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)