Adoption

“God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son.
‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The previous verse in Ephesians 1 burst into our consciousness with the thought that we have been chosen by God, not on a whim, but before God even created the heavens and the earth. This theme develops in our verses today. Not only did God choose us an eternity ago, but He has placed us in a special family. His own family. And Jesus is our elder brother. He did it through Jesus’ death at Calvary, the place where Jesus took on our sins and gave us instead His cloak of righteousness, enabling us to not only be able to stand before God in a sinless form, but to be adopted into His family.

My sister was adopted. I know other people too who were adopted. People who came from a family where parents were unable to look after their children and instead allowed them to be chosen by new parents, with the will and means to look after them. Most adoptions work well, devoted new parents pouring in all the resources required, but others perhaps haven’t been ideal. Thankfully, in God’s family, there are no failed adoptions. Every child of God is assured an equal place in His family, and the certainty of a lifelong relationship with a gracious and loving Parent. A relationship that extends beyond the grave. As a Parent, God gets great pleasure from His adopted family. And there is no limit to the size of His family either. His heart of love is infinitely able to embrace all who respond to His call.

So with Paul, another adopted brother in God’s family, we praise God for His “glorious grace”, grace that sees beyond the imperfect sinful beings that we are, and instead beckons us through the door of adoption into His presence. What an amazing “spiritual blessing”. What an amazing Father God!

He Chose Me

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.”
Ephesians‬ ‭1:3-4‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

There is much depth in these verses. Right at the start of this Epistle, Paul sets the scene. And his focus is on our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He starts by offering his praises to Father God for Jesus. After all, if it wasn’t for his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, Paul wouldn’t have found himself in a zone of blessings. A zone so real to him that he wrote about yearning to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), a yearning underpinned by his understanding and knowledge of “every spiritual blessing in Christ”.

But what are these “spiritual blessings”? Several are listed in this chapter in Ephesians. Some we won’t fully inherit until we are in God’s presence. Some blessings we can start to experience in our lives right now. One thing for sure is that a blessing in Christ is infinitely, and eternally, better than any earthly blessing. But one spiritual blessing I would like to focus on today is that God, through Christ, chose us. He chose you and He chose me. And amazingly He chose me before He even created the world. He could look down from eternity at my life on this earth and through His love and grace, He chose me. Of course that is not to say He didn’t choose other people. We know from that famous verse, John 3:16, that He loves everyone in the world, regardless of when they lived, past, present or future. But that doesn’t dilute the fact that He loves me in a personal way. He whispered my name as He was putting together the plans for creating Planet Earth. 

But the spiritual blessing doesn’t just end there. He chose me to be “holy and blameless in His sight”. It is at the realisation of what this means, that the enormity of this spiritual blessing really hits home. How can God not only choose me, but then establish me through Christ as being “holy and blameless”? Really? After all my sins committed in this life? After all the times I have rejected Him? But that is what this verse says. Paul didn’t just write some nice words, nice ideas based on his feelings. No, this was a faith-filled statement written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was God saying how it really is through Paul’s pen.

But there’s a catch. I can’t just read these verses and then move on, unchanged, regardless. I have to respond to God calling my name. His whispering of my name hangs there in eternity, waiting for me to respond. And He’s waiting for you as well. We have to respond to His invitation, saying “Yes” to Him, accepting Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Confessing and repenting of our sins. Aligning our lives to become worthy of His choice. But that personal gentle whisper won’t be there for ever. When we cross the Great Divide, the whisper will stop. Opportunity gone. God’s choice rejected. Many go to a lost eternity because they have rejected His calling.

Truly, we can do nothing else other than what the Apostle Paul did. With him, we bask in the awesome realisation that God chose us. What else can we do but utter our praises to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And we won’t stop. Ever.

Credentials

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:1-2‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

The first verse in the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians contains much information. Paul starts by claiming his apostleship – the account of his conversion from a Christian hunter and persecutor to a Christian maker and lover on the Damascus road can be read in Acts 9 and 22. History records Paul’s credentials as an apostle. The verse continues with a description of who the epistle, the letter, is addressed to. It wasn’t to everyone – just “God’s holy people”. Credentials describing those who faithfully followed Jesus. And because of the God-credentials of both the writer and the reader, God’s blessings of grace and peace in the second verse can be uttered and received, real and true.

What are my letter-writing credentials in life? In writing a similar letter to someone, how would I describe myself? Something like, “Fred, the husband of Chloe” or “John, the accountant in London”? Or perhaps something with spiritual weight, such as, “Matt, a believer in Jesus”? But how we describe ourselves, who we are and what we claim, will impact the receiver of our letter. Often, our self-description can be at odds with our behaviour though. Hmmm…

Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church would have been read out in a public meeting. And what a letter it was. The grace and love of God dripping through every stroke of his pen. And this epistle is read and re-read today, fresh and real, because of the credentials of the writer, Paul. A servant of God; a life dedicated to His service.

In our pilgrimage through life, we need letters. Epistles of encouragement, correction, guidance. Biblical accounts and passages that we can always refer to because God is in them. Step by step we can hear God’s voice, providing for us all we need. There is a man near me who lost his son to multiple sclerosis 30 or so years ago, and just last week he had to have his dog put to sleep because of an incurable spinal condition. And he is devastated by grief. The death of his son is still raw many years later and now the loss of his wee dog, who was like another son to him, has opened up all the old wounds. A pilgrim without the comfort and presence of God facing into the realities of life alone, uncomforted. And he has rejected the One Person who is able to help him. He needs a Letter, God Himself, to bring peace to his soul.

What do I need today? What do you need today? Whatever it is, there is a Letter written by the Creator of the Universe. Jesus came as God’s Word bringing the solution to all our worldly dilemmas and assuring us a future with the Letter Writer Himself. John 1:1-5 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” What a Letter Jesus is. His credentials are indisputable. Irrefutable. Eternal. And His letter is written just for you and me.

The Psalms in a Pandemic

Today we finished our pilgrimage through the Psalms. It started last April and on the journey we found some amazing truths from this unique book within the Book of books, the Bible.

I have collated and published all the blog posts as a book, which is available in either a Kindle or Paperback version, from Amazon. Here is the link, should anyone want their own copies.

More Action Praise

“Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heaven!
Praise Him for His mighty works; praise His unequalled greatness!
Praise Him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise Him with the lyre and harp!
Praise Him with the tambourine and dancing; praise Him with strings and flutes!
Praise Him with a clash of cymbals; praise Him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!
Praise the Lord!”
Psalm 150:1-6 NLT

Well, here we are, looking at the last Psalm in the Book of Psalms. Another Psalm following on from the action praise-theme in Psalm 149. But the Psalmist is getting carried away with the thoughts of adding more and more noise to his praise. You see, we cannot be quiet when it comes to praising God. We can’t whisper our praises. And the Psalmist knew that. And so he started to add some more instruments to his praise-band. So in addition to the tambourine and harp, we now have a lyre, stringed instruments, a ram’s horn, flutes and not just any old cymbals – these are clashing cymbals with loud clanging gizmos attached to them. Within me is the thought that I want to get to play the loud clanging cymbals in the praise band – but don’t tell anyone! But in case there is anyone who feels they will miss out, those who don’t get to play an instrument – they can sing their praises (assuming they are still breathing of course). 

Just this morning, as the new day was breaking over the woods in my corner of Scotland, I paused. I listened to the noises around me. The distant traffic a constant reminder of our 21st Century world, but closer by was the bird song. And the wind gently murmuring through the tree tops. And within me was the deep impression that there was a lot of praising going on – I just wasn’t hearing it with my earth-bound senses. And the creation around me was shouting it out.

But why should I, a 21st Century pilgrim, praise God? My musings took me to Romans 8:29-30, “For God knew His people in advance, and He chose them to become like His Son, so that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, He called them to come to Him. And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself. And having given them right standing, He gave them His glory.” And I looked at verse 30, and personalised it, like this, “And having chosen [me], He called [me] to come to Him. And having called [me], He gave [me] right standing with Himself. And having given [me] right standing, He gave [me] His glory.” Why should I praise God? Why should I not praise God? Not only has God chosen me, He has made me righteous before Him. Jesus is now my older brother. And God has given me His glory. Truly, I will praise God as long as I have breath.

Action Praise

Praise the Lord! 
Sing to the Lord a new song. 
Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful. 
Praise his name with dancing, 
accompanied by tambourine and harp. 
Let the praises of God be in their mouths,
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭149:1, 3, 6a‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In yesterday’s Psalm, Psalm 148, the Psalmist wrote about all the wonderful God-things he could think about, and he experienced a “wow” moment that translated him into a different dimension. A praise-zone so wonderful that he had to share it with his readers, encouraging them to “Praise the Lord” too.

The theme continues in today’s Psalm but with the exhortation to be more physically expressive. So the Psalmist encourages the writing of a “new song”. He suggests that praises to God should be sung amongst “the assembly of the faithful”, a congregation of God’s people. But before we develop a picture in our minds of rows and rows of elderly and pew-bound men and women holding hymn books and singing with bored expressions on their faces, the Psalmist advises how praises should be – with dancing, tambourines and harps. Now what a picture that would be! Hymn books thrown aside. New songs abounding. The congregation bouncing up and down the aisles, the percussive sounds of tambourines and harps all but drowning out the dirge-like sounds exuding from an organ, tucked away in the background somewhere. Praises expressed in the way they should be – in total abandonment to our wonderful Heavenly Father. He deserves our praises, offered from every ounce, every fibre, of our beings, for what He has done for us. One day I suspect that we will find Heaven to be a bit like that. No pew-bound-ness there. Read Revelation 5.

But after our quick glimpse into Heaven, here we are, back on planet Earth, trudging along on our life-pilgrimage. Lifting our tired limbs step by step, tramping along through the highways and byways of 21st century society. And we wonder about this environment of praise. It’s unusual to find praise expressed in such total abandonment in any of our Western denominational churches, though we might find it on the terraces at a football match. It is beyond me to understand how people can express exuberant praise honouring their football team, who are kicking around a bag filled with wind, when they can’t offer up the same praise to their Creator, who created the bag materials and provided the wind. But, apart from that digression, there is something within me that is bursting to join a praising throng of God’s people, as the Psalmist described. Abandoning the pre-conditioned reticence that seems to blight most people in my generation, and being able to enter into the “wow”-zone of God’s presence. Why? Because our Heavenly Father is worthy of all the praises we can muster, and then some. We cannot praise Him enough for all that He has done for us. But one day we will get that opportunity, those of us who have embraced God and His Son, Jesus, committing our lives to them in an eternal act of repentance and commitment. 

I’ve just had a mischievous thought – why don’t I go out and buy a tambourine. And then take it to church on Sunday. Hmmm…

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens!
Praise him from the skies!
Let every created thing give praise to the Lord,
for he issued his command, and they came into being.
He set them in place forever and ever.
His decree will never be revoked.
Psalm 148:1, 5-6 NLT

In this Psalm, the word “Praise” appears 13 times. The Psalmist runs through many of God’s attributes, encouraging us to respond as he did, with a heart full of praise. He starts by looking up into the skies. There he “sees” angels and God’s “armies of heaven”. He continues with his observations of the celestial bodies, our sun, moon, and the stars we can see. His gaze starts to fall, with a view of the clouds then replaced by his thoughts about created beings, formed at God’s command. By His spoken and irrevocable word. The Psalmist continues with what he sees around him. The inhabitants of the seas, the weather systems, the habitat and occupants of the lands, the society and the people who live within it. All in all, the Psalmist did a pretty good job in describing his world in just a few short verses. But above all, he exhorted his fellow countrymen to “Praise the Lord”.

Do we look around us at our world, with wonder and praise for its Creator? Or do we just take for granted what we see? Do we spend our time trying to explain it all away, as a chance happening on a random planet in a vast universe? Or do we see God’s plan in it all; the Creator who wanted to make mankind in His image? Or do we, like the Psalmist, become overwhelmed by our loving Heavenly Father, responding over and over again in expressing our praises to Him? The Psalmist’s view of God was so overwhelming that all he could do was offer up a “wow” from deep within him. We too must find that “wow” moment in our own lives. It is there for the finding, and as we utter praises from our lips, we will find ourselves in a different place. In His presence. In God’s “wow”-zone. 

Like a Butterfly

“Praise the Lord! 
How good to sing praises to our God! 
How delightful and how fitting! 
He heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds. 
He counts the stars and calls them all by name. 
How great is our Lord! 
His power is absolute! 
His understanding is beyond comprehension!
Psalms‬ ‭147:1, 3-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This Psalm is a wonderful jumble of thoughts. The Psalmist’s musings flit like a butterfly between exhortations to praise God, to how marvellously wonderful His creation is and then to how He cares for His creation. And in the process, he delivers the message that our Heavenly Father, so powerful that He can create, count and name the stars, also cares for human beings like you and I. Doesn’t that give us the picture of a God so complete that He is fully omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent? The Psalmist was right when he said that God’s “understanding is beyond comprehension”

No matter how hard we try, how many university degrees we get, how many years we spend in research, we will never even scratch the surface of what God is all about. Suffice to say that we must instead align our lives to follow Jesus. He taught us how to live. And He ultimately provided the remedy for our transgressions at Calvary. One day I firmly believe that we too will be able to see a bit more of God’s understanding; it will be mind-blowing and there will be only one possible response. “Praise the Lord!”

Hope in the Lord

“Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. 
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, 
and all their plans die with them. 
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their Helper, 
whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
He made heaven and earth, the sea, 
and everything in them. 
He keeps every promise forever.”
Psalms‬ ‭146:3-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A charismatic figure emerges in a nation and people are attracted to him, electing him as their leader. A familiar situation repeated many times over in ages past. And there have been many shipwrecked nations because they followed a man instead of following God. Great initial expectations are replaced by disappointment and despair. As David, the Psalmist, advises – putting our confidence in a person will not be helpful. And he points out that the grandiose plans the leaders have will die with them. A human being does not have the capability to always deliver on their promises, to provide help for everyone who needs it. When I read these verses I am reminded of the promises made by aspiring politicians when they seek election. Promises that often evaporate and disappear once their office has been realised. 

Thankfully, there is a “but” in this Psalm. When we put our hope and trust in God, we are 100% assured that He will deliver what He promises. Verse 6 finishes, “He keeps every promise forever”. But the meaning the Psalmist implies behind the word “hope” isn’t for something that might or might not happen. Like we hope it won’t rain today. Or the childish hope that Santa will bring a new train set for Christmas. The word “hope” in this Psalm implies an assurance that through our faith we will realise what we “hope” for. The first verse in Hebrews 11 says, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” 

So we align our lives to “the God of Israel”, our wonderful Creator God. He isn’t just a local “god” hovering over a nation state in the Middle East. As the verse says, “He made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them”. Because of His credentials as the Creator of everything, we can delight in our relationship with Him; in the knowledge that He helps us, replacing despair of human shortcomings with joy in His God-comings. Powerful people don’t make it onto the significance scale when God is around. 

God’s Word, the Bible, is full of His promises. Too many to list here. But just one has popped into my mind this morning. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Having the peace of God within us in a world lacking peace is a promise God will never fail to deliver.

God’s Open Hand

“The Lord helps the fallen 
and lifts those bent beneath their loads. 
The eyes of all look to You in hope; 
You give them their food as they need it. 
When You open Your hand, 
You satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭145:14-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

There was a time when God literally opened His hand to feed the Israelite nation as they floundered in the wilderness between Egypt and their Promised Land. A food they called “Manna” was found on the ground every morning; it contained all they needed for life and satisfied their physical needs for an unbelievable 40 years. There were times when they grumbled about its sameness, even yearning on occasion to return to Egypt where there were leeks and garlic, but nevertheless God fed them. And before we try and take the moral high ground and say how we would have been much more grateful, imagine all we had to eat was porridge. Every day. For 40 years. Hmmm…

Today we are presented with a bewildering array of different foods. Supermarket shelves bulge with fare of all kinds. During the pandemic, there have been hints of the fragility of the food supply, with empty shelves driving headlines at times. Sadly, we too easily take for granted the availability of food, forgetting that our provision is all through God’s grace.

The verses before us today paint a picture of our total dependability on our loving, Heavenly, Creator God. Firstly, we read that He sustains us, even in times of adversity, when life is hard, when we are crushed under loads to heavy for us to bear on our own. And when we look to God, in hope that He will come through for us, we find that He satisfies us with all that we need for life. He satisfies our hunger and thirst. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, and there, embedded in what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer, we find, “Give us today our daily bread.” Another translation reads, “Give us today the food we need”. Jesus thought it important enough to include the petition for food in His prayer guidance. 

We must have a continual attitude of gratitude for God’s provision. Our very existence is in His hands, and when He opens them we benefit. Before His throne of grace today we’re thankful. Deeply thankful. David, the Psalmist, finishes his Psalm with these words, “I will praise the Lord, and may everyone on earth bless His holy name forever and ever.”‭‭ That is the only thing we can do; God has done so much for us.