Self Honesty

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us”. 
Romans 12:3 NLT

This is a difficult one. What do we think of ourselves and our abilities? And how do we know? There are some empirical ways of assessing our abilities, and academic exams are one of them. We might, for example, think we are good at arithmetic, and we can prove it by passing some sort of test. The same would apply to a driving test, where we can demonstrate to an external examiner our ability, or not, as the case may be. Similarly, we might think we are good at speaking a foreign language, something that is easily confirmed by a visit to that country. But these are all specifics. The problem comes when, for example, we say we are good at a subject like art just because we can pass an arithmetic test.

I used to work for someone who was an expert in his vocational field. He wrote for scientific and technical journals, and people consulted him about their theories and projects. So he started a company to market his products, thinking that he would have the same expertise and abilities when it came to business matters. Sadly he didn’t, and the company collapsed. Now here’s the reason – he didn’t have an honest evaluation of himself. He should have read the verse we are looking at today. The problem in much of today’s employment, particularly in white collar environments, is that those who climb the promotion ladder have to make claims about how good they are, by talking up their abilities. I was once in a project meeting with a very confident manager, who impressed the project sponsor by his apparent knowledge of the subject in hand. Afterwards I complemented him on his knowledge, to which he replied, “in a land of blind men, a one-eyed man is king”. The reality was that he had a good grasp of all the buzz words, but little else. But life isn’t like that for most of us.

At the other end of the scale, I have known people who are really good at something, but they lack the confidence to leverage their abilities, failing to make them a useful addition to their lives and the lives of others. But the emphasis in Paul’s message would indicate that this is less of a problem then being overconfident, by thinking that “you are better than you really are”.

Was Paul merely applying what he was writing about to spiritual matters or everything that the person, the “each of you”, was involved in? He was probably, in my opinion, referring to life, everything the person was involved in as they went about their everyday lives. Paul also included some guidance in his letter to the Philippians. “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” (Philippians 2:3-4). He continued, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. …” (Philippians 2:5-7). The world has got it wrong. Society demands that self-promotion is necessary to get on, and be better than anyone else. The Christian way is the opposite, one of humility and preferring one another. A way where we step back and allow God to do the promoting. Because of Jesus’ humility, He was honoured, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honour and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9).

Paul writes about self-evaluation through the faith that we have. To present this as an example, perhaps someone who claims to have a healing ministry, but doesn’t see the fruit of it, may not have the faith to make their claim. There is a partnership between a person’s spiritual and natural abilities, seasoned with the faith that comes from a lifetime of service to God.

So we pilgrims, humbly in God’s presence, work with Him to maximise our potential for His kingdom. Through our faith in Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit working within us. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). And, in the end, that is what we really want to do – please our loving Heavenly Father.

Dear Father God. We praise and worship You today, deeply grateful for Your presence in our lives. Please help us, we pray, to serve You with faith and in truth, trusting that it is only through You and Your Son, Jesus, that we can really succeed in all that You have for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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.

God’s Power and Glory

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”
Romans 11:33-36 NLT

Paul finishes his musings about the greatness of God with the thought that God holds everything in its place through His power and for His glory. Of course, we know that God is good and nothing bad can come from Him, don’t we? Surely to do what we perceive are “bad things” must be impossible for Him. However, God receives much blame for the negative things that go on in the world. For the wars. For someone’s illness. For a mugging in the street. Because it’s raining on a summer holiday. Blame is aimed at Him, whether trivial or serious. Even insurance companies refer to an uninsured loss as an “Act of God”.

We pilgrims know that sometimes God disciplines His people, either corporately or individually. At the time we might think that God is capriciously dealing out some form of punishment for our misdemeanours, and we mistakenly feel that God is not good anymore. But in Hebrews 12:5-6 we read, “And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child””. God is always seeking our highest good, and when we stray off the narrow path, He will never hesitate in drawing us back to the right way, even if it involves us in some pain. And we have Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them“. Scripture tells us that God dispenses good gifts. We read in James 1:17, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow”. 

So where does all the bad stuff come from? Can any of it be attributed to God? Obviously one source is sin and another is from the devil, although we can read Old Testament accounts of God allowing, or even making, bad things to happen. He may even initiate them for His redemptive purposes. Or bring them in judgement, as we saw in the Old Testament accounts of the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. We also know that God abhors sin, but allows it to run its course, for now. We may observe, read about, or even experience, an illegal act, such as an assault, which would violate God’s moral code. Surely He should intervene or at least, bring some form of punishment? But we know that one day Books will be opened and everyone who has ever lived, or will live, will have to account for their deeds, facing into the consequential punishment for their actions. We should note, however, that we sometimes confuse bad things with immoral things – God’s morality is above reproach.

The other difficulty we have when considering the bad stuff that happens to people, is that, although it may happen by accident, it may not be stoppable. As an example, a friend of mine tripped over in his garden yesterday and banged his head and cut his arm in the process. Should God have stopped that happening? Accidents happen in our world, whether we like it or not. Although God is of course capable of stopping them, and may do so from time to time, we cannot expect Him to intervene at every occurrence. What about natural disasters? Should God have stopped the recent earthquake in Turkey? The Revelation account tells us that this may be one more sign of the End Times.

The conclusion we can draw from Scripture is that God will give us gifts that are good. A sinful world suffers bad things, but in this time of God’s grace we can assure ourselves a future that is going to be good and perfect. God holds the world together for His ultimate glory, but He allows mankind to make its choices. And choosing sin will inevitably bring bad stuff to our world. Through Jesus, the ultimate “Good Gift”, we can find forgiveness for our sins. And through it all, we give God the glory that is rightfully His. We may not fully understand why things happen, good or bad, but we trust God, because only He can see the end from the beginning, and every stage in between.

Dear Father God. Only You know the words of eternal life. Only You can be trusted in this sin-tainted world. So, we thank You for Your grace and love – where would we be without it? Amen.

The Full Number

“I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ.”
Romans 11:25 NLT

Paul unfurls a mystery before his readers. He said that while the people of Israel, the Jews, refuse the Gospel, the gentiles will benefit from God’s grace. But this won’t last forever, because there is a limit on the number of Gentiles who will come to Christ. The obvious question, of course, is – how many is the “full number”? Is God close to achieving that number? We don’t know – only God does. But there is coming a day when God will decree enough! And then we will see the hearts of the Jews responding at last to their Messiah. 

Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 24:14, “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” The implication is that the “full number of Gentiles” won’t be achieved until the whole world, including all nations and people groups, have heard the “Good News about the Kingdom”. One statement that people who try to find fault with God suggest is that He isn’t fair, because there is always the possibility that someone, somewhere, will never hear the Gospel, implying that they will be denied the opportunity to respond to God. A good answer is perhaps the suggestion that if this concerns them then they should sign up to be a missionary just in case, and go and search out remote peoples and nations tucked away in some inaccessible corner of the globe. But, almost as a catch all, Paul wrote in Romans 1:20, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God”. Jesus said that the Gospel will be preached everywhere, but Paul follows that up by the thought that people don’t really have an excuse if they fail to respond to God. One day, we will all stand before God but secure in the knowledge that He will certainly always be fair. People will only ever be judged on what they know, not what they don’t know. And we can rest assured that everyone will be judged by what they know, not what they don’t know.

We currently live in a season of grace. The full number of Gentiles as not yet been reached – we know that, because we do not yet see the wholesale softening of the hearts of the Jews. But it won’t be long. The number of different translations of the Bible is staggering. The extent and reach of the Gospel is as never before. There is a feeling of urgency in spiritual realms, and we can see the end time story unfolding and aligning itself to world events, just as the old Apostle John wrote in the book of Revelation. So how prepared are we? And how are we communicating that feeling of urgency within our families and communities? Do we pray everyday for God to wake up those around us and soften their hearts so that they will feel the gentle wind of the Spirit flowing around them and through them?

Paul wrote about the mystery of how God made the Gospel available to the Gentiles. Our gratitude can know no limits. God’s love for His family, regardless of their origin, is mixed with His grace to reach everyone who is open to Him. It is a mystery no more. It is reality.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Your grace and love. Please lead us to anyone who has not yet responded positively to Your Good News. Over our lives we have planted many Gospel seeds. Please bring on a time of harvest before the final click of Your salvation clock. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”
Romans 11:17-21 NIVUK

Gardeners are good at grafting. To someone who knows little about gardening, such a technique is well beyond my experience, but there are many skilled people who are good at it. What is grafting? Here is a quote from the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society, “The purpose of grafting is to combine one plant’s qualities of flowering or fruiting with the roots of another that offers vigour and resilience”. I have a rose bush in my front garden, purchased some years ago, that consists of just such a hybrid combination of good flowers and a wild rose root and stem. Paul informed his readers that they have been grafted into the olive tree, replacing other branches that had been broken off. Of course, as we considered recently, Jesus is the Source of the “nourishing sap” that supports us and sustains us in our Christian lives. And we are “wild olive shoots” that have been grafted in. The implication is that we Christians are not natural parts of the olive tree, but have been given the opportunity to be joined to the tree through our faith in God.

Paul goes on to make a good point. It would perhaps be easy to feel in some way superior to God’s own people, the Jews, because we have found His grace and love and they haven’t. So we observe how their removal from the Source now makes room for a people saved through His grace. And Paul reminds his readers that those removed, the natural branches, “were broken off because of unbelief”. There is, however, a warning coming from Paul’s pen – be soberly aware that we too can be broken off from the vine, the olive tree, if we lapse into apostasy and unbelief. 

Back to John 15. Jesus Himself taught about the importance of remaining connected to the Vine, we read in John 15:5-6 what Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Indeed a sober warning for us pilgrims. So how do we remain in the vine? How do we avoid being burned in the fire? It’s all about our relationship with God. As Jesus said to the Jewish expert in the Law, the greatest commandment to be followed is, “ … you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Our connection to the Source depends on our choices. If we choose to love God in all we do, aligning our lives and behaving how an olive branch should, then we will enjoy the life-giving and nourishing sap that flows unhindered from the throne of God. But if we choose to behave in a way that connects us to a different root system, then we cut ourselves off from God, and our spirits will wither and die. 

We pilgrims know what we must do. And it is not an impossible request that God makes of us. He is our loving Heavenly Father. He has the words of eternal life. Only He can welcome us into our future home in Heaven. And so we worship and praise Him, secure in the knowledge that He loves us and cares for us. He accepts all repentant sinners who come to Him, and He willingly grafts us into His Tree. Through His grace and mercy, there is unlimited room for new branches, and the grafting process is accompanied by much joy. How grateful we are!

Dear Lord Jesus. You are the Vine and we are the branches. Thank You for the life-giving Spirit that flows so freely towards us. 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.

Salvation for the Jews

“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.”
Romans 10:1-4 NLT

Anyone reading the Bible will soon appreciate that much of it is all about God’s relationship with His people, the people of Israel, the people we call Jews. We read through the pages, unfurling stories of rebellion and sin. Of idolatry followed by repentance. Of God’s patient efforts to restore His people to the relationship with Him that He so desired. Of prophets sent time and time again to point out sin and sinful ways. Of the time when God used even a foreign power to take away His people into captivity, in the hope that they would turn to Him. But through it all a strand of faith persisted in a people who knew they were God’s chosen ones but found themselves unable to live up to His mark. They found that trying to live by the Law didn’t work. And in Romans 10:1, Paul expressed his heart-felt desire for salvation for his people, the Jews.

God, observing the difficulties of His people, sent Jesus to bring salvation to His people. What a wonderful, patient, loving God He is! He could see that his people were “trying to keep the Law”  but they failed to realise that Jesus was the fulfilment of all that the Law tried to accomplish. They knew the Messiah was coming because they had read the prophecy from Isaiah, “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)” (Isaiah 7:14). Even Moses had a glimpse of what God’s Messianic plan was, as we read in Deuteronomy 18:15, “Moses continued, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him”. Some scholars have worked out that there are as many as 300 Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, so the expectation of the coming of God’s Son was embedded within the Jewish people. They just didn’t know how or when. 

Paul knew how enthusiastic the Jews could be – he called it “misdirected zeal”. And certainly they tried, surprisingly successfully, to maintain their religion, and keep themselves apart from other peoples. The tragedy was, and still is, that they failed to recognise God’s Son when He finally showed up. In their minds they pictured their Messiah as a conquering hero who would release the people from the tyrannical occupation of the Romans. But when He came, He showed up riding a donkey, a Man of peace. But Jesus spent His ministry time here on earth with His people, and with a message of salvation for the Jews. He brought the message about the Kingdom of God, but most of His countrymen didn’t recognise it. And, tragically, rejected it. And so to this day, the Jewish people “cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law”. 

But there will be a time when the Jews finally realise what they have missed. Zechariah could “see” it would happen and he recorded his end times vision of what was to come. We read in Zechariah 12:10, “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died”. So salvation will one day come to the Jewish people. Sadly, they will “grieve bitterly” because they missed the opportunity to welcome their Messiah at His first coming, instead putting Him to death. But such is the grace of God that He will never turn His back on them. We pilgrims, mostly Gentile in origin, also enjoy God’s love and grace. How wonderful He is!

Dear Father. Thank You for Your grace and mercy. When we deserved punishment, Jesus took it on Himself. And now we are righteous in Your sight. How wonderful You are! Amen.

The People of Israel

“They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.”
Romans 9:4-5 NLT

Paul continues to write about his fellow Jews. And without a doubt they have had an extraordinary past, a heritage that continues into the present day. What other race of people has ever held together without intermarrying with other people groups? Paul himself claimed to be “pure blooded”, as we read in Philippians 3:5, “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law”. Paul could trace his ancestry all the way back to Benjamin, who was the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel. Benjamin became the leader of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. His was a tragic birth, because through it his mother Rachel died. We read in Genesis 35:18, “Rachel was about to die, but with her last breath she named the baby Ben-oni (which means “son of my sorrow”). The baby’s father, however, called him Benjamin (which means “son of my right hand”)”. But by claiming to be “pure blooded”, Paul knew that no non-Jew had sullied the family line.

But how did the Jewish race become God’s chosen “adopted children”? We read in Deuteronomy 7:6, “For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure”. Perhaps God, seeing down the corridors of time, wanted a particular race of people into whom His Son, Jesus, would be born. The Old Testament details the lengths God went to, to hold His people together. Imagine what it must have been like, on that four-decade journey from Egypt to the promised land. The sea parting at Moses’ command. God leading the people with a pillar of fire by night, a pillar of smoke by day. Manna, a daily food supply. Water pouring from a rock. Surely an incredible display of God’s glory and provision, for many men, women and children who could have numbered as many as five million, numerically the population of Scotland, according to some estimates.

What do Christians today, pilgrims like us, make of the Jews? The nation especially chosen by God to represent Him on Planet Earth? We look back over history and see incredibly sad and cruel persecution of God’s people, much of it in so-called Christian nations. In recent memory, the Holocaust is just such an example. Even today, anti-semitism is rife in Western nations, and even in the UK, as recent political events have shown. But we need to remember that the Jews were, and still are, God’s chosen people. We know too that salvation comes through the Jews – Jesus said so, as recorded in John 4:22, “You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews”. Jesus’ statement was fully confirmed by His death on a Roman cross on a hill called Calvary, a few short years later. Jesus, the Jewish Son of God, was sacrificed so that we could be made right with God. Whatever the Jewish nation is going through, or doing, in the end they are God’s chosen people. There was a prophetic word spoken by a Jewish High Priest and recorded in John 11:50-52,  ““You don’t realise that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world”. So we pilgrims pray for the Jews, and thank God for Jesus, because without Him, where would we be? Amen?

Dear Father. Thank You for Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. And we thank You for Your people, the Jewish nation, who have taught us so much. Amen.

Christ’s Love

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.”
Romans 8:35-37 NLT

Paul muses for a while on how much Jesus loves him. He runs through in his mind all the circumstances that he has experienced on his long and often tedious missionary journeys. The abuse he has suffered. The privations forced upon him. The insults hurled against him. The beatings and stoning. Even shipwrecks. The list is endless, seemingly. And he ponders for a moment, wondering if all the negative experiences that have come his ways mean that Christ has deserted him. Do we feel the same sometimes? Do we think God doesn’t love us anymore when we experience difficulties? Do we feel God has deserted us when the prayers for a sick loved one seemingly go unanswered? Or when there is too much month left at the end of the money? Has Jesus left us when we have a road traffic accident, or when we get fired from our job?

We pilgrims are natural human beings, predominantly living a life embedded in the here and now. Most of our thoughts are focused on the natural and physical circumstances in which we live. The food we eat. How we feel. The clothes we wear. But we live in a world where all of this is badly affected by sin. So it should be of no surprise to us when we feel sometimes that the world around us is a hostile and loveless place. Paul, though, had even more reason than us to feel aggrieved by his circumstances. But he could then make that extraordinary statement, “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” An amazing conclusion. Paul had learnt the practice of lifting his eyes. Instead of guddling around in the mud and the mire of life, he had embraced what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 40:2-3, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord”. 

Paul had learnt that his altitude was established by his attitude. As he lifted his eyes to Heaven, he could imagine Jesus there, cheering him on. Heavenly reassurance that all was well. His legacy in Heaven was safe. Lack of love on earth did not mean God didn’t love him anymore. We Christians have many challenges in life. I can look back and see on several occasions, with deep gratitude within me, how God protected me from life’s difficulties and circumstances. But there were times when He didn’t. But He still loved me. And He still does today. And I can still stand assured on the solid Rock who is Christ, with an assurance that regardless of what life throws at me, God is still on His throne in Heaven and Jesus is sitting at His right hand pleading for me. 

We pilgrims are all walking our own paths to the promised land. Some roads will take us through difficult terrain, with apparently insurmountable obstacles in the way. But God is there with us, always helping, always loving, always holding our hands. And we can sing with many of our brothers and sisters, who may be experienced troubles, “a hymn of praise to our God”. 

Heavenly Father. We do indeed sing a hymn of praise to You today. Your love for us is boundless. And we declare with Paul that victory through Christ is ours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Our Calling

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
Romans 8:29-30 NIVUK
“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.”
Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul continued to write that God called those He had chosen right from the beginning. If someone in a crowd calls out our name we look around us to see who was the caller. We immediately respond to the mention of our name. Jesus did the same to His disciples. In Mark 1:17,20 we read, “Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” … He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men”. Our calling from God is more subtle. We mostly don’t hear a voice from Heaven (not unknown but unusual) calling our name. But in more subtle ways we hear God’s voice. Through circumstances perhaps, so that we end up in a place where God has our attention. Or through an invitation, calling even, of a trusted friend. Or at a time when we had reached rock bottom and decided only God had the answer to our problems.

God also calls His people for a specific purpose. He called to Moses from a burning bush; we read the start of the account in Exodus 3: 2-4, “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.” When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” “Here I am!” Moses replied”.
The Apostle Paul was called – he wrote in Romans 1:1, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”. 

History is full of people with a calling. We think of the great missionaries such as John Wesley and Jim Elliot. Men with a specific calling from God. But it’s not just history. I know of a young woman who is currently sharing the love of God with people groups in the Middle East. Jackie Pullinger and Mother Theresa are also examples of women with a special calling to do God’s work amongst the disadvantaged. The author Philip Yancy writes much about his doctor friend who turned his back on a medical career to work as a missionary doctor amongst people with leprosy.

So the inevitable question now emerges for us pilgrims. What has God called us to do? This is a personal question, and one that must be approached with care and much prayer. The question can’t be answered. by anyone else. There have been many tempted to head for the mission field in response to a rousing sermon preached by a big name evangelist. But the reality is that most of us are called by God to use the gifts He has given us in our communities and workplaces. We are “salt and light” in societies that are hostile to counter-cultural people such as us. Occasionally, of course, God will give us special assignments, like Ananias who was called to go and pray for Paul (the story is in Acts 9). But most of the time it is all about being faithful in the small things, day to day. One day our perseverance and diligence will be rewarded by our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. We will hear the “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus mentioned rewards for those who show kindness to others. In my meanderings around the West of Fife woodlands, I often give a cheery “Good Morning” sometimes followed by a topical greeting referring to something of local interest. In this season of my life, perhaps that is all God wants me to do. One day, there will be a positive response and the opportunity to lead someone to Jesus. We don’t know what is going on in another person’s life, but I have often wondered about how some will open up and spill out the anxieties and problems that are in the forefront of their minds. And they will then walk away, hopefully touched by the love of God.

Dear Lord Jesus. Your love for mankind knows no limits. Please lead and guide us to the right people at just the right time, so that we can communicate Your love and grace. Amen.