The Spirit and the bride say come

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

John 14:3 (NIV)

Let’s time travel back to the custom of marriage in Jesus’ lifetime in order to better understand the metaphor of the church as His bride. Every marriage during His time and culture began with the father of the groom, who sent his servant to negotiate the marriage arrangement. A generous price was paid to the bride’s family and a binding contract was signed. The servant then returned to the master’s house, and the Son excitedly began to prepare his bridal chamber. It could take up to a year for the groom to construct and prepare the place for his bride. Through that same negotiating servant, the groom sends his betrothed bride an engagement gift of gold jewelry. The engaged bride wears her gifts of betrothal, while waiting for her wedding day. She had to be ready at any moment, because the day and time of the groom’s arrival was unknown, but would be announced with a trumpet call and a shout.  When I learned about these traditions, it brought new meaning to the words of Jesus, promising that He is going to prepare a place for us. The church is His bride and His Father paid the highest possible cost, with His Son’s divine, precious blood. That is the binding marriage contract. The resurrected Jesus is betrothed to whoever will accept His proposal, and He prepares a place for them, in His Father’s mansion. Instead of gold jewelry, He adorns us with the engagement gifts of His Spirit, the many spiritual gifts that He distributes to all who make up His bride, the church. We wear these betrothal gifts, and use them while we are waiting for His return. We are still residing in our current home, but we are being prepared to live in a better and eternal one. Everything that happens in our lives, has been for the goal of this union, and motivated by His love, to prepare and purify us for the consummation of our marriage to the Lamb of God. The date is unknown, and will be a surprise, announced by an angel’s trumpet call and a shout from heaven. We are His betrothed bride, and as Jesus prepares the place for us, His Spirit is still preparing us for Him. We look forward to His second coming, and the marriage supper of the Lamb will be the greatest wedding feast of all time. We will learn how our whole life has been a temporary place of preparation, and how every purpose God had for us was motivated by His pure and infinite love for us. On that day we will meet the One who gave Himself for us and has loved us with an everlasting love. The end of the book of Revelation echos the longing of every believer’s heart, saying “The Spirit and the bride say Come.” Jesus assured His bride, saying, “Yes, I am coming soon,” and as our eyes look toward Him, we say “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus”.

Lost donkeys and royal destiny

“Then, from a flask he had with him, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying: “The Lord anoints you ruler over his people Israel. You are the one who will govern the Lord’s people and save them from the power of their enemies all around them.”

2 Samuel 10:1 (NAB)

A turning point of destiny can happen through the least expected circumstances and many unlikely participants. Saul was a young man whose runaway donkeys led to his royal destiny. His father’s donkeys ran off and got lost, so Saul was sent along with a servant, to search for them and bring them home. As it started getting late, Saul was going to give up the search and return without them. The servant motivated Saul not to give up, but to consult the prophet Samuel who was living in the area. Now, instead of searching for donkeys, they were searching for the prophet Samuel’s home to get some spiritual help in finding them. A group of women were passing by, so they asked them where the prophet Samuel lived. The women pointed them in the right direction, and Saul and his servant soon arrived to meet the prophet. God spoke to Samuel and said, “This is the man I told you about who shall be king and govern my people.” The donkeys were still lost, but God’s plan was still unfolding. The lost donkeys were the method God used to bring Saul to the prophet, Samuel, in order to fulfill his royal destiny. The prophet told Saul he would find all his donkeys on the way back home to his family and he did. What began as a search and rescue mission for donkeys, ended on the following day with Saul being anointed as the first king of Israel. 

This story is full of people, each doing some small part in fulfilling a divine plan of God. We can see the mission of each person in this story. 

Lost donkeys began as a problem and a loss, but God uses the losses and the negatives in our lives to connect us to the right people for a greater purpose. Saul searched but became tired and was ready to quit, but the servant motivated him to go and seek the prophet. God sends motivators into our lives at the right time, when we are losing heart and spiritually exhausted. The motivator might bring you to a meaningful encounter with God or tell you about someone who will. Neither of the two men knew where to go to find the prophet, but the neighborhood women knew, and were passing by at that moment to point them in the right direction. God sends people to us in the right time and place, passers by, whose names we may never know, but whose job is to point us in the direction of what is meant to be our destiny. A pointer could be someone who points unknowingly with their words, saying something that directs us in the path we are being led to. Every person has a part in the plan of God. We are all interwoven in the destinies of other people, just as they are in ours. We are much more connected with people than we could ever imagine. We will never get bored in heaven discovering what methods God used in our lives, or why He allowed it to take so long to find our lost donkeys. We will realize who the motivators were or the pointers that He sent along at the right time. We will have all of eternity to spend connecting the dots, and learning how God arranged for all the networking of people in our lives, to work out His good plans for us. In that day when His lovingkindness is fully revealed, it’s going to take all of eternity to express our gratitude and return our love and worship to a God who is so purposeful and worthy of all praise. 

Our daily passover

“And you shall observe the feast of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt: therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as an ordinance for ever.”

Exodus 12:17 (RSV)

Since the first Passover, the Israelites were instructed to memorialize their exodus from slavery by celebrating what they refer to as the Feast of unleavened bread, or Passover. Throughout generations, at every Passover feast, known as a Seder, unleavened bread, or Matzo is eaten. There is a Passover tradition that a piece of Matzo is to be wrapped in a napkin, hidden and then searched for later. It’s a symbol of the Passover sacrifice, and when it is found and unwrapped from the napkin, pieces are broken off and shared with everyone at the meal. Once everyone eats a piece of the hidden matzo, with a sip of wine, it marks the close of the Passover feast. This custom of wrapping matzo in a napkin and hiding it, is a parallel image to Jesus being wrapped in burial linens and hidden in a tomb. He is our forever Passover sacrifice, who was found unwrapped from His burial clothes and risen from the dead. As the hidden matzo is consumed at the end of every Passover feast, Jesus said He is the living bread from heaven. He told His disciples that whoever eats this bread will live forever. We are reliving an eternal Passover feast every time we partake of communion. Jesus wants to be found by everyone who might think He is still hidden away and buried somewhere in a cloth. There is one final Passover custom, of leaving an extra chair and place setting at the Passover dinner table. It was done to invite an invisible visit from the prophet Elijah. I’m pretty sure Elijah would have handed over his place setting to Jesus, long ago. Since Jesus is our Passover sacrifice, our bread from heaven, we set a place for Him to join us at the communion table. We don’t leave Him there but invite Him to be our guest beyond that, by setting His place at the table of our heart, in our home, and with our family. We set a place for Him at every table of our lives, including the table of our pain and problems. He sits next to you when you are hurting or when you have major decisions to make, or when you receive a difficult phone call, and even when balancing your finances. He is seated next to you when the best you can do is to just say His name, because you are too sick, weak or discouraged to pray. Once you invite Him to your table, He will never leave you. In the deep mysteries of God’s wisdom, Jesus is the fulfillment of every Passover tradition. He is the unblemished, eternal Passover lamb, the truth behind the matzo hidden in a napkin, our living bread and the invisible guest from heaven sitting at our table with us. What was once given as a feast to celebrate freedom, has become an eternal gift of “God with us.” We look forward to His second coming, and being invited to His table at a forever Passover feast in Heaven. In the meantime, we show our gratitude by setting a place for Him at every table of our lives. We receive you, Jesus, the Lamb of God, our forever Passover sacrifice, and we welcome you to every table of our life. 

Supplier of our needs

“For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”

Matthew 6:32-34 (RSV)

While at a church function one night, I was able to get my anxious mind off my own issues, and focus on spiritual things. I happened to speak to a lady there, who I had not seen in many weeks. She is a widow, only older than me, except she is battling cancer. She told me the cancer pills she needs, cost $2,000 a week, but that she has been able to accrue a plentiful supply as free samples from pharmaceutical companies. So far she has not had to buy any of her costly pills. I was glad to see how God took care of her. She went on to share with me what her total monthly income is, and I was even more amazed that she manages to make ends meet, living alone and caring for herself with all the effects of cancer. Her whole demeanor is a pillar of emotional strength, and she is so independent for her age. While she shared the details relating to her health and finances, it occurred to me that God was speaking to me through her. She explained her situation not as someone seeking pity, but as one who is simply walking by faith in all aspects of her life. Before parting, we discussed meeting for lunch one day, and then she calmly walked back to her car, limping with her cane. After that conversation, I knew God was speaking to me about a particular anxiety that I was struggling with over the past two weeks. It all started with signing a contract to sell my home, and the futile search for a smaller one to buy. My whole motive was to lower my cost of living for retirement later this year. It’s obvious that she has much more to be anxious about, than I do, yet she was living in perfect peace. God gave her the grace of total reliance on Him. She has an aura of strength, and I know that God wants us all to live in that same grace. I suddenly felt that God was speaking to me through her, saying “ Stop your worrying, I will take care of you.” I knew He wanted me to hear her story, which is probably the reason she shared many private details with me that I would never ask about. Character and strength are developed after surviving the many tests and trials of adversity. When we are faced with a new kind of trial, it means God is producing a new kind of character trait within us. He did it in her and He is doing it in all of us. I have been asking God recently to speak to me, ease all my confusion and give me direction. He has answered my prayer, by speaking to me through various people, but last night was crystal clear. She was unaware, but He spoke to me through her. After sleeping on it, God is saying, “stay in your home, it’s not the time to leave.” Good always comes out of our tests and trials, and I’m sure God is doing something good in me through this experience. It’s the home I love, and the Holy Spirit is giving me peace of mind with clear direction to stop worrying and stay, because my Father in heaven knows everything I need both today and tomorrow and He will take of me.

The locusts

“I will restore to you the years
which the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.”

Joel 2:25. (RSV)

These words in the book of Joel, have meaning for anyone who has ever felt the effects of the locust eating away at something in your life, your health, your family or a purpose you are called to fulfill. God promises to restore whatever the locusts have eaten. The bible is full of metaphoric examples of ways that the locusts eat away at things. Those stories in the bible are so much like real life, and we can see the same family dynamics and relationship problems existing today. Scripture talks about imperfect parents, dysfunctional sons and daughters, flawed spouses and a lot of bad things happening to good people. Some have suffered emotionally, which reminds me of Jacob’s life. Jacob fell in love with Rachel, and expected to receive her as his wife on the wedding night, but her father tricked him and gave him her sister Leah instead. Jacob was deceived by his father in law, and after revising his agreement with him, he had to work seven more years until he was allowed to marry Rachel, who was the love of his life. After all that, she became his wife, and gave birth to Joseph, but died giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob waited so long to marry her, and then she died in childbirth. Jacob lost many years that he could have had with his beloved Rachel. With all the years that the locusts had eaten in Jacob’s lifetime, the most painful for him was the loss of his son Joseph, Rachel’s first born. Jacob was deceived by his own sons, who lied to him and told him Joseph was killed by a wild animal, when his brothers actually tossed him in a hole, where slave traders found him, and sold him as a household slave. Joseph never saw his father or brothers for decades, as he was falsely accused as a household slave and spent some years in jail. Through his gifts of wisdom and dream interpretation, he was finally promoted to a high place in Egyptian government. For decades Jacob mourned for his first born son, Joseph, thinking he was dead. The twists and turns of providence led to a miraculous family reunion, decades later, all because of a great famine that spread across the land. God brought all these disjointed family members back together and restored the relationships between them all. God can use famines, pandemics and droughts to bring about something positive, because He is a restorer of things that were lost. He brings life to what was once dead, makes wholeness out of brokenness, and shines His light in our darkness. With so many “why me?” moments in Joseph’s life, he readily forgave his brothers when he saw them again after all those years. God reunited the family and for Jacob, it was as if Joseph was raised from the dead. He was able to see all of his sons together and reunited again.  God restored the years that the locusts had eaten in Joseph’s life as well as in his father, Jacob. The gospels also give examples of those who suffered with debilitating illnesses for years, who finally found restoration through Jesus. With all the different ways that people suffer because of the years that the locust has eaten, Jesus told them that their faith has made them whole. As we think about where the locusts have eaten in our own lives, we turn to the God of providence and restoration. We trust God’s word that He will restore and renew all that was lost in our lives, because He said “I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.” He heals broken hearts, heals bodies and minds, reunites families, and restores relationships. Lord, we believe you are a God who can heal, restore and renew all that was once eaten by the locusts, and we thank you in faith for the miraculous restoration that you are planning for us. Amen


“But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me. Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands….”

Isaiah 49:14-16. (NIV)

God is invisible, but when this was written, 700 years before Christ, God was indicating that He would have us engraved in the palms of His hands. He loves us more than a mother loves her child, and His reason for these inspiring words was to comfort His people, who at the time, were suffering and feeling forgotten. An engraving of any kind is like a covenant. People have wedding bands engraved as a covenant of marriage. The ten commandments were engraved in stone, which was the old covenant between God and His people. God went a step further in the new covenant, beyond engraving words in stone. He sent His only son, who was the fulfillment of all Mosaic law. He prepared Him to have a physical body, to reveal God’s love for us beyond mere words. He engraved us in His hands and feet through His crucifixion. The new covenant is not tablets of stone, but a person. Jesus endured the cross, for the joy that was set before Him. He foresaw the redeeming grace that we would each experience because of Him. It gave Him great joy, to foresee what good would come from His engraved hands and feet. The scars in His hands and feet remained even after His body was resurrected and in a glorified state. Since we are forever engraved in His hands and feet, He loves us with a forever,  steadfast love, unlike any other relationship we could experience. When you think God seems far off, or has forgotten you, think of Jesus’ hands and feet that were engraved for you. It is an eternal engraving, and a reminder that God’s love is incomparable to anything on earth. Things can happen in our lives that make us look up and ask, “ God, where are you?” He still answers the same way by saying, “Look at my hands and my feet, and know that you are engraved forever.”

Joy defined

“Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.“

John 16:24

When we think we’ve lost our joy, we may be mistaking joy for happiness. Happiness is conditional, depending on external relationships and circumstances. Joy is unconditional and based on a relationship with God. Jesus didn’t say He will give us joy, He said He would make our joy complete. He indicated that it is through our asking and receiving, that our joy is made complete. It’s not the things we receive that complete our joy, since we all know people with a lot of things, who are still not joyful. Through asking and receiving over time, we allow God into our inner life and maintain a tried and true relationship with Him.  Through our relationship with Him, faith reaps reward, and we learn to trust and wait for the other answers. Our joy becomes complete in knowing God and being known by Him, more than in receiving answers. The joy Jesus talked about is beyond temporal happiness. People were happy after being healed, the disciples were happy that the demons were subject to them, and there is great happiness in overcoming external evil, but Jesus was speaking of something deeper and more lasting than happiness. The prophet Nehemiah told us the joy of the Lord is our strength. There is an inner strength that cannot be derived from the happiness of everything going our way. The apostles and early Christians were betrayed by friends and family, thrown to the lions, beheaded and killed just for believing in Jesus. Things didn’t go their way, but their most valuable asset was their inner strength, a deep joy of knowing Jesus was in it with them. Before Peter was martyred, he told the early church to rejoice in their trials with indescribable joy, full of glory. Maybe this was the joy Jesus was talking about. It’s a joy that gives us strength, and comes from knowing He is with us. It resides in each of us who have maintained a relationship with Jesus. If you search, you’ll find this complete joy is within you. It developed through your many hardships and trials, and is evident when you can pause and say, 

“I know whom I have believed in, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) 

Think like a giant slayer

“David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”

1 Samuel 17:45 (NIV)

Using a slingshot was one of David’s natural gifts, but it required a supernatural gift of faith and courage to boldly approach the Philistine giant, Goliath. David refused to wear heavy armor or to even carry a spear. He walked up to Goliath with a few stones and a slingshot, all because he believed in a God who was on the side of his chosen people. Most of the Israelites were terrified of Goliath, but in David, God saw someone who had more faith than fear. There are many giants in the world today, and many things to fear, but God is looking for some Davids, who believe they are a part of something bigger. In spite of our failures, fears and insecurities, we can rise to become giant slayers. We are a part of the church of Christ, and He said that nothing will prevail against His church. We may not have warrior skills or fancy weapons, but like David, we stand in the name of the Lord Almighty, who we now know is Jesus, and He leads us to victory. David never saw himself as a chosen person, but as a part of the chosen people, and there’s a difference. His courage to face that giant came from knowing he was a part of God’s chosen people. His motive to defeat Goliath was not to bring honor to himself, but to bring honor and praise to the God of his people. We are the people of God, and we also walk in faith, not fear. We are a part of the church of Jesus Christ. We may stumble and fall, but we will rise up again. David had some serious moral downfalls in his lifetime, but he was also sensitive enough to receive correction and repent of his sin. Whenever he fell, he rose again after every downfall. Just like David, we know who we are in Christ, and when we fail, the mercy of Jesus draws us back to our place in His church. With courage we face every giant in Jesus’ name, because we trust His authority and power. We are a church full of Davids, flawed, but forever rising again and slaying every giant for the glory of God. 

A crown of life

“Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him. “

James 1:12 (RSV)

Whatever version of the Bible is read, this scripture doesn’t change. It says there is a crown of life for believers who love God and keep their faith during the testing and trials of life. Bible scholars may have different understandings of what the crown implies, whether it’s a literal gold crown or a symbol of eternal happiness in heaven. Whatever it is, they do agree that it means persevering faith in tough times will be rewarded. God’s eye roams the earth, looking for those who love Him and continue trusting in Him during times of adversity. God doesn’t cause suffering, but He promises to be near to those who are going through it. (Psalm 34:18) He is near to all who are suffering, hoping they would turn to Him. Just as Jesus spoke to the thief dying on the cross next to Him, He is near to those in critical care units of hospitals in their last minutes of life. He is near to the one who is in a crisis in the waiting room, whose loved one is in surgery after a major trauma. He is near to the parent whose child lies terminally ill in the pediatric intensive care unit. Wherever a heart is breaking, God is near to that person in a unique way, inviting them to come to Him. He loves all people with the same unconditional, self giving love, but He also desires a relationship with each one of us. He would really like to receive our love in return, and He takes note of those who do. I always wonder what God is trying to say to someone during an intense trial in their life. I’ve wondered it as I heard some very sad stories within the past two weeks. A young woman who delivered a baby last spring was found to have a cancerous brain tumor in the fall. A fifty nine year old man who was the face of the main OR front desk, working there for many years, died suddenly of a heart attack last week. A woman who works at our hospital was hit by a car crossing the street to go to work this week. She is going to live but has many broken bones to heal. All this sadness in a short period makes one wonder what God would like to say to people if He were to speak personally to each one. The scripture today gives us a clue. He would tell them to keep their faith in Him, trust Him with all their heart, and know that He is there with them. A crown of life is in store for those who endure difficult trials, who love God and persistently keep their faith in Him. We all need a faith that helps us face human brokenness and sorrow head on, not a faith that escapes from it, or tries to explain it away. Christianity is the only answer for finding perseverance under trials. Eastern religions teach meditation to escape difficult realities, and they believe that bad karma causes the tragedies in life. Only the Christian faith teaches that God loves us and will work all things together for our good. God became a man, who suffered and died for us, and there is no human misery that Jesus has not taken upon Himself. Peter, James, John and Paul all wrote something about crowns being given to reward those who are faithful until death. Jesus persevered in His mission out of love, and He deserves the same persevering love from us in return. Today’s scripture can be summed up as follows: Those who love God, trust Him, those who trust Him, continue to believe and obey even when life gets hard, and persevering faith will be rewarded in the end. We can do all things through Christ, knowing that He first loved us, and works all things together for our good. 

Lord, show us how we can love you more, and help us to persevere with enduring faith through the trials and hardships of life. Amen

Fall on Jesus

“Whom are you seeking?They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am He.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. Now then, when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.”

John 18:4-6 (NASB)

This scripture is a most unusual one.  Judas betrayed Jesus and led the soldiers to arrest Him. The group of soldiers were asking for Jesus of Nazareth, and as Jesus answered, “I am He”, the men instantly fell backward to the ground. John’s is the only gospel which tells this curious story of the group of men falling backward when Jesus spoke those words. The power flowing from His presence caused their knees to buckle and they collapsed. Now, when I read this mysterious part of scripture, I find a deeper meaning in the entire scene.  It’s the divine phrase,”I am”, which Jesus said at other times in His ministry. He said it to the Pharisees when they questioned how He could have known Abraham. Jesus answered, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” When Moses heard God speaking to him through a burning bush, God identified Himself as “I AM that I am”.  When Moses was filled with fear,  God told him to go tell Pharaoh, “I AM has sent me.” The great I AM always ends doubts, gives courage, and teaches us that His Presence is perpetually with us. Jesus comes to us when everything seems messed up, falling apart, and we are filled with doubt, or overwhelmed with fears. He is the great I AM, who makes Himself known, whispering to our hearts “I AM  here.” He meets us in our mess, and invites us to let go and just fall into His arms. He wants us to know that He is who He is and is always with us. He comes to us in our own dark night in the garden. When we are asking “Are you even here?” He answers us “ I AM”. Jesus can identify with us in our darkest  night of doubt and questions, because He also was once alone, betrayed, and full of questions. He is especially drawn to all who are in that similar place. Whatever the condition is of our mind or spirit, Jesus is speaking to us saying “ I AM right here, I know how you feel, and I will never forsake you.” His power is flowing towards us, so we can let our knees buckle and fall back into the loving arms of the great I AM.