.] You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

In 2001 I moved from a rather cold and moist climate to Arizona. Soon I became an avid hiker of the local desert. We loaded up with plenty of water and usually hiked as a group. There have been known cases of inexperienced tourists strolling off into the desert with barely any water. After failed attempts to find their way back to the trailhead, they had to be rescued.

The human body consists of 65% water. The maximum time an individual can go without water is close to a week – three to four days is probably more typical and under desert conditions even less than that. One third of our global land’s surface happens to be desert. Less than one percent of our freshwater is located in lakes, rivers and swamps, which means 99% of freshwater resources is trapped underground. As a result we dig for water, which has been done since the beginning of human civilizations.

And digging we do – also in the spiritual realm. Sometimes we feel showered by the Lord’s blessings while sometimes we have to dig deep to get through to Him. Our soul gets thirsty for God just as much as our dehydrated body aches for water. It’s hard to understand the emptiness in our soul when we don’t know God, but it’s still real. Our soul has longings separate from our physical needs; and following the cravings of our soul will ultimately lead us to the Lord.

In the Lord we find everything our soul desires and King David knew that. His recorded prayers in the book of Psalms say it all (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.”

In order to thrive we need to get back to our roots and access our spiritual trailhead. A dried-out soul is a very sobering experience reminding us how much we need the Lord. Only in God are we complete. He is our home; we come from Him, and to Him we must return.

“After two days in the desert sun
My skin began to turn red
After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead”                 
Songwriters: Dewey Bunnell

Isaiah 26:4: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.”

On the road of experience accidents are bound to happen – hopefully more happy accidents than bad ones – and yet whatever comes our way, it’s a good idea to take the time to sort through these things. Not everything happens for a reason. Your birthday cake that slid off the plate and plunged down to the floor is not necessarily a bad omen for the year to come. But some things are waiting to get our attention and we won’t notice, unless we slow down.

I have found that taking time for people is no lost time at all and making memories is a very rewarding activity. Ironically, if we are in the habit of rushing through life we don’t gain time. Not only could constant hurry create accidents putting us on hold indefinitely, we also miss out on people and relationships.

Slowing down has become a lost art. We stopped walking in pursuit of flying; and so we get to places quicker and get more things done. As a result, we are caught in a whirlwind of activities. Yesterday we were still kids waiting with baited breath for Christmas morning. Today we are adults and before we know it, our hair turns grey and we detect our first wrinkles in the mirror. If we meanwhile haven’t learnt to slow down, then our aging bodies will teach us the unwanted lesson.

Norman Milton Lear (born July 27, 1922), an American television writer and producer once said in an interview:

“How can you be jaded? Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet.”

In other words, the full scope of reality always escapes us. Unless we know the future, we just don’t have the full picture. The Lord on the other hand knows the future; He is timeless. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the Creator of time, and so it makes sense to put all our time into His hands. He leads us through good and bad days.

Trust in the Lord more than you trust your own interpretations of life. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring; knowing the One who holds our future, we all stand a better chance to be at peace.

“Slow down, you move to fast. You got to make the morning last!” Paul Simon

1 King 19:4: “Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.’” *New Living Translation

In mankind’s story book, the Bible, we read about people in challenging life circumstances. In the book of 1 Kings we find a depressed prophet under a Broom tree. His name is Elijah. A Broom Tree is a desert shrub. In the Sonoran desert of the American Southwest a similar desert tree is called “Palo Verde”, which translated from Spanish means “Green Stick”. Broom Trees are similar to Palo Verdes growing leafless sticks and providing insufficient shade. Sitting under such a tree in the blistering desert sun, we can probably sympathize with Elijah’s misery.

In a previous public showdown Baal’s prophets were challenged by Elijah. Making a public spectacle of the ineffectiveness of their idols, Elijah demonstrated to the people that the God of Israel is real, awesome and above all gods. That did not go over well with the political powers in his day; hence he had to disappear for a while, which brought him to this place in the wilderness under the Broom Tree. Here he prayed to the Lord:

“Please take my life! I don’t want to live anymore. I’m done!”

Exhausted Elijah fell asleep under the tree. An angel woke him up twice and gave him food to eat and water to drink. The manna from heaven gave him a renewed sense of purpose and energy. And so the prophet made up his mind to travel to Mount Horeb, which was a long distance away. Traveling day and night he arrived eventually and spent the night in one of the mountain caves. And God asked him (1 King 19:9):

“What are you doing here Elijah?”

In an attempt to justify his long and arduous trip to the famous desert mountain he replied:

“I needed to come here. Everybody wants to kill me. There is nobody left who is on your side, Lord!”

And the Lord disagreed with the prophet, but He decided to give Him a little demonstration (1 Kings 19:11):

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’”

When Prophet Elijah stood at the entrance of his cave on the mountain, the Lord Almighty showed up. He was preceded by a windstorm, an earthquake and a raging fire. Interestingly, God was in none of these; instead He chose to be in a gentle whisper. And Elijah listened. He learnt that there was work left to do. And contrary to his opinion the Lord counted no less than 7000 people who were still on His side.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a celebrity? Most likely all of the hearsay – however, if we had the opportunity to be with that famous person we would probably see a very different side, not advertised on billboards. The same is true with God. God’s billboard is worldwide. We can see His glory in Mother Nature; and as Job describes it, we can hear His voice in crashing, fearsome thunderbolts (Job 37:5-6):

“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’”

Thunder is awe-inspiring and gets people’s attention; nevertheless, if we want to grow closer to the Lord we need to tune into His still small voice, the gentle whisper in our hearts. To get a more realistic take on a situation we are encouraged to listen to Him, just as Elijah did. As depressing as everything may be, it is never as bad as it looks. Seeking the Lord and listening to Him, we will see that God makes a way in the desert and a trail in the wilderness – against all the odds.

Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Basic blacksmithing will straighten out crooked iron bars using a fiery forge, pliers, hammer, and an anvil. Inserting the steel into the heart of the fire, they hammer away while checking the color of the steel frequently. When scrap metal has reached the optimal working temperature, it will be colored between dark orange and bright yellow, almost white. In the process of fashioning a piece of metal, an experienced blacksmith employs different techniques such as tapering (making the end pointy), flattening, or bending. Basically, a blacksmith will turn a square bar into a round, a round bar into a square, or into whichever form he fancies for his piece of work.

Guess what: we are a piece of work – not a very flattering self-assessment, but with blacksmithing as an analogy, it’s pretty obvious that there are two parties involved: a skilled craftsman and a piece of metal. The Trinity as skilled craftsmen is known to work on some pretty stubborn objects, human beings. Iron is not easily moldable, unless high temperatures and a number of tools are involved.

God’s love is the hottest flame there is; and it straightens out our crookedness. We may not like the heat of temptations, or trials and tribulations coming our way; but as we experience twists and turns, ups and downs, mountain tops and deep valleys, our character is built. When Jacob, founding father of the nation of Israel, was interviewed by the Egyptian Pharaoh towards the end of his life, he too observed that life is no walk in the park (Genesis 47:9):

“And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.’”

If we trust our Creator enough to allow Him access to our hearts, we will be molded into something beautiful and see the Trinity at work in our lives; however, there is another important character-building factor and that is people. On this note, the book of Proverbs elaborates (Proverbs 27:17):

“Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” *Jubilee Bible 2000

From a distance the face of a friend will be just a blotch in the scenery. Face-time is what we need to connect. A good friend will bring out the best in us. We find ourselves validated, uplifted, strengthened, encouraged, challenged, and sharpened.

So, if you have good friends, appreciate them today. If you have no friends, listen more closely to what others have to say. Who knows? You may make a friend today.

1 Peter 1:3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In God’s great mercy he has caused us to be born again into a living hope, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” *Expanded Bible

There are several ways to become a family member: one is to be born into a family, another is to be adopted into a family, and yet another is to marry into a family. When my husband Bill and I got married our family doubled in size because now we have in-laws. Naturally a family is not a temporary assignment. A family is for life. Unfortunately, in the real world family splits happen. Deep hurt has led to such frictions.

In God’s kingdom we essentially deal with family issues. We are all God’s creation, whether we are brought near to God’s kingdom or whether we have managed to stay away from it. The apostle Peter refers to the event of coming back together as “born again”. So does Jesus. According to Him, the kingdom of heaven consists of family members only and in order to be adopted into God’s family we have to be born again. In a conversation with a scholar named Nicodemus the Lord pointed out that rebirth is not referring to our physical but spiritual being. This is where Jesus completely lost Nicodemus. Dumbfounded he asked Him: “What do you mean?”

Some cultures ignore the spiritual aspect of our humanness altogether, while other cultures are sensitive to it; however I think we can all appreciate Nicodemus’s confusion. In response to that let’s just imagine every human to be a package that gets mailed. On our birthday the package arrives and what our parents and everybody else sees is our outward appearance; but also included in the package is our spiritual being.

The rebirth of our spiritual being could be compared to an awakening. While sleeping, we really have no idea what is happening around us. Similarly, when we are spiritually asleep, we cannot relate very well to God who is Spirit and we have trouble hearing Him. If you have ever tried to wake yourself up from a bad dream, then you know how difficult this can be. Waking up spiritually is even more difficult. We need a touch from the Lord to see His kingdom and hear His voice. He has been speaking to us all along.

Touched by the Lord, children of God are born into a living hope: eternal life. Eternal life implies living with Jesus – which starts in the here and now, to be continued when we cross over to the other side. Jesus was the First to rise and His followers shall rise too. And I believe heaven is a good place to wake up to.

Proverbs 29:25: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”

Why is it so dangerous to fall into a trap? If we could interview a rat, the answer would be: “It’s deadly!” Fearing people is dangerous, because when fear grips us it traps us. And when we are trapped, we are stuck. We are not going anywhere. People should not have that kind of power over us. In fact, God did not create people that way.

In the beginning, Adam was very much on his own. The second person that came into being was taken from his rib. Eve was part of him and as such part of mankind; so is every person born ever since. Mankind is connected and functions just like an organism. Unfortunately, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God mankind began to drift apart and also drift away from God. As a result death became part of human history.

The specific malfunction of an autoimmune disease identifies part of the body as a disease and tries to combat it; in a manner of speaking, this is exactly what we see happening in genocide: humankind kills part of itself.

Fearing people is a derivative of the autoimmune disease, because in fear we combat our own kind. This is so wrong! We should not be afraid of each other. We should love and respect each other. That’s how mankind was wired initially before we got stuck in the death trap of fear.

Jesus has set a precedent when He conquered death on the cross. He loves each and every person, but He hates the effects of the autoimmune disease. Here is what He once said in a public statement (Matthew 23:37):

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

All of humanity – not just Jerusalem – suffers from self-inflicted pain. Jesus offers us refuge under His wings. Indeed, under His wings we are at a place where we can deal with anything that comes our way. Most importantly, we are reconciled with God and set free to love; and there is absolutely no fear in love.

Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Smear campaigns are an unfortunate attempt to ruin a person’s reputation. Such campaigns are triggered when people decide to fight dirty. Spreading half-truths and lies about a person is an offence that can be brought to the court’s attention. A plaintiff must show the false communication and prove that fault amounts to at least negligence to be able to garner some sort of retribution from the opposing party for the damage done. Such lawsuits are usually reserved to clear up the good name of a business. Slandering a person because of his or her political stance or personal beliefs is a different matter entirely.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States from 1861 to 1865. He led the nation through the American Civil War, the country’s greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis and had to deal with a fair amount of slander and attack of his person culminating in his assassination in April 15, 1865. Lincoln said about reputation: “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

When people disrespect us and say all kinds of nasty things into our face, we are tempted to sink to the same level and disrespect them in return. However, that is not the way of the Kingdom of Heaven. Even though they disrespect us, we are not going to humiliate them to gain some sort of satisfaction in “payback time.” It is to our gain to maintain our integrity and take pride in what we do no matter what other people say about us.

A friend of mine has been subjected to bad press because of his beliefs. One of the things that we discussed is his feelings about the opposing party who continue to talk negatively about him. He said: “The other day I was asking myself: ‘Do I hate them?’ and the Lord asked me some simple questions in return to find out if I did. The questions were: ‘Do you wish them harm? Do you want to see them suffer for what they’ve done? Would you be happy if something awful happened to them? If the answer is “no” then you don’t hate them.’”

In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls the victims of character assassination “Blessed”. He goes on to say that believers who are slandered because of their beliefs are in good company. Prophets from long ago were subjected to the same treatment. We are called blessed because our character cannot be killed with bad reputation. In fact the opposite is known to be true; through such challenges our character is built. Thomas Paine once said: “Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us” – and I believe he is right. Let us not lose sight of whose opinion counts most. It is the Lord who knows our heart and it is the Lord who sees us through.

Exodus 34:14: “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

Browsing the internet I ran across an image the other day with a guy embracing two girls, subtitled: “This is the life” – maybe for the guy, probably not so much for the girls. “Ménage à trois” is not known to be a concept that works.

In his song “Jealous Guy” John Lennon wrote:

“I was feeling insecure
You might not love me anymore
I was shivering inside
I was shivering inside
Oh didn’t mean to hurt you
I’m sorry that I made you cry
Oh my I didn’t want to hurt you
I’m just a jealous guy”

In the realm of human relationships we run into jealousy.  The first thing that comes to mind is romantic relationships. However, there is also jealousy among siblings, jealousy at work, jealousy over physical appearance and talent, and the list goes on and on. So, it’s hard not to run into jealousy – one way or another we all have to deal with it. Some people are more prone to jealousy than others, but I believe everybody has felt it at some point – that twinge of anger rising up inside of us when we feel slighted.

Curiously, in the closing chapters of the book of Deuteronomy we read about a jealous God. What is that all about? Why would He be jealous, a God who can make anything, who has everything, the all-powerful, all-knowing and amazing God – why would He say: “You made me jealous!” to mere humans?

Actually, we should feel honored that God is jealous of us. If He wasn’t, we wouldn’t mean that much to Him. As it is, we mean the world to Him – so God gets angry when we are more interested in xyz than in Him. Never mind that He created xyz, and He could probably replace xyz in a heartbeat with another more dazzling creation. However, that is totally beside the point, because we matter to Him, and it’s our undivided devotion that He is looking for.

So, God is jealous because – yes, you have guessed it – He loves us with a passion.  That’s an important part of God to understand. Never forget, it’s the Passion of the Christ that led to the cross and His subsequent resurrection. Without passion there is really no Easter. Passionate as He is, God will be most offended by our indifference – and Jesus calls such attitude “lukewarm” (Revelation 3:16):

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

– Spoken like a true jealous Son of God! His love is a hot burning flame and knows no compromise; and we know that such love is worth our trust.