Week 59 – God is our Father in heaven; the Bible is His gracious gift to us…

Today is always the right day to turn fully to God and call on the GREAT NAME of Jesus to save our world.

 DAY ONE – Acts 27-28

We have already averred that when our life is bound up in that of Jesus; and when our will is bound up in that of the Father in heaven, the course of this life can only and finally accomplish whatever is best for heaven; or, as the case may be, heaven on earth! Is it then, best for us too? We have to choose that option by faith, for all the promises of God reside in Jesus, and when we say the “Amen” to these promises, it becomes so. Paul could never have imagined that his trip to Italy would be so fraught with danger, so perilously close to death. But given the circumstances and the poor decisions of those concerned with their material benefits, choices were made that imperiled them all. Is it not rather interesting that Paul–not once but on three separate occasions–brought the only wise advice, the only comfort, and the strongest encouragement from God that spared the lives of all? Are not we, we believers who advocate and practice our faith in the Lord, in the greatest position to bring glory to God and to encourage others in these perilous times of ours? Should we constantly fear the unknown, the difficulties, even the perils present before us? How can our faith be a beacon to others if we ourselves are grounded in fear? Paul’s wisdom, courage and faith became the conduit of God’s safety and protection for all 276 people on board a lost ship. After shipwreck his faith gave them hope that a future remained for them. And after the kindness they received among the people of the island upon which they were cast, they were able to safely complete their trip to Rome.

This historical beginnings of the body of Jesus Christ upon earth–His called-out ones–brings us to the end of the book of Acts, but it doesn’t end. The book remains unfinished, in a way. Even Paul’s story remained incomplete. After two years of detention in Caesarea, another two years elapsed in Rome, during which season the apostle preached the Kingdom of God, the Good News of Jesus, and the hope of the world that yet lay before them. He predicted that the Gentile nations would receive God’s word and salvation, and nobody tried to stop him. Can we be stopped, or will we carry on the work of Jesus in our generation, no matter what we may face?

DAY TWO – Philippians 1-4, Philemon

There are few treasures we will take with us to heaven, but among them are dear friends in the faith with whom we enjoy fruitful and mutual relationship. We sense this in Apostle Paul’s letters to Philippians and Philemon. Having invested heavily in them the love of Christ; and having received from them not only a requited love but ongoing support and enrichment, Paul poured out encouragement from his heart to them, requesting of them and instructing them to remain faithful to the Lord. In our days of social media and with access to hundreds of ‘friends,’ mostly family members and acquaintances we have known over the years, we are inundated with pictures, news feeds and other bits of information to keep us interested and otherwise occupied. Not to minimize the value of these associations, we nevertheless would be challenged to count on one hand the number of people to whom we could say, as Paul did to Philemon, “you owe me your very life.” Our love for and commitment to Christ adds a depth to every relationship. The fact that we are connected to heaven and are expectantly waiting for Jesus to return adds yet another dimension to the way we relate to one another. Who among us can say that we ‘owe’ a debt of love to another for the investment of life itself that person has poured into us? And who among us is so engaged in pouring out ourselves into others that we may expect that special bond to provide mutual encouragement and help until the day we welcome our Lord at His return, or He welcomes us into the blessed Kingdom of heaven? Exchanging information and news does not rise to the same level as giving up our time and energy for the sake of Christ. At the risk of cliché, I am reminded of the words of an old song, “Only one life ’twill soon be past / only what’s done for Christ will last.” The work of Jesus through us is mostly intentional, mostly by choice, and mostly requiring investment of our time and energy. It is not unusual that we experience difficulty and even suffering during the course of giving ourselves away as Paul did. The intrinsic reward is being able to write letters to your friends as Paul did to the Philippian believers and his friend Philemon. As none of us is totally self-sufficient, we all need help from time to time. Blessed is the one who can count on his friends!

DAY THREE – Colossians 1-4

This letter from Apostle Paul is addressed to the ‘called-out ones’ in the city of Colosse. It has one central message: Jesus Christ is Number One; He is the First among many; and He is everything to us who call Him Lord. Everything that God is, He invested in Jesus, in bodily form. As a man, Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood, so that God can remain at peace with our world until all His plans have come to pass. The pagan philosophies and practices of this world system, presided over and influenced by people unresponsive to God and unreceiving of His Good News, are destined to perish before the glory and power and authority which belong only to Jesus. Within the hierarchies of heaven and earth, only Jesus is exalted to First Place; only He can, by the blood He shed, cleanse away our sins; and only He can, by the power He exercises, keep us in peace in our chaotic world.

Having made his point, Paul, as he did in all his letters to different cities, exhorted believers and followers of Jesus to put away all the pagan practices and influences that can spoil their relationship with Jesus, and instead continue to grow and increase in their spiritual lives. After all, when we trusted Jesus, He rescued us from the dark kingdom of this world which is perishing, and literally gave us citizenship in heaven, His eternal home. What part of this new identity in Christ do we fail to comprehend? What part of complete salvation do we not understand? It is impossible to be half saved, or partially born, or ‘kind of’ a follower of Jesus. When a baby is born into this world, it is fully human, and it fully belongs to its parents (even though some are not worthy of this appellation). Christ is worthy; He retains all the deity of His father in His earthly form which was raised from the dead. And as such, He is able to give us a peace which rules over the cultural and political chaos of our times. We enjoy this fullness and confidence when we allow His Word to reign over our spirit and our mind. My experience has been that I return to His words again and again as I read the Bible, have fellowship with other followers, and converse with the blessed Holy Spirit who resides in me. And so, along with Paul, I exhort us all to live this life in Jesus with all faith and determination, giving no space to the world to encroach, to discourage, or to disconnect us from the Life we enjoy in our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Pre-eminent One.

DAY FOUR – Ephesians 1-4

The capital of proconsular Asia, Ephesus was considered the first metropolis of its time, sporting the great temple of the goddess Diana, as well as a 50 thousand seat sports arena. Apostle Paul chose this setting to reveal God’s secret of the ages, hidden until the time of Christ but now exposed for all the world to see. It’s the greatest story ever told, the disclosure of how the Gospel–the Good Jesus News–came into existence. As he related the story to the Ephesians, Paul often fell to his knees and cried out to God with thanksgiving or with petition, praying that they would be enlightened by God’s Spirit and given understanding of the things he was relating. It is no ordinary story, and it cannot be told without pausing to pray. When we read it, it cannot be grasped without frequently asking God to open our hearts to His truth. The Truth is not hidden, but it is hidden to those whose hearts are closed to God. If you are even a casual reader of my INSIGHTS column, I pray for you to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit so that the eyes of your heart can receive the truth of Jesus in all of His glory and honor. In our western culture we give status to knowledge and information. We have branded this as the ‘information age.’ But information is not necessarily the truth. Even science is not always a pathway to truth, unless the Creator God is at the center of our research. As Christ is the Head of everything, and as He is the Savior of the world, our search for truth is like a maze that has nothing but dead ends until we find the one marked ‘Jesus Christ.’ So these chapters of Ephesians must be read in their order to get the full story and see how God has unfolded His secret plan down through the ages.

Prayer is our primary function as we put truth into practice. It is heaven’s conduit through which pass our petitions and praises as well as God’s grace and truth. Over and again, Paul prayed over the work, the groups of believers in various cities, and the obvious clashes the Gospel created in a fallen world. By His great mercy and grace the Lord God saved us through our faith in Jesus. As our understanding grows may we follow the great example of the apostle in praying over everything we think and do. Try reading today’s chapters out loud as a form of prayer.

DAY FIVE – Ephesians 5-6, Titus 1-3

When Jesus Christ came into our world, it was to invite us into His. Confessing openly that He originally came from heaven, Jesus demonstrated heaven on earth to the extent we could see the obvious differences between our world and His. Sickness, death, disease and every kind of evil, present continual challenges to the wellbeing of all who are born into and live in this world. Jesus, however, spoke of a place where life, vitality, peace and joy are the norm. There is no death in heaven. He gave us a choice between death and life, darkness and light, this world or His world. And then He asked us to believe in and follow Him. If we followed Him, He would save us and connect us to His Father in heaven. If we followed Him, our sins would be forgiven and washed away by virtue of the blood He shed at His death by crucifixion. And if we followed Him, we would have a permanent home in the heaven from which He came and to which He was returning. All of this, and more, if we followed Him. There is a CULTURE OF HEAVEN, just as there is a culture of this world. So the Lord Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to inhabit our inner life and be our Teacher, Guide, Helper and Comforter, so that the Presence of Jesus would remain with us. Then He gave us apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists to assist us in learning and growing in the culture of heaven, while living on earth. There is no doubt that living and growing in the culture of heaven is a joint effort of spirit and will, so long as we live here in this world.    But God went one step further. From antiquity He spoke to the fathers, prophets and apostles to write into text all that He had spoken through Christ Jesus. This is our Bible, to be read, read again and digested into our very being so that we are instructed in the ways and means of Jesus. It is not ours to interpret privately, but to live out in communion with other believers as we pray, work and do life together. We are to be trained, taught and encouraged through the Scriptures and power of the Holy Spirit. We are to serve one another, love one another and pray for one another. We are to accept and respect spiritual authority and grow in spiritual understanding. We are to guard against all forms of teaching other than that of Jesus, the fathers and the apostles. We are to suspect our own wisdom as we acquire God’s wisdom. And we are to PURSUE THE THINGS OF GOD while rejecting the culture of the world in which we live. Like OIL AND WATER, the kingdom of heaven and kingdom of this world do not mix well. They exist in the same solution, but they always retain their own character. So are we in this world on our way to heaven–we are in the mix but not mixed up! Stay with the group following Jesus and study well His ways, praying with the power of the Holy Spirit as we fill our hearts with heaven on earth.

DAY SIX – 1 Timothy 1-6

Apostle Paul to his disciple Timothy: Stay in Ephesus and teach people how to be godly–godliness being the way we conduct ourselves, as if God really means something to us. Godliness originated in the kingdom of heaven, from whence Jesus came to earth as a baby human being. Tutored by the Holy Spirit, and not subject to a sinful nature, He was the paradigm of all that is godly. His life, His manner, His works exploded with ‘heaven’ written all over them, demonstrating how a godly person really looks and behaves. We are called into this. Godliness is very practical, reaching into our personal life, family relationships, work habits, and standing in the community. It is apparent that a godly person values highly the testimony of Jesus and the reality of the kingdom of heaven on earth. It is more than just talk, more than appearance, and more than a doctrine. The godly person lives a life that can be admired and emulated. The godly person throws the light of his life onto heaven itself, heaven being a part of his end-game. He rarely has to make claims or prove himself to be a godly person; it is just apparent that the Lord and His kingdom are on his mind more than anything else. And as I write this piece, there is fire in my heart to be known as a godly man living in the alien culture of this world system. My salvation is from heaven, my heart is set on things above, and I live my life with the prayer that the scent of heaven will accompany me wherever I go. Should we be concerned with perfection; should we attempt to live without sinful mistakes in our life? That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? But let’s not make the mistake of focusing on ourselves. Jesus is the standard of godliness and perfection; so it is through Him that we are declared by God and considered to be, righteous and godly. Our Father in heaven looks for the person who is in LOVE with Him, with the Lord Jesus, and with heaven. That person LOVES to do what is right, and he trains himself to carefully follow Jesus and to live as if the world system is giving way to the eternal kingdom of heaven. Many challenges remained in the Gentile nations from their old godless cultures and worldviews. Strong, godly leadership was Paul’s strategy to counteract their old sinful habits and encourage their faithfulness as Jesus followers. We have much to think about in our world culture dominated by self-aggrandizing and self-centered philosophies and behaviors. LIVING OUR FAITH is much more effective than arguing about it. A godly person naturally gives evidence that he is a follower of Jesus and is intentional in his heavenly goals.

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