Thursday, December 31, 2009

Evaluating Priorities

Many use the New Year holiday as a time to evaluate priorities. When we do, we have to ask ourselves what is important to us. Our family? Our friends? A job? The community? Or is God the most important reality?

Jesus did not minimize family or friends or daily life. Remember that He restored sick children to their parents, He provided food for hungry people, and He blessed a wedding with His presence and with supernatural provision.

Yet Jesus made it clear that family and friends—or jobs and communities—cannot be most important. God must be pre-eminent.

He told a young man to sell everything he owned and then he would have treasure in heaven. (Mt. 19:21b NKJV) He told the disciples that anyone who prefers family members is not worthy of Me. (10:37b)

It seems too harsh when not understood in the light of grace. But if we put God ahead of all else, if He is first in our lives, through His provision we have more love to give others. In fact, we have more than if we had not put God first.

When preparing for His death, Jesus said, For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (16:25)

Jesus should always be our example, and He never subverted His priorities. He abandoned everything to His Father's will and brought salvation to all who receive him.

Originally published December 31, 1992.
Picture: Antique ceramic angels. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fearing God

When making plans for a new year, it is good to recall the many Bible verses that remind us to fear the Lord. Not because we want to avoid trouble but so we can walk in confidence.

The concept of fearing God is difficult. Some interpret fearing God as having great reverence for Him—a sense of awe and wonder when confronted by this God who is beyond comprehension. Certainly, that is truth, but not the whole truth.

There are keys that take the concept a bit further. When we look at Bible stories, we see that those who truly fear God are set free from normal fears. The fear of God thrusts them forward. David slew Goliath and Gideon routed the Midianites. (I Sam. 17 & Judges 7) And we read of Moses, By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the King’s anger. (Heb. 11:27a NIV)

In the book of Acts we read that the church was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. (Acts 9:31)

We will not be flippant about our God if we fear Him. But we will be fearless in the face of oppositon. And we will be motivated.

Originally published December 30, 1982.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jesus Is Coming

Before Jesus came to earth, people looked for a Messiah who would come as a king. Jesus surprised them by coming as a suffering servant. Even so, many recognized Him and received Him as their Lord.

After Jesus completed His ministry on earth, and after He died and rose again, He ascended into heaven. From that day forward, the people who had received Him began to wait. They looked ahead to the time when He would come again as the long-awaited King. Because He said He would.

Various theories have been promoted concerning the day of Jesus Christ's return, but all believers and Biblical scholars agree on two points: one, He is coming again, and two, many will be surprised when it happens.

Paul wrote, the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come. . . . (I Thess. 5:2,3a NIV)

Peter said the event would come, like a thief . . . elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (II Pet. 3:1b,2b)

Jesus changed the course of history—and those who received Him as Lord believe He will radically change the future as well. During His earthly ministry, He described His return when He told the people that they “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory . . . Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mt. 24:30b,35)

Originally published October 14, 1983.
Picture: Lindenwood Park, Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Celebrating Jesus

We need to remember that Christmas is a birthday celebration—and when we celebrate a birthday, we do not concentrate on the individual’s arrival as a baby. Rather, we commemorate their entire life. In a sense, we celebrate the person.

So Christmas is more than a celebration of Jesus’ birth. We want to focus on the enormity of His person, His life, and His work.

The Apostle John began his gospel by writing about the life of Jesus before His birth as a human. Then he says of Jesus, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory. . . . (Jn. 1:14a RSV) John presented a very big picture of the baby who slept in a manger.

How big is our vision of the Baby Jesus?

Originally published December 24, 1981.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

He Understood

Most of us spent much time and effort preparing for Christmas—including time purchasing gifts. Sometimes we hold our breath, not knowing if a gift will be received as an expression of love. When it is, we rejoice.

There was a man in Jerusalem who received a special gift during the first Christmas season. When Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the temple, God gave Simeon a revelation. He knew in his spirit that Jesus was God’s instrument of salvation, and he received the gift of revelation as an expression of God's love. Holding the baby, he said, For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel. (Lk. 2:30-32 NKJV)

An exciting detail in this story is that Simeon said all peoples. He looked beyond his unique time and place in history. He looked ahead and saw God had prepared a gift for people outside his culture and his time.

Today God desires that we receive His special gift—through a revelation of His salvation. He wants us to recognize Jesus—know who He is--and He wants us to receive Him in our hearts.

Originally published December 24, 1992.
Picture: Christmas ornament. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Will We Seek Jesus?

Wise men from the East looked for Jesus. They had been searching the heavens where they saw an unusual star and they followed the star to Israel. Then they said, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? (Mt. 2:2a NKJV) They wanted to worship the King.

Shepherds responded after they saw an angelic visitation. They left their flock of sheep and went to Bethlehem because they wanted to see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. (Lk 2:15b)

We may not be able to literally see a star in the heavens or hear a message from an angelic host, but each of us can hear God’s message in our heart. If we listen, we will learn His call is soft, gentle, real. He waits for our response.

Will we seek Jesus—that we might worship Him? Will we investigate the truth He makes known in our lives?

As we celebrate Christmas once again, our goal can be seeking Jesus. Like the wise men and the shepherds, let us spiritually look for Him and upon Him. Let us worship Him.

Originally published December 18, 1987.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

They Gave Him Gifts

Worship includes giving. We see this in the Wise Men. When they finally found the baby Jesus after their long journey and after searching for Him throughout the land of Judea, they fell down and worshipped. . . ." (Mt. 2:11b NKJV) They also presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and Myrrh. (Mt. 2:11c NKJV)

We do not know how much the Wise Men understood about Jesus—if they knew He was God in the flesh—a perfect sacrifice sent from heaven to a sin-ridden world.

We do know they were aware of God’s unique stirring in their hearts as they searched for the child. And God supernaturally guided them on their search. After their encounter with Herod, the star which they had see in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. (2:9c)

The Wise Men acknowledged that the child born in lowly conditions was somehow worthy of more than simple admiration. They demonstrated reverence by falling down in front of Him. They worshipped the tiny baby. And they gave Him gifts of great value.

Originally published December 23, 1988.
Picture: Gift boxes. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Pilgraimage

The Bible tells us that After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” (Mt. 2:1a,2 NIV)

What an enigma surrounds the Magi. We know they practiced astrology—not to be confused with astronomy. Astrology was a forbidden activity for the Hebrew people. (Deut. 18:11) Yet the the wisemen were God’s chosen vessels—sent to announce the arrival of King Jesus.

We might also be outside the acceptable codes or practices for God’s children—involved in forbidden activity. But we are not outside God’s grace. The story of the wisemen tells us salvation is for all people. God invites us, just as He invited the Magi, to make a pilgrimage—to seek a revelation of Jesus.

Originally published December 23, 1983.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

She Meditated and Marveled

The Christmas gospel tells us, Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Lk. 2:19 NKJV)

So many things had happened to Mary. There was an angelic visitation, a miraculous pregnancy, prophetic words from her cousin Elizabeth. Then Joseph believed her, accepted her into his home, and provided for their journey to Bethlehem. When Jesus was born, shepherds unexpectedly arrived and announced another angelic visitation.

Small wonder that Mary pondered. She thought deep thoughts about events related to the child sent by God. But her pondering was not merely excited mental gymnastics racing out of control. Nor was it doubt. Rather, Mary meditated upon—marveled over—the great love and power of her God. God was doing a mighty work on the earth, and she was privileged to be a part of it.

If God is truly alive in our hearts, we will ponder, too. He has done—and continues to do—mighty works on the earth. We cannot help but think deeply about His great love and power toward all who believe.

Originally published December 21, 1990.
Picture: Karen's garden, Winona, MN, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sheep or Shepherds?

Shepherds are appealing as we anticipate Christmas—because God chose to announce Jesus’ birth to a group of lowly shepherds.

Shepherds are also a familiar Biblical metaphor. Shepherds are used to portray God Himself in the Old Testament. Ezekiel said, As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I [God] look after my sheep. . . . (Ez. 34:12a NIV)

In the new Testament, Jesus identified with shepherds when he said, I am good shepherd. (Jn. 10:11a) So it is fitting that shepherds were among the first to receive news of Christ’s arrival.

And yet, when An angel of the Lord appeared to them [the shepherds] . . . and they were terrified. (Lk. 2:9) Their response was understandable, but their reaction did not demonstrate an ability to care for others—or present a picture of God looking after His people.

So perhaps God had dual vision when He selected these particular shepherds. Perhaps He wanted to emphasize the shepherd image—and perhaps He selected specific shepherds who also represented sheep in need of salvation. When we look at the shepherds as sheep, we can identify with them—and identify with their quest for Jesus.

Originally published December 2, 1983.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Prince of Peace

Peace seems to be the cry of almost every heart. If you doubt it, why do so many Christmas cards focus upon peace as a theme—with angelic choirs signing before lowly shepherds: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will toward men. (Lk. 2:14 KJV)

But peace is an elusive quality. It has not been found by world governments—although they often bandy the word about. And social conditions indicate personal peace within individuals is also rare.

When Jesus approached the end of His ministry and His impending death on the cross, He wept because the people did not know peace. Overlooking the city of Jerusalem He said, if you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Lk. 19:42 NIV)

Perhaps we do need the emphasis of peace during the Christmas season. But a genuine search for peace cannot focus on a concept but on the person of Jesus.

After hearing the angel’s message, the shepherds responded by immediately going on a search. But they did not search for peace. They searched for the baby. They knew He was not only the key to the angel’s message. He was the message. They said, Let us now go. . . . And when they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (Lk. 2:16 KJV)

They found a Savior—and it is the Savior who brings Peace.

Originally published December 10, 1982.
Picture: Creche carved from olive wood. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Call His Name Jesus

Angels told both Mary and Joseph that Mary’s baby would be named Jesus. To Joseph, the angel added, He will save His people from their sins. (Mt. 1:21 NKJV)

Jesus means Savior. Today the name is immediately recognizable as the personal name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah or the Christ. It is the name of God’s son when He lived in a human body. But it wasn’t always so. When Jesus lived on earth, the name was common, a variation of the older Hebrew name Joshua.

Nevertheless, the name was important even then, because it identified Jesus’ primary ministry. For although Jesus did many wonderful things—He taught people, He performed miracles, and He demonstrated God’s love as He lived His daily life—His primary purpose was to redeem or to save people from sin. Other men of God had taught and performed miracles. Only Jesus had and has the power to save.

Originally published December 20, 1991.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Joseph's Visitation

After the angel Gabriel visited Mary—and after the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary—Joseph must have been a confused man. We read that, not willing to make her [Mary] a public example, [he] was minded to put her away secretly. (Mt. 1:19b KJV)

Scripture also says, But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. (Mt. 1:20)

This was not a standard dream, but Joseph accepted the strange supernatural message about a strange supernatural event. He changed his plans and was obedient to God's Word. The Bible tells us, being raised from sleep [he] did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife. (1:24)

Joseph's troubles were just beginning. The road ahead included the trip to Bethlehem with Mary giving birth to the baby in a stable. Then, when Herod threatened to kill the Christ, the angel spoke again. This time Joseph took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. (2:14b) Because he did not know how long they would be gone, his plans could only be incomplete.

Throughout the infancy and childhood of Jesus, Joseph played a key role in a deadly struggle. God selected this complex man to fulfill a huge task. It was the hour of his visitation.

Originally published December 17, 1982 and December 16, 1988.
Picture: Viewed from the street, Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Recognizing His Messengers

We’ll see many angels this Christmas season. They will be perched on top of Christmas trees and floating on greeting cards. Some of us will also hear angels—singing in Sunday School programs, wearing white robes with gold or silver accents, sporting a tinsel halo.

Have you ever wondered what the Angel Gabriel looked like when he came to Mary in Galilee? Luke’s account does not suggest anything unusual about his appearance. It only records that Mary was troubled at his saying and considered what manner of greeting this was. (Lk. 1:29b NKJV)

Maybe everyone knew how angels looked during Bible times, but I doubt it. The important thing is that Mary accepted Gabriel as God’s messenger. She listened when he spoke and she received his Word for her. She responded in faith when she said, Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word. (v. 38)

God speaks to His people in many ways. Will we recognize His messengers to us this Christmas season? Will we hear Him when He speaks?

Originally published December 4, 1992.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Doubt God's Word?

Even righteous people occasionally doubt God’s Word. Zecharias was such a man, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (Lk. 1:6b NKJV)

Then one day, as he fulfilled priestly duties in the temple, an angel appeared to Zecharias, telling him, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (v. 13b)Furthermore, the child would be unusual, set apart by God for a special purpose.

But both Zecharias and Elizabeth were old—too old to have a baby—and Elizabeth had been barren their entire marriage. Zecharias questioned the message. That was when the angel pronounced a hard saying: you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe . . . . (v. 20a)

Perhaps it was all part of the master plan. People understood that something unusual had happened when Zecharias could not talk—that he might have seen a vision. When Zacharias received his voice again—and immediately prophesied about his son and about the coming Messiah—they knew God was at work.

Originally published December 15, 1989.
Picture: Wild flowers, Minnesota Lake Country, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Living in Anticipation

Anticipation can be almost as good as the actual event or item we wait for. That’s one reason why we love the Christmas season. The extended period of joyful expectation is half of the fun.

Strangely, even when anticipations are tempered by doubt or fear—or when prospects appear negative—we fare better than when we live with no expectations. The things we anticipate give shape and meaning to daily events. They provide direction and purpose.

The Israelites lived in anticipation—they waited centuries for their Messiah. And while they waited, God spoke to them through the prophets. The book of Isaiah tells us, He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young. (Is. 40:11 NKJV)

Perhaps the Israelites failed to see the promises were with them all the time. When they walked in doubt or fear, God gave them hope. When they sinned and faced judgment, He directed their vision beyond their circumstances to the joy of receiving forgiveness. Walking in God’s promises requires trust. The Israelites needed to believe that He loved them and to anticipate that He would move in their lives.

Originally published December 11, 1992

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beauty for Ashes

The Christmas spirit is an elusive dream for many people. Perhaps they feel isolated from family and friends—or insecure because they do not know how to select presents. Perhaps they lack funds to pay for presents—or are overwhelmed by fatigue and bills. Whatever the cause, failure to experience the dream causes anxiety and stress.

Jesus didn’t come so we could strive after elusive dreams. He came to invade hearts—to penetrate our depths—to offer a revelation or vision of Him. And He brings peace and joy.

The prophet Isaiah had much to say about the Christ-child named Jesus who grew up to bring salvation to all people. According to Isaiah, He brings, beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they [we] may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Is. 61:3 NKJV)

Receiving the promises recorded by Isaiah might require rethinking our Christmas plans. If we belong to Jesus, we can stop striving after the elusive dream—and let a true vision from the Spirit of Jesus touch our spirits—because the Spirit of Jesus is the true spirit of Christmas.

Of course, major changes require adjustments, but that would be a small price to pay if it means exchanging beauty for ashes!

Originally published December 12, 1986.
Picture: Commercial display, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Babe of Bethlehem

The Babe of Bethlehem had characteristics that could be—and can be—found in other babies. The Bible tells us that He grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Lk. 2:40 NKJV) He also increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Lk. 2:52) These characteristics are unusual, but history records a number of unusual children with hearts tender toward God.

There are some essential differences, however, between the baby named Jesus and other babies. When He became a man, Jesus died for the sin of all people. He could do this because, unknown to most people, He carried within Himself a divine seed that came from God. By sacrificing His divine life, He broke the power of Satan—and He specifically broke Satan’s hold upon the lives of people who call upon Him.

Jesus humbled Himself and came to earth as a man—to die for the sin of all men—so we can have eternal life. The Babe of Bethlehem died in my place.

Originally published December 24, 1987.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Embryo of Jesus

When the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary about the birth of Jesus, he said, And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son. . . . (Lk. 1:31a NKJV) Mary wondered about this and asked, How can this be, since I do not know a man? (v. 34b)

Gabriel explained that the Holy Spirit would move upon her: the power of the Highest will overshadow you. (v. 35b) And it happened as Gabriel said. Mary conceived the embryo of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The new life within her came from both God and a human.

Many doctrines rest upon the concept of the Virgin Birth. One of those doctrines is the redemptive value of Christ’s blood. Blood forms at conception. After conception there is an embryo with blood, but before conception there is only egg and seed. The baby’s blood can be quite different than that of either parent. And the blood of Jesus was quite different from that of His mother. It carried not only her characteristics, but also the characteristics of His Heavenly Father.

Impossible? Yes. But Gabriel reminded Mary that, with God nothing will be impossible. (v. 37) Mary replied, Let it be to me according to your word. (v. 38b)

Originally published December 13, 1991.
Picture: Lindenwood Park, Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

He Came as a Baby

No one denies that Jesus lived. The Roman government recorded both His birth and His death. The historian Josephus wrote about him—and He became a significant figure in world history.

But if we fail to recognize Him as God-become-man, Jesus will never be important to us personally—and we’ll never appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. He came as a baby, but He was and is the Word which was with God and was God before the beginning of time. (Jn. 1:1,2) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14 KJV)

This God we call Jesus did not pretend to be a person by temporarily taking on human form. Instead, He relinquished His powers as God when He became one of us. It was as though He came incognito. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and his own received Him not.(Jn. 1:10,11)

On the other hand, as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. (vs. 12) And that is the wonder of Christmas.

Originally published December 20, 1985.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Genealogy of Jesus

The genealogy of Jesus as recorded by Matthew does not agree with the genealogy of Jesus as recorded by Luke. They are the same from Abraham to David, but Luke goes back to David through his David's son Nathan while Matthew goes back to David through David's son Solomon.

It is difficult to know which provides Mary’s genealogy and which provides Joseph’s. Luke reads, Jesus . . . being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph. . . . (Lk. 3:23b NAS) Perhaps he gives Mary’s lineage because Mary furnished the earthly inheritance of her son. Jesus’ genetic code as a human came through Mary. Through her, he was literally from the seed of David.

Matthew also emphasizes the virgin birth. But perhaps he provides Joseph’s lineage. This is important because Joseph’s family determined Jesus’ birthplace as well as His legal family.

Isaiah prophesied, Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse [David’s father], And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him. (Is. 11:1,2a) Jesus is the son of David and the Son of God. He’s God and man—and He’s our Lord and Savior.

Originally published December 13, 1985.
Picture: Basket of pine cones with antique candlestick. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Gentile Named Ruth

Ruth was a Mobite. Her Israelite husband broke God’s law by marrying her when he lived in the land of Moab. Then he died, and when his mother Naomi prepared to return to Israel, Ruth must have seriously thought about staying in her homeland. She would surely face rejection and persecution in the land of her husband’s family.

But Ruth was unwilling to separate herself from God’s people. The Bible tells us she clung to Naomi. She said, For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16b NKJV)

The young woman born outside of God’s kingdom decided she would chose God by identifying with His people. She journeyed to Israel with Naomi. When she demonstrated great tenderness and love for her mother-in-law, she was accepted in spite her background.

Then, in one of Scripture’s most beautiful love stories, Ruth became the wife of Boaz. Their first son, Obed, became grandfather of King David. And centuries later Jesus descended from the lineage of David.

The outcast named Ruth—the Moabite Gentile—played an important role in the ancestry of Jesus. She was a forerunner of God’s plan to include Gentiles among the people who belong to Him.

Originally published December 14, 1990.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

He Brings Revelation

Throughout the Christmas season, everyone will experience specific events that will make up this year’s celebration. Some will become vivid memories—good or bad—that we will carry with us the rest of our lives. They might come through a church or school program, the trauma of shopping, parties, or the individual things we do to prepare for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Will our memories center on Jesus? Not all—but hopefully many. Without Him, there would be no Christmas. And without a revelation of Him, our memories fall short because we miss the meaning of the event.

Only a few individuals outside the family understood the significance of God's visitation when Jesus was born, but a prophetess named Anna did. She was “of great age. . . .” (Lk. 2:36b) After her husband died when she was still young, she had given herself to prayer. The Bible tells us, She did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. (v. 37)

Then Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the temple on the day of His dedication, and Anna had a revelation. The Bible tells us, in that instant, she gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (v. 38)

Over the years, Anna had collected many memories as she learned from God's Spirit. All came togeher when she looked at a baby and recognized the future ministry of Jesus. For revelation is built on what we know. Anna recognized Jesus because she already knew Him with her spiritual eyes. When we are ready, He brings revelation.

Originally published December 26, 1986.
Picture: Poinsettia tree, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, December 4, 2009

God Incarnate

Everyone loves a baby. During the Christmas season, we are especially aware that God sent His Word to us in just such a form.

God sent His Word to Mary through an angel and she responded, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. (Lk. 1:38a RSV) Jesus was conceived when Mary opened her heart to receive.

The sweet baby—God Incarnate—came for the express purpose of wooing and winning sinful people. And God continues to send forth His Word through revelation of the person called Jesus. He waits for our response and He rejoices when His truth and life are conceived in the hearts of people who open their hearts to receive.

Originally published December 18, 1981.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Advent of God's Son

God’s glory is an expression of God’s goodness. Some define His glory as a revelation of His total goodness.

Because Jesus’ life was an expression of God’s nature, He revealed—and continues to reveal—God’s goodness. He revealed His father’s total goodness every moment of every day during His earthly life—when He entered the world as a baby, when He met the needs of individuals and multitudes, when He died on the cross, when He rose from the grave, and when He ascended into heaven.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of Jesus’ when he said, Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. (Is. 60:1,2 NIV)

Today, Jesus continues to embody everything we need to know about the nature of God. The season of Advent is a time for setting our hearts to receive glimpses of God’s glory. It’s time to celebrate the advent of God’s Son.

Originally published November 29, 1991.
Picture: Karen's garden, Winona, MN, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Immanuel . . . God With Us

Few people would say Christianity is an inferior religion. Of all world religions, it alone presents a God who reaches down to provide a way of salvation. Other religions demand sacrifices from their followers. Christians, however, believe Jesus came as God in the flesh to be the sacrifice. The Baby in the manger is unique and worthy of worship because He is Immanuel . . . God with us. (Mt. 1:23b)

So people err when they try to identify Christianity as one of several valid religions. Scripture claims it is exclusive: Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? (I Jn. 2:22a NKJV) Christianity cannot accept the possibility that other religions have vital truth to offer because the other religions have nothing that pays the pentalty for sin. If the beliefs of Christianity are compromised, the teaching is no longer Christian.

Jesus did more than live a good life. He is God. He existed as God before the creation of our world. He came to earth as God in the flesh so He could pay the penalty for our sin. This is the message of Christmas. Immanuel . . . God with us.

Originally published December 9, 1988.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coming Into View

During the liturgical season of Advent, all Christendom prepares for the advent or coming of the baby Jesus. The word Advent literally means, coming into place or coming into view.

Yet we appreciate the full impact of Jesus’ advent only by looking at His ministry. For when this itinerant carpenter began to reveal His identity, the world responded, No one ever spoke the way this man does. (Jn. 7:46 NIV)

One day during Jesus’ early ministry, As he walked along he saw Levi [Matthew], son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. (Mk. 2:14a NIV) Jesus said, Follow me, and Matthew did. (v. 14c) He even accepted a new name.

Jesus is still revealing His identity by coming into view. He continues to reveal Himself to people, and He comes to us that we might come to Him. His invitation, Follow me, is still open.

Originally published November 26, 1982.
Picture: Homemade Christmas log. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Become Human Again?

Someone once said that God became flesh—came to earth as a baby—so people can truly become human again. That might seem like a strange idea. But because we are sinners, our humanity or human-ness often falls short of what it should be. Jesus came to change that.

Jesus lived His entire life in perfect harmony with Father God the way God intended all people to live. Through His perfect life and His death, Jesus brings us life. When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, the angel said, And she [ Mary] will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. (Mt. 1:21 NKJV)

When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we receive a portion of His life—as much of Him as we can accept by faith. Our fallen human nature is always a disappointment. When we look at Him and His life in faith, we reach out to grasp a higher, more complete life ourselves. God’s power in us can overrule our baser instincts. He changes people who follow Him into people who are more fully human.

Originally published December 18, 1992.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

It Lasts Forever

Many of us probably feasted on traditional turkey dinners with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving Day, and now we are eating leftovers.

Some may also have used Thanksgiving Day as a time to think of material blessings—and to be thankful for them. And now we can be thankful for leftovers!

Life would be tough without God's blessings—including necessities, leftovers, and even some of our luxuries. But there is another blessing we should remember during the Thanksgiving season: In his great mercy he [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (I Pet. 1:3b NIV)

This blessing is more important than food, shelter, clothing—or any of the less vital, but enjoyable benefits of comfortable living. Although the new birth cannot be touched or seen, it will last forever.

God gives the new birth as a spiritual feast to all who come to Him, and we never grow tired of it as we do with physical food. There will always be enough to satisfy us over and over. The new birth is an eternal blessing that offers consistent hope and joy, an inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade. . . . (v. 4a) It comes to us directly from God—and will be with us when other blessings fail.

Originally published Novemer 25, 1988.
Picture: Potted plant on deck, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, November 27, 2009

We Receive to Give

After celebrating Thanksgiving Day, it is a good idea to remember that genuine thankfulness goes beyond simple gratitude. If we are truly thankful, we will take another step. We will move from receiving to giving.

Using an agricultural metaphor, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that if farmers are unwilling to be generous when planting seed, they will not receive an abundant harvest. He who sows (or plants) sparingly will also reap (or receive) sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (II Cor. 9:6 NKJV)

Paul’s subject was not planting and harvesting crops but giving. He goes on to explain that when people give, God provides abundant grace. The more we receive, the more we have to give—and the more we give, the more we receive.

Giving and receiving do not always seem to directly correspond, but giving and blessings do. And God actually gives to His people so they can, in turn, receive His blessing by giving to others.

Originally published November 23, 1989.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving to God

Although Thanksgiving Day originated with Christians who depended on God for survival, many Americans today overlook Christian aspects of the holiday. A day full of food and football are the often the plan.

Scripture helps us look beyond our natural inclinations because it lifts us beyond our natural mindset—and the psalms are a good place to start in Scripture. The settings of the psalms are varied—and they differ greatly from both the Pilgrim’s setting and our setting. But they have power to change the focus of our hearts.

Many of the psalms emphasize God’s provision. Psalm 65 begins with, Praise is awaiting You, O God, in Zion . . . O You who hear prayer. . . . (v. 1a,2a NKJV) Then, Your paths drip with abundance. (v. 11b)

If we do not know He listens to prayer, there’s a good chance we miss out on much of God’s abundance. Today is a day to offer thanksgiving to God—and to believe He hears.

Originally published November 20, 1992.
Picture: Como Park Convervatory, St. Paul, MN, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Humble Shall Hear

Thanksgiving originated as a harvest festival—as a day when the early Pilgrims offered thanks to God for the year’s crop. Their very lives depended on full storehouses, so we can imagine their gratitude was heart-felt. They knew they were vulnerable—and that they could not provide for their needs without God’s help.

In United States today, we can be thankful for a multitude of blessings on Thanksgiving Day. Because it is a national holiday, we might focus on historic aspects of the celebration. The vital connection of the Pilgrims to God reminds us that, after a certain amount of struggle, the early leaders made a decision to offer freedom of religious expression for both the minorities and the majority.

But do we remember that true thankfulness contains an element of humility? Thankfulness means we are grateful to someone for providing what we did not provide on our own. It looks to the One who helps us when we cannot help ourselves. David was king and a poet whose wrote many songs of thanksgiving. He wrote in one of his songs, I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord, the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. (Ps. 34:1-2 KJV)

This Thanksgiving, remember to thank God for His blessings. We need them.

Originally published November 22, 1985.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Final Gathering

Much of Old Testament life revolved around feasts. The Hebrew people observed not only Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but other sacred gatherings as well. There was the Firstfruits or Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. All but one—the Day of Atonement—were celebrations. Each has a New Testament application. For example, Jesus is our Passover Lamb.

The culmination of all the celebrations was the Feast of Tabernacles. When the people converged on Jerusalem from all parts of Israel, they lived in makeshift booths for eight days.

In some ways, this amazing event can be compared to our Thanksgiving Day celebrations. It was a feast after the final fall harvest. But Biblical scholars also link this Feast to the Second Coming of Christ—the event that will signal the final gathering of God’s people.

When Jesus spoke about the final gathering, He spoke about those who were called to live with Him eternally. He said, many . . . will try to enter and will not be able to. (Lk. 13:24b NIV) Nevertheless, People will come from easy and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. (v. 29)

Originally published August 30, 1985.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, November 23, 2009

He Works for Good

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God. . . . Rom 8:28a KJV)

Some have used this verse to support the idea that every event or happening must be God’s will because it is for good. The verse does not say that. It says, all things work together for good.

Many evil things have happened in our fallen world—abuse, war, accidental death, crippling disease, distortion of personalities. None can be considered God’s handiwork. Human tragedy is never the will of God.

But the verse is a promise. When evil things do enter our lives—regardless of how difficult they may be—God can somehow bring them together so they work for our benefit if we look to Him and trust Him. They can even bring victory in the face of defeat or despair.

God is the great Creator. When tragedy strikes, He is at work—just as He is at work at any other time. No circumstance is so terrible that it is beyond His creative touch. He will even use it for good.

Originally published February 19, 1983.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

His Gift to Us

Both general sins, the kind committed by people as a whole, and specific sins, the kind committed by an individual, can be overwhelming.

We're often plagued by one of two problems when dealing with our overwhelming sinful nature. We might refuse to acknowledge the sin because the thought is too much for us—so we do not accept God's gift of salvation. Or we might be overcome by guilt because the sin seems so awful that it cannot be forgiven—so we do not accept God's gift of salvation.

A psalmist looked at our dilemma differently. He wrote, If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness. . . . (Ps. 130:3,4a NIV)

The psalmist was not downcast or dismayed when he reflected on his sinful state because he looked beyond himself and directed his attention to the One who can provide a solution. He affirmed the nature of God, because God, not people, holds the key. The psalmist recognized that, with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. (v. 7b)

God clearly states in His Word—including the Old Testament—that salvation for forgiveness from sin is a gift that He provides. Our sinful nature is real and fearsome—but God’s solution is big enough to take care of it.

Originally published January 14, 1983.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, November 20, 2009

An Exciting Interruption

Interruptions are breaks in the flow or action. Sometimes interruptions are disturbing, but sometimes they are delightful. In fact, interruptions can even be catalysts or sparks for revelation or whatever God has at the moment.

It is only reasonable that many exciting interruptions occurred in the life of Jesus—because He Himself is the most exciting interruption of all times. God entered the ebb and flow of human life and changed both individuals and history.

On one occasion, Jesus was on the way to heal the daughter of a ruler in the synagogue named Jairus. Jairus had sought Jesus, saying, My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come. . . . (Mk. 5:23b NKJV)

The ministry of Jesus was popular at the time—but the huge crowds that followed Him often milled about with no concern for people who were lost in the crowd and seemed insignificant. One such person was a woman afflicted by a flow of blood for twelve years. (v. 25b) No one paid attention to her or her need. The only way she could receive from God was to press forward—to interrupt Jesus when He was on His way to do something that others thought was more important.

Jesus did go with Jairus to heal the little girl—He raised her from the dead. That was important. But first He responded to the woman and the interruption she imposed. He said, Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction. (v. 34)

Originally published May 1, 1992.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Again and Again

Jesus comes again!—and not only in the future when He returns at the close of the Age. Then He will make a final gathering of His people unto Himself. But He also comes presently—again and again and again—into everyday life. He comes into every situation where He is welcome, and He brings His life with Him.

Many parables tell us to eagerly look for Jesus—to anticipate His coming. If we limit out interpretation of these passages to the Second Coming of Christ we might miss the joy of His entry into our daily lives.

Jesus said, Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. (Lk. 12:35,36 NKJV)

We want to be ready for the second coming of Christ. But we also want to be ready to welcome Him today. If we continually welcome Him into our present lives, we will welcome Him at any point in our future. Look for Jesus. He is coming!

Originally published May 10, 1991.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ask Me of Things to Come

Depression is a common malady in today’s society. Many people have lost their sense self worth—they fight chronic battles with fatigue and hopelessness—even despair.

There may be physical causes for depression. But perhaps we struggle as a group—as a society—because we resist God. Isaiah said, Woe to him who strives with His maker . . . Shall the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?” (Is. 45:9a & c NKJV)

If we fight against God, we must find our personal value or purpose in something else. We can turn to humanism. But even the most talented people eventually run out of self to discover—and then they must look for escape in things of the flesh or in another spiritual reality.

God, on the other hand, offers infinite value to each individual. If we trust Him, we discover He has good plans for us, and He offers a destiny.

God wants us to seek Him. He said, Ask me of things to come . . . I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; I did not say to the seed of Jacob, “Seek Me in vain. . . .” (v. 11b,19a)

Originally published March 15, 1991.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Eternal Sacrifice

We never tire of hearing good things about someone we love. And we never tire of hearing a person we love tell us they love us in return. Such messages are choice messages.

Likewise, we never tire of hearing a choice Word regarding Jesus. He is the great love message of all time. The book of Hebrews says, Christ came as High Priest . . . Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all. . . . (Heb. 9:11a,12a NKJV)

Jesus made it possible to approach God! Only the high priests could enter the Most Holy Place of the Temple where God's Pesence dwelled. And the high priest entered only once a year with a blood sacrifice. Jesus changed that when He gave Himself—the eternal Blood Sacrifice for all people.

Originally published August 31, 1990.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig

Monday, November 16, 2009

Unique Identities

We reason that if everyone becomes Christ-like, everyone would become the same. But the God who created a physical world with seemingly infinite variety expresses Himself through variety in all of creation—including people.

Three beings in the form of men appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre. . . . (Gen 18:1b NIV) One was the Lord; the others were angels. Each was a separate manifestation of God’s nature.

This is also true of Biblical heroes. As they followed God—allowed Him to form them in His image—they did not become clones of one another. Each stands out as an individual because God ignited their unique abilities.

We might be searching for an identity—be struggling to develop. When we strive on our own to be unique, we almost always end up conforming to the latest trends. But if we follow Christ, we becomes expressions of His nature—with His infinite capacity for variety. The more we yield to Him, the more He reveals our unique identity—the unique creation He had in mind when He fashioned us.

Originally published September 7, 1984.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Faith Is the Substance

Faith is an elusive concept. A dictionary defines it as, belief, and trust in, and loyalty to God.

The book of Hebrews provides another definition: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1 NKJV)

How do we trust in a God we cannot see? For truly, no one sees, has seen, or will see God. And that is not all bad. If God could be proven, faith would be unnecessary. But what is this elusive faith?

Perhaps we have difficulty with defining faith because we try to describe it as a mental choice or position. We check our thoughts to see whether we have faith. Our thoughts might reveal our status, but they will not help us find or understand faith.

Neither the Bible nor the dictionary approach faith as the thoughts of the mind. For faith is primarily a choice of the heart and a position of the heart. The heart chooses to believe or not believe depending upon its desires. When the heart chooses God, faith becomes reality in the life of a believer.

Originally published February 28, 1992.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, November 13, 2009

God Is Looking at Us?

The Bible tells us the Lord, looks on all the inhabitants of the earth. (Ps. 33:14b NKJV)

Are we happy that God is looking at us? Are we so sure of His love—and so sure of His ability to help us—that we rejoice in His care? Or do we resent His attention? Do we try to suppress the true motives of our heart? Do we think of Him as a taskmaster who robs us of fun?

These are important questions. When we try to hide motives, even from ourselves, we do not fool God. He understands us better than we understand ourselves. He knows all about anything and everything we might try to hide.

But He does not look at us because He is a taskmaster who insists we meet certain obligations. He does it as the one who offers forgiveness and salvation. He does it because He is our source of joy. The psalmist explains, Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. (v. 20,21)

Originally published March 27, 1992.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fully Trained

Some of Jesus’ teaching are so familiar we tend to gloss over them. Well, of course, we say. Until we try to live them. Then they become difficult.

Teachings like, If you love those who love, what credit is that to you . . . love your enemies. . . . (Lk. 6:32a,35a NIV)

Perhaps we have trouble living the teachings of Jesus because we do not submit to his training. Jesus told us we would never rise above our master. He said, everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (v. 40b)

So who is our master? Is it Jesus?

The ability to love those who do not love in return is not natural. We cannot love on our own even when we try to love. But we can love if we focus on Jesus, because we discover He loves us. If we demonstrate love because we know by faith that He is alive—and that He lives in us—His love becomes reality through us.

Jesus trains us when we look to Him. It can become a lifestyle.

Originally published June 21, 1985.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To Ponder God

Once the human mind gains a measure of knowledge, it often becomes impressed with its achievement. This is as true in the spiritual realms as in other areas of life.

It is also tricky, because firmly-understood truth—which should be positive—becomes a foundation for well-defined mental precepts. And well-defined precepts could (not will, but could) become rigid, offensive dogmas.

Scripture says, Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. (I Cor. 8:1b,2 NIV)

When people become rigid, they lose their desire to search—to think deeply or to meditate further. There is a danger of reducing everything to rules and regulations. And God cannot be defined by precepts, dogmas, or regulations.

A psalmist said, Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. (Ps. 111:2)

To truly know God is to know He will never be fully known.

Originally published July 6, 1984.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Active Meditation

A psalmist wrote, Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. (Ps. 48:9 NIV)

The word meditate or meditation means different things to different people. Eastern religions promote passive meditation—emptying of the mind to receive outside impulses.

In contrast, Christian meditation is active. When we practice Christian meditation, nothing overrules our minds or our self-control. God never forces Himself.

Christian meditation could be defined as deep thought, studying, pondering, focused thinking—over an extended period of time.

But although Christian meditation is active, it is more than mental exercise. When we truly meditate, Scripture becomes personal. We may focus deeply on God—think deeply about any aspect of His person. We may have a specific question. We may become interested in a Biblical character. If, as a result of our thinking, God somehow reveals Himself so He is more real—more vital—we are meditating.

Originally published June 6, 1986.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sound Doctrine

When people today use the word doctrine, they usually refers to specific concepts about truth and/or about God. Most Christians agree that doctrine based on Biblical teaching is important. We should examine our beliefs carefully—study them in light of God’s Word.

But a passage in Paul’s letter to Titus challenges our ideas about doctrine. Paul uses the word in a different context. He begins, You must teach . . . sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1 NIV) So far, so good. But the verses that follow indicate that his doctrine relates to lifestyle rather than concepts. For example, [T]each the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. (v. 2)

Paul continues with similar standards that are directed toward older women, then younger men and women, and then others. He concludes the segment of his letter with, For the grace of God . . . teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions. . . . (v. 11a,12a)

This doesn’t mean we should abandon doctrine as a belief system. It does mean we should expand the meaning to include applications. How do our beliefs affect our daily life? That is the true measure of doctrine.

Originally published May 6, 1983.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Worthy of the Calling

The first three chapters of the letter to the Ephesians tell about the spiritual position and authority of those who accept Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. The last three chapters talk about God’s entry into the daily life of Christians.

Paul makes it clear in the letter that although our spiritual position is our foundation, we will never understand that position if we do not let Christ enter our daily lives. Likewise, we will not walk in His authority unless we submit to Him.

Paul wrote, I . . . beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called. . . . Eph. 4:1 NKJV)

We cannot enter that walk by ourselves—or stay on the walk by ourselves. What we can do is accept the life of Christ and let Him begin to work in us.

Originally published August 23, 1991.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Living Hope

When Nicodemus came with questions in the night, Jesus said to him, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn. 3:3b NIV)

Nicodemus did not understand the idea of being born again. And he did not understand that spiritual life is a gift.

But in the Old Testament, God had revealed this truth through the prophet Ezekiel. God said He would remove sin and place a fresh, clean heart and spirit in people who turn to Him. (Ezekiel 36)

Receiving a new heart is equivalent to being born again. But Nicodemus either had not learned or did not understand Ezekiel’s prophecy. He did not know that God gives new hearts—and that they cannot be earned. New hearts come by grace through faith.

Peter called the transformation that occurs when a person receives a new heart a new birth into a living hope. (I Pet. 1:3a) When we receive Jesus, He brings His life. We are born again. We experience a new birth. And we walk in a living hope because He lives within us.

Originally published July 29, 1983.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A New Direction

Asking questions must be a God-given attribute—if we did not ask questions, we would not search for truth—or receive a revelation of truth. (Revelation is Scripture that God opens up for us. He illuminates His Word in our hearts and minds.)

However, after God gives us meaningful answers via revelation, the nature of our curiosity changes. For an example of this, look at the Old Testament character named Job. After God answered his questions via a revelation, Job could only say things like, I am unworthy—how can I reply? . . . (Job 40:4a NIV)

Isaiah’s response was similar when he received a revelation: Woe is me! . . . I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips . . . and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty. (Is. 6:5)

But neither man stopped searching; their quests simply took off in new directions. The new concern became pleasing God—and discovering how to follow His Will. That requires asking questions, too.

Originally published October 4, 1985.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A New Dimension

People’s desire for insight is usually superficial. And that is the way it was for the Greeks who came to the apostle Philip. Sir, they said, we would like to see Jesus. (Jn. 12:21b NIV) They assumed a simple introduction would give them understanding.

Of course, we learn from every exposure to Jesus. How else would we receive the challenges that draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. But Jesus’ response to their request did not even seem relevant. I tell you the truth, He said, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (v. 24)

Rather than introduce Himself, Jesus made it clear they could not receive spiritual insight without entering a new dimension. If they wanted to truly see Him, they would have to participate in the type of life He lived and receive the revelation He offered.

All knowledge is helpful and worthwhile. But revelation and spiritual insight require more than occasional or superficial exposure.

Originally published March 22, 1985.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Emotional Wounds

Most of us do not deal well with emotional wounds. We are afraid to let others know our hurts. So we suppress them—or we cover them up with anger—or we analyze the offending person, perhaps make excuses for them because we love them.

But none of these actions removes or heals our wounds. Suppressing hurts causes inner turmoil that usually intensifies damage. Anger complicates everything. Rationalizing other people’s behavior might help us accept hurt—and keep us from becoming bitter—but it does not promote healing.

God has a remedy but it will not work if we deny our feelings—or if we are angry—or even if we make excuses for the other person. It is called forgiveness, and it means admitting both our woundedness and the other person’s sin—and choosing to forgive anyway.

Jesus said, And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your treapasses. (Mk. 11:25 NKJV)

Forgiving requires looking to Jesus because He gives us power to forgive. But the first step is acknowledging our wounds. We will not be open to healing unless we know we need it.

Originally published January 2, 1987.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, MN, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, November 2, 2009

You Also Be Open

We are strange creatures, we people. Sometimes we are angry with others not because of what they have done to us—but because we feel guilty over what we have done to them. Or because of the way we feel around them. They remind us of our failures or weaknesses—our imperfection—our sin. Sometimes our feelings are so intense we dislike the other person intensely—and at best, we are uncomfortable.

The Corinthian Christians experienced these feelings when they thought of the Apostle Paul. He was their spiritual father but, in his absence, they had followed false teachers. Later, when they recognized their error, they were ashamed to admit it. Paul loved them with a pure heart, but they said hateful things about him. Although he was their spiritual father, thinking about him made them uncomfortable.

Paul wrote a long letter to these mixed-up people. O Corinthians! he said. We have spoken openly to you. Our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your affections . . . You also be open. ( II cor. 6:11,12, 13b NKJV)

All of us have failed other people at times. How do we feel around them? Are we open about our failure?

Originally published September 22, 1989.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Suffer Persecution?

We usually associate persecution with physical abuse or imprisonment—perhaps by an oppressive government. But persecution covers a wider range of activities. A dictionary definition of persecution includes harassment and to trouble or annoy constantly.

Developing the inner strength to stand when under persecution—even subtle varieties—is an important part of the maturing process. Peter had personal experience with persecution when he wrote to encourage young Christians. He said, always be ready to give a defense . . . for the hope that is in you . . . For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (I Pet. 3:15b,17b NKJV)

A thought to consider: If we do not hold our own against subtle persecution, would we hold our own against severe physical abuse or some other type of rejection?

Originally published December 29, 1989.
Picture: Fall foilage, West Fargo, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, October 30, 2009

To Have the Kingdom

If something is at hand, it is nearby. We should be able to reach out and grasp it with our fingers. Jesus' directions to His disciples were, And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 10:7 NKJV)

If the kingdom of heaven is truly at hand, it has to be more than eternal life in paradise. It must exist not only in the future, but also in the present. The people of Palestine were probably more interested in a physical kingdom apart from the Roman Empire than in an elusive concept they could not understand. Perhaps some even thought He was talking about a physical kingdom, but such a possibility was hardly something at hand.

So what is this elusive but nearby kingdom? As we move deeper into the story, we learn Jesus is the King of heaven. We learn our ability to walk with Him determines our ability to walk in the present-day, nearby, spiritual kingdom of heaven. He said, Therefore, whoever confesses Me before men, him I will confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before him, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. (v. 32)

Most of us have trouble reaching out to receive the kingdom of heaven, even when we do walk with Jesus. The concept is alien to our mindsets—we are too focused on the physical realities to think about spiritual realities.

But there are great promises for those who move in God's kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, Freely you have received, freely give. (v. 8b) He always has more for His children and He always rules with His kingdom laws of love and grace.

Originally published July 26, 1991.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Your Fallow Ground

Jesus used examples from everyday life when He told the parable of the four types of soil. Wayside soil is too hard for seed to take root. It represents hard people who do not hear the gospel even when it is clearly stated for them.

Stony ground lacks nourishing soil. Seed planted in it withers when conditions are dry. It represents people who are open to aspects of God's Word but who do not establish a vital connection with God because they do not receive spiritual nourishment. Their Christian life withers when they suffer adverse circumstances.

Thorny ground has weeds that rob the seed of moisture so the seed will not develop as it should. It represents people who receive the Word, but who struggle because so much of their effort is focused on other things. The life of God's Word is chocked by weeds of pride.

Finally, good ground provides ideal growing conditions for seed. It represents people who hear the word [seed], accept it, and bear fruit. (Mk. 4:20a NKJV)

The exciting thing about the four soils is that none of the conditions is permanent. If left to itself, the best soil becomes hard and cracked like a wayside, but it can be plowed and worked again. Farmers can bring stones to the surface of the stony ground so the stones can be removed. Farmers can also look for ways to control weeds. Good farmers change the nature of the soil, and when they have prepared the soil, they plant their seed.

The same is true for the soil of people’s hearts. God prepares our soil. We can resist His work in our life or we can invite Him to help us. God—the master farmer—has a message for the people who desire to receive Him in faith. He is the one who plants His seed, but people can open themselves up to receive the preparation of their hearts.

The prophet Hosea said, Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you. (Hos. 10:12b) If we are willing to acknowledge and confess our sin, we fulfill the one condition necessary to receive God's grace. When we see ourselves as we are, we value God as He is. Then we are ready to seek the Lord.

Originally published March 14, 1986.
Picture: from Karen's garden, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

He Went Out to His Disciples

At one point during His ministry, Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him in a boat. Then a storm came up and caused problems for the disciples. Finally, About the fourth watch of the night he [Jesus] went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them. . . . (Mk. 6:48b NIV)

This is one of those puzzling verses. Twelve tired disciples are struggling against strong winds. They need help and Jesus is going to pass by? It doesn’t fit our concept of Jesus!

Yet it is a beautiful picture of God’s revelation. First, Jesus looked upon His disciples' need—just as He looks upon our needs today—and He went out to them. . . . Many testify today that Jesus has come to them during a time of need.

But as is often the case, God may not be recognized when He enters a scene. The disciples thought he was a ghost. (v. 49b) Because Jesus will never forces His presence, He did not actively intervene until the disciples cried out. (v. 49c)

“Take courage! It is I.” Jesus said. Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. (v. 50b,51a)

Originally published March 4, 1983.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Personal Touch

When we think about the miracles of Jesus—the power they transmitted and the great changes they wrought in people’s lives—we often focus on the spectacular.

But Jesus usually performed miracles because He desired to meet people’s needs. A personal touch—not the power—was a motivating factor. When he met the widow of Nain, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” (Lk. 7:13b NIV)

Everyone probably held their breath when Jesus approached the coffin, wondering what the Rabbi would do. The men carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” (v. 14b)

Dramatic? Yes. The young man did get up. All the people were amazed and turned their thoughts toward God.

But remember the relationship between the mother and the son. We do not know exactly what they did after the funeral was interrupted. But they probably went home together.

Originally published August 3, 1984.
Picture: Patty's garden, 2008. Photo by Patty.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jesus Is Our Sabbath

Throughout the Old Testament, the Law or Torah affected every aspect of the Israelites’ lives. For example, according to the law, the seventh day of the week was set aside as a holy day, a Sabbath rest for the people. In addition, the seventh year was set aside as holy, a Sabbath rest for the soil because fields would not be planted or harvested.

The law of the Sabbath also included observing the Year of Jubilee—although Biblical scholars are not sure it was ever celebrated. The law concerning theYear of Jubilee declared that after seven Sabbath years—seven times seven or 49 years—the people were to celebrate a Year of Jubilee on the 50th year.

During the Jubilee Sabbath, people who had been sold into slavery would return to their families. Land that had been sold to someone outside the family would be returned to the original owners. It was a different type of rest and a time when the people experienced God's favor. (Lev. 25)

God revealed to Isaiah that eventually the Israelites would be defeated and carried away into captivity, but that someday they would return. He proclaimed the return as a type of jubilee when he wrote the Word of God: In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help. . . . (Is. 49:8a NIV)

In the New Testament, Jesus is our Sabbath. Paul said, I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the time of salvation. (II Cor. 6:2b)

Jesus provides freedom and rest for all who come to Him—and He provides it whenever they come. He restores what evil has destroyed. Even today. When we look to Jesus, He is our Sabbath.

Originally published May 16, 1986.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Natural Stage

Jesus is the God of nature. Although Satan was identified as god of this world (II Cor. 4:4), Jesus is God with a capital G. He created the earth (Jn. 1:3), and after His death of the cross, all authority was given unto Him. (Mt. 28:18)

During His earthly ministry, Jesus utilized His creation as a source of illustrations when He told parables and when He alluded to natural phemenon. Jesus also used His creation as a backdrop for ministry. Mark 4:1a says, And again He began to teach by the seas. (NKJV)

Can you picture the setting? The Sea of Galilee was a natural stage. Mark tells us that when a great multitude was gathered . . . He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the seas.”(M,. 4:1b)

The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake nestled in mountains. It is the sea Jesus walked upon, the sea where He stilled the water during a storm, the sea that obeyed Him by releasing fish into His disciples nets. When the people settled themselves by its shore, Then He taught them many things. (v. 2)

Originally published August 3, 1990.
Picture: Wild berries along Hwy. 2, Idaho, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, October 23, 2009

New Clothes

After the people returned from the Babylonian captivity, they were poor and they struggled. During this time Zechariah described a vision he received of the high priest named Joshua. Joshua stood before the angel of the Lord wearing ragged, dirty clothing. The angel said, Take off his filthy clothes. (Zech. 3:3b NIV)

The vision spoke of more than earthly clothing, however. It had symbolic meaning—because the filthy clothing represented sin. The angel continued, See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you. (v. 4b) Joshua also received a clean turban, and the angel stood nearby to watch while others wrapped it around Joshua’s head.

When Paul wrote to New Testament Christians, he often drew upon his Old Testament knowledge of Scripture. Perhaps he indirectly referred to the vision in Zechariah when he wrote to the Galatians: You are the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal. 3:26)

The new clothing is not physical but spiritual—and it illustrates the new life God's people receive when they accpet Christ’s death as payment for their sin.

Originally published December 30, 1983.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rebuilding the Wall

Ancient cities had walls so people could retreat inside for protection. When the gates of the walls were shut, people in the city experienced a measure of protection from robbers, wild beasts, and invading armies.

Because the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem's walls, the Israelites needed to rebuild them when they returned from exile—but conditions were not good. And when Nehemiah, cupbearer for the Persian king, heard about the plight of the people, he obtained permission to return to Jerusalem so he could help the people.

The first thing Nehemiah did after he arrived in Jerusalem was pray.

Then he challenged the people to work—even while under attack. He developed strategies and set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. (Neh. 4:13b NKJV) Only half of the people actually worked on the wall while the others kept watch and held weapons. Because the people were spread thinly around the city, he said, whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. (v. 20b)

When the project was completed, Nehemiah joyfully recorded that they finished it in 52 days. Furthermore, as the Israelites rejoiced, their enemies perceived that this work was done by our God. (6:16c)

Originally published October 30, 1987 and October 4, 1991.
Picture: Wildflowers, Glacier National Park, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

God's Able Minister

The Babylonians carried many Israelites into captivity—including a youth named Daniel. Daniel entered fully into life in Babylon because he obeyed the words of the prophet Jeremiah. When he did, God blessed him with a career that was long and varied.

Daniel actually served as an able minister of two empires. First Babylon. But when the Medes and Persians overran Babylon, Daniel survived to become a key figure within the Persian Empire. Scripture tell us Darius planned to set him over the whole kingdom. (Dan. 6:3b NIV)

This was too much for Daniel’s Persian contemporaries. They were jealous and wanted to get rid of him. But they could find nothing wrong with his work or his person when they tried to discredit him. They finally devised a scheme so Daniel would be found guilty—of prayer! In accordance with a silly law of the land, Darius was forced to sentence Daniel to death via the mouths of hungry lions.

Darius was loathe to lose his faithful servant. He did not sleep well the night after Daniel was thrown into the lion's den. In the morning he rose early to see what had happened.

In this story, we usually focus on the brave Daniel who would face death rather than deny his God. But what about Darius? He wanted Daniel to live—and he was foolish enough to think it might be possible. He called out, Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God . . . been able to rescue you? . . . (v. 20b)

The Lord did protect Daniel by sending an angel. When it was over, Darius wrote a decree saying everyone must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. (6:26b) God saved the minister who served a pagan king—and He touched the heart of the king as well.

Originally published November 12, 1882.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"So I Prophesied"

God is omnipotent—meaning He has all power on heaven and on earth. But for reasons we do not understand, He chooses to work through people.

Ezekiel recorded an example of this when he wrote how God gave him a vision of a valley full of dead bones. As Ezekiel looked over the scene, God asked him, [C]an these bones live? (Ez. 37:3a NKJV)

Ezekiel knew God could make dead bones live, but He did not understand God’s plan. So, with the voice of one familiar with the ways of his inscrutable God, he replied, O Lord God, You know. (v. 3b)

Today almost everyone knows the story. In fact, it is such a familiar story that we might gloss over how God made a humble human being an instrument of such great and incomprehensible power.

The dead bones represented the Israelites, and God did want them to live. He could have spoken life into them directly without Ezekiel's help, but He chose to use a person. God said to Ezekiel, Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! (v. 4)

Ezekiel recorded, perhaps with a sense of irony and resignation, that he followed the Lord's instructions. So I prophesied . . . there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together bone to bone . . . and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.”(v. 7,10b)

Death cannot stand against God's Word. Even when spoken by a man, God’s Word brings life. Israel would live.

Originally published October 13, 1989.
Picture: Commercial landscaping, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.