Saturday, 7 December 2019

Can an image lie?

The question is valid. I grew up in a country where a picture was considered to be a solid proof when truth should be established. We know that this can be disputed, because pictures can be manipulated. Likewise, even without manipulation a coincident can have an effect that changes the ‘image’ completely.

Major Beat Rieder took these photos a couple of weeks back. When he showed them to us after the meeting, it created huge amusement. However, I straight away knew that I could use them to illustrate the last blog in this autumn’s series on the ‘attributes of Christ’.

The focus through the whole year has been on our mission to bring the life of Christ to people. To be able to that I need to know what the attributes of his life are. One way to discover this is to look at his “I am” statements. They are the images of who he is. Many times, I have also quoted the verse: 

“Because, as he is, we are in this world” 1 John 4:17b
The consequence of this must be that the images of who He is should also be images found in my life. It is impossible to fake these images. Yes, I can dress like a ‘shepherd’; all the same, if I don’t care about the ‘sheep’ people will straight away know that the image lies.

In the same way, I can try to produce the fruit of the vine, also called the fruit of the Spirit, which is 

“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” 
Galatians 5:22-23
Any of the qualities of the fruit on this list can be imitated for some time through human effort, but alas, unless it is genuine it will eventually be disclosed.

The interesting thing is that Jesus lived an ordinary life. He lived just like most of the people around him. He took part in their joys, their parties, their pain and their sorrows. He slept, ate and drank, laughed and wept. He had gentle conversation, and was angry when he saw unrighteousness – and all the time the attributes are part of who he is, because they are an integral part of his being.

Even though today’s illustration is not manipulated, angel-wings are not part of who I am. The image still lies and everyone knows that is the case. I pray for myself and for you that your life in this world will be genuine and true because we live as genuine and true human beings who believe that Jesus can work in and through us to spread hope in a world in need of hope.

‘Manna’ for today:

Recreated in His image!

Saturday, 30 November 2019

There will always be fruit of life!

In last week’s reflection “The source of the new life”, I focused on how important it is to be rooted in Christ, who also is the Word. This root will live forever. In the last chapter in the Bible, John describes the vision of the Tree of Life, and Jesus proclaiming: 
“I am the Root!” (1)

Yes, branches can be broken off, and sometimes it may even seem as though the whole three will fall. However, the Root of Life will never die. After Isaiah had his dramatic encounter with the Lord in the Temple, and answered the call: “Here am I. Send me!”(2), God sent him with a rather discouraging message to a hardened people, but he takes courage in a picture from the nature:

“But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Isaiah 6:13b
The holy seed is the people still in contact with the Root of life.

Returning to my experience as a ‘Lumberjack’, I know, that it is not only terebinth and oak that will grow new trees from the stumps. Several of the tree species we have around our house in Norway will shoot new sprouts from the stump unless I destroy the root. Since I ‘harvest’ the trees as firewood, I normally let the root live, because there will always be fruit of life. Actually, the area where the house is located has the name ‘Rønninggrenda’ which literally translates: “Where trees grow from the stumps”

I may grieve some losses as age takes its toll and branches break off, but I say with Paul:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
2 Corinthians 4:16
He who lives in me, is the Root of Life, from whom I draw nourishment that renews my inner being day by day. For this reason, I expect that there will be fruit in and of my life until the day I meet my Saviour face to face! This is His work and accomplishment only, not mine, which means that all the glory belongs to Him alone!

‘Manna’ for today:

The fruit of life is His work
(1) Revelation 22:14
(2) Isaiah 6

Saturday, 23 November 2019

The source of the new life

I do not think that the ‘I am’-statements Jesus made in John’s Gospel come in random order. The seventh and last statement is:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener!
John 15:1
I am not a gardener, but I know that a plant needs to be alive to bear fruit. Magna (my wife) is the one who takes care of our garden. However, I do quite a bit of lumberjacking and know that the roots are important for a tree or a vine. I also know what happens to a tree and the fruit when it is cut off from its roots.

The idea of being ‘rooted’ in Jesus is a central part of the Christian faith:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:6-7
The root is vital for the growth and strengthening of a tree, and for the fruit it will produce in due time. When Jesus taught about the true vine, he was of course focusing on the fruit-bearing. At the same time, he linked the effectiveness of this process to the condition of us ‘remaining in Him and His words remaining in us’ (1). This thought is also found in the Old Testament where a person who delights in the word of God is pictured in this way:
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
Psalm 1:3
So when I face challenges in my life, I go back to the roots. When I question my ministry in The Salvation Army, I go back to the roots. I find that everything points back to The Root - the ‘source of the new life’, which is the Word becoming flesh. This Root did also invite anyone who is thirsty to come and drink, so that “the rivers of living water will flow from within them” (2). These rivers flowing from people filled with The Holy Spirit, will also help others to bear fruit. The purpose of fruit is to generate more fruit – and it all comes from the Root – the source of all life.

‘Manna’ for today:
I want to be like a tree by the streams of living water.
(1) John 15:7
(2) John 7:38b

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Experiencing life in all its fullness

I must confess that writing this blog is a challenge. The reason for this is very simple. When a person decides to come to the truth, repent his sins and surrender his life to Jesus, there is no standard answer to how he will experience this important step. For some, making the decision to follow Jesus can be like the start of a pregnancy. The life is already there; however, it takes some time before that life becomes visible to others. Some can have a long ‘pregnancy’, for others it can be a matter of seconds. Others may even experience salvation and baptism in the Spirit in one instant moment.

We have a tendency to compare ourselves with one another. In light of what I just have written, it is dangerous if I drop to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with me because I have not experienced the new life in the same way as someone I compare myself with.

We have three wonderful children. They are three individualists. Physically they don’t look alike, emotionally and spiritually they are different – and their views on different matters may in many cases be so different that outsiders would be surprised that they share the same DNA. I don’t think any of them will consider the other two as less or more normal or alive, than they are themselves. Nor do they doubt who their parents are. Of course, if I asked any of them to proofread this, knowing them and their sense of humour, all of them would come back protesting and say: “I am the one who is right!”

If the life in Christ is life it all its fullness, it includes all the variations of life and experiences as well.

So how then do I know that I am a Christian?

It is about believing and receiving Jesus as Lord and Saviour into your life:
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
John 1:12
Receiving Jesus includes repenting sin and receiving forgiveness (1)
This is confirmed by confession:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Romans 10:9-10
When this in place, life has started and step by step it will lead to inner conviction and assurance.

‘Manna’ for today:
I want to live life in all its fullness
(1) 1 John 1:9

Saturday, 9 November 2019

What do you do with the truth?

On the journey towards life, many people will discover that the good news about salvation in Jesus is true. This does not mean that they are prepared to accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Because when you know the truth you will very likely start to ‘count the cost’.

I know this from my own experience. As far back as I can remember, I have believed in God, in Jesus and in what was written in the Bible, but I postponed the ‘surrender’ until the moment I could not resist the calling any longer. I was 14 and afraid of the cost of discipleship. However, I soon discovered that the gain by far exceeded the cost. Since then, I have observed others go through the same process.

The climatic crisis in the world today demands an analogue kind of decision. There seems to be scientific consensus that the crisis is a result of our unsustainable exploitation of the world’s resources. Further, I observe that an increasing number of people agree to this truth; however, the cost of reducing the benefits of the exploitation to save the planet, makes us postponing the dramatic decisions that need to be made.

So is there a cost of discipleship, and if so what is it?
Jesus is very clear that the call is to follow him. He calls us to himself, and he is very explicit:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24
I think this was the verse that kept me from surrendering; However, it took some time from the day of surrendering until I discovered what taking up my cross meant. The day I saw what it really means to die with Christ, and to raise with him to be a new creature in Him, became a moment of great importance. When I saw this, it made a fundamental difference for my understanding of what this is all about. With this in mind there is ‘no turning back’ – nor has it ever been a desire. 

Yes, I can be tired, disheartened and feel that I need new strength, but I know that this can only be found in Him – and nowhere else.

The question remains: What do you do with the truth?

The answer to this question is vital for your spiritual journey both before and after Jesus has become a part of your life, and He a part of yours.

‘Manna’ for today:
I will follow the truth to the life! (1)
(1) John 14:6

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Which road-signs can I trust?

I took this picture three years ago in South Africa. I trusted it, even though it was placed upside down – after all I was ‘down-under’.

When I have started the journey towards life in Jesus Christ, there are road-signs along the way. I have already shared the signs given us in the nature and the conscience. The challenge is that these signs can lead to any kind of religious expressions, therefore it is important to look for trust-worthy signs that lead to Jesus. This is why I claim that not only the way, but also the ‘truth’ comes before life. Jesus was very clear about the truth:
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
John 17:17
In practical terms this is the proclamation of the Biblical message of salvation in and through Jesus. This is the role of the church = His disciples. We may still use the arguments found in the nature and the conscience and any other argument that support the truth of the Word, however the best way to communicate the message, is through the Word becoming flesh over and over again. This can happen through you and me every day:

William Booth wrote the following with reference to a revised translation of the Bible:
Christian scholars have translated it (the Bible) and re-translated it, and then translated it again. They have commented and printed and published it in every form, and it is hurrying on to encompass the world with its revelations in every tongue. They have explained and preached about almost every word within its covers.
There seems to be only one thing left to be done with it, and that is to give us a literal and faithful and understandable translation of it in practice. Let us live it; live the real things - live the Christ-life. Such a translation, my comrades, will tell. It will be victorious. It will be triumphant. (1)
God gave me grace to start the search for life, and by his saving grace he accepted me into the new life in Jesus Christ. Therefore, by the same grace, I will present the word of truth in the world today.

‘Manna’ for today:
We will go forth in grace alone (2)
(1) William Booth: 'The Revised Bible' - The War Cry, May 10, 1885. Link to the whole article in English.
(2) Link to the song in English

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

I see that you are tired!

“I see that you are tired!”- is the first line of a song I love to play and listen to*. It is Jesus speaking to a person in great distress, and the next line is not really comforting: “but I cannot walk all the steps for you – have to walk them yourself”. If it had stopped there, it would have been very sad, however, the song continues: “But I will walk with you”.

The next verses of the song deal with pain and Jesus crying with the person and when he still wants to give up Jesus says that he cannot live his life, but live with him and even turn death to life for him.
The song gives a true picture of how I see God in Jesus – a God who is with us in our sufferings. Even Isaiah saw that many years before God revealed himself in Jesus, he wrote:

I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 57:15
I have seen God doing miracles. I have seen people being healed, and I have also seen people who have not experienced healing even though they themselves and people around them have been praying for healing for years. However, among those living with pain and suffering I also find people who can testify that God is present and suffering with them.

Twenty-seven years ago a man arrived to a prayer-chapel just I was going to start the meeting. I noticed that he didn’t walk very well and he had brought a soft chair which he sat in. After the meeting I spoke with him. He told that he had suffered with Multiple Sclerosis and had been in a wheel-chair, but was convinced that God would heal him. “He has started the process”, he said, “and when I asked him where his angels were this evening, I saw one behind you!” – “It will happen, you see!”. His favourite verse was: 

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways”. 
Psalm 91:11 
I only met this man once.
In an interview with him several years later, I read his story. He was now living a normal life and running the family farm. He shared his testimony. As a young man, he wanted his own carrier, and was not realizing that in doing so, he also drifted away from God. When the sickness struck him, it brought him back to the foundation of his life. His life in Christ. Jesus was with him in the suffering. When he felt that he could not go out on the field and did not have strength to lift the stone, Jesus said he would walk with him, and stone by stone ‘together with Jesus’ he also regained health.

Very often it is in the hardship, and not in the miracles, we realize the value of God being with us. 
I have experienced remarkable healing in my own life and family. However, in a long depression I was not ready to admit the fact that I was depressed, because God’s presence was just as strong as in the good days. I am grateful for this ‘hard-time’ experience in the same way as I am grateful for experiencing God’s presence when I was injured in a suicide-bombing in Istanbul in 2016.

I know that God sees YOU when you are tired, when you weep, when you want to give up – I pray that you will see him as well, because he is there beside you!

Published in the Russian War Cry #4 2019 p 8
Link to Sissel Kyrkjebø's version
Link to the song - with English text