A Solemn Declaration

And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.
Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭18‬-‭19‬ ‭NLT

We have here a warning. Nothing must be removed from, or added to, the prophecies written in the Book of Revelation. And there are dire consequences in store for any who do. We read earlier in Revelation 22:6 the following, “Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God, who inspires his prophets, has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon””. So we know the contents of Revelation are sound. God-inspired. The contents of this Book can be trusted. So it begs the question, “Who would want to change the contents of this Book?” I suppose it is likely that people would want to remove the difficult bits, and perhaps add something that they think will be a better wording, or provide a description that better fits the narrative. But this is a sober warning to be seriously heeded. 

Does the warning extend just to the Book of Revelation, or does it apply to the whole of the Bible, including both Testaments? In Deuteronomy 4:1-2 we read that Moses said to the Israelites, “And now, Israel, listen carefully to these decrees and regulations that I am about to teach you. Obey them so that you may live, so you may enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you”. And again we read something similar in Proverbs 30:5-6, “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection. Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar”. I suppose some people question the authenticity of the Bible and its many translations, concerned that the truth contained within has been violated. But the Bible is an amazing collection of sixty six individual books. Although they had many authors, there is one over-riding influence, and that is the Holy Spirit. So when we read in Revelation 22:6 that everything written is “trustworthy and true” we can be assured of the dependability of what we read.

Also of concern is the emergence of sects that have added or changed some text in the Bible to suit their own ends, citing the inspiration of a “prophet” and revelations given to him. According to what we have read in Deuteronomy, Proverbs and Revelation they are heading for an unexpected but certain demise. But for me the traditional Bible has stood the test of time and we echo with Paul what he wrote in his letter to Timothy, “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. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work”. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

So what do we pilgrims think of the Revelation warning? We consider it carefully and soberly, ensuring that we read the Bible properly, even the difficult parts. And we pray that the Holy Spirit will bring to our attention anything we need to “prepare and equip” us for our pilgrimage to the future Holy City.

Dear Father God. We thank You for Your wonderful, and only, written work, The Holy Bible. Please help us to expound its truths at every opportunity. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

Come

“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.”
Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭17‬ ‭NLT

Just a few verses before in Revelation 22, Jesus had given John an invitation. He said, “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds.” (‭‭Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭12). And now the invitation rings out again. Loud and clear. There can be no excuse that people never heard it. After Jesus it is the turn of the Holy Spirit to say, “Come!”. And just to make sure, the bride also says, “Come!”. Of course, we know that the bride is the church – we have read much about the Bride of Christ in previous Revelation Scriptures. So we have an alliance, a partnership, between the Holy Spirit and the Church; an invitation from Spirit-filled churches is powerful. And the next invitation in verse 17 is from all who hear the “Come” and repeat it to those around them. 

But those who respond to the invitation have to be thirsty. And the thirst must relate to the “water of life”, freely given by our wonderfully generous God. This “water of life”  is the same drink Jesus promised the woman at the well. He said in John 4:14, “But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” Jesus gave the invitation again in John 7:37-38, “On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart’””. The invitation is there to be accepted. But as the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. Unless people are thirsty for this living water promised by Jesus, they won’t drink it. They prefer the worldly drinks, even as the woman at the well discovered, finding out that anything of the world never satisfies and leads to a life of enslavement to drudgery.

Verse 17 in Revelation 22 starts with “The Spirit and the bride”. Notice that it is not the church on its own extending the invitation. Neither is it the Holy Spirit who is just saying “Come”. It is a joint invitation from the Holy Spirit and the Church. This may be an obvious point, but without the Holy Spirit, a church cannot effectively ask people to come and drink of the living water offered by Jesus. This is a because a church without the Holy Spirit won’t have a supply of living water. It will be as dry and arid as any natural desert. Sadly, the Holy Spirit left many churches long ago, but the dwindling and elderly congregations are still offering what they don’t have. And those in the world find out that there is nothing there for them. Perhaps all churches should ask themselves the question, “Would we know if the Holy Spirit left us?” The answer to that question could fill a book on its own.

So we pilgrims, those of us who have already responded to the invitation to “Come”, who are already drinking of the life-giving water, must extend the invitation to those around us. There are plenty of thirsty people around – I meet some every day on my morning prayer walks. We pray for the opportunity to connect people’s spiritual thirst with the life-giving water. Only Jesus can turn on the tap. And only people can propagate the “Rivers of living water” that flow from God’s throne. 

Dear Father God. We pray for a fresh filling of Your Holy Spirit today. We know You have more than enough living water to quench our thirsts. We are so grateful. Amen.

The River

“Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the centre of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.”‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭1‬-‭2‬ ‭NLT

For all their lives, my grandmother and aunt lived in a small village situated on the banks of the River Test, in Hampshire, England. I spent many holidays there and have memories of the river, flowing quickly through the chalky geology of that part of the world. It was so clear and clean, that every detail seemed to stand out, its clarity famous amongst fishermen and others. But the“ water of life … flowing from the throne of God” was even clearer. It’s purity was perfect. And “it flowed down the centre of the main street“.

We will remember the words of Jesus, when He appealed to the people in Jerusalem, as recorded by John in John 7:37-38. “On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”” John continued in verse 39 with an explanation of what this living water was, “(When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)”. We will also remember the story of the conversation Jesus had with a Samaritan woman, who was drawing water from a well. Jesus said, “… If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask Me, and I would give you living water.”” (John‬ ‭4‬:‭10‬). So in a sense there has been a spiritual river flowing from God even in these pre-New Jerusalem days. And it is a gift God has for us right now. Today.

In John’s vision, he saw the trees of life, one on each side of the river. But at first sight, the reference to leaves being there for healing would seem to be anomalous, because there can not, and will not, be any sickness in Heaven. So the fruit and leaves of the trees of life were there to sustain the eternal state of those living in Heaven. We read about God’s plan to feed His creation back in Genesis 2:9. “The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” At last, God’s plan finally realised in the New Heaven, in the New Earth and the New Jerusalem.

The prophet Ezekiel wrote about a river that flowed from the Temple, starting at the door as a stream. And it became deeper and deeper as it flowed. In Ezekiel 47:12 he wrote, “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, for they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing.” In his vision, Ezekiel saw this river flowing from the Temple all the way to the Dead Sea. Many a sermon has been preached, inviting the hearers to immerse themselves in this river of life. But the question for us pilgrims is how much of God’s Spirit do we want to enjoy? Just a little, an ankle’s worth, or full immersion up over our heads. God is not reluctant to give. There is no water shortage in God’s spiritual economy.

Dear Father God. We pray for a fresh infilling of Your Spirit today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Water of Life

“And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.”
Revelation‬ ‭21:6-7‬ ‭NLT

We continue with our unpacking of God’s words given to the Apostle John in Revelation 21:6-7.

God refers to “the springs of the water of life”. But what is this “water of life”? One thing for sure, and we need to knock the blasphemy on the head straight at the beginning, it is not connected with the Gaelic word for the Scottish distilled alcoholic beverage, whisky,  “usquebaugh“, which translates to “water of life” in English. I think we can all agree that there is no life is such a drink. Neither is the “water of life” anything to do with the mythical quests for the “Fountain of Youth”, water with supposedly magical properties that will allegedly enable people to live for ever. 

In the conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus explained that He was the dispenser of spiritual water. Referring to natural water drawn from the well, “Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”” (John 4:13-14). We obtain some more clarity in John 7:27-30. “On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)” So Jesus was very clear that all those who came to Him, who accepted His offer of salvation, would benefit from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

God said to John that the Holy Spirit will be freely available to all who want it, who are thirsty for the refreshing that comes from a relationship with Him. Note that He had just made a statement about His eternal status. And with that comes the eternal availability of the Holy Spirit. He is not Someone just available once we are in Heaven. The Holy Spirit is available now for everyone who wants to drink of the real “water of life”. 

God finishes with the reassurance, incredible though it seems, that all those who have made it to Heaven, all those who have overcome their doubts, their fears, the ploys of the enemy, even martyrdom, and any other obstacle put in their way, and have remained steadfast in their faith, will inherit a whole raft of blessings. The implication is that these blessings are available eternally, and we can enjoy them both now and forever. And He finished with a touching and loving statement straight from the Fathers heart. “I will be their God, and they will be my children“. On our knees in worship, we can only respond with a big “Thank You.”

Father God. We thank You for Your gift of the Holy Spirit and we ask You to fill us again today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Heavenly New Song

Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together. This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb. They have told no lies; they are without blame.” 
Revelation 14:1-5 NLT

The 144,000 learnt a new song. Only they had the right to sing it, and their praise and worship through the song triggered an outpouring of singing with a “sound … like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder” in HeavenJohn struggled in his vision to described what the worship sounded like. He recorded it was like the natural sounds of waves and thunder, but with a musical content as though many harpists were playing their instruments in a wonderful expression of how they felt about their Creator God. John knew it was a great Heavenly choir singing, and they were in a vast arena that stretched into the distance, apparently for ever. The focus of the arena was the throne of God, and, still with Him, were the four living beings and the twenty four elders. Wow!

Occasionally some churches experience an outpouring of spiritual worship as the congregation abandon the hymn book and instead spontaneously erupt in a new song, expressing their praise and worship of God. The Psalmists often encouraged the people to sing a new song. For example we read in Psalm 149:1, “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.” We read in Isaiah 42:10, “Sing a new song to the Lord! Sing his praises from the ends of the earth! Sing, all you who sail the seas, all you who live in distant coastlands.” And in our recent journey through Revelation, we read in 5:9, “And they sang a new song with these words: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

So we have the picture from John’s vision of the vast Heavenly choir singing the new song, and the 144,000 Jewish believers on Planet Earth in Jerusalem joining in. Truly a time when Heaven touches earth. 

We pilgrims are encouraged to sing a new song too. But how do we create or compose a new song. We don’t, of course, have to sit down with a music manuscript and start to add the crotchets and minims, writing some lyrics as we go along, though some may want to do so. A new song is an expression of our praise and worship to our wonderful Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus. And helping us with our spiritual expression is the Holy Spirit, connecting us to the Heavenly realm. So how do we start, if singing a new song is foreign to us? We start with a prayer of adoration. Then we allow our thoughts and spirits to focus on what Jesus has done for us. Next we start to express, with a few worship words, or the Heavenly language God has given us, how we feel inside. And then sing them, choosing a note or notes that wells up within us. No straining, just Jesus.

Earthbound we might be just now, but we can join in, as our spirits touch Heaven in a song of praise and worship to God. Our spirits are in fact reaching out to join the Heavenly choir. But we sadly restrain them with our attention to our work-a-day life. Held back by the trials encountered on our journeys through life. So we must allocate time for a new song to burst from our spirits. Perhaps on the daily commute to the office. Or in our time spent in His presence at the start of our days. And in the process of singing our new songs, the resources of Heaven, in some mysterious way, flood over our souls, bringing sustenance for the day ahead. Why do we so often fill our stomachs with earthly food but starve our spirits of Heavenly fare? 

So today we pilgrims join the heavenly choir in a new song of praise to our God. Just by allowing our spirits to respond to our Heavenly Father, as flowers turn towards to sun as it rises from the dawn.

Heavenly Father, we worship You today. And tomorrow. And for ever. Amen.

Power and Imagination

“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face shone like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire. And in his hand was a small scroll that had been opened. He stood with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. And he gave a great shout like the roar of a lion. And when he shouted, the seven thunders answered.
Revelation‬ ‭10:1-3‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John’s eschatological vision continues with the appearance of another angel. A mighty angel. This angel was surrounded by a cloud and had a rainbow positioned over his head. And John was struck by the brightness of the angel’s face and he also noticed that the angel’s feet were like pillars of fire. The angel obviously had something to say, related to the scroll he was carrying. And he must have been huge, to be able to stand astride on sea and land. He gave a “great shout like the roar of a lion”  and received a response from the seven thunders.

What is all that about, was my first thought. Do we accept the picture that is forming in our minds at face value or do we try and make sense of it, interpreting the vision in a way that imparts a meaning? Firstly, this episode takes place between the sixth and seventh trumpets. An interlude perhaps? Did the people still alive see this angel – something that big wouldn’t have been hard to miss – or was this a spiritual event portrayed for John’s benefit, and ultimately ours as well?

We can draw some associations between what we see and what has been written in the Bible. For example, we remember that God led the Israelite slaves through the wilderness during their exodus from Egypt from within a cloud. And Psalm 104:3 reads, “You lay out the rafters of Your home in the rain clouds. You make the clouds Your chariot; You ride upon the wings of the wind.” So the angel’s message from a cloud perhaps means that it has God’s backing, His seal of approval. Also we know about rainbows. In Genesis 9:13, God said, “I have placed My rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of My covenant with you and with all the earth.” We also have a Biblical precedent for a bright face. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, we read in Matthew 17:2 that “His face shone like the sun”. Regarding the “feet … like pillars of fire” we remember that God led the Israelites at night in the wilderness with a pillar of fire. So we, at the very least, can assume this “mighty angel” was someone of great importance. In fact, some have even suggested that He was Jesus Himself.

Regarding the mighty shout, we read in Hosea 11:10. “For someday the people will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west.” In Joel 3:16 we read, “The Lord’s voice will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth will shake. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a strong fortress for the people of Israel.” John didn’t record in his vision what the great angel shout was about, and neither do we really know what the seven thunders represent. But we do know that when God responded to Jesus’s prayer in John 12, some people thought it had thundered. But, everything considered, this event in Revelation was a momentous event. God was about to say something very important and significant through the mighty angel.

Is there a message in this vision for us pilgrims today? Not many of us, if any at all, will have received such a vision as John did that day. But that is not to say that God has overlooked us and has failed to deliver an important word, tailor-made just for us. Over the years I have received several important messages from God – one of them delivered with His audible voice. Something intensely personal and encouraging. God is always listening to our prayers, to our petitions, to the anguished cries from our hearts, and He will graciously and lovingly always provide the answers and encouragement that we need. 

Jesus said that when He left this earth, He would send the Holy Spirit as His representative. And through Him we will have access to the same power that Jesus had. In Acts 1:8 He said to His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…”. Today we pilgrims are Jesus’s disciples with the potential to be powerful for God through His Spirit. I know that many claim that the power of the Holy Spirit was just for the original disciples and their generation and that it disappeared when they all died. But that is not my experience, and neither can I find any Scriptures that explicitly say that this is what happened. 

I have always been challenged with what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Paul wrote that to a church fellowship located in the city of Ephesus. He didn’t pick out the apostles and the favoured few who knew them. This was written to all those in the fellowship of Ephesian believers. And I firmly believe today that it applies to us as well, and we all have that accessible power deep within us. Just waiting to be tapped. In the power of this Spirit, we can dream. We can allow our imaginations to be led by the Holy Spirit. There is no limit to what can be achieved through the power that is within us. So there may be a pilgrim reading this today who feels inadequate and is lacking confidence in who they are. They might be feeling inferior and incapable. But God wants to encourage us all today. In Ephesians 1:19-20 we read, “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” So let’s press in today, flexing our spiritual faith muscles, believing God for more of that Holy Spirit power to touch us and touch those around us. In Jesus there is no limit to what we can achieve, if we only believe.

Dear Father God. We confess that we feel most of the time like fragile clay jars. But we declare today our confidence in You, the One who uses such ordinary vessels as us to do great things for You. Thank You. Amen.

Being Filled

“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians‬ ‭5:18-20‬ ‭NLT

What was in Paul’s mind when he compared an alcohol-induced drunkenness with an infilling of the Holy Spirit? Was he implying that the same “high” could be achieved with the Holy Spirit? Whatever his thoughts, the comparison is striking – the destructive effects of alcohol as against the constructive effects of living a life filled with the Holy Spirit. 

What does it mean to “be filled with the Holy Spirit”. Apparently the original meaning was that we must be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. Just as the effects of alcohol will disappear from our bodies, so too will the impact of the Holy Spirit, as we use His power within our daily lives. But there the analogy must end because there is no real comparison. 

The Bible is rich with verses extolling the benefits of a life filled with the Holy Spirit. For example, Galatians 5:22-23 reads, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…“. We need the Holy Spirit to help us in our pilgrimage through life – don’t we just! As we encounter daily interactions with those around us, being filled with the Spirit can make the difference between worldly and Godly responses. As we constantly give of our emotional and spiritual resources to those around us, we need to constantly call upon the Holy Spirit to replenish us with His power.

Jesus taught His disciples much about the Holy Spirit – one such example was in John 14:16-17, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth…”. “Truth” is something much lacking in life today, as it was in the First Century. During Jesus’ mock trial, Pontius Pilate himself confessed to not knowing what truth was (John 18:38). But through the power of the Holy Spirit we know the Truth that matters. 

Part of my testimony is about the time I saw Christians working together and relating with each other in a community setting. They had something shining through them, that I now know was the outworking of the Holy Spirit, filling their lives. And I have over the years experienced help and love from other Christians, many of whom I hardly knew, but who have ministered to my situation through the power of the Holy Spirit.

So on our life-pilgrimage we too have an obligation to obey Paul’s call to “be filled with the Holy Spirit”. Daily getting on our knees before Him, asking for more of His presence and resources in our lives. Father, fill us afresh today, we pray, and again tomorrow, and again … Amen.

Getting Drunk

“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians‬ ‭5:18-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Drunkenness. As Paul wrote, it ruins lives. But not only the lives of the drunk but the lives of those in their families and communities. Health destroyed. Destitution probable. The future for an alcoholic is bleak except for the fact that there is a loving Heavenly Father. There are many testimonies from men and women who have found healing and a new life through the power of the Holy Spirit, prayer and care leading to salvation and freedom. And it started with a pilgrim introducing a drunk to Jesus. But from those who don’t find God, the slippery slope can end in an early death with the final years blighted by illness and misery. I know because that is what happened to my sister-in-law. 

On my early morning prayer walks, there is a man I occasionally meet who is an alcoholic. The ravages of drink are clearly visible in his face. His unsteadiness on his feet, even first thing in the morning, betrays a legacy of inebriation. He is usually locked into his own world, but I try and speak with him, desperately trying to find common ground over which we can walk and talk together. Always looking for an opportunity to share the love of God. One day, when he was more lucid than usual, he opened up and shared how he would love to get a job. But in the natural world he was a reject. A man to be managed, rather than helped, by the society around him. But in God’s kingdom there is a place for him. God will never turn away a repentant sinner. I’ll keep trying to introduce him to the love and forgiveness of God. And I’ll pray for him in the meantime.

A dear lady I know is a very committed Christian in a family blighted by alcohol and drug addiction. It’s a family where misery and devastation is constantly knocking at the door. She is a lung cancer survivor but suffers from constant ill-health. Her brother, a lovely Christian man who I once had the privilege of knowing, died in his forties from lung cancer – he was a very heavy smoker. Her husband, died young, what of I don’t know because she doesn’t speak of him. This lady had four children – three boys and a girl – but sadly in the past year or so the two oldest boys have died in their forties of substance misuse – alcohol and drugs. A family destroyed. A family devastated.

So Paul was right when he advised not to get drunk on wine. I would add to his list beer, and anything else containing alcohol, while we’re at it. And I’m sure if drugs were available in his day he would have been writing about them as well. He wasn’t advocating teetotalism. He was just saying that we must stop drinking wine before we get drunk. I personally have no objection to drinking wine. It can be a pleasant companion to a good meal. Or perhaps something that would be appropriate in a social setting. But like many things in life, an alcoholic beverage is good in small quantities, dangerous if taken to excess. And potential addiction is always lurking in dark corners.

As pilgrims in our societies, moving slowly but surely through the corridors of life, alcohol will never be far away. Premises dispensing alcohol are ubiquitous, at least in Western societies. So as Christians we cannot avoid contact with drinks that contain alcohol. Of course, we can exercise our right to free choice, and replace them with soft drinks. And alcohol-free wines and beers (and even gin I understand) is available. Drunkenness is a dark place for many but we can shine our light into the lives of needy people who have been seduced by an alcohol-fuelled lifestyle. We can show a better way. And we can share God’s love and compassion with people who have been left to their fates by institutions and governments who seem powerless or unwilling to get involved in their misery. 

Paul goes on to write about being filled with the Holy Spirit, but more of that in tomorrow’s blog.

Four One’s

“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”
Ephesians‬ ‭4:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians continues the theme of unity. And in these two verses he presents a fundamental view of God. Paul sets out the bottom line. The bedrock of our faith. A picture of God that is total and complete in every way. I see a picture before me today of an onion, and Paul is peeling away the layers, exposing truths that are seismic and fundamental to our beliefs. We have to peel away each layer to be able to appreciate the next. This view of God is so profound and true that if we cannot accept in turn each of Paul’s statements, then there is no point in continuing. This is a creed with five truths that underpins all other creeds. 

So for the first layer, Paul says there is “one Lord“. Believe it or not, in the world today there are many “lords”. And all except one are the wrong lord. We can make a loved one “lord” of our lives. Or even the devil. We have a privileged class in the UK of “lords”. And a part of our government here in the UK is the “House of Lords”. Many people make a “lord” out of their hobbies, or jobs. But Paul said there is only one Lord who really matters and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. If we hold a view that Jesus was anything other than the Son of God, a Member of the Holy Trinity, both human and divine, then there is no point in proceeding to the next layer of Paul’s “onion”.

The next layer refers to “one faith“. A sad phenomenon in some established churches today is the willingness to have “multi-faith” services. The bizarre spectacle of a Rabbi, Imam, Priest, Buddhist monk,  and a Clergyman holding joint prayers is directly at conflict with the God-truth of there being “one faith”. But is this what Paul was bothered about? No. I believe Paul was pointing out that true faith was not only believing that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, that He died for our sins and that He sent the Holy Spirit to be His representative here on Planet Earth, but Paul was also pointing out that the faith we have extends to an unshakeable belief and assurance that God knows what is best for us, and regardless of our circumstances we will continue to have faith in Him. For an example, Abraham showed true faith when he placed his son on the altar as a sacrifice to God. True faith involves obedience to God regardless of the circumstances.

We continue to the next layer by considering what “one baptism” means. The New Testament mentions two types of baptism – baptism in water (Acts 8:36-39) and baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16). The fact that Paul mentions baptism here is therefore significant. It is an essential, non-negotiable, part of what being a Christian is all about. In Acts 2:38 we read, “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“.

The next layer of our onion is the all-encompassing declaration of who God is. There is only “one God“. I can remember a Muslim man I worked with telling me, some years ago, that we both worshipped the same God. But the God of the Christians, Paul’s God, our God, is different to Allah, the Muslim God. very different. Sadly, even amongst Christians there are different views of who God is. Some Christian denominations worship a God that is different to the One described in His Book, the Bible. But one thing is very clear. God is a God of love and grace. He is infinitely patient and kind. “The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” (Psalm 145:8).

Finally, Paul continues with the statement that God is “Father of all“. God is our Heavenly Father. We are His children. And as with any family, children can be naughty and rebellious. Well, that is how we started off in our natural lives. The religious jargon is that such behaviour is “sin”. Sadly, most people deny that they have a Heavenly Father. But saying we don’t have a Heavenly Father is the same as saying we don’t have a natural father. One day everyone will stand before God to give an account of their lives – most people will get a nasty shock if they continue to deny He exists! But it is so sad for those who don’t believe in God’s Fatherhood. He is the perfect Father. Loving. Fair. Helpful. A Guide when we need Him. Gracious. Merciful. God’s parental attributes could fill a book – well they do – His Book, the Bible. And the more we read it, the more we find out about Him. Imagine what it would be like to be in a situation where we never knew our natural father. But he left us a book about his life. I can guarantee we would read, and re-read the book he left us, to try and find out as much as we could about him. So it is with our Heavenly Father. He left us a book all about Him. And just for good measure, He threw in a shedload of information about our elder Brother, Jesus. Oh – and don’t forget the Holy Spirit – there’s a lot about Him in there as well. Three for the price of one?

The rest of these verses describe God as being, “over all, in all, and living through all.” Paul included these words just to make sure that what he had been saying was total. Complete. Nothing missed out. The word “one” is mentioned four times in these verses. Someone once said that if God said something once, we should take note. If He said it three times then we had better sit up and do something about it. Well, here is Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying something four times. Something important, don’t you think?

Explosive Power

“And I pray that He would unveil within you the unlimited riches of His glory and favour until supernatural strength floods your innermost being with His divine might and explosive power.”
Ephesians 3:16 TPT

Paul continues to pray for his friends back in Ephesus. And this is not a prayer along the lines of “Please bless Aunty Mary…”, good though that is sometimes. This is a powerful prayer. A prayer that is tuned into the God-zone. A prayer for a life-changing transformation to take place in lives that were perhaps not fully aware of what was within them. Now imagine a room with a door that has never been opened. In fact, a room where the door blends into the surrounding walls to the extent that most of the time its existence is hidden. But one day, someone detects that the door is there and opens it to find an amazing treasure trove behind it. Perhaps Paul had a picture of a similar door in the hearts of his readers, a door that they were only dimly aware of. A door that they had timidly opened just a crack, and had peeped in to see what was there. But they had ventured no further. Well, Paul was praying that they would grasp the door handle and yank the door open to expose “the unlimited riches of [God’s] glory”. And he prayed that they would keep it open until what was behind the door could flood out into their lives.

So what were these “unlimited riches” hidden within them? And how will a knowledge of them help today’s pilgrims in their life journeys? The Passion Translation which I have used today mentions God’s “glory and favour“. Paul prayed that “supernatural strength floods [our] innermost beings“. And he doesn’t stop there. He mentions God’s “divine might and explosive power”. If true, this verse has to be transformative for our lives. For our pilgrimage. If true, where is this power? Where are the lives being impacted by it? 

On my pilgrimage through life, I have come across Christians who deny that the power Paul wrote about was applicable to today. They claim that the work of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity who delivers God’s “divine might and explosive power“, stopped when the Apostles finally all died. Sadly, I think they worship a limited God who I don’t fully recognise. I worship Paul’s God, the Almighty Being who has made His “unlimited riches” available to me. Why would He say to me that He has all this power, that He has put it within me, but then say He was sorry but He only allowed those first Apostles to use it? 

So back to my question. What is this power? I suggest that the only limitation to what God can do in our lives is our faith, or lack of it. Matthew recorded Jesus’ words about faith – he wrote in Matthew 17:20, “He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” I think we can all agree that telling a mountain to move, and seeing it happen, is a pretty convincing demonstration of God’s power. Jesus also said, as recorded in John 14:12-14, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” There doesn’t seem to be any limit to what God can do. 

So there is only one answer to my question. It is an answer that starts and finishes with God. I have to tune into my own God-zone, with faith that He is who He says He is – the Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient Almighty Creator God. And so we take small steps of faith in our life-pilgrimage, building up the spiritual muscles that will enable God’s “explosive power” to impact our lives and the lives of those around us. In my life there have been occasions when God’s power has been indisputable. And I continually thank Him for making His resources available to me. He truly is a God of power, and love, and grace. We worship an exciting God, who only waits for willing servants to share in His exciting plan for mankind.