Week 56 – Will faith or fear be our operating system?

What we call relational dysfunction is really an absence of trusting and committed love.

DAY ONE – Acts 18:19-19:41

The apostolic impulse carries a ‘door-opening’ anointing. (By ‘anointing’ we simply mean a special grace working through the Spirit of God in someone’s life so that he is able to do special things.) When Jesus appointed apostles, He sent them out to various places that He planned to visit. Now that Jesus is in Heaven, the Holy Spirit still employs this effective strategy. People with a special anointing from the Lord still want to take on new places to preach the Good News–they are ‘door openers.’ They have the grit and determination from the Spirit of God to take on difficult–sometimes impossible–odds and to solve knotty problems as they preach the Good Jesus News. For them the answer is always “Yes, we can do this.” If it requires miracles and other supernatural manifestations, they are equipped as Paul was. In the face of opposition they simply lean forward and keep going until there are believers and followers of Jesus established in the faith. When God’s Word is established in an area and an assembly of believers is carrying on the mission, door-opening people often leave the work in others’ hands and move to another new field of endeavor. Always there is that supernatural cutting edge to their work. In Paul’s case handkerchiefs that had merely touched his body became the means of healing and deliverance from demons to many people.

If we wish to see another great spiritual awakening and outbreak in our western culture, we must by all means pray for and welcome a ‘door-opening’ move of God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that defies opposition, bypasses obstacles, and is accompanied by supernatural phenomena. Our modern assemblies are so maintenance and ‘full-service’ oriented that the power to break the spell of cultural distractions simply isn’t there. The Holy Spirit is powerful, the Word of God is powerful, but we also need powerful and anointed people to stand up to the milieu and preach Jesus even in the face of persecution. Yes, grace, peace and love should be the context of our message, but supernatural outbursts are also needed to demonstrate that the Kingdom of Heaven is destroying the works of the devil and defeating the world kingdom and its false powers. God give us another generation of Spirit-empowered young men and women in full apostolic mode. Are the people of God ready to take on this prayer and preparation assignment?

DAY TWO – 1 Corinthians 1-4

It’s easy to confuse philosophy with knowledge. ‘Philosophy’ is a Greek compound word (philos-sophia) that means ‘love of wisdom.’ In our world of education and ideas, a great deal of what we call ‘truth’ is nothing more than philosophy, or another theory. What we know or think we know is often elevated above how we live, and Apostle Paul took great care to correct the thinking of the Corinthians, who were raised on Greek philosophies. In fact, when Paul was in Athens, the great cultural center of the world at that time, he observed that the Greeks had so many ideas about God, they actually knew practically nothing about Him! Yet many Greeks believed the Good News of Jesus and followed, and it is to them this letter is written to ask them to put away their quarreling and wrangling with each other in order to really focus on Jesus who saved them and was working with them. God’s power is more important than the person who preaches, and His Word is more important than the one delivering it. In the end, God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the One who knows and interprets all things spiritual to us. Don’t get hung up on who said what. God the Holy Spirit gives us all we need, but it is so that we can carry and live out the Good News to our world.

Jesus is central to the Gospel of God. He is the power of God. His victory over temptation, sin and death brought eternal life to us, and it is through Him that we receive everything so that we can overcome everything. Drop the tendency to elevate important people by trying to identify with them. They are only Christ’s servants. Thank God for each one who has blessed you, taught you, mentored you, loved you. But don’t go beyond that, or you will steal their blessing, for the greatest blessing is when we are judged by Christ when He comes and are found faithful to the task we were given. Live your life to the glory of God–humbly, sincerely and in the grace of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus comes again to judge the world, may we be found worthy of His grace and love by loving the assembly of believers around us and in serving as we are called. This is sainthood!

DAY THREE – 1 Corinthians 5-8

It’s difficult to put into human terms the revolutionary power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives. The corporate life of the new community of believers in Jerusalem was so different, that the Jews looking on described them as the people of The Way (See Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-36). It changed their social structures and attitudes tremendously, energized by the life of their Savior Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. In our scriptures today Apostle Paul confronted the pagan practices of the new Corinthian believers, practices which, if left unchecked, could compromise the entire community. These were holdovers in attitudes and behaviors from their pagan society, given completely to religious superstition and idolatry of many kinds. Sexual immorality of the worst kind had manifested, and the person was to be removed from the spiritual household until he repented. Settling disputes in front of unbelievers unqualified to judge within the believing community was questioned deeply. The sanctity and longevity of marriage was put forth in such manner that a believer would think twice before seeking dissolution or divorce. And finally, the conscience of other believers became a community priority regarding their old religious practices, such as eating meat offered to idols. Note that the COMMUNITY of believers was held in high esteem, for it represented Jesus’ Presence on earth through His eternal Kingdom. What the rest of the world saw when they observed the believing community was important. A real distinction of life and practice was observable, and Paul wanted to keep it that way. A single passage shows how dramatically a person is changed when he follows Jesus:  Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NLT) The power of paganism is shattered when Jesus invades us by His Holy Spirit. May all its ungodliness and destructiveness be cleansed from the Community of Believers, the Lord’s assembly.

DAY FOUR – 1 Corinthians 9-11

A world upside down and a world right side up–these are the extremes between this world kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. What seems natural here may indeed be unnatural. And what seems puzzling here may indeed be the supernatural natural of the kingdom of heaven! We often fail to see how paganism dictates the core values and teachings of popular culture, obscuring what is heavenly, good and right. When Jesus came into the world, He came from heaven and brought realities of heaven with Him–peace, love, healing, life, truth and other astonishing realities that caught His world off guard. It took several years of life and ministry for Him to show convincingly that the world system’s paganism is heaven’s opposite. And it took that long for His followers to accept and understand that God’s ways in our world result in what we all long for. While we understand that the whole world system must eventually give way to heaven’s authority and priority, we at this time live and die IN FAITH that our Savior’s world is our world also; that His resurrection life is our life; and that His home is our home. Once our faith crosses that line, all that is heavenly becomes our NEW NORMAL! Paganism is soundly defeated, and Christ Jesus leads His followers from faith to faith in victory.

How agonizing it must have been for Apostle Paul to methodically and painstakingly instruct the Corinthian (formerly pagan) believers to grasp the new realities of heaven working among them! Because we live and move and sense and feel and work and play in the old pagan environment of this world, it is very challenging to adjust to a new normal that invades our life with the coming of Holy Spirit. He leads us IN CHRIST to new realities that are normal in heaven. Our old pagan ways claw at our old unregenerate nature (before Jesus) to lead us back into the old normal that otherwise seems perfectly normal. Yet it can NEVER BE NORMAL again as long as the Holy Spirit has His way with us. We will always be warned and led from within to trust the Lord and His ways. How important is it to feed continually on God’s Words and welcome Holy Spirit to instruct us and lead us in our daily living? How important is it to pray with and for one another continually to provide spiritual influence and support? And how important is it for us to see our old world for what it is and soundly reject it in favor of new heavens and new earth, which even now our Father in heaven is planning for our future? Let’s get it right this time!

DAY FIVE – 1 Corinthians 12-14

The governing law of Jesus is LOVE, so the governing law of His people gathered together is love. Not so in paganism. The governing law of paganism is FEAR, for people fear the god they supposedly worship but don’t know and understand. Since fear motivates us to self-preservation, it influences every relationship we have, even when human love is present. What we call relational dysfunction is really an absence of trusting and committed love, and a person always feels vulnerable when he doesn’t feel loved. No wonder Apostle Paul devoted an entire section to governing love, which becomes the basic function of our life together as a gathering of God’s people. Coming freshly out of paganism, the Corinthian believers struggled to honor and prefer each other when they were together, because each needed what he could not attain through his pagan culture. So even though God had blessed them with spiritual gifts given to help and support one another, they were often displayed for self-aggrandizement, so that it left everyone confused and unsatisfied. The only remedy for this malfunction of the gifts of the Holy Spirit was God’s full expression of committed love reaching through His people in relationship.

Perhaps our modern issue when we gather is not the misuse of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but their lack of use. We are trained and accustomed to listen to someone pray or give a sermon rather than to interact and lovingly use the gifts of the Spirit to love, heal and strengthen each other. Under the current rules of ‘engagement,’ so to speak, we are often passive in our relationships, so that people may come and go from our gatherings without ever addressing their needs and receiving proper care. God has certainly provided for our wholeness, but perhaps we are withholding it from one another without even realizing it. What to do? First, receive a baptism of God’s love so that you overflow with His Presence. Second, when gathering, ask the Holy Spirit who needs your love and care at this particular moment. Then work with the leaders to see that prayers, proper care and large loving doses of healing are given away to people. That will supercharge our gatherings and renew our faith.

Week 56 – Deciding whether faith or fear will be our operating system…

What we call relational dysfunction is really an absence of trusting and committed love.

DAY ONE – Acts 18:19-19:41

The apostolic impulse carries a ‘door-opening’ anointing. (By ‘anointing’ we simply mean a special grace working through the Spirit of God in someone’s life so that he is able to do special things.) When Jesus appointed apostles, He sent them out to various places that He planned to visit. Now that Jesus is in Heaven, the Holy Spirit still employs this effective strategy. People with a special grace from the Lord still want to take on new places to preach the Good News–they are ‘door openers.’ They have the grit and determination from the Spirit of God to take on difficult–sometimes impossible–odds and to solve knotty problems as they preach the Good Jesus News. For them the answer is always “Yes, we can do this.” If it requires miracles and other supernatural manifestations, they are equipped as Paul was. In the face of opposition they simply lean forward and keep going until there are believers and followers of Jesus established in the faith. When God’s Word is established in an area and an assembly of believers is carrying on the mission, door-opening people often leave the work in others’ hands and move to another new field of endeavor. Always there is that supernatural cutting edge to their work. In Paul’s case handkerchiefs that had merely touched his body became the means of healing and deliverance from demons to many people.

If we wish to see another great spiritual awakening and outbreak in our western culture, we must by all means pray for and welcome a ‘door-opening’ move of God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that defies opposition, bypasses obstacles, and is accompanied by supernatural phenomena. Our modern assemblies can become so maintenance and ‘full-service’ oriented that the power to break the spell of cultural distractions simply isn’t there. The Holy Spirit is powerful, the Word of God is powerful, but we also need powerful and anointed people to stand up to the milieu and preach Jesus even in the face of persecution. Yes, grace, peace and love should be the context of our message, but supernatural outbursts are also needed to demonstrate that the Kingdom of Heaven is destroying the works of the devil and defeating the world kingdom and its false powers. God give us another generation of Spirit-empowered young men and women in full apostolic mode. Are the people of God ready to take on this prayer and preparation assignment?

DAY TWO – 1 Corinthians 1-4

It’s easy to confuse philosophy with knowledge. ‘Philosophy’ is a Greek compound word (philos-sophia) that means ‘love of wisdom.’ In our world of education and ideas, a great deal of what we call ‘truth’ is nothing more than philosophy, or another theory. What we know or think we know is often elevated above how we live, and Apostle Paul took great care to correct the thinking of the Corinthians, who were raised on Greek philosophies. In fact, when Paul was in Athens, the great cultural center of the world at that time, he observed that the Greeks had so many ideas about God, they actually knew practically nothing about Him! Yet many Greeks believed the Good News of Jesus and followed, and it is to them this letter is written to ask them to put away their quarreling and wrangling with each other in order to really focus on Jesus who saved them and was working with them. God’s power is more important than the person who preaches, and His Word is more important than the one delivering it. In the end, God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the One who knows and interprets all things spiritual to us. Don’t get hung up on who said what. God the Holy Spirit gives us all we need, but it is so that we can carry and live out the Good News to our world.

Jesus is central to the Gospel of God. He is the power of God. His victory over temptation, sin and death brought eternal life to us, and it is through Him that we receive everything so that we can overcome everything. Drop the tendency to elevate important people by trying to identify with them. They are only Christ’s servants. Thank God for each one who has blessed you, taught you, mentored you, loved you. But don’t go beyond that, or you will steal their blessing, for the greatest blessing is when we are judged by Christ when He comes and are found faithful to the task we were given. Live your life to the glory of God–humbly, sincerely and in the grace of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus comes again to judge the world, may we be found worthy of His grace and love by loving the assembly of believers around us and in serving as we are called. This is sainthood!

DAY THREE – 1 Corinthians 5-8

It’s difficult to put into human terms the revolutionary power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives. The corporate life of the new community of believers in Jerusalem was so different, that the Jews looking on described them as the people of The Way (See Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-36). It changed their social structures and attitudes tremendously, energized by the life of their Savior Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. In our scriptures today Apostle Paul confronted the pagan practices of the new Corinthian believers, practices which, if left unchecked, could compromise the entire community. These were holdovers in attitudes and behaviors from their pagan society, given completely to religious superstition and idolatry of many kinds. Sexual immorality of the worst kind had manifested, and the person was to be removed from the spiritual household until he repented. Settling disputes in front of unbelievers unqualified to judge within the believing community was questioned deeply. The sanctity and longevity of marriage was put forth in such manner that a believer would think twice before seeking dissolution or divorce. And finally, the conscience of other believers became a community priority regarding their old religious practices, such as eating meat offered to idols. Note that the COMMUNITY of believers was held in high esteem, for it represented Jesus’ Presence on earth through His eternal Kingdom. What the rest of the world saw when they observed the believing community was important. A real distinction of life and practice was observable, and Paul wanted to keep it that way. A single passage shows how dramatically a person is changed when he follows Jesus:  Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.  Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NLT) The power of paganism is shattered when Jesus invades us by His Holy Spirit. May all its ungodliness and destructiveness be cleansed from the Community of Believers, the Lord’s assembly.

DAY FOUR – 1 Corinthians 9-11

A world upside down and a world right side up–these are the extremes between this world kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. What seems natural here may indeed be unnatural. And what seems puzzling here may indeed be the supernatural natural of the kingdom of heaven! We often fail to see how paganism dictates the core values and teachings of popular culture, obscuring what is heavenly, good and right. When Jesus came into the world, He came from heaven and brought realities of heaven with Him–peace, love, healing, life, truth and other astonishing realities that caught His world off guard. It took several years of life and ministry for Him to show convincingly that the world system’s paganism is heaven’s opposite. And it took that long for His followers to accept and understand that God’s ways in our world result in what we all long for. While we understand that the whole world system must eventually give way to heaven’s authority and priority, we at this time live and die IN FAITH that our Savior’s world is our world also; that His resurrection life is our life; and that His home is our home. Once our faith crosses that line, all that is heavenly becomes our NEW NORMAL! Paganism is soundly defeated, and Christ Jesus leads His followers from faith to faith in victory.

How agonizing it must have been for Apostle Paul to methodically and painstakingly instruct the Corinthian (formerly pagan) believers to grasp the new realities of heaven working among them! Because we live and move and sense and feel and work and play in the old pagan environment of this world, it is very challenging to adjust to a new normal that invades our life with the coming of Holy Spirit. He leads us IN CHRIST to new realities that are normal in heaven. Our old pagan ways claw at our old unregenerate nature (before Jesus) to lead us back into the old normal that otherwise seems perfectly normal. Yet it can NEVER BE NORMAL again as long as the Holy Spirit has His way with us. We will always be warned and led from within to trust the Lord and His ways. How important is it to feed continually on God’s Words and welcome Holy Spirit to instruct us and lead us in our daily living? How important is it to pray with and for one another continually to provide spiritual influence and support? And how important is it for us to see our old world for what it is and soundly reject it in favor of new heavens and new earth, which even now our Father in heaven is planning for our future? Let’s do get it right this time!

DAY FIVE – 1 Corinthians 12-14

The governing law of Jesus is LOVE, so the governing law of His people gathered together is love. Not so in paganism. The governing law of paganism is FEAR, for people fear the god they supposedly worship but don’t know and understand. Since fear motivates us to self-preservation, it influences every relationship we have, even when human love is present. What we call relational dysfunction is really an absence of trusting and committed love, and a person always feels vulnerable when he doesn’t feel loved. No wonder Apostle Paul devoted an entire section to governing love, which becomes the basic function of our life together as a gathering of God’s people. Coming freshly out of paganism, the Corinthian believers struggled to honor and prefer each other when they were together, because each needed what he could not attain through his pagan culture. So even though God had blessed them with spiritual gifts given to help and support one another, they were often displayed for self-aggrandizement, so that it left everyone confused and unsatisfied. The only remedy for this malfunction of the gifts of the Holy Spirit was God’s full expression of committed love reaching through His people in relationship.

Perhaps our modern issue when we gather is not the misuse of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but their lack of use. We are trained and accustomed to listen to someone pray or give a sermon rather than to interact and lovingly use the gifts of the Spirit to love, heal and strengthen each other. Under the current rules of ‘engagement,’ so to speak, we are often passive in our relationships, so that people may come and go from our gatherings without ever addressing their needs and receiving proper care. God has certainly provided for our wholeness, but perhaps we are withholding it from one another without even realizing it. What to do? First, receive a baptism of God’s love so that you overflow with His Presence. Second, when gathering, ask the Holy Spirit who needs your love and care at this particular moment. Then work with the leaders to see that prayers, proper care and large loving doses of healing are given away to people. That will supercharge our gatherings and renew our faith.

Week 55 – The Bible reveals that Jesus will take over all the kingdoms of the world!

We must never be surprised when we suffer opposition or distress at the hands of God’s enemies; Jesus has prevailed and will sit as King of kings and Lord of lords.

DAY ONE  – Galatians 1-3

Jesus was born of Jewish parents; that made Him a Jew. But He was conceived by the Holy Spirit; that made Him the Son of God as well. Then when He went public, He chose twelve disciples to do life with Him for three years. While that was going on, another young Jew was being educated, indoctrinated and groomed for a life among the Pharisees who hated Jesus and wanted to kill Him. That young man was Saul of Tarsus, later to become Paul the Apostle to the nations of the world outside of Jerusalem. While the twelve were eyewitnesses of all the works and teachings of Jesus, Saul was growing in boldness as he planned to stop them. And when the twelve were with Jesus after His resurrection, Saul was already finding ways to persecute the Jesus followers and eradicate them. With his own words, he recounts how he became ‘one sent’ from God–an apostle. Nothing short of a divine encounter and divine revelations could so thoroughly transform the hater of Jesus followers into the man who preached the Good Jesus News all over the world and wrote two thirds of our New Testament in the Bible. In our reading today he wrote to the assembly in Galatia to by all means turn away from those who would bring them back under the condemnation of the Jewish law after they had been transformed into new life through the Holy Spirit. Using powerful rhetoric and his own historic testimony, Paul did everything to persuade them to reject religious tradition in favor of faith in God’s promises of salvation through His Son Jesus.

There are so many self-improvement and self-fulfilling movements in our culture today, that the false gospel of physical and mental achievements is threatening to take Jesus’ place in our daily life. Body and mind are being elevated over development of character and the human spirit. A better human life is being sold as a cheap substitute for eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Don’t go for it; while trying to be your best you, remember that you are an eternal spirit, and being a Jesus follower is the way to become the best you of all. Remain culturally free so that you can be led by the Holy Spirit who leads us more into Christ Jesus every day.

DAY TWO – Galatians 4-6, Acts 15-16

Preaching the Good News freely will always spark confrontation, for the essence of the Good News is that we must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of all, in order to be saved. Then we must choose to follow Him and be baptized in His name. This is Kingdom of Heaven versus kingdom of man, in mortal combat. It was initiated in the Garden of Eden when the first man Adam chose his own will over God’s will and lost his God-connection. Unfortunately it brought human death and was passed on to the human race. Religion–human style–is always a person’s attempt to reconnect with God without the blood of Jesus and His resurrection life; in other words, we are trying to save ourselves. The new Gentile believers in our Book of Acts story were pestered by those insisting they had to be circumcised and follow Moses’ laws and traditions to be saved. Faith in Jesus had to be attended by Jewish religious practices in order to complete one’s salvation. NOT! True religion is the expression of our faith and obedience to Jesus, after He has forgiven our sins and given us His righteousness. Our own righteousness may give glory to God, but it will never save us! That struggle has been reenacted in every generation for the last two thousand years!

The Jerusalem assembly, birthplace of Christianity, held a sacred convocation to put this matter to rest, Paul and his friends attending to share their experiences in the Gentile world of nations. First Peter, then James, spoke clearly and pointedly, to demonstrate that Judaism was given to the Jews, but grace from God is given to all peoples everywhere, in the name of Jesus. It was determined, then, that Jewish people were free to retain their cultural ways, but they must not impose them on anyone else; that Gentle believers who serve God through faith in Jesus should at least avoid sexual immorality and follow clean preparation of foods that avoid idolatry and blood consumption. When the Gentiles heard the message sent them from the elders, everybody rejoiced. Unfortunately the controversy continues, for religious traditions tend to become embodied in our faith. We must place our faith in Jesus and His power to save us at the top of our spiritual priorities. Aside from reading and practicing righteousness from God’s Word, our own traditions must never be substituted for the real Good News. The Holy Spirit is our Helper and Guide in all these matters.

DAY THREE – Acts 17:1-18:18

Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth–Paul was faithful to Jesus Christ in every place and city he was led by the Holy Spirit. It followed a pattern–find the Jewish synagogue, explain who Jesus was, and reason with them through the Holy Scriptures which offer a great deal of evidence as proof of the Lord’s life, death and resurrection. Two things usually happened–people believed in Jesus and became followers; and the unbelieving Jews stirred up opposition; and more than once created riots to drive Paul and his companions out of their city. However, assemblies of believers were left behind in Thessalonica and Corinth, where they remained a year and a half. During all of this the apostle reached a major turning point in his life. Wearied with the constant opposition and threats from the Jews, having been beaten and stoned by them more than once, he finally had had enough. “Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, ‘Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.'” Acts 18:6 (NLT) And preach to the Gentiles he did, reaching most of the then western world.

It’s interesting to note that Paul’s visit to Athens found him alone and unaccompanied for a while. Walking the city streets, he was impressed by the proliferation of statues and idol symbols throughout the city. One shrine was even designated to an “unknown god.” Somehow Paul wound up in front of the council and preached a wonderful message concerning this “unknown god,” explaining that it was really Creator God, and Jesus His Son was the resurrected Savior God. How strange these things sounded to the Athenians, who spent most of their time trading stories and spinning new philosophies. But three things happened: 1) Some laughed out loud and scoffed; 2) Some pondered, wanting to hear more; 3) and some believed and became followers of Jesus. Our job is to share Jesus; the Holy Spirit’s job is to find the chosen and grant them a believing heart, resulting in eternal salvation. Pick it up, saints; there has never been a better time to be Jesus’ faithful witness in our world!

DAY FOUR – 1 Thessalonians 1-5

Personal letters from apostles to Jesus’ followers make up a good portion of the New Testament. Writing about faith in Jesus, about the function of Truth and how to live it out in our daily lives, these men, as they were moved and borne along by the Holy Spirit, revealed the Lord Jesus Christ, heaven, times and seasons; and brought great instruction that helps us all to live the right kind of life. Having suffered greatly for the Gospel in Philippi, Paul and Silas nevertheless moved on to Thessalonica and preached the Good News with power from Holy Spirit. Recounting his time among them, Paul writes as a father might write his children, reminding them of the wonderful times they had together and encouraging them to keep their faith and service strong. Going a step further, the apostle dispels arguments about what happens to us when Jesus returns. Faithful friends and family who have died anywhere in the world at any time, suddenly rise from their graves and materialize again, while we believers who are alive rise suddenly to meet them in the air… we will all forever be with the Lord! This is a cataclysm, attended with a mighty shout, sounds of trumpets, and voices of archangels. Heaven now visits us with God’s peace, favor and assistance. But then gravity will lose its hold, and we will rise triumphantly into the life for which we have all believed, toiled and struggled to maintain. God is faithful to do what we cannot; through Jesus He conquered hell and the grave, and through Jesus He will gather His great family together. In the meantime, we are a family of believers and followers, and we must attend to each other diligently while shining as lights in our dark world. The world we know now is NOT the world of the future. THAT world is prepared by our Father in heaven to liberate us into light, life and love such as we have never known. The world we occupy now by our life of faith has already begun to decay and will pass into eternity without ever delivering what it promised! Keep your hope in the future that Jesus secured and calls our inheritance. May God preserve you entirely and completely in every way through His divine Spirit.

DAY FIVE – 2 Thessalonians 1-3

Paul wrote a second letter to the Thessalonian assembly, picking up again the theme of suffering, retribution and the day of the Lord. There is a modern theme in Christianity that if our life pleases God and we live in faith, we will be blessed, have good health and prosper financially as well. That may be true for some; but for others there may be intense persecution, deep suffering and sometimes poverty. Neither can be a gauge of God’s blessings, which are given freely to all in the form of salvation, comfort, eternal life and daily blessings in His Presence. That the Lord mercifully strengthens and keeps us in His grace is indisputable. That He is coming again to deliver us from this present world into the glorious eternal life with Him is an unchangeable promise. We can take comfort from our brothers and sisters around the world that the believer/follower’s life with Jesus is wonderful, even when persecution and suffering are a part. But we must not allow ourselves to become weary or get worried that the Lord has already come or that the so-called “day of the Lord” has already begun. Yes, the conflicts between the kingdoms continue to clash around us, but very specific events will be set in motion when we near the end of that which we now experience. At that time a person who embodies all the evil rebellion and wickedness against God will surface as a world leader, resisting God and the Holy Spirit by advancing and elevating himself. Things will be very difficult for all peoples who hold faith in Jesus. But then Jesus will come with His mighty angels and kill that wicked person while establishing His own rule over this world. As 21st century followers of Christ, we see signs that this rebellion will soon reach its peak in world cultures and governments, so that there is no  human remedy left to us. But until then we are encouraged to live our life of faith, work hard to support ourselves and others, and always be ready to pray for and encourage one another. It’s time, dear brothers and sisters, to live unselfishly, serve wherever we can, and maintain a spirit of prayer and intercession for our families, friends and God’s people everywhere. We must turn loose of those things that can never save us, learning to be content with all that God gives us for each day’s blessings. Grace and peace from our Lord, Jesus.

Week 54 – God is love: the Bible expresses that love to us…so onward we read!

Wind and fire – a very powerful beginning for the followers of Jesus – and the birth of The Way!

DAY ONE – Acts 1-4, Psalm 110

The Holy Spirit speaks every language. As the Festival of Pentecost dawned over Jerusalem, a hundred and twenty disciples/followers of Jesus had been in meeting for about ten days, praying and waiting to see what came next. First the wind came; it was followed by fire; and finally everyone broke out praising and magnifying God in languages (tongues) representing about twenty nations or more. Thousands of pilgrims from all of those places were in Jerusalem for the Festival. Hearing a loud noise coming from the Jesus band, they ran together and witnessed the spectacle generated by the Holy Spirit on these people. When they heard Peter explain clearly what was happening, that it had been prophesied by all the prophets beginning with Samuel, their hearts were pierced, and about 3,000 became followers of Jesus that day. Then after God powerfully and publicly healed a man lame for over forty years, the Holy Spirit again spoke through Peter to lift up Jesus the Messiah as the giver of Holy Spirit and perpetrator of signs and wonders among the crowds. It was definitely a New Beginning. The Holy Spirit had been given by Jesus and received by His followers. The result was not only a powerful spiritual revolution but the beginning of a new social order called The Way by witnesses of those events. The Jesus band grew to be thousands more, and the Kingdom of God on earth was forever established, with Jesus guiding and guarding from His place with the Father in heaven.

As Luke, who wrote this book as well as the book that bears his name, describes it, Jesus appeared over forty days to His disciples post-resurrection. During that time He repeatedly spoke of the Kingdom of God, just as He had done during His years with the disciples (now apostles, or ‘sent ones’). Heaven kissed earth when Jesus was born. The Holy Spirit kept Him connected to heaven, just as He does for us. Heaven still kisses earth every time God’s favor reaches through us to touch another needy soul. As Jesus Himself worked signs and wonders before the people, God’s people have continued in every generation since then to welcome amazing works and miracles done through the Holy Spirit in our times. Are you able to lift your expectations today to welcome signs and wonders? Are you a true believer? Does the Holy Spirit speak your language as He does all others on our planet? Use Jesus’ name and find out!

DAY TWO – Acts 5-8

“How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this?” (v. 8) Two people–a man and his wife–died because they lied to the Holy Spirit about their money. Shortly thereafter, the apostles were arrested again for preaching Jesus and working miracles. They were brought before the Jewish high council who wanted to silence them out of jealousy and fear. One of their own warned them: “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” Acts 5:38-39 (NLT) Who wants to fight against God? Yet when Stephen, a powerful evangelist, was brought before the high council for his many wonderful works, his penetrating message to them ended in this manner:  “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52 Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53 You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” Acts 7:51-53 (NLT) And so they killed him, too. Thus commenced a storm of persecution against the newly formed followers of Jesus the Messiah. Yet it is clearly evident that the major player in this historical account was the Holy Spirit Himself. The young assembly of believers, now numbering in the multiplied thousands, scattered in the face of persecution, took the power of Jesus’ life through the Holy Spirit to the nations around them. Jesus, honored at God’s right hand in the heavens, was directing them through the Holy Spirit. And as the apostles checked out Philip’s work as he preached the Good News in Samaria, they put the stamp of God’s approval on it by laying their hands on the newly-baptized disciples, filling them with the Holy Spirit. Is the message yet clear? This book records the ACTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, God filling the believers exactly as Jesus had said He would. By now it should be apparent that the Holy Spirit is still in charge. Is our corporate life filled and charged with the Holy Spirit?

DAY THREE – Acts 9-11

The persecution against Christ’s fledgling followers was due in large part to a young Jew named Saul of Tarsus. Educated, privileged, and filled with hatred for the new Believers, Saul was dragging people from their homes to be imprisoned or killed. With letters from the high priest on his person, he made his way toward Damascus to continue the mayhem. He never made it, at least unscathed. When he did arrive, he was blind and subdued, all the fire gone out of him. He had met the living Jesus, who had chosen him for a special mission. For the next three days he neither ate nor drank, still blind, and in continual prayer to Jesus. Only when the obedient servant Ananias responded to the Holy Spirit, by laying his hands on Saul, did the scales fall from his eyes. Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and he almost immediately became a prominent spokesman for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Meanwhile Apostle Peter had a vision that rocked his world. As a result he broke the Jewish law by preaching in the home of a Gentile centurion. The Holy Spirit fell on the assembled family and friends before Peter even finished his comments. A worldwide revival had begun! No longer a Jewish phenomenon, the Good News of eternal life through Jesus now belonged to the rest of mankind as well. The persecution had driven the new Believers to different nations, and the Good News got out everywhere. When a large number of Gentiles believed in Antioch, Barnabas fetched Paul, and they remained there for a year, making disciples and teaching them about Christ.

God owns the world. It is His by right of Creation, and then by right of Redemption. He made it, then gave His life for it. How much more do we need? According to the prophets, apostles and Jesus Himself, He will one day come to reclaim it as His forever personal possession. But for now, we His people have a community mission–continue to spread this Good News and live under heaven’s influence. God’s rule in our world is called the Kingdom of Heaven, of which Jesus is the King! Get it? He is King Jesus–in whom is all authority in heaven and earth. Now go out and have a great day!

DAY FOUR – Acts 12-14

What makes an apostle? The word literally means, “one sent.” So when Jesus, after His resurrection, said to His twelve disciples, “So I send you as the Father has sent me,” He designated that they were the first apostles, or sent ones. They were His eyewitnesses, they went out and performed miracles, and they led the first gathering of believers/followers. Paul was later called an apostle for the great mission to the Gentiles laid on him by the Holy Spirit. Today’s church is apostolic when the Holy Spirit is leading, supernatural events are welcome, and the Kingdom of God is being preached. As Head of His church on earth, Jesus is at the forefront of all apostolic efforts, for He was the Great Apostle sent from heaven by His Father to establish this kingdom…which, by the way, will completely take over this whole world! When? When the King returns, of course.

We read what happened to Herod, and it’s not pretty! His childhood friend, Manaen, on the other hand, was named among the leading teachers in the Kingdom of God at Antioch. From there the Holy Spirit sent–there’s that word again–Paul and Barnabas out to do a special work in other nations. As the Lord’s witnesses they preached the message of the Kingdom, performed miracles, were delivered repeatedly from death, and watched as multitudes of people became believer/followers. So the Good News began to spread rapidly to districts and nations, going north and west. A pattern was being established, but major confrontation was also growing. Strangely, the Jews being the first ones who should have welcomed the Good News, it was they who took offense at Jesus and rejected His word when it came to them. So steeped in their Jewish religion, and so accustomed were they to rules, that they missed entirely the message of salvation through faith in Jesus. Unfortunately, as all of us who have experienced religious tradition have found, a person can keep an awfully large number of rules and still have a heart given to sin. Only the resurrection life of Jesus can lift us into eternal life, after His blood shed at the cross has forgiven our sins. As the apostles taught everywhere they went that we enter the Kingdom of God through faith in His Son, so it is today. The Holy Spirit insisted on that message from a gracious God then, and He still insists on it today! There. is. no. other. way.

DAY FIVE – James 1-5

James was the apostle to the assembly that was in Jerusalem, which was the birthplace of Christianity. So his letter fits chronologically into Acts at this point. His concern for all the Jewish believers in Messiah who had been scattered under the persecutions grew to the point of writing a letter to be circulated among them. It is very pastoral and heartfelt. Because the Jerusalem Jews who followed Jesus still lived within the Jewish culture, which was strongly governed by Moses’ laws, questions continually arose regarding the old religion and its relevance to the new life of faith in Jesus. James attempted to clarify the heart issues that determine our character and behavior regardless of our traditions and culture. It is a great piece of wisdom for those who grew up in a religious environment, as distinct from those who did not. Remember, Apostle Paul had already traveled widely, preaching the Good News of Jesus to Gentiles and Jews alike. It was inevitable that the question would eventually have to be answered: What part of the old Jewish religion must be followed in order to be saved by Jesus? Let’s set that aside for a moment to examine a weightier issue: What has to happen in my heart to be saved by Jesus? How should I live my life? What rules should I follow? James, as the hillbilly might have said it, “shucks right down to the cob!” Religion begins in the faithful and wise heart, devoted to Jesus and ready to face down its own human weaknesses and sins. Faith is the living, working expression of that religion as one lives and moves among those around us. God saves us through faith in Jesus so that we can expose the living Kingdom of Heaven on earth to all those within our spheres of influence. For those who follow Jesus, our faith is alive, powerful and filled with the Holy Spirit. And if that is true, it is governed by love and mercy, the kind shown us every day by our wonderful Lord.

As you read James, question every paragraph. What did this mean to those to whom it was written? What does it mean to us? Do we need to repent, pray, act out, or change our ways? James holds many wise answers.

Week 53 – We continue reading thru the Bible in the new year…

Events so startling that the world will never, ever be the same again! 

DAY ONE – Matthew 26:36-75, Mark 14:32-72, Luke 22:39-71, John 18:1-27

What a night! It began after Jesus’ regular, full day of ministry–teaching, healing, loving people. He sat down in the evening to the annual Passover meal prepared by His disciples, and there He lovingly prayed for them as He washed their feet. After dinner they retired to their usual place in the Garden of Gethsemane. Taking with Him Peter, James and John, Jesus withdrew to pray. In agony, His soul overwhelmed with grief and the shadow of death, Jesus made His final pleas to the Father in heaven, was fully surrendered to God’s loving plan to save the world through the loss of His own life. Jesus prepared to die, while His disciples kept falling asleep. They were ill-equipped to handle the dread thought of Jesus leaving them the way He said. Their weary souls succumbed to welcome rest, while their Master struggled with the powers of darkness on His own. Then as night deepened, the peace of the Garden was disturbed by the boisterous rustle of an approaching mob, sent by the high priest to arrest Jesus. With a flourish and a kiss, the traitor Judas sealed His fate by turning His Master over to the mob. Now Jesus found Himself in the spacious home of the high priest, who with his minions had waited up for the fateful beginnings of history’s most infamous religious and legal proceedings. The Son of God, the “I AM” of creation, the spotless lamb who takes away the sin of the world, stood before a crowd of hate-filled murder-mongers, the foremost Jewish religious leaders. With help from the dark powers, they unleashed their vitriol against Him until He stood condemned, humiliated and physically attacked, after which they led Him away to be civilly tried. As morning dawned, the worst was yet to come. Meanwhile, Peter waited in dread in the courtyard of the high priest, paralyzed with fear. All the others had scattered and fled for their lives. Vowing to stand by Jesus, Peter couldn’t do it. His denials rent the night air until he had totally lost his self-respect and personal dignity. The deed was done, and he broke into bitter weeping and anguish of soul. It was a night of infamy. All hope was lost.

There is a verse that says, “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NLT) Generally this is true. But on this day, the frenzied, dark forces that bring out the worst of mankind were still at work and would not rest until Jesus was gone.

DAY TWO – Matthew 27:1-31, Mark 15:1-20, Luke 23:1-25, John 18:29-19:16

Unbelief will take us farther than we intended to go; keep us longer than we planned to stay; and do ultimately more harm to us than we could ever have dreamed. Unbelief is sin. During His time with Pilate, Jesus remarked, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” John 18:37 (NLT) Previously Jesus had told the religious leaders that He was not there to judge them but to speak the Truth given Him by His father. They would one day be judged by the truth He had spoken to them. And because the crowds were beginning to see the Truth in Jesus and follow Him, the envy-filled leaders despised Him all the more and were intent on killing Him. Does anybody believe that the Jewish religious leaders started out to be killers? Was it in their job description to kill those who disagreed with them? Yet when we go down the road of unbelief until it threatens our whole way of life, we may not realize that sin has compromised us to the point of no return. The crowds and their leaders were in such mob frenzy that their powers of reasoning completely departed in their zeal to be rid of Jesus! And so the Roman rulers such as Pilate and Herod were no match for the forces of darkness that had enveloped the city and were driving the excited mob. Though He was found innocent, Jesus was condemned to be crucified through a process of religious and political collusion. Their unbelieving refusal to even tolerate Jesus in their midst was terminally catastrophic. When Pilate said he wanted no part of it,  All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Matthew 27:25 (NIV) “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!” “What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. John 19:15 (NLT). And so with their words the Jewish leaders condemned their nation to destruction as they rejected the Son of God sent to them. UNBELIEF ran its course, and Jesus was led away to be horribly crucified, after He had been shamefully tortured by the Roman soldiers.

In a recent discussion, our group wondered why some are eternally saved while others are not. Even in the same family some believe while others don’t. Perhaps Jesus’ statement “All who love the truth…” is insightful. Do you have a love for the truth? Is Jesus Truth to you; do His words beckon you and call you to eternal life?

DAY THREE – Matthew 27:32-66, Mark 15:21-47, Luke 23:26-56, John 19:17-42, Psalm 22

How is it that a shepherd writes a song almost a thousand years before Jesus ever lived; hundreds of years before the brutal form of crucifixion was conceived, and describes in accurate detail, Jesus’ death on the cross? How is it that the song opens with the plaintive cry of abandonment and bereavement, echoed by Jesus to His Father from the cross? Their failure to love the Truth Jesus brought from the Father in heaven to them, allowed the people to whom Jesus was sent, to reject Him and kill Him. Was this the end of a beautiful life? The Jewish leaders thought so. The crowds thought so, and the soldiers believed it as well. But all of the godly ones looking on–Jesus’ mother and her friends, the disciples who were trying to blend in, other secret admirers–could only watch and hope. Was hope gone as well? For sure Jesus was dead. He was dead. He died on that cross. No one knew of anyone who had ever come back from the dead…unless you count Lazarus and a couple of others raised by Jesus. Would He? No one knew. Jesus’ body was wrapped and bound head to foot and laid in the unused tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It was over. How could they explain Jesus’ outcries from the cross? How could they explain why He died so quickly? How could they explain the darkness that hung over the land from noon until 3:00? How could they explain the earthquake that severely shook the land when He died? And how could they explain the tearing from top to bottom of a 30-foot-high, 12 inch-thick woven veil in the temple? They couldn’t, and neither can we. We can only wonder with the Roman soldier who said, “Surely this was the Son of God.” This was His only Son the Father sent from heaven to earth, connected spirit to spirit with His Father in heaven. This was the Jesus of all of the Bible, fulfilling scores of major prophetic announcements in His lifetime. This was the Jesus full of grace and Truth who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” This was He who taught, lived and loved, working the most and greatest miracles the world had ever seen. And this was He who stood mute before His accusers, choosing rather to die as a criminal (though He was not) rather than save Himself from such ignominious and brutal death. This was God loving the world and giving up His most precious Son to bring forgiveness of sin to the world with the promise of eternal life. And so it was.

DAY FOUR – Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, 21

Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20 (NLT) This is John’s eye-witness account of Jesus’ life on earth. Imagine–four thousand years of human history, to be punctuated by a single life of thirty-three years–the life of Jesus. Then history marches on for another two thousand years, and we are sitting here reading His story again. Imagine Jesus rising from the stone slab on which His body lay. Imagine Him smiling at the angels in attendance and greeting them as their resurrected LORD of earth and heaven. And imagine Him laying aside His neatly folded grave wrappings before He walked out into the world again. BECAUSE IT HAPPENED! Within a matter of days Jesus appeared on three separate occasions to His disciples, plus the women who had served His cause, and many others. And always, His Presence brought the familiar greeting, “Peace to you.” And according to the four written accounts of His life and death and resurrection, each visit included more information and instruction. “Do you not yet believe?” was the question that always stopped them in their tracks. How could they not? Here is overwhelming evidence that all of what the books of Moses and the prophets had said was true; that their predictions were now standing in front of the disciples in the Person of Jesus. Yes, He was crucified; yes, He lay in a tomb for three days; and yes, He was NOW ALIVE and real–in the flesh! And what had changed…really? For one thing, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Instantly there was new life and awareness inside of them all. This was REAL CHANGE. But it wasn’t finished. There was still a period of adjustment and breakout for these followers of Jesus–these who were to lead love’s revolution into the coming years and into the rest of the world. So He gave them a commission–literally, a community mission–to go into all the world to declare the Good News and make disciples. Finally, He asked them to return to Jerusalem to await the promised Holy Spirit. And here we are, on the other side of the world from these earth-shaking events, living out the resurrection life of Jesus, knowing that His Good News has gone entirely around the world and back again; and that we will continue this mission until we SEE HIM again.

DAY FIVE – CHRISTIAN and CHURCH — the evolution of words in common use…

In western society and culture, the Christian Church has been recognized for hundreds of years. Yet the meanings of these words, used separately or together, have gradually changed and may mean something entirely different.

  • Christian: this term was first applied by pagans to a large band of Jesus followers in Antioch of Syria, and it generally meant ‘little Christ,’ to identify them with Jesus, their Leader (Acts 11:26). In the fourth century, Constantine, the Roman Emperor, declared Christianity to be the state religion and in so doing identified all Roman citizens as ‘Christians.’ During the Reformation period of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Protestant Christianity became distinct from Roman Catholicism and has been generally accepted as one of the major ‘religions’ of modern faith, along with Judaism and Islam. In western culture a ‘Christian’ may be a follower of Christ, or someone who is culturally ‘Christian-ized,’ without a personal faith in Jesus. So I have mainly avoided use of this word, preferring terms such as ‘believer’ or ‘follower of Jesus’ etc.
  • Church: this is not actually a biblical word. It has evolved from the Scottish word ‘kirk,’ translated church in English. The word in the Bible that applies to the followers of Christ in community is ekklesia–‘called out ones.’ From the Greek ek (out) and kaleo (call), the word means those called by the Holy Spirit to exit the world system (kingdom) to follow Jesus and be included in God’s heavenly kingdom. This is what Christians mean by being ‘saved.’ When a band of Jesus believers/followers come together, they are identified in scripture as an ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’ or ‘gathering’ (church). So I mostly use that terminology when I refer to Christian or Church. I call them an assembly of believers in Jesus, or something close to that. Is it important? Some might not think so, but words do communicate ideas, and my intention is to identify a ‘Christian’ as someone who has radically accepted Jesus Christ as Lord of all; and a band of Christians as an assembly, or gathering of His followers. With that in mind, we move on into the story of the ‘Christian Church,’ the true community of Christ on earth.

Week 52 – Our Father in Heaven has brought our reading from creation to the new creation..

Jesus had to come to our rescue, or all of God’s plans would have been lost forever.. and HE DID!

DAY ONE – Matthew 22:15-23:39, Mark 12:13-44, Luke 20:20-21:4, 13:31-35

Good drama has intrigue, extreme challenge, and an ironic twist. These scriptures have some of the best the Bible has to offer! Jesus’ enemies had ramped up their game to trap Jesus and get Him arrested by the Romans, which in order to do, they had to get Him to say something controversial. Taxes… ah, yes, that will do nicely. Whoops… we slipped up somewhere; He embarrassed us! How about resurrection, which we Sadducees don’t believe in? Nope… He got us there, too. Let’s get Him confused on the Ten Commandments. Well… it sounded good at the time. He’s just too good; we’d better leave well enough alone! And then Jesus turned on them with scathing rebukes that left them shamed and angry and barely able to breathe. Surely there must be some way to get to Him without raising the ire of the people. And so it went; and so Jesus used the public forum to denounce godless religion and prophesy the complete destruction of the nation within a generation. The world cannot go around killing God’s prophets, denouncing God’s truth and reviling His Son without storing up a fiery judgment to be released in its own time. Such was the confrontation in Jesus’ world, and such is the growing confrontation within our own culture even as we speak.

Going forward, we will learn much about the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, about things happening now and things yet to come. Yet the timeless TRUTH God revealed in the days of Moses and ever thereafter, culminating in the Living, Breathing TRUTH in Jesus, goes straight to the heart with pinpoint accuracy. Religion cannot be an exercise in pious living or bold claims, without a concomitant demonstration of the Holy Spirit in our life and behavior. Jesus earlier said, John 7:38-39 (NLT)  Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'” 39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. NO WAY can we fake the Holy Spirit! He is God; He lights the true way and exposes the false. Trying to come to Jesus in their haughty arrogance, the religious leaders only brought condemnation on themselves. The proper way to come to Jesus is to humble ourselves and receive the grace and mercy only He can give. Then the Holy Spirit takes up our cause and teaches us how to truly follow Christ our Lord.

DAY TWO – Matthew 24, 25, Mark 13, Luke 21:5-38

This shadow world cannot hold together forever! It has seen the best and the worst of its inhabitants. Since the days of Adam and Eve and the Garden, every possible human scenario has been enacted again and again, clearly demonstrating earth’s failure to produce God’s intended outcomes. JESUS HAD TO COME to our rescue, or all of the Lord’s plans would have been forever lost. And He did. He rescued us from sin, bondage and destruction. He revealed a greater, forever kingdom that is filled with the JOY OF ETERNAL LIFE. And He asks us all TO FOLLOW HIM to the eternal home He has prepared. That said, that nagging question the disciples asked Him hangs around us as well. When will all these things happen? The picture Jesus painted had a lot of darkness and conflict in it. He spoke of a degraded world suffering the woes of its own surfeited life. Shortened days would be the only way of survival. But He promised that those who endured would be saved. Is this what we want to hear? Is this how we thought things would turn out? I mean, if I take Jesus’ message literally, things could get worse! How do we go on? How do we live with the specter of world chaos breaking around us? First answer – ONE DAY AT A TIME…following Jesus.

Matthew 25:34-40 (The Message)  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. 35 And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? 38-39 And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ 40 Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.’  Second answer – ONE PERSON AT A TIME…those right in our path as we go through each day. This doesn’t require an elaborate plan or crowded calendar. It requires a cleansed heart and open spirit so we can be guided by Holy Spirit to share the love of Christ with those nearby. To know when Jesus will come again is none of my business; but to see those in need and to love them is all of my business. We can trust God with the rest!

DAY THREE – Matthew 26:1-5, Mark 14:1-2, 10-31, Luke 22:1-38, John 13

Perspective is the way we see things, and the way we imagine they will turn out. Jesus clearly predicted His death several times to His disciples, but they failed to understand how it could happen or how it would turn out. Their perspective was severely skewed. To them it seemed dark and dismal and without redeeming grace; it was the worst of all possible scenarios to lose their Master. But to Jesus it looked entirely different. Listen… John 13:1 (NLT) Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. John 13:31-32 (NLT) As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. To the disciples it was a finale of despair. To Jesus it was a finale of hope and redemption, an opportunity to put the Father’s great salvation plan into high gear! The horror of death was upon Him, yet He ignored the awful reality, instead contemplating the glory that was to follow (Hebrews 12:1-3). THAT IS PERSPECTIVE.

As we trek through daily life, we all get the same general facts and information. TV and Internet feed us video and commentary at a voluminous rate and speed, so that we barely have time to process it while the next video is loading! News, social media, fake news–this is the stuff from which most folks are confirming their worldview. And most of it is SUPERFICIAL! In order to maintain a godly perspective of current events, we MUST REMAIN IN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. That’s what Godly means. What we see, hear and feel may not be the real truth, according to God’s real word. What God SAYS about life and reality give us the perspective of hope and a future. The disciples saw to the end of their nose! Jesus saw into the future reality, written into His heart by God’s Spirit and His Words. His perspective on the next great events would become their beacon light in the darkness of real time events. It would keep them and guide them into the blaze of glory that was yet to come. Check your perspective against the Spirit guiding your life.

DAY FOUR – John 14:1-14 (Part 1 of 2)

Yesterday we heard Jesus say, John 13:31-32 (NLT) “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. He said this as the shock of His soon departure still held the hapless disciples in its grip. They were reeling under a reality that was setting in, while still trying to understand who He really was and what would happen next. And in our brief reading today Jesus was incredulous that His closest followers were still struggling with His identity. John 14:6-7 (NLT) “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”  John 14:9-10 (NLT) …you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? John 14:12-14 (NLT)  “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. 13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! In this manner Jesus clearly said that the Father was bringing Him back home to His glory, so that He could in turn glorify the Father. And how would He do that? By empowering His followers to carry on the finished work of the cross and resurrection in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ah, wait! The Holy Spirit. “Lord, we are finally getting used to you, and now you are leaving to be replaced by a Holy Spirit?” Not A Holy Spirit, but “The Holy Spirit.” Father. Son. Holy Spirit. Yes, as Jesus had revealed and made real the invisible Father in heaven, the Holy Spirit would now come to reveal and make Jesus real to all who would believe in Him–His followers. We can conclude from this that Jesus wants His works to continue on earth; that we His followers are the conduit of heaven’s blessings; and that Holy Spirit is our heavenly Helper to make sure Jesus’ name and fame are kept alive until He comes again. In this manner, the Father has glorified the Son, and the Son is bringing glory to the Father in heaven continuously throughout His earthly kingdom. Can God still rule people from heaven? Jesus said He can. He said to ask in His name if we want to see His kingdom at work here among us. So ask!

DAY FIVE – John 14:15-31, 15-17 (Part 2 of 2)

The whole of these chapters is often called the Upper Room Message. It is transitional. It is Before-the-Cross and After-the-Resurrection. A period of three days will elapse during the transition, followed by a period of forty days when Jesus appears again, followed by ten more days after Jesus goes into heaven. Jesus reveals what is going to happen to Him, to them, and to the world. He explains why the world has rejected Him and how that will affect His followers. He teaches them and comforts them, talking to them as his friends. But let’s get back to the Holy Spirit, because He is the focus of the message. The Holy Spirit will come, Jesus said, when I go. He will be in you to fulfill all of heaven’s work on earth, because I am going to the Father. He will be your Advocate, Helper, Teacher, Coach and Guide. It will be as if I have come back to you. Your relationship with Me will progress immediately to include our Father in heaven, and you will be able to relate to Him directly, in my Name. Everything that I have done and said will become clear, and your understanding will grow by leaps and bounds! No, it doesn’t all make sense at the moment, but it will, when the Holy Spirit takes over.

Then Jesus took the disciples from the upper room out to the garden across the valley, and along the way He prayed openly to the Father, discussing with the Father all that He had done and interceding for all of His followers who will be left behind. What should we take from all of this? To begin with, Jesus is to be trusted and obeyed; that’s HOW we love Him. His commandments will be a thermometer, a gauge to our spiritual health. And as we love Him, He will love us back by disclosing Himself to us. The Father will love us because we are loving Jesus. And the Holy Spirit…well, the Holy Spirit is enormously vital to our faith and our life of following Jesus. I cannot say enough about this. Whether this is all new to you or you are a longtime follower of Jesus, contemplate deeply the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Apply yourself to getting to know Him better and ‘hearing’ His voice within you. Pray for fresh insight and understanding, and remember that the Holy Spirit was in Jesus from birth to death, maintaining the earth-to-heaven and heaven-to-earth connection. Jesus could do what He did because the Holy Spirit helped and guided Him all the time. Make THAT your goal as well; keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Week 51 – The year ends soon; our reading to know God better, continues into 2019

When Jesus said, “I am the Way” He meant there is NO OTHER way. We can’t do this without Him.. TRUST HIM!

DAY ONE – Luke 14-15

It’s one thing to study the teachings and miracles of Jesus. There is no other like Him in recorded human history. But try as we might to emulate Him, to follow His example, we discover that our humanity keeps interfering. Our desire is not enough to help us over the obstacles. This is why, once again, Jesus instructed His listeners to pick up the pieces of their life (their cross) and follow Him every day. He wasn’t just showing the way; He was PROVIDING the way. Filled with the Holy Spirit, operating in complete submission to His Father, demonstrating heaven on earth, Jesus was creating a portal in His own life through which we would be able to become part of heaven’s family while living here on earth. Here is His take on things: John 6:63 (NLT) The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Jesus’ words are not to be just studied; they are to be imbibed! We take them into ourselves by welcoming the Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus in His life. Yes, Jesus taught humility, self-giving, sacrifice, loving God, rejoicing over the lost ones who find their way home. He taught on all levels of human behavior and response. But the works He DID was evidence that the Holy Spirit is the ONLY ONE who can accomplish in us what was accomplished in Jesus’ life.

Jesus’ story of the young prodigal who wasted his inheritance and found himself eating with the pigs reveals first of all the abject poverty of spirit that universally abounds in the human arena. According to the prophet Isaiah every one of us has wandered from the Father even as that prodigal. We all left the Father’s house to go our own way and to do whatever we will. Interestingly, the young man ‘came to himself.’ Something in him remembered a better time and a better place: it was his father’s house. Why should he live in a stinking sty when he could be back home with his father? Embarrassment could have kept him away; so could his pride. It’s tough to come home a failure! But what other future is worth considering? So he carefully rehearsed his speech: “Father, I am not worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired servants.” How little he knew the great celebration awaiting him at his father’s house! In some ways we are/were all prodigals; if you are reading this and feeling homesick, rehearse your speech or whatever you have to do; but for pity’s sake, get up and get on your way home to the Father! He’s waiting for you. Welcome the Holy Spirit into your life, and He will be your Comforting Guide.

DAY TWO – Matthew 19, Mark 10:1-31, Luke 16:1-18:30

Jesus came speaking of the Kingdom of God and demonstrating its raw power by the miracles He did. Healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead–all these showed the nature of heaven, where LIGHT AND LIFE PREVAIL over all the dark aspects of our shadow world. Our shadow world needs to be fixed; heaven is already pristine. Our shadow world exalts mankind and showcases our abilities; heaven exalts Creator/Savior God and shows His great love and mercy. Our shadow world is in a state of decay and will pass away one day; heaven is in a state of constant creation and is the wave of the future. Our shadow world is a place of desperation and thus preparation for heaven, AND JESUS ASKS US TO FOLLOW HIM THERE! He taught voluminously about the things that keep us from God and mess up our world, then turned right around and said that the things that make it impossible for us to enter heaven are no match for God– “With God all things are possible!” Forget trying to fix yourself. The rich young man who broached the subject with Jesus discovered the only thing between him and heaven were his possessions; but then he was sad because he couldn’t part with them! A rich life here was more to him than heaven! Faith and trust in Jesus is the only human quality that transcends the shadow world and opens heaven’s possibilities to our consciousness. Only when we believe who Jesus is; what He did; and what He asks of us, are we able to generate the kind of faith that surrenders to the powers of heaven and puts us on a new course with eternal life.

Luke 17:20-21 (NLT) “…The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. 21 You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” Every day as you and I make our way in this shadow world, the Kingdom of God is present and working around us. Every day people of faith in Jesus go about their business, doing the works of Christ, and you never notice them. But heaven does! Jesus is still making heaven real in this world through His faithful followers. But unless you start to believe in Him and trust Him with your life, heaven will just pass you by, and you will, like the rich man in Jesus’ story, wake up one day startled to realize you totally missed it! Is there really anything in this shadow world that is so important it should keep us from heaven, and from our Father who is there? Everyone has to decide that for himself.

DAY THREE – Matthew 20, Mark 10:32-52, Luke 18:31-19:27

When Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven, everything seems upside down and backwards! The man who invests his master’s money and increases it ten times is given even more. The first seem to be last, and the last are first. The servant receives high honors, and those who serve most are considered the greatest. And finally, in order to be given the glory He deserves, the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of religious leaders who will condemn Him and turn Him over to the Romans to be crucified. What kind of Kingdom is this? And why is the Master going to die instead of ascending His throne? And why is the Kingdom now but not yet? Why can’t the disciples take places of royal honor as a reward for following their King? The answers lie in the very nature of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven. Heaven was first, before this world. Yahweh God placed a piece of heaven into the newly created world, and it was called the Garden of Eden. The first humans to live there enjoyed unparalleled creativity and peace. But forced to leave the garden, they entered a world that IS ACTUALLY UPSIDE DOWN AND BACKWARDS! Everything was suddenly difficult; they experienced sweat and pain. Their bodies began to age and would lead to eventual death. The first son born to this couple murdered his brother and became a wanderer. Everything right about heaven began to go missing on earth; this lasted four thousand years. Then Jesus came–heaven on earth. Miracles occurred; people were healed and forgiven; hope was born anew. Jesus totally upset the status quo as He asked people to follow Him. And when they did, He prophesied that He would be killed but would rise again. The Kingdom of Heaven seemed far away without Him.

Everything wrong with earth is right in heaven. Though He lived here only a short time, Jesus left the priceless deposit of His own life, which He took up again in the resurrection. He left the witness of His miracles and teachings to point the way for His followers. And He left the hope that all He had done was NOT LOST but simply planted into the soil of this world to spring up again in us His followers. He asked them then to trust Him and have faith in Him, and He is asking us today to do the same thing–trust Him and have faith in Him. You see, Jesus didn’t start a religion; He started a revolution of LIFE, to be followed by eternal life in the eternal Kingdom of heaven.

DAY FOUR – Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 11:55-12:11, Matthew 21:1-22, Mark 11:1-26, Luke 19:28-48, John 12:12-36, 2:13-2

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT) For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. Acts 1:6-7 (NLT)  So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” 7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know…” A woman worships Jesus by breaking a box of expensive perfume and pouring it on his feet. People grumble because it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus’ reply? You will always have poor people around, but I won’t always be here; her timing is perfect! Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill an ancient prophecy. His timing is impeccable! Jesus tells the disciples that the time has now come for the Son of Man to enter into His glory. But first He has to die! Should He shrink away from this hour, from this terrible time of testing? But He came for just this time. Then He says: John 12:31 (NLT) 31 The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. Can anyone improve on God’s timing?

In the process of revealing these things and working His final miracles before His passion, Jesus taught the disciples a lesson about faith. It happened when He approached a fig tree one morning to get something to eat. There were no figs on the tree, so Jesus cursed it, and it almost immediately withered from the roots and died. Questioned by the astonished disciples, He startled them even further by declaring that if they had any faith at all, they could literally move a mountain; but they would have to believe in their heart that their faith was real. How important is it that we stop worrying about the times and seasons and live our lives every day, full of faith in Jesus! If the Father in heaven perfectly timed Jesus’ coming to earth; if He timed Jesus’ life–His miracles and teachings–perfectly; and if He timed His death and resurrection to perfection; then cannot we trust Him with the seasonal movements of our life here? If you ask me what time I think it is, I will reply “It’s GOD’S TIME!” Our Father in heaven really is in charge of the seasons. In so many words, Jesus said, “Look, just follow me. Follow the Father’s leading; follow the Holy Spirit who is guiding you. Stop being so concerned about timing; it’s all planned in the Kingdom of God. So get back to your life of praise and thanksgiving; get to work in My harvest. Now is the RIGHT TIME for that.”

DAY FIVE – Matthew 21:23-22:14, Mark 11:27-12:12, Luke 20:1-19, John 12:37-50

Authority is a powerful word. Typically it is given, or assigned to a person by a governing authority. But nobody could figure out where Jesus got His authority. In His days the Jewish religious leaders operated from their positions of authority granted by Moses over a thousand years before. Whether or not they deserved it, or used it properly, seemed to not be important to them. What was important was that they HAD it and could more or less do as they pleased. So when this ‘upstart,’ as they must have fancied Jesus to be, appeared and taught ‘with authority,’ and did miracles of all kinds ‘with authority,’ they were not only offended that He didn’t seek their approval, but also that His effectiveness threatened their little world! No wonder they challenged His authority and demanded that He explain His position. Failing in their attempt, they plotted to defend their own tenuous positions by killing Jesus. But He relentlessly pursued and exposed them before the hapless crowds who were swayed by their own superstitions and ignorance. Through the story of the vineyard owner’s terrible losses at the hands of tenant farmers, Jesus clearly showed that their challenge to His authority was actually a challenge to God’s SUPER AUTHORITY! And as John wrote, He put the ‘coup de grace’ on their wickedness and superficiality.

John 12:44-50 (NLT)  Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. 45 For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. 47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. 48 But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. 49 I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”  Today’s world says, “Don’t trust authority.” But into this milieu the words of Jesus literally shout at us: “Trust me; trust God. On a day yet to come my words, my miracles, will be your judge. The RAW TRUTH I lived and spoke will judge you. So don’t be deceived by the world’s authority and its deceptions. I have come to save you.” The POWER Jesus displayed proved His AUTHORITY. It’s the same authority He gave His disciple/followers to go out and heal the sick and cast out demons. It’s the same authority He is giving us to be His followers and do His works in our days. Child of God, make yours a powerful and happy day as you share Jesus with our world.