Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Free from Tyranny

Because Jesus spoke God’s Word, the people hoped He would miraculously remove Roman soldiers and tax collectors from their land. That’s one of the reasons why the early ministry of Jesus attracted a great a deal of attention. The people were looking for a Messiah, a man who would set them free from Rome’s tyranny, and they hoped Jesus was the man.

But some of the followers were surprised by the things Jesus said and did. He challenged them in unusual ways. He said to Peter, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Lk. 5:4 NKJV)

As an experienced fisherman, Peter knew better. He tried to explain to Jesus why the effort would be useless. Then something about the person of Jesus changed his mind. He replied, “nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net.” (v. 5)

When he obeyed, Peter learned that Jesus does set people free—not necessarily from foreign powers or tyranny but from personal limitations. For, when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was braking. (v. 6)

Soon after Peter’s act of obedience, Jesus chose Peter as one of His disciples.

Originally published October 5, 1990.
Picture: Flower, Hawaii, 2004. Photo by Patty.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Ultimate Prophet

Jesus was a prophet; He proclaimed Truth and He foretold events. When one of His disciples looked at Jerusalem—and historians say the city, especially the Temple, was beautiful—he couldn’t suppress his excitement.

Jesus was not so excited. He replied, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mk. 13:1,2 NKJV) We know Jesus wasn’t happy to share this particular knowledge. But the prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed all of Jerusalem—including the temple.

Prophets do two things. First, as seers (see-ers) they perceive or see and they understand things others do not understand. Second, as tell-ers they tell others what they saw if God tells them to share it with others.

Jesus was the ultimate prophet during His earthly ministry. He was the One who saw and understood all things—and He was the One who told or revealed all truth. In fact, Jesus not only understood and proclaimed truth, but He was Truth. As God Incarnate, the Living Word, everything He said and did expressed the nature of His Father.

Originally published January 22, 1988.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Great heroes of the Bible were able to forgive. Because they were able to forgive, they were able to pray. Daniel lived an exemplary life when he both forgave and identified with the people. While praying for his people he was able to say, “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him.” (Dan. 9:9 NKJV)

It isn’t easy to forgive. Sometimes we feel victimized. When that’s the case, forgiving means yielding what is rightfully ours. That even offends our sense of justice. At other times we don’t want to forgive because we don’t want to admit we were wrong. Our self-image is at stake.

Whatever our reason, failure to forgive hinders prayer because it separates us from God. The consequence of not forgiving is severe. Jesus said, if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mk. 11:26 NKJV)

So we must forgive and we can. Like Daniel, we need to remember that forgiveness belongs to and comes from our God. We look to Jesus. His standards are high but His mercy is unlimited. He invites us to receive His Life—and the forgiveness resident within Him.

Originally published November 6, 1992.
Picture: Quilt and photo of quilt by Marlene, 2008.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Call Someone a Fool?

It’s dangerous to call someone a fool. Jesus said that anyone who says to others, ‘‘'You fool' shall be danger of hell fire.” (Mt. 5:22 NKJV)

A disparaging epithet reveals more about the person saying it than about the person who is the object of ridicule. It’s easy to take cheap shots, to judge others, to attach labels on people who don’t meet our peculiar standards. Nevertheless, these are strong words from Jesus.

Judging and labeling reveal the attitude of our heart— reveal that we’re willing to look at others with contempt or disdain.

Jesus said, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of judgment. . . .” (v. 21) If we call someone a fool, we allow our heart to slide down a slippery slope.

Originally published February 3, 1989.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

He Removed the Barrier

The veil was an important part of the temple, more than a simple furnishing. It divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies; it identified the difference between coming to God as opposed to coming into God’s Presence. As a barrier, the temple veil kept Old Testament priests from approaching God’s Presence carelessly. And as long as the veil remained, the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest. . . . (Heb. 9:8)

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn down the middle, from top to bottom. . . .(Mt. 27:51 NKJV)

Interesting. A tear in the veil from bottom to top would have indicated that men had begun the tear, but a tear from top to bottom indicated that God initiated the action.

Matthew included the information about the tear from the top because it was a sign from Heaven. It originated beyond the reach of people. Jesus’ death paid the penalty for Sin, and we're no longer separated by a barrier. We have access to God's presence.

Originally published April 3, 1992.
Picture: Flower in Hawaii, 20084. Photo by Patty.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

God's Presence

Zion is one of the mountains within the city of Jerusalem. Before David captured it, the mountain was an ancient Jebusite stronghold. It is also a natural fortress, and the mountain has a natural spring of clear, life-sustaining water flowing from its depths.

So when the temple was built on Mount Zion, the place of God’s Presence symbolized both a place of refuge and a place of refreshing. It became a metaphor for God’s protection and sustenance.

God repeatedly called His people to come to Him and to enter into His Presence by referring to Zion. Jeremiah wrote, Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God. (Jer. 31:6 NIV)

When the Israelites sinned—lived outside the Law or turned to idols—Zion was a reminder of God’s power to protect and sustain. Going to the temple was an important act of worship, but only because God's purpose was calling the people to Himself.

Originally published July 11, 1986.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


John the Baptist was out-of-step with society. He wore a garment of camel’s hair, ate locusts with wild honey, and called religious leaders a "brood of vipers." (Mt. 3:7) Yet he was God’s man of the hour because he was obedient to God’s call.

Jesus came as another teacher out-of-step. His message couched in parables revealed secret thoughts and desires. Like John the Baptist, his message required repentance. His lifestyle was an affront to self-sufficient people because He stressed dependence upon His Father. Furthermore, His claims set Him apart as the Messiah, the Anointed One. He obeyed God’s call, too.

Jesus and John the Baptist were out-of-step because they listened to different music than most people. Music that is, in fact, available to all. Isaiah prophesied, The Lord has given me the tongue of disciples . . . He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen . . . The Lord God has opened my ear; and I was not disobedient, Nor did I turn back. (Is. 50:4,5)

Originally published December 6, 1985.
Picture: Quilt and photo of quilt by Marlene, 2008.

Monday, March 23, 2009

He Makes Us Whole

Jesus met a man with a withered hand in the synagogue, and He healed it. One Word—and it was done.

But before He spoke the Word, Jesus dealt with the Pharisees—religious men who would rather see the man suffer than acknowledge Jesus’ ministry. They were watching Jesus closely, looking for fault, looking for a way to reject the ministry of God’s Son. They didn’t care about the man who needed healing.

Jesus cut through their opposition, and He spoke directly to the man: “Stretch out your hand.” The man followed Jesus’ instructions, and his hand was restored as whole as the others. (Lk. 6:10 NKJV)

There will always be people who would rather see others suffer than acknowledge Jesus’ ministry. They look for ways to reject God and His Son.

Jesus continues to deal with their opposition. If we look beyond opposition and respond to Him—stretch out our soul, our very being—in answer to His call, He promises to restore. He makes us whole again.

Originally published April 8, 1988.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Less Than a Whole Heart

It is good to seek God, but it’s possible to seek Him with less than a whole heart. Our desires can be mixed. When that’s the case—and it always is—we want God in our life, but at the same time we don’t want Him in our life. Or perhaps we want Him in only a part of our life.

If we could seek Jesus totally, we would be perfect as Jesus is perfect. God understands our nature and meets us wherever we are, regardless of inner conflicts. He does as much in our hearts as we’ll let Him do.

Nevertheless, the more we give ourselves to seeking God, the greater our blessing.

Psalm 119 is a long poem by a man seeking God. He prayed, I long for Your precepts; revive me in Your righteousness. (Ps. 119:40 NKJV)

Originally published October 12, 1990.
Picture: Courtyard flowers in Addis Ababa, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, March 20, 2009

God's Dwelling

The book of Hebrews tells us Jesus came to earth as flesh and blood because we are flesh and blood. (Heb. 2:14 LB) He is our proof that God desires to dwell with people—with ordinary human beings—people like you and me.

When Jesus came, He received and identified with our weaknesses, our frail sinful human nature. Because He identified with our sin-nature, He made it possible for us to identify with Him.

His mission was to sacrifice His sinless life for our sin. When Jesus died without sin while in His sin-prone body, He broke the power of the devil and proclaimed victory over Satan. This is the central doctrine of Christianity.

Because Jesus understands our sinful nature, He is our merciful and faithful High Priest before God . . . For since he himself has now been through suffering and temptation, He knows what it is like when we suffer and are tempted, and He is wonderfully able to help us. (Heb. 2:17b,18 LB)

God cares about us and for us. He chooses to dwell with us. We can receive His love.

Originally published October 23, 1981.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Waiting for Grace

It is said that God answers prayers with one of three answers: yes, no, or wait.

Well, true—maybe. The statement presents an incomplete or rigid viewpoint. For quite often God does the waiting while His children are the ones who hinder or prevent forthcoming answers.

Sometimes, when we’re out-of-order, the Lord waits to be gracious . . . he [God] exalts himself to show mercy. . . . (Is. 30:18 RSV)

I like the Living Bible rendition of this verse: Yet the Lord still waits for you to come to him, so he can show you his love; he will conquer you to bless you, just as he said. For the Lord is faithful to his promises. Blessed are all those who wait for him to help them.

The nation of Judah was in a tight spot when Isaiah penned this. But rather than follow God they chose their own course of action and suffered dreadful consequences.

Meanwhile, God stood ready for the time when they would turn and call to Him. He waits to be gracious. . . .

Originally published August 28, 1981.
Picture: Dried crab apples of winter, Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Value of Waiting

Most people hate to wait. Today’s lifestyle with its almost instant products and services—but its never-ending lines—seem to make us even more impatient.

Nevertheless, waiting can be exciting, a time of anticipation and discovery. Preparations for a major event are usually as significant as the event itself. And who hasn’t hit upon the solution to a problem or gained other valuable insight while patiently or impatiently waiting?

For many Christians, the season of Lent is an important time of waiting, a time to reflect upon the sacrifice of God and His Son Jesus, a time to anticipate the risen Christ of Easter, a time to encounter Truth while waiting for insight from Him.

The Psalmist said, Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. (Ps. 33:20,21 NKJV)

Originally published March 2, 1990.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hearing His Word

People have always tried to discredit Jesus. The Pharisees and Sadducees tried to trap Him in controversy by asking him trick questions. He simply redirected the conversations to bring truth and spiritual light.

One day a Pharisee, a scribe by trade, listened to one of Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisees and Sadducees. He heard them disputing with one another, and he realized Jesus made sense. He [Jesus] answered them well. (Mk. 12:28b RSV)

This man also began to ask questions, but not to prove his own point or to find fault. He sought honest answers—regardless of where they might lead him. And Jesus, after sharing with him for some time, declared, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (v. 34b)

When we have questions, it’s easy to be swayed by those who scoff—be it ever so subtle. But if we openly bring a matter to Jesus and hear His Words, we discover He does, indeed, answer well.

Originally published July 17, 1981.
Picture: The birds are gone, but the nest is still here, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, March 16, 2009

To Justify Himself

A religious leader planned to catch Jesus with a trick question by asking how a person could, “inherit eternal life?” (Lk. 10:25 NIV) This would seem simple, but it was controversial because organized religion was in the habit of complicating simple truth. One group—the Sadducees—even taught there was no life after death.

Scripture contained an answer, however, and the simple truth was well known. Jesus let the man begin their discussion by asking the man to quote it: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (v. 27)

Perhaps the expert was even waiting for superficial excuses in tune with prevailing ideas of the culture, but Jesus confronted him: “You have answered correctly . . . Do this and you will live.” (v. 28)

Simple truth is usually hard to live. Although the religious man recognized his guilt, he wanted to rationalize a way to ignore God’s clear command. The Bible says, “But he wanted to justify himself.” So he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29)

Originally published May 2, 1986.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Seeking Truth?

If our goal is looking for hidden sin in others—or finding a flaw in their logic—or revealing their financial blunder—we best beware. There is a good chance we’re no longer seeking truth.

It may even mean we feel threatened—that we’re looking for problems in others so we can hide our own guilt.

This was the case of the Pharisees or the religious authorities of Jesus' time. Jesus confronted their deceit. He spoke of how they strictly followed legal requirements while failing to show mercy. He spoke of their desire for public recognition. Then He expanded His indictment to include Scribes and Lawyers as well.

That Jesus was speaking truth was obvious to everyone. The only defense for these leaders was to find fault in Jesus. That might take the attention away from themselves. So, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him. (Lk. 11:53b,54) They weren’t seeking truth.

If they had taken Jesus’ words to heart they could have received from Him. They didn’t want to hear someone who would challenge their comfortable world.

Originally published September 18, 1992.
Picture: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, March 13, 2009

How Hard It Is

A rich young ruler came to Jesus, asking what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus began by asking a series of question. The questions were designed to pinpoint one specific problem in young ruler’s life. Then Jesus said, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mk. 10:21 NKJV)

That was a radical solution. And because Jesus didn’t tell everyone to sell everything they owned and then give it away, we know it was a personal message. If it seems hard to us, that’s because we don’t know the condition or state of the ruler’s heart, we don’t know his spiritual needs, and we don’t know anything about God’s call upon his life.

The sad thing is that the ruler didn’t respond positively to Jesus’ message. The Bible tells us, he went away grieved, for he had great possessions. (v. 22b)

Great possessions are nice, but not if they keep us from following God.

Originally published May 17, 1991.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Our Need for Mercy

Mercy. It means light punishment. Or perhaps it means no punishment, a reprieve or forgiveness when we fail or do something wrong. Mercy definitely means help is on the way when circumstances are difficult.

Our human condition being what it is, our need for mercy never ends. We continually experience failure, wrongdoing, and difficulty. With the psalmist we cry, God be merciful to us and bless us. . . . (Ps. 67:1 NKJV)

The Bible portrays God as a source of unlimited mercy for those who trust Him and who come to Him with humble hearts. With great mercy, He leads His people through hard times. With great mercy, He forgives all who come to Him.

Our response? Hopefully it's a response of gratitude. Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy. . . ! God our own God shall bless us. . . . (v. 4a,6b)

Originally published November 10, 1989.
Picture: Flower, Hawaii, 2004. Photo by Patty.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Developing Roots

When Jesus explained the parable of the Sower to His disciples, He focused briefly on people who are like rocky soil. He said, “they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.” (Lk. 8:12 RSV)

Plants can’t live without roots. Roots anchor plants firmly in the ground so they don’t fall over or blow away; they absorb minerals and water to sustain life and growth. Usually only a small part of a root is visible for they extend below the soil’s surface.

If we wish to live strong lives in Christ, we must submerge our inner life support—our roots—deep into the life and words of Jesus. Other people might never see our private life with God, but only He can keep us from blowing away during times of temptation. He feeds us the spiritual food we need and He provides Living Water. The strength and quality of our Christian life depends upon a vital relationship with Him.

Originally published September 11, 1981.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

His Perfect Obedience

Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience. He always!—always!—did His Father’s will.

Imagine. We might be willing to submit our will to another person’s will for an hour—or maybe an afternoon or a day. But even then, inside—in our heart of hearts—we wait for our time of servitude to end so we can relapse into our own ideas, our own agenda. A lifetime of submission? Impossible.

Yet that’s what Jesus did, how Jesus lived. Locked into an earthly body, He submitted to His Heavenly Father. Not because He had to, but because He wanted to. Love for His Father and for His Father’s people were His motivation. He didn’t forget—even on the cross when He cried, “Father, forgive them. . . .” (Lk. 23:34)

Jesus’ perfect obedience, even obedience to death on a cross, is our salvation. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ . . . for by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Heb. 10:10, 14)

Originally published March 26, 1993.
Picture: Roses, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Satan's Offer

Jesus came to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. Satan knew as much when he tempted Jesus. He met Jesus in the Wilderness, gave Him a grand tour by supernaturally showing Him all the kingdoms of the world.” Then Satan said, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” (Mt. 4:8b,9 NKJV)

Jesus didn’t argue with Satan’s offer or logic. He knew Satan wanted to be worshiped; he knew Satan was god of this world and that the world was Satan’s to offer. It might have seemed that taking the offer would have been an easy way out.

But Jesus knew the offer didn’t fit His Heavenly Father’s purpose.

Even more important, the kingdoms of the world—regardless of their glory—were not what Jesus had in mind at the time. He had come to establish a different kind of kingdom. When He began His ministry, He had an unique message. We read, From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (v. 17)

Satan offers the world in a negative, selfish package; Jesus offers heavenly virtues here an in our afterlife. Like Jesus during His earthly ministry, we live in the world. And like Jesus, we can receive heavenly virtues and we can look forward. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!

Originally published March 9, 1990.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Clothed with White Robes

The book of Revelation is hard to understand, but some passages are so exciting we thrill to them anyway.

For example, “ beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindred, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes. . . . (Rev. 7:9 KJV)

The multitude worshipped with a loud voice. Angels worshipped, too. Then an elder approached and asked John, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they?” (vs. 13b)

At John’s request, the elder answered his own question: “These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (v. 14b)

Originally published September 30, 1983.
Picture: Flowers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008. Photo by Solveig

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Teacher

Jesus' teaching was revolutionary during His life, and it is revolutionary today. When the crowds following Him grew increasingly large, He walked up mountainsides so the people could see Him and hear His message more easily.

Much of Jesus’ teaching is recorded in the Sermon on the Mount. He reviewed Old Testament concepts by expanding them. He opened up their meaning for the people and revealed new applications of God’s love. Perhaps He did this because many people had an incomplete understanding of the Scriptures.

Jesus offered a solution for people who have trouble understanding God’s Word. He told them to ask for help. One of the concepts He taught was, "Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. . . ." (Mt. 7:7 NIV)

The crowds were amazed at His teaching because He taught as one who had authority. . . . (Mt. 5:28) Perhaps we’re amazed, too. We need to ask, seek, and knock. We need to look to the One who speaks with authority.

Originally published February 18, 1983.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Jesus—Only Jesus

Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians telling them he had been God’s wise master builder when he was among them. He had shared Christ with them and he had helped establish them as members of God’ family. Then he said, For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (I Cor. 3:11 NKJV)

If we think of our life with God as a building, we might like to add many things to our foundation. We might like to add our good works, our accomplishments, or our talents. We might even like to add our background—the accomplishments of parents or grandparents.

But Scripture is clear. Jesus—and only Jesus—can be a foundation for life with God. Nothing else is strong enough to withstand the shaking each Christian must face.

Because everything will be tested—even those additional aspects of our Christian life: Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw . . . the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. (vs. 12,13b)

Originally published August 9, 1991.
Picture: Cactus in bloom, Arizona desert, 2008. Photo by Patty.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Prescribed Sacrifice

Moses followed direction he received from God on Mount Sinai when he sprinkled blood over the Israelite nation to ratify a covenant—to seal God’s solemn agreement with His people. (Ex. 24:8)

It’s not likely that each person actually received blood upon his person, but by faith each person identified with God’s prescribed blood sacrifice and became a member of God’s kingdom.

God made several covenants with His people in the Old Testament. Each revealed more of His nature until finally, in the New Testament Jesus ratified the final or New covenant. Jesus became the final offering for Sin when He shed His blood on a cross.

Since that time, all who receive Jesus—all who identify with His sacrifice through faith—become members of His church, God’s Kingdom on earth.

Old Testament prophets foretold that Jesus would offer the perfect His sacrifice. Isaiah said, I will . . . give You as a covenant to the people . . . That you may say to the prisoners. ‘Go forth,’ to those in darkness. (Is. 49:8b,9a NKJV)

Originally published March 29, 1991.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Captivity Captive?

Paul quoted Ps. 68:18 in his letter to the Ephersians: When He [Jesus] ascended on high He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. (Eph. 4:8 NKJV) Because that sounds confusing to our minds, let’s look briefly at what it means to lead captivity captive.

Captivity is a condition of severe restraint or bondage. Spiritual captivity is bondage to sin. It means being overwhelmed or overcome by the power of sin’s influence. People in spiritual captivity experience loss of moral freedom. They can’t choose good for pure or holy reasons.

Satan is the master-mind behind all captivity. He wants to imprison people—rob them of God’s blessings, but Jesus defeated Satan when He shed His blood on Calvary.

When Jesus ascended on high, He entered heaven as the victor over Satan. Since that occasion, no one has had to remain a captive under Satan’s control. Because, He led captivity captive.

Originally published February 16, 1990.
Picture: Cactus in bloom, Arizona Desert, 2008. Photo by Patty.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Intent on Evil

The priests and Pharisees of Jesus’ time were intent on evil. Their goal was ending the ministry of Jesus. They didn’t care that He was, in fact, the Messiah. Or that He preached God’s Word and wrought marvelous changes in people’s hearts. They didn't care that He healed the sick. Jesus cut into their territory, and they wanted Him out. And God didn’t stop them.

When the Pharisees sent officers to arrest Jesus, the officers returned without Him saying, No man ever spoke like this Man. (Jn. 7:46 NKJV) The Pharisees weren’t interested. They held Jesus and the people who followed Him in contempt. Are you also deceived? they asked the officers. (Jn. 7:47-49) When Nicodemus, one of their own who presumably did know the law, tried to defend Jesus, he was rebuked.(Jn. 7:50,51)

We wouldn’t have let it happen, but God let evil follow its course. Jesus was crucified on Calvary and a sorrowful Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea bury the body. (Jn. 19:38,39) The Pharisees—still committed to protecting their interests—paid guards to watch the tomb.

Originally published March 13, 1992.