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BIBLE READ-THROUGH: DAY 38 REFLECTION (1 THESSALONIANS 1 – HEBREWS 13:25)

“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”

DAY 38: AUGUST 29

1 THESSALONIANS 1 – HEBREWS 13:25

Today we read the last of Paul’s letters. As I mentioned yesterday, I like Paul. He comes across as almost ferocious at times in his epistles, but we know that everything he wrote and said and did was toward the betterment of those who looked to him for guidance. He didn’t mince his words, and he chose to be plain-spoken rather than to use a bed-side manner. His goal was to set a real-life example of what it means to be a believer, using Jesus as his example. Jesus hasn’t been with us in physical form for nearly 2000 years, so his followers have to set real-life examples to guide others. This is our job as Christians.

The example doesn’t change, the message doesn’t change; the only things that change are the words we use and how we deliver the message. We may use different words than Jesus and Paul, but our words have the same meaning as theirs. We may use a different delivery method than Jesus and Paul, but there’s no reason why it can’t be just as effective as theirs. If God’s Spirit is truly with us in our labours for the Kingdom, the message will get through loud and clear, regardless of our language or method of delivery.

  • Throughout the letters we read today, Paul reminds the church that serving God is not without trials and tribulations, and that some of the tribulations will come from within the ranks of the church itself. False apostles, false prophets, and general all-round deceivers and inhibitors of the Word are not a phenomenon of the 20th and 21st centuries; they were a problem even in Paul’s day.
  • A two-step approach is recommended to deal with people who misrepresent the Word. First, take them aside and explain to them where they’re going wrong. Don’t do this publicly and don’t try to humiliate them in front of others. Do it privately. If they don’t heed your advice and continue to preach “another gospel”, steer clear of them, warn other believers about them, and leave them for God to sort out. Pray for them, but let them be.

  • Paul also advises us to live our lives always in anticipation of Jesus’ return. He reminds us that Jesus will come like a thief in the night, that is, while we’re asleep and most vulnerable. It will be too late at that point for us to prepare our souls. The time for doing what needs to be done is now.
  • As well, Paul mentions the falling away that must occur before Jesus returns, along with the rise of the “son of perdition” who will demand to be worshiped as God. These events are moveable in their dates, but will definitely occur. We already see a very great falling away that is getting progressively worse with each generation. For every person who’s born-again, tens of thousands or more fall away. Even so, God’s Spirit remains as strong as it ever was. The Kingdom doesn’t diminish with the falling away of people. On the contrary, those who remain faithful to God become even stronger. A larger portion of God’s Spirit is given to them, according to the measure God deems appropriate.
  • The description of the people who will live in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1-7) is hauntingly close to the people we see today in the world. I see myself in the description, that is, the me I was before I was born-again. Paul calls the age that will have such people “perilous times”. It’s hard to disagree. Soon we won’t even be able to buy food without showing proof we’ve been injected with serpent’s venom. How did things get so bad? People turned from God, one by one by one by one. You turn from serving God, the only option is to serve the devil. He will come in and make his home with those people, and they will do his work. That is the world today.
  • Paul’s letters to Timothy are quite touching. You can tell he’s trying not to fuss over him, but he doesn’t want Timothy to fall prey to the same snares that Paul himself might previously have fallen prey to. Paul’s like a mother and a father and an aunt and an uncle all rolled into one. That’s what happens when you start to groom those to take over your role. You want to protect them from making the same mistakes as you, but at the same time you need to let them make their own mistakes, as we learn best that way (through mistakes).
  • Paul’s instruction for women to remain silent in the church was problematic for me today. So I asked God how I’m supposed to receive this instruction, and he said: “But you are silent; you don’t use audio on your blog.”  😀
  • The authorship of Hebrews is still unsettled. It could have been written by Paul, or it could have been written by Luke or someone else close to Paul. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who wrote it; God speaks through it. That’s all that matters.
  • The gist of Hebrews is the primacy of Jesus’ sacrifice over the dead works of the law, the primacy of faith over the dead works of the law, the replacement of the old covenant (what eventually became the Old Testament) with the new, and the importance of following Jesus as our example of how to live. The author also reminds us that following Jesus is going to bring us hardship in this world, but that whatever we suffer here is worth it for the reward of Heaven.
  • Just a final note today on how people in Old Testament times used to get sprinkled by priests with the blood of sacrificial animals. This was done as a form of blessing and protection. They would even sprinkle blood on the scrolls containing God’s Word. So I’m sitting here thinking what those scrolls must have looked like (and smelled like) after being sprinkled with blood countless times. I’m really glad we don’t do that anymore! And I’m guessing that this ritual is the origin of the sprinkling of people with “holy water” that is done today by priests during masses and other events in the Catholic church. Here again is something that doesn’t need to be done (Catholicism is full of things that don’t need to be done). Jesus put an end to the need to be sprinkled by priests, whether with blood or alleged holy water. Catholic leaders seriously need to crack open a Bible and read it, rather than just holding it up like a trophy during their processions.

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The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.

BIBLE READ-THROUGH: DAY 37 REFLECTION (2 CORINTHIANS 1 – COLOSSIANS 4:18)

“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”

DAY 37: AUGUST 28

2 CORINTHIANS 1 – COLOSSIANS 4:18

As I’ve mentioned numerous times in these reflections and elsewhere, the read-through was called to get you immersed in God’s Word. It wasn’t meant to be a Bible study or a close reading of any particular part of scripture. The purpose was to get the Good Book into your hands and God’s Word into you. What you chose then to chew on was between you and God.

(Whatever jumps out at you during the readings is what God wants you to chew on.)

I hadn’t planned on writing a daily reflection after each reading. That just kind of evolved. I thought it would be a good idea to give a wave every day to say “Here I am! I’m reading along with you”. So, here I am.  😀

It’s highly likely that what jumps out at me doesn’t jump out at you, and what I chew on isn’t always to your taste. I don’t know how many souls have joined in the read-through or if I’ve just been doing this by myself, but it doesn’t matter. What you choose to do or not to do is between you and God.

Here’s the thing about God – when he asks you to do something, he asks YOU, and you only are responsible for saying “yes” or “no” (insider’s tip – always say “yes”). So I put out the invitation for the Bible read-through because God asked me to, and I’m doing the read-through because God invited me to, and I’m doing the reflections because they just kind of happened and took on a life of their own, and here we all are.

But what you choose to do or not to do is between you and God. Our free will is inviolable, no matter what anyone tells you. Even God won’t override it unless we give him permission. Imagine that! The Creator of Heaven and Earth needs your permission to override your free will. If even God needs your permission to override your free will, who possibly on Earth can override it?

Of course the answer is no-one. If you want to do God’s will or not to do God’s will, it’s up to you. It’s between you and God. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

  • Today’s reading takes us deeper into Paul’s letters. I like Paul. If I make it to Heaven, I’m looking forward to sitting down with him and having a drink. I don’t drink anymore on Earth, but I have a feeling I’m going to be having a few in Heaven (no hangovers in Heaven!) with all the visits I’ll be making and all the visitors who’ll have a standing invitation to drop by my place any time.
  • Being in Heaven won’t be a problem (again, no hangovers!), but getting there takes some doing. Paul talks about everything we (might) have to endure to get to there. He even makes a list of sorts. For instance, in 2 Colossians 4:8-9, he says of believers in general:

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair’

Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

Then later in 11:24-27, he details his own experiences:

Of the Jews received I forty stripes save one.

Thrice I was beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered a shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep.

In journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;

In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

  • Paul went through all this (with worse to come), and yet it only made him more adamant to give everything he had to God and more committed to preaching the Word. Why is that? Why didn’t he give up after the first shipwreck or beating with rods? Most people would have. But Paul didn’t give up for the same reason that Jesus didn’t give up or any of the others didn’t give up – because God was always with Paul, no matter his circumstances, and God (not Paul) was the source of Paul’s strength. Rather than make him angry or resentful or self-pitying, each trial entrenched him deeper into God.
  • We need to learn from Paul’s trials and how he dealt with them. I’m not sure if we’ll have to endure the same level of persecution as he did, but we’ll certainly face persecution and we’ll be forced to live as outlaws. Jesus warned us it would be like that. At the same time, he also said he’d be with us the whole time – he and God, through God’s Holy Spirit. And that’s how we’re going to get through our trials like Paul got through his.
  • There’s a wonderful passage in the same letter about what is expected of us as ministers of God. It’s another list of attributes we’re expected to have. See which ones you have and which ones you need to work on. Remember, if you’re born-again, you should be actively preaching and teaching the Word, or preparing to do so. There are no seat-warmers in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed:

But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,

In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;

By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,

By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,

By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true;

As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed;

As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Colossians 6:3-10
  • A few other passages jumped out at me in Colossians. One of them was about Moses, and how he always unveiled in face before God. I wrote a blog about this last year, about how we should never cover our face before God, and that we’re always before God if we’re genuinely born-again. This directive is inviolable. That means, no-one can override it, not for any reason.
  • In Galatians, Paul spends most of his letter talking about the dead-end factor of the works of the law. Remember that he’s talking about the laws that I call fly-over scripture, not the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are definitely not dead works. Paul finds himself arguing again with people who want to hang onto the dead works (like circumcision) instead of leaving them dead and buried, where they belong. Yet again, he argues for the primacy of faith over works of the law, but he still reminds us that we’ll someday have to stand before the Judgement seat to give an account of all we did or did not do in the service of God. Those works count; the works of the law no longer do.
  • Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are a compilation of sorts of his teachings on how to follow Jesus. One line in particular jumped out at me today:

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.

Colossians 3:23
  • It’s a reminder that whatever we do, God sees us. It doesn’t matter if anyone else acknowledges us or not, appreciates our efforts or not: God does. Jesus tells us to do our prayers and alms in secret, and that God will see us and reward us openly. Paul echoes this in saying to do everything as if unto God. Do it to the best of your ability. Do it with a cheerful heart. And do it knowing that if no-one else cares or even sees, God does. And surely that’s enough.

As we wind down (or power up, however you’re seeing this) to the final few readings, I hope you know that God is reading to you (if you ask him), opening your understanding and highlighting what you need to see and learn for your trials ahead. Our trials may or may not be as spectacular as Paul’s, but we still need to face them as he did, knowing God is ALWAYS with us to bring us through. That’s his job. That’s what he promised: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

And God never breaks a promise.

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The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.

BIBLE READ-THROUGH: DAY 35 REFLECTION (ACTS 6 – 28:31)

“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”

DAY 35: AUGUST 26

ACTS 6 – 28:31

Today we move deeper into the book of Acts, reading all the way through to the end. It’s telling that the book is called “Acts” and not “Belief” or “Faith”. Many Christians cherry-pick verses from the Bible and, based on those one or two verses, claim that you only need to believe to be saved or have faith to be saved, but the very title of this book says otherwise. Belief and faith alone are not enough to save you; you need to ACT to prove your belief and faith: You need to put your belief and faith into ACTION.

Even so, those actions will only bear good and lasting fruit if they are accomplished by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, not by our own strength. That’s why Jesus cautioned the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had received “the promise of God” (the Holy Spirit), and then they could start their ministry.

Doing the works of the law (the ones that we read about [or skipped over…] back in Moses’ books) are not enough to be saved. You need to do what God guides you to do, and you need to do it in his power and in his time. Saying “no” to God when he guides you to do something is the same as being disobedient to him. You don’t want to be disobedient to God. Good things do not happen to people who are disobedient to God, as we’ve seen throughout the Bible.

  • After initially focusing on the acts of the original 11 disciples, the book then switches gears and focuses on the acts of the new convert, Paul. Of all Jesus’ followers at that time, Paul was by far the most visible and most dedicated. After his conversion, he lived his life as Jesus had lived his – as an unemployed, unmarried, childless, homeless, possessionless itinerant preacher whose whole existence centered on preaching and teaching the Gospel. He lived and breathed God’s Word, just as Jesus had.
  • We are all called to follow Jesus like Paul did. How closely does your life mirror that of Jesus or Paul?
  • As with every other time I’ve read this book, I was struck by how Stephen’s final words, when he was being stoned to death, were a prayer to God to forgive those who were killing him. Jesus did the same on the cross. We need to pay attention to this. God says he’s in charge of doling out revenge. Our job is not to get even or to hold grudges, but to let God repay all offences done to us.
  • Remember that Jesus said to be offended in nothing; if we’re offended in nothing, we won’t be holding grudges or looking for revenge. Our job is simply to choose to forgive and to pray for those who hate us and treat us badly. That means everyone. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. No exceptions at any time or for any reason.
  • Remember, too, that Jesus told us that God doesn’t hear the prayers of those who have unforgiveness in their heart. If you’re having a hard time hearing from God lately, it’s likely not due to an earwax build-up, but to a grudge or resentment that’s clogging up your prayer line. Let the grudge and/or resentment go, and then you’ll hear clearly from God again. Take the time to practice forgiving now, because it will likely be your final test. It was for Jesus and Stephen. No-one with a hard heart gets into Heaven. You don’t want your final words on Earth to be a curse. Practice choosing to forgive now, and it will stand you in good stead when you need it most.
  • In reading Acts, I was also struck again by how Paul didn’t fight against the Roman ptb when they arrested him. At no time did he fight against them. Neither did the other disciples fight against or protest the ptb. God had told Paul that he needed to go to Rome, so Paul permitted himself to be arrested in order to be taken to Rome as a prisoner. On the other hand, in situations where Paul was being attacked by angry mobs, God rescued him time and time again.
  • There is a clear distinction between God rescuing Paul from mob attacks and God protecting Paul during his arrest and final incarceration in Rome. The same pattern played out with Jesus. Until it was their time to go home, they were constantly being rescued, but when it was their time, they submitted to the ptb and endured whatever they had to endure to the end. These scenarios are not just Bible stories; they are guidance for us. They are meant as an example of how we are not to submit to angry mobs (God will rescue us from those), but are to submit to authorities when our time has come. We’ll know it’s our time, because God will tell us. If he told Jesus and he told Paul, he’ll tell us.
  • Paul was a genuine convert. Like most genuine converts, he signed up 110% for the program. He held nothing back. Even after God showed him how much he’d have to suffer, he still stayed the course. Genuine converts are unstoppable. That’s why there’s more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who need no repentance. God’s angels know that in genuine converts they’ve won a strong human ally on Earth. The ranks of God’s holy warriors are expanded every time someone genuinely repents and genuinely converts. The converts join the ranks of God’s holy warriors.

What do you think of the book of Acts? Do you see yourself anywhere in there? Do you relate to anyone in particular or wish you were more like a certain someone? Jesus is our main example of how we should live our lives, but Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and the others show us what “living like Jesus” looks like in the real world. We make mistakes. We disagree and fight with each other. We misapply and misinterpret scripture. We get tired and lost and hungry and sometimes need to get away from it all (like Jesus did).

But no matter what, we keep going. That’s what the book of Acts ultimately shows us – we need to live our faith and belief through actions, and that no matter how badly we mess up, we keep going. Even those with the greatest of belief and the greatest of faith occasionally messed up, but they kept going. They never gave up. That’s what made them great in God’s eyes. As Jesus says: “Those who endure to the end will be saved.”

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The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is posted below.

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY: THE TURNING OF A PROPHET

When Jesus burst on the scene in the early days of his ministry, it was like a honey moon for him and his followers. He could do no wrong. They hung on his every word and the mood was constantly upbeat. These were the days of the Sermon on the Mount that included the oft-quoted beatitudes about blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are the meek. Jesus was hailed as a great prophet and champion of the underdog, the long-awaited leader of his people. Everyone loved him and wanted to be near him, and his reputation as a healer drew thousands wherever he went.

But as the months turned into years, the promised kingdom materialized not as a geopolitical realm but as a spiritual one, and the followers started to drift away. This happened slowly at first and then more quickly as the doctrines grew less feel-good and more demanding. At the same time, Jesus expected more of his followers. He grew increasingly impatient and occasionally angry with them. He even openly voiced his desire to be finished his work so he could get back to Heaven and not have to deal with them anymore. This was a different Jesus than the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” who’d fed thousands from a few loaves and fishes. This was a Jesus who was whittling his followers down to a core group of believers, down to those who truly wanted to buy what he was selling and were willing to pay whatever it cost.

In the final days before his execution, Jesus again changed. He became distant but magnanimous towards his followers. He was preparing for his transition to Heaven and also steeling himself to endure his final agonizing hours on Earth. It was then that the first fruit of his Messiahship fully ripened from the flowers that had bloomed earlier in his ministry. While the kingdom had already come (as was witnessed in his casting out of demons by the power of God’s Holy Spirit), it was only in his last days on Earth that Jesus ascended the spiritual throne as King. No more Mr. Nice Guy – in his place was the Great Messiah who was to rule over the prophesied Kingdom that would have no end. He had truly become King of the Jews, just as the sign over his crucifix proclaimed.

The lives of all true believers follow a similar trajectory. Their early days of spiritual rebirth are full of joy and wonder and miracles, and they are a blessing to be around. This phase is followed by a long trek of ups and downs, mistakes and repentance, reaffirmations of promises made and a steady deepening of the commitment to God and his Messiah. How long this second stage lasts is entirely up to God. Sadly, many fall away during this time, even those who were once fervent believers.

But those who remain faithful to God finally enter a transition phase that is glorious to behold: They grow more powerful in their witness, more assured of their salvation, and more formidable in their presence. This is Stephen before being stoned to death and Paul in his final letters in Rome. This third phase may last either a few days or a few decades, again depending on God’s judgement, but God’s Spirit is strong with these tried and trued believers and they are an immovable force for good on Earth.

This is what we’re aiming for – to endure to the end, as Jesus said we must, so that we may stand strong and immovable and with a full measure of God’s Spirit, witnessing the Kingdom to all who want to hear: No more Mr. Nice Guy, but instead a powerful prophet of God, moving mountains and people with God’s Word.

NO LONGER QUITE HUMAN

No Longer Quite Human

When you’re born again, you leave the human race.

You are no longer quite human.

Your focus is no longer human-focused endeavors, but God-focused endeavors.

You live somewhere between Earth and Heaven, not completely in either place.

This is God’s Kingdom on Earth.

The closer I grow to God, the farther I grow from humans. This is the natural progression of born-again believers. Jesus also grew farther and farther away from humans. We can see this in how he distanced himself from his family and village, and then from his religion and culture. During his ministry, he engaged with the world not as a fellow human but as God’s suffering servant. Ultimately, he distanced himself even from the so-called normal human response of self-defense. At his crucifixion, he willingly permitted others to abuse and debase him as if it meant nothing to him, because it actually did mean nothing to him.

At that point, Jesus was no longer human.

This is what we are all aiming for – to be no longer human, to get to the point where what people do or say to us no longer matters because we’ve moved beyond being human and responding as a human.

Stephen got there. He was stoned to death for preaching the Word. Just before he died, he saw a vision of God and Jesus. The ecstasy of God’s presence sustained him as his enraged executioners buried him alive under a hail of stones. It’s an excruciating way to die, being stoned to death, and yet like Jesus at his crucifixion, Stephen simply let it be done to him. He didn’t try to flee, he put up no fight, and he even prayed for those who were killing him.

Jesus did the same.

And we’ll be expected to do likewise.

Paul called this process of dehumanization as “dying to the world”. In dying to the world, our focus shifts from desiring the values of the world (buying houses, getting married, building a career, making money, having children, accumulating possessions, protecting our possessions, protecting our loved ones, etc.) to desiring the values of Heaven (mercy, compassion, truth, honor, self-sacrifice, etc.).

Ironically, the farther away we grow from humans, the more merciful and compassionate we become towards them.

This is a great mystery.

We are not hard-wired to understand this mystery, but we are able, with God’s help, to become part of it – to extend mercy to the unmerciful, compassion to the uncompassionate, truth to liars. This is the opposite of what we are hard-wired to do. Being born-again rewires us spiritually and enables us to do what we couldn’t do before.

This, too, is a great mystery but one that we born-agains can understand because we live the reality of our spiritual rewiring every day.

I do not pretend to know how it is, but I do know that it is.

If it were not so, I, a former atheist, would not be writing this to you.

If you are truly born again, you know what I mean.

You, too, are no longer quite human and are aiming to become no longer human at all, like Jesus.

When you get there, nothing will be able to touch you – neither stick nor stone – because you’ll finally see as God sees and you’ll love everyone unconditionally.

And then you’ll get to go home.