Death to Life

“So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.”
Romans 4:16-17 NLT

At the time when Abraham ”… believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6), God had just made the statement that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the number of stars. But Paul pointed out that “Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing”. At this point, Isaac had not even been born – that didn’t happen until Genesis 21. But Abraham continued to believe God that He would supply him a family that would be too numerous to count. 

Do we pilgrims believe that God resurrects the dead? There are of course several Biblical examples. Take Lazarus for example. We read in John 1139-43, the incredible account of his resurrection, ““Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”” Every time I read this passage I’m struck by its authenticity. All Martha could think about was that there would be the bad smell of a decaying corpse, which would have not taken too long in that warm climate. But Jesus had His eyes on His Father in Heaven, to God who was the Source of the power Jesus needed. 

But what about bringing the dead back to life today, on 21st Century Planet Earth? There are many Christians today who claim that such miracles died out with the original Apostles. But we mustn’t forget that every time a medic resuscitates a person who has suffered a cardiac arrest, we experience an intervention that would have been miraculous in first century society. However, Jesus gave His disciples an instruction, which we can read from Matthew 10:8, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!” The God I worship is all powerful, and is able to perform miraculous acts both through His people and directly. But the reality is that bringing the dead back to life is an unusual event. There is a book “Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts” authored by Craig Keener, that sets out an in depth account of miracles throughout the world since Bible days. Worth a read. But if God performed miracles in Biblical accounts, I fail to understand why He would suddenly stop. In the end, perhaps if we all had faith like Abraham’s, miracles would become commonplace. Paul believed that God could raise the dead, so why shouldn’t we believe that as well?

We pilgrims march through life without really knowing all that much about how things will work out each day and how our lives will end on this earth. But we do have a God who leads and guides us on our journey. And the closer we stay with Him, the more light we will receive to illuminate our paths. We are living in a time of much change. But God never changes. And having “faith like Abraham’s” will take us into incredible places, so be prepared! We’ll finish today with Psalm 71:3. David said to God, “Be my rock of safety where I can always hide. Give the order to save me, for You are my Rock and my Fortress”. 

Father God. You’re an amazing God, full of love, grace and good gifts. We worship You today. Amen.


The Whole Earth

“Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith.”
Romans 4:13 NLT

Paul said that God promised to give “the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants”. This is a statement that needs to be checked out. Is it true? In Genesis, God promised to give Abraham the “land” before him. We read in Genesis 15:7, “Then the Lord told him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession””. But that wasn’t the “whole earth”. Before we get hung up in Paul’s extrapolation, we need to remember that, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Psalm 24:1). And Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-19, “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. So Paul perhaps wasn’t wrong when he made the statement about giving the “whole earth” to Abraham, who has two types of descendant – those who can directly trace their natural lineage back to him, those in the “land”, and those spiritual descendants, like Abraham himself, who have been declared righteous before God because of their faith, those in the “whole earth”.

We are God’s representatives on Planet Earth, and He has given us a mission. In fact we call it a Great Commission. And that is to take the Gospel to every nation, to give those there the opportunity to become Abraham’s spiritual children. Too big a job? We will probably not see this happen in our lifetimes, although great strides are being made in that direction. I read a news report this morning of the activities of South Korean missionaries in spreading the Gospel and building churches in Nepal. They have been hugely successful with the Gospel message of God’s grace and love, even though converting people from one religion to another is illegal in Nepal. But there will come a day when God will draw a line under Jesus’ Commission and then the Revelation events will initiate a new Heaven and Earth, populated by people who are the spiritual descendants of Abraham.

We have a limited opportunity to reach our communities, our families, our friends, with the Gospel. We currently live in a season of God’s grace. We, like the Korean missionaries, mustn’t waste it.

Dear Father God. We take responsibly the fact that You have entrusted us pilgrims to share Your Gospel in the world in which we live. Please help us, and guide us, in spreading the message. In Jesus’ name. Amen,

Father Abraham

“Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are counted as righteous because of their faith. And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.”
Romans 4:9-12 NLT

The Jews claimed that Abraham was their spiritual father. We read recently Luke 3:8, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones”. Somehow most of the devout Jews, such as the Pharisees, generally believed that their ancestry was important enough to ensure their salvation. But John the Baptist was not politically correct at all when he lambasted them for their attitudes. Just to rub it in, we read what John next said in Luke 3:9, “Even now the axe of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire”. In other words John said to his listeners that they had to re-orientate their thinking, away from their heritage to their hearts. And his warning to them was graphic – if they didn’t shape up they would find that their lives would get rather warm, and not in a good way at that.

Paul, in our verses today from Romans 4, reminded his readers that Abraham was their spiritual father, because he became righteous before God because of his faith. And Abraham was not only the spiritual father of the Jews. He was also the spiritual father of all, circumcised or not, who put their faith in God.

Some time ago, when I finally put my faith in Jesus, believing Him for my salvation, I experienced what it means to have a spiritual father. He was the pastor of the church I attended at that time. I remember that after my decision and baptism he turned up at my house one day with a Bible and some Bible notes. And we had a long chat about the next steps I would be taking on my Christian journey. This was a new experience for me, because my upbringing was dominated by a strong mother, and a not so strong father. So I confess my initial reaction to my pastor was not as positive as it should have been, not having been used to fatherly guidance. But he persevered and he helped me greatly to get established in my faith. He, and his family, even invited me and my family to join them on a camping holiday, where I learnt even more from his example. I would go as far as to say that all Christians need a spiritual father through their pilgrimage in life. My early pastor wasn’t the only one to help me There have been others, and I have been fortunate enough to have been able to thank those faithful and committed men who fathered me in my early years as a Christian.

We pilgrims will soon fall by the wayside in our Christian journey if we deliberately cut ourselves off from our fellow brothers and sisters. We need our “Abrahams”. They may not tell us what want to hear. But hear them we must. And act upon what we hear. 

Dear Father God. We give You thanks for all the faithful brothers and sisters who help us day by day. We name them before You, asking for Your blessings to fall upon them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Abraham’s Faith

“Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.””
Romans 4:1-3 NLT

This is obviously Paul, the Jew, speaking here. Like all Jews, he could trace back his ancestry all the way to Abraham. In Genesis 15:5, God spoke to Abram, we read, “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!”” A bit further on, as we read in Genesis 17:4-7, God said, “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! “I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were very proud of the lineage back to Abraham, and thought that because they were people of the covenant, following the Law, they were safe, with their future assured. But John the Baptist was having none of their religiosity – we read in Matthew 3:9-10, “Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the axe of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire”.

The Jewish nation was founded on faith. Abraham’s faith. And that was before the Law had even been given to the Israelites. There’s nothing God likes more than our faith in Him. In fact, He likes it so much that, through faith, we are made righteous before Him. We read in Genesis that Abraham “believed God”. And so it is with us pilgrims. We believe God and all that He has done for us. What we believe is summarised in the Anglican “Apostles’ Creed”. It’s worth including with the blog today. We believe it. And we have faith that through our belief we achieve righteousness before God, as Abraham did all those years ago. But just saying the Creed does not constitute faith. We really need to believe what it says, with all the implications behind it. The “head” knowledge needs to migrate to our “hearts”, where there can be an outpouring of our love and worship for our amazing God.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Gentiles – God’s Own People?

“And if the Gentiles obey God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it.”
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭26‬-‭27‬ ‭NLT

This statement from Paul must have been highly upsetting to the Jews. How dare he say such things, they must have thought. But Jesus did much the same to the Pharisees. In John 8, the Apostle John recorded the gist of a conversation Jesus had with some Jewish people of His day. And the dialogue highlights exactly what Paul was saying to his Jewish Christian friends in Rome. We read what the Pharisees said in John 8:33, ““But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”” The Jews basically took the huff because Jesus seemed to be saying to them that they were missing the most important truths that have ever been exposed. They thought, wrongly of course, that because they were of Abrahamic descent, everything about their lives and future was OK.

To take a step back, Jesus made an astonishing claim about Himself when He said, “… You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free“. He went on to clarify that He was talking about being a slave to sin, and He went on, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36).‭‭ This was an incredible claim that Jesus made, and it dropped into the Pharisaical culture like an atom bomb. And to really rub it in, Jesus went on to challenge the whole basis for the Abrahamic religion practised by the Jews in His day. The Pharisees said, ““Our father is Abraham!” they declared. “No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example” (John 8:39). And Jesus led them straight back to the very foundations of their faith. We read in Genesis 15:6, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith“. 

It’s not religion that will save us. When we stand before God it will do our cause no good at all if all we can do is to base our claim to salvation on our religious ways. On how much we gave to the church offering, how often we went to church, how many hymns or carols we could sing by memory. How familiar we are with the denominational liturgies, or what church volunteering opportunities we became involved with. What really counts is our faith. The Apostle Paul said to the Philippians church, “… I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9). 

Paul said to the Roman Jews that His people are not those who, even though circumcised and Jews by birth, fail to obey His law. And he pointed out to them that the uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law have a mandate to condemn the Jews who don’t. 

We pilgrims today look back at the situation that erupted between Paul and the early Christians in Rome, and are perhaps tempted to take the moral high ground. But we shouldn’t, because we can fall into the same attitudes of mind, the same traps, that Paul’s readers had obviously done. Faith and obedience are the parameters that drive us to be true followers of Jesus. Not religion and liturgies.

Dear Father God. It’s all about You and Your love, not about us and our religions. We commit afresh to following Your Son Jesus today, with faith and obedience. Amen.