Saturday, February 28, 2009

Contend Earnestly









Peace from God doesn’t mean loss of conflict. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, and Jude verbally offered peace when he wrote, Mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you. (Jude, v. 2 NKJV) Jude also supported conflict when he wrote, contend earnestly for the faith. . . . (v. 31)

Jude instructed the believers to contend because outsiders had come to the congregation with heretical doctrine. Without making their intent known or immediately apparent, men were gradually introducing doctrines that said it was okay to turn the grace of our God into licentiousness. . . . (v. 4)

The teaching must be resisted, but the people didn’t need to lose their peace while they stood for truth. Their peace rested upon their inner relationship with God—not upon circumstances—or even on the presence of ungodly men teaching ungodly doctrines. They could have peace amidst strife because they trusted God.

Originally published June 23, 1980.
Picture: Red River of the North, 2009. Photo by Cindy.

Friday, February 27, 2009

With the Eye of Faith

Jesus put a great deal of effort into the disciples. They were His trainees. Before He died, He said to Father God, “They were Yours. You gave them to Me . . . Now they have known all things which you have given Me are from You.” (Jn. 17:6b,7 NKJV)

Jesus said that even when He knew the disciples did not understand much of what He was saying to them. He even knew they would scatter at the time of His crucifixion. Yet He invested in the disciples because His Father told Him to—and because He believed His Father. He continued to pray and to work according to His Father’s Word concerning them.

Jesus looked at the disciples with the eye of faith, seeing not only who they were at the time, but who they would become. He believed they would develop into mature apostles. He even believed, in spite of how it seemed, that His time with them was bearing fruit, “Oh righteous Father!” he said, “The world has not known You . . . and these have known that You sent Me.” (v. 25)

Originally published November 30, 1990.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Outside the Camp









Lent is that time of year when much of Christendom focuses their attention on the cross of Jesus.

Although the cross is a familiar, loved symbol today, crucifixions were hardly lovely. We know from historical records that especially evil leaders arranged for public crucifixions. For the most part, however, they were conducted in secluded places away from the mainstreams of daily activity because they were so gruesome, abhorrent.

So just as the Old Testament scapegoat was taken outside the camp during the Exodus of the Israelites—bearing their collective and personal sin into the Wilderness (Lev. 16)—Jesus died outside the camp. We read, Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. (Heb. 13:12 NIV)

The writer of Hebrews continues by offering an invitation, Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. (Heb. 13:13)

Originally published February 26, 1982.
Picture: Flower in Hawaii, 2004. Photo by Patty.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Looking Forward

Most of us have experienced a time when life seemed utterly black, hopeless. Jesus death on the cross was such a time for His disciples. All hopes of a kingdom on earth were dashed—and they didn’t understand the eternal kingdom Jesus had talked about. They couldn’t conceive of the resurrection that would follow. It appeared that evil controlled their future when Jesus was delivered into the hands of sinful men. . . . (Lk. 24:7 RSV)

So often our darkest hours are preludes for a resurrection. When we think there is no hope, God is doing His thing, working with a master plan set in place before written history and beyond our wildest human imaginations.

Although the disciples didn’t understand, Jesus did. The writer of Hebrews explains this when he wrote, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross. (Heb. 12:2a NIV)

Lent is meaningful because it points to Easter.

Originally published April 9, 1982.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You Think You Have?












People can spend a lifetime studying Scripture without coming to God. The Pharisees did. Jesus said to them, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." (Jn. 5:39,40 NKJV)

Jesus, our example, studied the Scriptures, too. He received spiritual truth; He let His Father speak to Him and fill Him with life.

If the Pharisees had listened to God speak through the Scriptures, they would have heard the Father, recognized Jesus and listened to Him as well. They would have come to Jesus with humble hearts.

They didn’t want to come to Jesus and they continued to study with hard hearts. Jesus said, "You do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.” (v. 38)

Originally published January 19, 1990.
Picture: Red River of the North, 2009. Photo by Cindy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Good Works

Although we accept salvation as a gift from God, we have a dangerous tendency to think we deserve credit for good works. Who doesn’t want to be recognized from time to time, to be appreciated for their effort.

While it’s impossible to avoid desiring interaction with others--after all, God did create us as social beings--we need to be careful. Thinking we’re responsible for the good we do isn’t consistent with Scripture. We receive our ability to do good we have by grace through faith. Paul said, it is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose. (Phil. 2:13 NIV)
Jesus, our prime example, demonstrated this for us when He said, the son can do nothing by himself, he can do only what he sees his Father doing. . . . (Jn. 5:19 NIV)

Good works always originate with the Father. He delivers the possibilities to His followers through His Holy Spirit. We follow His leading. So we do good works, but not on our own. They’re a response to God’s grace.

Originally published August 23, 1985.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Stick of Wood












Some of God’s illustrations are simple, but they so wonderfully illustrate His point.

The people of Israel were divided into two nations, had been divided for many years. When Ezekiel prophesied, the northern kingdom had been overrun by Assyrians and the southern kingdom was being ravaged by Babylon. During that difficult time, God told Ezekiel to take two sticks. On one he should write, belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him. On the other, belonging to Joseph (Israel) and all the house associated with him. Then, Join them together into one stick so they will become one in your hand. (Ez. 37:16,17 NIV)

The people of the two countries were all God’s people—and they shared a common faith. But they were separated by sin. They had even been at war with one another.

Even so, during this time of sorrow and great destruction, God reminded the people of Judah of the destiny they shared with Israel. He also continued to draw them to Himself and to speak to them through His prophets. I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (v. 23b)

Originally published May 25, 1984,
Picture: Along the Red River of the North. Photo by Cindy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Unity

Jesus spoke many promises. Some are embedded in dialogue and could almost be overlooked, but they’re wonderful promises nevertheless.

Jesus was visiting with His disciples, preparing them for His impending death on the cross, when He said, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.” (Jn. 14:19 NKJV) His subject was His unity with His Father and with the Holy Spirit. Because He experienced that unity, Jesus knew the heart of the Father and He could promise, “I won’t leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (v. 18)

Then He shifted His focus just slightly by expanding the scope of His unity. He expanded it to include God’s unity with His people: “you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” (v. 20)

When we receive Jesus—when He comes into our heart—we receive His life. Because He is God living within us, we enjoy His life on earth. We even experience unity with Him as part of our daily life when we respond to Him. Just as He promised.

Originally published April 30, 1993.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Answers to Prayer?















Jesus said to Philip, “he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also . . . And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (Jn. 14:12a,13a NKJV)

Wow. Is it possible that God answered every prayer Philip ever prayed after receiving this promise? Hardly, and I’m sure no reader thinks that was the case. Life doesn’t work that way. It didn’t even work that way for apostles.

Why aren’t our prayers answered? According to this portion of Scripture, it has nothing to do with doing an especially great job. Philip received the promise jut after Jesus set him straight on an important issue—yet Jesus gave him such a glorious promise.

Philip didn’t understand many things and we don’t understand many things. But we do know God wants us to pray, to come to Him in Jesus’ name. And we know we will never receive answers to prayer until we begin praying.

One key for receiving answers lies in aligning ourselves with Jesus’ name. If we align ourselves to Him, we're open to respond to His leading, His direction. Jesus said, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (v. 14)

Originally published October 20, 1989.
Picture: Flowers in Las Vegas, NV. 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Lord Thundered

When the Israelites gathered at Mizpah, they turned toward God. To act upon their resolve, they did something we might find strange—they poured precious water (they lived in a semi-arid country) onto the ground as an offering. Then they fasted and acknowledged their sin.

Whenever God’s people turn to Him, God’s enemies try to interfere. In this instance, the army of the Philistines advanced toward them, and the Israelites were afraid. Had they given in to their fear, they would have lost the ensuing battle.

Instead, they asked their leader Samuel to continue to pray fervently for them. Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it. . . . (I Sam. 7:9a)

We don’t offer suckling lambs today either—Jesus is our sacrificial Lamb. But regardless of the historical reference point, when people trust God and turn to Him, God has the upper hand in any ensuing battle.

The story of the Israelite battle is exciting: Now as Samuel was offering up the burn offering, the Philistines drew near . . . But the Lord thundered with a loud thunder. . . . (v. 10a)

Just like that, their enemy became disoriented and they were able to take the initiative by pursuing the Philistines and routing them out of the area. God intervened for His people when they cried out to Him.

Originally published October 11, 1991.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Positive Influence






History indicates God is a positive influence upon society. For example, the Renaissance and the Reformation occurred almost simultaneously and greatly influenced each other. Many scholars think the revival sparked by John and Charles Wesley aborted an English revolution.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when stories in the Bible link obedience to God with peace and prosperity.

Consider King Jehoshaphat. As is true for all individuals, he wasn’t above reproach but he did try to walk in God’s commands. He instituted significant reforms for his people. And listen to the advice he gave his judges: “you do not judge for man but for the Lord . . . there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.” (I Chron. 19:6b,7b NKJV)

Lest the judges become discouraged by the high standard, Jehoshaphat added a final thought: “Behave courageously, and the Lord will be with the good.” (v. 11b)

Oirignally published February 6, 1987.
Picture: Como Park, St. Paul, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Spiritual Crosses

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24 NKV)

This is a difficult saying. We might want to follow Jesus, but we can’t carry a cross to Calvary the way He did.

The cross in this passage isn’t a literal cross. It refers to what happens when our will confronts or crosses God’s will. If we desire something contrary to God’s plan, we must set aside the desire. When we give it up, it becomes a spiritual cross.

Jesus carried a spiritual cross as well as the literal wood cross when He went to Calvary because He set aside His own desires. In Gethsemane, a place of intense spiritual battle and victory, He prayed, “My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:39b) Before His death, He said, “For I have not come down from heaven to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn. 6:38)

We’ll not carry a literal cross—and we can’t even carry a spiritual cross on our own. We need the Holy Spirit. Then we are able to obey the difficult command, follow me.

Originally published January 25, 1985.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

God's Gift of Hope












Today is Valentine’s Day, a day for sending gifts and messages of affection to tell special people we love them.

Every day is Valentine’s Day for God. He constantly sends gifts and messages of love through the Holy Spirit. We receive them when we read Scripture, when we pray, when we love others, when we receive love from others, when we enjoy His creation. As we live our daily lives, there are times when He breathes a sense of His presence into our hearts. He sends hope to eager hearts.

For hope is one of God’s gifts of love. Paul said in his letter to the Romans that one purpose of Scripture is to strengthen hope in God’s people. For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scripture might have hope. (Rom. 15:4 NKJV)

Life without hope is a bleak affair. When people suffer from hopelessness, they struggle with depression. Sometimes it is hard to receive God’s gift and message of hope. But God never stops giving to them. He never tires of sending His love and His hope. Ask Him to open hearts to receive His messages of hope this Valentine’s Day and throughout the year.

Originally published February 14, 1992.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, MN, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Romantic Love

Romantic love is the focus for Valentine’s Day. Many minds are racing right now, wondering how to respond appropriately to the theme of tomorrow.

While romantic love is an important subject—some even say it makes the world go around—it’s not enough. No matter how great we love as a human, our love falls short. The love of a boyfriend or girlfriend, a fiancĂ©, a parent or child—even the love of a husband or wife—is always less than perfect. Eventually, either their need or our need exceeds the limits of love available.

God’s love, on the other hand, never fails. We may feel deserted at times, but when we come to Him we discover His sustaining presence waits for us.

The Psalmist cries, Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your loving kindness, for they have been from of old. (Ps. 25:6 NKJV)

Originally published February 14, 1986.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Criterion Is Love











There is a means for evaluating our walk with God. Although we can’t use it to judge others because we can’t enter other people’s hearts to know them completely, we can use it to search our own heart.

The criterion is love.

This doesn’t mean God won’t forgive us when we fail to love—or even if we struggle with a generally unloving attitude. He understands our nature.

It does mean we can’t repeatedly and consistently reject the people He brings into our lives. If we fail to love, we can let Him work with us and change our hearts until we do love others.

The love of Jesus is our standard. Jesus showed His love by giving His life. Through Him we understand love includes more than saying positive words—although that may be an important part of God’s work in us. John said, And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, . . How does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or tongue, but in deed and in truth? (I Jn. 3:16b-18 NKJV)

Originally published February 19, 1993.
Picture: Flower in Arizona desert, 2008. Photo by Patty.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Acting upon God's Word

In this country, most people have ample opportunity to hear God’s Word. That was also true during Jesus’ life and ministry in Israel. People could regularly attend a synagogue—and if a special preacher was in the area, they could go to special meetings. During the early days of His ministry, Jesus often preached in the synagogues in or near Galilee. He also preached along the shores of the Lake of Galilee and then, multitudes pressed about Him to hear the word of God. (5:1a)

But it isn’t enough to simply hear the Word of God. We must also respond to it. After finishing a message one day while preaching near the lake, He turned to Simon Peter who stood nearby and said, “Launch out into the deep [waters] and let down your nets for a catch.” (5:4b)

This didn’t make a lot of sense to Peter. The command contradicted both reason and conventional wisdom, but Peter responded anyway. He dropped the net; He didn’t lose the opportunity to act upon God’s Word.

And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. (5:6)

Originally published May 3, 1991.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Motives of the Heart












Parables are often hard to understand, but if we think deeply about them, they reveal hidden motives of the heart.

Jesus told about two sons. Their father asked both to work in a vineyard. The first said no—but worked anyway. The second said yes—but did not work.

Torn between obedience and personal desires, the first son responded poorly. Nevertheless, in the end he did the right thing.

The second son might have thought his motives were right. Perhaps he desired to work until he was distracted. Most likely, however, he deceived himself. Had his love been pure, nothing could interfere with keeping his word.

When Jesus asked the religious leaders which son did the father’s will, they knew the right answer and they replied, The first. Yet Jesus was comparing them to the second son. They served God with their mouth—not with their heart.

Assuredly, said Jesus, tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. (Mt. 21:31b NKJV)

Oirignally published February 5, 1988.
Picture: Flower in Arizona desert, 2008. Photo by Patty.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Up to Seven Times?"

Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive someone who sinned against him: Up to seven times? (Mt. 18:21 NKJV)

Jesus might have smiled inside when He increased the number to seventy times seven. That’s four hundred and ninety times. Because Jewish law required all accounts be settled at the end of each day, the requirement for a faithful observer (based on an average of seven hours of sleep each night or seventeen waking hours each day) would be to forgive someone more often than every two minutes!

Then Jesus told a parable about a servant who refused to forgive others, even though his master freely forgave him: The master declared, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt . . . Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant. . . ?’ And his master was angry and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. (vs. 32-34)

We can never pay to cover what we owe for our transgressions or Sin. But God offers to freely forgive if only we forgive those who sin against us—again and again and again.

Originally published June 26, 1992.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

In Full Assurance



















The blood of Jesus makes it possible for believers to enter the presence of God. The writer of Hebrews emphasized this when he said, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus. (Heb. 10:19 NKJV)

That doesn’t mean we approach God casually or flippantly. We will never have the right to approach God on our own merits, because we’re sinners who are naturally unacceptable before a perfect, righteous God. To come before God we must somehow get rid of our sin.

It's the blood of Jesus that does this impossible task for us. If we receive Him in our hearts, His blood covers our sin. And then the life of Jesus even begins to cleanse our motivations—to overcome our inner compulsions to sin.

When covered by the blood of Jesus we can come to God, in full assurance . . . having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. . . He who promised is faithful. (v. 22b,23b)

Originally published August 11, 1989.
Picture: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Power to Convict

Jesus said, “And when He (the Holy Spirit) has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; of sin because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (Jn. 16:8-11 NKJV)

This passage tells us the Holy Spirit uses His power to convict and to change people’s minds. First, He reveals sin by revealing the person of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus we might try to justify our thoughts and actions; in the light of Jesus’ perfection, however, we recognize our nature as sinful.

Second, the Holy Spirit reveals righteousness and purity by revealing Jesus’ position in Heaven. Because Jesus is with the Father He intercedes for us, and His victory over sin becomes our victory over sin.

Finally, the Holy Spirit reveals the truth of judgment by giving us understanding of Jesus as our victorious Lord and Savior and by exposing Satan as a defeated prince. When we see Jesus in heavenly splendor, we recognize Satan as a deceiver.

The Holy Spirit is God’s arm on earth today. Everything He does points to Jesus.

Originally published November 15, 1991.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Inner Growth











In one of Jesus' parables He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Mt. 13:33 NIV)

Jesus had no doubt seen His mother work with yeast many times. Along with flour, olive oil, and water or milk, she would have added yeast to bread dough, working it in with the other ingredients. Then the dough was stretched thin, left to rise, and baked in outdoor ovens.

Yeast are tiny living plants that grow and multiply when the right environment is provided for them. Then they cause dough to expand or rise when they grow and multiply. That creates the rising process.

God’s Kingdom is also alive. When it’s worked into a person’s life, spiritual truth is revealed and inner growth occurs naturally. Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Colossians when he expressed his desire for them to experience inner growth, that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:2b,3 NIV)

Originally published June 17, 1983.
Picture: Loaf of Bread, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Branches on the Vine

Jesus compared Himself to a vine and His disciple to branches on a vine. He said that if we abide in Him, we’ll bear much fruit. (Jn. 15:5 NKJV)

The kicker is that the branches of a vine are dependent upon their vine for sustenance. So Christians must depend upon Jesus. If we go elsewhere for strength or support—whether to people, institution, or even our own inner resources—we receive something that doesn’t support the life of Christ.

We need the life of Christ to sustain vital spiritual growth. Jesus explained, the branch cannot bear fruit of itself . . . If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch. . . . (vs. 4b, 6a)

What a frightening prospect. However, along with the admonition, we receive a promise. When we abide in Him, our desires are continuously refined or purified because we are receiving from Him. Jesus also said, ask what you desire and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified. (v. 7a,8a)

Originally published October 16, 1987.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pruning—Forging










God doesn’t promise a life without problems, and sometimes those problems even originate with Him. Jesus compared the Father to a gardener who cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful. (Jn. 15:2 NIV)

Perhaps that’s why we’re more aware of God’s presence during periods of stress or difficulty than when things are going well. He’s getting our attention, showing us things that need changing.

Isaiah provides another metaphor for God’s dealings in our life. There it’s the process of a blacksmith who forges change on an anvil. Isaiah says God created our exposure to the blacksmith who who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. (Is. 54:16) The “work” is changing the iron—our iron wills.

But through times of God’s work in our lives, His sustaining power never leaves us. When He’s done, we emerge stronger, ready to stand against spiritual attacks. We’re ready to respond to Him and to do good things.

Originally published September 21, 1984.
Picture: Lindenwood Park, Fargo, 2008. Picture by Solveig.

Monday, February 2, 2009

He Doesn't Do Patches

Jesus drew from the struggles of everyday living when He used wineskins to illustrate the difficulty of moving into something new. He said it doesn’t work to sew new material onto old material. If we do, “the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins. . . .” (Mk. 2:21,22 NIV)

This illustration could be disheartening because we all have a past, and our past experience puts us alongside all the other old garments or old wineskins! If new wine stands for a new or fresh touch from God, our past poses problems and we won’t be able to receive a new touch from God.

But God doesn’t patch something when it needs fixing—He doesn’t do patches. Rather, He transforms. He changes the entire garment or vessel. He not only pours out new wine, He prepares the vessel or heart that will receive it.

If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. . . . (II Cor. 5:17a NIV)

Originally published June 14, 1985.