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.

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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.

Week 50 – Reading and Discovering God in the glorified life of Jesus

Three imperatives of following Jesus at a high level of committed living..

DAY ONE – Matthew 16, Mark 8:11-9:1, Luke 9:18-27

There are moments in life when things start to turn, and not always for the better, as we might view them. After getting from His disciples a confession that He was indeed the Messiah (the Christ), Jesus explained to them that a period of intense suffering was about to commence for Him, and that it would lead to His death. He did say that on the third day He would rise again. If you are a follower of Jesus, that isn’t good news, and Peter reacted badly. It was then that Jesus confronted them with the true cost of following Him: you have to let go of your selfish ways, take up your present life (your cross) as it exists, and be ready to faithfully move on with the Lord. Following Jesus is a bit like the traditional marriage vow: “…for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…” If we can find it in our heart to do that, then we can better understand that following Jesus is not a rose garden in full bloom! Sometimes we are led through the valley of death. Since this world is really just a shadow of the one to come; and since this world is in a passing state, one day to be no more; how much should we embrace the life we are given and seek to live in a blessed state of thanksgiving and prayer? Luke 9:24 (NLT)  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.

“Life” in English is expressed through three different Greek words; the one used here by Jesus means surrendering our will freely to God, and living in that state of surrender. Hard to do? Oh, yes, especially when our culture tells us we deserve to be ‘happy’ and to be ‘blessed’ and to have and do what we want! Doesn’t God want us to be happy? Jesus said what He really wants is for us to NOT PERISH! That means He wants us to find eternal life and follow Jesus to heaven so that we have eternal joy and happiness. Jesus let it be known that God’s will for Him was to die for the sins of the world so that He could save all who come to Him. All of the gains and blessings we can have in this shadow world may make life more ‘happy,’ but these don’t last forever. Better to accept all, knowing that the Lord sees all and works all things together for our eternal good. This is not ‘pie in the sky,’ as some say, but doing God’s will carries the promise of heaven gained in God’s good time.

DAY TWO – Matthew 17-18, Mark 9:2-50, Luke 9:28-56

Anyone given a large assignment with a deadline knows that it will require the utmost vigilance and perseverance to complete. Jesus Christ had a ginormous assignment and fairly short deadline to bring heaven to earth and instill God’s wonderful plans into the hearts of His followers. A glimpse into the process finds Jesus up on a mountain with Peter, James and John, having gone there to pray. What the disciples saw rocked their world, and each one years later talked about the impact on his own life. The glory of God, by the Holy Spirit, appeared as if on Jesus as shining light and whiteness. It appears that He became somewhat transparent, so that the inner glory of God was on His outward countenance. In this rarified atmosphere, the three disciples also had a glimpse of Moses and Elijah, who had lived on earth centuries before. Is there any question why this band of brothers would be willing to lay down their lives for Jesus in years to come? So He talked to them again about dying and rising from the dead. Back down off the mountain, in the presence of a demon-possessed boy and his father, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their little faith and wondered how long He had to put up with them? “Prayer…” He said. “This kind comes out only by prayer.”

So, with Jesus glorified and with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit present with us as Jesus’ representative and on His account, I ask myself, “Ray, what vigilance and perseverance are needed to live out your life and to glorify Jesus?” If I follow Jesus at the level of my commitment, I know there are several things required, so I list them–

  1. The voice from the cloud instructed the three disciples to listen to Jesus, the Beloved Son of God. I must listen to Him every day as I read the Word and relate to Holy Spirit.
  2. I must pray, pray, pray–not ‘on the clock’ kind of prayer, but ‘let’s do life together’ kind of prayer. God’s glory is resident in me as it was in Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and it’s ALL OR NOTHING!
  3. Finally, the world system lies under the influence of the evil one, meaning that the demons run rampant, persecuting and torturing whomever they can. I must bring peace, salvation and deliverance as often as I can, any place I can. I can do this. MY FAITH IS STRONG! I write today’s INSIGHT with great earnestness of spirit. I encourage you, my brothers and sisters, to step up.

DAY THREE – John 7-9

These three chapters are filled with the beauty of truth and miracles. But they are also replete with the ugliness of hatred and unbelief. Jesus is from God, and the Father has taught Him well. No one can find fault with Him without violating the truth. On the other hand, the Pharisees and religious leaders, hiding behind their claims of being Moses’ disciples, make no pretense of their hatred for Jesus. Calling Him names, ridiculing His teachings, ostracizing those who believe in Him–they are heaping to themselves sad consequences in the days to come. At the festival in Judea Jesus boldly stepped forth and taught in the temple, revealing His unique relationship with God in heaven. His confident claim was, “God is my Father…. He sent me here to make Him known to you…. If you believe in God, you will also believe in me…. If you claim to know God, then you will also know me as well; otherwise your claim to know God is false, which is why you will never hear or understand my teachings.” And so it went on, and the conflict deepened, and the hatred of the Pharisees grew by degrees. Healing the blind man, Jesus forced them to declare themselves so that their fate would be sealed. He also exposed their bigotry and hypocrisy to the masses of the people who were beginning to see the light and believe in Jesus. There was no middle ground then; and there is no middle ground now.

The Father in heaven sent Jesus into the world to reveal that God was ready to implement His great saving plan; that all who believe in His Son will be saved eternally. Israel was always the womb of God’s plans. Salvation was birthed in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Salvation was revealed through the life and teachings of Jesus. Miracles were the proof of His claims; and the following that came alive in His disciples became the early model that has been with us for over two thousand years! Yes, this evil world system, filled with its own corruption, continues to hurl abuse on Jesus and His followers. The truth is still maligned, hatred and vitriol still spew from its innards. Yet the light and love of Jesus, accompanied by His grace and mercy which He demonstrated in life, still attest to His truth and righteousness. It will never be any easier to follow Jesus than it is now; and it will never be any harder to follow Jesus than it is now. The question is, DO WE BELIEVE IN HIM? And yes, those of us who do believe in Him, follow Him, regardless. As conflict escalates in our culture, let’s double down with our own love, grace and mercy!

DAY FOUR – Luke 10, John 10:1-11:54

The Lord chose seventy-two ‘other’ disciples. These are other than the twelve first chosen. And they are not even named! Who were they? According to Jesus, they were ‘workers.’ He was sending them into His Father’s harvest. They were sent in pairs, so that meant they could reach at least thirty-six more places in preparation for Jesus’ eventual visits. But more than that, Jesus said in John 10 that they are his ‘sheep.’ Wow! Suddenly this becomes very personal. In eastern cultures, shepherds know their sheep intimately and can identify the personal characteristics of each one! When flocks mingle at the watering troughs, the shepherd will use his distinctive call to separate them from the others. They will come back to Him! They know His voice! John 10:9-10 (NLT)  Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. Jesus’ mission, our mission, is to live in the abundance of His life and to make the Kingdom of Heaven our life message. Does the Father in heaven make a distinction regarding the ‘sheep’? Listen: John 10:27-30 (NLT) 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.” Jesus is talking about you and me, His disciples. We are included because we follow Jesus and respond to His voice. But that’s not all… John 10:14-16 (NLT) 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. That’s us! This has gone around the world since Jesus rose from the dead; the flock is international; it’s everywhere! Hell hasn’t been able to stop it, and the Father knows every one of us. Be proud of your heritage as a follower of Jesus; you are loved and special, even if people don’t know who you are. And by the way, we will likely meet the seventy-two ‘other’ disciples when we explore heaven.

DAY FIVE – Luke 12:1-13:30

I expect that in my half century-plus of preaching and teaching, I have commented on just about everything at least once! But if you heard me over a long period, you would have picked up major themes which keep surfacing year after year as I grow in wisdom and knowledge. Today, solidly in my senior season, I am mostly consumed with the Kingdom of Heaven versus the passing fancy of this ‘shadow’ world. No longer having to actively pursue a career, my family five generations deep, content with what I have… passion for the Lord and following Jesus is what keeps me going and growing. As Jesus moved closer and closer to the final confrontation which would finish His earthly mission, He zeroed in on major issues which kept people apart from God. He singled out hypocrisy, greed, vanity, over-concern with the basic necessities of life, and misunderstanding of how God works in our world. If only He could get people to believe, to have faith, to trust His Father-God in heaven. If only they would stop focusing so much on the temporal and pursue the eternal, if only…. Then comes this: Luke 12:49 (NLT) “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning! Wow! Did the disciples look at one another, then back at Jesus? Did He just say what we think He said? He wants to set the world on fire? Yes, friends, without the fires of heaven that come from the Holy Spirit, our world becomes the same old same old, and God and heaven are marginalized further and further from our culture centers. Jesus wanted to make heaven real. He wanted to put the temporal and eternal into perspective. He wanted to turn the world’s attention to the Heavenly Creator / Savior. And He desperately wanted to raise up a band of people who would follow Him and take His message worldwide. In order to accomplish all this He laid Himself open to criticism, accusation, growing hostility and death. He was ready to give it all up to His Father / God in order to get it back in the eternal ages of heaven. My wife and I were discussing the lyrics of Isaac Watt’s great hymn recently, and it is my answer to Jesus’ yearning to see the world divided–to see people forsake the ‘shadow’ world in favor of the real, to embrace Jesus and let go of temporal security in favor of the Kingdom of God. “Must I be carried to the skies / On flowery beds of ease, / While others fought to win the prize / And sailed through bloody seas?”*  Jesus followers, love one another as we honor the Savior who did it all! (*https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/468)

Week 49 – As I am reading thru the Bible, I am astonished how GOOD God is!

Holy Spirit is our true source of spiritual life and power to live here. It’s time to WELCOME Him!

DAY ONE – Matthew 12:22-50, Mark 3:22-35, Luke 8:19-21, 11:14-54

Our story a couple of readings ago included the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ wonderful textbook lesson on how to live in our world. Today we are treated to open, hostile confrontation between the religious leaders/teachers, and Jesus. It started with a miracle–Jesus healing the man blind and mute. In the process he cast out a demon, which was met with a caustic rebuke from a Pharisee. Jesus immediately responded to all who were listening that some sins are forgivable, including criticism of Messiah. But He made clear that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be met with the utmost calamity. Who was present when God created the world? The Holy Spirit. Who imbued and emboldened men of God through the centuries who did exploits, wrote the scriptures and gave God’s messages to Israel? The Holy Spirit. And who filled John the Baptist for His work of announcing Messiah? The Holy Spirit. Finally, under and through whose power was Jesus Himself teaching, healing, casting out demons and preaching the Kingdom of God? The Holy Spirit. Jesus recognized this confrontation as the same old Satan-inspired vitriol that has been rearing its ugly head in human behavior since the beginning of human conflict. Here it was, alive and active in the religious leaders! No wonder our Lord took such great pains to identify the source and make a big deal about it. It is a big deal! As humans, we are responsible for the atmosphere of earth in which we live our lives and go about our business. Humility and repentance properly relate us to our Creator, who sent Jesus to live with us and show us not only the Kingdom of Heaven, but the road to access the kingdom. The Holy Spirit responds to our repentance and our efforts to find God in our world. He helps us, leads us and connects us to the Lord. He then resides in us to further God’s works of grace until we are ready to live in heaven with our Savior. How we should welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, for John the Baptist early on exclaimed about Jesus, “He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit!” Jesus is not just some good man who lived in history and left us a great example. He is God the Son and Son of God; we must deal with Him. We will eventually see Him in His glory and realize how much He loves us and did for us. He is looking for an open heart to fill. Is yours open today?

DAY TWO – Matthew 13:1-53, Mark 4:1-34, Luke 8:1-18

What could be more natural than planting seeds in a garden? In fact, in our story today Jesus talked of a farmer who, instead of planting seeds, scattered them over his prepared ground, corner to corner throughout his plot. In rocky soil some of the seed had absolutely no chance of producing a harvest. So Jesus simply described what might happen to the scattered seed, all the while knowing the erstwhile farmer needed and wanted his crop to thrive if his family was to have food. Explaining later to his disciples the elements of the story, He cleared up any mystery. It’s all about HOW WE HEAR when God speaks. When and how does the Lord speak to us? Hebrews 1:1-3 (NLT) Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2 And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. 3 The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. Jesus is the Living Word of God speaking down through the ages to every soul who will listen. It’s not about church, or religion, or culture. It’s about the Holy Spirit scattering Good News seeds throughout the world through every individual who is following Jesus and is His listening disciple. Jesus’ followers, in essence, all carry a bag of seed, from which are scattered kind thoughts, smiles, good works, patient suffering, and evidences of heaven on earth. They believe in God’s creative power to release the life that is in the seed, to see to its mysterious ability to grow, and to produce the crop at the end of the cycle. They go about their business faithfully and persistently, realizing that the results are in the hands of our Creator. But they continue to HEAR HIS WORDS in their heart, and they continue to display the goodness of God.

So those who LISTEN WELL are world-changers. Those who LISTEN WELL are reproducers. And those who LISTEN WELL are accumulating an eternal harvest of blessing which they continue to share with their world. It’s not rocket science; it’s faith at work, love from the heart, and humble dependence on the Savior whose voice is still speaking.

DAY THREE – Matthew 8:18-34, Matthew 9:18-38, Mark 4:35-5:43, Luke 8:22-56, 9:57-62

Whole books have been written about Jesus’ miracles. I have wondered and marveled my whole life, along with other amazed believers, at the power, the compassion and the love of Jesus. Simply, THERE IS NO ONE LIKE HIM! Disease, demons, sickness, weather–everything IS subject to His authority; I avoided saying WAS, for Jesus IS THE SAME now as then. When the astonished disciples looked on in amazement, asking what kind of man Jesus was, after He calmed a raging sea, Jesus asked them simply, “Where is your faith?” He was serious. Evidently His disciples should have that kind of faith? And then I realized how much damage sin did to the human race. Instead of being able to handle, as Jesus did, the problems of death and dying, we work and struggle to overcome, often in the face of mounting odds. Jesus knew no sin; therefore He did not have to live with the debilitating effects of sin in His person. As He saw in the multitudes the suffering, the wasting, the confusion, it filled Him with compassion, and He wanted to raise an ARMY of people like Him to go throughout the world to bring healing and peace. Praying to His Father in heaven, Jesus pled for more disciples to do this great work. He asked us to do the same. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.” But let’s ponder the question, “Where is your faith?” Indeed. We know that faith is more than wishful thinking, more than hopeful prayers. As we will read later, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT). But that’s not what He asked. He said, “Where is your faith?” Where is it? Where did you put it? Every day I must ask myself, “Ray, where is your faith today?” And every day, the answer will be the same, “My faith is IN a person; it is IN Jesus.” Jesus asked His disciples to put their faith in Him; but then they had to discover who He was. So He showed them, over and over, who He was and what He did through the power of the Holy Spirit. And He taught them, again and again, that He and His Father in heaven were of one spirit and mind, committed to overcoming sin’s power and even death, to bring healing and peace to the world until heaven could finish its great work. And He asked us to get involved in His good work, promising His followers all that we need to SERVE OTHERS AS HE DID. Who is Jesus? God the Son and Son of God. He showed us how to live and move and grow our faith as we live IN and THROUGH Him by Holy Spirit’s power and grace. Take your greatest challenge to Him today; let your faith IN Him create your plans to overcome.

DAY FOUR – Matthew 10, 14, Mark 6:7-56, Luke 9:1-17, John 6

The Gospel books, Matthew through John, certainly do record the deeds of Jesus and reveal who He is. But that’s not all–they also contain Jesus’ highly intentional revelations about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, with instructions to His disciples to begin their kingdom work. In order to accomplish this, Jesus did several things..

  1. He gave them authority in His name and sent them out to heal the sick while preaching the Good News.
  2. He further demonstrated the ebbs and flows of life after John the Baptist was killed.
  3. He walked on the water, miraculously fed five thousand, and traveled to several venues, growing their faith in Him.
  4. He in more than one instance revealed the cost of being His disciple, shattering their misconceptions.
  5. He watched some disciples walk away and didn’t try to detain them, instead asking the twelve what they wanted to do.
  6. He exposed the selfish and self-centered motives of the crowds, refusing to be taken as their king.
  7. He discerned between life in the ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit,’ revealing the true way to walk with Him.

We are at a critical point in our investigation into the life of Jesus. We must decide WHAT TO DO with Him. “Do you also want to go away?” He asked the twelve. Realizing that only He had the words to eternal life, they wanted to stay and press on with Him. Granting their wish, He also pointed out that one of them was a devil–the one who would eventually betray Him. So we do have to decide–do we stay with Jesus? Do we commit to the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, leading us to the eternal Kingdom? Do we pay the price of being His disciple, or try to find an easier way? Do we put our complete faith and trust in Him as we grow in Him? Remember, He made it clear that to believe in and follow Him might put us at odds with members of our own loved family. What to do? Are we worthy of Jesus? We are if we have decided that to love and serve Him is to BE VALUED ABOVE ALL other interests. Find those friends who are true disciples and work together for HEAVEN ON EARTH! It’s really a win-win.

DAY FIVE – Matthew 15, Mark 7:1-8:10

The Pharisees question Jesus:  “Why do your disciples disregard the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.” Jesus questions the Pharisees: “Why do you also disregard the commandment of God because of your tradition? So the REAL question is: Who decides the order of things? Who decides what is important to God? Which came first–the commandment or the tradition? When Moses received the Ten Commandments to give to Israel, it was part of the Law covenant Yahweh God struck with them. A thousand years later they mostly disregarded the commandments, holding to the traditions handed down to them, regardless of what God thought. At the beginning of the relationship, the Lord said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Once again Jesus cut straight to the issue at hand, for He made clear that the Jewish traditions employed to judge Jesus and His disciples were mostly irrelevant. And once again, religion as a way of life pales before the relationship our Lord wants to have with us. It’s all about the heart–a good heart is the source of goodness. An evil heart is the source of evil, and everything coming out of an evil heart defiles the very atmosphere in which we live. So we often, according to Jesus, place so much emphasis on the body and mind that we forget the condition of our heart!

When Jesus spoke this parable He said, “Listen.. If you can!” Then He had to explain the whole thing to His disciples in order to correct their way of seeing things; for the Jews found the piety of the Pharisees compelling. Jesus saw it as disgusting and misleading, for it left the evil heart covered over with pretense. We must change the way we think about religion in order to truly follow Jesus. The only true religion is the one Apostle James mentioned: James 1:26-27 (WEB)  If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn’t bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. And to live this way our hearts must be cleaned up and produce the goodness our Lord desires. By now we must believe that Jesus is most certainly up to something important; let’s follow Him some more to see where He is leading.

Week 48 – We have turned a corner.. Jesus has come on the scene in our reading.

People continue to search for answers instead of believing and following The Answer!

DAY ONE – Matthew 4:23-25, 8:14-17, Mark 1:21-39, Luke 4:31-44

The pattern was set; Jesus revealed why He was here. Matthew 4:23-25 (NLT) Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 24 News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon-possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—he healed them all. 25 Large crowds followed him wherever he went—people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River. Luke 4:42-44 (NLT) Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. 43 But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” 44 So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea.  I call it a pattern, for it demonstrates the manner in which Jesus introduced the Kingdom of Heaven to His followers and the world. He preached, He taught, He healed the sick and cast out demons, and He went into people’s homes to refresh and bless them. He did this everywhere; He did it repeatedly; He  did it with authority; and He did it successfully! For months we have been reading in the Old Testament of the Bible about Almighty God’s works: the creation, the connection with Abram and his descendants, Israel; His sovereignty over the nations; and His plans to redeem and save a fallen world. Four thousand years of human history… and then Jesus appeared on the scene. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s love and salvation. He immediately set out to reveal heaven… to reveal that there is a place where everyone is free, well, and joy-filled. He did it by healing the sick and casting out demons; by preaching and teaching Good News that works in anybody’s life. And He did it with an air of righteousness about Him not seen before! Surely Jesus is God’s answer for our world. Everything you ever wanted to know about God is seen in Jesus. Why suffering? Why so much evil in our world? Why do children get sick and die? Instead of using human reasoning to find answers, look to Jesus. Jesus came from heaven and God to reveal goodness, to demonstrate love and salvation. He came to show us how the Holy Spirit works in the world to fulfill all of God’s plans and expectations. By faith vow to follow Jesus, all the way to heaven!

DAY TWO – John 3-5

It was bound to happen. Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus was the first incident. Then the woman at the well in Samaria brought it up again. But it was the Jewish leaders who escalated the conflict to a life or death contest. It is, of course, the oldest struggle between heaven and earth–religion versus true faith in and love for God. When the Lord through Moses gave Abraham’s descendants their religion at Sinai, it was, as you remember, accomplished in external rituals and animal sacrifices–all of which could be fulfilled without true faith or love, even though Yahweh God had exhorted them to love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul. Ever thereafter, humankind seek to justify themselves through the accomplishments of religion without true faith in the Only Creator God. So here comes Jesus claiming to be sent from heaven and confronting the religiosity of Jews and Samaritans. And John the Baptist, who is joyfully aware that Jesus is baptizing and saving people through faith in His words, confirms that Messiah’s gifts are from heaven. No longer will religion or religious practices be acceptable to God as a sign of faith, for He has sent His Only Son from heaven to release salvation through faith in a Person. For claiming to be sent to earth by His Father in heaven; and for claiming that He is doing only what He sees His Father doing, Jesus now has a target on His back; and the Jews are already plotting to kill Him. It is no wonder that the world, looking at two thousand years of church history, are so bold as to convict religion and accuse christians (note little c) of creating all the problems in the world. We are called Christians because of faith in and love for our Lord Jesus Christ. But there is also a ‘christian’ religion, associated with various ‘churches,’ which has a form of godliness but denies the power of the Holy Spirit and therefore brings reproach upon the wonderful Name of Jesus. At the risk of being totally misunderstood, I assert that there is no ‘christian’ church. There are only Christians–faithful followers of Jesus Christ–who together make up THE CHURCH, the body of Christ around the world. Yes, true Christians do come together, and they assemble in a place, and it becomes known as a church. But then it divides into a thousand different ‘christian’ organizations and is still called a church, even though the world looking on is now totally confused. Perhaps it is time that Jesus’ followers leave off so many names and identities and come together in faith to truly represent our Lord through our good works and godly living. Wouldn’t THAT be a miracle!

DAY THREE – Matthew 8:1-4, 9:1-17, 12:1-21, Mark 1:40-3:21, Luke 5:12-6:19

I want to know Jesus, more and more; I want you to know Jesus as well. How do we get to know Him? By reading the Bible? Yes, but in reality it is the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us as we read. John said that Jesus is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, so don’t overlook that dimension as we make our journey. We read today from three different gospels, all containing similar accounts of the same events. While minor details may vary from author to author, the stories themselves consistently reveal the power and authority in Jesus’ earthly ministry to humankind. So how do we get the most from Jesus’ life–the healings, teachings and examples? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you read each account:

  • Why did Jesus say what He said? (His words in some Bibles are in red.)
  • What do you think it meant to those who heard it?
  • What does it mean to you?
  • What did He explain in His teachings?
  • What instructions did He give?
  • After reading, what do you think you should do about what He said? (Hopefully you are taking notes!)

Obviously, not all those who  witnessed the healing miracles praised God and believed in Jesus. Why not? If Jesus was explaining and demonstrating that the Kingdom of God had come to earth, wouldn’t that be a wonderful blessing? Wouldn’t that change our outlook of how we live here? Wouldn’t that raise a ‘thank you’ to the Lord from our heart? As you see, we have only begun our readings about Jesus. By the time we are finished, hopefully God’s eternal flame will burn in your heart to see His Kingdom lived out in our world today. And hopefully you will be filled with new awe and wonder about the wonderful blessings of getting to know Jesus at a deeper level in your spirit. That is, after all, why He came.

DAY FOUR – Matthew 5-7, Luke 6:20-49, 11:1-13

Jesus was clear when He spoke to the crowd. He said, in effect, “You haven’t been at all able to keep God’s laws, and look at the mess your world is in today. Because of that, I have come, not to destroy or do away with the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them completely.” In order for redemption and salvation to come to planet earth from heaven, it was necessary that a Person keep God’s whole law. No one had ever done that, even the most righteous of those who lived in faith toward God. So our wonderful Father in heaven, Yahweh God, sent His own and only Son, Jesus, to finally live out His plan and bring salvation to the world. This great sermon taught by Jesus draws out the full implication of what it means to live the right way and to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. He summed it up like this: Do to others what you wish they would do to you. That has become known as the Golden Rule. It covers all our relationships and affects all our interactions with other people… and God.

The second little time bomb Jesus planted in His message is this: The God you don’t really know is actually your Father in heaven. Father. Think about it. We all know that when we were born we had an earthly father; some children grow up without ever knowing their father. Others grow up with a father whom they maybe wish they didn’t know, for obvious reasons. And then there are earthly fathers who, though they are not perfect, nonetheless love and care for their children. But there is ONLY ONE Heavenly Father; no other carries the light and love for His children as does our Father in Heaven. Throughout His message, Jesus continued to refer to “your Father,” as if His listeners would fully understand His meaning. But do we? How many of us can make that stretch, can look up toward heaven and feel the full weight and affection of a heavenly Father? Jesus was here to fix that. As we continue our reading, it will become abundantly clear that to know the Father, we must follow the Son! Jesus said, “You are my followers.” He called one and then another to FOLLOW HIM. He called the masses, the crowds, to become His followers. And He is still calling, to everyone who will listen, “Follow me.” It seems clear to me that anyone who follows Jesus here and now will one day be where Jesus has been, with the Father, all this time!

DAY FIVE – Matthew 8:5-13, 11:1-30, Luke 7

How is it that an officer of the hated Roman occupiers received a commendation from Jesus? He wasn’t a Jew, yet in his time of need He turned to Jesus for relief. In the course of the interview, Jesus expressed amazement at the centurion’s faith, which was resident in his understanding of authority. Having healed the centurion’s servant, Jesus exclaimed that many Gentiles would come from all over the world to sit down with the Jewish patriarchs at the great feast in the kingdom of heaven, while many Jews would be excluded in outer darkness. In this story, Jesus began to demonstrate response and responsibility. He followed this by talking about the cities where He had done so many wonderful miracles, exclaiming again that had Sidon and Tyre seen these miracles, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes–response and responsibility. Finally, after John the Baptist, full of questions, sent from prison two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He was really the waited-for Messiah, Jesus lovingly performed miracles all day and then sent the two disciples back to John to describe what they had seen and heard. The evidence spoke for itself. Turning to the crowds, he commended those who believed John and were baptized for repentance of sins, but condemned those who refused to believe John and were not baptized–response and responsibility.

Response is the way we act when we are privileged to witness acts of God’s grace in our lifetime of experience. The witness of Jesus and the acts of God’s kindness abound in our material world. Heaven’s kisses are lavished on humankind in so many ways, and yet the world goes on its way with little or no response. They literally act as if God is not there or, if He is, He has yet to do anything for them!.. while others respond with thanksgiving, offering a sacrifice of praise to the Lord for His daily blessings. Our response is bound up in responsibility; that is, since God is good and His goodness is clearly experienced in our world, we are responsible for all of that, and we will be held accountable for the  way we responded. When Jesus calls us to follow Him, and then out of love lays down His life in place of ours, we are immediately responsible. How do you respond? A “thank you” is certainly appropriate.