Regrets

“No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.”
Romans 3:11-12 NLT

Paul’s grasp and memory retention of Scripture verses from what we call the Old Testament was extraordinary. Google didn’t exist in those days. Not only did Paul remember Bible passages, but he also knew how to use them, or how to interpret them, in connection with his daily life, and the lives of those around him. So here he is continuing to remember and write down Scriptures that apply to what he had been told about the Christians in Rome. He hadn’t been to visit them of course, so the intelligence he had received must have been solid enough for him to write the words he did. And we’re grateful that he did, because his words are just as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago.

In the verses we are looking at today, Paul is quoting from Psalms 14 and 53. The implication behind Paul’s thinking is that wisdom is associated with God and all that He demands. Perhaps we can rationalise and say that the societal factors applying in Paul’s day were different to 21st Century Western societies. Two thousand years ago, the pre-Christian pagan society in places like Rome was being influenced by the early Christians, who brought with them the wisdom of God and all His ways. But Paul mourned the apostasy of those early Christians, quoting well-worn scriptures penned in a day when people had largely turned their backs on God. 

It is said that we in the West now live in a post-Christian society, where the reality of the Godly roots that founded our laws and society have been hijacked by ignorant and foolish people, who claim them for their own. And now such people are introducing a new morality not based on God. Just look at recent legislation introduced by the Scottish government. The verses that Paul quoted still apply today, as they always have done. Mankind hasn’t changed, with sin often getting the upper hand in the minds of our leaders and politicians, drawing them into paths that are unwise. Rather than seek God for the right way, they follow their sinful inclinations and choose a wrong way. 

Paul wrote the words that he did in the hope and expectation that something redemptive would happen in the hearts of those who heard them. We often remember that God never changes, and we are so fortunate that his unchanging character and ways are recorded for us in faithfully-translated books we call Bibles. Collections of God’s sayings that are founded on the willingness of faithful people to record what He said to them through His Spirit. Paul’s letter was addressed to God’s people who had lost their way a bit. And it probably brought many of them back on track, as the Holy Spirit brought Paul’s words to life in their day to day lives.

We pilgrims too have an opportunity to dig into the Holy Scriptures, seeking God there for the sake of our societies. Bringing to life the wisdom of God, influencing a godless society largely populated by people who “have turned away”. We look for opportunities to provide alternative Bible-based morality and laws because we know that therein lies the wisdom of God. 

Father God, we thank You again for Your Word, the Bible. So full of wisdom and Your thoughts. Please encourage us to read and re-read it, because it contains the Words of eternal life. Amen.

Sexual Sin

“They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭25‬-‭27‬ ‭NLT

These are difficult and painful verses to write about, and expound on. There are not many sermons preached on these words of Paul. His words are hard-hitting and uncompromising. And they explicitly destroy at a stroke the direction society is going in. But at the time of writing, I can put down a few thoughts, though soon, perhaps even in my lifetime, by doing so I will be committing a criminal act, if certain lobbyists have their ways. Scripture verses such as we are looking at today are at the cutting edge of 21st Century morality. Most people will concede that the Bible’s teaching on sins such as murder or theft, are proper and acceptable. In fact many of the laws underpinning our society are based on passages in the Bible such as the Ten Commandments. But when it comes to God’s laws that apply to sexual sins, then a storm of protest and derision erupts.

In recent years I have encountered people who are questioning the veracity of God’s Word, the Bible. Yes, as blunt and uncompromising as that. One person went to the extent to say, “The Bible is wrong then”. But I should pause and explain the background to this extraordinary statement and the other issues I have encountered. The people concerned have encountered the Bible’s uncompromising position on same sex relationships, and the verses we are looking at today are just one example of several that we can find in Scripture. A person I know, a new Christian, had a nephew in a same sex relationship and had no problem with it. Their justification was that as long as the two people were “in love” then there was no harm in the relationship. At a subsequent Bible Study a passage of Scripture similar to what we are reading today spawned a discussion about homosexuality, resulting in the person’s rejection of God’s Word. They were unable to reconcile the fact that the life style chosen by their relative was not acceptable in the Kingdom of God. In another situation a person in a church congregation, who has a child transitioning from one sex to another, adopted a similar position. In both cases, the uncompromising Biblical position was directly and firmly counter to their own beliefs.

In the Old Testament, God, through Moses, provided a list of forbidden sexual practices and we read in Leviticus 18:22, “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin”.  And there are many others. God’s position on forbidden sexual relationships is clear, and the violation of His laws in the Old Testament was dramatic – stoning to death if discovered. In the New Testament, as Paul wrote in Romans 1:26a, “That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desire…”. Being abandoned by God is a terrible place in which to find ourselves. 

Before we pilgrims try and claim the moral high ground, there are many other instances of sexual sins that we might be guilty of as well. We may well tut-tut if we see or come across a homosexual couple, but what about the adulterous or sexual relationships outside of marriage? What about the lustful glances at a woman/man, as exposed by Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart”? There is no sin grading system. Some sins are not worse than others, because all sins are still sin. Are we pilgrims all totally pure and innocent of sexual sins? We have to remember what Paul said in Romans 3:23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”. But thankfully, Paul continued in the next two verses, “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”. Through Jesus we have a way to forgiveness.

So how do we pilgrims deal with verses such as the ones today? We have on the one hand traditional, Bible-believing, Christians, for whom the principle of the inviolability and infallibility of Scripture is beyond discussion. On the other hand we have liberal Christians who claim that the Church has to move with the times and be more accepting of the practices in the world around us. And we have a whole raft of sexual sins, not just those listed above, that are emerging into the Western society’s public domain, into the light of acceptance by both society and certain church denominations. A counter-cultural clash that, I fear, will not end well for those following, and believing in, the Word of God. In recent years legislation has been introduced to formally legalise same sex marriages, and ministers in certain denominations are being instructed to officiate at same sex weddings by their church hierarchy. And although at the present time, a person’s faith is protected legally, it will probably not last forever. Already in parts of Australia, legislation has been introduced making it a crime even to pray with homosexuals, if their sexual orientation is the subject of the prayers.

We pilgrims approach all sinners the same. Without judgement and condemnation. What the nature of the sin is, is not the issue. What is the issue, however, is how willing we are to extend the message of God’s love, grace and forgiveness towards all sinners, accepting the person, and praying for the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance. And always remembering the words of Paul to the Galatian believers, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself“. (Galatians 6:1).

Dear Lord. We pray, and keep on praying, for our government, for our educationalists, our churches and all who stand on Your Word in their lives. And please help us to stand up and be counted for the inviolability of Your Word, Holy Scripture. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Deeper Truths

“But I also have a message for the rest of you in Thyatira who have not followed this false teaching (‘deeper truths,’ as they call them—depths of Satan, actually). I will ask nothing more of you except that you hold tightly to what you have until I come.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:24-25‬ ‭NLT

It appears that not all the Thyatiraeans followed the false teaching of the Jezebel in their midst. The church there must have been divided and in conflict, riven by the sinful practices of some of their number. Perhaps the church leadership were involved in the sin as well, or they were at least turning a blind eye to what was going on. Perhaps they were intimidated by the Jezebel woman, afraid of the prophetic messages she was uttering. Afraid to cross her in fear of being cursed. Or elevating church unity above the sinful practices. We don’t know. But what we do know is that there were some in their fellowship who had rejected Jezebel’s false teaching.

In His message through John, Jesus called the sinful practices promoted through Jezebel “false teaching“, coming straight from the devil himself. Apparently, its adherents tried to sanitise the sin by calling it “deeper truths“. And Jesus commended those who refused to get involved. He encouraged them to keep going in their faith. To maintain its purity. And not to let go of what they believed. 

The problem of letting sinful practices enter the church is one not just relegated to history. It is still with us today. There is a constant battle between those who maintain the integrity of the Bible and believe it is the inspired Word of God and want to follow its ways and teachings, and those who want to replace or ignore certain parts of it so that social customs of the day can be absorbed into church or denominational liturgies. The debate in the US over the practice of abortion is such an example because the Bible is clear that new life starts at the moment of conception, even though Western thinking says otherwise, as we all are aware. And there are other issues regarding relationships and sexual customs that are at odds with the traditional and Biblical teaching of the Bible. So the question must be asked – would Jesus be equally as scathing over these matters today as He was 2000 years ago? To bring it up to date, will He consign those who allow sinful practices into their denominations or churches to a “bed of suffering“? Will He withdraw His Spirit from such places allowing them to wither and die, cutting them off from the source of His sustenance and life (John 15)?

For today’s pilgrims, we must stick tenaciously to Biblical teaching, checking out our faith regularly to ensure compliance. This is not a legalistic practice. We have a loving Heavenly Father and the last thing we would want to do is to engage in anything that would drive a wedge between Him and us. Bluntly, if God has said that something is sin, then it has to be repented of to maintain the purity of our relationship with Him. Psalm 24:3-5 says, “Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies. They will receive the Lord’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their Saviour“. That’s the place I want to be – receiving the Lord’s blessing and in a right relationship with my loving Heavenly Father. 

Dear Lord. We pray for the discernment we need to call out the devil’s practices. We pray for wisdom when we come up against sinful ways in our churches. And we pray for forgiveness for all our sinful thoughts and deeds. Please help us in our daily walks in this life, as we look to You for our spiritual food. Please help us to maintain the integrity of Your Word in all we do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Two-Edged Sword

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Pergamum. This is the message from the One with the sharp two-edged sword”

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭2:12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In his vision, the old Apostle John moves on to write down Jesus’ message to the church at Pergamum. This was a famous and illustrious city spanning Greek and Roman periods in history, and extensive ruins still exist. However, there is no longer a church there. But in the first century, it contained a Christian congregation, apparently active and thriving, but with a few problems that Jesus pointed out to them. More to come on that.

Again this message was directed to an angel. This time the “angel of the church in Pergamum”, probably a reference to both the church leaders and the whole church membership. But what is the significance of “the One with the sharp two-edged sword”? In the previous chapter, John received a vision of the Son of Man. He was standing in the middle of seven lampstands, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. We receive a good description of what the meaning of this sword is from Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires“. The “sharpest two-edged sword” is indeed a powerful weapon but the writer to the Hebrews informed them that the Word of God is even sharper. Imagine the most fearsome and devastating weapon available to our armies today and then realise that the Word of God is still even more powerful. It fact it is even more powerful than any man-made device, for one simple reason. Any earthly weapon can indeed kill a human being, bringing on their physical death, but the Word of God can bring condemnation, judgement and eternal death for the same human being, in his or her life after their physical death. But, uniquely amongst weapons of destruction, it can also bring life, everlasting life for those who obey its precepts. That is why the “sharp two-edged sword” is so powerful. The Word of God is His legacy, His power, His manual for a life to be lived His way, and all encapsulated in a book always accessible to His followers everywhere. No wonder that pariah and totalitarian states want the Bible banned – they are only too aware of its power. In fact, it is so powerful that it has the capability to bring down their evil regimes.

If a pilgrim was ever asked what he should take in his back pack, one of the most important items has to be his Bible. In our pilgrimage through life we must have it. We will not reach our Heavenly goal without it. And one day we will discover that the truths contained within the Book will be transformed into glory for our wonderful God and Father.

Dear Lord God. We thank Your word, the Bible. Please help us to never neglect its reading. May its truths indeed penetrate to our very “innermost thoughts and desires”, helping us to live our lives Your way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Fatherly Instructions

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”
Ephesians‬ ‭6:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Now here’s a novel idea. Bringing up children by applying Biblical principles? Whatever next! But humour aside, here in the UK we live in a society that has lost its way, when it comes to bringing up children. The state is increasingly interfering with the rights of parents to bring up their children in the way they believe best. Social workers, teachers and the NHS, all have their own agendas, which often sacrifice Biblical principles, that have stood the test of time, on the altar of progressive and unproven thinking and theories. For example, in schools children are taught about sexual matters far removed from Biblical principles. Child gender issues abound with so-called experts agonising over the best way forward. If only they opened a Bible, they would find the answers to their dilemmas.

The Bible has a lot to say about bringing up children, both directly but also in an implied way. Way back in Deuteronomy, we read this, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up”. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7). The way that we bring up children starts with us. With our own adult relationship with God, with the way we live our Christian lives. Our children look on. They see whether or not we are faking it. They can smell hypocrisy from afar. Parents living a life devoted to God and each other will set our children role models that will shape their own lives. And by so doing, we instruct our children in the ways of the Lord. 

My own children were fortunate enough to have been brought up in a Christian home. That is not to say that my wife and I always got things right. But they were able to watch us resolve our difficulties and move on in the Lord. The church teaching also helped them. I can remember that my daughter, in her High School biology class, challenged her teacher’s evolutionary beliefs, getting her in the end to agree that there was also a case for the creation model. Evolution is taught as fact in UK schools in spite of the difficulties with evolutionary theory that are conveniently glossed over. But that’s a subject for another day.

God is the Father over a large and growing family of children. He sets out the family rules, rules based on His love for His children, rules designed for our good and the good of His family as a whole. The Bible is our Source of discipline and instruction. We do well to read it, distilling out every Divine thought, every loving hint, always praying that our Father will help us in aligning our ways to His ways, our thoughts to His thoughts, our life to His life. And in the process teaching our children to do the same.

Obey for Wisdom

“Praise the Lord! 
I will thank the Lord with all my heart
as I meet with His godly people. 
How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! 
All who delight in Him should ponder them.
All He does is just and good, 
and all His commandments are trustworthy. 
He has paid a full ransom for his people. 
He has guaranteed His covenant with them forever. 
What a holy, awe-inspiring name He has!
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. 
All who obey His commandments will grow in wisdom. 
Praise Him forever!”
Psalms‬ ‭111:1-2, 7, 9-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A Psalm that starts and ends with the praise of God. And the Psalmist scratches down his thoughts of God’s goodness and mercy, His provision to His people, His trustworthy commandments and the wisdom available to His people. In this Psalm there is perhaps even a prophetic glimpse of the coming Messiah, peering round the edge of the parchment. 

But there is a profound, far-reaching, and even mind-blowing statement in verse 10. Can we really achieve “true wisdom” by following God’s commandments? It might be said that there are many around lacking wisdom but who have still kept the commandments. But the Bible has many more “commandments” than those we find in Exodus 20. The word implies what is perhaps a way of life, a mindset devoted to follow and understand God and His ways. A devotion to mine the diamonds contained within His Word, the Bible, bringing to the surface all the wisdom-thoughts contained there. A commitment to assimilate God’s ways, thoughts and instructions, that have been implanted in print over a period of 4000 years or so. Accumulated wisdom that is available for our use. It’s all about aligning our lives away from the materialistic and worldly secularism around us and instead adopting a life-style crafted and modelled on God and His Kingdom. The driver for all of this is the use of the word “fear”. But it’s not a meaning that implies the thought that God could zap us any time we stray out of line. Instead it is the thought that He is our real, living, and ever-present Creator, inviting us to respond to Him with a holy respect, a sense of awe, and a serious appreciation of who He is. 

The word “obey” isn’t a popular one either. It conjures up thoughts of subservience at odds with our “Me – it’s all about me” society. Thoughts of “Who are you to tell me what I should do” rise up within us and lead us down a destructive path of rejection of God’s ways, of God’s commandments. But God has placed His wisdom within His Word for us to find and apply in our lives, and to do that we have to adopt an obedient and willing attitude, gratefully embracing all God has for us. And by doing so, His wisdom makes the transition from the pages into our hearts. 

The Bible is a wonderful book. It is truly “God-breathed” and I constantly marvel that every time I read a few verses, something new leaps out of the page. Let’s redouble our efforts in reading His Word – it won’t do us any harm, and it might just save our lives.

The Flood

“You placed the world on its foundation 
so it would never be moved. 
You clothed the earth with floods of water, 
water that covered even the mountains. 
At your command, the water fled; 
at the sound of your thunder, it hurried away. 
Mountains rose and valleys sank 
to the levels you decreed. 
Then you set a firm boundary for the seas, 
so they would never again cover the earth.”
Psalms‬ ‭104:5-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Now here’s an interesting and fascinating account, appearing as it does inside this Psalm of praise to God. Clearly and succinctly, the Psalmist describes the Genesis flood, an event that has been the subject of constant debate between those who believe in God and those who don’t. What paradigm do we believe in or put our faith in? The evolutionary account that is underpinned by the assumption that the earth is incredibly old? Or the creation account that places the age of the earth at just a few thousand years? One thing is for sure – the two belief systems are irreconcilable. It’s one or the other. Sadly, there are Christians today who try and fit the Genesis account of Creation into contemporary thinking by saying that a creationary “day” could mean many thousands of even billions of years, interpreting “day” as “age”. But linguistic research indicates that the Hebrew word for “day” means just that. A period of 24 hours.

But what does all this matter anyway? It all happened in the past anyway so it is of little more than academic interest. But denial of the Genesis account of the world’s origins places the Bible in a perilous situation, because passages of Scripture like we have read today have to be omitted from its pages. As 21st Century pilgrims we have to have our feet firmly planted on the truth, and nothing but the whole truth, of the Word of God. Otherwise doubts as to the authenticity of God’s Word will grow into textual boulders that block our way through the paths of life. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is His only written work. Let’s treat it with respect, having faith that through it our loving Heavenly Father will lead us and guide us through the valleys and pathways, over all the mountains and obstacles that will come our way in our pilgrimage onwards and upwards to our Heavenly home.

Light and Care

“Send me Your light and Your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise You with the lyre, O God, my God.” Psalms‬ ‭43:3-4‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Have you ever been somewhere where there are no street lamps, even close by? No cities lighting the sky in the distance? Not a glimmer of light anywhere? With a clear sky overnight the visual presentation of celestial bodies is breathtaking – there are just so many of them. But if the stars are obscured by clouds it can be a scary place, because literally you cannot see your hand in front of your face. Spiritual darkness is a bit like that too. With a view of the spiritual Heavens, God is visible and tangible. Blessing us with His presence. Communicating Spirit to spirit. But when obscured by the clouds of our rebellion and sins, God isn’t visible to us anymore, and our prayers bounce off the cloud’s underbelly, falling back to our lips answered.

The Psalmist prayed that God would lead him through His light, dispensing His faithful care in the process, revealing through the spiritual gloom His presence and His home. The Psalmist knew that once there He would find joy, delight and a place of praise. It doesn’t get better than that!

Today, O Lord, I pray that through the light of Your Word, with a thankful heart because of Your faithful care, I would find You dwelling in my heart where I can praise and worship You. Amen.

Red Lines

“Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked.” Psalms‬ ‭43:1‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

What is my cause? What am I so deeply committed to that I am prepared to defend it no matter the cost? Some principle that has a red line, across which I cannot cross and which I believe the society around me shouldn’t cross either? Or a stand I am taking in the work place against dubious practices?  In the business realm, dodgy practices abound with the hope that a quick buck can be made, or that the taxman won’t find out. In the world of relationships marriage has been redefined. Even the God-created male and female genders have been replaced by many more. In our Western societies there is an “anything goes” mentality. “If it feels good then just do it” is applied across all demographics and age groups. But such is the language of a society that has lost its moral compass. And our political rulers, smitten by their liberal and secular ideals, nibble at the boundaries of our Christian legal and moral legacy by introducing legislation that erodes the principles God’s people adhere to.  Surely the “unfaithful nation“ in which the Psalmist lived is as true today, if not worse, than it was in his lifetime.

So what do we do? Ignore the “deceitful and wicked” practices that are occurring around us, as so many do? Or do we take a stand against them, asking God to vindicate us in the process. Realising that such a stand will potentially have a cost – remembering that John the Baptist was imprisoned and eventually beheaded because he took a stand against his local ruler’s immoral behaviour.

So I ask myself today – what is my cause? What principle or principles do I have that I consider sacrosanct? Holy Scriptures provide me with many “red lines” that I wouldn’t dream of crossing, and would hope that my society wouldn’t either. So I pray for God to protect His laws and precepts and show me how He wants me to be His voice upholding His principles. Remembering that my God-given mission is to be “salt and light” in my community.

True Heroes

“The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!”Psalms‬ ‭16:3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We have just had a political election in Scotland, and it has culminated in a new 5-year parliament which will meet in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Such events always seem to bring out the best and worst in the voting population, but mainly the latter. Emotions are stirred. Virtues of one person over another are extolled. Interminable interviews pick over a candidate’s good and bad points, and their track record in politics, if they have one, is exposed for all to see. But where, in our political landscape, are the true heroes that the Psalmist, David, referred to in our verse today? Plenty of public spats, name calling, sleazy acts, but anything heroic? It is mostly away from politics that our true heroes can be found. Unseen and unheard godly men and women who quietly work away in their communities, making a difference in the lives of those around them. These are the true heroes. There are always opportunities in our communities to reach out to those around us. Sometimes all that is needed is a kind, cheerful word. At other times it is help with a neighbour’s children, or doing an old person’s shopping. Giving someone a lift. Walking a neighbour’s dog. The possibilities are endless.

James 2 says much about faith and works. Here’s an extract, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?”

Let’s look for an opportunity to be a “hero” today. We never know – we may be the only way God can be seen in our community.