God’s Grace

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 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.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

Paul made a profound statement, unequivocally through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, when he said, “God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight”. Just a few words, easy to say but rooted in the God-experience Paul enjoyed. What is this grace? Why is it so powerful? And how can we take advantage of it?

Grace, and in particular God’s grace, is a very fundamental truth for the Christian life. Without God’s grace we are a deluded people, wasting our lives on something pointless. But here’s the thing, because of His love for mankind, God chose to allow His Son, Jesus, to take on board our sins so that we could become righteous before Him. That’s grace. The acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is so true. Grace isn’t something tangible. We can’t measure it, or prove that it exists through some scientific analysis. It’s not built into our education system. It doesn’t appear on our statute book. It is only available to us through another unmeasurable word – faith. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Grace and faith walk hand in hand. But together they form an eternal combination. Our salvation depends on the grace of God, and our faith assures us that He means what He says, and what He did, through Jesus.

God’s grace is freely given, gifted to us, and is more valuable than anything man can devise. We have done nothing at all to deserve it. In fact, we deserve God’s judgement, not His grace. Earlier in Romans 3 we found just how depraved and wicked humanity is. And we think of the Apostle Paul, who was guilty of murdering the early Christians through his mistaken belief that they were a deviant sect that had to be eliminated. Yet even though he deserved the punishment meted out to murderers, through God’s grace he had an encounter with Jesus. An encounter so profound that it totally transformed his life. Saul the Pharisee became Paul the evangelist and writer of letters that have touched and helped millions of people over the time since he wrote them, and will continue to do so far into the future.

The saddest thing, though, is that most people have rejected this gift of grace. Imagine someone, perhaps a total stranger, offering you a package, all nicely wrapped up and one that you know contains something valuable. And yet, you turn away, rejecting it. Well, that is what most people do, and have done. The one thing that can assure us a future with God in an amazing place called Heaven, is despised and rejected. It doesn’t make sense somehow.

Most people feel uncomfortable in accepting a gift. They feel obliged to do something in return. But with God’s gift of grace, there is no response required. His gift is freely given without any expectation of repayment. His gift is not a loan either, requiring to be repaid one day. Through the gift, something of God is transferred to us, enriching our lives. And by accepting what He gives us, we also accept so much more, as He works in our lives, aiding our transformation into the people He wants us to be. 

Truly, the song “Amazing Grace” is just that, God’s amazing grace. “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see“. Words to dwell and meditate on; words penned by a man who really came to experience God’s grace. We have our own stories of amazing grace to tell as well. Let us not hold back as we walk this world, telling others about this free gift from God.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Your free gift of salvation through Jesus. We worship You today. Amen.

Being Self-Taught

“You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth. Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonour God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.””
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭17‬-‭24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Paul pointed out to his Jewish Christian friends that before they could have a mandate to teach others, they needed to be able to teach themselves first. He wrote, “if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself?” Though Paul wrote in the singular, the implication was that he was writing to a whole group of people. 

Teaching is a difficult job. The challenge of being able to communicate a subject or idea to a group of students in a way that engages them and transfers information, with the goal of retention by the hearer, is a skill that is unfortunately rare. This can be a problem in things like religious education, particularly here in the UK. The RE teacher will teach what is factually correct about all “faiths” but will fail to communicate the spirit behind them. So an RE student will come away from his or her classes with head but not heart knowledge. Back in my school days, just about the most unpopular subject was Latin. But me and my school friends were very fortunate in that we had a teacher who was passionate about his subject and brought the Latin language to life. As a result I still retain items of Latin grammar in my mind, even today, many years later. But teaching style was not really what Paul was writing about in his letter.

A better way of teaching is not just through the dispensation of words but by a lifestyle, that lives out the subject matter. Jesus was the Master teacher using this technique while He was here with us on earth. He spent three or so years of His life in a transparent example of how to live, really live, as a true God-follower. Not only did He “talk the talk” but He also “walked the walk”. His prayer life, His attitudes, His teaching, His love and grace, His compassion – it was all there for His disciples to emulate. And because of the faithfulness of His disciples, we have written accounts of His sinless life that we can refer to. Jesus was passionate about living life God’s way.

Paul was saying to his friends in Rome, as well as us today, that the best way of teaching others is by example. He said that if his friends were to be effective teachers, then they had to not just tell their followers how to behave but show them, from their own life experiences. As an example, an ex-drug addict is better able to reach and teach other addicts if they can demonstrate that it is possible to kick the habit and move on. But perhaps you can see where I am going. There was a day when we pilgrims had an encounter with the living God. We were transformed from being citizens of the kingdom of darkness to being citizens of the Kingdom of Light. Where we are now was summed up by the Apostle Peter in 1Peter 2:9, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” We are not people who teach others a few dusty, lifeless and historical truths about a man called Jesus. Instead, we can teach others about the wonderful Son of God, and what He has done for us. We are like the buyer of pearls that Jesus told His hearers about in Matthew 13:45-46, “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” We have indeed found something so precious that we give up all we have, all we are, for the privilege of being a child of God.

But here’s the thing. We mustn’t be like the Roman Jewish Christians who apparently failed to display any of the fruit that comes from knowing God. If they had had a life-transforming and personal encounter with the risen Jesus, their lives would have been transformed. Paul was knocked off his horse by an encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. We may have not experienced anything quite so dramatic, but the very fact that the God of this universe cared so much about us that He sent His Son to die for us in our place, taking on Himself the punishment we deserved for our sins. The “wow!” that comes from us in response must surely impact those around us, giving us a mandate to “teach” them about the wonderful God we worship.

Dear Father. We are truly wowed by Your presence in our lives. With grateful hearts we praise You today. Amen.

Grace

“Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭3‬-‭4‬ ‭NLT

How do we know that God is “kind, tolerant, and patient” with us? We sometimes joke about a bolt of lightning from Heaven zapping an outrageously-behaving person, who is blatantly engaged in some sin or other. And on many occasions, such an event would be well deserved. But Paul reminded the Roman Christians that such divine kindness should be turning them from their sins, even though they deserve judgement.

To turn this around to our own lives, how does God’s patience make us change? Through honest self-examination we can discover many a sinful thought that deserves punishment. There is, of course, a response that says something like, “I’ll sort out my life before I die, so I’ll be ok”, hoping, or assuming, that we will have control over such an event one day. Jesus warned against such an attitude with His parable about “the Rich Fool”. I know it applies to the folly of accumulating wealth, but the principle is the same. We read in Luke 12:20-21, ““But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”” We don’t know when we will pass from this life, but once we do, the option to turn from our sins dies with us. God’s grace comes to an end at the grave or crematorium. We also don’t know when the end of the world will come. The last question put to Jesus by the disciples, before He ascended into Heaven was recorded in Acts 1:6, with Jesus’ reply in the following verse, “So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.”

Another response is to try and rationalise our moral and sinful lapses. Perhaps we say that they aren’t really all that bad – in fact they are nowhere near as bad as the behaviour of that man or woman down the road, we say to ourselves. But the fact remains – we only have a limited opportunity to respond to God’s grace-infused, divine kindness and patience.

God’s kind and tolerant response to our many sins is summed up by one word – grace. We read in Ephesians 1:7-8, “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding”. If there is anyone who can lay claim to God’s grace, it was the Apostle Paul. He was a walking, talking example and testimony to the grace of God. There Paul was, persecuting the early church with a zeal that, if he failed to have that encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, would have inflicted significant damage on those young Christians, but the grace of God was so powerful that he found it irresistible, and we must pray the same grace, which is still available today, will come and infuse our families and communities. The grace of God knocked Paul off his horse. We pray that it will knock down the arguments and excuses offered by those around us, that they too will find a way into the presence of God.

Dear Father God. We can say or do nothing without kneeling in worship before You, deeply grateful for your kindness, tolerance and patience. Deeply grateful for Your grace. Amen.

Punishment

“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things.”
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭1‬-‭2‬ ‭NLT

The word “punishment” is not a popular word or sentiment to bring up in a conversation down the pub. It conjures up thoughts of a child being sent to their room for some misdemeanour, or a criminal being imprisoned as a punishment for their crime. But we live in a moral universe. By that I mean that every misdeed, every sin, every crime, all will one day have to be remedied by a suitable consequential punishment. Every bad deed will be judged, either in this life or the next.

God, through Moses, set down detailed laws that had to be followed by the rag-tag bunch of ex-slaves, as He led them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Many of these laws still apply today, because they underpin the very cohesion of our society. But here’s one that illustrates the principle of justice involving punishment. God taught that the punishment must match the crime, so justice is achieved. We read in Exodus 21:23-25, “But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise”. I’m not, of course, suggesting that we should implement physical punishments as in Moses’ day – such a response is considered barbaric in 21st Century society, but many today will suggest that this principle of the punishment fitting the crime no longer applies in society, with apparent punishments being too lenient and favouring the offender rather than the victim. But, never fear, the scales of justice will be balanced on the Day of Judgement, if not before, when all mankind will stand before God.

But what about us pilgrims? When we see behaviour in others that we disagree with how do we respond? Criminal behaviour is of course the responsibility of the civil authorities, and we are told to pray for them. But unfair and offensive behaviour, “legal but harmful” in modern social media parlance, may initiate feelings of anger within us. Jesus taught about this in Matthew 5:22, “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell”. So we learn not to react when something happens to provoke us. Instead, we ask God to intervene and we then move on in the knowledge that our blood pressure and inner peace are unaffected. And the Master Judge will do what is right.

People in general, even many Christians, do not understand how detestable sin is to God. In fact, it is so abhorrent to Him, that one day all those whose sin and wickedness is recorded in their Judgement Day Book (not the Book of Life), will end up in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15). Some will try and claim that our loving God would never do such a thing, but they fail to understand that God is not just a God of love, He is also a God of Righteousness, Holiness and Purity. For a season in these End Times days we have access to His grace. He has given us a remedy to sin and we can today stand righteous and holy before Him, through the sanctifying power of Jesus’ blood. But the door He has opened will not remain open forever. 

Once again, I issue a rallying call to my fellow pilgrims. We have the knowledge of the redeeming Words of God. We must share them to everyone we can while there is still time.

Father God. We thank You for Your inexhaustible supply of grace. We embrace it today, with love and thanks, and pray for more opportunities to share You with those in our families and communities. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Refusing to Understand

“They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭31‬ ‭NLT

Paul’s rant about those who “thought it foolish to acknowledge God” continues with a damning indictment of their deeds. He lists four qualities that define a mindset befitting wicked and sinful people. 

He firstly says they “refuse to understand”. But what is there that they are closing their minds to? How often have we had a response to some comment or other like “but you just don’t understand”? Perhaps the person, who is apparently being misunderstood, is in the process of some action that is not normal behaviour or is responding strangely to some question or action undertaken by another. A problem easily cleared up most of the time, but what Paul is referring to is the action of wicked people in closing their minds to any explanation or idea that does not fit in with their sinful mindset. For example, walk down any High Street and ask a random person what they think about God. A person prepared to stop and discuss would be a rare response. Mostly, the person would just walk away or even come up with an angry retort. “They refuse to understand” fits their position very well.

In Isaiah 6:9-10, God said to the prophet, “And he said, “Yes, go, and say to this people, ‘Listen carefully, but do not understand. Watch closely, but learn nothing.’ Harden the hearts of these people. Plug their ears and shut their eyes. That way, they will not see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their hearts and turn to me for healing.” Why was Isaiah given an apparently impossible task? To try and evangelise a people whose hearts had been hardened to the extent that they did not understand anything concerning God anymore. Where is the merciful God in all that?

The answer comes in Romans 1:28, “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking …”. If God abandons them they will lose the ability to hear Him and His words of love and grace. And for most no amount of pleading or evangelising will be able to break into a heart that “refuse[s] to understand”. That was the situation in Isaiah’s day, and such behaviour is still with us today, as it was in Paul’s times.

So what is the remedy for our serial refusers? Will they never be able to turn to God and embrace His words of eternal life? Will they never be able to experience His love? To say so would be to adopt the same position as them, refusing to understand the grace of God. God’s grace can melt the hardest heart. It can penetrate into the very inner core of our beings, as we read in 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”. Even for those He has abandoned there is hope.

So what do we pilgrims do, when faced with an apparent brick wall of unbelief and a refusal to respond from those we love in our families and communities? We persevere. We pray. And we believe in faith that God will find a chink in the armour that protects the hardest of hearts. It happened with me, and I’m sure that it has happened to many of my readers today. Through God’s grace, He revealed Himself to me one Saturday night, penetrating a heart hardened by wrong thinking, by a “refusal to understand”. 

Is there someone reading this today who has a heart that fails to understand God’s love and grace? Who thinks it might apply to someone else but not to them? Through Jesus and His sacrifice at Calvary, we have access to a loving God, but only if we open our hearts before Him and repent of our wickedness and sin. And His love, grace and mercy will flood in, opening a door into a new world of hope.

Dear Father God. Please help us to persevere in our prayers for our loved ones. We name them before You today, in faith that the word they need is, right now, on the way to them. Thank You. 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.

Abandoned by God

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Just to recap, we reached this point because Paul said people in general had the knowledge of a Creator God, but instead of offering Him the thanks and worship that He was due, they went off and worshipped their own idols. We read that such people ended up in an arrogant position, claiming that they were operating wisely in whatever they were doing. But their thinking became more and more foolish to the point that they developed a very distorted view of God Himself. And the consequences were this –  God abandoned them to their own devices. Presumably their consciences no longer functioned as they should have done and they behaved much as the Israelites did, as we can read in the last verse in the Book of Judges, “…. all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes“. (Judges 21:25b).

But it’s a very serious and potentially devastating situation to get into, to be abandoned by God. Normally, people go through life with at least some behavioural constraints due to their consciences. Even people who claim to have no religious belief intuitively know the differences between right and wrong, because God through His Spirit is working gently behind the scenes. But consciences can fail to work as they should, and Paul wrote about this problem to his son in the faith, Timothy. We read in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 (AMP), “But the [Holy] Spirit explicitly and unmistakably declares that in later times some will turn away from the faith, paying attention instead to deceitful and seductive spirits and doctrines of demons, [misled] by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared as with a branding iron [leaving them incapable of ethical functioning],”. How does a conscience become “seared”? When we sear something like a finger, we burn it, and that then renders it insensitive, at least for a while, to touch and feeling. The nerves are damaged and don’t function as they should. Similarly, it is possible to sear our consciences by constantly overriding their signals until the still small voice within us fails to be heard any more. When that happens, God has effectively abandoned us, and the inbuilt restraints put in place when we were created are removed, leaving us “incapable of ethical functioning”. 

Without a functioning conscience and abandoned by God, a person’s ability to do what is right is impaired and one consequence is that they end up doing “vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies”. what Paul was warning about can be seen in society today, with more and more blatant and public exposures of sexual sins that must break God’s heart. Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls such behaviour “vile and degrading”, but to someone with a seared conscience, abandoned by God, they see nothing wrong. In fact they embark on public displays, even hijacking one of God’s signs, a rainbow, and in the process waving their arrogant and angry fists in the face of God. 

Another worry is the way God has abandoned society. The “vile and degrading” actions of individuals are now being promoted by corporate organisations and even government institutions. A race to the bottom is going on unconstrained, with our legislators introducing or changing laws to ease the transition to a “vile and degraded” society. Society in general is increasingly becoming accepting of sinful behaviour. We live in an unhappy age.

It is difficult in these desperate times for us pilgrims to make a stand against such blatant sinful behaviour. But we still have a window of opportunity to extend God’s grace and love even to those currently living in a state of God’s abandonment. Here in the UK we are not yet persecuted to the extent that speaking out about “vile and degrading” practices is a crime. But there is little time left before it will be. As we read in Revelation, there is a time coming when all people will have to stand before God and account for their behaviour. And we pilgrims pray that God’s grace will continue; we pray more grace, more love, Lord. How we need You in these difficult and desperate times! Paul’s warning is perhaps even more relevant today than it was two thousand years ago.

But in the middle of a seemingly hopeless situation, there is hope. There is always hope. Jeremiah got the message. He wrote in Jeremiah 32:17, “O Sovereign Lord ! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” Nothing is too difficult for our loving Heavenly Father. And with that knowledge we can pray with assurance that God’s ways will prevail. Jesus made it quite clear, in a conversation with Peter and His other disciples, that He was going to build His church. We read in Matthew 16:18, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it“. In the end, there may be many people who find themselves abandoned by God. But that makes no difference to the long term reality, that one day, Jesus’ church will finally be built. See you there?

Dear Father God. We do indeed pray for more of Your grace and love to permeate into our societies. Without You this world would be a dark place indeed. We pray for our families and friends, that You will touch them with Your presence through the power of Your Spirit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Public Faith

“Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭8‬-‭9‬ ‭NLT

After the initial greetings, Paul gets into his letter. And straight away he thanks the Christians in Rome for their faith in God. It’s ”being talked about all over the world“, he said. What an accolade! But how could their faith become so public? And what was there about that faith that made other people in the city talk about it?

Here in the UK, faith is often considered to be a very private matter. There is almost an embarrassment with some Christians, if asked a question about their church or what they believe. In the workplace, religion is a no go area for many, and in the lives of some Christians there is no clue that would indicate their faith. Such people behave the same way as everyone else Monday to Saturday, the only difference is that they will disappear into a church building for an hour or so on a Sunday morning, while others head for the golf course or some other activity. Such a faith is hardly what Paul is highlighting here in his message of thanks. And it is also not following what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” Such Christians may not be denying Jesus “here on earth”, but they aren’t “acknowledging [Him] publicly” either. 

How would we get our faith to become the subject of a public discussion? And to what extent should we? In my daily walks around the West of Fife, I try and take every opportunity to share my faith. Most people in my neighbourhood know what I stand for, regarding the things of God. In the office my fellow workers knew about my faith. But is that enough? A Christianity that is benign and inoffensive is hardly likely to be the subject of discussion. We Christians have a counter-cultural message of salvation that, when superimposed on this devil-controlled world, causes offence. We have a God-sourced opinion about sin and wickedness that those in the world find uncomfortable. Christians everywhere will soon find themselves publicly noticed when they stand up for the Biblical, God-breathed, principles of sexuality, marriage and the sanctity of human life, both before and after birth. And this is just a start. We may not be the sandwich-board evangelists, shouting out an in-your-face message of “turn or burn” or something similar, but there should be something about Christians that publicises the “salt and light” talked about by Jesus in Matthew 5.

Of course, there are positives about Christians that those in the world find attractive and for which people are grateful. For example, most food banks in the UK are run by Christian organisations. Christian charities are extensively glueing together the fabric of society, with benevolent acts, being “good Samaritans” to their friends and neighbours. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-15, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Are we hilltop or basket lights?

We pilgrims have the opportunity to make our marks on the societies in which we live. By nailing our colours to the masts of our communities, we will become ridiculed, avoided, and even abused. But we know the future. The world economic machine, riddled with sin and wickedness, grinds on towards eternal destruction, but, through God’s grace, we have the counter-cultural words of eternal life. We have the message of hope that is denied to so many by their love of the things of the world. We pray for God’s grace to extend to those we meet, that His love will warm their hearts, and that another child of the enemy will be released from their life of sin into a new life as a child of God.

Heavenly Father. We pray for our friends and families, that Your grace and love will work transforming miracles in their lives. We worship You today. Amen.

God’s Grace

“But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)”‭‭.
Ephesians‬ ‭2:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬

In the last blog post, we considered the enormity of our perilous status before God. Paul reviewed the sinful state of mankind, and the role of the devil in corrupting and contaminating the world, leaving rebellious and sinful people in the firing line for God’s anger. Thankfully, Paul reminded us that there is a “but” in God’s world. “But God…”. And it is when we read this that the realisation that God has a solution to our sinful state brings us to our knees in deep thankfulness. You see, in our sin pandemic, God’s vaccine comes quietly, effectively and completely, bringing healing and forgiveness for our rebellious and sinful natures. 

But what is this “But”? Paul goes on to mention four key words – “mercy”, “love”, “life” and “grace”. God’s mercy is without dispute. The very fact that we are allowed to complete a pilgrimage through our lives, free to make choices in the way we live, in the way we view God, can only point to a merciful God. And not a God who is stingy and mean, dispensing the bare minimum of mercy. Paul emphasises that God is “rich in mercy”. His mercy is present in copious quantities, providing every opportunity and more for a rebellious world. And Paul explains that God is merciful because He loves us. How can God, rejected by so many, love us? Finding that most people effectively shake their fists in His face declaring that He is unnecessary for their lives, even if He exists? But love us He does, again without limit. God never says, for example, that He will only love us on a Sunday if we go to church. It’s all the time. 24/7. Regardless of where we are and what we are doing. Paul then draws an analogy with a corpse. A dead body. Because that is what sinful people are. That’s what sin does to us. It kills us spiritually. The “but” is completed by God giving us life, the same life that came “when He raised Christ from the dead”.

Finally, in these two verses, Paul points out that we have been saved through God’s grace. The acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense amply describes what this grace is. Unmerited favour. From a God who cares for every human being regardless of race, age, or sex. I recently tried to share the love of God with a man who lives in the village close by. But his sad response was that he had looked into “all this religious stuff”. It wasn’t for him he said – he wanted to join “the party that’s going on downstairs”. There was an opportunity accorded to him to grasp God’s grace and turn towards God, but he rejected it. Sadly, unless the seed planted bears fruit – and there’s always time for that – God is patient, kind and gracious – he will find out that the party he hoped to join might not be quite what he expected.

We have been saved. Well, those of us who have responded to God’s love by embracing the wonderful Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself. Believing in Him. Responding to His love and mercy by declaring His Lordship over our lives. Accepting His Life-giving Spirit. All by His grace. What else can we do other than fall to our knees in deep thankfulness?