Monday, November 30, 2009

Become Human Again?

Someone once said that God became flesh—came to earth as a baby—so people can truly become human again. That might seem like a strange idea. But because we are sinners, our humanity or human-ness often falls short of what it should be. Jesus came to change that.

Jesus lived His entire life in perfect harmony with Father God the way God intended all people to live. Through His perfect life and His death, Jesus brings us life. When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, the angel said, And she [ Mary] will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. (Mt. 1:21 NKJV)

When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we receive a portion of His life—as much of Him as we can accept by faith. Our fallen human nature is always a disappointment. When we look at Him and His life in faith, we reach out to grasp a higher, more complete life ourselves. God’s power in us can overrule our baser instincts. He changes people who follow Him into people who are more fully human.

Originally published December 18, 1992.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

It Lasts Forever

Many of us probably feasted on traditional turkey dinners with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving Day, and now we are eating leftovers.

Some may also have used Thanksgiving Day as a time to think of material blessings—and to be thankful for them. And now we can be thankful for leftovers!

Life would be tough without God's blessings—including necessities, leftovers, and even some of our luxuries. But there is another blessing we should remember during the Thanksgiving season: In his great mercy he [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (I Pet. 1:3b NIV)

This blessing is more important than food, shelter, clothing—or any of the less vital, but enjoyable benefits of comfortable living. Although the new birth cannot be touched or seen, it will last forever.

God gives the new birth as a spiritual feast to all who come to Him, and we never grow tired of it as we do with physical food. There will always be enough to satisfy us over and over. The new birth is an eternal blessing that offers consistent hope and joy, an inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade. . . . (v. 4a) It comes to us directly from God—and will be with us when other blessings fail.

Originally published Novemer 25, 1988.
Picture: Potted plant on deck, 2008. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, November 27, 2009

We Receive to Give

After celebrating Thanksgiving Day, it is a good idea to remember that genuine thankfulness goes beyond simple gratitude. If we are truly thankful, we will take another step. We will move from receiving to giving.

Using an agricultural metaphor, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that if farmers are unwilling to be generous when planting seed, they will not receive an abundant harvest. He who sows (or plants) sparingly will also reap (or receive) sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (II Cor. 9:6 NKJV)

Paul’s subject was not planting and harvesting crops but giving. He goes on to explain that when people give, God provides abundant grace. The more we receive, the more we have to give—and the more we give, the more we receive.

Giving and receiving do not always seem to directly correspond, but giving and blessings do. And God actually gives to His people so they can, in turn, receive His blessing by giving to others.

Originally published November 23, 1989.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving to God

Although Thanksgiving Day originated with Christians who depended on God for survival, many Americans today overlook Christian aspects of the holiday. A day full of food and football are the often the plan.

Scripture helps us look beyond our natural inclinations because it lifts us beyond our natural mindset—and the psalms are a good place to start in Scripture. The settings of the psalms are varied—and they differ greatly from both the Pilgrim’s setting and our setting. But they have power to change the focus of our hearts.

Many of the psalms emphasize God’s provision. Psalm 65 begins with, Praise is awaiting You, O God, in Zion . . . O You who hear prayer. . . . (v. 1a,2a NKJV) Then, Your paths drip with abundance. (v. 11b)

If we do not know He listens to prayer, there’s a good chance we miss out on much of God’s abundance. Today is a day to offer thanksgiving to God—and to believe He hears.

Originally published November 20, 1992.
Picture: Como Park Convervatory, St. Paul, MN, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Humble Shall Hear

Thanksgiving originated as a harvest festival—as a day when the early Pilgrims offered thanks to God for the year’s crop. Their very lives depended on full storehouses, so we can imagine their gratitude was heart-felt. They knew they were vulnerable—and that they could not provide for their needs without God’s help.

In United States today, we can be thankful for a multitude of blessings on Thanksgiving Day. Because it is a national holiday, we might focus on historic aspects of the celebration. The vital connection of the Pilgrims to God reminds us that, after a certain amount of struggle, the early leaders made a decision to offer freedom of religious expression for both the minorities and the majority.

But do we remember that true thankfulness contains an element of humility? Thankfulness means we are grateful to someone for providing what we did not provide on our own. It looks to the One who helps us when we cannot help ourselves. David was king and a poet whose wrote many songs of thanksgiving. He wrote in one of his songs, I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord, the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. (Ps. 34:1-2 KJV)

This Thanksgiving, remember to thank God for His blessings. We need them.

Originally published November 22, 1985.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Final Gathering

Much of Old Testament life revolved around feasts. The Hebrew people observed not only Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but other sacred gatherings as well. There was the Firstfruits or Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. All but one—the Day of Atonement—were celebrations. Each has a New Testament application. For example, Jesus is our Passover Lamb.

The culmination of all the celebrations was the Feast of Tabernacles. When the people converged on Jerusalem from all parts of Israel, they lived in makeshift booths for eight days.

In some ways, this amazing event can be compared to our Thanksgiving Day celebrations. It was a feast after the final fall harvest. But Biblical scholars also link this Feast to the Second Coming of Christ—the event that will signal the final gathering of God’s people.

When Jesus spoke about the final gathering, He spoke about those who were called to live with Him eternally. He said, many . . . will try to enter and will not be able to. (Lk. 13:24b NIV) Nevertheless, People will come from easy and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. (v. 29)

Originally published August 30, 1985.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, November 23, 2009

He Works for Good

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God. . . . Rom 8:28a KJV)

Some have used this verse to support the idea that every event or happening must be God’s will because it is for good. The verse does not say that. It says, all things work together for good.

Many evil things have happened in our fallen world—abuse, war, accidental death, crippling disease, distortion of personalities. None can be considered God’s handiwork. Human tragedy is never the will of God.

But the verse is a promise. When evil things do enter our lives—regardless of how difficult they may be—God can somehow bring them together so they work for our benefit if we look to Him and trust Him. They can even bring victory in the face of defeat or despair.

God is the great Creator. When tragedy strikes, He is at work—just as He is at work at any other time. No circumstance is so terrible that it is beyond His creative touch. He will even use it for good.

Originally published February 19, 1983.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

His Gift to Us

Both general sins, the kind committed by people as a whole, and specific sins, the kind committed by an individual, can be overwhelming.

We're often plagued by one of two problems when dealing with our overwhelming sinful nature. We might refuse to acknowledge the sin because the thought is too much for us—so we do not accept God's gift of salvation. Or we might be overcome by guilt because the sin seems so awful that it cannot be forgiven—so we do not accept God's gift of salvation.

A psalmist looked at our dilemma differently. He wrote, If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness. . . . (Ps. 130:3,4a NIV)

The psalmist was not downcast or dismayed when he reflected on his sinful state because he looked beyond himself and directed his attention to the One who can provide a solution. He affirmed the nature of God, because God, not people, holds the key. The psalmist recognized that, with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. (v. 7b)

God clearly states in His Word—including the Old Testament—that salvation for forgiveness from sin is a gift that He provides. Our sinful nature is real and fearsome—but God’s solution is big enough to take care of it.

Originally published January 14, 1983.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, November 20, 2009

An Exciting Interruption

Interruptions are breaks in the flow or action. Sometimes interruptions are disturbing, but sometimes they are delightful. In fact, interruptions can even be catalysts or sparks for revelation or whatever God has at the moment.

It is only reasonable that many exciting interruptions occurred in the life of Jesus—because He Himself is the most exciting interruption of all times. God entered the ebb and flow of human life and changed both individuals and history.

On one occasion, Jesus was on the way to heal the daughter of a ruler in the synagogue named Jairus. Jairus had sought Jesus, saying, My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come. . . . (Mk. 5:23b NKJV)

The ministry of Jesus was popular at the time—but the huge crowds that followed Him often milled about with no concern for people who were lost in the crowd and seemed insignificant. One such person was a woman afflicted by a flow of blood for twelve years. (v. 25b) No one paid attention to her or her need. The only way she could receive from God was to press forward—to interrupt Jesus when He was on His way to do something that others thought was more important.

Jesus did go with Jairus to heal the little girl—He raised her from the dead. That was important. But first He responded to the woman and the interruption she imposed. He said, Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction. (v. 34)

Originally published May 1, 1992.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Again and Again

Jesus comes again!—and not only in the future when He returns at the close of the Age. Then He will make a final gathering of His people unto Himself. But He also comes presently—again and again and again—into everyday life. He comes into every situation where He is welcome, and He brings His life with Him.

Many parables tell us to eagerly look for Jesus—to anticipate His coming. If we limit out interpretation of these passages to the Second Coming of Christ we might miss the joy of His entry into our daily lives.

Jesus said, Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. (Lk. 12:35,36 NKJV)

We want to be ready for the second coming of Christ. But we also want to be ready to welcome Him today. If we continually welcome Him into our present lives, we will welcome Him at any point in our future. Look for Jesus. He is coming!

Originally published May 10, 1991.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ask Me of Things to Come

Depression is a common malady in today’s society. Many people have lost their sense self worth—they fight chronic battles with fatigue and hopelessness—even despair.

There may be physical causes for depression. But perhaps we struggle as a group—as a society—because we resist God. Isaiah said, Woe to him who strives with His maker . . . Shall the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?” (Is. 45:9a & c NKJV)

If we fight against God, we must find our personal value or purpose in something else. We can turn to humanism. But even the most talented people eventually run out of self to discover—and then they must look for escape in things of the flesh or in another spiritual reality.

God, on the other hand, offers infinite value to each individual. If we trust Him, we discover He has good plans for us, and He offers a destiny.

God wants us to seek Him. He said, Ask me of things to come . . . I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; I did not say to the seed of Jacob, “Seek Me in vain. . . .” (v. 11b,19a)

Originally published March 15, 1991.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Eternal Sacrifice

We never tire of hearing good things about someone we love. And we never tire of hearing a person we love tell us they love us in return. Such messages are choice messages.

Likewise, we never tire of hearing a choice Word regarding Jesus. He is the great love message of all time. The book of Hebrews says, Christ came as High Priest . . . Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all. . . . (Heb. 9:11a,12a NKJV)

Jesus made it possible to approach God! Only the high priests could enter the Most Holy Place of the Temple where God's Pesence dwelled. And the high priest entered only once a year with a blood sacrifice. Jesus changed that when He gave Himself—the eternal Blood Sacrifice for all people.

Originally published August 31, 1990.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig

Monday, November 16, 2009

Unique Identities

We reason that if everyone becomes Christ-like, everyone would become the same. But the God who created a physical world with seemingly infinite variety expresses Himself through variety in all of creation—including people.

Three beings in the form of men appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre. . . . (Gen 18:1b NIV) One was the Lord; the others were angels. Each was a separate manifestation of God’s nature.

This is also true of Biblical heroes. As they followed God—allowed Him to form them in His image—they did not become clones of one another. Each stands out as an individual because God ignited their unique abilities.

We might be searching for an identity—be struggling to develop. When we strive on our own to be unique, we almost always end up conforming to the latest trends. But if we follow Christ, we becomes expressions of His nature—with His infinite capacity for variety. The more we yield to Him, the more He reveals our unique identity—the unique creation He had in mind when He fashioned us.

Originally published September 7, 1984.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Faith Is the Substance

Faith is an elusive concept. A dictionary defines it as, belief, and trust in, and loyalty to God.

The book of Hebrews provides another definition: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1 NKJV)

How do we trust in a God we cannot see? For truly, no one sees, has seen, or will see God. And that is not all bad. If God could be proven, faith would be unnecessary. But what is this elusive faith?

Perhaps we have difficulty with defining faith because we try to describe it as a mental choice or position. We check our thoughts to see whether we have faith. Our thoughts might reveal our status, but they will not help us find or understand faith.

Neither the Bible nor the dictionary approach faith as the thoughts of the mind. For faith is primarily a choice of the heart and a position of the heart. The heart chooses to believe or not believe depending upon its desires. When the heart chooses God, faith becomes reality in the life of a believer.

Originally published February 28, 1992.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, November 13, 2009

God Is Looking at Us?

The Bible tells us the Lord, looks on all the inhabitants of the earth. (Ps. 33:14b NKJV)

Are we happy that God is looking at us? Are we so sure of His love—and so sure of His ability to help us—that we rejoice in His care? Or do we resent His attention? Do we try to suppress the true motives of our heart? Do we think of Him as a taskmaster who robs us of fun?

These are important questions. When we try to hide motives, even from ourselves, we do not fool God. He understands us better than we understand ourselves. He knows all about anything and everything we might try to hide.

But He does not look at us because He is a taskmaster who insists we meet certain obligations. He does it as the one who offers forgiveness and salvation. He does it because He is our source of joy. The psalmist explains, Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. (v. 20,21)

Originally published March 27, 1992.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fully Trained

Some of Jesus’ teaching are so familiar we tend to gloss over them. Well, of course, we say. Until we try to live them. Then they become difficult.

Teachings like, If you love those who love, what credit is that to you . . . love your enemies. . . . (Lk. 6:32a,35a NIV)

Perhaps we have trouble living the teachings of Jesus because we do not submit to his training. Jesus told us we would never rise above our master. He said, everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (v. 40b)

So who is our master? Is it Jesus?

The ability to love those who do not love in return is not natural. We cannot love on our own even when we try to love. But we can love if we focus on Jesus, because we discover He loves us. If we demonstrate love because we know by faith that He is alive—and that He lives in us—His love becomes reality through us.

Jesus trains us when we look to Him. It can become a lifestyle.

Originally published June 21, 1985.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To Ponder God

Once the human mind gains a measure of knowledge, it often becomes impressed with its achievement. This is as true in the spiritual realms as in other areas of life.

It is also tricky, because firmly-understood truth—which should be positive—becomes a foundation for well-defined mental precepts. And well-defined precepts could (not will, but could) become rigid, offensive dogmas.

Scripture says, Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. (I Cor. 8:1b,2 NIV)

When people become rigid, they lose their desire to search—to think deeply or to meditate further. There is a danger of reducing everything to rules and regulations. And God cannot be defined by precepts, dogmas, or regulations.

A psalmist said, Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. (Ps. 111:2)

To truly know God is to know He will never be fully known.

Originally published July 6, 1984.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Active Meditation

A psalmist wrote, Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. (Ps. 48:9 NIV)

The word meditate or meditation means different things to different people. Eastern religions promote passive meditation—emptying of the mind to receive outside impulses.

In contrast, Christian meditation is active. When we practice Christian meditation, nothing overrules our minds or our self-control. God never forces Himself.

Christian meditation could be defined as deep thought, studying, pondering, focused thinking—over an extended period of time.

But although Christian meditation is active, it is more than mental exercise. When we truly meditate, Scripture becomes personal. We may focus deeply on God—think deeply about any aspect of His person. We may have a specific question. We may become interested in a Biblical character. If, as a result of our thinking, God somehow reveals Himself so He is more real—more vital—we are meditating.

Originally published June 6, 1986.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sound Doctrine

When people today use the word doctrine, they usually refers to specific concepts about truth and/or about God. Most Christians agree that doctrine based on Biblical teaching is important. We should examine our beliefs carefully—study them in light of God’s Word.

But a passage in Paul’s letter to Titus challenges our ideas about doctrine. Paul uses the word in a different context. He begins, You must teach . . . sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1 NIV) So far, so good. But the verses that follow indicate that his doctrine relates to lifestyle rather than concepts. For example, [T]each the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. (v. 2)

Paul continues with similar standards that are directed toward older women, then younger men and women, and then others. He concludes the segment of his letter with, For the grace of God . . . teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions. . . . (v. 11a,12a)

This doesn’t mean we should abandon doctrine as a belief system. It does mean we should expand the meaning to include applications. How do our beliefs affect our daily life? That is the true measure of doctrine.

Originally published May 6, 1983.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Worthy of the Calling

The first three chapters of the letter to the Ephesians tell about the spiritual position and authority of those who accept Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. The last three chapters talk about God’s entry into the daily life of Christians.

Paul makes it clear in the letter that although our spiritual position is our foundation, we will never understand that position if we do not let Christ enter our daily lives. Likewise, we will not walk in His authority unless we submit to Him.

Paul wrote, I . . . beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called. . . . Eph. 4:1 NKJV)

We cannot enter that walk by ourselves—or stay on the walk by ourselves. What we can do is accept the life of Christ and let Him begin to work in us.

Originally published August 23, 1991.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Living Hope

When Nicodemus came with questions in the night, Jesus said to him, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn. 3:3b NIV)

Nicodemus did not understand the idea of being born again. And he did not understand that spiritual life is a gift.

But in the Old Testament, God had revealed this truth through the prophet Ezekiel. God said He would remove sin and place a fresh, clean heart and spirit in people who turn to Him. (Ezekiel 36)

Receiving a new heart is equivalent to being born again. But Nicodemus either had not learned or did not understand Ezekiel’s prophecy. He did not know that God gives new hearts—and that they cannot be earned. New hearts come by grace through faith.

Peter called the transformation that occurs when a person receives a new heart a new birth into a living hope. (I Pet. 1:3a) When we receive Jesus, He brings His life. We are born again. We experience a new birth. And we walk in a living hope because He lives within us.

Originally published July 29, 1983.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A New Direction

Asking questions must be a God-given attribute—if we did not ask questions, we would not search for truth—or receive a revelation of truth. (Revelation is Scripture that God opens up for us. He illuminates His Word in our hearts and minds.)

However, after God gives us meaningful answers via revelation, the nature of our curiosity changes. For an example of this, look at the Old Testament character named Job. After God answered his questions via a revelation, Job could only say things like, I am unworthy—how can I reply? . . . (Job 40:4a NIV)

Isaiah’s response was similar when he received a revelation: Woe is me! . . . I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips . . . and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty. (Is. 6:5)

But neither man stopped searching; their quests simply took off in new directions. The new concern became pleasing God—and discovering how to follow His Will. That requires asking questions, too.

Originally published October 4, 1985.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A New Dimension

People’s desire for insight is usually superficial. And that is the way it was for the Greeks who came to the apostle Philip. Sir, they said, we would like to see Jesus. (Jn. 12:21b NIV) They assumed a simple introduction would give them understanding.

Of course, we learn from every exposure to Jesus. How else would we receive the challenges that draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. But Jesus’ response to their request did not even seem relevant. I tell you the truth, He said, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (v. 24)

Rather than introduce Himself, Jesus made it clear they could not receive spiritual insight without entering a new dimension. If they wanted to truly see Him, they would have to participate in the type of life He lived and receive the revelation He offered.

All knowledge is helpful and worthwhile. But revelation and spiritual insight require more than occasional or superficial exposure.

Originally published March 22, 1985.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Emotional Wounds

Most of us do not deal well with emotional wounds. We are afraid to let others know our hurts. So we suppress them—or we cover them up with anger—or we analyze the offending person, perhaps make excuses for them because we love them.

But none of these actions removes or heals our wounds. Suppressing hurts causes inner turmoil that usually intensifies damage. Anger complicates everything. Rationalizing other people’s behavior might help us accept hurt—and keep us from becoming bitter—but it does not promote healing.

God has a remedy but it will not work if we deny our feelings—or if we are angry—or even if we make excuses for the other person. It is called forgiveness, and it means admitting both our woundedness and the other person’s sin—and choosing to forgive anyway.

Jesus said, And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your treapasses. (Mk. 11:25 NKJV)

Forgiving requires looking to Jesus because He gives us power to forgive. But the first step is acknowledging our wounds. We will not be open to healing unless we know we need it.

Originally published January 2, 1987.
Picture: Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, MN, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, November 2, 2009

You Also Be Open

We are strange creatures, we people. Sometimes we are angry with others not because of what they have done to us—but because we feel guilty over what we have done to them. Or because of the way we feel around them. They remind us of our failures or weaknesses—our imperfection—our sin. Sometimes our feelings are so intense we dislike the other person intensely—and at best, we are uncomfortable.

The Corinthian Christians experienced these feelings when they thought of the Apostle Paul. He was their spiritual father but, in his absence, they had followed false teachers. Later, when they recognized their error, they were ashamed to admit it. Paul loved them with a pure heart, but they said hateful things about him. Although he was their spiritual father, thinking about him made them uncomfortable.

Paul wrote a long letter to these mixed-up people. O Corinthians! he said. We have spoken openly to you. Our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your affections . . . You also be open. ( II cor. 6:11,12, 13b NKJV)

All of us have failed other people at times. How do we feel around them? Are we open about our failure?

Originally published September 22, 1989.