The Great Rock

“Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said, “I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.””
Romans 9:32-33 NLT

Once again, Paul displays his remarkable grasp and memory of Scripture by quoting the prophet Isaiah. He points out that those attempting to follow the Law will stumble over a “great rock in their path”, because they failed to trust God. An alternative translation to “keeping the Law” in Romans 9:32 is “doing good works”. 

The background to the “great rock” is the sad story of a people, the nation of Judah, who have rejected God and trusted in other things instead. Isaiah warned them about a time of annihilation coming their way through the Assyrians, but he encouraged his countrymen to trust in the Lord. Sadly, as they found out later, the “descendants of Jacob” (Isaiah 8:17) failed to trust in God at all, and continued to try to keep the Law, in parallel with devising human solutions to their impending problem. In Paul’s context in Romans 9 the stumbling would take place because of the complacency that comes from trusting in good works and legalism. But he ends this chapter in his letter by reminding his readers that trusting in God will lead to a good outcome. 

What can we pilgrims glean from these verses? Christians can also become legalistic and complacent, thinking that if they do good to others, who perhaps are not so fortunate as they are, this will stand them in good stead when they come face to face with God. But we must remember that we are not saved by doing good, but rather saved for doing good. Ephesians 2:8-10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The “great rock” of legalism is something to beware of. 

We pilgrims can also become legalistic because we can get caught up in the process of judging others. Like the Pharisees of old, we can have a tendency to look down on those who perhaps don’t believe in the way that we do, or who don’t share our faith and beliefs, or who fail to regularly attend church meetings. But we need to remember that Jesus said, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged” (Matthew 7:1-2). Psalm 50:6 makes it clear that there is only One qualified to be the Judge – God Himself. “Then let the heavens proclaim his justice, for God himself will be the judge”. James 4:12, “God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbour?”

We can avoid being trapped by the “great rock” of legalism through reconciling what we do and what we think. By that I mean that our good works must come out of our inner spiritual life. We avoid the “great rock” not by keeping rules, but by the power of the living God. Amen?

Dear Father God. We confess we so easily fall into the trap of legalistic behaviour. Please forgive us we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

God’s Standards

“What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.”
Romans 9:30-32 NLT

In Jesus’s day, there was a group of Jews called the Pharisees. They were extremely religious and very diligent in upholding the Jewish teachings. They were very careful to observe not just the Law, the Jewish Talmud, but also the oral traditions that had been handed down from the time of Moses. Jesus had little time for their legalisms, saying in one of His encounters with them, “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things” (Luke 11:42). What Jesus said highlighted their difficulty – they had become so legalistic and religious that they had lost sight what the Law was put in place for. The intent of the first commandment tended to be overlooked by them – Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength”. Jesus quoted this to them in another encounter, as recorded in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments””.

Paul in his letter outlined the dilemma that the Roman Christians, a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, faced. How could God consider the Gentiles righteous, but not His chosen people, the Jews. Both factions had come to faith in Christ, trusting in Him for their current and future lives, but perhaps there was a remaining thought in the Jewish minds, that this wasn’t very fair. All that effort expended on trying to keep the Law, but to no avail. The Law to the Jews had become a stumbling block. It tripped them up by giving them a false sense of security. Many today claim to be “good people” because they keep the laws of the land, of the societies in which they live. But does this allow them to ignore having a relationship with God? Many Jews claim to have kept the Law, but was there perhaps a residual nagging doubt that they might have missed one?

So, as Christian’s, are we rule followers, or God followers? Do we think that it is enough to be a good member of society, giving to charity, helping our neighbours and so on? Do we believe we are put right with God by making sure we do religious things, like going to church, or do we diligently maintain a relationship with Him, trusting Him, loving Him, following Him? As I have written before, it is all about the state, the condition, of our hearts. God’s standards are too high to be reached by human efforts alone. 

Father God, we fall far short of the perfection You desire. But I thank You that through Jesus we can truly be righteous in Your presence. Thank You. Amen.

Isaiah’s Warning

“And Isaiah said the same thing in another place: “If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of our children, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah.””
Romans 9:29 NLT

Paul included a Scripture reference to a verse spoken by Isaiah, who, in turn, referred to an act of God’s judgement on two towns named Sodom and Gomorrah. Even today there will be many who know what these towns were guilty of, with a sexual act even named after the inhabitants of Sodom. 

Genesis 13:13 recorded the problem with Sodom and Gomorrah, “But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord”. In fact, in Genesis 18:20, God involved Himself personally. We read, “So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant””. And in Genesis 18 we read about how Abraham interceded for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, in case there were some good people in these towns, to prevent their destruction. Genesis records the experience of two angels who were sent to Sodom, and the subsequent destruction of all the wicked towns and villages in that area. However, Abraham’s intercessory prayers were heeded and his nephew Lot, along with his daughters, were saved. In those days, judgement and justice followed sinful acts. Aren’t we glad we live in this age of God’s grace?

But Paul quoted Isaiah 1:9 in our verse from Romans 9 today. The first chapter of Isaiah is a prophetic message to a rebellious and sinful people. The prophecy he recorded is just as relevant to Western societies today. Isaiah 1:2, 4, “Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. …  Oh, what a sinful nation they are— loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him”. Sound familiar? Isaiah continues, “Why do you continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? …” (Isaiah 1:5a). And then we reach the verse quoted by Paul, “If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of us, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9).

Isaiah’s prophecy was a stern warning from God, and he had some specific observations about the problem. We read, “Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.” Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.” When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? … I want no more of your pious meetings. When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims” (Isaiah 1:10, 12-13b, 15). It’s all about the state of our hearts. Do we have “heart dis-ease”, not really connecting with God, but going through the motions anyway? We go to church but often wonder why. We kneel when we are supposed to. We outwardly put our body and hands into a prayer pose, but there is nothing within us that supports it. We say all the right things but don’t back them with our thoughts and spirits. Isaiah wrote in chapter 29:13, “And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote”. Aren’t we glad about God’s patience?

There is only one way into God’s presence, and that is with our hearts firmly aligned with His. We stay close to Him, trusting and following Him in the ways He has ordained for us. And, like Abraham, we intercede for the people in society around us, grateful for having the time to communicate the Good News of eternal life. There will be a day when the earth as we know it will be destroyed, but until then we keep plugging away, grateful for God’s grace and mercy.

Dear God. We have promised to serve You until the end. There is no other way to eternal life. Amen.

The Remnant

“And concerning Israel, Isaiah the prophet cried out, “Though the people of Israel are as numerous as the sand of the seashore, only a remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth quickly and with finality.” And Isaiah said the same thing in another place: “If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of our children, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah.””
Romans 9:27-29 NLT

In Genesis 15:5 we read about God’s promise to Abram regarding his descendants, “Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have””! It’s not often that we can look up on a clear night and see the amazing canopy of points of light because of light pollution. Abram of course would have been well acquainted with the heavenly display, street lamps yet to be invented. Although there could be as many as one septillion stars in the universe we can only see a relative few without technological aids. But Abram would have been overwhelmed by the promise. In Genesis 32:12, Jacob prayed, “But you promised me, ‘I will surely treat you kindly, and I will multiply your descendants until they become as numerous as the sands along the seashore—too many to count’”. Another huge number. But in all of this neither Abraham or Jacob would know that their Israelite descendants would fall into hard times of rebellion and sin and only a remnant would be saved. What went wrong?

In 1 Kings 19 we read the story of Elijah after the amazing miracle on Mount Carmel. Depressed, he ended up on Mount Sinai, and having a conversation with God. Part of his depression was caused by the idolatry of his fellow Israelites, but we read in 1 Kings 19:14, “[Elijah] replied again, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too””. Thankfully for him, God put him right, as we read in 1 Kings 19:18, “Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him”! Elijah was convinced that the Israelites had broken their covenant with God and the situation for them was terminal. But God has always preserved a remnant of His people, with whom He brings about His will and purposes. 

We pilgrims are part of a modern day remnant. In my community there is only a small number of people who would claim to be Christian, and practising their faith. And that probably applies in most Western communities. Jesus warned about the small numbers of those chosen to follow Him. We read in Matthew 7:13-14, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it”. So many people are walking that “highway to hell”. Some are even proud about it, singing a song popularised by the rock group, AC/DC. But we pilgrims must maintain our efforts to show those in our communities, our families and friends, where the narrow gate is. The default road is the broad one. No effort is required to walk it. Comfort is obtained by the numbers of fellow travellers – “Well, everyone does it!”. There is a popular misconception that lemmings commit mass suicide at certain stages in their population life cycles. But for them this is not a conscious decision, made for the good of the remainder of the species. It is more the result of foolishness, as they look for less densely populated areas. There is a comparison to be made between the foolishness of lemmings and the foolishness of mankind who have chosen the wide gate leading to hell, as Jesus warned. 

Jesus said that the road to life was difficult, and only a few ever follow that path. But the rewards are eternal, leading to an immortal life spent in God’s presence and well worth the privations experienced in this life. Have we found that narrow gate? Do we believe in Jesus and follow Him, day by day? Then we are on the difficult road that is the only way to find life, abundant life beyond all that we could dream of. Only a pilgrim remnant travel it, but we’re in good company. Sadly, I know so many people who have been shown the narrow gate, but have declined the invitation to open it and pass through. God’s patience is extraordinary, and He won’t give up on His creation until the very end. And as we pilgrims journey along on the narrow paths towards to eternal life, we pray for the opportunity to grab others by the hand, to show them the way, the only way, God’s way.

Father God. We pray for our friends and families, our neighbours and community, that they would find the narrow gate before it is too late. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Not My People

“Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea, “Those who were not my people, I will now call my people. And I will love those whom I did not love before.” And, “Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’””
Romans 9:25-26 NLT

Imagine how the Gentile Roman recipients of Paul’s letter must have felt when they read these verses. God, through His grace and mercy, has extended His love to all those not of Jewish heritage but who called upon His name anyway. Paul quoted verses from the Old Testament prophet Hosea – Hosea 2:23 and 1:10. But the entirety of the prophet Hosea’s message didn’t come to fruition until the early Apostles started to evangelise the world of their day. It wasn’t easy for the Jewish men. Acts 10 gives the fascinating account of Peter, and how God gave him a vision about telling the Good News to a Gentile believer, Cornelius. This man, a Roman centurion, we are told, was a God-fearing man who, one day, had a visit from an angel who scared the life out of him. He was told to send for Peter, who was living at the time in a place called Joppa. In parallel with this, Peter received a vision. We read in Acts 10:11-13, “He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them””. Peter wasn’t happy about this, because the sheet was full of animals that Jews were not supposed to eat. He said in Acts 10:14, ““No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean””. But the response to him in the vision was, “ … “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean”” (Acts 10:15). This happened three times and then there was a knock at the door from the men that Cornelius had sent to find him. We can read how Cornelius and his family became believers in the rest of the passage in Acts 10.

Jesus of course prepared the way for salvation for all men. The famous verses we read – John 3:16-17 say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him“.  But Jesus Himself was only sent to God’s people, the Jews. Of course, He couldn’t be everywhere. Jesus told the Syrophoenician woman, as recorded in Matthew 15:24, “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’“. ‭‭But He commissioned His disciples to take the Gospel beyond the Jews, as we read in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age‘”.

Today there are many Christian denominations. But regardless of which one we belong to, we know that Jesus must be at the centre. The liturgy, the prayers – they must all point to Him. He is truly the Son of God and all that we do in our churches must be to His glory. Sadly, there are one or two Christian sects who have demoted Jesus to little more than a prophet. However, the old Apostle John, living as he did in an age of all sorts of erroneous claims about Jesus, wrote in 1 John 4:1-3, “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here“.

We pilgrims are truly grateful that God’s grace even extended to us Gentiles. Wherever we are living in the world, or whichever race we belong to, God’s grace and His Good News reached us. There is no where we can go to escape it. And as we extend that invitation to those around us, we remember how God’s love and grace saved us from a lost eternity. Let us never forget!

Dear God. We are so grateful for all You have done for us. And for extending Your love and grace to pilgrims everywhere. we praise You today. Amen.

God’s Glory

“In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.”
Romans 9:22-24 NLT

We read in Paul’s writings to the Roman Christians the strange concept, that God’s patience with sinners will expose “the riches of His glory”. And that glory will be focused on all those people who have been shown mercy, selected from both Jewish and non-Jewish peoples. What is all this about?

First of all, we have to consider what God’s glory is all about. There is something about our Heavenly Father that emanates all goodness, love, compassion and all the other attributes we can find about Him, and many we can’t. They are all present in His character and are personified with a perfection we cannot ever start to understand. And it’s all encapsulated in His Spirit. We humans often look at another person and marvel at their patience and compassion for someone who is sick, or suffering. Perhaps someone with physical or mental disabilities, and we think that we could never do or be the same as them. But God’s patience and compassion is infinite, to the extent that He even sent His own Son to die for us, and He gives us a lifetime of opportunity to choose His ways. Perhaps that’s a little glimpse of His glory. 

We also get a glimpse of the glory of His majesty. The Israelites saw a manifestation of His glory on Mount Sinai, through smoke and the ground shaking. We read in Exodus 19:18, “All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently”.  Moses was prevented from seeing God’s glory. We read in Exodus 33:18, 20-22, “Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.” …  “But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by””. In Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in the Temple, we read what the Seraphim were calling out in Isaiah 6:3, “They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!””

In the New Testament, we read about the glory of Jesus in John 1:14, “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son”. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 we read, “For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ”. 

We see a glimpse of God’s glory in a sunrise or sunset. Psalm 19:1, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship”.  The delicate construction and beauty of a flower. The beauty of God’s creation is a manifestation of His glory.

But Paul in today’s verses from Romans 9 we read that only some will see His glory. We have to turn to 2 Corinthians 4 again to find out why. “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We pilgrims are an honoured few. We have seen God’s glory, exposed in our hearts when we decided to turn to Him through Jesus. Yes, the worries and anxieties of our time here on earth will try and hide His glory from us, but it is still there nevertheless. And one day we will see Him as He really is, with a glory so wonderful that no words can describe it. Have you, my reader, lost sight of what we can see and experience today? Have the trials and tribulations of life, or a debilitating sickness taken it away? Be assured – God’s glory is still there to be seen in Jesus. That’s why He came. And He is still with us through His Spirit.

Phil Wickham wrote a song a few years ago – “You’re beautiful”. It proclaims the glory of God, echoing what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 19:1.
I see Your face in every sunrise
The colours of the morning are inside Your eyes
The world awakens in the light of the day
I look up to the sky and say … You’re beautiful.

Father God. Thank You for Jesus and all He did for us. We look into Your face today and see Your glory. We worship You today. Amen.

God is Patient

“No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction.”
Romans 9:20-22 NLT

Paul highlights in his letter the reality, the truth, that God is very patient with everyone, even those who deserve an immediate response to their wickedness. We often joke about standing away from a person who has uttered a blasphemy, or stated something scandalously evil, just in case a lightning bolt from Heaven zaps them on the spot, turning them into toast. But the reality is that God is patient and doesn’t respond immediately with any form of judgement. However, everything we ever do is saved up in books, to be opened some time in the future. In Revelation 20:12, we read, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books”. 

Miscarriages of justice are depressingly common. Not, I should add, just for those who are wrongly convicted of a crime, but for the multitude of those who commit crimes and then get away with it, because they are not caught by the police. Many others fail to account for their misdemeanours because there is insufficient evidence to convict them. We humans want to see justice done in our lifetimes, not having to wait for God’s Great White Throne. But God is patient because He knows that He has plenty of time. While a person is alive they have the opportunity to repent of their sins. Should they refuse then on the coming Judgement Day He will remind them of this fact. No-one will ever get away with their sins.

There is much going on in this world that causes God to get angry. The early Israelites made God very angry through their rebellion and sins. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 9:8, “Even at Mount Sinai you made the Lord so angry he was ready to destroy you”. Moses was up the mountain receiving God’s commandments written onto tablets of stone but the Israelites were having a right old party down below, with a golden calf to dance around. God said to Moses, “ … I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Leave me alone so I may destroy them and erase their name from under heaven. Then I will make a mighty nation of your descendants, a nation larger and more powerful than they are” (Deuteronomy 9:13-14). I’m sure there is much about what we do and say that makes God angry. He will be patient while we are alive, but after death there is no escape from the consequences of our sin.

I have heard many times people say to me that they are a good person, and God will never send them to hell. They claim to be good because they give to charity, or live a life free of crime and even motoring offences. There is a Scottish saying about a person, that there is not a bad bone in their body. But God sees differently. Our bar for judging someone, especially ourselves, is quite low. But God’s bar is so high that no-one can possibly achieve a state where they will be considered “not guilty” just by their own efforts. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”. There is an analogy, that if the pass mark for an exam is 50%, and one person gets 49% and another gets 35%, then they both fail. The person with the higher mark cannot claim that they have passed the exam. In life, we spend our time in accruing marks on a Heavenly exam paper. Sadly, it’s an exam that no-one can pass in their own strength.

But there is Good News! We read in Romans 3:24-26, “Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus”. Such love! Such grace! How can we ever thank Jesus enough for what He did for us. 

Dear Lord Jesus. Once again we thank You for what You did for mankind at the Cross of Calvary. We worship You today. Amen.

Jars of Clay

“No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction.”
Romans 9:20-22 NLT

Paul picks up the story of a potter, working with clay, and making a number of different jars. He probably remembered the Scripture we looked at recently – Isaiah 45:9, “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” It may be difficult for us proud people to accept, but we are no different really to a clay jar. God made us, and the potter made a jar. Both very different in complexity and function, but created nevertheless. But the analogy has other implications – a person can end up either a thing of beauty or something else. 

I spent time yesterday with a two-week-old baby boy and his loving parents. Enjoying the marvel of creation, and this perfect new life. A new entry into this world with so much potential. The analogy with the clay pot ends here, because this new life will grow and develop from a baby into an adult. Not so for our clay jar. But we must never forget that God brought the new baby into this world. The go-to Scripture is in Psalm 139:13-16, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed”.

Somehow, as I look at myself and who I am, unique in every way, I think of the loving Father who formed me. He put together a design just for me, and brought it to fruition. And looking at myself in this way puts a different complexion on how I live my life. I have only God to thank. He didn’t make a failure. He made a person that started right at the moment of conception, that grew under His careful and watching eye into who I am today. Yes, sin has taken its toll, corrupting and distorting, but He allowed for that through Jesus and His sacrifice at Calvary. And one day God will give me that perfect body we read about in 1 Corinthians 15:53, “For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies”. 

Let us pilgrims take a fresh look at ourselves today. We thank God for making us just as we are, not as who we would like to be. He had, and has, a plan for each one of us, and put us together in a way that will enable us to fulfil that plan. How amazing is that! We don’t have to fret because other “clay jars” seem better than us. We are just as God wants us to be. After all, he is the Master Creator Potter, perfectly skilled in His craft. And after He made us, He destroyed the moulds. The blueprints were discarded. And yesterday’s new baby is another unique creation, with plans and purposes already set out for him.

Dear Father God. We thank You for new life. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a new baby coming into this world. I pray a blessing on the new baby introduced into my family, through Your grace and design. And in this time of spring, I thank You for making all things new. Amen.

Blaming God

“So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen. Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?” No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?””
Romans 9:18-20 NLT

Paul introduces the word “blame” into his writings. If there is anything that man is good at, it is playing the blame game. And God is not immune from accusations, allegations, and the blame for things when they go wrong. Paul warned his readers that it is a bit much for the created being to blame their creator. How can a person have the gall to say that if God made me, what does He expect if I behave in an inappropriate way. Such a response or attitude is something to invite a lightning bolt from Heaven, zapping us out of existence. Thankfully our Heavenly Father is not just loving but He is patient with us as well.

Why do people blame God for calamities that affect them or those around them? We always need to find a reason for things that happen outwith our control, things that can be devastating, life threatening, and so on. The sudden or unexplained death of a loved one. A medical diagnosis bringing bad news. A car accident that produces a life changing outcome. A national disaster or change of government. Or perhaps disasters we have no control over and yet may have affected us deeply. Often, people blame God when the rest of the time they don’t even acknowledge that He exists. They never go to church. They never pick up a Bible. If they are asked, they may even deny that there is such a Being as God. But to then subsequently blame Him for the cat being run over in the street is bizarre. It’s not just individuals who apportion blame to our Heavenly Father. Insurance companies refer to “Acts of God” in their policy documents. This often appears in “Force Majeure” contract clauses, eliminating their liability, should an unforeseen event occur.

Arguing with God, or blaming Him when things go wrong, is not a new phenomenon. Isaiah wrote in 45:9-10, “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’ How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father, ‘Why was I born?’ or if it said to its mother, ‘Why did you make me this way?’” However, Bible readers will also have read Isaiah 45:7, “I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things”. 

When we blame someone for a situation that affects us and those around us, we are finding fault with them. So if I fall over an obstacle such as a discarded pair of shoes, I blame the person who left them in my way. They messed up. Their untidiness and neglect literally caused my downfall. If we extend blame to God for something that happens, or doesn’t happen, then we are effectively saying He messed up. But nothing is further from the truth. We should remember what Paul wrote to his Roman readers. “Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” In other words, what right do we have to question our loving Heavenly Father, who made us? 

Who or what, therefore, is responsible for the disasters that inflict the human race? If not God, then who? There is only one answer really. It has to be the impact of trying to live in a world blighted and corrupted by sin. The wars, caused by arrogant and selfish national leaders. The cost of living and commodity shortages caused by greed. The disputes with neighbours due to a failure to communicate and compromise. The sudden cancer diagnosis, the loss of a job. The list is endless. Should God intervene? Or bring healing? Or stop a war? I’m sure He does sometimes, but most of the time sin has to take its course. So we pilgrims stay close to our Heavenly Father, truly grateful for His grace and mercy, keeping short accounts. Only in God can we find the answer to life’s problems and struggles. As the old song says, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”. Oh, about that pair of shoes – I’d better put them away before someone falls over them!

Dear Father. Please forgive us when we try and blame You for negative events and times of uncertainty. Please help us to see what is going on, or what has happened, through Your eyes, because Your perspective is all that we need. Thank You. Amen.

Hardened Hearts (2)

“So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen. Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?” No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?””
Romans 9:18-20 NLT

Paul puts himself in the shoes of his readers. He asks the question – if God has hardened people’s hearts, can they be blamed for not responding to Him? A follow on question might be, if God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) why would he apparently prevent most people from responding to His grace and mercy? 

The place to start is probably a scene in a Garden with three actors – Adam, Eve and a serpent. The introduction of sin into a sinless world automatically included a hardening of hearts, as selfish and godless thoughts grew a layer of callouses around hearts that were previously soft and attentive to God. And the same condition has afflicted all of mankind, up to the present day. Has hard-heartedness been a condition caused by God or by sin? I’m reminded of an oyster, a shellfish that deals with an irritating grain of sand by depositing layers of calcium carbonate around it to mitigate the irritation. A human being will allow callouses to build up around a sinful heart so that the voice of the conscience within becomes increasingly quieter. The thing is, God allows it to happen because He has granted to mankind free choice. Human beings can choose to sin or not to sin. But perhaps God has hardened hearts in judgement for the sin that came through Adam. 

Happily, hardened hearts are not a terminal condition. Through God’s grace and mercy, hearts can be softened – that’s why Jesus came to this world. Heart surgery was, and is, His speciality. The layers of hardness are peeled back to expose the softness of a repentant sinner’s heart, open and pliable in God’s hands.  

But there is hope for a hard-hearted people. We read in Ezekiel 11:19-20, “And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God”. In the context of Ezekiel’s day, this was when the exiles were returning from captivity, through choice. Many of course stayed behind. And the same will apply to those exiled in their sins, and who make the choice to turn or return to God. Through God’s grace and mercy, He will do what is necessary to turn a hard stone into a “tender, responsive heart”. 

So today we pilgrims once again follow the advice of a psalmist, who wrote in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life”. That’s where we start when we have perhaps found ourselves exiled away from our home with God, into the darkness of the societies around us. It’s a dangerous prayer to pray. We might find stuff within us we rather not have known about. Painful to consider and deal with but God has our future at heart. There is no room for hard hearts calloused by sin in Heaven. God is in the business of softening hearts, – if we let Him.

Dear God. Thank You for Your grace. You are so concerned about each one of us that You never stop loving us and forgiving us when we confess our sins. Thank You. Amen.