1 Peter 5:8-9; “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

The worst bear attack in Japanese history killed seven settlers in Rokusensawa, Sankebetsu, Tomamae, Rumoi, Hokkaidō, Japan. The incident took place between December 9 and 14, 1915, after a large brown bear woke up from hibernation and repeatedly attacked several houses in the area. At the time of the incident, Ōkawa Haruyoshi, the son of the Sankebetsu village mayor, was only seven years old. But he grew up to become a dedicated bear hunter and swore an oath to kill ten bears for every victim of the attack. By the time he reached the age of 62, he had successfully tracked and killed 102 bears.

The gruesome event in Japan, while tragic, also illustrates human tendencies to overshoot. Ironically, only a few decades later one of the endangered species listed worldwide was the Grizzly Bear. It’s an exception that human beings are hunted down by an animal. Usually it’s the other way around. We are the hunters.

In the spiritual world, however, the tables are turned; we are being hunted. Peter is using the imagery of a wild man-eating lion to depict a situation hard to digest. Personally, I don’t like to dwell on this topic too much and leave the monsters up to God who has an angel army fighting for His children. I don’t believe it is irresponsible to think this way. Clearly, the enemy force described in the Scriptures goes way beyond our own capacities and resources. Why even bother? So, I hide behind the Lord, so-to-speak. Call me a coward; quite frankly, I don’t care.

Peter reminds us in his letter to be aware of an enemy force whose profession it is to hate everything God has made, us included. It does not matter whether or not we believe in the existence of such forces. The devil does not need us to believe in him. He does what he does with and without our permission. The only way to resist him is in faith.

Psalm 91 talks about that (Psalm 91:9-13):

“If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.”

Loving the Lord is our protection from anything life throws at us. It may not be evil forces attacking us when something goes terribly wrong – I don’t like to see the devil behind every bush – but regardless how bad things are, we are going to be OK. The Lord makes all the difference in the world. We are going to get through everything. In God we trust. He will never let us down. My favorite psalm expresses this beautifully, and I want to close with these words today. The Lord says in Psalm 91 (Psalm 91:15):

He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

There is a lot of saving to be done from God’s end. What does He save us from? What is boils down to, He saves us from ourselves. We have the potential to destroy ourselves in the course of a lifetime. There is no formula with which we can beat the restlessness that lurks in every human heart. There is only one known cure: the restless heart finds its way back home. Our home base is Heaven. That’s where we belong. Nothing on Earth replaces Heaven. There are cheap imitations, but they don’t work. Our restless heart needs the real thing.

God is real. He is actually more real than reality around us. The things that we can touch, see, hear, smell and taste are here today and gone tomorrow. God on the other hand stays around forever.

We are not alone. God created a lot of life, and He didn’t stop with the human race. He is the Creator of an entire universe. The life He created has the ability to make independent decisions, which is risky. It means that any of the life forms He created could potentially turn against Him. And as a matter of fact, that has happened.

If reality was a river, the stream would pull us in all kinds of different directions. There are forces pushing and pulling that are clearly beyond our control. We should be aware that some of the forces we are encountering clearly hate God. Those forces are responsible for God’s misrepresentation. Thankfully, there are also good forces at work representing Him well; those are the ones who independently decided for God, not against Him.

Picture yourself in the middle of such a ferocious wild stream. If you like river rafting you might even enjoy life’s wild ride. To make it through though, we too have to make up our minds about God.

Nothing is as cut and dry as we wish it to be. We may have decided to side with the Lord yesterday and have turned our backs on Him today. Life is ferocious; the waves are over our heads. God knows. He once lived on Earth as a human being. He has literally been there, done that. Jesus has since returned to Heaven, but His heart is still here. Putting our faith in Jesus, we will not be disappointed. He is our Savior. That’s who He is.

If we fail, God forgives us in a heartbeat. We all need grace. We get another chance and start over. And here is the good news for you and me: God is never running out of grace.

Isaiah 40: 6-8: A voice said, “Shout!” I asked, “What should I shout?” “Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord. And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”

The late Jimmy Griffin wrote:

“Let time stand still, life ends too soon til it’s all over – Dance on the Moon!”

We’re subject to time. There is no way around it. Time marches on like an army. We cannot stop the clock. There is no turning back, even though we like to reminisce. Very interesting movies have been created around this topic speaking about time travelers changing the past and thereby changing the future.

Now that I think about it, we are changing our future every minute when we change our minds. Though time marches on, which is predictable to the millisecond, the wild card always is people. People usually don’t march to the beat of time. There is nothing predictable about people, even though, if asked, the majority of them would like to predict their future. However, nobody can. And that’s beautiful.

Where is God in all this? He is all over the place. As the creator of time, He is present everywhere at the same time, the past, the present and the future. That’s why we say that God is in control. Our future is in His hands. I still hesitate to say that God controls our future. The way I understand Him, He likes surprises. Granted, it’s hard to surprise the Holy One who has seen everything, but why, do you think, did He give us free will? I believe He hates predictability and loves ingenuity.

Now, there is one thing predictable about life on Earth. Prophet Isaiah mentions it as he compares us to the grass of the field. Grass fades away. Flowers bloom, and then they wither and die. We all age. It is wise to keep that in mind as we go about our business. Our bodies are not wired to live on in perpetuity. Life as we know it, our earth time is limited.

However, beyond that, anything is possible on a day to day basis. All we need to do: take advantage of the time given to us. We know that life on Earth is not everything there is; there is more to come; our souls and spirits live on – but that is beside the point, because right now we are in the current chapter of our lives. Life on Earth is precious. We have so much to give, more than we are aware of, probably. We need all the time we’ve been given to live to our full potential.

If we feel we have wasted our lives, think again. Though we’re not time travelers who can go back to the past and fix things, we have a more powerful tool available: There is always time to change our minds and do things differently. Jesus makes all things new. He has the power to turn our lives around.

Last but not least, enjoy life and be thankful. Leaving this life is bittersweet. It’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s beautiful to say hello on the other side.

2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Denise Schmandt-Besserat is professor emerita of Art and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and has explored the origin of writing and counting. She says:

“Writing may have been invented independently three times in different parts of the world: in the Near East, China and Mesoamerica. The cuneiform script, created in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, ca. 3200 BC, was first. The evolution of writing from tokens to pictography, syllabary and alphabet illustrates the development of information processing to deal with larger amounts of data in ever greater abstraction.”

Before the written word, there was “only” the spoken word. Verbal communication was king, which meant stories had to be told and retold to be carried on to the next generation. God has always connected with us humans. Whether or not we were illiterate did not matter. Early on, people who were touched by God told other people about it. Stories were told and retold and became an innate part of their cultural identity. As a result, God is remembered all throughout the world. He left His footprint everywhere. When people started writing, they started writing down God’s story with man, which is His story, or if you put the two words together: History.

Our History with God eventually became the Scriptures – a collection of verbal communication that is, especially the more dated books of the Old Testament. The New Testament is a collection of books written by authors who were already steeped in the culture of the written word and familiarized with abstract thinking. Paul, who wrote at least thirteen letters that are included in the New Testament, is a good example. His letters clearly go beyond story-telling digging deeply into the matter of truth-finding. However, there are still enough people around who do not exactly relish abstract thinking. I personally love the fact that Jesus was a great storyteller. I can retrieve gold nuggets from His parables, while I’m sometimes stumped by Paul’s interesting but hard-to-digest letters. This goes to show that God has something to say for everybody – the intellectuals among us and the ones that like it short and sweet.

The very fact that God hasn’t stopped communicating is a sign that He loves us. He wants to speak to us – verbally and in writing – and He does not want this to be a one-way-street. We can respond to His written communication – verbally and in writing – and then we have what we call a prayer life. Most importantly, we will become part of His story, and isn’t that a wonderful thing?!

John 6:20: “But Jesus called out to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. You know who I am.’”

A ghost haunts a house because it has no place to go. Essentially, ghosts dwell in the past in lack of a better future. Why am I writing that? Good question. I’m not sure why, but I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about ghosts of the past. You know how it is – we all have good memories and bad. The bad ones we like to bury, the good ones we like to keep. Sometimes, a bad memory slips out of the grave and creeps back into our thought life. I believe the reason is almost always unfinished business.

Ever since my near death experience I feel like I have to hurry up to get everything done on my dream list, and I have quite a few dreams that I would like to see come true. I think there is nothing wrong about having a bucket list, however there is something wrong with thinking about death every time when a physical symptom of any kind pops up. That’s the ghost haunting me, and I believe I can let that go if I want to.

Jesus was mistaken for a ghost a couple of times.

One time He was walking on water in the middle of the night during a raging storm. Understandably, His disciples weren’t expecting Him. They were battling the storm in a tiny boat. Jesus was not on board; and as they were fighting to keep this boat afloat, they noticed a figure approaching them, stepping over the foaming waves like treading solid ground. Matthew, one of His disciples, wrote (Matthew 14:26):

When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.

Nobody expected Jesus, especially not walking on water in the middle of the night, and yet there He was!

The other time Jesus was mistaken for a ghost was right after His resurrection. Again, nobody expected Him walking around. He got killed publicly three days before, so seeing Jesus waltzing in where His friends were assembled was probably similar to seeing a ghost; or a walking dead; something like that! Jesus has a refreshing approach regarding ghosts. Here is what He says (Luke 24:29):

“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Jesus is definitely not a ghost, so that is the good news! The bad news is, ghosts may not be physically present, but they can scare us nonetheless. Jesus is obviously unafraid of the terrors of the night. He experienced death and resurrection; in fact, He is the Resurrection and Life. That’s something solid to hold onto when it comes to our unresolved fears.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus wants us to be free from fear. A fear-driven life is no life at all. A love-driven life however has the power to wake up the dead. There is no fear in love. Jesus is our prime example. Let Him deal with our ghosts so we can live!

“When my hopes and dreams are far from me
And I’m running out of faith
I see the future I picture slowly fade away
And when the tears of pain and heartache
Are pouring down my face
I find my peace in Jesus’ name” Ryan Stevenson

Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Here is a way to get rid of your personal burden: carry someone else’s burden!

I don’t think we’re meant to be stuck in our own little world. We can get eaten up by our own problems big time. Preoccupied, we don’t even notice when someone else is down and out. Or if we notice, we look away because we couldn’t bear another person’s burden on top of ours.

We have to take care of ourselves first, and then we can help others. Right? Well, that’s not how it works according to the law of Christ Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians. As strange as it seems, we do not take care of ourselves first; instead we take care of another man’s burden.

What happens to our own burden in the process? Obviously we have to set it aside for a while until we’re through dealing with the other person’s issue. Since this is the law of Christ we’re talking about, Jesus will be all over this situation. Don’t underestimate the benefit of helping someone. We will feel good about it. Almost always we learn something.

Here is the thing about our own burdens and responsibilities: We are not supposed to carry them in the first place. Carrying each other’s burden is the law of Christ, which means Christ Himself does not carry His own burden, no, He carries ours. And He invites us to carry His yoke, which He says is light.

We are supposed to let go of all our burdens. If you feel irresponsible about that, think again. We’re born to be free. Unburdened, we look around and see people into the eye. We are fully present. We can truly contribute to this day and age because we are not weighed down or held back by our own problems and issues. That’s why the law of Christ is such a blessing to our society. Hospitals; charity work; animal shelters – all of the above is based on the law of Christ. Take all of this out of the equation, and we would have to face a very brutal reality.

Our world runs on kindness and empathy. Angels will cheer us on as we get on board with the law of Christ, let go of our own burden and help the person next to us.

“I’m gonna lay down my heavy load down by the riverside. Ain’t gonna study war no more” – Mark Braud

Proverbs 15:23: “Congenial conversation—what a pleasure! The right word at the right time—beautiful!”

Communication happens all over the planet. It’s what I call “the traffic flow between minds”. Sometimes that traffic doesn’t flow so well. We don’t get through to another person and vice versa. If we run into a series of bad communication with certain people, we will mostly avoid them, if at all possible.

Being on the same page with someone is more than just a pleasant feeling. In a lively conversation, sparks are flying, inspiration takes place, and we feel exhilarated. Another great aspect of a great conversation is feeling understood.

Silence is golden only to a degree. Of course we all need to give our mouths some rest, otherwise there is communication overload. At the same time we are made to communicate, that pretty much is the essence of life. If we have issues getting the word out or problems taking information in, then we have to work on that. Bad communication skills will isolate us.

God is a beautiful communicator. He can be loud and in your face in an extreme case scenario, but typically His way with people is laid-back. He gives us space. He is curious what we have to say. He loves our minds and He especially loves a good exchange of thoughts, which will inevitably happen in our prayer life. God’s input is always golden.

Granted, it’s not easy to get a communication flow going between Heaven and Earth. We all need help in that department. I find it not easy to pray. But trust me, God does not leave us hanging. He has a vested interest in us praying. God wants to speak with us, and He will open Heaven’s door any time we knock. His door swings wide open. He loves us so much!

There are disturbances that get in the way of our prayer. Sometimes we really have to want it to make it happen. We get distracted so easily. However, our prayer life is well worth fighting for. We will quickly discover that having conversations with God makes way for great conversations with people. It’s only natural since our Creator is connected with all of His creation, and as such He’ll give us insider information. We’ll be able to be a little more appreciative and understanding towards the people in our lives.

We all win when we pray. I dare say, the best thing happening in our lives is having a conversation with God Almighty.

“You say it best when you say nothing at all.” Ronan Keating