Week 58 – The more I read the Bible, the more I realize how much God loves me.

How free are you to serve Jesus as you wish? How ready are you to live in the freedom He has given us?

DAY ONE – Romans 5-8

Living to die and dying to live–such is the human paradox of our transition from the old life to the new. Before God gave the Ten Commandments, everyone since Adam died as Adam did. The life connection from heaven to earth and back again was irreparably broken–human life was temporal and terminal. But the Commandments went a step further; they condemned us under sin, for in our life without God we are slaves to the sin that rules the world. Now we become aware that we deserve to die because of our sin–we deserve to be separated from God forever. Where does THAT leave us? Basically without hope. Yet into this conundrum God sent His Son Jesus to be born as we are, only without sin nature. Living under and obeying the Ten Commandments, Jesus became qualified to condemn sin and death and to so utterly destroy it that its hold would be broken now in this world and forever in the next! Because Jesus died a human death without sin in His glorious life, God raised Him from the dead and took Him back to heaven to be Savior and Lord over all creation. It is our FAITH IN JESUS that repairs the broken connection with heaven and allows God’s life to flow into us while we are living here. The power of sin and death, having been destroyed by the resurrection of Jesus, can never again dominate those who believe in and follow Jesus from their heart. And this is EXACTLY where the Holy Spirit fits in; He was sent by the Father to represent Jesus and heaven in our life, leading us out of darkness and bondage into light and victory. The blessed Holy Spirit is the Person who takes residence within us and guarantees our salvation. With Him leading and we following, Jesus continues to rule from heaven and fulfill the Heavenly Father’s plan to save all who are chosen by Him and brought into heavenly fellowship. So when we talk about the Good Jesus News, that is what we mean. Death no longer reigns, and to die in this world is no longer separation from God. Yes, when a follower of Jesus dies in this world he immediately is in heaven with the Father and Jesus to continue his eternal life. What amount of suffering, whether in body, soul or spirit, is worthy to be compared with the glory of living forever with Jesus? What degree of sickness or poverty or trouble here can keep us from this eternal spiritual destiny if we ONLY HAVE FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST? What condemnation, either from within or without, can separate us from GOD’S LOVE granted us through Jesus? NONE, none, none! Dear saint of God, look up and choose LIFE, choose happiness, choose blessing in Jesus as your LIFEGIVER. We will never be disappointed again.

DAY TWO – Romans 9-12

This is a parenthesis (  ). At the moment it is empty, but let’s take Romans 9-11 and place them inside this parenthesis, for that is what Paul did. As he explained the merciful heart of our Father in heaven, he could not help but release the agony of his own heart over faithless Jews who would not believe and obey the Gospel. So in these three chapters he makes extremely clear that whether one is Jew or Gentile, the way to God is the same–through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the Gospel. He also stresses that God does not receive us on the basis of our human ancestry or religion, but by the work of the Holy Spirit through grace. I strongly recommend that you read these three chapters more than once, and if you can, read them in the New Living Translation of the Bible. Remember, only One Son of God pleased Him and was accepted by Him–that’s Jesus. The rest of us wandered away into our own willful life and were overcome by our own sin nature. Religion could not reconnect us to heaven and God, so Jesus became like us and died on the cross to repair the connection point; His resurrection declares that He is the glorious Son of God! He is our connection, but we must believe in Him and follow Him in this life. Is Israel finished? Absolutely not! God loves Jews and Gentiles alike; even so, many Jews today are believers in Messiah (that mean Christ, or Anointed One); and many Gentiles around the world are believers in Christ (Messiah). But even that is not the end of Israel; for once God’s grace is fully demonstrated among the Gentiles, He will return to save all of Israel as well. How He does that is His business; that He is willing to do it concerns us ALL, for it confirms that He is the God of all mercy and all grace for the whole world.

Given that, Paul goes on to encourage us to humbly accept who we are, what the Lord has done for us, and what the future might hold. Our human condition is changed only by God’s grace, so we are to accept whatever gift or ability He has given us and use it mightily to bless others and grow God’s kingdom on earth. Yes, our gifts differ, but that is precisely what glorifies the Lord; for when we use them to bless everybody, everybody wins! And when our behavior conforms to our faith in Christ Jesus, we turn the world on its head, for then heaven has come to earth!

DAY THREE – Romans 13-16

Earlier we mentioned LIFE PRINCIPLES that may be applied on a wide scale as we encounter life with its many experiences. Apostle Paul brings this one up with emphasis: “Love others as you love yourself.” Take a hard look; it’s one we can’t get over, under or around. It applies to our relationship with the public authorities, neighbors, family and just about everyone else. Nor does it leave much wiggle room to rationalize on the basis of how life is treating us. This is really an over-arching principle that SHAPES and REVEALS our character–the way we treat other people. Partisan causes, injustice, dishonest deals, and other annoyances explode around us in angry outbursts, civil strife and violence that leave people in chaotic imbalance. What’s the big fuss? The world kingdom is rushing onward to oblivion, while we wait patiently for the Lord to finish what He is doing, so that ALL OF HEAVEN’S PROMISES may finally be realized and our faith rewarded. No one said it would be easy; to that even Jesus and the apostles say “Amen.” On our worst day the Holy Spirit living in us is as loving, powerful and faithful as He is every day. When our worst fears, anxieties and emotions are at their highest levels, God is loving and caring for us. But sometimes the only way we are reminded is through a friend or loved one who is doing the heavy lifting alongside us and showing Christ’s love to us. Paul lifted up this truth by naming scores of people as well as communities of believers who helped him, supported him, traveled with him, prayed for him and took over the works he started in so many places. This is Christ’s Community around the world, all of us stepping into the great body of Christ with our love, our involvement, our gifts, and whatever else the Lord has graciously given us. We step into that which is closest to us, only to find ourselves eventually connected to our brothers and sisters around God’s wide world! For this we are willing to go beyond, to suffer even, so long as it brings glory to our wonderful Lord and the Father in heaven. Love much, for it is the springboard of life that returns the largest blessings.

DAY FOUR – Acts 20:4-23:35

This reading is one of those inexplicable vignettes from Apostle Paul’s life detailing a transitional period from location-based ministry to a series of events that would lead to Rome itself. Along the way there were meetings with believers, a few miracles, much explaining and encouraging, and near-death encounters. Paul seemed to be able to have as much excitement in a few days as one of us might in years–and not all of it welcomed! But also along the way it gives us an opportunity to take in his mission, the inner drive to serve His Lord Jesus, his character, and the vitriolic hatred the Lord’s enemies had against Paul. Especially clear when he met with the elders from Ephesus was that he was totally committed to the vision and assignment he had received through the Holy Spirit to faithfully witness Jesus to the Jews and Gentiles he met all over the world to which he traveled. It was also clear that he was willing to labor endlessly with his own resources to keep up his end of the work. Finally, it should be noted that he was willing to face even the persecution that was prophesied over him before he ever arrived in Jerusalem, so long as it would facilitate his witness of the Lord Jesus. And so it went. Through innuendo and assumption, Paul, while doing what was asked of him by the Jerusalem believers, found himself in very hot water and under accusation before the high council. Under threat of death he was removed from Jerusalem to Caesarea to stand trial before his accusers. But before they could carry out their threat, Jesus spoke to Paul in the night with reassuring words that his predicament would bring him before Caesar himself in Rome, where he would be able to present the Good News at the highest level of government.

What do we learn? First, Paul was free to carry out a Jewish ritual or not. It made him no difference, for his faith in Jesus was the platform from which he lived and served. Second, Paul was free from the fear of man and of death, for his life was bound up in the life of Jesus and the Kingdom of heaven. Third, he trusted God to the extent that whatever circumstance or situation he faced, he was committed to the Lord to lead and save him, or to take him home to heaven. That kind of life comes only by the Holy Spirit working in us; let’s affirm that now… again… always!

DAY FIVE – Acts 24-26

Lawyer jokes have been around for a long time; is it possible that Tertullus, the lawyer who came with the Jewish leaders to present their case against Apostle Paul, inspired some of these stories? He certainly wasted no time in twisting the truth into lies of the worst kind. Was Paul a troublemaker, or did the devil stir up his minions whenever Paul preached the truth of the resurrection and glory of Jesus? Was Paul the leader of a sect, a cult? Or did the envy and hatred of the Jews concoct the wild fantasies accompanying their accusations? Was Paul desecrating the temple in Jerusalem, or did their false assumption upon seeing his companion lead to an unjust and biased conclusion? In these three chapters we watched as Paul was interrogated and interviewed time after time by governors, magistrates and even kings. And each time, he simply and consistently told his story as it happened in real time. We already decided that Paul’s life was bound up in his testimony of Jesus and that he was willing to live or die as it pleased the Lord. Aided by the Holy Spirit then, his testimony actually became a repetition of the Gospel each time he was called before the court. The Holy Spirit even convicted those who heard Paul, to the extent that one of them fled to safety and another was almost ready to surrender to Jesus. However, pride of position may deter even the most persuaded seekers to keep them from becoming a follower of Jesus. Nonetheless, it turned out that had not Paul appealed to Caesar, he would have been released after the two years of detention for lack of evidence!

Fear of man and fear of death are two great motivators, leading people to sometimes scramble their testimony in order to preserve themselves. Most of us have not had to face that yet; do we know what we would do or say? I suggest we pray that through with Jesus as our audience; and that we enlist the help of Holy Spirit to settle the issue before it ever becomes reality. We will all leave this world; but will we leave with our conscience clear and our testimony of Jesus intact? I pray so, and I adjure you to remember me when you pray, that I will remain strong and true.

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