Thursday, April 30, 2009

Good Works

Good works are charitable deeds. Almost everyone appreciates them. They can help create pleasant circumstances and relationships within families, neighborhoods, and communities. Sometimes the media will highlight a good work—and warm everyone’s heart in the process. It’s commendable when people do good works simply because they are the right thing to do.

But very often we run into unforeseen difficulties when we try to do what is right. Our work might be misunderstood or condemned by others. We could end up with wounded feelings. We might run short of energy. We could lose that charitable feeling that should go with our charitable deeds.

If this happens, we can turn to God and He will help us. If we’re motivated to do a good work in His name, He promises to give special grace and strength. The Bible says He makes you complete in every good work. . . .” He never stops “working in you what is well pleasing in His sight. . . . (Heb. 13:21a,c NKJV)

Originally published August 28, 1986.
Picture: Flowers in Addis Ababa, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Speak as He Speaks

God is gracious. Christians are supposed to be gracious as well. But what does that mean?

Some define grace as God’s unmerited favor toward people. That means we deserve nothing, but God blesses us anyway by giving us good things.

I’d like to add to that definition. God not only blesses us when we don’t deserve it, He blesses us beautifully. Grace helps define God’s nature and the way He interacts with His people. God blesses in a pleasing manner—graciously, if you will.

If we truly respond to God’s grace—to His gracious nature—we will reflect His grace. We will obey His command to become gracious toward people as He is gracious toward people.

Our communication with others can reflect God’s grace. Paul wrote, Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (Eph. 4:29 NKJV)

Originally published May 19, 1989.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

God Is Good

Paul made a surprising statement: the goodness of God leads you to repentance. (Rom. 2:4b NKJV)

Sometimes we don’t think God is truly good. We don’t like to hear about people who suffer. When we hear stories about people who turn to God in the middle of a crisis, we might even think God arranged the problem in the first place. We blame Him for it—think He should have prevented it. We can even decide He doesn’t want people to be happy or to walk in blessing.

I don’t know what God does or does not arrange. Sin and Satan contribute greatly to the overall fabric of life. But one thing is certain. We cannot sincerely call upon God—whether in the middle of a crisis or whether enjoying pleasant circumstances—unless we believe He is good. If we cannot believe He is good, we will only go through the motions of asking Him to help. Our hearts will be hard and proud. We will not expect Him to answer.

If we believe God is good, however, we will be drawn to Him. We will dare confess our sins to Him. We will trust that He can strengthen us. Or even intervene in our behalf!

Originally published November 1, 1991.
Picture: Flowers in Thailand, 2007. Photo by Patty.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Life Is Hidden with Christ

Jesus was perfect—a complete person. Paul said, For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. (Col. 2:9 NKJV)

As long as we live on earth we will not be perfect as Jesus was perfect. Yet His perfect, complete nature can flow through us. Paul also said, you are complete in Him. . . . (2:10a) We are complete only insofar as we identify with Jesus. When we accept His death as the payment for Sin, we receive His life. Just as we die with Him, we live with Him.

Paul explained that God makes us alive with the life of Jesus because forgiveness of sins removes our sin, having nailed it to the cross. (2:14b)

When the Father looks at us He sees the perfect, complete life of Jesus. When we follow Jesus, His life flows through us. Then, Paul said, For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (3:3)

Originally published February 1, 1991.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Prayers from the Bible

The Bible contains many prayers. There are the prayers of Jesus, including the familiar Lord’s Prayer. There are prayers or songs of praise and worship. There are prayers that changed the course of history. There are prayers for insight and wisdom.

Jesus said the Lord’s Prayer is a pattern. It contains all types of prayer—praise, petition, etc. We cannot go wrong when we pray the Lord's Prayer—as long as it does not become vain repetition. We are not truly talking to God unless we pray from the heart.

God gave us additional prayers as well. Some are in Paul's letters. They encourage us to pray for specific needs, and they also provide patterns that help us when we pray.

One example of a prayer from Paul's letters is found in Ephesians. It reads, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation . . . your understanding . . . being enlightened’ that you may know what is the hope of His calling. . . . (Eph. 1:17,18 NKJV)

Originally published April 24, 1987.
Picture: Commercial display, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Come and See

God is worthy of praise at all times—regardless of circumstances. But how sweet it is when we are able to praise Him for answered prayer. A psalmist expressed it via an invitation: Come and see what God has done. . . . (Ps. 66:5a NIV)

The psalmist doesn’t make light of life’s problems. Nor does he claim everything went smoothly in the middle of the difficulties. He relates how God tested His people. Speaking for the nation of Israel He says to God, You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water. . . . (v. 11,12a)

On the other hand, God did something marvelous: You brought us to a place of abundance. (v. 12b)

The key for the psalmist was prayer. He says that he personally cried out to Him. . . . (v. 17a,) Because he experienced victory and joy, he calls others to join him in praise to a God who hears and answers prayer.

Originally published August 12, 1988.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Incorruptible Son

Although the failure of Jesus’ body to decay was a miracle in the material realm, within the spiritual realm it made and makes perfect sense. A sinless, immutable God cannot decompose or decay. Neither death nor Satan will ever prevail against the incorruptible Son of God. It’s spiritually—and therefore physically—impossible.

The importance of Jesus’ resurrection—the victory of His incorruptible body over death—cannot be overemphasized. Paul said, if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain . . . you faith is futile, you are still in your sins! (I Cor. 15:14a,17b NKJV) We worship Jesus, in part, because we believe the life of God in Him could not be destroyed.

Furthermore, because Jesus—God manifested in flesh—could not be destroyed, the life of God manifested within individual people cannot be destroyed. Because Christ is within our mortal bodies, we are spiritually alive.

Originally published May 22, 1987 and April 5, 1991
Picture: Lindenwood Park, Fargo, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Effective Pair

That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord . . . he sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat. (Jn. 21:7b,8a RSV)

People respond differently to the presence of Jesus. On this occasion, Peter did not recognize Him—not even His message. He could have continued working and missed the Lord’s invitation to a special breakfast.

John did identify the Savior. He was in tune to the voice of Jesus and understood His words. How disappointing that he fell short in response and was content to follow by boat.

Each of the men was incomplete. But each acknowledged their inadequacy and drew from the other’s strength. Together—with John’s discernment and Peter’s action—they made an effective pair.

Originally published August 14, 1981.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fish for Breakfast

“I’m going out to fish,” a weary Peter told his friends. (Jn. 21:3 NIV) Several eventually joined him and they spent a long night in a boat without catching anything. Then, Early in the morning Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize it was Jesus. (v. 4)

People often fail to recognize God when they are discouraged, so we should not be surprised that the disciples failed to identify Jesus after His death and resurrection. It wasn’t until He filled their nets with fish—met a pressing need—that John identified Him. (v. 7)

But Jesus did not stop with a revelation—even a glorious one. And He did not stop after giving them the miracle of overflowing nets. He also invited them into His presence—invited them to join Him. Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast.” (v. 12b)

If we are overwhelmed by problems, we can remember He is with us. We can also ask Him to give us a revelation and meet our needs. We can even ask Him to bless us with His Presence.

Originally published June 1, 1984.
Picture: Persian Gulf from the shore of the United Arab Emirates, 2007. Photo by Marta.

Monday, April 20, 2009

His Ministry Continues

Of all the people who have ever lived, only Jesus could say, “it is finished. . . .” (Jn. 19:30b NKJV) The purpose of His human life was fulfilled.

If Jesus’ job was done, why did He appear to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning as she wept by the tomb? Why did He travel with Cleopas and another friend on the road to Emmaus—explaining Scripture as they walked along? Why did He comfort disciples who shut themselves in a room—and breathe the Holy Spirit upon them? (Jn. 20)

Jesus ministered to people after His death and resurrection because He loved them—because He wanted to comfort them—and because they needed to know He still had much to teach them, especially about His resurrection from the dead.

During those visits, He let them know He had a body. A changed but tangible body. Although He walked through a wall, He ate food. At different times He invited His followers to touch Him. He was real—different but real. They were eyewitness.

Originally published March 28, 1986.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How Slow of Heart

Isn’t it strange how we can fail to recognize God’s entrance into our lives? As human beings with limited sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, we can misread, misunderstand, or miss Him altogether.

It happened to two disciples shortly after Jesus death and resurrection. They walked to their village called Emmaus, discouraged because they did not believe women who told them Jesus had risen. How could they recognize Jesus in that frame of mind?

Jesus asked them what they discussed so earnestly. They wondered about this stranger who did not know the tumultuous events of the past few days. But they told him about the prophet of God—“we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel,” they said. (Lk. 24:21a NIV)

“How foolish you are,” declared their mysterious companion., “and how slow of heart. . . .” (v. 25a) With great care, from the books of Moses through the prophets, Jesus taught them that God’s Son would suffer and die before a resurrection. Later, eating with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened. . . . (v. 30b,31a)

Originally published April 6, 1985; April 7, 1989; April 24, 1992.
Picture: Japanese Garden, Como Park, 2009. Photo by Ken.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mercy for Doubters

Unbelief—doubting God’s Word—is an underlying cause of sin and it plagues everyone at times.

Thomas' doubt is a familiar story, but doubt is a deep-seated problem that affects every aspect of a Christian’s life. In an entirely different setting, Jesus did not rebuke the boy’s father who cried, “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” (Mk. 9:24b NIV) Is this not the cry of all human hearts at times?

After Jesus’ death, His disciples acknowledged and addressed problems stemming from unbelief. Verse 22 of the short book of Jude reads, Be merciful to those who doubt. . . . (NIV)

Honest doubters can become honest seekers. When we doubt, if we approach our struggles with open hearts, we can experience God’s mercy. He helps us face our doubt and leave it behind. Then we can turn to Him in faith.

Praise God for mercy.

Originally published July 22, 1983

Thursday, April 16, 2009

People Who Love Him

Thomas had trouble believing Jesus was resurrected from the dead. When the other disciples insisted Jesus had appeared to them, Thomas declared, “Except I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (Jn. 20:25b KJV)

A graphic statement of resistance and unbelief. And yet, Thomas loved Jesus and he couldn’t get past his desire to be with Jesus—he even wanted to be with the other disciples as all of them struggled to find their way in their strange new circumstances.

Jesus knew about Thomas’ statement of unbelief, but He also knew Thomas’ heart. And Jesus goes out of His way to reveal Himself to people who love Him.

When Jesus came to the group again, Thomas was present. Then Jesus spoke directly to Thomas. “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless, but believing.” (v. 27)

Thomas, emotionally overcome by the encounter, answered and said unto Him, “My Lord and my God.” (v. 28b) His unbelief was shattered by a Word from God.

Originally published May 12, 1989.
Picture: Roses, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"My brothers" & "Your Father"

After His resurrection, Jesus talked to Mary of Magdala in the garden of the tomb. She did not recognize Him—until He called her by name. Then she turned, fell at his feet, and cried out His title as Teacher in Aramaic, the common language of the region. “Rabboni!” she said. (Jn. 20:16b NIV)

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (v. 17)

In that intimate moment, Jesus called the disciples brothers, something He had not done before. Then, after referring to God as His Father, he added, and your Father . . .

With those few words, Jesus revealed that His death on Calvary had destroyed divisions. A division between God and His people had changed and a division between Jesus and the disciples had changed—both washed away by the Blood He shed on the cross.

Originally published April 8, 1983.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Come, See the Place

The concept of a resurrection seemed impossible to the women who visited the tomb on Easter morning. Then, they found the stone rolled away . . . but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Lk. 24:2a,3 NIV)

To make matters worse, when they tried to tell the disciples what had happened, the disciples did not understand them; their words seemed to them like nonsense. (v. 11b)

There are many who still think the story is nonsense. And truthfully, it goes against our understanding of reality. But God was not deterred by the disciples questions and He is not deterred by our questions. He does not defend Himself, He invites people to examine His Son Jesus—His life and His ministry—the works He did—the Word He spoke—His crucifixion—and His claim of victory over death and the grave.

On that first Easter morning, when the angel invited the women to inspect the tomb, the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (Mt. 28:5b,6 NKJV)

Originally published April 20, 1984.
Picture: Floral plant arrangement, 2006. Photo by Ken.

Monday, April 13, 2009

His Time in the Tomb

Jesus’ time in the tomb is a mystery. How were His graveclothes removed? How long was He there before He descended into hell? How long was He in hell? Did the angels greet Him after He had already come back to life—or did He come back to life after they rolled the stone away?

We know that on Friday afternoon Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to request the dead body of Jesus. Pilate checked to make sure Jesus was actually dead. Then Joseph, when he had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb. . . . (Mt. 27:59-60a NKJV). One of the other Gospels mentions that Nicodemus helped Joseph.

On Sunday morning, Jesus left the grave alive.

The impossible happened. A man rose from the dead. He rose victorious over the grave and death. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (I Cor. 15:45)

Originally published April 12, 1993.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Two Criminals

Two criminals were crucified with Jesus, one on His right and one on His left. One cried out with a bitter heart, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” (Lk. 23:39b KJV) This bitter man ignored his own sin and challenged Jesus. He also ignored and rejected the sinless nature of Christ—placing himself outside of God’s blessing.

The second criminal responded differently. He said to his fellow criminal, “Do you not even fear God . . . we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Lk. 23:40b,41b NKJV) This man understood and acknowledged his personal guilt—and he recognized the sinless nature of Jesus. Because the man understood, he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (v. 42 NKJV)

Everyone who hears the Gospel of Jesus Christ must respond the way one of these two criminals responded. We either reject or accept Christ and His righteousness. If we accept Jesus, we accept His ability to save us when we cannot save ourselves. Jesus said to the repentant criminal, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (v. 43b NKJV)

Originally published March 22, 1991.
Picture: Cross on Cathedral spire, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, April 10, 2009

To Reconcile All Things

The day of Jesus’ crucifixion has been called Black Friday. Yes, God’s Son was executed that day. His arrest and trial was a sham. To pull it off, accusers brought Him before four authorities in six hours. Although the accusers could not agree on charges, and although none of the authorities thought Jesus was guilty, pre-conceived plans for evil prevailed.

The day of Jesus’ crucifixion has also been called Good Friday. For Jesus’ death is the most important event in history. On that day He accomplished what no other person could ever accomplish. He paid the penalty for Sin—yours and mine. His sinless nature suffered so our sinful nature would be set free.

Paul said, For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself . . . through the blood of His cross. (Col 1:19,20b NKJV)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rise! Let Us Go!

Jesus spent much time talking with God the Father. Although many of His prayers are recorded, we often fail to understand their importance. He was God, but He needed to receive strength and direction through prayer because He was also human, just as we are human.

Insight into the interaction between Jesus and God the Father is especially evident in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Passover meal. Jesus was distressed, and He recoiled at the cross. "Abba, Father," he said. . . . Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will. . . ." (Mk. 14:36a,c, NIV)

Although He was submitted to the Father, Jesus would have liked another plan of salvation.

He withdrew from the disciples three times that evening as He prayed, coming to terms with God's Will. Finally He said, "The hour has come, Look, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." (v. 41b)

No longer seeking another plan, He was ready for His destiny. "Rise!" He said. "Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!" (v. 42)

Originally published June 22, 1990.
Picture: Roadside thistle, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Secure and Humble

True humility is not the same as a poor self-image. It is rooted in love, and it is based on a good self-image and emotional security.

Jesus was the most secure person who ever lived; His self-image came from His Heavenly Father. But secure people do not flaunt their security or their position. So on the night of the Passover meal, Jesus displayed the freedom to step down from His position of authority to provided a vivid image of a servant-leader. [He] rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. (Jn. 13:4-5 NKJV)

Although Jesus knew all that lay ahead, and although He knew He could choose to walk away from His impending death, He also knew He would submit to His Father. And submitting to the Father required a servant’s heart. So, during this final meal together, Jesus securely and humbly served His followers.

Originally published July 27, 1990.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Stones

Jesus was at the center of two mobs within a week. One received Him as the fulfillment of prophecy. People lay garments and branches on the road to show their adulation. They acknowledged Him as their Messiah by singing and shouting their praises. When Pharisees tried to silence this mob, Jesus replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." (Lk. 19:40b NIV) That was on Sunday.

On Friday, just five days later, another mob cried, "Crucify him! . . . Crucify him!" (Mt. 27:22b,23b) The people in this group were probably not the people of the first group. However, they had the backing of the Pharisees, the religious leaders, and their demands prevailed. Jesus was crucified with no human praise, no human adulation.

But don’t forget the stones. Even then, Jesus wasn’t without praise. When He died, The earth shook and the rocks split. (Mt. 27:51b) The centurion and his guards saw the earth quake and all that had happened, they were terrified and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" (Mt. 27:54b)

Originally published April 13, 1984.
Picture: Lindenwood Park, Fargo, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, April 6, 2009

On To Jerusalem

Six days before the Passover, on the first day of the week, Jesus received a glorious welcome when He entered Jerusalem. Luke says of the event that, people spread their cloaks on the road . . . the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices. . . . (Lk. 19:36b,37b NIV)

But Jesus would not be deceived by their enthusiasm. He had tried earlier to tell the disciples that He was entering Jerusalem to die. He even knew details—that religious leaders would manipulate circumstances so He would be handed to the Romans—and that the Romans would, mock . . . insult . . .spit . . . flog . . . and kill . . . . (18:32) All of it was necessary before there could be a resurrection and before He could ascend into heaven.

So He rode alone, physically and emotionally isolated from others, when He entered the city and moved toward the appointed hour.

Originally published March 29, 1985.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

His Father's Plan

Imagine riding triumphantly into Jerusalem knowing that crucifixion was in your immediate future. Jesus understood prophecy, and He knew what what was going to happen to Him. He had learned Scriptures as a child and knew many passages that foretold His future. Perhaps Psalm 22 was vivid in His mind: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. . . . (Ps. 22:14 NKJV)

Nevertheless, Jesus steadfastly rode the donkey forward to meet His destiny. What did He think as He looked out over the large crowd? He could have avoided both the time of praise as He entered the city and the time of confrontation with the Pharisees that would follow.

If He had, He would have avoided His Father’s plan. So He went forward, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy and fulfilling what He had said of Himself earlier: I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down. . . . (Jn. 10:17b,18a NKJV)

Originally published March 21, 1986
Picture: Landscape, Las Vegas, NV, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, April 3, 2009

They Knew What to Do

Jesus’ disciples had learned how to follow instructions. This was necessary when Jesus prepared for his entry into Jerusalem. Whether or not He knew the entry would be triumphant, He took Old Testament prophecies into account, and He needed help from His disciples to follow through.

So He sent a few disciples to secure a colt, and He gave detailed instructions before they left: Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. (Mk. 21:2,3 NKJV)

He also told them what to say if someone challenged them. And someone did, apparently not the owner but people on the street.

It required courage for the disciples to stand firm. If they had not been sure of their mission and of Jesus’ instructions, they might have faltered. As it was, however, they knew exactly what they should do—exactly what they should say—and they followed through by releasing the colt and by speaking just as Jesus had commanded them. (v. 6a)

Originally published April 10, 1992.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Our High Priest

Many men were born into the Old Testament priestly role. Their function was to stand in the gap for unholy, sinful people before a Holy, sinless God. To do this, they offered blood sacrifices from animals to atone or to pay the penalty for sin.

Jesus didn’t fit the Old Testament priestly mold. Yet He was and is a priest—our high priest—not according to the legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life. (Heb. 7:16 RSV)

He didn’t fit the OT model because He wasn’t from the tribe of Levi—one of the requirements. He was from the tribe of Judah. The writer goes into detail concerning why this was God’s perfect plan, why Jesus was a different and superior kind of High Priest.

Most important, Jesus was unlike Old Testament priests because He offered His own body and blood—and because His blood is indestructible. His blood is eternal—it continually pays the penalty for sin—over and over and over and over and over.

When priests offered the sacrifice, they were interceding or praying for God’s people. So when Jesus prays for us, He fulfills His priestly role. But unlike Old Testament priests, His intercession is eternal. Since He will live forever, He will always be there to remind God that He has paid for their sins with His blood. (Heb. 7:25 LB)

Originally published March 26, 1982.
Picture: Las Vegas, NV, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hope and an Inheritance

Paul knew nothing about Lent as we experience it—about a time of the year when many Christians focus specifically on Christ’s sacrifice for sin. But he knew Jesus. He wrote in one of his Epistles, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe. . . . (Eph. 1:18b,19a NKJV)

Jesus died to give us hope and an inheritance. Hope because He offers forgiveness to people overwhelmed by guilt and despair. An inheritance because He offers blessings on earth and in heaven. God’s power arranged these gifts for His people.

Think of it. Although Lent is a somber time, it’s also a time of great joy. God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. The Son secured victory over sin when He defeated Satan.

Yes, we should think soberly about His sacrifice. It’s also appropriate to reflect on the joy of Jesus and the Father. They accomplished their purpose by giving us hope and an inheritance.

God is good. He’s very, very good.

Originally posted February 8, 1991.