Living Sacrifice

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”
Romans 12:1 NLT

Paul starts this chapter with an “And so”. Other translations use the word “Therefore”. He is referring to all that he has written in the previous verses and chapters, and because of all this, Romans 12:1 is the proper response. Paul “pleads” with his readers to do something, something that perhaps they would find hard or difficult. How can we give our bodies to God? He is Spirit. Our bodies are physical. Flesh and blood. But the Jewish Christians would have known what Paul was getting at. Animal sacrifice was very much a part of the Jewish religion, at least while they had a temple. But is Paul here saying that they, his readers, should be the sacrifices instead?

First of all we should remember that Jesus put an end to the practice of animal sacrifice, by becoming an eternal offering for sin. In Hebrews 10:5 we read, “That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer””. Why did Jesus do that? Hebrews 10:10, “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time”. And then Hebrews 10:18, “And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices”. 

But Paul “pleads” with his readers to “be a living and holy sacrifice”. It can’t be anything to do with forgiveness for sins, because Jesus was the ultimate and eternal sacrifice. There is, perhaps, a clue when Paul adds the reason for giving our bodies – “because of all he has done for [us]”. How can we properly respond to God for what Jesus did for us at Calvary? It is no good offering Him our money, or anything else that we own. And neither will working for God in some religious role, such as a missionary or minister, be good enough. No, God wants us, body, soul and spirit, our entirety. 

It is easier in many ways to go through the religious motions of being a Christian. Going to church. Attending the prayer meetings. Putting a tithe in the offering. Standing on a street corner with a collecting box for the poor. But none of this costs us what God is really looking for – our selves. We must bring our wills to God, and lay them on His altar. 

Paul said that our sacrifice, our bodies, must be “living and holy”. Nothing else is acceptable to God. Our bodily sacrifice has to be alive, because then our wills, our selves, are active and making decisions God’s way. If we were dead there would be no benefit, either to us or to God. And we mustn’t forget that God will only accept what is holy into His presence. Hebrews 12:14, “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord“. We are sanctified – made holy – through Jesus. Colossians 1:22, “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault“. 

Through our willingness to present every facet of our lives to God, for His service and worship, and because of the blood of Jesus, we are an acceptable sacrifice to God. Of course, we become stained and soiled by our sin and the sins of others, but by confessing our sins to God we are forgiven, becoming a living and holy sacrifice.

Dear Father God. We respond to Your servant Paul’s pleadings today. We reach out to You in praise and worship. Amen.

Holy Dough

“And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy—just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.”
Romans 11:16 NLT

We are having a second look at this verse in Romans 11. Paul reminds his readers that the early Jews were obliged to provide an offering to God made up of dough. This was a type of bread made from finely ground wheat or barley with oil and salt, but without any yeast. It could be cooked or uncooked and it was brought to the priests with some of it offered to God. We read all about the grain offering, which was presented in the form of dough, in Leviticus 2, and we read that it was considered a special offering. Leviticus 2:10, “The rest of the grain offering will then be given to Aaron and his sons as their food. This offering will be considered a most holy part of the special gifts presented to the Lord”. 

But we pilgrims ask if the dough offering has any relevance today. I think it does, as a principle to be followed. As we look at the offerings set out in Leviticus and the other parts of the Torah, they all relate to something significant for the person presenting the offering. A grain offering when the Israelites were wandering for 40 years in the desert would have been difficult to find, so would have been considered something precious. And that is the key – an offering to God of any kind is worthless if it is submitted from a position of plenty. In modern terms, an offering of £10 to God is worth little to someone with £1000, but a lot to someone with £15 in their wallet. Jesus was in the Temple one day with His disciples, and the offering from an old lady caught His attention. We read the story in Mark 12:41-44, “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on’”.

Tithes and offerings were a significant part of the Jewish faith, and the same principle applies to Christians today. Of course, our Western societies have a system of taxes to support local and national governmental responsibilities, but our religious leaders, our pastors and teachers, need support through our tithes and offerings. And there seems to be a connection between our generosity and our personal well-being. Proverbs 11:24-25, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed”. 

But Paul, in the next chapter in Romans, exhorts us to bring a personal offering to God, in the shape of our bodies. We read in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship”. But however we view the “dough” in our lives, and whatever form it takes, there is a principle here of holiness in our attitude towards God. 

In a sense we pilgrims are resident in a society, a “dough”, consisting of many people. but perhaps through our presence within it we are introducing a glimmer of holiness because of our connection to God. A bit like the salt and light in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We must never underestimate the importance of being God’s ambassadors in our communities. Sodom and Gomorrah might still be with us if righteous people could have been found there. A contentious thought? Perhaps, but God is looking for holiness amongst His people. We read in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy””. Perhaps we feel the bar for achieving holiness is too high, and, of course, it is through our own efforts. Thankfully, through Jesus, we are considered righteous in God’s sight.

Dear Father God. Thank You for Jesus and Your plan for our salvation. Please refresh us today by the power of Your Spirit, so that we can shine brighter and brighter in our families and communities. Amen.

The Law is Holy

“ … So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.
Romans 7:10-12 NLT

Imagine trying to live our lives only by following a list of rules and regulations. Without any opportunity to vary what we do. So imagine if there is a rule about when to get up in the morning. And another rule about what to eat for breakfast. A rule about the route we must take to get to work and the mode of transport to be used to follow that rule. Before we know it we might as well be a robot, programmed by a higher power who has designed a system within which humans can live, removing from them the right to decide what they should do for themselves. A system with boundaries so tight that there is no opportunity for any individuality. The problem comes when a scenario develops that has not been thought of and no rule applies.

Many years ago we fostered a boy who initially needed rules to establish structure in his life, a life previously blighted by disfunction, a lack of structure, and chaos. I remember a time when he was asked to go to the local shop and purchase some baking potatoes. When he didn’t return my wife went to look for him, to find him standing by the greengrocery section of the shop totally at a loss, because they didn’t have any baking potatoes. We forgot to add another rule – if the shop didn’t have any baking potatoes then to just come home. Thankfully that young lad flourished in our family environment and he is now in his late twenties, with a steady job and a family of his own.

But having said all of that it is a fact that all human beings need boundaries. And that was what God had in mind when he issued the Law. His intention was that by following the Law, His creation would live in a way He desired, a way that was close to Him. The list of rules and regulations started with two important laws, that Jesus spoke about to a Jewish leader. We read his question in Matthew 22:36-40, ““Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”” It is from the position of loving God “with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” that we understand the Law is holy. And that is true when we read the Laws that God gave the Israelites all those years ago. None of them is wrong. We can drill down into each commandment and distill the last drops of what they mean, but nothing will be found that I is unholy. Surely the commands of the Law are righteous and holy.

To be holy means to be set apart. We Christians are in fact living in a sinful, secular, world, but we are not a part of it and its customs. In John 17 Jesus prayed for His disciples. He said, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do” (John 17:15-16). God’s Law was designed to keep the Israelites “safe from the evil one” in a world populated by nations who were wicked and evil. They were set apart. They were holy (if they adhered to His commandments of course).

Are we pilgrims a holy people? Do we conform to what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:9a, “ … you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession …”? That was the intent of the Law, but we live by the Spirit, set free from the very Law that was supposed to bring life but instead brought spiritual death.

As I write this, the Scottish government is electing a new leader. One of the candidates is a young woman who is very open about her Christian faith. In an interview, which touched on her opinion of marriage, the interviewer wrote in his news article, “As a Christian, she explained, she believed marriage to be between a man and a women but she insisted she would defend the law as “a servant of democracy””. She is operating at the cutting edge of being in the world but not of the world. The issue of holiness in a secular world needs the wisdom of Solomon to get right. I’m thankful I’m not in that position.

Dear Father God. We need Your help to live as a holy people in this evil world. We echo Jesus’ prayer for safety from the evil one. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Becoming Holy

“Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.”
Romans 6:19 NLT

Paul now introduces the Roman Christians to something called holiness. He tells them that the consequence of living in a righteous way is that they will “become holy”. We know, of course, that God is holy. At the end of Psalm 99 we read, “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain in Jerusalem, for the Lord our God is holy!” In revelation 4:8 we read about four Heavenly beings continually proclaiming God’s holiness, “Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty— the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”” And there are many other verses proclaiming God’s holiness. Nothing sinful can survive, or even get close, to our holy God. He is perfectly righteous, giving us the connection to being “slaves to righteous living”. But the Roman Christians of Jewish origin would have known about their need to be holy, because they would have had access to Scriptures such as Leviticus 19:2, “Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Did they perhaps think that the new freedom in Christ relieved them of such an obligation? If they did, Paul soon set them right.

What about us pilgrims? Are we living a holy life? A life set apart from the sinful world around us, a world full of people who apparently lack a moral compass and fail to do what is right? That happened before in Israelite history. It is nothing new. We read in Judges 21:25, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” It sounds remarkably similar to what is happening in our Western societies. Politicians who do not know the King are suggesting and approving legislation without any reference to the higher Power, and instead are listening to, and obeying, their devil-inspired, sinful selves. Of course, we cannot shut ourselves away in a protected, holy space somewhere, like a modern day monk or nun, much as we would like to sometimes. In Jesus’ longest prayer, He prayed for His disciples, and we read in John 17:15-16, “I’m not asking You to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.” We pilgrims live in this world, whether we want to or not, but we don’t have to be a part of it. And we echo Jesus’ prayer by asking our loving Heavenly Father to keep us safe from the “evil one”. 

We pilgrims are now living as slaves to a righteous life, sanctified by the blood of Jesus, holy in God’s sight. And we don’t look back on what we once were, but we look forward in our journey to the Promised Land, Heaven itself. A place of righteousness and holiness for eternity.

Father God. We worship You, the Holy One, grateful for Your grace, and patience with us. Amen.

Living For Themselves

“He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honour and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.
‭‭Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭6‬-‭8‬ ‭NLT

There was no doubts in Paul’s mind when he penned that God will “pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves”. He was convinced that selfish living will not end well, when eternity life after death is taken into account. But is such a response from God a bit unfair? After all, in today’s society, just as much as it must have been in Paul’s, a failure to look out for our own interests will have disadvantaging consequences. 

The two thousand years between Paul’s times and today have seen enormous changes to our societies. Today, we see huge technological changes, a much enhanced standard of living (at least in Western countries). Better education and health. Our human rights, though not perfect, are much improved when compared with Paul’s day. But there is one thing that has not changed since the days of Adam, and that is man’s propensity to selfishness and sin. And another thing that hasn’t changed is that God is righteous and holy, meaning that there is no home for sin anywhere near Him. In fact, He deals with sin and wickedness by ultimately ensuring it is contained in a place called the Lake of Fire.

So what does “liv[ing] for themselves” look like? Obviously, it is a lifestyle that promotes a person’s own needs above the needs of those around us. The Bible recorded an episode that took place between Ahab, Israel’s king, and Naboth, the owner of a vineyard that Ahab wanted. Naboth refused to sell it to Ahab, so the king had a strop and we read about it in 1 Kings 21:4, “So Ahab went home angry and sullen because of Naboth’s answer. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!” It’s a fascinating story of someone who lived for himself, and you can read it in the rest of 1 Kings 21. Selfishness ruled the day. 

But the Bible has some helpful Scriptures, detailing how we should live, rather than how we shouldn’t. We have 1 Corinthians 10:24, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others“. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too“. And one more from 1 John 3:17, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

These helpful verses, showing the right way to live, are the truth. If we obey, then we are not living for ourselves. If we don’t obey then we are. And rejecting the truth leads to a life of wickedness. It takes a lifetime of living God’s way to reduce the selfishness within us and replace it with the truth of God’s ways. Sometimes we reflect on our lives and wonder if we’ll ever get anywhere near God’s standards. Following our justification through the blood of Jesus, we embark on a journey of sanctification. In Jesus’ wonderful prayer in John 17, we read in verse 17, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth”. Through Jesus we started the process of being made holy at the Cross, and He will never give up on us.  In 1 Corinthians 1:30, we read, “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin“. 

No longer do we pilgrims “live for ourselves“. We look out for our friends and neighbours. Our families. Even strangers in difficulties. And by so doing we are being obedient to the truth. And sparing ourselves from the wrath and anger of God. 

Dear Father. Your Words are the truth and we pray for more of You in our lives, helping us to become more and more like Jesus. We are so grateful. Amen.


Don’t Close the Book

“Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.””
Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭10‬-‭11‬ ‭NLT

In the days before paper and books, writings would be recorded on scrolls, and they would be rolled up and sealed to preserve the contents. We saw this back in Revelation when we read, “And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?”” (Revelation 5:2). Jesus eventually stepped forward to open the scroll. He was the only one found worthy enough to break the seals and unleash the consequences on the earth. Well, now we’re at Revelation 22 and John was instructed not to seal the scroll. Today, we would say keep the book open and make it available for all to read. So this was to be no library book, removed from the shelf and relegated to a storeroom somewhere. This was no book to be placed in a box at the back of the attic. The angel was saying that events were about to come to fruition, just as described in the book. So keep it handy for reference. It was almost as though the prophecies were to form a checklist, with boxes to be ticked as the events happened, implying that the prophetic words contained within Revelation were going to happen just as described. And “soon”.

The angel continued with a strange statement. What did he mean by saying that existing behaviour must continue, whether good or bad? John’s prophetic vision about what was to happen had finished. The angel was now gently bringing him back to the present. A world populated by good and bad people. Perhaps the End Times were about to be completed so quickly that there wasn’t any time left for personal revisions of human behaviour. People were to continue carrying on as they always had done until the final day arrived. Jesus warned us that this would be the case, as we read in Matthew 24:37-39, “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realise what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.” It is sad to think that mankind has become so arrogant that warnings about the future are disregarded, people preferring to live their lives in a sinful way. Of course it was not necessarily wrong to indulge some of the social practices that were happening. It was all about where God was in them – elevated or ignored? In it all, were the people’s lives harmful and vile, or righteous and holy?

Is there any significance in the descriptive words the angel used – harm, vile, righteousness and holiness? Possibly not, because there were many other character descriptions possible to describe how mankind behaves. The message for us pilgrims is to “keep on keeping on”. As we wait for the final days to come, we must continue to do the things God has asked us to do. Sharing our messages of hope. Living our lives as we should. Following Christ at every opportunity. Aspiring to true righteousness and holiness.

Dear Father God. Thank You for Your faithful servant John, who so diligently wrote down everything presented to him. Please help us too to be diligent in the tasks You have set us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Winepress

“After that, another angel came from the Temple in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. Then another angel, who had power to destroy with fire, came from the altar. He shouted to the angel with the sharp sickle, “Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgment.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of God’s wrath. The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle. 
Revelation 14:17-20 NLT

John’s vision has become rather gruesome. In fact, he describes a scenario that, if taken literally, would be inexplicable. So to make any sense of what is going on, we have to try and interpret the events. If we take the key players in the scene, we have angels, the Heavenly Temple, sickles, fire, grapes, a wine press and lots of blood. They all add up to nothing short of a devastating war of some kind. This might even be a picture of the Armageddon that appears so often in literature and film. As in all good films there are “goodies” and “baddies”. We know who the “goodies” are because the angels are associated with the Temple. The clusters of grapes are the “baddies”, and the picture emerges of a complete victory over the “baddies” by God’s forces, His angels, and their subsequent annihilation. The reference to the quantity of blood perhaps implies that the forces arraigned against God’s angels were numerically considerable. We don’t know what weapons the “baddies” had, but they turned out to be totally ineffective against the angels, who had sickles and fire.

So what do we pilgrims make of all this? It seems that a war of proportions never seen before on Planet Earth is coming. And the slaughter of those who dare to take on God will be complete. This must be a comforting thought for all those who are, and have been, persecuted during their lifetime, for being counted amongst God’s holy people. Those people who have been crying out to God for relief from the abuse they have been receiving will be encouraged to keep on, because they know what will happen, in the end, to their abusers. 

As we read the next chapters, the world will enter a period of effective meltdown, as a number of events are rolled out to complete the End Times. But at this point, God’s wrath against sin and wicked people is finally being dispensed. The season of grace is over. In the end we know that a holy and righteous God, no matter how patient He has been, has to set right the imbalance between holiness and unholiness, between purity and impurity. In the post-End Times world, whatever form that will be, wickedness and sin will be unknown. Evil will have been flushed away in the blood flowing from the wine press of God’s wrath.

We pilgrims, perhaps becoming a bit weary of the increasingly bleak scenes coming our of John’s vision, must follow the Scripture written in Hebrews 12:12-13. “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” Our journeys haven’t yet ended. Our promised land is just over the horizon, but we will arrive there one day, if we “endure to the end”. And those brothers and sisters journeying alongside us, who are perhaps finding the going too tough and who want to give up, the “weak and lame”, they need our encouragement and support as well. They need kind words and friendship. They need our prayers and, often, practical help. Together God’s people will arrive at the finishing post, listening to the cheers of the angels and those brothers and sisters who arrived before us. The pilgrim’s journey through life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. 

Dear Father God. We thank You for the Heavenly home, within which we will be a resident one day. Please help us to stay true and firm in our faith on the journey ahead. Amen.

The Second Flying Angel

“Then another angel followed him through the sky, shouting, “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen—because she made all the nations of the world drink the wine of her passionate immorality.””
Revelation‬ ‭14:8‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John’s vision is certainly full of action. The first of the three flying angels is still in his memory, as he mulls over the implications of the global declaration of the Gospel. Perhaps the first angel is still visible, just on the horizon. But he now sees another one coming towards him, shouting a very different message. A message about the fall of Babylon.

Babylon was the capital city of successive empires that flourished many years before the birth of Christ. And today its ruins are located quite close to Baghdad, in Iraq. It was probably the largest city in the ancient world and had enormous significance in the lives of the Jews because so many of them were attacked and killed, and many of their people exiled, by Babylonian oppression. There are several passages in the Old Testament that detail the evil intent of the Babylonians. In Jeremiah’s day, the Babylonians were besieging Jerusalem, and we read about a request made to the prophet in Jeremiah 21:2, “Please speak to the Lord for us and ask him to help us. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is attacking Judah. Perhaps the Lord will be gracious and do a mighty miracle as he has done in the past. Perhaps he will force Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw his armies.” Daniel, a young Jewish man, was exiled to Babylon, and what happened to him and his colleagues there can be read in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. His story starts in Daniel 1:1, “During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.” And continues with Daniel’s exile, recorded in Daniel 1:3, “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives.” And there are many further accounts in the Bible about Babylon and its role in Jewish history. Babylon became a symbol of evil and oppression, immorality and idol worship, cruelty and a place where you just didn’t want to be.

So in John’s vision what was the implication of the angel’s message, “Babylon is fallen” and what was “her passionate immorality”? To the Jews, the oppression and cruelty of the Babylonians made them a feared and evil enemy. The word “Babylon” came to mean wicked, debauched, evil, hated. In fact, every negative descriptive phrase all bundled up in just one word. Psalm 137:8 encapsulates what the Jews dreamt of concerning Babylon. “O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us“. I’m sure this is the sanitised version of what the psalmist really thought!

Babylon became associated with sinful sexual acts, prostitution, idol worship and other immoral content too graphic to be shared here. And in Revelation, John wrote that “all the nations of the world” came to be the immoral legacy of the Babylonians. Here in the End Times, Babylon and its influence is finally dealt with and destroyed. No prizes for guessing who was really behind Babylon, its culture, its society, its influences, and its peoples.

We pilgrims can only look on with sadness and concern, that so many generations of people in the earth’s nations were taken in by the Babylonian immoral and evil spiritual influences. Not for us that sinful life, but we must be careful because the lusts of our sinful nature could quickly cause us to be sucked into a Babylonian lifestyle. Our twisted logic could be something like, “Just once won’t hurt”. Or “I’m only researching for my essay”. And before we know it we are fully paid up members of the Babylonians. Our enemy, the devil, knows where we are weakest and he will pick away at our resolve unless we stand firm against him.

We have all the tools we need to stand firm against the devil’s ploys. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm“. And the remaining verses in Ephesians 6 break down the weapons we have at our disposal. We have the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. We have Gospel shoes and a shield of faith. A helmet of salvation and an offensive weapon, the sword of the Word of God.

We pilgrims are called to a life of purity. It isn’t easy. In fact it is very hard. The Apostle Paul knew that, and he appealed to the Ephesians to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. (Ephesians 4:22-24). But if we stumble and fall, there is a remedy. 1 John 1:9 reads, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness“. 

The second angel announces the demise of the Jews’ arch-enemy Babylon and its associated immorality. Most of the world would have been stricken with regret, their lifestyles overturned. The party over. But is that a cheer I can hear from that synagogue over there?

Dear Father. Thank You that through the gloom of the End Times comes a ray of light, as the wickedness in the world is finally dealt with. Please help us to stay strong in the face of temptation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


“Then another angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God’s people as an offering on the gold altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out. Then the angel filled the incense burner with fire from the altar and threw it down upon the earth; and thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and there was a terrible earthquake.”
Revelation‬ ‭8:3-5‬ ‭NLT

In John’s vision, another angel appears. He was carrying a “gold incense burner”, which is a vessel usually ornately carved or adorned with a variety of designs, and punctuated with holes to allow the burning incense smoke or fumes to be released into the atmosphere. It would be suspended by a chain or cord, so that it could be carried around. The angel carrying it “came and stood at the altar”.

What is incense and what is it for? Incense is a fragrant oil or wax that, when heated or burnt, gives out a fragrant or pungent smell. In early Jewish liturgy, incense was burnt as a holy offering to God on a purpose built altar. Spiritually, incense is associated with prayer, symbolically rising into God’s presence as the incense smoke rises into the air. So the prayers of God’s people are considered to be an acceptable offering to Him, confirming that we must never neglect our prayer life. He thinks it is something special and pleasing.

The first mention of incense in the Bible was in Exodus 30, where the Lord gave instructions to Moses about the building of an incense altar. So in this picture in John’s vision, we see that incense was still being burnt in Heaven, this time on a gold altar located before God’s throne. 

In the vision, John saw incense being given to the angel, who mixed it with the prayers of God’s “holy people”. That’s important. Incense is associated with holiness. Unholy and inappropriate prayers are unacceptable to God. Paul reminded his protégé, Timothy, of this. We read in 1 Timothy 2:8, “In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.” In Psalm 141:2, we read, “Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering.” Whatever our liturgy or theology, Biblically, there is an association between the act of lifting our hands and our holy prayers. Just by opening our hands in God’s presence, as we stretch them up to Heaven, bares our souls before our mighty Creator God, in an attitude of worship and service. And by so doing, our prayers somehow become as pleasing as incense before His throne.

As the scene in John’s vision rolled on, he wrote, “The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out”. This had a dramatic impact. The holiness of the incense and the altar contrasted with the unholiness prevalent on the earth, and as a result, the angel filled the incense burner with fire from the altar and threw it to the earth resulting in thunder, lightning and a “terrible earthquake”.  

For pilgrims everywhere the importance of holiness is non-negotiable. We read in 1 Peter 1:16, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”” Believe it or not, there are some things that is impossible for God to do. One of these is that He is unable to accept or allow any form of unholiness in Heaven. Because God is perfectly holy, anyone or anything tainted by even the most infinitesimally small amount of unholiness will fail to gain entry into His presence. And that includes mankind, big time. Thankfully, through Jesus, we can attain that holiness, but we have a big responsibility in ensuring that we remain on the “Highway of Holiness”, as described in Isaiah 35:8. “And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there.” We cannot claim the righteousness that was gained for us by the death of Jesus, and then continue in our old sinful ways. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church the following (Ephesians 4:21-24), “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

So we pilgrims turn our backs on our previous lives, tainted as they were by sin and all forms of unholiness. And we keep short accounts with God, confessing our sins with repentant hearts. We have a new nature through Jesus, truly holy. And that is what we must wear.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Jesus, the Alpha and Omega of our faith. There is none other worthy of praise and worship. Amen.

Honour the Lord

“Honour the Lord, you heavenly beings; honour the Lord for His glory and strength. Honour the Lord for the glory of His name. Worship the Lord in the splendour of His holiness.” Psalms‬ ‭29:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This Psalm of David starts with the words, “Honour the Lord”. Other versions read “Ascribe to the Lord”. And they build a picture right at the start of how we should come into the presence of our amazing Creator God. With a reverence so deep, so significant, that we cannot do anything else than acknowledge who God is. With a realisation that He is infinitely great and we are infinitely small. That He is so holy and perfect and we are not.

I’m reminded of two things. The Lord’s Prayer right at the beginning states that our Father God lives in Heaven and we should “hallow His name”. The word “hallow” is an old fashioned verb expressing honour and respect. It contains a hint of God’s awesomeness. His lofty elevation above His creation.

Secondly, in those denominations that inhabit those ornate churches and cathedrals that can be found everywhere in our lands, there is a deep respect manifested in people who approach the altar. A respect seen in congregants bowing and prostrating themselves before an ornate and raised table, or platform, richly decorated, presumably because that is what they associate with the presence of God. And I must admit that I often feel “something” approaching this respectful stance in such places, perhaps because that is how I was raised as a child.

The Psalm says who should honour God, for what they should honour Him – His glory, strength and name – and how He should be honoured – with a worship enwrapped in His infinite and splendid holiness. And the Psalm continues as a hymn of praise underpinned by God-wonders, as many as David can think of.

What a wonderful place to be, lost in the presence of God. A place that many can only dimly see in the distance, with a yearning unrequited. But it is there nevertheless. I find it often in His creation. At this time of year there is an explosion of greenery in the woodlands near where I live. A place of blessing because I find God there. Because He made it and His fingerprints are all over it.

Let’s worship our amazing Creator God together today.