How can I #pray for you?

For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the Good News of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you always in my prayers,

Romans 1:9 (WEB)


Now I beg you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,

Romans 15:30 (WEB)

Prayer should be as essential to a Christian as breathing. Yet, it is often only in difficult times – such as the one we are all facing right now – that we truly turn our hearts to God in prayer.

The Bible encourages us to pray in very many places, and I share a couple of verses above from Paul’s letter we know as Romans.

In the first verse, quoted from the very first chapter, Paul tells his readers how fervently he is praying for them. He says both “unceasingly” and “always” in the same sentence, showing us that this is not some passing, throw away prayer, but a constant remembering of them.

I want to follow Paul’s lead and pray for you in like manner. I will record a video message praying for all the readers, family and friends, and really want to encourage you to send me your prayer requests. If no one responds, that’s not an issue as I have many people I know need prayer at the moment. However it would be great to be able to receive requests from you and pray with you.

You can send your prayer requests to me by commenting on this post, commenting on my social media posts or by using the contact form on the web site. Please confirm that you are happy for me to mention the request on a video, but I’ll always only ever use first names to keep things private.

I have no idea what response I will get. But know that I will pray over every request I receive (unless I get millions of course, and then I might need your help!) and please watch this space for the videos to appear.

Please also share this post with anyone who you think might need prayer at the moment, and encourage them to send any requests they have.

God is faithful, and He is listening. Even though things may seem bad at the moment, please don’t ever doubt God’s love for you and the fact that He is in total control. We who trust in Him have no need to be afraid. Not because bad times won’t come, but rather because He will carry us through them.

Our second verse today sees Paul asking his readers to pray for him also. He has told them how committed he is to praying for them, and asks for that same commitment in return.

While I cannot demand anything anywhere near the same degree as Paul could, I do also ask for your prayers. I need God’s help, mercy and grace as much as anyone and so, even in small ways, please strive together with me in prayer.

Prayer has tremendous power, not because of us, but because of who we pray to. Praise be to the god and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hears and responds to our prayers both day and night! Amen

Mercy or Faith? (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Don’t mistake Gods mercy as a response to your faith

Have you ever had a situation where someone said “God will protect me,” even while walking into a potentially dangerous situation? 

With the ongoing situation with COVID-19, you might have even heard this recently. “I’m carrying on as normal because God will protect me from harm.” They claim that this is faith, but also walks dangerous close to “testing God”. 

The thing is, if the Christian who says such a thing does indeed stay safe, then they feel somehow justified and “proved right.” We must never mistake God’s mercy for a response to our faith. Such a Christian may have been protected by God’s mercy rather than any act of faith on their own part. 

I am not against faith of course, and absolutely you should do what you believe God wants you to. Faith should not replace common sense however. God may sometimes call us into dangerous places, but for most of us, we just need to live wisely. 

Follow Government advice and stay home during the COVID crisis. Don’t test the Lord by putting yourself in harms way. This is ultimately being selfish and not thinking about how your choices may affect others. 

Thank God for His mercy!

Lessons from the supermarket

It has been a while since I was last in a supermarket, I’ll admit… my wonderful wife does nearly all of the shopping for the family and so has had to face the hoards of stockpiling assassins for a couple of weeks now. A fabulous job she has done!

I am no stranger to the supermarket however, and was reflecting on a few things we could all learn from our experiences there. 

Lesson #1 – Put your trolley back when you’re finished

In my student days, our university campus was close to a large supermarket. The staff were all too aware of the havoc unruly students could cause with their shopping carts. Often they would be seen trying to take them back to their student digs, or even using them as a primitive form of transport. 

I remember once being approached by a member of staff, reminding us that we could not take the trolley off of the premises. I was a little indignant, as I had not planned on stealing the precious cart. I recall we took it to the very limits of the property before said member of staff came trotting after us to ensure we went no further. 

Put your trolley back when you’ve finished with it. Once you’ve unloaded it into your car, think of someone else and take it back where it belongs. Don’t just dump it wherever suits you, and definitely do not prop it up against someone else’s vehicle. That’s not ok. 

Believe it or not, it really isn’t the supermarket’s job to go around collecting up trolleys that have been left all over the place. Take a moment to realise that at the moment in particular, they have bigger things going on. 

Lesson #2 – Put any unwanted items back where they belong

Not dissimilar to lesson one, if you pick something up that you later decide you do not want, please put it back where it belongs. 

We’ve all seen it, if not done it, where we pick up an item and then three aisles later realise we no longer need it. Rather than go back and replace it,, we just put it on the most convenient shelf. That’s how you end up with cauliflowers mixed in with detergent. This, also, is not ok. 

Think of the person who has to sort that out later. Supermarket staff have a job to do, and chasing after you to put back things in their proper place is not generally covered. It’s rather lazy and selfish to just leave things lying around for someone else to pick up. 

Lesson #3 – Don’t take more than you need

In the UK, we are extremely fortunate to have so much choice and abundance in our supermarkets. On a “normal day” we can pop in to even small supermarkets and get everything we need, and usually have a choice of items. We don’t know how fortunate we are! 

In recent days, we’ve seen so many people stocking up in case of shortages. Toilet rolls have been a particular prized item, and we all saw pictures on the news of people loading up shopping carts full of hundreds of rolls! 

How many toilet rolls do you need exactly?

In times of isolation, it is perfectly reasonable to pick up a few extra items to ensure you don’t have to shop more often than required. But when you take so much all in one go, it usually means someone else will miss out. And there is a possibility that that person needs it far more than you do. 

If everyone just took what they needed, and no more, then there would be plenty for everyone.

Lesson #4 – Be kind

Be kind. Just be kind. 

I saw a story on the news this week about a member of staff manning a checkout. A customer wanted several of the same item, but the member of staff told they there was a policy of only three items per person. There was an exchange, and in the end the customer spat at the member of staff. I need not say how utterly disgraceful such behaviour is. 

Be kind to your fellow shoppers. Don’t push them around or cut in front of them. Be kind to members of staff who really are working hard to ensure everyone can get what they need. 

Is this biblical?

“This is all very well, Andy,” you might be thinking. “But what does this have to do with the Bible?” 

Actually, I think it has a great deal to do with the Bible. 

The Bible is not a book to be studied academically. It isn’t just interesting. It is a guide for how God wants us to live (among other things). We must turn the Bible’s teaching into practical action. 

You could sum up the above lessons into: 1) Don’t Be Selfish and 2) Be Kind to People. there is clear Scripture to support these two points. 

Turn my heart toward your statutes, not toward selfish gain.

Psalm 119:36 (WEB)

And also:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,[a] 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (WEB)

To name but a few. 

The point is, how we live and act in the world is a witness for Jesus. It can be a good witness, or it can be a poor one. 

Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, let’s do our best to represent God well in the world. We are His ambassadors. 

We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20 (WEB)

Let’s act like God is watching, because He is. Let’s act as though the world is also watching, because they are too. 

A Jealous God

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Deuteronomy 4:24 (ESV) 

God is a consuming fire; a jealous God. What does this mean? 

A consuming fire is a fire which devours everything in its path. It is not contained nor containable. You may have seen the recent bush fires in Australia appearing the news. These fires were unimaginable. Huge swaths of land were utterly devastated by fires which raced unceasingly across the continent. No human endeavour could stop them. The effects of these fires may be felt for years to come. This is a picture of a “consuming fire.” 

While God is of course not like this, bringing devastation in His path, the bush fires were all-consuming for those involved. We cannot have a little bit of God in our lives. It is like saying I am a little bit on fire. 

Likewise, God is a jealous God. 

Jealousy in a human being is an ugly thing, but not in God. We become envious when we feel threatened, inadequate or coveting what we cannot have. God never feels such things. God can legitimately be jealous because absolutely nothing compares to Him.

God is not satisfied being second or third in our lives. Nothing should shift God out of His proper place in our lives. 

In his book “Not a Fan,” Kyle Idleman says that God is not even happy being the first of many, but rather should be the One and Only. 

God should not be one of many competing priorities in our lives. He should not be fighting for out time or attention against anything else; even family, work, hobbies or even church ministry. God absolutely should be our everything, and nothing else should compare. 

Jesus said:

“If anyone comes to me, and doesn’t disregard his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can’t be my disciple.

Luke 14:26 (WEB)

This is a tough verse! 

Jesus is not saying, I believe, that we should hate our family. Rather, He is saying that our love for Him should be so far above any other concern, that all other comparisons look like hate. 

God is a jealous God, and our love for Him should be paramount. 

What does this mean for us? 

Ask yourself how serious you are about your relationship with God. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about my own relationship with Jesus, and how it needs much more of my time and attention. 

If God really is “God,” then how can anything else in life be anywhere near as important? 

I was once told that we can assess how important anything is to us by looking at our diaries and our chequebooks. What was meant was that how we spend our time and our money tells us a great deal about our priorities. 

If I spend all of my spare time watching TV, and spending my money on my hobbies then I cannot really claim that God holds His rightful place in my life. Instead, if my time is spent with Jesus, and my money spent on furthering that relationship or building His Kingdom, then clearly I am putting Him first. 

I know it is a challenge, and none of us will get it perfectly right all of the time. In recent days, many of us have been “blessed” with a lot of spare time as our plans have been cancelled due to the C-19 virus. What are you going to do with that extra time? 

God is jealous of you and your time. His fire should “consume” our lives fully. Is that true for you? If not, what can you do about it?

Where do you stand?

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. 36 I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’

40 “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[c] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46 (WEB)

I know this is a long passage to start this post with, but I wanted you to be able to read the whole thing and let its challenging words sink in. 

Where do you stand? On the left, or on the right? And I don’t mean politically…

When the news about the corona virus first broke in the early part of this year, I’ll admit to being a little flippant about it. I never imagined it would impact the lives of us all in such ways. 

Reading the news and various social media feeds, I see a rather bleak picture and many individuals who are very scared right now. I thank God that this virus is no worse than it is, but certainly appreciate the heavy impact it will have on many families – particularly those who are vulnerable or elderly. 

It makes you think, doesn’t it? Some doctors are urging we discuss and prepare for the fact that this virus may take the lives of those we love. Are we ready for that? 

I mentioned in my post the other day – Coronavirus – that some had claimed this virus was a sign of the End Times. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, the Bible teaches that one day Jesus will return for His people. There are many diverse views about exactly how this will happen, but essentially all Christians agree HE will return sooner or later. There are certain signs which precede His coming and perhaps this virus is one of them. You can do your own study on that. 

Either way though, the Corona virus gives us pause. It is an opportunity to face the big questions in life. What happens when we die? Are we prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus? Where can we turn when it feels like the world is falling apart? 

Do you have adequate answers to these questions? 

The passage above from Matthew’s Gospel is often called the parable of the sheep and the goats. It depicts the end of time when we will all stand before Jesus’ throne and He will judge us. This is known as the Great White Throne judgement. I’m not entirely sure it is right to call this a parable, as it may not be an illustration at all, but precisely how it will be. 

There is much we could say about this passage. One of the scarier elements is that those who thought they were doing well, were not, and those who did no think they were doing so well, were commended. 

So, where do you stand? Are you a sheep or a goat? It is a question we must all ask ourselves, and answer honestly. Ignoring the question is not an option. We must not wait until we get there to find out, as it will then be too late. 

How can you be sure? How can you know whether you will be counted among the sheep or the goats? The passage itself suggests it is not about what we do, as those who did “spiritual” things were counted as goats. 

The answer does not lie in the activities we participated in, nor in our own “good works.” Our best works are going to look rather shabby when we stand before the Throne of God. 

There is only one way to heaven, and His Name is Jesus Christ. The difference between the sheep and the goats is that the sheep put their lives in the hands of the Good Shepherd. The goats went their own way. 

If you want to find out more about the way to heaven, then check out my post – One Way. 

For the vast majority of people, this Coronavirus will not take their life – praise God. But the questions posed above are still important. None of us can beat the clock, and every one of us will – sadly – die one day. Even if we are the generation to see the return of Jesus Christ, then we sill need to be prepared. Are you? 

So what will it be? Are you a sheep or a goat?

Mother’s Day

As one whom his mother comforts,
so I will comfort you.
You will be comforted in Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 66:13 (WEB)

Here in the UK, today is Mother’s Day or sometimes called Mothering Sunday.

It might be a rather unusual one this year due to the continuing impact of the Corona Virus. We might usually go and visit our mothers, or have them round for Sunday lunch, but we have all been advised not to gather in small or large numbers right now. It is a real shame but of course an understandable necessity.

I am not sure if the current situation will help or hinder this Mother’s Day. How can it “help” you might ask? All I am thinking is that as we mostly not able to visit our mothers today, will we make a special effort to call or video chat with them. Facing these tough times may make us realise the important things in life, and surely family is high up that list.

The verse above from Isaiah compares God to a comforting mother. Most of Scripture pictures God as Father, but there are verses which suggest the tenderness only a mother can bring. For instance, we discuss Psalm 91 yesterday where God was compared to a mother hen drawing her chicks under the protection of her wings.

I don’t know what kind of relationship you have or had with your mother. Perhaps it was wonderful, or perhaps not. Either way, she played a part in your life to a greater or lesser degree. Take time today to thank God, and if possible, her as well.

Also, take some time to reflect on your “spiritual” mothers and grandmothers. When I think back over my life in the church, I remember certain women of God who made a special impression on me. Their care, wisdom, grace and love have taught me much over the years. Perhaps there are those in your own life who fit this bill. It would not be inappropriate to let them know what they mean to you today.

To all of the mothers, grandmothers, female carers, whether natural, spiritual, adoptive or otherwise – may I wish you a very happy Mother’s Day! I pray God will bless you and you will be shown how much you mean to those around you this day.

What about the animals?

Jonah 4:11 (NLT) But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

As I write this, I’m overlooking a sort of forest woodland. In the last few minutes I have seen an abundance of nature! I’ve seen ducks, squirrels, deer, rabbits and even what I think was a stoat.

Due to the Coronavirus, the woodland has largely been abandoned at the moment. I suspect that the sudden drop in guests will quite badly affect the wildlife here. Over time I am sure they have become somewhat dependent on the food given to them by visitors. This area will be closed to the public for several weeks leaving the animals to fend for themselves for a while.

While the sudden drop in available food will be a bit of a shock to them, I am not overly worried about them. God cares for people, but He cares for His creation also.

There have been a number of posts on social media about panic buying and stockpiling. As a result, many food banks and charities have seen a dip in food donations. This is not limited to charities offering support for people either, and a number of animal rescue shelters are struggling too. The Coronavirus is affecting the whole world in myriad ways.

The verse above is quoted from the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. In fact, it is the closing verse of that book. Most people recall that Jonah was once swallowed by a big fish, but in case you don’t know the rest of the story, here is a brief summary.

God called Jonah to preach to the non-Jewish (Gentile) city of Nineveh. Instead, Jonah heads in the complete opposite direction and boards a ship to Tarshish. A great storm swamps the ship, and in the end Jonah confesses to the crew that he is the cause of their struggle. Ultimately they have to throw him overboard to still the storm.

It is at this point – more or less – that Jonah is swallowed by the fish. The fish later spews up the reluctant prophet on to the shoreline, and Jonah finally goes to Ninevah as he was instructed.

Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah and preach because he was afraid the people would listen to him… He knew that if they heard his message, they would repent and turn back to God – and God would forgive them. Imagine that?

After he gives his message, he goes and sits outside the city to see what would happen. The sun is burning hot, and he grows weary. God causes a vine to grow up beside him and offer him some shelter. Later however, a worm comes along and eats the root of the vine so it withers and Jonah loses his shade.

It’s something of an odd story right? Indeed it is, but it is really about who is in charge. God is running the show throughout, and He gives Jonah the vine and quickly takes it away to demonstrate to Jonah that he has no control in the situation. God wants Jonah to realise that He cares for the people of Ninevah.

The book of Jonah closes with the verse above. God tells Jonah He is right to care for the 120,000 people living there. We don’t know what happened to Jonah after this, but let’s hope he learned a lesson!

Perhaps 15 years ago, I had a dog who was very poorly. They had a particularly bad night, and we had to contact an emergency vet. The next day I happened to be reading this closing chapter of Jonah. I’ll always remember that because I recall very vividly this final verse. As well as the 120,000 people, God specifically mentions the animals also.

The word animals here is sometimes translated as cattle, so perhaps refers to farm animals or bovine species. Whatever it refers to though, it is clear that God cares for the animals also.

Animals are a part of God’s creation. While they are not as important as people, they are important. We have a responsibility to take care of them, and must certainly not mistreat them.

Spare a thought this week for all those affected by the Coronavirus. We must prioritise helping people with various needs at this time. We, the church, may not be able to gather together in large numbers, but we can and must continue to be Jesus’ hands and feet on the Earth. Call an isolated family member. Check on an elderly neighbour. Let’s do what we can to share God’s love in this difficult time.

As well as those things, and if you’re not overstretched, do consider whether there are ways to take care of God’s creation also. You might consider grabbing a can of dog food to pass on to a struggling pet owner. Perhaps you could walk a friend’s dog. Maybe, like me, there is a nearby animal shelter who could do with a helping hand at this difficult time.

Like many, I’m deeply disappointed to read stories of fighting in supermarkets and immoral seller hiking up prices. There are plenty of positives stories also, and we – the church – should be leading the way in that.

How can you be a blessing to those around you at this time? And remember, God cares about the animals also.

The Sinfulness of my Sin

I acknowledged my sin to thee, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

The sinfulness of my sin… captivating title right? And I know what you are thinking – two blog posts in two days? What’s gotten into Andy?!

I’m pleased to report that all is well, and I’m not self-isolating with nothing to do. In fact, I am very conscious of how everyone is feeling right now, and hoping that a few extra blog posts will be well received.

A few weeks ago I spoke on Psalm 32. You can listen to that message here. It is a wonderful Psalm and I only had a short time to discuss it. This post covers one of the things I did not have time to explore.

The totality of the Psalm is about sin and repentance. It points out the depth of our wrongdoing, the wonder outs grace of God and our responsibility to confess and acknowledge our sin.

There is an interesting little phrase in verse 5 which says God forgives the “iniquity of our sin.” We might say the “sinfulness of our sin.”

Some translations of the Bible render this as the “guilt of our sin,” but this doesn’t quite cover it in my view.

If God forgives our sin, then what does it mean for Him to forgive the iniquity of our sin?

It is like saying the “saltiness of salt,” or the “chocolatey-ness of chocolate…” What is the psalmist getting at here?

Often when we say “Sorry,” we are not really sorry for what we did, but rather are sorry we got caught. When we see hardened criminals breaking down in tears in the dock of the courtroom, it is often about the loss of their freedom, money or reputation. Being sorry for the consequences of sin is of course very natural, and a great reason not to do it in the first place. But are we sorry for the sin itself? If we never got caught, are we truly repentant for the thing we did?

The sinfulness of our sin is the badness of our sin. It is to recognise that sin is wrong, not because it has terrible consequences, but because it is wrong in the sight of God.

When we are truly repentant, we are sorry to God for falling short of His perfection. We are saying that the thing we did – the things we all do – are very wrong irrespective of consequence and punishment.

God forgives us not just from the punishment of sin through Jesus’ death at the cross, but for sin’s sinfulness also. God forgives us for the wickedness of our sin, and all of its consequences. That is not to say that we are free from any consequence on Earth of course, just rob a bank to see what I mean. God can forgive a robber, but they’ll still go to jail for it.

The point is that we need to recognise that our sin is wrong. It is wrong in and of itself. The consequences are indeed terrible, if facing them without Christ, but the sinfulness alone is wicked before God.

As you reflect on and confess your own sins, ask yourself if you are sorry for what they are, or for their consequence.

Spend some time this week to reflect on where you have fallen short, and on the One who forgives all of your sins and covers all of your iniquity. Come to Jesus at the cross and surrender your whole life to Him. It will be the best decision you ever made!

Psalm 32

Andy recently spoke at a Holy Communion service at St. John’s Church, Great Clacton. He spoke on Psalm 32, one of thhe Penitential Psalms, and you can see the text of the passage and listen to the sermon audio below.


By David. A contemplative psalm.

Blessed is he whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2
Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh doesn’t impute iniquity,
in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3
When I kept silence, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4
For day and night your hand was heavy on me.
My strength was sapped in the heat of summer. Selah.
5
I acknowledged my sin to you.
I didn’t hide my iniquity.
I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.
6
For this, let everyone who is godly pray to you in a time when you may be found.
Surely when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach to him.
7
You are my hiding place.
You will preserve me from trouble.
You will surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.
8
I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go.
I will counsel you with my eye on you.
9
Don’t be like the horse, or like the mule, which have no understanding,
who are controlled by bit and bridle, or else they will not come near to you.
10
Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but loving kindness shall surround him who trusts in Yahweh.
11
Be glad in Yahweh, and rejoice, you righteous!
Shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart!

Psalm 32 (WEB)


Chosen To Be Holy

Ephesians #3

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”

Ephesians 1:4-5 (ESV)

A while ago I was forced to reassess something extremely important in the Christian faith. I had to face the challenge of the sovereignty of God. And these verses played no small part in that journey.

I once believed that although God was supreme, He did not control every single little action in the universe. I believed that our response to Him was somehow our choice – an act of our free will. The more I think about that, the more ludicrous it sounds.

The Bible teaches that God chose us, and not the other way around. As hard as that may be to get our heads around sometimes, it must be true. The alternative goes something like this, and I hope you agree it makes little sense. When I was a sinner, and had nothing to do with God whatsoever; while I was far off and living (and enjoying) my sin and sinfulness, somehow… some way… I decided to turn from that sin and come to God…

That cannot be correct.

Instead, while I was in that sin and quite happy there, God reached down and saved me from and in spite of myself. He essentially saved me against my will because no sinner willingly wants God in their lives. I had no will to escape the sin that I was in. Nor did I have the power to do so. The truth is that God chose me and He chose you as well.

These verses clearly tell us that God chose us and He did so before the foundation of the world. He chose us before creation. He chose us before we did or thought or said anything. That means that his choice had absolutely nothing to do with us. He chose us because it was His sovereign will to do so.

When we hear this truth, we often ask the question: “If He chose us, then why not choose someone else?” That is to say, if the choice is His, what about the ones who reject Him? This is a difficult question, and when we realise that God chooses some and not others, we feel it is somehow unfair. I’ve said it before, but fairness is not what we want from God, rather we want grace and mercy.

It is a miracle He chose any of us at all.

Why did He choose us? To be holy and blameless before Him.

I’ve always believed that God saved us for our own sake, and of course He does, but i’m no longer convinced it is His primary reason for doing so. Rather, I am starting to think God saved us not for us, but primarily so that He would have a spotless bride to present to His Son.

God predestined us for adoption, as the verses above say, and put simply, that means that God decided in advance to bring us into His family forever. Adoption is such a wonderful picture because legal adoptions cannot be undone, and also entitle the adoptee to everything that a natural child would have access to. Adopted children are as equal as natural ones, and the word “sons” here is important because the son (in that culture) had a greater claim than a daughter.

The point is that this adoption does not make us somehow second-class children. We are not somehow lesser children to God because we are adopted, rather instead the text makes clear that we are welcomed and celebrated in God’s family.

God specially selected you to be His very own, and He has brought you into His adopted family. I hope, like me, that makes you feel very special indeed. Even if the entire world rejects you, you can be assured that God will never reject or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

Rejoice in God’s love for you today, and know that this love will never change. You are His adopted child!

Sea of Galilee

Pilgrimage to Israel #1

We began our pilgrimage to Israel on a Sunday morning with a simple Eucharist service. Eucharist means “thanksgiving” I’m told, but in some churches is reference to a Communion service.

As I look around the church, I realised we were a mixed bunch. Some knew each other, while others were strangers. Some were Roman Catholic, and some Anglican, and still others claimed no faith at all. Yet we all jurneyed together, and would support one another throughout the week.

We travelled to London Heathrow, and were subject to understandably high levels of security on both sides of our flight. Touching down in Tel Aviv airport in the late evening, we then drove north to the city of Tiberius which was our base for the first part of the trip.

We awoke that first morning with a sense of excitement, and to views from our hotel of the Sea of Galilee.

During my first trip to Israel, the Sea of Galilee was a particular highlight and was again this time. We drove the short distance from our hotel and boarded a wooden boat – supposedly similar to that used by Jesus and His disciples 2,000 years ago. I suspect Peter’s fishing boat did not have a motor nor a sound system however!

Out in the middle of the lake… and it is a lake, not a sea as the name suggests, the engines were turned off and we had a few moments of quiet to take in the scene. While there has been some changes over the years, it is rather easy to imagine Jesus and His friends sat in a boat on these waters, looking out at the various shorelines.

Some places we would visit in the week to come would be memorials of things we read in the Bible. We cannot say with any certainty that things happened in some of the places where we remember them. However, this lake – this Sea of Galilee – was indeed the very waters where Christ was.

Jesus walked on this sea…

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat, and go ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he himself sent the multitude away. 46 After he had taken leave of them, he went up the mountain to pray.
47 When evening had come, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 Seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary to them, about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea

Mark 6:45-48 (WEB)

There was once a violent storm which rose up on this very sea, and Jesus calmed it…

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the multitude, they took him with them, even as he was, in the boat. Other small boats were also with him. 37 A big wind storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so much that the boat was already filled. 38 He himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up, and told him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?”

39 He awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?”

41 They were greatly afraid, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Mark 4:35-41 (WEB)

The lake itself isn’t as large as you might imagine. In some respects, it’s difficult to think that such a huge storm could sweep down on to these tranquill waters. Yet to the noth, is a set of mountains and storms can swell and drop down on to the lake with little warning. I’m pleased to report it was calm and sunny while we were there!

What many fail to realise is that most of Jesus’ ministry actually took place in and around this area. When we think of Israel, we may think of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the sites of the Crucifixion or Resurrection. Most of Jesus’ ministry did not occur there, but rather further north in the vicinity of Galilee.

The feeding of the five thousand, the deliverance of Legion, the healing of the man lowered through the roof on a mat… all of these events took place in the north. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, He met them in Galilee. Peter and the disciples were fishing again, and Jesus met them on the shore.

Later that day, we drove around the lake to Merci Christi – meaning Table of Christ. This is the site, it is thought, where Jesus met His disciples after the Resurrection and had breakfast with Him.

That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits away), dragging the net full of fish. So when they got out on the land, they saw a fire of coals there, with fish and bread laid on it. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

John 21:7-10 (WEB)

Just uphill from the shoreline sits a small chapel called “Merci Christi” meaning Table of Christ.

MC

As you exit the chapel, you can turn left and go and sit on the beach. Is it the spot where Jesus and His disciples ate? Not sure, but could be. And for me, that’s the power of this place. We don’t know the exact spot of such things, but we know – for certain – that Jesus walked these shores.

Some sites we would later visit have almost been commercialised, and it can be hard to imagine Jesus in those places. Not here though, not in Galilee. This peaceful place, where you can sit on a beach and hear the lapping of the water, this place is one where Christ was.

Although the Sea of Galilee was a highlight for me, that in no way diminished the rest of the trip. Every place we visited was special in its own way, and should you ever find yourself in Israel, make a special effort to stop by tthe waters where Jesus walked.

Blessed 2x

Ephesians

Many months ago I began writing about the book of Ephiasians. You can find that post here – From an Apostle to the Saints.

For various reasons, I did not write more on the subject but I am very pleased to return to it today. I did promise you it might not be a series… and I make no further claims now!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”

Ephesians 1:3 (WEB)

After Paul’s introduction, he wastes no time and dives straight in! Blessed! Blessed be God! You can feel the power of his words leaping from the page as you read this. Before he says anything else on any other subject, he starts with praise.

It’s a great place to start a letter, and it’s a great place to start a prayer. In fact, it’s a great way to start anything really! Whatever you’re doing, be it work, washing up or watching TV, always start with a word of praise.

Praising God has many effects on us, which we can consider in a moment, but praise isn’t about us at all. It is about God Himself. We turn our attention off of ourselves and our own lives, and we focus as fully as possible on the One who made us. Worship is our reason for being, and on days when I feel I achieve little else, I want to be able to say I fulfilled my created purpose by praising the God of Heaven today.

Imagine the effect on us, if we uttered words of worship prior to any activity. Take the TV example above. How different might our TV viewing choices be if we were to spend a moment thanking and worshipping the Father before picking up the remote.

Paul identifies God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we rejoice in that. There’s also a nod towards the Trinity here, so see if you can spot the Holy Spirit’s presence also. If not, I’ll pick up on that in a moment.

The word “Blessed,” appears twice in this verse, although they are slightly different Greek words. The way we read it naturally in English is how it was intended. The first “blessed,” is referring to God being blessed, or praised, and the second, refers to the blessing of God or invocation of God’s blessings on people.

What Paul says next is astonishing to me. He says, “who has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Read that again before you continue.

God has blessed us, which is wonderful. To simply say we’ve been blessed though, is something of an understatement!

God has “blessed us,” and we must first notice the tense. This is not a blessing we will get in the future, but something we hold right now.

What have we been blessed with exactly? “Every spiritual blessing,” That word translated as “every,” is the Greek word – pas – and means “every,” “any,” and “all.” That’s every spiritual blessing! Not some of them, not half, not most, but all of them!

You might not be feeling all that blessed at the moment, in fact, you might be looking at a stack of bills or a doctor’s report feeling anything but blessed. This verse shouldn’t be interpreted as “God is going to give me whatever I want…” as I don’t think that’s true. We do the Word and God Himself a great disservice however, when we diminish a verse like this and explain it away not accepting what it says.

You are more than just your body, and your life is more than just your bank balance. We must not limit the blessings of God to the physical realm. The spiritual world is far more real than this physical one, and came first. There was “spirit” long before there was any earthly matter.

Paul calls it “spiritual blessing,” and some therefore limit this to refer to things of the spirit such as sanctification, justification, salvation etc. And of course, all these are included. But the blessings here are “spiritual”, I believe, not because they are spiritual in nature, but because they are given by the Spirit of God. Christmas gifts are given at Christmas, that’s what makes them Christmas gifts, not because the gift itself has anything to do with Christmas (although it certainly might do).

Thus in this one verse Paul has pointed us to God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

My point is that this blessing given by God is no small thing. It’s not limited to things of the spirit, although we would do well to focus on the eternal things more than the temporary.

So where is this blessing exactly? We find it in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. You might be thinking you’d rather have the blessing down here on Earth than locked away in heaven with Christ. Yet if the blessing is in Christ and Christ dwells in us then the blessing is not as far away as we might think.

We are too often guilty of thinking that blessing relates to money possessions or things this world holds so dear. Paul goes on to talk about many wonderful spiritual blessings in the next few verses and we will examine these another time.

The take home message today is really to think about what we mean by being blessed. If we ask God to bless us are we asking for something God has already done?

What we have as believers and adopted children of God is far greater than anything this world can offer. Our eternal hope is held securely in Christ and God can do no more than He already has to enable us to access heaven forever.

It is truly humbling to think about what God has done for us.

But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8 (WEB)

We in no way deserve “every spiritual blessing” but it is ours because of what Jesus did at the cross. That is grace. And I join with Paul in saying “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen!