Gentiles Included

“And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭6‬-‭7‬ ‭NLT

There is much encouragement in these two verses. The word “called” occurs twice and it infers something special. Paul assures the Roman congregation that they are in a special place in God’s eyes. He knows them all. And this all the more remarkable because they were “Gentiles”, non-Jews who were feared and despised by a race who claimed the exclusive rights of a relationship with God. But through Jesus’s last instructions, as recorded in Matthew 28:19, God’s grace was extended to everyone. He said, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” 

But what is it like, being “called”? In a natural sense, it happens all the time. We call someone using a phone. A child calls out for their parents in the night. It is all part of the human interactions that we all take for granted. To facilitate the process of calling, we are each given a name, so that we can be identified, one from another. In a different sense, we sometimes observe that someone who is doing a certain type of work must be responding to a calling. Perhaps a nurse, or missionary. Doing work we couldn’t do, or wouldn’t want to, and we then assume that they were making a personal sacrifice to do something for the benefit of their fellow human beings. 

But in our relationship with God, the calling is something special. I don’t know about you, but I fall into the “Gentile” category. I do not have Jewish heritage. But I do know that God’s grace has extended even to me, because I know that I am one of His children. If anyone has any doubts about their eligibility to be a child of God, start with reading John 3:16-17, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him”. That is where we start our journey, with the thought, a glimmer of hope, that God’s grace extends to everyone, the whole world. That journey continues with the assurance that through repentance we gain salvation from the consequences of our sins. We read in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent”. I John 2:2 reads, referring to Jesus, “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world”. And then we read Ephesians 1:4, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes”. In some timeless and eternal way, God sees all His creation, past, present and future, and yearns for each person to turn to Him during their lives here on Planet Earth. Everyone is called.

But are we listening? Do we hear His voice calling us? If not, perhaps we need to find a quiet place away from the clamour and noise of the world in which we live and just sit and listen. Quieten our thoughts before Him. Ask God to speak to us. And He will.

Dear Lord Jesus. We hear Your call today. And I pray for all those who will respond, that Your Holy Spirit will touch them deeply, securing their future relationship with You. In Your precious name. Amen.

A Life with God

“For you are my hope, Lord GOD,
my confidence from my youth. 
I have leaned on you from birth;
you took me from my mother’s womb. 
My praise is always about you. 
Don’t discard me in my old age. 
As my strength fails, do not abandon me.
Psalm 71:5-6,9 CSB

Who can say that God has been their hope all the way from their youth until their old age? That was the case with David, as we can see from reading this Psalm today. He even goes as far as to say that God was with him even from the moment he was born. When he wrote these verses, David was obviously approaching his twilight years, but reading the Psalm you can see he was still being pursued by undesirable people, a common theme throughout his life. In verse 4 he wrote, ”Deliver me, my God, from the power of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and oppressive”. 

In verses 17 and 18, the Psalmist wrote this: “God, you have taught me from my youth, and I still proclaim your wondrous works. Even while I am old and gray, God, do not abandon me, while I proclaim your power to another generation, your strength to all who are to come.” David wasn’t going to retire quietly. He wasn’t going to fade into oblivion, disappearing into the grave without completing his mission in life. And the one thing he mentioned was that he was going to ensure that the next generation knew about God’s power and strength. Not for David was an epitaph on a tombstone, nice words but largely unread and of little impact on those around him.

I’ve blogged before about the legacy we will leave when we cross the great divide. Although I was brought up in a Christian home and went to church with my parents, I was in my late twenties before I made a personal commitment for Christ. But there is one thing that I am confident of – I will be a follower of Christ for the rest of my life. Furthermore, being a closet Christian, someone who hides his light instead of being a beacon of hope and light in his community, is not for me. I recently heard a Sunday message about sharing our faith, and how important it is that we have our stories ready for the times when God wants us to share them. And also to be ready with the “Sinner’s Prayer”, for when we get the opportunity to lead someone to Christ. David was focused on sharing what he knew about God with the next generation, and asked God to be with him while he did it. We too must be focused on the mission God has given us. And He will be with us while we do His will. Note that sharing our story is not something we do at the end of our lives. Jesus didn’t say in Matthew 28, “Therefore [when you are a pensioner] go and make disciples of all nations…“. No – making disciples was an instruction Jesus left for all His followers, young and old. Sharing our stories will often be the start of the disciple-making process. 

In verse 9 of this Psalm, David asks that God doesn’t abandon him in his old age, as his strength fails. He doesn’t necessarily mean physical strength, but mental strength as well. So many dear saints come to the end of their lives, blighted by illnesses such as dementia. The last few words of Matthew 28 read, “…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age“. God will never abandon us, even when we are failing in our last days. And a new body is waiting for us in our future home. What a wonderful God He is.

I’m a Tree

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:1-3 NIVUK

Have you ever attended or watched a military parade, particularly of those nations who favour the “goose-step” mode of marching? Hand picked men and women march flawlessly, totally synchronised in their steps. Their polished boots, identical uniforms, marchers all in line, make an impressive spectacle. To someone like me, never good at keeping in step with anything, such a sight I can only watch in amazement. But the Psalmist, right at the start of the first Psalm of the Book of Psalms, straight away declares a counter-cultural way of life. One in which personal blessings can be found only by avoiding the temptation to march in step with the society around us. You see, most of the Western world system in this age is anti-God. Our society and culture is becoming increasingly secular and adopting the Psalmist’s description of being “sinners and mockers”, and keeping in step with such a way of life, doing the same things, thinking the same thoughts, neglecting God and His ways, leads to destruction, as the Psalmist writes in the last verse of this Psalm.

The Psalmist encourages us spend our time in God’s presence, reading His Scriptures, hearing His voice, aligning our thoughts to His thoughts, whenever we have the opportunity. And by doing so we will be “blessed”. God’s blessings are priceless, and they lead to a prosperous and healthy life. The psalmist uses the analogy of the blessed person being like a tree planted next to a stream of water. In his society, desert regions and parched land with stunted tree growth would have been common. But the fortunate tree planted next to a stream never failed to provide all that a tree should – imagine the fruit in season – possibly figs or something similar. The blessed person also produces fruit in the seasons that God has for him or her. Fruit appropriate for God’s Kingdom.

What is this fruit? In the early days of the Charismatic Renewal I once heard a message in a Christian Conference from an international speaker warning against the dangers of being caught up in the excitement of what God was doing in His church, but failing to produce the fruit of a renewed life in God. What is this fruit? What is the spiritual equivalent of a fat, juicy fig? We read about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” But there is also the fruit of fulfilling Jesus’ command in Matthew 28, of making disciples. So we can see that today’s equivalent of meditating on the Law of the Lord will involve personal renewal, a personal orientation towards the Kingdom of God in a way of life appropriate to being a spiritual tree next to His streams of living water.

This year the Elim Movement in the UK is encouraging people and congregations to do a spiritual reset, where they evaluate their lives to see if they are growing fruit or just a few leaves. But we don’t have to be an Elim member to re-evaluate our spiritual lives, checking out how we measure up against God’s demands. In my morning prayer walk today I observed a dead tree, no longer producing fruit as it decayed to join the detritus on the forest floor, helping fungi to grow as it did so. Around it is a thicket of saplings, growing tall and strong. And I said to God in my prayers that I don’t want to be a dead tree amongst such evidence of God’s grace.

Lord, Please help me always to have my roots deeply embedded in the life-giving streams of Your Spirit, this day and forever. Amen.