A Conclusion?

“Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one.”
Romans 3:9-10 NLT

Paul is finally reaching a conclusion to his rant about his fellow Jews. We don’t know how it was received in the Roman church, but hopefully there were positive outcomes. He asked the question if Jews were better than Gentiles, and then quite emphatically stated that they weren’t, because all people “are under the power of sin”, regardless of their heritage. And, to support his conclusion, he quotes verses from Psalms 14 and 53.

Psalm 14, a Davidic psalm, starts with a rather depressing theme about those who turn their backs on God, as being foolish. Verses 2 and 3 read, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one”! If David had just stopped there then there would have been no hope for anyone, let alone God’s people. The only logical outcome would have been another flood to enable God to start again, in the hope that the next race of people would behave better. Thankfully, of course, God made a covenant that He would never wipe out sinful humanity again. And David went on in Psalm 14 to record three things about God’s people. David wrote, “… for God is with those who obey him … the Lord will protect his people … the Lord restores his people” (Psalm 14:5-7).

But Paul, in his letter to the Romans, was laying the foundations for what he was about to say in the chapters and verses to come. It all started with sin, he said. The powerful hold that sin has over mankind. If it was just left there then there would be no hope, regardless of who their ancestors were, whether Jew or Gentile. But we pilgrims today have the benefit of a handbook of examples and instructions, to enable us to live a life free of the power of sin. Over it all, and through the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary, we can respond to Paul and say that we stand righteous before God, because Jesus took on board mankind’s sin and unrighteousness. He knew that when he wrote this letter, and in the days and weeks to come we too will follow his very clear and detailed thinking.

Dear God. We thank You for Your servant Paul, and his willingness to record what You were saying to the early church. Please help us too to listen to Paul’s words and act upon them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Confident Faith

O God, my heart is steadfast [with confident faith]; 
I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul. 
Awake, harp and lyre; 
I will awaken the dawn! 
I will praise and give thanks to You, O Lord, among the 
And I will sing praises to You among the nations.
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭108:1-3‬ ‭AMP‬‬

David once again picks up the Psalmist’s pen. And he immediately bursts out in praise for his God, our God. It seems strange that we are linked to David through our loving Heavenly Father, over the centuries, over the miles. Linked with someone long dead but very much alive through his writings. David was a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:14) yet spent most of his life warring with people both inside and outside his country. We have a parallel with this too, as we journey through life, warring with our sin, struggling with the increasing secularisation of our society, and facing into our own sets of individual “giants”. But David had a quality we would do well to grow and emulate – he had a heart that was steadfast and confident in faith, faith that he had a loving Heavenly Father, as close to him as a brother. And that relationship prevailed through all of David’s life, a life devoted in his service to God. It did not mean that David’s life was not without its challenges. He battled with people, he battled with his family, he battled with his sin. David was in many ways a larger than life character who encountered many giants, not just Goliath, but, and here’s the thing, he had a steadfast, unmovable and confident faith that God was there for him and would come through for him no matter what he was facing into.

David was a pilgrim through a life set in a certain period of history. David faced into challenges we will never experience, but his faith in God carried him through.  We too are on a pilgrimage through life in our period of history, facing into challenges that we perhaps would rather not face, the clocking ticking away just as it did in David’s day. But just as God was there for David, He will be there for us too. We too can awake the dawn with our praises, thanking God for His wonderful love and grace. And we too can stand strong with a steadfast heart, with confident faith in our wonderful and awesome giant-killing God.

Troops and Walls

“To the faithful You show Yourself faithful, 
to the blameless You show Yourself blameless, 
to the pure You show Yourself pure, 
but to the devious You show Yourself shrewd. 
You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. 
You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. 
With Your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.
‭Psalms‬ ‭18:25-29‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Verses 25 and 26 of Psalm 18, at first sight, seem a bit difficult to understand. What was the psalmist, David, getting at? He used words such as “faithful”, “blameless”, and “pure”. Was he perhaps implying that the qualities he lists have to be in our characters before we can see them in God, even though they are a part of His nature? Perhaps a faithless person wouldn’t see a faithful God because they wouldn’t understand what being faithful was all about. An impure person wouldn’t understand the purity of our Heavenly Father. But is God “shrewd”? Perhaps that is how He appears to someone with devious qualities, whether He is or not. The Psalmist goes on to explain that the quality of humility leads to salvation, unlike that for the proud, the haughty. A sentiment exemplified by Jesus, in the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” 

David continued with positive statements about the impact God had, and continued to have, on his life. Reading the Psalms written by David, you can see that he had many dark moments but here he is declaring that God had turned around his depression into a condition of lightness. In addition, God had empowered David to take on seemingly impossible tasks, in battle for example. Think about the Goliath episode. David’s logic as explained to King Saul, was breathtakingly simple, as we can read in 1 Samuel 17:36-37, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Almost as an aside, David didn’t appear before Goliath with a slingshot, never having used one before. As a shepherd, he spent hours perfecting the art of projecting a stone with a sling, and he probably set himself up a target and persevered, aiming and hitting, until he had the confidence in his ability. And when a lion or bear appeared on the scene a well-aimed stone would soon discourage them. So when Goliath stood before him, he forensically looked for a chink in the armour, found it above Goliath’s eyes and clinically proceeded to despatch him with a single small stone. But. A big but. David knew that he could do nothing on his own account. He needed God in his life to lead and guide and help him achieve what he had to do. David slung the stone. God helped it to the target. David built up his faith in God in the sheepfolds, on the open hills, in the pastures, as he protected a flock of sheep from predators. And that faith stood him in good stead as he took on the battles in war-torn Palestine. He knew that with his little ability and God’s limitless resources, he could have the confidence to take on tasks that would frighten most of his peers.

To be able to trust God for whatever life throws at us, equipping us for the battles ahead, takes two steps. Firstly, like David, we must develop the skills needed for our lives. Getting an education, learning a trade, practising playing a guitar, and so on, all the time keeping our eyes on our calling, focusing on our vocation. The Apostle Peter was a fisherman, but Jesus taught him how to use those skills to be a “fisher of men”. Sometimes we will perhaps get discouraged, thinking that our simple skill can’t be of any use to God. But God has a way of turning our little into great things for Him. Secondly, we need to spend time with our Heavenly Father. By being diligent in Bible reading and prayer, communicating and building a relationship with Him, testing our faith as we go, we learn to trust Him more and more. A toddler doesn’t leap out of the cradle one day saying that he is going to walk. There are some interim challenges he faces on the way, through crawling, sitting, and getting knocks and bumps, before the big day when he stands. And then he makes the first wobbly steps. Faith doesn’t appear overnight – it takes diligence and perseverance through the knocks and bumps as we grow. 

So back to today’s verses. He keeps our lamps burning, if we let Him. And that wall in front of us, or that Goliath in the office – they are not as big a problem as the enemy would have us think. That mountain might just turn out to be a molehill. Because God is on our side.