Hope, Patience and Confidence

“We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)”
Romans 8:24-25 NLT

Just as a reminder, the “hope” referred to by Paul was written in the previous verse in Romans. We read in Romans 8:23b, “ … We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.” To Paul, this wasn’t just a vague notion of something to come, with a half-hearted, secular, definition of hope. Too often we express a hope for something relatively unimportant, like “I hope it doesn’t rain today” or “I hope there’s a parking space available”. The hope Paul was expressing was much more than that. It was fully inspired by, and infused with, faith. The sort of faith that was famously written about in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see”. So faith-inspired hope would start with “I know …”. 

Paul’s assurance about the “hope” he expressed was total. He knew that Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary was a once-only, all-encompassing, act of divine love and grace, that one day would result in the culmination of all that he had been promised. Paul qualified his statement of hope, however, by the obvious aside that reminded his readers that they could only hope for something that they hadn’t already received. Of course, Paul wasn’t already living in his new body, but it was something that was going to happen to him some time in the future. No tantrum from Paul – “I want it now! Right now!” – he was fully prepared to “wait patiently and confidently”. 

We pilgrims are on this planet, 2,000 years or thereabouts after Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Roman Christians. We too were given a “hope” when we were saved. At Calvary, where we put our faith and trust in Jesus, a new vista opened before us. Not anymore a potential life of sin and shame followed by an end, the thought of which was making us feel vaguely uneasy. We too, like Paul, have a “hope” to look forward to. Like him, we too will receive our new bodies. The old Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:2, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is”. Is it too much of a stretch of our “hope” to assume that our new bodies will be like Jesus’s was (and still is) after His resurrection, and behave in the same way? If  so, perhaps we too will have bodies as they were when we were 33 years old, because that was how old Jesus was when He died.

But we mustn’t forget that our “hope” is in our salvation. We are saved from the awful alternative of a life spent in a place we call hell. That is why we pilgrims walk on. Strong in faith. Assured of God’s love and grace. Hoping with patience and confidence for the day when we will see Him face to face. 

Dear Father. In You, we have a certain hope for our future eternal life, to be spent with You in Heaven. But before we get impatient, we remember what Paul said, and put our trust in You for our future, coming at just the right time. Thank You. Amen.

God’s Grace

“Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realise that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.”
Romans 6:15-16 NLT

Once again, Paul writes about “God’s grace” and the freeing impact it has on our lives. He associates grace with freedom from the Jewish Law, something that the early Jewish Christians in Rome were so steeped in, that they seemed to be having problems in seeing beyond it, let alone leaving it behind in their new-found faith in Christ. But what is “grace”? I have written before about God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Paul used the Greek word, “charis” which in these verses is translated as grace. Another definition is kindness. And we know, of course, that God’s rescue plan for mankind, freeing them from sin, involved His Son Jesus and His substitutionary death for our sins at Calvary. Grace taken to extremes.

But God’s grace doesn’t just set us free from the “law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2), it provides for us benefit after benefit, all coming from our new-found righteous relationship with our Heavenly Father. Let’s start with the benefit of our coming salvation. When we embraced and accepted Jesus’ gracious sacrifice, we started the salvation process. 
Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –”. 
1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Romans 10:9-10, “if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” 
So these teachings from Paul indicate that we have been saved, are being saved and will be saved. A comprehensive study and manifestation of God’s grace. Yes, our salvation won’t finally be fully realised until the day we cross the Great Divide into eternal life with Jesus, but our salvation process started at the Cross of Jesus Christ.

But when did God first exhibit His grace? It happened long before Jesus died at Calvary. Time and time again in the Old Testament we read about God’s grace. Take Adam for example. We read in Genesis 3:10,21 “He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’ The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” God could have zapped the first couple, and started again, but instead He graciously not only allowed them to live, but He also provided for their need of clothing. That’s grace.

There is something we refer to as “common grace”. God provides for mankind continually, with Planet Earth’s physical stability, with a constant source of heat and light from the sun, with the ability of the soil to provide crops. And that provision is independent of mankind’s status before God. Even those who have rejected Him enjoy His grace.

So we pilgrims are a blessed and favoured people. God’s grace has provided freedom from the sinful lives that were holding us back in a lost and hopeless state. We are slaves no longer. But around us so many people are enslaved, but don’t realise it. Isn’t it strange that, spiritually, they walk around carrying chains and other items of bondage, just like Jacob Marley’s ghost? Heavy loads that weigh them down. And they don’t need to – Jesus has set them free as well.

Dear Lord. You are the ultimate bringer of freedom. How can we ever thank You enough? Amen.

Dying for Another

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
Romans 5:7-8 NLT

Paul made a statement that is very difficult to accept, if put in the form of a question. Would I be willing to die in the place of another person? Come to that, would you, my reader, be prepared to do such a thing? I think the honest answer has to be “No, of course not”. There are stories of such a selfless act, of course, which was probably why Paul said “most people”. We can read of a man called Max Kolbe, who volunteered to die in the place of another prisoner of war in Auschwitz in 1941. And there are mentions of other selfless acts throughout history. But I think we can all agree that such a course of action is very rare because self-preservation is a built-in part of our psyche as human beings.

But God is not a human being. He is the Creator of the universe. All matter was brought into being by His Word. No words can totally describe who God is, by a long way. But there is one Godly quality that He has that we must consider from our verses today – He loves His human creation. Paul wrote, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners”. Jesus, early on in His ministry, explained to a Jewish leader called Nicodemus why He, the Son of God, had come to Planet Earth. We read in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. That is the ultimate sacrifice. No human being has come anywhere near such an act. 

We pilgrims must share the Gospel message with those around us, the message about Jesus and how He died for all mankind, not just a select few. And in the process we share how much God loves them. It’s a life-changing experience. It will bring colour into a dull monochrome existence. It will bring a new dawn after a night of helplessness. It will bring hope to the hopeless. God’s love changes everything.

Dear Father. Your love for us is without bounds. We thank You for Your patience with us and Your free gift of salvation through Jesus. Amen.

The Right Time

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.”
Romans 5:6 NLT

When was it that we were “utterly helpless”? Surely that isn’t true. But when we look at our humanity in the context of eternity, then we might, indeed should, come to a different conclusion. Being “utterly helpless” is a state of realisation that no matter what we did, we could never achieve God’s gold standard of righteousness through our own efforts. The Israelites, the Jewish nation, had tried for many generations to achieve that state, and had failed. And failed miserably. We see the bright spots in Israel’s history of times when their relationship with God was going well. But then there were the long dark ages of oppression and exile, after and during a time when they abandoned God. We must all realise that without God, we are “utterly helpless”.

We read further in today’s verse and find that “Christ came at just the right time”. But what about all those people who preceded Him? And all those who have never known anything about Jesus? As Old Testament readers find, there is a theme of salvation running throughout the Bible. In Romans 4 we read about how Abraham achieved righteousness in God’s sight by believing the promise that God gave Him. Genesis 15:6, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” The Israelite king, David, was a man after God’s heart, in spite of all his very public sinful behaviour. We read in Acts 13:22, “But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’” There were many prophetic messages about salvation in the Old Testament. A common misconception, held by not only the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, was, and is, that in pre-Christ days salvation came through keeping the Law. But Paul clarified this viewpoint in Galatians 3:11, “So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”” We’re back to the example of Abraham in Genesis 15:6, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” 

Without faith in God we are indeed “utterly helpless”. We will end up in a lost eternity, continually regretting our inability to realise our true status and where, as Jesus put it, “… there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12b). But here’s the Good News. Paul informed his readers that Jesus Himself came at a certain point in history, a time we call the “right time”, to die for all mankind, so that all sin, past, present and future, will be forgiven to those who believe in Him. We read in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2,  “As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvellous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation“. 

We pilgrims have embraced this truth and we are no longer “utterly helpless” because God has forgiven us and we, like Abraham, are counted as righteous because of our faith. But there are many around us who do not realise how desperate their situations are. We must tell them. Try and persuade them even. Before it is too late. “Today is the day of [their] salvation”. 

Dear Father God. Please help us and guide us as we tell those around us of Your wonderful free gift of salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

God’s Grace

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

Paul made a profound statement, unequivocally through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, when he said, “God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight”. Just a few words, easy to say but rooted in the God-experience Paul enjoyed. What is this grace? Why is it so powerful? And how can we take advantage of it?

Grace, and in particular God’s grace, is a very fundamental truth for the Christian life. Without God’s grace we are a deluded people, wasting our lives on something pointless. But here’s the thing, because of His love for mankind, God chose to allow His Son, Jesus, to take on board our sins so that we could become righteous before Him. That’s grace. The acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is so true. Grace isn’t something tangible. We can’t measure it, or prove that it exists through some scientific analysis. It’s not built into our education system. It doesn’t appear on our statute book. It is only available to us through another unmeasurable word – faith. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Grace and faith walk hand in hand. But together they form an eternal combination. Our salvation depends on the grace of God, and our faith assures us that He means what He says, and what He did, through Jesus.

God’s grace is freely given, gifted to us, and is more valuable than anything man can devise. We have done nothing at all to deserve it. In fact, we deserve God’s judgement, not His grace. Earlier in Romans 3 we found just how depraved and wicked humanity is. And we think of the Apostle Paul, who was guilty of murdering the early Christians through his mistaken belief that they were a deviant sect that had to be eliminated. Yet even though he deserved the punishment meted out to murderers, through God’s grace he had an encounter with Jesus. An encounter so profound that it totally transformed his life. Saul the Pharisee became Paul the evangelist and writer of letters that have touched and helped millions of people over the time since he wrote them, and will continue to do so far into the future.

The saddest thing, though, is that most people have rejected this gift of grace. Imagine someone, perhaps a total stranger, offering you a package, all nicely wrapped up and one that you know contains something valuable. And yet, you turn away, rejecting it. Well, that is what most people do, and have done. The one thing that can assure us a future with God in an amazing place called Heaven, is despised and rejected. It doesn’t make sense somehow.

Most people feel uncomfortable in accepting a gift. They feel obliged to do something in return. But with God’s gift of grace, there is no response required. His gift is freely given without any expectation of repayment. His gift is not a loan either, requiring to be repaid one day. Through the gift, something of God is transferred to us, enriching our lives. And by accepting what He gives us, we also accept so much more, as He works in our lives, aiding our transformation into the people He wants us to be. 

Truly, the song “Amazing Grace” is just that, God’s amazing grace. “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see“. Words to dwell and meditate on; words penned by a man who really came to experience God’s grace. We have our own stories of amazing grace to tell as well. Let us not hold back as we walk this world, telling others about this free gift from God.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Your free gift of salvation through Jesus. We worship You today. Amen.

A Conclusion?

“Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one.”
Romans 3:9-10 NLT

Paul is finally reaching a conclusion to his rant about his fellow Jews. We don’t know how it was received in the Roman church, but hopefully there were positive outcomes. He asked the question if Jews were better than Gentiles, and then quite emphatically stated that they weren’t, because all people “are under the power of sin”, regardless of their heritage. And, to support his conclusion, he quotes verses from Psalms 14 and 53.

Psalm 14, a Davidic psalm, starts with a rather depressing theme about those who turn their backs on God, as being foolish. Verses 2 and 3 read, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one”! If David had just stopped there then there would have been no hope for anyone, let alone God’s people. The only logical outcome would have been another flood to enable God to start again, in the hope that the next race of people would behave better. Thankfully, of course, God made a covenant that He would never wipe out sinful humanity again. And David went on in Psalm 14 to record three things about God’s people. David wrote, “… for God is with those who obey him … the Lord will protect his people … the Lord restores his people” (Psalm 14:5-7).

But Paul, in his letter to the Romans, was laying the foundations for what he was about to say in the chapters and verses to come. It all started with sin, he said. The powerful hold that sin has over mankind. If it was just left there then there would be no hope, regardless of who their ancestors were, whether Jew or Gentile. But we pilgrims today have the benefit of a handbook of examples and instructions, to enable us to live a life free of the power of sin. Over it all, and through the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary, we can respond to Paul and say that we stand righteous before God, because Jesus took on board mankind’s sin and unrighteousness. He knew that when he wrote this letter, and in the days and weeks to come we too will follow his very clear and detailed thinking.

Dear God. We thank You for Your servant Paul, and his willingness to record what You were saying to the early church. Please help us too to listen to Paul’s words and act upon them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sinful Logic

““But,” some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?” (This is merely a human point of view.) Of course not! If God were not entirely fair, how would he be qualified to judge the world? “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.”
Romans 3:5-8 NLT

From Paul’s account, it looks as though there are some in Rome who are mocking God’s grace. They are saying that in order for God’s grace to be covering mankind, we must sin more and more. And the argument continues by pointing out that God will get more glory if His righteousness shines so much brighter than the dark nature of man’s unrighteousness. Warped logic? Perhaps an example of someone taking a truth in isolation, or out of context, and developing it into something far removed from what the original intent was. There have been many such religious examples over the years.

The logic seems to say that if we do something sinful or wicked, then God will make something positive out of it, thus demonstrating His righteousness. I wonder if Judas will try and justify himself before God by claiming that because he betrayed Jesus, salvation of mankind ultimately resulted. But Judas’s problem is that he still did something wicked. What God made of it was nothing to do with Judas but was part of His plan for mankind. If Judas hadn’t stepped into the role of betrayer, then God would have allowed someone else to act as a catalyst for His plan of salvation. Judas will still be held to account for his sin one day.

Although sinfulness may expose God’s righteousness, that is no help to the sinner. Sin will create a barrier between God and us. When we sin we cut ourselves off from the experience of God’s love, not because He loves us any less, but because we reject His love through our sin. And our sin, if not dealt with, will set us off on the slippery path that ends with God’s judgement. But we are so grateful that through God’s grace, we have a means to deal with our sin. The Gospel is clear and unambiguous. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost included the following verse, “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Such love. Such grace.

How can we go on sinning, and by so doing wave our fists in God’s face, rejecting His love and kindness? How can we deliberately sin when we know how much pain it causes our loving Heavenly Father? But His grace will transform us, through faith, to become righteous before Him. So, we don’t become spiritually disorientated, making up stupid arguments, and becoming distracted by a false logic. We respond to the love of our Heavenly Father with grateful hearts. Always.

Dear Heavenly Father. We thank You for Your grace and love. What else can we do, kneeling before You in worship? Amen

The Jewish Advantage

“Then what’s the advantage of being a Jew? Is there any value in the ceremony of circumcision? Yes, there are great benefits! First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the whole revelation of God.”
Romans 3:1-2 NLT

Chapter Three of Romans starts with the question, “what’s the advantage of being a Jew? By now, the Jewish Christians must have been feeling totally demoralised, having had their religious rug pulled out from under their feet. They were bruised and battered, trying to develop a new paradigm for their faith, and perhaps feeling that nothing made sense any more. Having decided that they might just as well have never bothered to be circumcised (not that they would remember anything about it because it always happened by the time they were eight days old, and then only to the male child), Paul then told them that there were great benefits. I can hear them thinking that it’s about time he made his mind up. But what are the benefits of circumcision?

God made it clear in the Old Testament that there were two forms of circumcision. We know about the outward form, but, more importantly, there is an internal circumcision. We read in Deuteronomy 30:6, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live”. The New Living Translation replaces “circumcise your hearts” with “change your hearts”, perhaps making the meaning more understandable. Through the “ceremony of circumcision”the Jews were entrusted with something precious, the knowledge about God and what He required of human beings. Deuteronomy 30 sets out the positives of knowing God and following Him in obedience, and the negative result in not doing so. The “Jews were entrusted with the whole revelation of God” and they knew very clearly what that meant. Great benefits of course. But great responsibilities as well.

That’s the problem with knowledge – it comes with a responsibility. As an example, the discovery of penicillin would have been no good at all on its own. But the inventor shared his research with others and as a consequence, the way bacterial diseases were treated was transformed. God revealed Himself to His chosen people the Jews. Initially, that knowledge was to be applied to them as a nation, and the Old Testament is full of stories of the struggle they had in trying to adhere to what God required. That struggle would still be going on except for one fact – Jesus. God in His mercy sent His Son to establish a new Covenant between God and man. We pilgrims are very aware of that – I’m writing this on Christmas Eve and in my spirit I can feel a sense of excitement building up. Tomorrow we remember that day long ago when Jesus was born. Emmanuel, God with us. 

Just as the Jews “were entrusted with the whole revelation of God”, so too are we New Covenant pilgrims entrusted with the revelation of Jesus. With that knowledge comes the responsibility of sharing it with those around us. And the time could not be more appropriate. The Western society around us has lost its way spiritually. A quote from a newspaper this morning about the increasingly “woke” nature of our society. “In cultures which reject or forget metaphysical belief systems, the desire for belief does not disappear, but becomes ungrounded. You have beliefs, but you no longer know their shape and foundations“. We pilgrims have an opportunity and an obligation to put society’s feet back on the ground, the true “ground” of a belief in the one true God who has all the answers to man’s confusion. We have a mission to reconnect people who have lost their way with our wonderful Heavenly Father. And there is no better way than to introduce them to Jesus.

Dear Lord. Thank You for Your grace and mercy, for the love that has cut across all the world’s sin and wickedness with an offer too good to be true. But true it is. We pray for the opportunities to connect those in our families and communities with the one true God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Being Self-Taught

“You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth. Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonour God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.””
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭17‬-‭24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Paul pointed out to his Jewish Christian friends that before they could have a mandate to teach others, they needed to be able to teach themselves first. He wrote, “if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself?” Though Paul wrote in the singular, the implication was that he was writing to a whole group of people. 

Teaching is a difficult job. The challenge of being able to communicate a subject or idea to a group of students in a way that engages them and transfers information, with the goal of retention by the hearer, is a skill that is unfortunately rare. This can be a problem in things like religious education, particularly here in the UK. The RE teacher will teach what is factually correct about all “faiths” but will fail to communicate the spirit behind them. So an RE student will come away from his or her classes with head but not heart knowledge. Back in my school days, just about the most unpopular subject was Latin. But me and my school friends were very fortunate in that we had a teacher who was passionate about his subject and brought the Latin language to life. As a result I still retain items of Latin grammar in my mind, even today, many years later. But teaching style was not really what Paul was writing about in his letter.

A better way of teaching is not just through the dispensation of words but by a lifestyle, that lives out the subject matter. Jesus was the Master teacher using this technique while He was here with us on earth. He spent three or so years of His life in a transparent example of how to live, really live, as a true God-follower. Not only did He “talk the talk” but He also “walked the walk”. His prayer life, His attitudes, His teaching, His love and grace, His compassion – it was all there for His disciples to emulate. And because of the faithfulness of His disciples, we have written accounts of His sinless life that we can refer to. Jesus was passionate about living life God’s way.

Paul was saying to his friends in Rome, as well as us today, that the best way of teaching others is by example. He said that if his friends were to be effective teachers, then they had to not just tell their followers how to behave but show them, from their own life experiences. As an example, an ex-drug addict is better able to reach and teach other addicts if they can demonstrate that it is possible to kick the habit and move on. But perhaps you can see where I am going. There was a day when we pilgrims had an encounter with the living God. We were transformed from being citizens of the kingdom of darkness to being citizens of the Kingdom of Light. Where we are now was summed up by the Apostle Peter in 1Peter 2:9, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” We are not people who teach others a few dusty, lifeless and historical truths about a man called Jesus. Instead, we can teach others about the wonderful Son of God, and what He has done for us. We are like the buyer of pearls that Jesus told His hearers about in Matthew 13:45-46, “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” We have indeed found something so precious that we give up all we have, all we are, for the privilege of being a child of God.

But here’s the thing. We mustn’t be like the Roman Jewish Christians who apparently failed to display any of the fruit that comes from knowing God. If they had had a life-transforming and personal encounter with the risen Jesus, their lives would have been transformed. Paul was knocked off his horse by an encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. We may have not experienced anything quite so dramatic, but the very fact that the God of this universe cared so much about us that He sent His Son to die for us in our place, taking on Himself the punishment we deserved for our sins. The “wow!” that comes from us in response must surely impact those around us, giving us a mandate to “teach” them about the wonderful God we worship.

Dear Father. We are truly wowed by Your presence in our lives. With grateful hearts we praise You today. Amen.

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.