Thought Programming

“Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Romans 12:2 NLT

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”
Romans 12:2 J B Phillips

The implication of Romans 12:2 is that the world thinks and acts in a different way to God. How did that happen? After all, weren’t we made in God’s image? Of course, we know the answer. It’s all down to sin. Even though we know, intuitively sometimes, how God would behave, we act in a different way, because it feels good. Or it’s an easier option. We could very quickly compile a table with three headings – Behaviour, God’s Way, World’s Way. And the results would be shocking. Let’s take some examples:

BehaviourGod’s WayWorld’s Way
Treatment of enemiesLoveHate
Response to accusationsTell the TruthTell Lies
TemptationDon’t give inJust do it
AdulteryRun from itGive in – no one will know
RelationshipsPrefer one anotherLook after ourselves

The list is endless and I’ve left a space for our own additional and personal contributions. Wise old Paul could see the “behaviour and customs of this world” for what they were – riven and influenced by sin.

Paul appealed to his readers to allow the transforming power of God to change them from worldliness to Godliness. And that is never more important than in these dark and Godless days. Days when the society around us is confused and misguided – as an example, just look at the mess the Scottish politicians have made with their legislation to allow a person to change their gender at will. A mess that could have been prevented if they had just opened a Bible. On the same subject, there are people who blatantly and openly behave in homosexual acts, and engage in “Pride” events. Businesses decide that they can sell more of their products if they embrace fashionable ideologies and customs. The societal cauldron in which we live is constantly fuelled by sin, becoming a merry go round of behaviours that compete to be the worst possible. Thankfully, believe it or not, God holds back the worst excesses. One day His restraints will be removed and society will become a forerunner of hell. However, before anyone takes issue with that statement, we need to note that there are many Godly behaviours we can see even in ungodly people. Kindness, love, or other-centredness for example. God’s grace will shine through mankind in many different ways, even in those who don’t know Him, but there will come a time when His grace will be replaced by judgement.

So the question must be – how do we let God change us, in the way we think and behave. Some years ago, youth events would be taught how to obtain God’s perspective of a behaviour by thinking “What Would Jesus Do”. Rubber wrist bands were handed out with the initials WWJD engraved on them. And that is really the way we find out what God’s thoughts are. The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are fundamental to our every day lives, and as we read them and align ourselves to His principles, we will find that increasingly we become a new person, thinking God thoughts. We must remember what Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right“. Reading the Bible, and referring to it for guidance, will expose us to God’s thoughts, with the consequence that we will “learn to know God’s will for [us], which is good and pleasing and perfect”. 

Dear Father God. Thank You for Your grace and mercy, as they guide us day by day through our journey to paradise. We worship You today. Amen.

Riches, Wisdom and Knowledge

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!”
Romans 11:33 NLT

At the end of a passage where Paul has considered God’s gracious mercy to both His chosen people, Israel, and the Gentiles, or non-Jews, he is overwhelmed by God. Paul cannot get his mind around all that God is and does, and lapses into praise. And failing to fathom the depths of God, he exclaims, “How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” Paul had a very healthy view of God’s greatness and his lowliness. Perhaps he would have considered himself to be a clay pot wondering how the potter created him. But Paul realised that through all the agonising about his people, and when they would be saved, if at all, he realised that, in the end, it is all about God.

As Paul realised, we can never enter God’s domain and think His thoughts and share in His plans. God said in Isaiah 55:8-9, ““My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” But Paul looked up and received a glimpse of God through a human-limited fog, understanding once again that God’s greatness is beyond his experience. And we realise that as well. We too can only marvel how unlimited God is, in all His ways, thoughts and deeds. 

I heard recently of how a conference speaker was delayed in reaching the departure gate at an airport, to find that her plane was being rolled back from the terminus, and she had missed it. The next one involved a wait of four hours, meaning that she would miss the first conference session. Finally boarding this flight she found herself sitting next to a smartly dressed businessman who opened a conversation, asking what she did for a living. To cut a long story short, the speaker led him to making a decision for Jesus. Did God engineer circumstances to allow His grace to reach someone in desperate need? Someone more important to God than a conference preach? We don’t know God’s plans, but sometimes the circumstances accumulate to the extent that, in hindsight, we see His hand at work.

Paul knew he would never understand God’s ways. But he trusted Him. His life was totally committed to serving God, come what may. And he ended up suffering all sorts of abuse for the sake of the Gospel. He allowed God to use him, whatever the need was. Are we pilgrims totally committed to serving God, regardless of what the cost will be? We aren’t all Pauls of course. But, like the conference speaker, we may find ourselves in a situation that may be inconvenient but one that figures big-time in God’s plans. Whenever things go wrong, upsetting our schedules, perhaps we need to look to see if God is doing something, keeping our eyes and ears open to leverage any opportunities for the sake of the Gospel. 

Paul was overwhelmed in wonder about God’s “riches and wisdom and knowledge”. Everything about God combines to provide an unlimited and total ability to reign and rule over the earth and all who live in it. We pilgrims need to keep our spiritual eyes and ears wide open in obedient service to the One who knows all things.

Dear God. You are the Source of everything. Nothing happens without Your permission. And we trust You with all that we are and all that we have, knowing that You care for us in every way. We thank You and praise You today. Amen.

Jealous Jews

“I am saying all this especially for you Gentiles. God has appointed me as the apostle to the Gentiles. I stress this, for I want somehow to make the people of Israel jealous of what you Gentiles have, so I might save some of them. For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead!”
Romans 11:13-15 NLT

Paul himself was a Jew. And even though he had been sent as a missionary to the Gentiles, he never passed an opportunity to share God’s message with his fellow Jews so that he “might save some of them“. In that well-documented encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus made a profound and eternal statement, “You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews” (John 4:22). A prophetic word from God’s Son, who knew His mission, that, as a Jew, He would be the Source of salvation for all. And we know what happened at Calvary. A Jew was crucified at the instigation of His fellow Jews. Such a tragedy. 

We read in Acts 10 how Peter shared the Gospel with Cornelius and his household, but when he returned to Jerusalem we read that his fellow Jews were not happy at all. After he had given his report about what had happened, we read, “When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life“” (Acts 11:18). There was no doubt. God made salvation available to the “rest of the world“, and even appointed Paul as the “Apostle to the Gentiles“. Paul was sure about his mandate. We read in Ephesians 3:6-8, “And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News. Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ“. But Paul was very much aware of God’s heart, that His grace would extend across national and tribal boundaries.

Christians today are ethnically diverse. We don’t claim a common ancestor other than God Himself and His Son, Jesus. But in that diversity, we celebrate together with the praise and worship of our wonderful Heavenly Father. One day we will be joined by God’s chosen people,. No-one will be left out. We read in Revelation 19:1, “After this, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd in heaven shouting, “Praise the Lord! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God”. It will be an amazing experience being a part of that “vast crowd”.

Would the Jews have been jealous of the Gentile believers, especially when they could see how the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them as well? Possibly, but not those who understood God’s heart and His amazing grace. More of a problem was the people with hard hearts when Jesus was preaching and teaching His fellow Jews, those who failed to recognise their Messiah. The Pharisees were certainly jealous of the miracles, signs and wonders that Jesus performed in their midst. But that’s another story.

We pilgrims all stand alone in God’s presence. We are each unique, with our own spiritual DNA, and our own God-ordained mission. However, it is always a temptation to look jealously at other Christians, perhaps those with gifts that we wish we had. Thoughts like I wish I could preach, or lead worship, or pray or … whatever, like another Christian, can become a hurdle and cause unnecessary resentment. In John 21:21-22, Peter looked at another disciple, John, perhaps to take Jesus’ penetrating gaze off himself. But Jesus was having none of it. We read, “Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me“”. That’s all that matters. We must all focus on following Jesus. We’re not responsible for another’s relationship with God. There is no place for jealousy in God’s Kingdom.

Dear Heavenly Father. We know that the only thing that matters is You. We thank You for the love and grace You have individually for each one of Your children. Thank You. Amen.

God’s Enemies

“So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favour of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say, “God has put them into a deep sleep. To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see, and closed their ears so they do not hear.” Likewise, David said, “Let their bountiful table become a snare, a trap that makes them think all is well. Let their blessings cause them to stumble, and let them get what they deserve. Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see, and let their backs be bent forever.””
Romans 11:7-10 NLT

In Romans 11:9-10, Paul quotes from Psalm 69:22-23. This Psalm, written by David, paints the picture of a man in torment. His enemies, and there are many of them, are harassing him, and his sins are weighing heavily on his mental health. His physical well-being is affected as well, and he is going around dressed in burlap, a heavy sackcloth made from jute or hemp, accompanying his fasting for God’s salvation. The first half of Psalm 69:9 was recorded in John 2:17, as a prophetic reminder when Jesus cleared the temple courtyard of the merchants selling animals for sacrifice, and changing everyday Roman money into the coins required for the offerings. John 2:17, “Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me””. 

There is another prophetic message in this Psalm, relating to Jesus on the cross at Calvary, “You know of my shame, scorn, and disgrace. You see all that my enemies are doing. Their insults have broken my heart, and I am in despair. If only one person would show some pity; if only one would turn and comfort me. But instead, they give me poison for food; they offer me sour wine for my thirst” (Psalm 69:19-21). And then in Psalm 69:22-23, we read again the words quoted by Paul in Romans 11, “Let the bountiful table set before them become a snare and their prosperity become a trap. Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see, and make their bodies shake continually”. Perhaps David was letting his musings extend into an area of judgement, as he prayed for God to deal with his enemies.

Jesus taught though, of a different approach to dealing with our enemies. In His day, when everyone present in Palestine was aware of a brutal occupation by a foreign power, the Romans, there would have been much thought, even rebellion, about how to deal with the problem. Perhaps people allowed their imaginations to run away with them, with thoughts and dreams of how they would like to see the Roman occupiers dealt with, and kicked out of their land. David, in his day, felt the same about his enemies. And we should remember that Jesus knew what was coming to Him, when He was finally arrested and killed. He too would have enemies, but here is the difference. Rather than dream up ways in which they could be eliminated, He said that His followers should pray for them. I can imagine how such a message would have cut through the fog of hatred that surrounded every encounter between a Roman occupier and a native of Israel. Perhaps the Jews thought He had lost the plot! We read what Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

But back to Paul’s letter and the context of our verses from Romans 11. The real enemies were those of God’s people who rebelled and sinned against Him. They always had the choice of being able to change sides. But instead they preferred to go their own way in life, even if it meant a life of hard work and pointless living. They stumbled, they were blind to the ways of God and, in the end, they suffered. Wrong choices lead to wrong outcomes. It may be that for a while, their lives were full of blessings. But, as David said in his Psalm, they became enslaved and snared in home grown traps. All of this is a familiar scenario for life in the West today. Around us we find so many people who have rejected God and His ways. Jesus and the Cross has no relevance to them. But we pilgrims pray for God’s enemies. We look for opportunities to bless them. And we extend our prayers to include our personal “enemies”. The person who upset us with an unkind word. A social media troll who hides behind internet anonymity to abuse and vilify. The bullies who take advantage of us in the workplace or school. In this life we will always come up against objectionable people. But as we pray for them we will find feel a release in our spirits. By praying we connect with God and He will deal with our prayers. And if we have contributed to the problem He will help us sort it out. Our loving Heavenly Father is on our side, as we are on His. And remember, by leaving any thought of retribution to God, we gain a reward. Proverbs 25:21-22, “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the Lord will reward you“.

Dear Father God. Once again in our prayers we remember all those who are Your enemies. By their actions they persecute Your people and abuse them without mercy. We bring to You these people and we pray, as Jesus did – as they hammered the nails into His hands and feet, He prayed “Father forgive them..”. Such mercy and grace! Amen,

Israel Accepted

“I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin. No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning.  … ”
Romans 11:1-2a NLT

As we look through the Scriptures in the Bible, it is clear that God is a God of acceptance, not rejection. He doesn’t reject anyone who earnestly and sincerely seek Him. But there is a difference between religiosity and repentance, between liturgy and true worship, between legalism and the love of God. The offer of grace and love from our Heavenly Father extends to every person in every nation on earth. But His chosen people, the “nation of Israel”, will always exist in a special place within His heart, because He “chose [them] from the very beginning”. We Gentile Christians may not like that but the Bible is clear. So we need to get over it and move on, with the assurance that God loves all His children.

There are many verses in the Bible that show how much God loves and accepts us. One of my favourites is from 1 Peter 5:7, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you”. The Amplified version reads, “casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully]”. There is something secure and heart warming about the thought that God cares so deeply for me, and you. In a similar theme, we have Psalm 50:15, “Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory”.

Jesus Himself said that He will not reject people who come to Him. “However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them” (John 6:37). And, of course, His compassionate invitation in Matthew 11:28-30, “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light””. 

Paul wrote in the letter to the Ephesians the following, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:4-5). Incredible though it seems, God looked down the corridors of time, seeing us and thinking about us with a love so profound that He made sure of our adoption into His family through His Son Jesus. John develops this theme, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognise that we are God’s children because they don’t know him” (1 John 3:1).

As we read the Bible we find God’s love dripping from every page, and through His grace we have access to it, and more. Paul was concerned about his people, the Jews. One day they will have a role in a future Kingdom, but Gentiles will not be forgotten. We are all accepted through His marvellous love and grace. Charles Wesley wrote the lyrics for one of my favourite hymns, 

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of Heav’n to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

Dear God. With “trembling hearts” we reach out to You today, assured of Your love and acceptance. Forever. Amen.

Israel Rejected

“I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin. No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning.  … ”
Romans 11:1-2a NLT

Paul continues his theme of salvation for all, by asking himself another question. Has God replaced the Jews with another nation, rejecting the “nation of Israel” in the process? Such a thought he quickly dispelled, because it would mean that God had rejected him, something that could never be the case after his encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road. Once again he set out his pedigree, with a family line he could trace all the way back to Abraham. He was one of the “stars” that God invited Abraham to count in the promise about the number of Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 15:5). So Paul assured himself that he was still counted as one of God’s “own people”

God’s grace and mercy is unlimited so He will never reject anyone who comes to Him in repentance. But in history there was a time when man’s wickedness was such that God had no choice but to reject and destroy mankind. We read in Genesis 6:5-6, “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart”. These were the days of Noah but before the flood. On another occasion there was the depravity of the people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and how these cities and all within them were destroyed (read Genesis 18 and 19). Through the times of the Judges, the people of Israel were time and time again overcome by their enemies, because God had turned His back on them because of their sin and rebellion. In it all, however, God’s rejection of mankind is not His choice – it follows wrong human choices. The choices of evil and sinful ways rather than God’s ways will not end well.

We live today in a season of grace. Through Jesus, and because of God’s patience, rejection and destruction of the wicked has been delayed until another time. We know that, because Jesus told us through the old Apostle John (Revelation 20). There will be that awful day when large numbers of people will stand before God, and the same penalty for sin will fall upon them as it did in the days of Noah, and Sodom and Gomorrah. 

Like Paul, we pilgrims have not been rejected by God. To the contrary He loves us and cares for us. And we remember that as God’s people, we were chosen “from the very beginning“. We read in Ephesians 1:4-5, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure“. There is something warm and secure, knowing that we are God’s children. Sometimes we might look around us and see a distressed world. We ask God where He is in it all. But as God’s sons and daughters we trust Him for our future, regardless of the apparent mayhem. remember – this is a world where God’s grace is available to all, but one day, He will call time. If the world seems evil now imagine what it will be like without God. Second thoughts, don’t bother! It will be too horrible to contemplate.

Father God. We are so grateful that nothing happens in this world without You allowing it. We echo the words at the end of Revelation – Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Belief and Faith

“But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.”
Romans 10:16-17 NLT

Paul realistically states to his readers, that not everyone will welcome the “Good News about Christ”. That was just as true in his day as it was in the days of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote in 53:1, “Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm”? This verse in the prophecy from Isaiah is a remarkable vision of God’s suffering servant, Jesus Himself. But the people of his day apparently didn’t take much notice. It was the same in Paul’s day, and it is the same today. Why wouldn’t a message of Good News be welcomed with open arms, and immediately responded to? 

We see the answer in part by the behaviours of people, who want to be in control of their own lives, and not be controlled by a faith in a God they cannot see, let alone believe in. Our scientists develop theories to explain the world around us to avoid having to acknowledge that there is a God who created all that we see. Psychiatrists go to great lengths in their counselling sessions to explain away the mental state and guilty feelings of their patients when all that is needed is repentance and faith in God. Our politicians and law makers devise legislation that they think will suit their mistaken political assumptions but that does not adhere to God’s principles, and get themselves in an awful mess in the process (for example the recent Gender Recognition Bill passed by the Scottish parliament). Lobby groups stridently declare their own particular ideologies, infecting the society around them with their poisons. A society that is not aligned to God’s way soon starts to collapse, and we fear that this century will not end well.

But none of this must stop us pilgrims from sharing the Good News about God and His saving grace. We will be ridiculed, bullied, criticised, and ostracised in the process, but we must persevere anyway. We do not know if the words we speak become seeds that slowly germinate in a person’s soul, eventually sprouting up some years later into a declaration of faith in Christ. Or we may be harvesters, bringing the right word that finally encourages a waverer to accept and believe in the message of Hope, God Himself. 

Paul wrote, “faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ”. It is through our senses that we receive the Good News, and our ears are the gate through which it flows. So, how is our communication script? Do we have a ready-made message that we can roll out, with suitable adaptations, to introduce someone to the Good News about Christ? Or do we sense an opportunity, and end up spluttering and blurting out something that doesn’t quite fit the occasion? Of course, the Holy Spirit within us can provide some important insights into the encounter. Jesus stopped at a well in Samaria for a rest and a drink. A woman came to draw water, and He shared His message of Hope on the back of some remarkable insights into her private life. We read in John 4:16-18, ““Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”” How did Jesus know this except through the Holy Spirit providing the information? We pilgrims also have the Holy Spirit living within us, as Jesus told His disciples in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future”. The Holy Spirit knows the key that will unlock even the hardest, most resistant, hearts, and He will provide this information, if we listen to Him and act upon what He says. A contentious thought for some? Perhaps, but the Holy Spirit is powerful, the third person of the Trinity, and, sadly, is mostly discounted in churches today. We pilgrims must carefully listen for His voice, and act upon it.

The Good News about Christ really is good news. Those who hear it, and act upon it, are securing their future for ever. What can be more important than that?

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Your grace and love, that flow unceasingly into the world today. You are there us, always a loving Father and Someone we can be secure in. Thank You. Amen.

Isaiah’s Warning

“And Isaiah said the same thing in another place: “If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of our children, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah.””
Romans 9:29 NLT

Paul included a Scripture reference to a verse spoken by Isaiah, who, in turn, referred to an act of God’s judgement on two towns named Sodom and Gomorrah. Even today there will be many who know what these towns were guilty of, with a sexual act even named after the inhabitants of Sodom. 

Genesis 13:13 recorded the problem with Sodom and Gomorrah, “But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord”. In fact, in Genesis 18:20, God involved Himself personally. We read, “So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant””. And in Genesis 18 we read about how Abraham interceded for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, in case there were some good people in these towns, to prevent their destruction. Genesis records the experience of two angels who were sent to Sodom, and the subsequent destruction of all the wicked towns and villages in that area. However, Abraham’s intercessory prayers were heeded and his nephew Lot, along with his daughters, were saved. In those days, judgement and justice followed sinful acts. Aren’t we glad we live in this age of God’s grace?

But Paul quoted Isaiah 1:9 in our verse from Romans 9 today. The first chapter of Isaiah is a prophetic message to a rebellious and sinful people. The prophecy he recorded is just as relevant to Western societies today. Isaiah 1:2, 4, “Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. …  Oh, what a sinful nation they are— loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him”. Sound familiar? Isaiah continues, “Why do you continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? …” (Isaiah 1:5a). And then we reach the verse quoted by Paul, “If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of us, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9).

Isaiah’s prophecy was a stern warning from God, and he had some specific observations about the problem. We read, “Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.” Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.” When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? … I want no more of your pious meetings. When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims” (Isaiah 1:10, 12-13b, 15). It’s all about the state of our hearts. Do we have “heart dis-ease”, not really connecting with God, but going through the motions anyway? We go to church but often wonder why. We kneel when we are supposed to. We outwardly put our body and hands into a prayer pose, but there is nothing within us that supports it. We say all the right things but don’t back them with our thoughts and spirits. Isaiah wrote in chapter 29:13, “And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote”. Aren’t we glad about God’s patience?

There is only one way into God’s presence, and that is with our hearts firmly aligned with His. We stay close to Him, trusting and following Him in the ways He has ordained for us. And, like Abraham, we intercede for the people in society around us, grateful for having the time to communicate the Good News of eternal life. There will be a day when the earth as we know it will be destroyed, but until then we keep plugging away, grateful for God’s grace and mercy.

Dear God. We have promised to serve You until the end. There is no other way to eternal life. Amen.

Not My People

“Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea, “Those who were not my people, I will now call my people. And I will love those whom I did not love before.” And, “Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’””
Romans 9:25-26 NLT

Imagine how the Gentile Roman recipients of Paul’s letter must have felt when they read these verses. God, through His grace and mercy, has extended His love to all those not of Jewish heritage but who called upon His name anyway. Paul quoted verses from the Old Testament prophet Hosea – Hosea 2:23 and 1:10. But the entirety of the prophet Hosea’s message didn’t come to fruition until the early Apostles started to evangelise the world of their day. It wasn’t easy for the Jewish men. Acts 10 gives the fascinating account of Peter, and how God gave him a vision about telling the Good News to a Gentile believer, Cornelius. This man, a Roman centurion, we are told, was a God-fearing man who, one day, had a visit from an angel who scared the life out of him. He was told to send for Peter, who was living at the time in a place called Joppa. In parallel with this, Peter received a vision. We read in Acts 10:11-13, “He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them””. Peter wasn’t happy about this, because the sheet was full of animals that Jews were not supposed to eat. He said in Acts 10:14, ““No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean””. But the response to him in the vision was, “ … “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean”” (Acts 10:15). This happened three times and then there was a knock at the door from the men that Cornelius had sent to find him. We can read how Cornelius and his family became believers in the rest of the passage in Acts 10.

Jesus of course prepared the way for salvation for all men. The famous verses we read – John 3:16-17 say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him“.  But Jesus Himself was only sent to God’s people, the Jews. Of course, He couldn’t be everywhere. Jesus told the Syrophoenician woman, as recorded in Matthew 15:24, “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’“. ‭‭But He commissioned His disciples to take the Gospel beyond the Jews, as we read in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age‘”.

Today there are many Christian denominations. But regardless of which one we belong to, we know that Jesus must be at the centre. The liturgy, the prayers – they must all point to Him. He is truly the Son of God and all that we do in our churches must be to His glory. Sadly, there are one or two Christian sects who have demoted Jesus to little more than a prophet. However, the old Apostle John, living as he did in an age of all sorts of erroneous claims about Jesus, wrote in 1 John 4:1-3, “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here“.

We pilgrims are truly grateful that God’s grace even extended to us Gentiles. Wherever we are living in the world, or whichever race we belong to, God’s grace and His Good News reached us. There is no where we can go to escape it. And as we extend that invitation to those around us, we remember how God’s love and grace saved us from a lost eternity. Let us never forget!

Dear God. We are so grateful for all You have done for us. And for extending Your love and grace to pilgrims everywhere. we praise You today. Amen.

Blaming God

“So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen. Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?” No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?””
Romans 9:18-20 NLT

Paul introduces the word “blame” into his writings. If there is anything that man is good at, it is playing the blame game. And God is not immune from accusations, allegations, and the blame for things when they go wrong. Paul warned his readers that it is a bit much for the created being to blame their creator. How can a person have the gall to say that if God made me, what does He expect if I behave in an inappropriate way. Such a response or attitude is something to invite a lightning bolt from Heaven, zapping us out of existence. Thankfully our Heavenly Father is not just loving but He is patient with us as well.

Why do people blame God for calamities that affect them or those around them? We always need to find a reason for things that happen outwith our control, things that can be devastating, life threatening, and so on. The sudden or unexplained death of a loved one. A medical diagnosis bringing bad news. A car accident that produces a life changing outcome. A national disaster or change of government. Or perhaps disasters we have no control over and yet may have affected us deeply. Often, people blame God when the rest of the time they don’t even acknowledge that He exists. They never go to church. They never pick up a Bible. If they are asked, they may even deny that there is such a Being as God. But to then subsequently blame Him for the cat being run over in the street is bizarre. It’s not just individuals who apportion blame to our Heavenly Father. Insurance companies refer to “Acts of God” in their policy documents. This often appears in “Force Majeure” contract clauses, eliminating their liability, should an unforeseen event occur.

Arguing with God, or blaming Him when things go wrong, is not a new phenomenon. Isaiah wrote in 45:9-10, “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’ How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father, ‘Why was I born?’ or if it said to its mother, ‘Why did you make me this way?’” However, Bible readers will also have read Isaiah 45:7, “I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things”. 

When we blame someone for a situation that affects us and those around us, we are finding fault with them. So if I fall over an obstacle such as a discarded pair of shoes, I blame the person who left them in my way. They messed up. Their untidiness and neglect literally caused my downfall. If we extend blame to God for something that happens, or doesn’t happen, then we are effectively saying He messed up. But nothing is further from the truth. We should remember what Paul wrote to his Roman readers. “Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” In other words, what right do we have to question our loving Heavenly Father, who made us? 

Who or what, therefore, is responsible for the disasters that inflict the human race? If not God, then who? There is only one answer really. It has to be the impact of trying to live in a world blighted and corrupted by sin. The wars, caused by arrogant and selfish national leaders. The cost of living and commodity shortages caused by greed. The disputes with neighbours due to a failure to communicate and compromise. The sudden cancer diagnosis, the loss of a job. The list is endless. Should God intervene? Or bring healing? Or stop a war? I’m sure He does sometimes, but most of the time sin has to take its course. So we pilgrims stay close to our Heavenly Father, truly grateful for His grace and mercy, keeping short accounts. Only in God can we find the answer to life’s problems and struggles. As the old song says, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”. Oh, about that pair of shoes – I’d better put them away before someone falls over them!

Dear Father. Please forgive us when we try and blame You for negative events and times of uncertainty. Please help us to see what is going on, or what has happened, through Your eyes, because Your perspective is all that we need. Thank You. Amen.