The Good News (2)

“God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. The Good News is about His Son. In His earthly life He was born into King David’s family line, and He was shown to be the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 1:2-4 NLT

So what is this Good News Paul was talking about? Here we are right at the beginning of a long letter, and he starts to talk about Good News. As we follow his thinking we find an amazing thread that starts in Genesis and is still there in Revelation. And it doesn’t even end there. The Good News about Jesus is simple but costly. And one word sums it up – love. God’s love. But there’s a journey involved in how to get here.

We have to start with God and His character. He is a God of love of course, but He is also a God who hates evil. Of course, He’s our Provider. Our Shepherd. And many other things that are contained within the character belonging to the Person who created the universe, our planet, and everything within it. But there can be a problem for many, because they want to extract those features in God’s character that they like, but reject those that they don’t. Deuteronomy 7:9-10 reads, “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him”. People like the bit about God’s unfailing love, but are not so keen on the punishment and destruction side of God’s character. God is a God of purity and holiness, and within Him, or near Him, there can be no evil. One day He will have to judge all mankind to separate the righteous from the wicked. Two of Jesus’s parables worthy of note – the Wheat and the Tares, and the Sheep and the Goats. But we read in John 3:36, “And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.” In Revelation 20, we will find out what will happen to evil, sin and wickedness at the end of time.

There is this dichotomy between those who love God and those who reject Him. There is no middle ground. One way will lead to eternal life with God in Heaven, and the other to eternal life with the devil in hell. A stark and sobering choice. 

But here is the bit where God’s love prevails. He realised that mankind was incapable of living to a standard of holiness and purity that matched His. And He devised a plan before the creation of the world, that would involve His only Son and a remedy for sin. This plan, having been implemented, was the Good News that the Apostle Paul kept banging on about. A plan riddled with love and grace.

So what was God’s plan? The most famous verse in the Bible sums it up. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). And we see how events panned out during the thirty or so years that Jesus was on this planet. It started with His birth to a young peasant girl in Palestine, conceived by the Holy Spirit. God’s only Son, Jesus, was born. And the climax was when Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross at a place called Calvary, thirty or so years later. There, He took on Himself all the sins of mankind. So in response, God could look at those of us who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus and believed in Him, and instead see us as being righteous and sinless. That has to be Good News! But the Good News doesn’t end there. On the third day after His death, Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected to be able to return to Heaven. And we read in Hebrews 1:3b, “… When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honour at the right hand“. And we read in Hebrews 7:25b, “…. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf”. 

Paul devoted his life to telling any who were listening (and many who didn’t) about why the News of God’s plan was Good. There is coming a time of judgement. How that will happen is clearly shown in the vision given to John, the one which he wrote down in the Book of Revelation. Jesus went on to talk about judgement in John 3:17-19. “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil“. We read the story of the End Times in Revelation, the episodes of plagues and natural disasters, all imposed on mankind to grab their attention and encourage them to make the right choice. But sadly, and inexplicably, “people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil”. 

Like Paul, we pilgrims must devote every opportunity to share the Good News. There is no other way, because “He is Jesus Christ our Lord“.

Dear Father God, we thank You that there is Good News to share in a season of bad news. Please bring our way those who you want to hear it, and we ask for the boldness to tell our stories of Good News, as Your Spirit leads. In Jesus name. Amen.

The Good News (1)

“God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. The Good News is about His Son. In His earthly life He was born into King David’s family line, and He was shown to be the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 1:2-4 NLT

Paul didn’t waste any time in declaring what his mission was all about. It was telling everyone, whether they wanted to listen or not, the Good News of how God had touched mankind with something unprecedented. God had never done anything like this before, and will never do so again. His gracious contact with His creation included an offer so good, so life-changing, that Paul was just bursting to share it with everyone he met. And as we know from the stories of his missionary journeys in the Book of Acts, the outcomes, in terms of his personal wellbeing, were not always the best.

We live in an era of bad news. For some reason people seem to prefer to read or hear about bad things, rather than good things. And so many people I meet very easily drop into a pessimistic mindset – take this as an example. I said to someone the other day that it was a nice morning, and it was, because the sun was shining and birds singing. But the response was that it was nice at the moment but that it was going to rain later. For some reason a significant number of people generally don’t seem to want to live in a positive environment. If things are going well for them, they view this as a temporary state preceding something bad coming down the road. For these people, the light apparently at the end of the tunnel turns out to be the lamp on the front of an oncoming train.

But Paul genuinely must have been a very positive person, because he carried within him the Good News about Jesus. It was just bursting to get out. There would have been no idle chatter with Paul. Every comment, every conversation, would have been turned around to point to Jesus. We pilgrims, living in this technical age, where gadgets abound, find ourselves in a complex society that has shifted its focus away from the things of God. And in the process society has found that life has become the poorer. Joy a scarce commodity. Happiness transient. So we, like Paul, must propagate the Good News. We have an unprecedented opportunity through our access to various forms of media, to reach those around us. Yes, we may invite some abuse from FaceBook trolls. Yes, we may find ourselves ostracised in our workplaces, schools or elsewhere. Don’t forget – people generally don’t want to hear good news, especially, the Good News. But, like Paul, we must persevere, to fulfil our service to our loving Master, Jesus Himself.

Dear Lord. In You we have the Source of Good News. The Source of Joy. We are so grateful. Please bring our way opportunities to reach the hurting, cynics and sceptics around us with the purity of Your Good News.

The Apostle Paul

“This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach His Good News.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭1 NLT

Today we are starting a journey through the Book of Romans. This was a letter, or epistle, written (or probably dictated) by the Apostle Paul, and addressed to the early Roman church. It is a cornucopia of good Christian teaching and essential reading for every pilgrim on his or her journey to glory. We start by noticing three things about Paul from verse 1. His person, his status and his mission.

Regarding his person, we know a bit about his heritage. He was originally born in a place called Tarsus, and his given name was Saul. He was of demonstrably Hebrew stock and was brought up to be a strict adherent of the Jewish religion, even being taught by Gamaliel, a renowned religious teacher in those days. He was very zealous of the purity of the Jewish religion and he embarked on a crusade to eliminate the early Christians, convinced that they were all members of a dangerous and erroneous sect. He was present when the first recorded Christian martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death. We read in Acts 8:1a, “Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen…”. Then in Acts 9 we read of the remarkable and miraculous conversion of Saul from being a Christian killer to a Christian lover. From being a denier that Jesus was the Son of God, to a preacher of salvation in His name. We can read about the twists and turns of Saul’s early Christian life and how he became an Apostle in the Book of Acts. And for those who wonder, he started to be called Paul in Acts 13. The first mention is in verse 9a, “Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit…”. And that is the name he was referred to thereafter.

Regarding his status, right here at the beginning of his Roman epistle, Paul called himself a “slave of Christ Jesus”. Why was that? A slave in those days had no rights and his or her master could do with them what they liked. In the same way, Paul was totally sold out to his relationships and service to Jesus. Everything he did was in accordance with his Master’s instructions. His life was aligned to that of Jesus, the Son of God, who had appeared personally to him during his Damascus road journey.

Regarding his mission, Paul claimed in today’s verse that he was “chosen by God to be an apostle”. When was that? In Acts 9:15-16 we read what Jesus said to an early Christian called Ananias, “But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake””. I don’t think there could have been a better description or confirmation of Apostleship than that.

Paul claimed he was sent out to “preach His [Jesus’s] Good News”. And that was the driver that drove Paul through extreme conditions, at times involving real personal danger. In Acts 14:19 we read, “Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead“. All he had done was heal a crippled man in the name of Jesus in the process of sharing the Gospel, as we read in Acts 14:15, “ …  We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them“. 

Preaching the Good News is a responsibility of all Christians, including us pilgrims on our journey towards our eternal home. We may not all be Apostles, though some will be. But we all have the anointing within us to discern what is happening in the society around us and proclaim the Good News in times of unremitting bad news. It may be counter-cultural. It may be inconvenient at times. It may be costly, in terms of our time and money. But, like Paul, we are all “slave[s] of Christ Jesus”,going about our Master’s business. Our faith is nothing to be ashamed about, because one day it will ensure our future with the Master Himself. But sharing the Good News is not something we can opt out from. We read what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven“. Sharing our faith, our testimonies about what Jesus has done for us, is not a drudge. It is a privilege, and the joy that comes from seeing someone become a new member of our faith knows no limits.

Dear Father God. We thank You for entrusting to us the mission to spread Your Good News to those around us in our community, in our nation. Please empower us, and lead us into situations where we can move someone a bit closer to the door into Heaven. In Jesus name. Amen.

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.

The Church and the Plan

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
 Ephesians 3:10-11 NLT

Perhaps in days past, verse 10 came to form the basis for the ornate and expensive buildings that today bear the name “church”. Wonderful created works such as St Paul’s Cathedral in London. My local abbey in Dunfermline dates back to the 12th Century, a beautiful building standing as a testimony to the builders. There are many examples of a previous age of religious building that are truly amazing in their expressions of beauty and value. Perhaps it was hoped that the impressive architecture would be an example of God’s wisdom, in the process reminding the “unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” of His plan. But it is clear from Scripture, that the “Church” is the people, not the building. We read in Colossians 1:18 that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church“.  Jesus isn’t the head of a building. 

So we Christians are the “Church”. And God’s purpose was to use us, not buildings, to show the inhabitants of the “heavenly places” His wisdom. Much is said in the Bible about the church, such as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”). Or the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2, “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.”). And we all together, in unity, will one day be present at a marriage feast, as we read in Revelation 19:9,  “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’” Jesus even taught about it through a parable, which we can read in Matthew 22. 

Many books have been written about the Church, but what does all this mean for a 21st Century pilgrim like me? How does God’s purpose for His people affect me? Or involve me? Can I just gloss over this verse and continue to warm a pew every Sunday and live my life regardless? This is obviously a personal decision, one that needs to prayerfully be made in God’s presence. But if God has a plan for His Church then He has a plan for me, because I count myself as one of His people. Part of His global and eternal Church. And as we read today, I am part of His plan to display His wisdom not just to a sinful world, but also as a sign to the “unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places“. We who are His people pray together for access to this “wisdom in its rich variety” so that we can be worthy of our calling. And we do our bit for His purposes, fulfilling His plan, disseminating the Good News about “Christ Jesus Our Lord“.

The Least Deserving

Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.”
Ephesians 3:8-9 NLT

““Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting!”
Acts 9:5 NLT

Paul described himself as being the least deserving of all God’s people. A bit harsh, don’t you think? A false humility? A personal put-down? No, I think I can see where Paul was coming from. When faced with this new counter-cultural but, in the traditional Jews’ opinion, blasphemous cult of “The Way”, Paul suddenly found his life-mission. The most important thing he could do. Perhaps he thought he was the only solution to the problem of this cult. Everyone else was just complaining, tutting, plotting, in the end not doing very much. But he was going to sort it. He was single-handedly going to wipe all these “blasphemers” from the face of the earth. At best he was going to imprison them. At worst, stone them. Speaking of which, that is where Paul, then called Saul, first cropped up in Scripture. At the stoning of Stephen. He held the stoners’ clothes. He looked on in approval. And in him birthed the burning desire to complete the work. We read in Acts 9:1, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples….”. His intention was to go to Damascus where he had heard there was a fellowship there, some disciples of “The Way”. With letters of authority he was going to drag them as prisoners to Jerusalem, where they would stand trial for “blasphemy”.

But as we know, something dramatic happened on the Damascus road. A dramatic U-turn so incredible and life-changing that it puts into insignificance the U-turns of our elected politicians. Saul, soon to be Paul, met the risen Jesus. A meeting so amazing that Paul, literally in a flash, changed from being a persecutor of the early Christians to being one of their greatest evangelists. We read that he was blind for three days. Can you imagine the agony of what he was going through? The enormity of what he had been doing must have been driving his thoughts, and we read that “he was praying“. The regrets, the guilt, the hurt. Enough to drive him to insanity? (Incidentally, he was accused of being mad in Acts 26:24 but that’s another story). 

So it is not surprising that Paul thought himself “the least deserving of all God’s people“. I can imagine the poor man must have regularly held his head in his hands, distraught over what he had done. But the mind-boggling truth is that God’s grace was sufficient even for sins of the magnitude of Paul’s. There was no limit to God’s grace in Paul’s day. And there still isn’t today. God will never reject a repentant sinner, even one who is “least-deserving” like Paul. We must never think that we are too bad for God to forgive. Too sinful even for His grace to save us. As Christians, we all experienced a U-turn in our lives. That day when we said “Yes” to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. That day may not have been so dramatic as Paul’s was. But the outcome is the same. We are forgiven by grace. God’s unlimited and wonderful grace. And like Paul, what else can we do than share the wonder of God with those around us. As I have said before, we are “beggars, showing other beggars where to find bread”. Let’s always keep a few crumbs in our pockets for the needy who come our way.

Spreading the Good News – 2

God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. 
Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.”
Ephesians 3:5, 8-9 NLT

So imagine the scenario. We have an amazing secret that we now want to go public on, revealing a bombshell of life-changing information to a fractious and divided population. How would we go about it? Obviously, we would need to choose men and women of good standing in the community, with a reputation of being experts in their particular field of science, medicine or theology that the information was related to. People who would be well respected. It would be hoped that they would be listened to and their information and advice therefore followed. We see such an activity today – someone, for example, stands up and announces a new diet that, if followed, would prevent our risk of this illness or condition, or other benefit, usually for the bottom line of some corporation or other. 

But not so with God. Firstly, his “bombshell of life-changing information” was infinitely greater than any man-made quackery. God’s secret plan was so life-changing that human plans paled into insignificance in comparison. Secondly, God did not choose to announce His plan with the help of the religious experts of His day. Those mighty theologians who dominated Jewish thought and teaching. No. He used ordinary men and women to announce His plan. Fishermen, a tax collector, a doctor, a tent maker. The human response would be that it would be bound to fail. But. There’s always a “but” when God is involved. We read in Acts 4:13, “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” In 1 Corinthians 1:27, we read, “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” God didn’t need the experts and educated people of the first century to disseminate His plan. Just Spirit-filled men and women who were bold enough to turn to God and say “Yes, Lord”. Like a young peasant girl did when an angel asked her to bear God’s only Son, Jesus. God doesn’t need educated people. He doesn’t need university degrees, or long years spent in a seminary. Just people who have “been with Jesus“. God has turned our world values upside down. So on our pilgrimage through life we may be considered fools for believing what we believe. But God thinks we are wonderful and He has entrusted to us the privilege of sharing His message of hope with the dying world around us. What an amazing God we serve.

Spreading the Good News – 1

“As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed His mysterious plan to me. 
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving Him by spreading this Good News.
Ephesians 3:3, 6-7 NLT

Paul was much taken up with this thought of God’s “mysterious plan”. Looking back, as we do, there doesn’t seem much about it that is “mysterious”, but to the peoples of Paul’s day, the Middle East in the first century, it must have been an amazing revelation. This is the second time Paul has mentioned the subject in this Epistle, previously revealing it in chapter 1 and verse 10. Can you imagine the impact it would have had on the religious people of Paul’s day? The Jews would have immediately been offended and upset, that someone, particularly someone who they knew at one time was a Pharisee, would suddenly turn their belief system upside down, by preaching what to them was a heresy, committing the sin of blasphemy in the process. To the non-Jews, referred to as the Gentiles, the Good News would have had a similar impact, in that it too would come up against the worship of accepted religions such as the Greek pantheon of gods. The Ephesians had their own special god, Artemis, aka Diana. And we see the mayhem that Paul stirred up in Acts 19 when a riot developed because the local silversmiths, who made a living making images of the goddess, could see their livelihood disappearing. 

So God’s plan was so counter-cultural, that, humanly speaking, it was bound to fail. But as Paul pointed out, “God’s grace and mighty power” was involved. Perhaps the nearest scenario we could imagine today would be if someone was going round preaching the good news that Christians and Muslims were part of God’s plan, which was to unite them into one faith. Can you imagine the mayhem that would result? Even though God’s grace extends to everyone, regardless of who or what they are? 

God’s plan was one of equality and unity. Through Jesus we all share in His unlimited blessings. We all share in an inheritance unlike any other. And Paul again pointed out that he was privileged to be able to share God’s plan, through “God’s grace and mighty power“. A privilege to be in prison for sharing the Gospel? But a privilege it is. God had done so much for Paul, and does so much for us, that it is surely a privilege to be able to serve God through our service to Him. Regardless of the consequences. So we pilgrims continue our journey, conscious of, and grateful for, the sacrifice made by Paul, a sacrifice that laid the foundations for many a church congregation and left us a legacy of his grace and love filled letters. Letters that contain so much of our theology today. We too look out for opportunities to do our bit in sharing the Good News, just as necessary today as it was in Paul’s day. 

The Prisoner

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –”
Ephesians 3:1 NIVUK

Paul is in prison. Not a pleasant experience in those days. A dirty, rat-infested and cold cell of misery. No sanitary arrangements worthy of the name. So why is he there when he needn’t be? Paul was probably arrested and imprisoned several times and we have accounts, brief glimpses of his penitentiary experiences, in Acts 16 and again in Acts 21. And all because Paul was an active and effective preacher of God’s Word, the Gospel of Good News. He refused to keep a low profile and ended up arrested, imprisoned and beaten. His life story is recorded in the Bible and through scraps of history from other sources. 

So Paul was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. The problem is because the Gospel, the message of Good News about the Kingdom of God, confronts the status quo. It encourages people to face the fact that “all have sinned” and points out the consequences continuing to live in sin, in the darkness of the devil’s ways. This counter-cultural view upset the Jews of Paul’s day – they thought that the only way to God was through them and their religious culture and customs – and because the Gospel also reached and included the non-Jews, the Gentiles, who the Jews despised. But Paul wasn’t fazed by any of this and continued to preach the Gospel regardless, to the detriment of his freedom. But we should be clear – Jesus Himself, the Son of God, lost His life for the same cause. And He warned His followers that they would be treated in a similar way. In Matthew 10 we read His words, “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you….

What about preaching the Gospel in a public place in 21st Century Western societies? “Free speech” is a hot topic in the UK in these days, with people and lobby groups constantly wanting to “cancel” any messages they disagree with. And Christians are increasingly being attacked for their faith. There is even legislation before the UK parliaments that would seek to make preaching the Christian message illegal. 

Would we be prepared to go to prison, to be persecuted, for our faith? Many Christians throughout the world are facing into the consequences of openly being a Christian, especially in places like North Korea and Afghanistan. Pushing back the frontiers of the enemy, the devil, will invoke a violent reaction. At the present time in our Western societies, we are free to hold church meetings and bring our message of hope to our streets. But it may not always be that way. We must pray for our communities, our nations, our families, that God will have mercy on us and graciously and lovingly support us in His mission of reaching the lost. While we still have time. But one day we might just have to choose between freedom and imprisonment, between keeping quiet or denying the Gospel, or preaching it regardless, to whoever will listen. Hmmm…

He Chose Me

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.”
Ephesians‬ ‭1:3-4‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

There is much depth in these verses. Right at the start of this Epistle, Paul sets the scene. And his focus is on our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He starts by offering his praises to Father God for Jesus. After all, if it wasn’t for his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, Paul wouldn’t have found himself in a zone of blessings. A zone so real to him that he wrote about yearning to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), a yearning underpinned by his understanding and knowledge of “every spiritual blessing in Christ”.

But what are these “spiritual blessings”? Several are listed in this chapter in Ephesians. Some we won’t fully inherit until we are in God’s presence. Some blessings we can start to experience in our lives right now. One thing for sure is that a blessing in Christ is infinitely, and eternally, better than any earthly blessing. But one spiritual blessing I would like to focus on today is that God, through Christ, chose us. He chose you and He chose me. And amazingly He chose me before He even created the world. He could look down from eternity at my life on this earth and through His love and grace, He chose me. Of course that is not to say He didn’t choose other people. We know from that famous verse, John 3:16, that He loves everyone in the world, regardless of when they lived, past, present or future. But that doesn’t dilute the fact that He loves me in a personal way. He whispered my name as He was putting together the plans for creating Planet Earth. 

But the spiritual blessing doesn’t just end there. He chose me to be “holy and blameless in His sight”. It is at the realisation of what this means, that the enormity of this spiritual blessing really hits home. How can God not only choose me, but then establish me through Christ as being “holy and blameless”? Really? After all my sins committed in this life? After all the times I have rejected Him? But that is what this verse says. Paul didn’t just write some nice words, nice ideas based on his feelings. No, this was a faith-filled statement written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was God saying how it really is through Paul’s pen.

But there’s a catch. I can’t just read these verses and then move on, unchanged, regardless. I have to respond to God calling my name. His whispering of my name hangs there in eternity, waiting for me to respond. And He’s waiting for you as well. We have to respond to His invitation, saying “Yes” to Him, accepting Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Confessing and repenting of our sins. Aligning our lives to become worthy of His choice. But that personal gentle whisper won’t be there for ever. When we cross the Great Divide, the whisper will stop. Opportunity gone. God’s choice rejected. Many go to a lost eternity because they have rejected His calling.

Truly, we can do nothing else other than what the Apostle Paul did. With him, we bask in the awesome realisation that God chose us. What else can we do but utter our praises to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And we won’t stop. Ever.