Friday, July 31, 2009

Good Comes from Problems?

The Bible tells us that bad things can—not will, but can—turn into something good if we love God. . . . (Rom. 8:28b TLB) It's even true when bad things happen because we've sinned. God has a solution if we allow Him to enter the mix.

The prophet Hosea understood problems caused by sin as opportunities for receiving reconciliation from God. He said, Come, let us return to the Lord; it is he who has torn us—he will heal us. He has wounded—he will bind us up . . . Let us press on to know him, and he will respond to us as surely as the coming of dawn or the rain of early spring. (Hos. 6:1,3)

When on this type of personal journey, it’s important to remember God doesn’t send problems to harass us. His goal is healing. When He allows bad things to happen or when problem areas come to the surface, He’s like a doctor lancing a boil. He cuts into our lives so He can replace disease with wholeness.

Originally published March 15, 1985.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

He Sets Men Free

The concept of Christian freedom is difficult. But people in bondage to slavery or individuals serving time in prison have claimed that Jesus sets them free. One youth said, I am free to love instead of hate.

Jesus teaches inner freedom as something separate from and different than outward conditions. He said, If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (Jn. 8:31,32 RSV)

This type of freedom occurs in the inner man, in the private life where we experience personal joy. It is freedom from the inclination to sin, and we need it at every stage of life regardless of our circumstances.

Our great joy is knowing Jesus as truth and allowing His truth to work in us. Jesus promises freedom.

Originally published January 8, 1982.
Picture: Karen's garden, Winona, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

He Is God of the Living

The Sadducees were a religious sect of Jesus' time that did not believe in either the resurrection from the dead or in eternal life. Jesus came against their doctrine by reminding them of God’s Word to Moses: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. (Mt. 22:32a NKJV)

I AM is present tense, and in His discussion with the Sadducees Jesus provided a reasoned argument. Although the Sadducees thought the I AM statementwas a cornerstone of their theology, they did not understand the implications. If the I AM God was currently the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—those men who had been dead for centuries would still have life. Jesus said, God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Mt. 22:32b) God could not have been the patriarch's I AM God if the men were not still alive.

We can use the same verse and the same reasoning to refute reincarnation. If God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and if He is God of the living—then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob exist as the people they were when they walked on earth—or God could not be their God.

But God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And He is the God of the living!

Originally published January 15, 1988.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Applying Scripture

It’s important to know Scripture. It’s equally important to understand and correctly apply it. Even Satan knows God’s Word. But he applies it wrongly, and he would be glad to entice God’s people to use it wrongly as well.

Jesus is our pattern, and He shows the importance of using Scripture correctly. When He was in the Wilderness—after fasting many days—Satan came to temp Him. Three tests are recorded in Luke 4. In the final test, Satan quoted Scripture when he said, If you are the Son of God . . . throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: “'He shall give His angels charge over You, to keep You. . . .” (Lk. 4:9,8 NKJV) Satan quoted from Psalm 91. He might have understood the meaning, but he misapplied it.

Jesus recognized the verses and understood them. He also He recognized Satan's deceipt and rejected Satan's argument. In response, He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16: it has been said, “'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” (v. 12)

Originally published March 11, 1988
Picture: Potted plants, Patty's garden, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, July 27, 2009

He Had Compassion

Jesus told a story about the Samaritan who helped a dying man alongside the road—a victim ignored by people who should have helped him. Then, a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. . . . (Lk. 10:33 RSV)

Sometimes our journey as Christians leads us into difficult circumstances. We often struggle and wonder why because we do not understand what has happened or why it happened. We might be wounded as a result of our failure to walk uprightly with God—or we might be wounded because someone attacked us when we were defenseless. We may be suffering from one huge blow—or from incidents that repeatedly reopened festering sores.

Whatever our condition, circumstance, or problem, we need healing.

In this parable, the Samaritan traveler represents Jesus. And Jesus knows how to bind wounds! He pours forth His oil and wine—healing agents during Biblical times and symbols of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture.

If we trust Him, we can count of Him to do the same for us. Jesus has compassion, and He brings healing.

Originally published May 14, 1982.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Forgiving Heart

A young woman confessed that although she knew she should forgive, that did not mean she was willing to forgive. My mind knows I should, but I don’t feel it in my heart. she said.

Even as she resisted forgiving, however, she often focused her thoughts on what the Bible said: [B]e kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph 4:32 RSV)

And so, after struggling over being willing to be willing, she finally asked God for help—particularly in her relationship with an alcoholic mother. After laying it before her Lord many, many times—love overruled anguish and forgiveness became genuine reality. She shared her victory with joy, quoting Jesus who said, And whenever you stand praying, forgive. If you have anything against any one. . . . (Mk. 11:25a)

The young woman knew she could not forgive on her own. Her human nature was like all human natures—and she desired to justify herself. But through God, she offered compassion and forgiveness—even in the face of mistreatment.

Originally published December 4, 1991.
Picture: Hanging basket, Patty's garden, 2009. Photo by Solveig

Friday, July 24, 2009

Living With the Past

Past sin can be a burden—a great weight upon a person—because everything that goes wrong seems like just retribution—like deserved punishment.

At least that was how it worked for Joseph’s brothers. They had hated Joseph when he was young, so they got rid of him by selling him into slavery. Years later, when accused of spying, they were sure their sin had caught up with them.

Years later! How many other ventures-gone-wrong throughout their lives had seemed only fair to them—because they had sinned a terrible sin.

The brothers had no idea the boy would prosper as he matured—that he was, in fact, the very official accusing them. Talking between themselves they said things like, we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us. (Gen. 42:21 NKJV)

Their sin against Joseph did not relate to spying against Egypt. It couldn’t. But they made the association because they lived with a burden of guilt.

Through a miracle of God’s grace, Joseph had learned to forgive. He comforted his brothers: God sent me before you to preserve life . . . to save your lives by a great deliverance. (Gen.l 45:5,7)

Through his forgiveness, Jospeh overlooked the guilt of the past and blessed his brothers.

Originally published July 3, 1992.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wrestling With God

Jacob struggled almost every time he did something. In his mother’s womb, he and his twin brother Esau jostled each other. . . . (Gen. 25:22) Their enmity didn’t stop in the womb, either. Although Jacob grew up knowing about God, he both tricked and deceived his brother when they were young men. He finally had to flee for his life from Esau.

But deception caught up with Jacob as an adult. In the land where he acquired wives and children, he also acquired a new set of problems. He eventually had to flee again, and now he was ready to go home. Even if it meant facing his brother Esau.

Jacob was afraid. He divided his large family—thinking if one group was lost, another group might be safe. That night, before setting out, a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him [Jacob], he [the unseen stranger] touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched. . . . (Gen. 32:24,25)

The mysterious man, Jacob’s adversary, was God Himself and Jacob knew it. Yet he continued to strive.

Although other Old Testament characters encountered God without fighting, Jacob was a fighter, and God met him at that level. He returned to Bethel where he once again built an altar and once again, God met him and blessed him.

But this time God changed Jacob. He limped the rest of his life. From that point on, he also depended on God.

Originally published April 26, 1985.
Picture: Commercial display, Greater Twin City area, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Responding in the Flesh?

Sometimes people’s response to God is disappointing. That was so with Abraham’s grandson Jacob. While sleeping at Bethel, Jacob saw a ladder extending from earth to heaven with angels moving up and down. God spoke to Jacob in the dream—and blessed him by repeating the promises of Abraham. The land would be home for Jacob’s descendants—and they would be as numerous as the dust of the earth. . . . (Gen. 28:14b NKJV) Furthermore, God said, I am with you and will keep you. . . . (v. 15a)

Jacob knew the message came from God. He should have responded with gratitude and joy, but he didn’t. Although he set up an altar, his prayer was a bargain rather than a response of faith. He said, If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. (v. 20,21)

The interesting aspect of this is that God didn’t get angry. He understood. Jacob responded in the flesh because that was where he lived his daily life. It took years of God’s dealings with him before he would finally respond in obedience and faith.

Originally published May 8, 1992.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Praying for Others

Sometimes we want God to bless an individual who absolutely does not deserve it. We might even wonder if it's right to pray for such an individual. But because we love—or at least enjoy—this person, we want God to bless them.

When struggling with conflicting emotions, it’s helpful to remember that God does not move in people’s hearts because they deserve it. He told Ezekiel to tell the Isrealites, “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for my Holy Name’s sake, which you have profaned.” (Ez. 36,22,23 NKJV)

We are more likely to feel comfortable praying for people who live on the edge when we remember our own sin. When we recognize our unworthy nature we remember that not one of us deserves God’s blessings. Yet God blesses anyway.

God says, I will sprinkle clean water on you . . . I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart . . . I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues. . . . (vs. 25-36)

God is more than willing to bless others, even those who live on the edge. He wants to draw people to Himself and He wants us to pray for them.

Originally published May 7, 1993.
Picture: Viewed from the street, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Discover God Is Real

Abraham had a trusted servant. We aren’t told much about him, but when Abraham sent him on the important mission of securing a wife for Isaac, the man did not pray to God because he had relationship with God himself. Instead, he prayed, O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success. . . . (Gen. 24:12 NKJV)

There are people today who have prayed and received answers from God—but who do not claim to know God personally. Usually they know God answers prayer because someone else received an answer or answers. But they are not in the habit of praying themselves. Perhaps they think they are not good enough to pray. Perhaps they do not want to submit to God—they might even think prayer is an attempt to escape responsibility.

Yet, in a time of crisis or need, they prayed. And just as God answered Abraham's servant by providing Rebecca to be Isaac's wife, God answers prayer today. It seems God delights in meeting people when they pray. Sometimes He uses that prayer as a catalyst to bring a person to Himself. Whatever the circumstance, people discover God is real when they pray.

God answered Abraham’s servant. When He did, the man bowed down his head and worshipped the Lord. (v. 27)

Originally published January 10, 1992.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Faith Made Complete

The Bible tells us God tested Abraham by telling him, Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering. (Gen. 22:1-3 NIV)

Many years earlier Abraham had met and responded to this God who was different than the pagan gods. Pagan gods demanded human sacrifice, but the God Abraham knew and loved did not. Now Abraham’s God seemed to require the very thing He had abhorred. How could Abraham understand that it was God speaking?

We cannot fathom such an event. Difficult as it must have been, Abraham obeyed. Early the next morning he and Isaac set off on a three-day journey with two servants and a donkey to carry supplies.

Centuries later James used this story to illustrate the relationship between faith and deeds when he says, You see that his [Abraham’s] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. . . . (Jas. 2:22)

Sometimes God comes to us and seems to ask the impossible. Will we obey?

When the voice of God told Abraham that he should not offer his son but rather a ram caught in a thicket, he obeyed again. In his obedience, he learned once again that he could trust his Friend.

But Abraham did not know God's plan when he began his journey. His part was trusting his friend. He had to walk by faith.

Originally published November 9, 1984.
Picture: From Patty's garden, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Abraham's Children

[I]t is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of promise. . . . (Rom. 9:8 NIV)

Scripture tells us Abraham had children. Not one child, but children. Isaac was born as a result of Abraham's faith and obedience, but there was also Ishmael, son of Abraham and Hagar. (Gen. 16) And after Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah who gave birth to six children. (Gen. 25) But only Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah, was a child of promise. The other children were loved and they received gifts, but did not receive an inheritance.

This seems tragic when we focus on Ishmael and on the children of Keturah—until we remember no one receives the blessing of Abraham according to natural heritage. A spiritual heritage comes through faith. Even for those descended from Isaac.

Paul wrote, Consider Abraham: He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Gal. 3:6) Abraham was not righteous in and of himself. No one is. But Abraham believed the God who met with him and spoke to him. God asks the same of us. Then we become children of promise and then we receive our inheritance.

Originally published April 1, 1983.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Birds of Prey

God spoke to Abram in a vision: I am your shield, your very great reward. (Gen. 15:1 NIV) That sounds wonderful, but Abram was less than thrilled. He might have appreciated God as his shield, but in his world, children were a primary blessing. He and Sarah had none. He wanted a child and he said, O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless. . . . (v. 2)

God answered by again promising Abram that he would receive a son. He promised land, too. And Abram was so free in God’s presence that he asked how he could believe God was really speaking to him. God replied by instructing him to prepare a specific sacrifice.

Abraham followed the instructions, but then something strange happened: birds of prey came down on the carcasses. . . . (v. 11) In this tender moment of communion with God—of knowing God’s divine love and attention—Abraham was forced to deal with wild animals that threatened to destroy his offering. He drove them away. (v. 11)

Was it a test? A challenge? Later than night, God spoke to him in a dream—revealing the future of his descendants. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram. (v. 18)

We don't know why God deals with people the way He does. Abraham's experience with birds of prey might not have seemed as strange to him as it does it us. Abraham somehow knew God was with him.

We, also, somehow know God is sovereign and that He is with us. And like Abraham, we might experience strange events when God comes to us with His promises. Then, like Abraham, we're called to trust Him. And like Abraham, we stand against whatever threatens to destroy our relationship with this God who speaks and offers promieses.

Originally published March 9, 1984.
Picture: Oriental poppy, Patty's garden, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

River of Life

Rivers offer much to the people who live on their banks. They bring water to thirsty people. Their water is used for household tasks such as washing clothes and floors. Many parts of the world use river water for irrigation, so they are important to farmers producing food. Sometimes rivers provide a mode of transportation. Industries often build along rivers because they need the water a river brings.
A river’s importance was perhaps even more apparent in Biblical times than today. Although Abraham’s nephew Lot had traveled with his uncle, there came a time when they were too prosperous for the land to support both. Abraham—knowing he was blessed to be a blessing—offered Lot first pick, and Lot chose the valley of the River Jordan. He looked down and saw it was a well-watered plain. (Gen. 13)

Throughout the Bible, rivers provide an analogy for God’s blessing. A psalmist said, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. (Ps. 46:4 NIV) Although people who trust God are not immune to problems, they can turn to Him. And He becomes their personal life-giving river.

Originally published June 8, 1984.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blessed to Bless Others

God said to Abram, I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. (Gen. 12:2 NKJV) Notice that God blessed Abram—later Abraham—so he could bless others. Blessings from God have value beyond the individual who receives them.

Lest there be any doubt, Abraham was blessed indeed. We learn in chapter 13:2 that he was rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. At one point he deployed a personal army of 318 of his own servants. (Gen. 14) He’s the recognized patriarch of several ethnic groups.

And in the spiritual realm, Christians from all ethnic groups claim Abraham as a forerunner and patriarch because he fathered the lineage of Jesus Christ—and he offers Christians and all people with an example of obedience and faith.

So as Christians called to live by faith, we’re also called to recognize that we receive blessings so we can bless others. Peter made this clear when he said, not returning evil for evil . . . but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. (I Pet. 3:9)

Truly, we are blessed—so we can bless others.

Originally published May 29, 1987.
Picture: Pink peonies in full bloom viewed from the street, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Time of Your Sojourning

Abraham was a sojourner. He lived in temporary dwellings—tents—among a people-group different than his people group. Although he did business with his Canaanite neighbors—coexisted with them profitably and peacefully—he was not part of their culture. Even when he became wealthy, he did not join their lifestyle.

As Abraham was a sonjourner, Christians are called to become sojourners. Christians are called to do business with their neighbors—co-exist with them profitably and peacefully—while not joining a worldly, Canaanite-type lifestyle.

Peter wrote, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear, knowing you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver and gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ. . . . (II Pet. 1:;17-19 NJHV)

Because of the sojourner status, natural sources of stability, support, and release are not available to many Christians. They must look instead to a supernatural source. They must become firmly established in Jesus.

Originally published June 26, 1987.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Good Condition

The word sanctify is usually associated with purity or freedom from sin. However, the literal meaning is set apart for a sacred purpose. It is associated with purity when people or objects are set apart for spiritual reasons. Because they are set apart, they are unstained by sin and the world and they are recognized as holy or pure.

Jesus did not envision this as a rare condition. He applied the word sanctify to His disciples when He prayed to His Father. He said, Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is Truth. As You have sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. (Jn. 17:17-19 NKJV)

Observe that being sanctified or set apart occurs when the truth of God’s Word shapes individuals. Jesus perceived it as a good condition—one that helped the disciples influence others positively. Jesus willingly allowed Father God to set Him apart—to sanctify Him. He also prayed for His disciples sanctification.

Originally published January 22, 1993.
Picture: Pink peonies beginning to bloom, viewed from the street, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Markedly Different

True wisdom is rare. For examples, look at politics and science. Many political solutions create new problems. And science, although it offers advances through technology, often causes unforeseen residual effects. And so, while politicians and scientists keep busy, detached intellectuals view our dilemma with little hope.

Against this backdrop, listen to Scripture’s view of man’s attempt at wisdom: Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? (I Cor. 1:20 NKJV)

This doesn’t mean God opposes critical thinking or pursuing knowledge. The more we know about creation, the more we appreciate our Creator. And God specifically tells us to pray for political leaders.

Nevertheless, God’s wisdom is markedly different from man’s wisdom. God’s wisdom focuses on the person of Jesus. It creates new lifestyles in those who turn to Him. And that’s godly wisdom.

Originally published April 27, 1990.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Does God Subvert Judgment?

The Biblical book of Job is confusing. Job tried to explain his condition to his friends by saying unthinkable words that seemed to blame God: He crushes me . . . and multiplies my wounds . . . For He is not a man . . . Let Him take His rod away from me, and do not let dread of Him terrify me. (Job 9:17-34)

Bildad the Shuhite was shocked by Job’s outbursts: How long will you speak these things. . . ? Does God subvert judgment? (Job 8:2,3 NKJV) To make matters worse, two additional friends named Eliphaz and Zophar agreed and said similar things. Furthermore, Job’s friends must have quoted truth because almost everything they said can be found in other portions of Scripture.

Yet, in the end, the friends were pronounced guilty. God instructed them to provide an offering so Job could sacrifice in their behalf and pray for them. Now, is that not confusing?

A big difference between Job and his friends was that Job trusted the person of God for salvation. Although the friends seemed to be God-focused as well, they focused on ideas about God. Perhaps they trusted more in being right—more in what they believed about God—than they trusted in God Himself.

Originally published September 27, 1992.
Picture: Lindenwood Park, Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

If He Withholds

Life can be unfair. Look at the Biblical character named Job. Although he was a righteous man, he lost his children and vast material possessions. Then God allowed Satan to afflict him with boils covering his entire body.

After a long discussion between Job and his friends, God returned Job to health and prosperity on all counts—even gave him additional children. But between the time when his world came crashing down and when his world was restored, God took Job on an inner journey. While sitting on the ash heap—nursing his sores—he examined his motives and the nature of his God—the God who allowed so great a misfortune.

One thing was certain: God was (and is) sovereign. Job said, If He [God] breaks a thing down, it cannot be rebuilt; if He imprisons a man, there can be no release. If He withholds the waters, they dry up . . . He uncovers deep things out of darkness, and brings the shadow of death to light. . . . (Job 12, 14-13:1)

Originally published February 9, 1990.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interested in God?

Does the Gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ—ever seem unreal? Does Jesus’ death on the cross seem unrelated to daily life? After all, it happened almost 2,000 years ago.

If those questions describe your mental state, try asking God for a spiritual mind. Paul wrote to the Romans, For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom. 8;5,6 NKJV)

A carnal mind does not probe deeply and it refuses to contemplate what it does not understand. It is not interested in God. A spiritual mind, however, asks questions and considers the many paradoxes of life. A spiritual mind is interested in God.

Unless we have a spiritual mind, we will not come to Jesus Christ and we will not accept His sacrifice for Sin. But we cannot create our own spiritual mind. We can only receive it by turning to God. Only He gives spiritual minds that make it possible to accept Jesus’ sacrifice.

Originally published November 8, 1991.
Picture: Peonies viewed from the street, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Inspired Leadership

History tells us that nations can rise or fall depending upon their leaders. Leaders that inspire can bring individuals together, can unite people to pursue worthy goals.

The people of Palestine during Jesus’ time did not have such leadership. The Bible tells us, But when [Jesus] saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. (Mt. 9:36 NKJV)

Many feel our nation is in this condition today. Individuals along with society as a whole are weary, jaded, fragmented, aimless—wandering about for lack of inspired leadership.

Jesus has the solution. He offers Himself and a new dimension of life. We can receive Him and the purpose He brings, or we can reject Him and continue without meaningful direction.

Originally published November 17, 1989.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Restrictions, Rights, and Freedom

Occasionally we hear much about restrictions—they’re supposed to be bad because they limit freedom. Or we hear about rights—they’re supposed to be good because they allow freedom.

But perhaps true freedom is unrelated to either rights or restrictions. What if it’s related to the desires of the heart. Paul had something like that in mind when he said, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (II Cor. 3:17 NKJV)

How can that be?

When we respond to God in love, He grows fruit in our lives. And, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal. 4:22-23)

When the Spirit of the Lord operates in our hearts, we are free from greed, free from competition, free from pretense, free from hate. Even though these are natural human traits, if we let Him, God can gradually remove them and the hurts they’ve created. And then we are truly free. Free to respond with openness to God and to others.

Originally published May 21, 1993.
Picture: Container flowers, Patty's garden, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Civil Disobedience?

Groups of people were killed in Europe during World War II and few rose to defend or rescue them. Doing so would have been dangerous, because that would mean disobeying evil laws established by an evil government. After the war, some defended their lack of Christian love by claiming the Bible teaches people to support their government.

The Bible does teach that people are to support their government. But would it surprise you to know the Bible also directs people to participate in civil disobedience at times? When Peter and John were imprisoned, God sent an angel to open to the prison doors and lead them outside. Then the angel said, Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people the words of this life. (Acts 5:18-20 NKJV)

The disciples obeyed the angel. The enraged authorities asked, Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name [of Jesus] And look you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine. . . .

Peter and the other apostles answered with a truth we cannot forget: We ought to obey God rather than men. God’s Word instructs us to obey leadership when it provides protection and order. When that is lost, our duty is to obey God—and to change the law if possible.

Originally published August 30, 1991.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Personal Letters

There are many misconceptions about the apostle named Paul: he is often portrayed by people today as a man of no emotion. Yet his letters are full of greetings and friendly words to friends. He relates personal accounts of disappointment or joy. All suggest a rich emotional life.

Look at his letters to Timothy. Paul and Timothy enjoyed a close relationship when they traveled and worked together. While still a young man, Timothy proved his worth to Paul. Paul could send Timothy to settle disputes. Timothy went on preaching-teaching side-trips. The two men shared a common vision, and because their ministries were connected, they also experienced common hardships.

Paul’s letters to Timothy reveal their relationship. He recounted loneliness: At my first defense, no one came to support. (II Tim. 4:16 NIV) He recounted victory in a spiritual battle: But the Lord stood at my side . . . I was delivered from the Lion’s Mouth. (v. 17)

Most of all, Paul emphasized the source of his strength when he was vulnerable: The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom (v. 18a)

Originally published October 25, 1985.
Picture: Commercial landscaping, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

To Magnify God

We usually think of Paul as the brilliant, well-educated scholar who always spoke with ease and eloquence. Paul did not think of himself that way. He might even have tried to overcome the image. When He wrote to the Corinthians, he said he did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom. . . . (I Cor. 2:1a NIV) Then he explained what he had tried to do: I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (v. 2)

Anyone who studies Paul quickly realizes the man was brilliant. But his goal was magnifying God. He did not want people to believe the gospel because of His persuasiveness; he wanted them to believe because they had their own encounter with God. He said, that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (. 4,5)

Obviously, the man wasn’t impressed with himself. His purpose was to magnify God. To magnify God he focused on God’s strength and God’s power.

Originally published June 29, 1984.