Frustrated Plans

“I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭13‬ ‭NLT
“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that many times I have planned to come to you, (and have been prevented so far) so that I may have some fruit [of my labours] among you, even as I have among the rest of the Gentiles.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭13‬ ‭AMP

Paul seemed desperate to get to Rome to visit the Christians there. But he “was prevented until now”. The Amplified version implies that his efforts in planning his visit were still active, but he lacked the opportunity. And the New Living Translation mentions Paul’s desire to see spiritual fruit in the lives of the Roman Christians, as he has observed in others who weren’t Jews.

Do we find the reference to “Gentiles”  mildly offensive, because that is who most of us are in our societies? The use of the word has connotations, perhaps, of a second class of person, the Jews being the first class. And certainly, that was how the Jews of that time viewed those who were not Jewish. But nothing could be further from the truth, as can be seen in the early church that was established and growing throughout the Middle East at that time. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptised into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit”. Through the sacrificial death of Jesus at Calvary, when He died for our sins, God’s grace and forgiveness was extended to all of mankind, should they choose to accept it. As some have said, there is level ground in front of the Cross. God treats everyone equally.

But moving on to Paul’s dilemma about his plans. Do we pilgrims have plans to do some work for God but have been prevented from doing so? Has God said to us that He wants us to do something but we don’t know how to make it happen? Then we are in good company. With Paul, he found a way around the problem by writing a letter. Everything he wanted to do in person was poured out though his pen, extending the reach of his God-given influence beyond what he could have achieved by making the long journey to Rome. But to Paul that was second best. He really wanted to be in Rome, right there with his Christian brothers and sisters.

Sadly, some people with God-given plans, have found themselves unable to fulfil them. and they end up living a life of frustration. Perhaps they have been held up by family pressures, or ill-health, or laziness. Perhaps they have taken a wrong turn in their lives and have become distracted by a relationship or career choice. But God never asks us to do something that we are unable to fulfil. He is not a stern taskmaster treating us as slaves, there to do His bidding. When we receive God’s call, we must submit to Him with the faith and knowledge that he holds all the resources we need to fulfil the task or tasks He has set for us. Paul couldn’t wait to do things for God. His encounter with Jesus was so real that it transformed his life, and he couldn’t wait to complete the plans God had set for him. And neither must we.

What do we do if God asks us to do something, but we’re not sure if it really is a request from God? We pray about it, asking God for confirmation. We seek counsel from other respected and wise Christians, and, if we are still unsure, we put what we feel God has asked us to do on the “back burner”. letting it simmer away in our prayers and meditations, before we take any steps that we would later regret. Remember too, that God is unlikely to ask us to do something outside our natural and spiritual giftings.

Perhaps we feel that God has not asked us to do anything for Him. If that is the case, we open the Bible. A good place to start might be Colossians 3:23-24, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ“. Another useful Scripture is Matthew 28:19, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit“. Such Godly plans might seem a bit uninspiring but often God won’t entrust big plans to us until we can be found faithful in smaller tasks. Luke 16:10, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. We remember that Moses spent forty years herding sheep for his father-in-law before God found him ready for a bigger assignment.

We pilgrims use every opportunity to reach those who need us. If personal contact is not an option, we have social media and even emails or letter writing to keep in touch. And we remember that one day, there will be no restrictions. All of God’s plans will be fulfilled.

Dear Father God. You have tasks for us to do and we pray that You will lead and guide us in the right paths. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Come Lord Jesus

“He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.”
Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭20‬-‭21‬ ‭NLT

So we arrive at the very last verses in the Book of Revelation. It has been a roller coaster of a journey, taking us over six months to complete. But we have finally arrived at the end, with Jesus providing the last word. He reminded John that He has signed off the contents of this book, and He then said, “Yes, I am coming soon!”. 

If there is ever a witness with the absolute capability to be totally right, it is Jesus. He not only walked on our planet, assuming a human form, but He also has lived for all eternity with His Father in Heaven. A unique position, and because of it He is the only One who can reliably inform us of all the physical and spiritual events that have spanned more than time. They have spanned eternity itself. So His claim to be “the faithful witness” can be totally trusted.

As we journey through the highways of life, we pilgrims need a Guide, and the Revelator, Jesus Himself, fills that role exactly and totally. We follow Him. We obey Him. And, of course, we love Him. And amazingly, the Holy Spirit, writing through John, reminds us in the last sentence of this Book, of one attribute that God has, and that gives us hope for the future. His grace. The unmerited favour He has poured out on us. As the acronym says, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life, and because of His sacrifice at Calvary, where He, the very Son of God, gave His life for the propitiation of our sins, He gave us an escape route from the sin and wickedness of Planet Earth. A staircase into Heaven for those who embrace the grace and become a member of “God’s holy people”. 

John also used the word “Amen”. So be it. May it happen. And it will. Just as Jesus said it would. We echo the amen and tramp on, inspired, full of joy, and with our faces glowing, reflecting God’s light, love and presence, and by it illuminating the lives of those around us. What a Saviour. What a God!

Dear Father God. What can we say? On our knees we worship You today and every day. 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.

The Seven Last Plagues

“Then I saw in heaven another marvellous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:1‬ ‭NLT

John’s vision moved on to “another marvellous event of great significance”. Why should even more misery in the form of plagues be marvellous? Hadn’t the occupants on earth had enough? But in John’s vision, he saw another seven angels and they were holding these plagues. But these plagues were about to bring an end to God’s wrath. No more after this.

One thing we don’t know in all these End Times events is how long a period of time occurred as they were rolled out. I have always been under the impression that these days haven’t yet started, but as I dig further and further into John’s revelation, I am increasingly aware that the End Times epoch commenced some time ago, probably not long after Jesus returned to Heaven. And ever since then bits of John’s vision have appeared, working their way through global events. For example, was the recent Covid pandemic, global in its reach, one of the End Times plagues? Will we see a requirement for global ID’s in our lifetimes? Don’t we already have the technology? But in these days, however they occur in the history of Planet Earth, we displace any feelings of fear with those of faith. Faith in our wonderful Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus, who is preparing a place for us in Heaven.

John saw “another marvellous event of great significance”. What was that? Perhaps the beauty of the angels, all the seven who appeared at once? Or the nature of the bowls containing the plagues? Or the introduction to this last episode of torment for the global population? We don’t really know, but one thing I do know. As a pilgrim myself, I also experienced a “marvellous event of great significance”. There was a day when I moved from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. I became a Christian. Nothing can be more significant in a person’s life than receiving the assurance that one day that person will live in God’s presence for all eternity. 

I have met many people over the years who do not believe that there is an afterlife. Or that there is going to be a time of judgement. I share my faith with them, warning them in the process that they are walking a dangerous path. The 17th Century philosopher, Blaise Pascal, a Catholic theologian, came up with this quote, “If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything”. But ultimately, reason and logic are poor substitutes for the love and grace of God. There was that day when I discovered that God was, and is, real. His love for mankind is real. His presence is real. Jesus is real. The Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 8, said this, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” To me, and in my experience, that is not just “another” event, but the “marvellous event of great significance”. I

Father God, we pilgrims are so grateful that You graciously performed a significant event in our lives. You accepted our stumbling and stammering words of repentance and in turn declared us righteous before You through the Blood of Jesus. No words can describe our thanks. We worship You today. Amen.

Salvation At Last

“Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.””
Revelation‬ ‭12:10-12 NLT

The time has finally arrived. With the ejection of the devil from Heaven, the Kingdom of God can finally be established. With it comes those attributes of His Kingdom, salvation and power. And, to fulfil the prophetic Scriptures, Christ Himself will rule and reign.

John saw in his vision that the devil was adopting the role of accuser, and recorded that fact in his writings. But accusing God’s people of what? Having been ejected from Heaven because of his sin, the last thing the devil wanted when he arrived on earth, was to find out that God had some of His children living there, covered by His love and grace. But to the devil’s “great anger” he did indeed find out that God’s grace through His Son, Jesus, had provided a remedy for sin even outside of Heaven. And so at every opportunity, he searched out, and continues to search out, God’s people, those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Once he has found a Christian, he waits, he tempts, and tries to get them to commit sin. If they fall he can then accuse them of being sinful like himself.

The story of Job gives us a fascinating insight into what the devil gets up to. We see in Job 1 that a conversation developed between God and satan about this Godly man, Job. We read in Job 1:7, ““Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”” The plot pans out with Job afflicted by loss of family and fortune, and finally with boils. But through it all, the devil finds nothing in which to accuse Job of. We read in Job 1:22, “In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.” Job defeated the devil through his testimony. We Christians have an even greater opportunity to defeat the devil because we are covered “by the blood of the Lamb”. 

I don’t know about you, my readers, but the devil tries to attack me by resurrecting thoughts and scenarios from my life in the past, trying to bring me down with thoughts of shame and guilt. But I have a powerful weapon – through the blood of Jesus I am no longer the person I was. I am a new person, washed in “the blood of the Lamb”.We read in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” There is a picture of the flood of humanity travelling through their life along a road that is unknown to us pilgrims. It’s an easy road to see and follow, and it requires no effort to stay on it. To “go with the flow” is an expression often used today and it applies to most people we are likely to meet. Matthew recorded an illustration Jesus used about life choices, referring to gates and roads. We read in Matthew 7:13-14, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” But we pilgrims discovered a narrow gate in life. It was difficult to find and open. But through the grace of God, find it we did, and we chose to open it. On the other side was a narrow path that twists and turns into the distance. Today as we journey along that path, we don’t know what is ahead, and we find that the devil does his utmost to get us to return to the “broad” way. From our verses today we read about those pilgrims who have travelled this path before us. Pilgrims so intent on following that path that they have forfeited their lives rather than return to the other way. There will be rejoicing in Heaven as the fast-tracked martyrs arrive, undefeated by their adversary. There is an old song, referred to as a Negro Spiritual, based, in part, on the book of Revelation, and it refers to saints marching into Heaven, and one line the singers belt out is, “I want to be in that number”. I think all us pilgrims can agree on that!

Dear Lord and Father, we thank You that You are preparing a place for us in our Heavenly home. We thank You for Your love and grace, giving us time to complete our journeys. We thank You that in Christ we are new creations, fit to be called the children of God. Amen.

Silence in Heaven

“When the Lamb broke the seventh seal on the scroll, there was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour. I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and they were given seven trumpets.
Revelation‬ ‭8:1-2‬ ‭NLT

We now come to the seventh seal in John’s vision. That number seven again, in this case denoting a complete set of judgements as written on the scroll. The seventh seal allows the final section of the scroll to be unrolled, and the last judgement read out. And silence followed. Two days ago we considered how noisy it will be in Heaven, with all the shouting and singing going on. But now there’s silence. Why?

Perhaps the writing on the scroll behind the seventh seal describes a judgement so severe that all of Heaven draws in breath, feeling tension in the air. And if we read on, we see that the seven trumpet judgements are about to be released. Or perhaps, the silence allows a time of reflection in Heaven, as the enormity of what is happening down on Planet Earth becomes known. But whatever the reason, there now follows the scene in John’s vision of seven angels collecting seven trumpets. 

This is the Time of the End, as far as the earth is concerned. The sin of mankind has finally come to the point where John was shown in his vision that it has to be judged and dealt with. This is a sobering time, even for blood-bought Christians. Jesus spoke much about judgement and hell when He was out and about in Palestine. He warned the people of His day what was to come. For example, we read what He said in John 12:47-48, “I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken“. One day there will be a day of reckoning.

What should we pilgrims do, knowing what we know? One thing for sure, we cannot just stand back and let our loved ones and neighbours face the terrible consequences of God’s judgement. Especially when God sent His Son Jesus to tell us what was to come and how we can be spared from such devastating consequences. Jesus also spoke much about hell, which he compared with a familiar place known to His people, the Jews. It was the valley of Hinnom, also referred to as Gehenna. It was here that the dead bodies, usually of criminals, and rubbish were continually burned on smouldering fires, that never went out. That was what He said hell would be like.

We cannot frighten people these days with a description of hell. I find that there can be a cynicism and flippancy permeating anything to do with Christianity amongst those who are not Christians. I can remember sharing about the judgement to come with a man who lives in my community. His response was that he would prefer to join, what he called, “the big party downstairs”, than to spend eternity with God. He has sadly heard about God’s love and grace and has rejected it. And unless he has a change of heart, he will find out what the “big party downstairs” will really be like. But we must still share all that God has done for us with those around us, in the prayerful hope that salvation will knock at the doors of their hearts.

Father God. We thank You that You sent Jesus to this world to save us. And in these difficult times I pray that You lead us to just the right people who You know are just waiting to be told about Your love and grace. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

The Sixth Seal

“I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood. Then the stars of the sky fell to the earth like green figs falling from a tree shaken by a strong wind. The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places. Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?””
Revelation‬ ‭6:12-17‬ ‭NLT

The sixth and penultimate seal was broken and the scroll unrolled a little further. The contents of the sixth section describe a series of natural disasters on a scale never before experienced. It starts with a “great earthquake”, which perhaps filled the atmosphere with so much dust that the moon became blood red. It would seem that the earth shifts on its axis so that the sun and stars either disappeared or appeared somewhere else. Seismic upheavals continue, with catastrophic changes to the earth’s crust and the moving of mountains and islands. And as the words on the scroll continue to be read, a terrified population, those still remaining on the earth after the impact of the previous five judgements of God, try to find somewhere safe. Of course, after such a seismic event, there would have been no buildings left standing. At last, the people finally seem to realise what was going on, why it was happening and who was responsible, because they cry out for help from the mountains and rocks around them, preferring death to seeing God and feeling “the wrath of the Lamb”. And the disaster that had struck them was no respecter of persons – everyone was impacted, from the kings and rulers all the way down to the slaves. And Revelation 6 ends with the verse, “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?”  Who indeed! But there is a seventh seal coming, introducing another judgement from God. There were still people left alive even after the sixth judgement.

There is always a temptation when something inexplicable crops up in the Bible, to ask Mr Google what it all means, with varying results. Certainly, regarding the sixth seal, odd-ball theories abound. One is that there will be an asteroid strike. And there are others. But all we need to realise is that the opening of this seal will precede a catastrophic series of events that will severely, but not fatally, impact the earth’s population. And it obviously hasn’t happened yet. We don’t know if the opening of the sixth seal will impact the whole of the earth, or will just be a disaster local to the Middle East. But disaster it will be.

There is some comfort to be gained from Jesus’ account in Matthew 24:22. We read, “In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones”. Even with the judgements of God being handed down to the wicked and sinful world population, God, in His love and mercy, cut short the time over which it will take place “for the sake of [His] chosen ones”. Even while such catastrophes are occurring, God still cares for us. 

Another piece of information from Jesus’ account is what will happen immediately after the sixth seal judgement. Again from Matthew, this time 24:30-31, “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven”. 

We pilgrims, at least those who are still alive at this point in earth’s history, are going to be “gathered”. Some denominations refer to this event as the Rapture. But none of us will be missed, no matter where we live. The Apostle Paul gave us some insight about what will happen from his first Thessalonian epistle. We read in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, “We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet Him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words”. 

There is so much that we cannot understand in the writings on the scroll, describing the sixth judgement. But one thing is for sure – all the people in the world will suddenly wake up and realise the consequences of their sins. There is a day coming when God no longer will be able to tolerate evil and wickedness, and He will have to deal with it. We don’t know how much longer the time of grace in which we are living will last, but while He graciously allows mankind time to repent and embrace His Son, we have an opportunity to warn our friends and families, even our communities and nations, about the coming judgement.

Near the beginning of his Acts 2 sermon, Peter boldly declared this statement, “And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below— blood and fire and clouds of smoke. The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives. But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved“. After Peter’s sermon, 3000 people responded positively to his invitation for salvation. One thought today. In Peter’s sermon he majored on our wonderful Saviour, what He did for us, and he finishes with the appeal, “…Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Perhaps in our messages of hope, our testimonies and our conversations with “this crooked generation” we should include a reference to the scroll with its seven seals, and the consequent judgements from God.

Dear Father God. I thank You that You have graciously included in Your Word references to the ages to come. You do not want us to uninformed. Please lead and guide us in our conversations with those around us, and help us to communicate Your message clearly to them. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Key of David

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the One who is holy and true, the One who has the key of David. What He opens, no one can close; and what He closes, no one can open.”
Revelation 3:7 NLT

In his revelation from Jesus, John moves on to the church at Philadelphia, addressing the angel there with his message. Philadelphia was a city in what is now Turkey, and in those days it was on a trade route of strategic importance. Not much remains of the First Century city because of earthquakes in the region, but when John wrote his revelation it was a thriving place extending Greek culture to surrounding nations.

In Revelation 3:7, Jesus once again establishes His credentials. He is the holy and true One. In Hebrews 7:26 we read, “He is the kind of high priest we need because He is holy and blameless, unstained by sin…“. He is true as we read in John 14:6, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life..””. But what is this “key of David“? Jesus was repeating the prophecy made about Himself from Isaiah 22:22, “I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them“. Jesus was often referred to in Biblical literature as being the Son of David, indicating His royal ancestry.

So what is it that only Jesus can open and close? The Isaiah prophecy mentions doors, and that would seem an obvious target of Jesus’s keys. But doors to what? And what is so important that only the Son of God has access to them? In Matthew 16:19 the words of Jesus, in a conversation with Peter, were recorded: “And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven”. So perhaps this “key of David” unlocks the door into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Heaven is a special place, of complete holiness and purity. A place where God lives. A place that, although we only get a glimpse of it through the Bible, we still gain something about its wonder and ultimate desirability for our eternal home. There is a script used much in old cartoon films and pictures, of a person who has just died arriving at the gates of Heaven. Everything is white and shining, and Peter is sitting behind a desk looking down at the person, consulting books to see if he can be allowed in. But nothing can be further from reality, from the truth. The door into Heaven isn’t opened by a key when we die. There is no Peter, or even Jesus, waiting to let us in, in that respect. There is a process that has to be gone through first. A process that will unlock the door ready for us at some time in the future.

Jesus, while He walked the paths in Palestine, didn’t focus on the place called Heaven so much as He talked and taught about the Kingdom of Heaven. We have to understand that there is no sudden transition between life and the after-life, between our earthly kingdom and the Heavenly kingdom to come. There is a choice to be made, and Jesus was teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is here right now and we can access it, and live in it, through the One who has the keys to open its door. We start our journey to enter Heaven at the Cross, where Jesus went through a horrible death so that we would gain entry into His Kingdom. By accepting in faith that He is the Son of God, believing in our hearts that He died for us and only salvation comes through Him, then Jesus will unlock and open the door for us, into His Kingdom.. 

There are only two kingdoms accessible to us in this life. The kingdom of darkness, or the Kingdom of Light. The devil’s kingdom or God’s Kingdom. The earthly kingdom or the Heavenly Kingdom. Whatever we call them, there are only two kingdoms. And there is a sobering and important fact about these kingdoms – the default kingdom is not God’s. If we want to spend eternity with God then we can only enter His kingdom by choosing to do so.

Going back to our Scripture in Matthew 16, Jesus very publicly gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. If we read a few verses before, we see that Peter had just made a statement declaring Jesus’ divinity. We read in verse 16, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God””. On the back of that statement of faith, Peter went on to make very effective use of the keys to the Kingdom – after he preached his Acts 2 sermon, 3,000 people were added to God’s Kingdom that day. He unlocked the door into the Kingdom of heaven for them and they subsequently chose to enter.

But Peter is long dead. Did the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven die with him? Thankfully not, because when we become a child of God, we not only receive the free gift of salvation, we also receive the key that will enable us to unlock the door into God’s Kingdom for anyone we meet. We have a responsibility to fulfil our Kingdom commission by firstly telling others about the Kingdom of Heaven and secondly by telling them how to enter. That is unlocking the door. And for those who reject the free gift of salvation from God, the door remains locked. By default, they will continue to live in the earthly kingdom, and will find, when they cross the Great Divide, that the door into the Heavenly Kingdom is locked and they cannot enter. Instead they will join the devil in the other place. For eternity. 

One last thought today. We are living in a period of unmerited grace. A time when God has graciously made entry into His Kingdom possible for all. There is no monetary charge for entry – salvation is a free gift. In Romans 10:10 we read, “For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved”. That’s what God requires. A choice that will allow Jesus to unlock the door for us. So the question for everyone today is this. Which kingdom do you want to live in? please, folks, make the right choice before it is too late.

Dear Lord. How can we ever thank You enough for Your amazing grace and mercy. Please bring to us those who are open to the Gospel and who are looking for the Kingdom of God, so that we can show them the way. For Your sake. Amen.

Rewards

“Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.
Ephesians‬ ‭6:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In this verse, Paul told his friends in Ephesus that, in the end, only two things matter – that one day they will be rewarded for the good they have done, and, by implication, it doesn’t really matter how they were spending their lives, in slavery or freedom, because it was their attitudes that mattered.

Taking the second point first, this is very applicable to pilgrims today. We won’t all have degrees, or be academic wizards. We won’t all be blessed with entrepreneurial prowess or political abilities. Or any other human attribute considered a great to have. All God is asking us is that we use what gifts we have, and set our hands to our work, no matter how lowly a job might be considered, with the right attitudes. We saw in a previous verse that we must do what we do “as to the Lord”, and when we live and work in that way, we are putting our lives into God’s reward zone.

Was Paul implying that there was some connection between our salvation and doing good? This is an error adopted by some Christians, who think they have to earn their salvation. But the reality is that no matter how hard we try, we will never have the abilities or resources to reimburse God for what He has done for us through Jesus. On a scale of one to a thousand, we won’t even move the pointer off zero. In Ephesians 2 we read, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it”. Seems quite clear to me – we are saved by grace alone. We are saved because of God’s unmerited favour towards us. All we have to do is put our faith in Jesus, that He came to this world to save us. We read in Romans 10, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved”. No mention here of working for God, or doing good to others, to get into Heaven.

So what did Paul mean that we will be rewarded for doing good? I suppose, logically, doing good to others is part of our commission in sharing the Gospel. Doing good may be as little as sharing a kind word or putting away a neighbours trash bin. Or it may mean visiting a sick friend or neighbour in hospital. The possibilities for doing good are endless. Jesus said in Luke 6, “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you”. Pilgrims spend their lives focused on their life-journey and its Heavenly goal, and in the process, we do good to and for others, whether we like them or not. In some inexplicable way, it’s part of the journey.

God’s Masterpiece

“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

One of the most difficult things for a new Christian, or even older Christians, come to that, to understand is that we are all saved by grace. But there is something within all of us that wants to respond to a gift, especially a big gift, with some act of reciprocation. So if someone buys me a present, I want to respond in the same way and do the same for them. We get a glimpse of how good God has been to us, accepting that Jesus gave Himself sacrificially, dying for our sins. And we want to respond by doing things for Him. So we commit to joining the church cleaning rota, or spend time giving out tracts in the market place. And before we know it we are trying to justify the gift by feeling we have earned it. Pride kicks in and translates us into legalism. No! God’s gift of salvation can never be earned. Yes! We have been saved to “do the good things he planned for us long ago.” But we have not been saved by them. Salvation is a free gift. And we receive it when we came to accept and believe that Jesus died for our sins. A free gift that cost us nothing, but cost Jesus everything, even His life. 

So in our pilgrimage, it is as though we transition through the doom and gloom of a dark and wet day (quite common in a Scottish winter – the word used here is “dreich“) into a glorious day of sunshine and light. The transition occurs when we believe in Jesus. Nothing for us to boast about here, except for how good God is. But in the sunshine and light we then suddenly come to realise that this pilgrim has become another person. The enormity of who we now have become bursts into our minds. God says we are now His masterpiece and have become a new person. We can look behind us at the wall of gloom, see an image of who we were standing in it, and then compare it with who we now have become. Standing in the sunshine. Made new. Assured that we are now how God wants us to be. And it’s all by His grace. Having that truth firmly planted and established in our hearts, we can now go out and do the good things He has planned for us. With a grateful heart. We do His work because we love Him.

In our life-journey there is a truth that the devil would want to take away from us. He would want us to be ordinary people. Nothing special. Nothing that would make us stand out in a crowd. What is this truth? It is that God “has created us anew in Christ Jesus“. And as a result, each one of us is His masterpiece. Not just “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139). We are new people. So we can continue in our pilgrimages, reminding the devil what God has said about us. In the natural, in the physical, we may not be anything special. But if we put on our spiritual glasses, we will see a lot of grey corpses, children of the devil, dead in their sins, indistinguishable from each other. But we will also see, every now and then, a shining figure. Unique. God’s glory reflecting from them with a light so intense it cannot be missed. And we can say – “there’s another of God’s masterpieces”. That’s you and me, folks! So, fellow masterpieces, let’s praise and thank Him together today.