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SEA URCHIN

The sea urchin drifted into my quiet time recently with great persistence. So, I dug up a little information on them to see what they had to share. As one of the oldest animals on Earth, also known as the porcupine of the sea, the red sea urchin can live to be 100 or as much as 200 + years old (OR State Univ, 2019). Urchins range in an array of colors from green, purple, red, brown and many more. Urchin means hedgehog and if you look up an image of one you will see the resemblance. Without a bone in their body and no obvious eyes, sea urchins use their entire body to respond to light; even their feet aid them in seeing (Cape Clasp). Their mouths have multiple jaws and a chewing structure known as Aristotle’s lantern. Their body has a protective cover made from a shell-like structure called a test (Klappenbach, 2021).

            I find their God-given design fascinating, but what struck me the most was their response to light with their whole body as way to see. In the depths of the ocean, you may think it is complete darkness, but I found out recently by watching Welcome to Earth, hosted by Will Smith on the National Geographic channel, (I highly recommend all six episodes), that the ocean floor is gleaming with light and color, especially at night. This natural chemical process called bioluminescence illuminates the water like dazzling stars, in multiple colors, allowing living things to produce light in their bodies (Good Living, 2021). Again, I am in awe of God’s design.

            Color and light are related in many ways. You could say we are God’s prism- His light shines into our lives and illuminates us and refracts back out into the lives of others, bringing with it an array of color to those around us. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12, ESV). He adds color and light to our lives. His light embodies grace and truth (Brand, 2015).

            There are many references to light in the Bible, but I want to turn to colors, which also hold significant meanings. White can be symbolic of purity and joy, red can stand for sin or Christ’s blood, while black is usually associated with judgement or death. We also see purple as a prominent color used to dye garments, such as a robe worn by Christ and other priests in the tabernacle. Did you know that the name Colossae got its name from a Latin word meaning “purple wool” because the area produced and dyed wool?

            There are many ways we can describe light and color as it pertains to Jesus Christ and our lives, but bringing it back to the sea urchin, I see this little creature as symbolic of our own lives with Christ at the center. When we put Him first, we naturally respond to His light and move towards Him, we don’t have to see Him with our eyes to know He is present and that He is protecting us. He gives us Spiritual armor, and when we put it on along with zeal as a cloak, we clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ Himself (Is. 59:17). When we trust God to lead us through the darkness of this world, even when we feel like our heads are under water, His light will see us through. We have a guaranteed inheritance, when we believe in Him, and He seals us (protected and preserved) with the promise of the Holy Spirit, until we gain possession of it (Eph. 1:13).

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is. 60:1).

“The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph. 5:9).

References

Brand, C., ed., (2015). Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Nashville: B & H Publishing.

Cape Clasp. (2020, August 10). https://www.capeclasp.com/blogs/cape-clasp-blog/5-facts-about-sea-urchins

Good Living. (2021, May 12 )https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/goodliving/posts/2018/04/sea-sparkle#:~:text=The%20bioluminescent%20sea%20will%20glow,a%20light%2Dproducing%20marine%20creature.

 Klappenbach, Laura. (2021, October 2). Round Echinoderms:. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sea-urchins-and-sand-dollars-129946

Oregon State University. (2019, July 13). https://today.oregonstate.edu/archives/2003/nov/red-sea-urchins-discovered-be-one-earths-oldest-animals

SACRIFICES

Jesus died on the cross for you and me. What does that mean to you? Really stop and think about that. Let it sink in. I had the chance to do that recently when I was sitting in meditation with the Holy Spirit.

Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice for someone He loved. I heard this question.

What are you willing to sacrifice for those you love?”

I began to think how small my little sacrifices really are. But little though they may be, in the light of what Christ did for us, the Father still takes delight in them. Both parties are blessed, although sometimes I think I am blessed more than those I am helping.

The sacrifices He asks of us may get bigger as we grow in our faith. But our love for others will overshadow the sacrifice if we have Jesus in our hearts. He will ask more of us, but we will be equipped to handle it and be blessed through it.

This message is humbling, and I don’t take it lightly. It helped me put my existence into perspective. We may think the things we are doing are big sacrifices but compared to Christ they are minute. God knows our hearts and our motives. If we do even the small things in love, they will be honored.

“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” ( I Peter 1:18-19, ESV).

SEEDS OF HOPE

A lot of people are searching for something to fill the gaps left in their hearts from the death of a loved one, addiction, divorce, rejection, illness, and on and on and on. But we can ask God to fill the gap. I was one of the searchers for most of my life. I can tell you from one painful experience to another, that there is no man on this earth that will ever give you what you are searching for. God is the only One who can redeem that pain and fill all the crevices of our hearts.

He can plant seeds of hope that will grow over time to more than fill the gaping holes in our hearts and give us purpose, love, and light again.

“I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14)

We are dependent on God, but He is not dependent on anyone. He created everything in existence. We can take great comfort in that fact. He created us to be dependent on Him for all our needs. He delights in giving us good gifts.

We are who we are because of Him. God is all-encompassing without limitations. He is our Heavenly Father who wants a closer relationship with us. If we work on that relationship first and foremost before we go looking for someone else to fill the gaps of loneliness and heartache, He will give us enough to overflow into the lives of others. At the right time, He will send someone as a companion for us if it is His will. God plants seeds of hope in gaping hearts.

So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters are anything, but only God, who makes things grow ( I Cor. 3:7, NLT).

DIVINE INTERVENTION & GRACE

The human condition requires Divine Intervention because man by nature is sinful, and we are not capable of saving ourselves. Human effort to cover up and hide from sin is futile and leads to destruction as we saw with Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:7-8, ESV). God is the only answer because He is Holy and set apart from sin. Without Christ as the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, we would have no hope of salvation. Because of one man’s sin, we are all condemned, but by one act of righteousness, we are all justified (Romans 5:18). For me, God’s Divine Intervention was a wake-up call to start paying attention. It came in the form of an accident that somehow spared my life but took the life of my sister. It came when my abuser threw me out, even though I could not see it at the time. It came when God helped my dad hang on to life long enough to get my mom buried and pass himself only six days later. God’s mercy and goodness are no match to our brokenness. His will always prevails; thankfully, He wants the best for us and the greater good. It is like a factory reset button; to clean out the cobwebs we created and have a fresh start on a new path forward.

            Without grace, we would not have a clean slate to move forward. No matter how much good we try to do we can never be good enough to cover the sin in our lives. Ryken, 2013 makes a great point, “when we finally become convinced of our lost and sinful condition—with all its deadly consequences—then we cry out for the kind of help that only God can give.” I can relate to this statement as I finally asked God what He wanted for my life. Only then was I set free and to begin a new life; only through a spotless lamb of Jesus Christ can we claim any righteousness and freedom from sin. God gives us grace out of pure love. When grace sinks in, new life begins. It is a verb and redemptive activity set forth by God through the work of Christ; therefore, we are forgiven and accepted forever (Brand, 2015). No human on his own seeks God or does anything good enough to merit salvation (Romans 3:10-12). It is like gentle refreshing rain on a squelching summer day in the middle of the desert. It quenches our dry parched lips, and we receive its life-sustaining qualities. This reminds me of the vision in Ezekiel when God sent the Spirit to bring new life to dry bones (Ezekiel 37:9-10). It is only by the Holy Spirit and the grace of God through His Son Jesus that we have new life.

Bibliography

Brand, Chad, et.al., eds., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, B & H Publishing. Nashville, TN, 2015.

Ryken,  Philip Graham. Christian Worldview: A Student’s Guide. Crossway. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.lifeway.com. 2013.

EMBRACE THE MYSTERY

If you are like me, sometimes you stop and think about the wonder of God’s design. It is good to take time to be in awe of our amazing God. There are many things we do not understand, and we search for answers to things that we may never know on this side of heaven. But let us take time to lean into the mystery of how God, who created the universe, dwells inside the hearts of all believers. Sometimes we try to understand when we should open a window to our mind and accept the mystery. God is so patient with us, yet we continually repeat the same mistakes and ask the same old questions for clarity, when He has already told us, or He chooses not to tell us; either way, we can be okay with the information He has provided. I have caught myself in one breath, saying ‘it is in your hands, Lord’ and then still try to control and understand things I am not meant to know yet.

            I do know that the best question I ever asked in my life was ‘God, what do you want?’ It was like a great weight lifted from my shoulders and I experienced a freedom like no other. Lately, I have been asking it again. I want to continue to ask and live a life of freedom, which allows God to lead me one step at a time. I am not asking to try to figure out my future, but to release it into God’s hands. This helps me stay in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:25, ESV).

            The mysteries of God lie with Christ. In Him are the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2-3, ESV). I know when I get tired, I am more likely to have doubts about my path. But I ask God to help me fight through them and be excited about the mystery of the journey, and the adventure that lies ahead. I also know with each sunrise comes the mercy and childlike wonder of a new day. Christ is God’s mystery, all understanding is found in Him, and He is enough.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (I. Cor. 2:7).

ALREADY BUT NOT YET

According to Merriam-Webster, a semicolon is used to separate two independent but related clauses.[1] It is used when an author could have ended the sentence but chose not to. It can symbolize when the story isn’t finished. I read online that some people who struggle with depression, addiction, suicide, or other mental issues, get a semicolon tattoo as a message of affirmation and solidarity to not give up. It is a reminder of how far they have come.[2] Just as the mark is a sign for readers to pause before continuing a sentence, participants have embraced the symbol as a reminder that their story isn’t over yet.

            This ‘already but not yet’ concept is also in the Bible. We are living in the not yet, between the cross and the crown, as a pastor recently affirmed. Just as I was writing down the phrase in my notebook moments before he said it. I had already prepped for this message and was familiar with the term from my studies, so when he started his sermon on a similar topic, it was a reminder, and I knew it was time to finish it.

            God’s story isn’t over yet; neither is ours. Christ fulfilled the promises of the OT, but we are still awaiting the completion of Jesus Christ’s return. The kingdom of God, in the OT, encompasses the past, present, and future. It is “already” present but “not yet” fully completed, both a present and future reality. Jesus’ incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection inaugurated the kingdom. In some capacity, we possess kingdom blessings now. We still endure hardships on this earth, but when the final kingdom is complete, we will no longer endure those sufferings.  God’s light will dispel all darkness.[3]

            Jesus Christ has already defeated death through the resurrection. Although we are all sinners, in a broken world, we can enter Christ’s kingdom through regeneration offered to us through the grace of God (Rom. 5:15, ESV). It is a beautiful redemption story that we can all take part in by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior. God gives each of us a unique story and the ability to use it for His glory. Regardless of where you are on your journey, your story isn’t over yet. Don’t give up. God’s promises are yes and amen (2 Cor. 1:20).

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).


[1] Merriam-Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/semicolon

[2] The Trend Spotter https://www.thetrendspotter.net/semicolon-tattoo/

[3] Brand, C., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP

Vienna, Austria

In the Bible, the mantle in the literal sense was a cloak. But symbolically it was so much more; it stood for the passing of the prophetic torch or leadership position. The mantle was a big responsibility and was not to be taken lightly. In a book entitled, Mantle of Leadership, Fred White describes the mantle as a special endowment of the Holy Spirit. One that gives kingdom leaders an advantage over other leaders, because it involved a radical change in their thinking which only came through a close relationship with the Holy Spirit. Those who carry the mantle continually renew their minds to spiritual truths.

In Elisha’s case, God’s power accompanied it. Elisha asked for and received a double share of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9, ESV). God granted it because his motives were pure. He did not selfishly ask for his gain, or to be greedy, but to do more for God. We too can ask for remarkable things but should examine our motives to make sure they are pure. If they are, we do not need to be afraid to ask. Perhaps, Elisha also knew his weaknesses and recognized that his need for the Spirit’s power and courage was greater than Elijah’s.  This was not something Elijah could grant, only God could and did (2 Kings 2:10-15).

            Can you imagine the responsibility of taking over for Elijah? A devout prophet who prayed fervently (James 5:17) and believed in the power of God to deliver. He left big shoes to fill. But with God’s help, Elisha took on the responsibility and believed in the power of God, and God performed great miracles through him. One of the most memorable happened after Elisha was already dead. You may remember the story of a man who was revived after being thrown into Elisha’s grave and touched his bones (2 Kings 13:21). This proves that the power was of God. Elisha nor anyone else can take credit for it. These divine designations are not only found in the OT, but another example that is relevant in the NT is when Paul summons Timothy to accept the mantle of leadership, following his example, and his life of ministry, that he patterned after Christ. (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NLT). As Jesus explained to His disciples, the mantle of Christian leadership is the garb of a servant; as He came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45, NLT).

            We too can accept the mantle of leadership God is calling us into today. God supplies all the tools we need; we must be willing to go where He leads us and not be afraid to get our hands dirty, as God tills the ground for us to plant the seeds. When we listen and are obedient to the Word of God, we can pray fervently with passion, asking for great things in bold confidence and faith, trusting God to provide, while allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us. He holds the power, but through a relationship with the Holy Spirit, we can tap into that power to do the work set before us in the mighty name of Christ Jesus. Allow God to work in and through you in the coming year. Believe in the power of prayer and trust God with your dreams.

“So, neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (I Cor. 3:7).

SHIPWRECKED

As January 5th marked the anniversary of my dad’s passing, I want to celebrate him with a story that has been on my mind.

            While studying the book of Acts, I noticed something that made me think of one of my dad’s stories about his calling to be a minister. Paul is on a ship, as a prisoner, headed to Rome, because he has appealed to Caesar after pleading his defense to Festus, and King Agrippa, in Jerusalem, where he was falsely accused. Rome is exactly where God planned for him to go, so he could be His witness to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But while at sea, a severe storm came up that blew them off course and threatened their lives. Paul received a message from an angel of God who told him not to be afraid and that he still had to stand before Caesar, therefore he nor the others would be harmed (Acts 27:22-25). In other words, God’s purpose will stand, not even a storm can stop it. Paul took comfort in that fact and told the other passengers there would be no loss of life, only the ship. Paul’s presence on the ship assured everyone’s deliverance.

            My dad told us that when he was a teenager, he was drafted into the army, and had to travel by ship. A bad storm came up, that tossed the ship around, and everyone was scared. He fastened himself in his bunk and felt at peace because he received a message from God that told him he had not preached yet. Like Paul, I think the fate of my dad and God’s purpose for him to preach preserved the lives of the other passengers that day. One of my dad’s biggest regrets was that he did not think to comfort the other passengers.

            I have also been reflecting on the fact that on the day my dad passed, I became an orphan, in the earthly sense of the word, because my mom had just passed 6 days earlier. But as I look back at what unfolded that year and have a better perspective of how God orchestrated the events, I realize that before I even knew I would lose both parents, that I had accepted Christ and followed through with the profession of faith in baptism only 3 months prior and had essentially been adopted by my heavenly Father. Even though my dad, at the time, could not understand why I wanted to be baptized again since I had been baptized as a child, I can’t help but believe, he gets it now.

SCARS

When I began my journey to healing, it started with forgiveness. Not only of those who hurt me but for myself as well and the part I played in allowing others to use and abuse me, even if I didn’t know another way at the time. I needed to forgive myself for the way I allowed others to treat my body. I know now that my body is a temple, and how I treat it matters (I Cor. 6:19). I know when we forgive others it gives us freedom. Harboring unforgiveness in our hearts only hurts us. I also believe we can forgive ourselves. Even though, as someone pointed out to me, it is not in the Bible. I do read in the Bible that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). To me, this implies that we need to love ourselves to love others well. Doesn’t that include forgiveness? How can we forgive unless we love? Likewise, how can we love unless we forgive? Both ourselves and others. It was a big part of my healing; learning how to love, forgive, and trust myself. And because we are made in the image of God and we are to follow Jesus’ example on how to live, I think since He loves us, forgives us, and shows us grace, that we can do the same; not only for others but for ourselves.

Like I have said before, forgiveness does not mean we forget. Remembering is an important part of moving forward while not repeating the same mistakes. Our scars are a part of how we once were, but they also serve as a beautiful reminder of who we are now, through Christ. A friend recently gave me a broken heart, mended with gold. She said it is representative of our brokenness and how the honest parts of our past should be celebrated, not hidden. It is a Japanese art form called Kintsugi and is used to mend broken pottery with gold to stand for all the beautiful things that have unique imperfections. Just like our scars, wounds, and imperfections are our beauty. The little card with it says, “You’re more beautiful for having been broken.”

This reminded me of a message I received from the Holy Spirit a few years ago after my accident.

Scars are another symbol of remembrance. My hands tell a love story. Your scars mark the day I saved you and brought you back to Myself and the Father. We won the battle together. You are a victor in Christ. Let your scars tell your story. Our stories collide. The scars of your past mistakes and sins run deep but My scars cover all of yours in love for complete healing.”

God has restored even the most broken parts of my past and redeemed them in ways I could have never imagined. If my pain and brokenness can be used to help others – it is worth it. That is what makes it even more beautiful. I believe God chose me for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). I had a professor that said all our past painful experiences are keys on a keychain. God uses them to unlock the hearts of others. I love that.

YHWH

There are many names for God. So many I will only give a few examples, but you can do a little research on your own to discover them. They all point to God’s character and people in the OT used them to describe the God they encountered. God’s name is His promise to dwell within His people (John 17:6). His divine name reveals God’s power, authority, and holiness. El, which is commonly prefaced by other names of God is simply a generic term for God or deity, used as a synonym for Yahweh. El-Shaddai: “God of the Mountains” or “The Almighty God”; El-Roi: the “God who sees me”; El-Olam: “God of Eternity”; Yahweh-Jireh: “The Lord will provide”; Yahweh-Me kaddish: “The Lord sanctifies” (reveals His holiness, set apart); I would be remiss not to list others such as King, Judge, Shepherd, God the Father, Abba, and so many more from the NT.

At one time His name was so revered people did not dare to even speak it, YHWH – Yahweh. When writing the Hebrew language, they did not include vowels. Readers supplied them as they read. Reverence for the divine name led to the practice of avoiding its use. This was mostly out of respect and fear. It was too holy to pronounce at all, so they began to use other words such as Adonai, which means “Lord” or the Latin form: Jehovah, but it was not a real word at the time, or the El alternative used above.[1]

After I started writing this message, I watched “Christmas with the Chosen” and they too were explaining the use of the name Yahweh. The speaker said the people were afraid if they spoke it their tongue would rot and fall out. This comes from a couple of passages in the OT and is one of the Ten Commandments given to us by God Himself. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exod. 20:7, ESV). Also, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Lev. 24:16). (Emphasis added) The NLT version uses the word ‘misuse’ instead of the word ‘blaspheme’- which means to do anything that makes God appear insignificant or worthless.

People in the OT did not take it lightly, and neither should we today. It has become widespread practice to use His name flippantly in everyday occurrences. Which, I believe, is taking His name and making it appear to be worthless. The name of God is Holy – sacred- hallowed. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He began by showing them God’s name is to be kept Holy and exalted (Matt. 6:9). The notes in my study Bible also explain Exod. 20:7, saying it refers to someone taking a deceptive oath in God’s name, involving God’s name to sanction an act in which the person is being dishonest, and it bans the use of God’s name when associated with sinful acts, religious rituals, magic, irreverently, or disrespectfully. In this instance, Yahweh is warning Israel against the use of His name as if it were disconnected from His person, presence, and power.

Some people want to dismiss the OT Scripture and instructions saying they do not apply to us, but I disagree. There are many OT references in the NT that we can take instruction from today. The Ten Commandments are still relevant in shaping our moral character. As we understand the OT better, it foreshadows the coming of the Messiah, who is Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful love story of God’s redemption plan for His people, who He wants to be in a relationship with…which is us.

My dad, who was a minister, taught me that Reverend is a title reserved for God alone -not man. We tend to exalt ourselves in ways that are only for God, the great I AM, as well as disregard the deity of His holy name in everyday language. If this is a habit you have picked up over the years and not thought much about it, I would challenge you to pray about it. Ask God to help you change any bad habits and reveal to you any areas in your heart that you can clean up to make more room for His holy presence. It is worth the effort, because God is worth it, and He says you are worth it. He values you and wants to be in a closer relationship with you.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:3)!

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).


[1] Chad Brand. ed., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2015).