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

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

DAY ONE  – Galatians 1-3

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

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

DAY TWO – Galatians 4-6, Acts 15-16

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

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

DAY THREE – Acts 17:1-18:18

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

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

DAY FOUR – 1 Thessalonians 1-5

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

DAY FIVE – 2 Thessalonians 1-3

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

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

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

DAY ONE – Acts 1-4, Psalm 110

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

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

DAY TWO – Acts 5-8

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

DAY THREE – Acts 9-11

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

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

DAY FOUR – Acts 12-14

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

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

DAY FIVE – James 1-5

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

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