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.

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.