Saturday, October 31, 2009

Suffer Persecution?

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 30, 2009

To Have the Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published July 26, 1991.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Your Fallow Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

He Went Out to His Disciples

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published March 4, 1983.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Personal Touch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jesus Is Our Sabbath

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published May 16, 1986.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Natural Stage

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

New Clothes

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

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

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

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

Originally published December 30, 1983.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rebuilding the Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

God's Able Minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published November 12, 1882.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"So I Prophesied"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

Turmoil in His Soul

Ezekiel experienced an overwhelming encounter with God. He could not even stand upright in the vision until God lifted him up. Through the vision, he learned God had a message for him to deliver to the stiff-necked Israelites who would not listen to God—who did not even want to hear from God.

Nevertheless, God wanted to send a message, and He said to Ezekiel, I will make your forehead . . . harder than flint. Do not be afraid. . . . (Ez. 3:7 a & c NIV)

How would you like to have been Ezekiel? God showed him a scroll with words of lament and mourning and woe. (2:10b) According to God’s instructions, he ate it, and it tasted sweet as honey in my mouth. (3:3b)

But the scroll caused turmoil in his soul because he knew it would cause a separation between him and the people.

We do not know what Ezekiel’s life was like prior to his call, but it was an unusual life after his call. He shared how he was physically transported—with the strong hand of the Lord upon me—to another land and another group of exiles where he sat among them for seven days—overwhelmed. (3:14c,15c)

God spoke again, telling Ezekiel his position would be that of a watchman who would warn wicked people. (3:17) Ezekiel did not have an easy calling.

Originally published August 24, 1984.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Place of Springs

A psalmist wrote, Blessed are those whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the ways of them. (Ps. 84:5 KJV) The NIV translates ways of them as a pilgrimage. The psalmist was referring to the Israelites who made a pilgrimage or a journey to observe festivals in Jerusalem. They were blessed as they traveled because their hearts were set on worshipping God.

Today we do not have to make physical journeys to worship—we make spiritual journeys. Jesus taught this when He said, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth. (Jn. 4:21,44 NIV)

Nevertheless, the psalmist’s words still apply, because even a spiritual journey requires determination. There will be obstacles, things that hinder or distract us from focusing on God. In fact, we learn the pilgrims travel through the Valley of Baca. . . . (Ps. 84:6a NIV) and valleys refer to trials.

But when a heart is set on worshiping God, His people experience refreshing even when they walk through valleys. Baca referred to springs or a well of water that God provided in the valley. God's waters provide sustenance. Although the journey might be difficult, God’s people emerge refreshed, restored and renewed. They go from strength to strength. (v. 7a) as they move forward.

Originally published August 19, 1988.
Picture: Wildflowers, Glacier National Park, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Future and a Hope

Jeremiah is usually called the weeping prophet. He wept and mourned because his countrymen—the Israelites—only pretended to worship God. In private, they worshipped idols and did evil deeds. Jeremiah preached against their sin and warned them to repent—and then he told them to accept the invading Babylonian army as a judgment from God.

Not a popular message. The people were enraged. There were even false prophets who accused Jeremiah of treason and who spearheaded his persecution. But eventually, just as Jeremiah had stated, the Babylonians came, entered the city, and carried the King and others into captivity.

Jeremiah could have gloated. Instead, he continued to mourn for his people—the wayward Israelites. God’s concern were his concerns, and he sent another message from God to the transplanted captives: Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives . . . that you may be increased there, and not diminished. (Jer. 29:5,6a & c NKJV)

Jeremiah let the people know that God’s hand was still upon them. He told them they would return to Jerusalem in 70 years. Then, I [God] know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (v. 11)

Originally published February 20, 1987.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Call of God

Whether they realize it or not, almost everyone hears the call of God on a regular basis—not as a loud, obvious voice—but as a small, quiet knowing in the heart. Perhaps we know we should forgive someone—or show love to a particular individual. Maybe we know we should spend more time with the Lord.

This type of knowing is usually gentle—easy to ignore. Nevertheless, a person who hears will often experience a negative reaction—both within themselves and from others. For human self-will balks when confronted by God’s call. We know—but our sinful nature rebels.

When a young Jeremiah heard God speak, he knew God’s gentle voice. Yet he made excuses when God gave Him a specific call. He knew the people he would have to confront. He knew the message God gave him would be rejected—and that he would be personally rejected as well. He said, Ah, Sovereign Lord . . . I do not know how to speak; I am only a child. (Jer. 1:6 NIV)

God spoke again, Do not say, I am only a child. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you. (v. 7,8)

Originally published February 1, 1985.
Picture: Wild Berries, Glacier National Park, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Though It Tarries, Wait

The social conditions of Israel upset the prophet Habakkuk. He saw evil people prosper. And even though some individuals sought God, the nation as a whole did not. To make matters worse, God did not seem to answer his prayers.

In frustration and bitterness, Habakkuk cried out, O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear. (Hab. 1:2a NKJV)

Habakkuk received an answer he did not expect. God told him a great nation—Babylon—was being shaped as an instrument of judgment against Israel. Then God told him to write down the message for all to hear and understand—because it was a true message and people needed to receive the warning. Though it tarries, God said, wait for it; because it will surely come. . . . (2:3)

Our natural minds think Habakkuk would have been upset or disappointed. But although Habakkuk did not receive the answer he wanted, he forgot to complain.

Habakkuk rejoiced because had God had given him a message, and he responded with a hymn of praise. He initially listed all the things that bothered him or that could go wrong in his agricultural world. But after receiving God's message, he somehow knew that even if there were no figs or grapes, no laborers to harvest the olives, no grains—or if the sheep or cattle be lost, still he would say, Yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation. (3:18)

Habakkuk's response is not surprising for a person who has heard God’s voice. Many people receive changed hearts when God comes to them or speaks to them. His Presence changes everything.

Originally published July 24, 1992.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Will Betroth You

We understand God best in human terms. So even before Jesus came as a man, the Old Testament prophets portrayed God in a number of familiar human roles—as a Father, a Potter, a Vinedresser, a Shepherd, etc.

Perhaps the most poignant role is that of Husband. The image portrays God’s desire for a love relationship with people who make a covenant with Him—and His sorrow when they desert Him for other gods.

God asked the prophet Hosea to dramatize the image of a husband forsaken by his wife when He told Hosea to marry Gomer. Hosea married her—but like the Israelites who deserted God for idols, Gomer deserted Hosea for other men. Then God moved upon Hosea to proclaim both judgment and restoration.

First, the judgment: I will hedge up your way with thorns, and wall her in . . . She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them . . . . (Hos. 2:6a & c NKJV)

Then the restoration: I will allure her . . . and speak comfort . . . in that day . . . you will call Me, “My Husband,” and no longer call Me “My Master.” (v. 14a & c,16b)

We ache for Hosea when we read the story—and for the wayward Gomer as well. We also receive understanding of God’s ache when we reject Him. God’s heart longs for His people. He says, I will betroth you . . . I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. . . . (v. 19a,20)

Originally published March 13, 1987.
Picture: City park, Havre, MT, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Oil Poured Forth

A widow struggled to meet financial obligations after her husband’s death. Finally, she had nothing left to her name but a jar of oil and she was about to lose her children—creditors demanded they be turned over as slaves to pay her debts.

But the prophet of God named Elisha had a word for the widow. He told her to borrow as many vessels as she could. Then he told her to shut the door upon yourself and your sons, and pour into all these vessels . . . Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.” (II Kings 4:4b, 7b RSV)

She obeyed God’s Word through His servant Elisha. As she poured her small amount of oil into the many vessels, the oil increased and she filled every one of the vessels she had borrowed. God gave the widow a miracle and supplied all her needs.

Our resources might also be small. But when our inner life is poured forth—lived in response to God and His Word—He brings an increase. Current needs will be met and we will be able to live on the rest.

Originally published July 31, 1981.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Showdown

The prophet Elijah followed the Lord and proclaimed His Word. And on more than one occasion God called him to do something radical. In fact, he even challenged the prophets of Baal and the people who followed them. He told them to assemble for a showdown.

The prophets of Baal would prepare a bull as a sacrifice to their god and Elijah would prepare a bull as a sacrifice to the Lord. Then the prophets of Baal would call on their god and he would call on the Lord. When it was over, they would know that The god who answers by fire—he is the God. (I Kings 18:24b NIV)

The prophets of Baal must have thought they were up to it, because they prepared a bull, sacrificed it on their altar, and prayed. Nothing happened. Elijah began to mock them around noon. Then they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears . . . until the blood flowed. . . . (v. 28). Although self-mutilation is not unknown in pagan religions, we can hardly imagine a more gruesome scene. And although unusual events can happen when people interact with the spiritual realm, the antics of the prophets of Baal did not help. Baal did not answer.

When the prophets of Baal were finally done, Elijah repaired an altar of the Lord that had been standing unused. It had probably been built years earlier, ignored by people who had abandoned Jehovah God. When the altar and sacrifice were ready, Elijah prayed a simple prayer. O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, he began, let it be known today that you are God . . . answer me, so these people will know. . . . (v. 36a,37a)

Perhaps you remember the story. The Lord responded with fire that not only burned the sacrifice but that consumed the wood, stones, dust, and even the water he had poured over the sacrifice before he prayed.

And the people? They knew. Falling on their faces they cried, The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God. (v. 39b)

Originally published March 3, 1989.
Picture: Commercial landscape, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rejoice in Suffering?

Most of us do not rejoice if we think we are suffering. In fact, most of us will do anything we can to avoid it.

That is a healthy reaction. Avoiding pain or suffering is a God-given instinct, and we should pay attention to His gifts. God does not want us to approach life by looking for circumstances that bring suffering—not even if they seem to bring a measure of honor or glory.

But if or when suffering occurs, it can have a positive impact upon our development. God can use suffering to lead us into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Suffering is also intimately connected to a working knowledge of God's sovereign power. If we submit suffering to Him, He reveals Himself to us in our circumstances. He is faithful and He begins working in our hearts to reflect His nature.

Paul wrote, we also rejoice in our suffering because . . . suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. . . . (Rom. 5:3-5 NIV)

If we take our problems to God, we become aware of His presence and we learn again that He is real.

Originally published May 31, 1985.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Did Not Hide

To stand one’s ground in the face of persecution—or even ridicule—requires faith and strength. But sometimes, as when the prophet Isaiah withstood hostile attacks, he turned his suffering into prophetic revelation. Writing about himself, he prophesied of Jesus: I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. (Is. 50:6 NIV)

It is difficult to fathom the horror of that type of experience. Yet Christians throughout history have suffered intense persecution. The end of Isaiah's story is not happy. Tradition tells us he is the man referred to in Hebrews 11:37 who was sawed in two.

Most of Jesus' apostles were martyrs. Paul submitted to jail rather than deny God’s revelation—and tradition tells us he also died as a martyr. And the sad reality is that many suffer today for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah shared a message of commitment: I have set my face like a flint. . . . (Is. 50:7b) Although he did not experience victory while he lived, he looked beyond life to His God, to the One who offers ultimate victory.

Originally published September 20, 1985.
Picture: Lois's garden, Spokane, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Survival Instincts

Survival instincts are a basic human response to life—even in the spiritual realm. Almost everyone seeks to organize their life according to patterns they believe will bring favor with God. We want to live.

And yet, almost everyone defies the instinct for survival at times. We may drive too fast, eat too much—or we may ignore God’s voice. And there are some people who seem intent on ignoring God—and so they defy their survival instincts.

During a time of crisis, the Lord spoke to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah: Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights. (Is. 7:11 NIV)

Ahaz was a wicked king. Even though he realized Isaiah was a true prophet, he responded with, I will not ask: I will not put the Lord to the test. (vs. 12b) His answer was an offense to God; it did not even relate to Isaiah’s message.

Isaiah could not understand. He said, Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? (vs. 13b)

But Ahaz was intent on evil and he defied normal survival instincts. When he died, he was not buried with other the other kings. When his son Hezekiah became king, the young man restored God’s favor by cleansing the temple of his own father’s evil influence.

Originally published December 9, 1983.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Shift in Focus

Solomon’s story is a sobering story. He started out with so much promise. He built the temple according to his father David's instructions. When he dedicated it, after the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant from David's tent into the Holy of Holies, the Lord revealed His glory to the young king: [T]he house was filled with a cloud . . . So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God. (II Chron. 5:13c KJV) Awed by the presence of God, Solomon responded with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise.

But later, when Solomon was old, his heart was consumed by his many wives—he even joined them in their pagan ceremonies. The Bible tells us, Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord. . . . (I Kings 11:6a)

Because Solomon did not repent, judgment would not be averted; the kingdom of David was divided after Solomon’s death because Solomon shifted his focus. He lost sight of God and, as a result, he lost the favor and blessings of his youth.

Originally published August 7, 1987, and June 11, 1993.
Picture: Lois's garden, Spokane, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Lord Appeared to Solomon

Solomon was a newly anointed King who recognized his inexperience and his shortcomings. At the same time, Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statues of his father David, except that he burned incense at the high places. (I Kings 3:3 NKJV)

This is one of those amazing verses. God’s law specifically told the Israelites they should not worship at the high places. The high places were remnants of pagan worship that had not been totally removed from the land. And yet, the next verses tell us, Now the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was great high place . . . At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon. . . . (vs. 4a,5a)

Why would God appear to Solomon at a high place? Why would God be pleased with the young king's request at the high place? Why would God give the young king not only wisdom to overcome inexperience and shortcomings—but material blessings as well? How could that be?

Perhaps it had something to do with the history of Gibeon. At one time the Ark of the Covenant had rested there. Perhaps people worshipped at Gibeon because it was a historic place. Although not the place of God's Presence, it served as a reminder of God's Presence.

But there is another reason. God is more concerned with attitude than form. Solomon loved God and God meets people who have sincere hearts—even if some things are out-of-order. Love for God overrules technical problems.

It is good to get the form right. We could suggest that if Solomon had known better when he was young, he might not have succumbed to the many problems that plagued him later. But God is sovereign. And He responds to humble hearts.

Originally published August 28, 1992.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Teach Me Your Way

David had walked with God for a long time when he wrote, Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth. . . . (Ps. 86:11a NIV)

Does that mean David did not know God’s way earlier?

No. He knew God’s way. But he also knew that every situation required new insight—along with renewed desire to hear God and to follow His leading. He knew he must seek God continually in every circumstance. And he knew that although God was a reality in his daily life—a sustaining presence and the source of his salvation—he still did not understand the all-encompassing greatness of God.

For although King David had learned God never changes, he also knew that people—including the king himself—do change.

Like David, we should grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord . . . . (II Pet. 3:18a) With David, we can ask God to teach us His way.

Originally published June 17, 1988.
Picture: Domestic sunflowers, Byron's garden, Spokane, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Broken Pottery

When faced by impending conspiracy in his old age, David and those who stood with him had to escape in haste while the nation experienced turmoil. And after it was over, David mourned the death of his son Absalom, the man who had conceived and led the conspiracy. Overcome with sorrow, David said, I have become like broken pottery. (Ps. 31:12b NIV)

Broken pottery. Have you ever tried to mend broken pottery? Or could you drink with confidence from a cracked cup—even if held together by the finest adherent?

David was a broken indeed, and he gave voice to both his anguish and his hope. He cried, Let your face shine . . . save me in your unvailing love. (v. 16)

We can judge the man harshly, but God can do the impossible. He mended the pieces that made up David. He brought them together and filled them with a song of praise. Today we satisfy our spiritual thirst as we drink precious promises from David’s mended cup: How great is your goodness which you have stored up for those who fear you, he wrote. [y]ou keep them safe. . . . (v. 19a,20b)

Originally published June 10, 1988.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It Leaves a Mark

Few stories in the Bible are as difficult to deal with as the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba. To make matters worse, David arranged for the death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, a detail many choose to ignore because the facts are just too gruesome.

We learn through this story that even if we repent—confess and forsake sin—and even if we receive God’s grace and forgiveness—the aftereffects of sin can remain. Sin can change the sinner’s life history—and the past impacts the present and future. It—sin—leaves a mark.

Although the Bible tells us about David’s pure heart—a heart that longed for fellowship with God—David could not escape the effect his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah would have on the future of his family and his nation.

The prophet Nathan confronted David’s sin indirectly by sharing a story that revealed the horror of his actions. David did not even recognize himself in the story until Nathan confronted him directly: Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? (II Sam 12:9a) Then Nathan prophesied events that would happen because David had sinned: Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. (v. 11)

When David broke down in full repentance, Nathan continued with a statement of forgiveness. But some things cannot be changed after they have been set in motion. The prophet adds, The Lord has taken away your sin . . . But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”(v. 13a.14)

David’s fellowship with God was restored, but the seeds of discord laid a foundation for spiritual and physical battles throughout his sphere of influence. Of course, that included his family. They would be impacted first. And because he was king, David's sin would affect the entire nation.

Originally published September 5, 1986.
Picture: Wild sunflowers, scenic overlook of Theodore Rosevelt National Park, 2009. Photo by Solveig.