EDEN-LIKE PARADISE

As a kid, I ran from my shadow. I can look back now and understand why- I was running from the dark side of myself and the secret life I would live in later years. Living in the shadows is a miserable place to be, separated from the fullness of God. Living in the lies of the enemy, just trying to survive.

As I reflect on my rescue from that life and what I look forward to in the next, I don’t believe there will be shadows in heaven. God’s light will saturate everything leaving no room for darkness of any kind.

This hope lives in my heart, by way of the Holy Spirit, allowing me to live vicariously through it until the day of Christ’s return. It may look different for you, but my Eden-like paradise and hope manifests itself as a valley-floor sitting at the base of a majestic mountain, vestured in wildflowers of every variety and color imaginable. The greens are so vivid, the ferns, moss, and trees are the lushest of all, like a magnificent rainforest, flowing with streams of living water in every direction.

There are birds and butterflies of every species; foals, foxes, and fawns delightfully playing in the distance. There is a ray of light ‘reining’ down from above that never goes out. I am not only living by the Word of God, but this place allows me to live in the Word because the Word is God. He permeates my whole being. A unique and special place in my heart that supplies the hope to push through the shadows of this life and persevere as I lead others to the Glorious Kingdom of God.

What does your hope look like? Spend some quiet time with the Holy Spirit, finding the Eden-like paradise that will allow you to push through the shadows of this life- to not just survive but to thrive until Christ returns.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, ESV).

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 4:8, ESV)!

MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT

           Our battle scars run deep, but God’s grace is enough. Jesus’ scars cover all. Forgiveness has a direct correlation with freedom. We cannot stay in our pain, in offense of those who hurt us. That is right where Satan wants to keep us, so we don’t experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness. If we take it to Jesus, He will redeem it.

With tender mercies and heartfelt tears, our Heavenly Father always hears.

            We read in 2 Cor. 9-10 that Paul had a thorn in his side that he asked God to remove, but God said, “My grace is sufficient.” We know we live in a fallen world and sometimes there are hard things to deal with, sickness, hurtful people, abuse, and many other painful experiences. God does not always remove those things from this life, but He promises to be with us (Matt. 28:20, ESV). Just like Paul, in our weakness, we are strong when we lean on God to see us through. We don’t know what Paul’s affliction was, probably a physical ailment, but when God says His grace is sufficient, the ESV Study Bible notes that this underscores the ever-present availability and sufficiency of God’s grace, for Paul and every believer, regardless of how critical one’s circumstances may be.

God’s righteousness demands wrath against sin, but in His love for us, he also sent the answer for our sins (Rom. 8:31-39, ESV). He is both just and the justifier, through Jesus Christ. Jesus forgave His accusers while He was still on the cross (Luke 23:34). I am doing a Bible plan right now that talks about Jesus being the Forgiving Victim. As we see others through His eyes and realize what He went through for us; how He forgave us; how can we not forgive others so we can walk in that freedom. Our battle cry is Jesus Christ. We are no longer a victim, but a victor.

“With liberty and justice for all.” Those are not just words or an inscription on a plague. They mean something, or they did at one time. Francis Bellamy wrote this in 1892. President Eisenhower had “under God” added in 1954 in response to the Communist threat.[1] The Statue of Liberty meant something as well. In her right hand, she holds a torch that is a light showing the path to freedom. In her left hand, she holds the Declaration of Independence, for hopeful immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. It was a peacemaking landmark symbolizing the relationship between the US and France and her illuminated torch was a navigational aid.[2]

            Let us not forget who the enemy is so we will stop fighting each other. The enemy is Satan, and he uses our victimized state to pit us against each other instead of teaming up to fight against him through the saving grace of Jesus, so we can be indivisible, as the allegiance goes on to read.

You may have heard of doubting Thomas. He was not there with the other disciples when Jesus returned from the dead. So, he had doubts. He wanted to see Jesus for himself before he would believe. Jesus allowed him to trace the scars in His hands, to thrust his hand into His side and feel that the scars were real. Jesus went on to say, “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed” (John 20:27-29, ESV, emphasis mine).

Jesus offers ultimate freedom and forgiveness.

Will you believe it?

Have you experienced the freedom Christ offers? Feel free to share in the comments.

Do you need to forgive someone so you can?

Ask God to reveal them to you and then ask Him to help you forgive.

Sometimes we must forgive our oppressors multiple times, but it is a choice we can make every day; choose to forgive and then don’t forget to thank God for His forgiveness of us.

Maybe that someone is yourself or someone who hurt you, but either way, forgiveness is the key to healing and redemption. God is the only One who can fill the gaps of hurt, loneliness, pain, illness, loss, and anything you are searching for other than Him to stop the pain of our past or even what we are going through in the present. Do not allow Satan to use your offenses against you. Christ paid the price for our freedom, let us walk in that freedom and live like we are free.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28, ESV, emphasis mine).

“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, ESV, emphasis mine).

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17, ESV, emphasis mine).


[1] The Pledge of Allegiance, USHistory.org. https://www.ushistory.org/documents/pledge.htm

[2] Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia. “Statue of Liberty.” Encyclopedia Britannica, September 17, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Statue-of-Liberty.

SOJOURNERS

Like a whale living in a pond yearns for the ocean, believers sojourn here on earth awaiting an end-time home. Reverence and awe should characterize the lives of believers during their exile on this earth (I Peter 1:17; 2:11, ESV).

The Bible mentions the word sojourner about thirty-two times if my calculations are correct. Many times, the Bible categorizes it along with the fatherless and widows as landless people whom God watches over. Abraham considered himself a foreigner in the land even after 62 years of existence in Canaan. He chose to continue to live in tents. He longed for a city whose designer and builder are God (Heb. 11:9-10, ESV).

We read in Ezekiel 47:21-23 instructions for the Israelites to treat sojourners who live among them as native-born and share their inheritance with them as they divide the land among the tribes of Israel. They had been strangers in Egypt and knew what it was like. God is telling them to treat these strangers as if they are one of their own. This reminds me of how God grafted in the Gentiles to share in salvation along with the Jews (Romans 11:11-17, ESV).

When the Israelites turned away from God and became idolaters, they were wanderers among the nations because they did not listen to God. A wanderer is different than being a sojourner, in the way we drift away from obedience to God. Sometimes we wander in the darkness for many years. Just as the Israelites put themselves at risk, we do as well when we abandon God’s Word. A sojourner continues to search for nuggets of truth like spiritual breadcrumbs on the path to righteousness.

A PURPOSE-FILLED LIFE

A Sweet Reminder

Honeybee: A purpose-filled life that produces sweet results.

Think about it, a honeybee knows exactly what it is supposed to do. It has a purpose, and it works at it diligently each day. At the end of the day,  it smelled the flowers and tasted sweet victory.

Honeybee workers forage for nectar and pollen to feed the colony. They have a sophisticated method of communication that involves a type of ‘waggle dance’ or elaborate series of movements to inform other bees where the best sources of food are found. They are not just out for themselves, trying to hog all the good stuff. They want to share with the others.

It not only works as a team player and serves the leader well but stores up food during the summer that will serve the colony during the winter months.

But the bee is not only helping himself and his colony when he is collecting nectar. The interesting design of the nectar in flowers attracts the insects by offering them nutrition, in return, the insects help fertilize the flowers by transmitting pollen that clings to their bodies from flower to flower.

This is a picture of two different species receiving help from each other in a win/win relationship because they use their God-designed gifts and talents to survive and help each other.

Nectar on its own would not last and cannot be stored for any length of time by the insects, but by design, the bees transform it into honey creating an efficient and usable carbohydrate that can be stored almost indefinitely.

Most foraging bees are collecting nectar for honey, but some bees are collecting pollen that is used to make beebread as the main source of dietary protein supplying much-needed fats, vitamins, and minerals to the bees. The bees add an enzyme and acids from their salivary gland secretions that keep the pollen from spoiling.

I find all this very fascinating. Stop and think about the design and planning God put into the details of the honeybee and the flowers as they help each other survive by using what they were given with a purpose to fulfill in their short little lives.

A single worker bee only lives a few weeks. In that time, it only produces about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. That does not seem like much but when you put it into perspective – by working collectively, thousands of worker bees in a hive can produce more than 200 pounds of honey within a year for the colony.

The beekeeper can in turn reap the benefits by harvesting 30 to 60 pounds of honey without endangering the colony, so it can survive the winter. Humans use honey as a sugar replacement because it has antioxidants and enzymes. If we take care of nature as God intended, it will serve us well and supply natural food to sustain and help us as well.

If the bee deviated from God’s plan it would not survive. It would not have the joy of sipping on sweet nectar each day and spreading the good news to other bees. But it knows exactly what it is supposed to do. It is the ultimate example of a colony working well together. Teamwork at its best. Each is given a special job or gift to use to help others.

Sounds like a sweet life.

Weren’t we given the same design? God gives each of us a gift or talent and a purpose in this life. He wants us to spread the sweet nectar of the Good News and help each other by working together as a team to help others thrive and survive in this dark world. We can enjoy the fruits of our labors at the end of the day. 

He provides us with the natural resources to sustain us. We can enjoy the sweet aroma of the flowers around us and sip from Living Water and carry the sweet nectar to others in need of hope, love, and fellowship.

We are a colony that could work together using our gifts and talents for the purpose God designed us for if we did not deviate from His plan in our lives.

Human nature is the opposite of what God wants for us. By design, God knows what is best for us and has a purpose for each of us. He puts His Spirit inside us to guide us and give us special gifts to use to help each other.

For you created my inmost being you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, Oh God! How vast is the sum of them. (Psalm 139:13-17 NLT)

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. (I Corinthians 12:7 NLT)

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (John 10:10 NLT)

Cites:

Hadley, D. (2017) Honeybee Habits and Traits of Honey Bees

https://www.thoughtco.com/honey-bee-apis-mellifera-1968092

STAR

Orphan. Chosen. Beautiful. Favor with the king. Queen. Obedient. Brave. Hadassah or Myrtle. No matter how we describe her, Esther was the one God used to save the Jewish people from annihilation.

Indeed, as an orphan girl, her cousin Mordecai took her to raise her as his own and changed her name from Hadassah to Esther, which means star, to protect her identity. At an early age, God purposely placed her in a position to save her people, who were ultimately God’s people.

If you haven’t read the book of Esther in a while, I encourage you to read the story, not just for the entertainment, but for the bigger picture. As the ESV Study Bible puts it, if the evil plot by Haman had succeeded, he would have destroyed all the Jews. What does that mean to us? This goes much farther back than one may think. It runs back to Abraham and Christ. The promised seed was at stake. It is not just a story about the Jewish people in general. It is part of our heritage as God’s people.

This story has a little bit of everything. An evil villain, ethnic hatred, a heroine who is a young orphan girl who becomes queen and finds favor with the king so she can foil the evil plot and save her people. It even evokes laughter at Haman’s expense. But it also shows her faith, God’s providence, and human responsibility.

There has been some controversy over the inclusion of the book of Esther in the Scripture because the author does not mention God’s name, and this is the only place where Esther’s name appears in the Bible. But God’s fingerprints are all over this story. We must take a deeper dive to see how God was working in this young girl’s life.

Esther’s role in the story of Jesus is no less significant because her name does not appear in other parts of the Bible, just as God’s role in Esther’s story is any less prominent because the author does not mention God in the book of Esther.

The Key Word Study Bible gives us several interesting reflections on the book: The fact that Esther asked the Jews living in the capital city to fast shows that she was relying on the grace of God to resolve the desperate situation (4:16, ESV). Esther feared for her life, but Mordecai’s reply led her to ask for the fast, and she found favor with the king who overturned the evil plot to kill the Jews. What he said to her is the most famous verse from the book, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (4:14, ESV, emphasis mine).

But we must also go back a line or two to see Mordecai’s faith, “for if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place.” (4:14, Emphasis mine) This shows that he believes in God’s divine providence. He knows God keeps His promises and that the Jews had to survive to fulfill them. Haman had persuaded the king to agree to the annihilation; he had sealed it with the signet ring, which meant it was irrevocable. But God seals His promises with a Holy Kiss, and they are irrevocable because God cannot lie. It also means if Esther refused, God would choose someone else to fulfill His purpose.

It was thirty years before the efforts of Ezra and Nehemiah, which leads many to suggest that their successes would not have been possible without Esther, Mordecai, and Daniel paving the way with their conduct and accomplishments.[1]

We don’t know what effect our actions will have years down the road. We should consider it a great honor when God chooses us for any mission that fulfills His purpose. I hope that my actions pave the way for others who will come after me, whether I see the results or not. We must take heed to what God is calling us to do today that could have ramifications or great accomplishments, like Esther, for others that come behind us.

Orphan. Chosen. Obedience. Favor with the King. Beautiful. Star. I see so much correlation here to our relationship with God. We were orphans and God took us as His own, heirs with Christ, chosen for a purpose. Christ tells us that He will give us a new name (Rev. 2:1, ESV). In our obedience, we too find favor with the One True King.

One time I asked God how He sees me, His answer fits nicely into this comparison with Esther. “I see you like a star. My children are like beautiful glowing lights. The difference is that I can see inside the light at every intricate detail of your life.”


[1] Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing company of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

NAME THAT TUNE

Several years ago, in the early years of my marriage, we owned a vehicle for a little while that I called the Tonka truck. It was a small truck, but it sat on a large 4-wheel drive frame, making it sit several feet above the ground. Do you remember when musical horns were popular? If so, you know about the timeframe I am speaking of, because this truck had one. We also owned a fishing boat and went out on some large bodies of water, too large for someone who did not know how to swim. Sometimes the larger boats would toss us around for a scary ride until the waves calmed back down.

Regardless, for a while, it was my job to load the boat onto the trailer at the end of the day. Then for some reason, I don’t quite remember, we switched jobs. I was the one who backed the trailer down the ramp and into the water so he could load the boat. Maybe I thought that would be safer since I was a non-swimmer.

Burnside had the steepest ramp of any we had visited. On this occasion, I got the truck, backed it down the ramp, and as I sat there with my foot on the brake, I felt it slipping. The brakes went out, and I began to slide back toward the murky waters. I had no idea what to do, other than panic, push the brake with all my might, and grip the steering wheel with white knuckles.

By what I see now as divine intervention, that crazy horn started playing. It wasn’t even a song. It just made these loud obnoxious noises until some men who were on the dock saw that I was in trouble. Two or three of them ran over and grabbed the front bumper of the truck just as the muffler blew bubbles in the water behind me. It was a blessing that it did sit so high, or I would have been in the water long before. It was a long time after that before I could sit in a vehicle on a slope without it feeling as if I were sliding backward.

I look back now and realize that is exactly where my life was going. I lost control and began sliding backward into murky waters. Like that crazy horn, the noise of the world played so loudly in my ears that I could not hear God’s voice. Just as I was about to drown, God changed my story and the trajectory of my life. He rescued me and brought sweet harmony to my life. He helped me gain ground by making better choices. Without Christ, my life would still be in a sea of troubled waters, gripping the wrong relationship with white knuckles, and letting others control my life as it slipped away from me.

YOU MAY BE SURPRISED

Many years ago, my oldest sister sent me a postcard from California that depicted a sequoia tree that was so magnificently large that they made a tunnel at the base of its trunk for cars to drive through. That image left an impression on me, and I knew I wanted to see it someday.

Fast-forward several years later; when the day finally came in which I thought I was going to see these famous trees for the first time, my plans abruptly changed when she and I were in a car accident, less than 24 hours after my arrival in northern California, and just a few days before our planned trip to the park.

I did not get to check that one off the bucket list until a few years later when I returned by myself to bring closure to an unfortunate event that took my sister’s life and changed mine forever. That was only one of the tragic events that happened that year but was the one that woke me up and helped me realize God had other plans for my life. Plans that I never imagined for myself.

Recently, my attention went back to the giant sequoias. With Earth Day in the rearview mirror, I thought it was a suitable time to share some information about them. According to the Giant-Sequoia website that the largest trees range 275-310 feet tall. The General Sherman, which is the largest tree on earth, is 52.500 cubic feet in volume.

With that in mind, and the original image of driving a car through the trunk of one of these massive trees, wouldn’t you think that the root system would go for miles down deep into the earth to secure these royal beauties? Quite the opposite is true. Not only do they begin as a tiny flat seed about the size of a pinhead, but their roots also actually only go down about 12-14 feet. What they lack in depth they make up for in their reach. According to the website, their roots are a matted, shallow, wide-spreading system that can occupy over one acre of earth and hold 90,000 cubic feet of soil.

This just adds another wow to my natural wonders and fabulous mysteries of God file. In my research, I found another site that compared their team to redwood trees. Susan Williamson, of the John Maxwell Team, describes themselves with similar characteristics to the sequoia roots- an army of men with arms interlocked, standing and supporting each other. Just as the roots of the trees intertwine with other redwood trees, they hold each other up and depend on each other for nutrients. Their roots are like arms locking, ready to help each other grow, and stand tall, as they reach for the sky.

This imagery is a model for how we are to stand together, unified in love, to help each other grow in spiritual maturity, so we can stand tall while keeping our focus on the kingdom of God and His righteousness. I hope you will plant a spiritual seed today for someone who needs to hear the good news of Christ. Even if you do not get to see the result, you can rest assured that God is working to bring others behind you to water it.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (I Cor. 3:6, ESV).

THE FEET OF JESUS

Since I was a kid and had a cousin point out that they were ugly, I have been self-conscious about my feet. If that wasn’t enough, I broke my middle toe on the couch leg one year and it has never been straight since. To add insult to injury, when I was in an abusive relationship, he made a point to tell me that I should never wear sharp-pointed shoes because it only made my feet look even bigger. Thanks a lot for that unnecessary observation.

For my height, my shoe size is much larger than one might think. I inherited the feet size without the height to match it and am the shortest in my family. It only made it worse when I went to buy running shoes a few years ago and the clerk told me that they recommend runners buy a size up. Now, that hurt my feelings. For years, I would find a super cute pair of size six sitting on the display shelf only to have my excitement replaced with disappointment after trying on my size. They just never looked the same.

Recently, God directed my attention to Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” There is also a longer version of this verse in the OT in Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings the good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

Not only do I share the good news about Christ through this blog, but God has also allowed me to share with others through support groups, a middle school girls’ group, co-workers, neighbors, and even strangers on the street.

My feet carry me on God’s path and mission for my life and enable me to run, which is an extension of my time with God. As I strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus, that makes my feet beautiful. God has redeemed so many things from my past, but I just realized that God even redeems hurtful childish remarks so that I can have a new perspective and appreciate that part of myself in a new light.

God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Hab. 3:19, ESV).

GOD MADE THE MAP

Recently, I was running on one of the windier mornings. I turned towards a straight stretch on my route and realized I was heading into the wind. It was so strong that I felt like I was running in place. After pushing through it, I finally changed direction, and it was much easier because the wind was at my back.

Some days can feel like we are running into a strong headwind, not making any progress. On other days the wind is at our back, and we are making record pace. In both scenarios, God is still working.

There is a pattern, a plan, and a recipe. We can trust God to move us in His perfect timing. We just need to push through it and follow the One who knows the plan. He not only has the map, but He also made the map. A lot of people wander around in the wilderness for years and lose their way. But, when we keep in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:25, ESV) and ask God for guidance, our path becomes easier and when the wind shifts, we can be sure we’re going in the right direction.

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder, and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” (Heb. 12:1-2, ESV).

WHAT’S IN YOUR POCKET?

Satan pulled out every trick in his back pocket to get Jesus to sin during His forty-day trek in the wilderness. He waited until Jesus was hungry and tired and then he went on the prowl. Isn’t it just like the enemy to tempt us when we are down? Jesus was victorious despite Satan’s attempts to thwart God’s plan of redemption. He wanted Jesus to fall into sin and disobedience so He could not be the sinless Savior who gave Himself as a perfect sacrifice for us.

            Each time Jesus was tempted by Satan He quoted the book of Deuteronomy, linking His experience to the Israelites’ forty years of testing in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11, ESV). They weren’t as successful, thus the need for Jesus, as the spotless Lamb.

Finally, Jesus told Satan to get lost. “Be gone, Satan” (Matt. 4:10)! Because of this we now have a weapon in our back pocket that we can pull out when the enemy is tempting us. When we couple this phrase with Jesus Christ’s mighty name, he must flee. He has no choice. The ESV Study Bible explains that God never tempts us. But He can use the circumstances to test a person’s character. God always gives us a way out. We may not see it or believe it, but it is true. Satan will try to keep us down and make us think there are no options. But the door is always open. There is always a choice (I Cor. 10:13).

As Christ-followers, we are to tell others about the door.

            A braided cord is strong because it has many layers woven together to form a bond that can withstand more than a single strand can on its own. Likewise, the right Christian community and friends who work together in the Body of Christ can withstand the enemy and his tactics. We are called to support, encourage, and even challenge each other in keeping the ways of the Lord. We can use our gifts and talents to help each other grow closer to God, stay strong, and diligent, even when everything around us is discouraging. The braided cord is also symbolic of the Trinity- God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. Three in One. Alone they are a powerful deity in and of themselves; together they are ultimately the powerful force that we can lean on for strength to get us through rough times.

            God will lift us high on wings like eagles (Is. 40:31), to soar above our circumstances and temporary mis- comings of this world. Those who fight off the enemy and hold their ground to give honor to God in obedience will receive a crown of glory. Look not to the left or the right, but straight into the eyes of Jesus, Your Savior, King, and Friend.

            This is reason to sing, dance, laugh, love, and be joyful; rejoicing in the love of Christ as the ultimate Savior and Friend who is capable of changing lives through His grace and goodness. His righteousness is our saving grace. There is a space reserved in our hearts for the Holy Spirit. When we defile our bodies, we are leaving no room for God. The more room we make through our obedience to His Word, the more of His presence we will receive.

“You shall be holy, for I am Holy” (I Peter 1:16).

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).