Perfection?

It’s been said that perfection is the enemy of good enough. This makes the point that there is a danger in setting out on a project or challenge with overly high expectations and being unable to recognise or settle for the reasonable and probably satisfactory. Sometimes unnecessary effort and time is spent endlessly researching for the absolute top choice. If it is a piece of equipment or an investment or hobby there are so many publications to read, websites to study, reviews and ratings not to be missed, and then also friends to consult before making a decision. Even so any decision can still be fraught with doubt. The different advice received and examples provided rarely converge to a unanimous recommendation. This can be unsettling and so the choice remains elusive and feels unsatisfactory.

When this happens it is easy to understand why decisions get postponed and little, even nothing sometimes, is achieved. I had an architect colleague who typically at the start of a project didn’t settle on an overall concept and then develop his proposals to suit. Instead he would get bogged down in endless research of possible alternatives. Failing to achieve some overall scheme for a new workshop or sports hall or whatever the project, he would turn to the easier option of providing detailed and dimensioned diagrams of the regulation basketball court or the shower facilities. These were fine in themselves, but the flaw was that they had no place to go. There was still no layout for a building to house any of the activities. His search for the perfect building design which would be functional, affordable and look good never came to fruition. It seemed he was locked in a permanent state either looking back over his shoulder in case he’d missed something, or searching around the next corner in case a better alternative popped up. A final plan of action never came. That was useless and no client was ever impressed to not receive a decisive solution.

I wonder what comments we would have made if Jesus, when choosing his disciples, had asked us for our opinion. What about Matthew? a tax gatherer so we might have noted that he was willing to work for the occupying army - not loyal to his own people, not trustworthy. Peter? we might have suggested he was not well educated, too impetuous. Simon the Zealot? too political, and too violent. James and John? sons of thunder, too loud and too ambitious. And so we could go on through all twelve and dismiss them all as not perfect for the job. But Jesus didn’t. They weren’t perfect but they were good enough – good enough for Jesus.

Looking at Jesus’ parable of the talents as in Matthew 25 I’ve long had a sympathy for the man given the smallest responsibility. Was he just lazy or was it that under the pressure of responsibility he couldn’t decide how to make anything of his “talent”? Or being in fear of his rather demanding master, he concluded that it would be better to opt out rather than to try, and so prove his limitations and confirm himself a failure

Jesus was forthright about the standard required of his followers. The disciples must have been unnerved when he said to them in Matthew 5v48 – “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect”. Oh dear, they knew they couldn’t match that. For us, we know we can’t either and never will be able to achieve perfection. But don’t forget that in the parable two servants were found to be “good and faithful” yet their achievements had not produced identical results. There was no fixed pass mark. Paul explains how God looked at Jesus and saw him to be perfectly righteous, and he looks at those who are in him and regards them as perfectly righteous. That is most remarkable. We would like to be perfect but we know we are not. Our inabilities, however do not stop God. Though he knows what we are like, such is his passion for his children he is merciful and gracious beyond measure. Jesus said that if we, though naturally flawed, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more does God know and give good gifts to his children.

But is this only true if we as his children have first hit the top flight and made ourselves, not just outstanding, but perfect? Well no, not according to Paul who tells us to remember that in Jesus the grace of God has appeared and offers salvation to all people as he told Titus in chapter 2v11. And he says that in Jesus we have the free gift to be regarded as perfect in God’s sight. Remember, this was the same apostle Paul who wrote that he should be regarded as the lowest, a poor performer and worse, and even bearing a track record for oppressing the fledgling early church with extreme violence – he described himself as a “wretched man”. However, despite all that he still found that he could be rescued, raised above all his imperfections. He says in Romans 7v24 “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord”.

It’s the same God and the same Jesus now. That’s good enough and more for us.

PMcH
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Joy

Nehemiah 8 v10 – The Joy of the Lord is your strength

In these days of lockdown, we are lacking joy in our lives, so maybe thinking of joy in the scriptures, would help us.

PTL 277 – To be in your presence. Click here to listen.

Paul – Galatians 6 v17

At the end of Galatians it says “he bears in his body the marks of Christ”.
Acts 9 v16 “shows him how great things he will suffer”. Acts 14 v19, at Lystra Paul was stoned and left for dead. 2 Corinthians 11 v24-27, Paul refers to the things he did suffer. Then in Philippians 3 v21 he refers to his body as being vile. Paul counted his body as being nothing, unlike today where they worship their bodies, in reality TV shows etc. Galatians 6 v14 Paul says “God forbid that I should glory save in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul lived to preach.
2 Timothy 1 v4 may be filled with joy. Paul Philippians 4 v1 my Joy’s crown – the Church.

King David after being anointed spent some
ten years pursued by Saul (1 Samuel16 v13 David anointed). The Lord God says to David in 2 Samuel 7 v9 “I was with thee” and then the question is - Did David know this? and the answer – yes. David was a prophet-priest and king.

Psalm 23

1. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3. He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me.
5. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 27 v4 – To dwell in the house of the Lord.)

It is the best known of all the psalms. A psalm of comfort speaks of God’s loving care to his followers. It is a psalm that shows God as a caring, all-powerful presence in the life of David. It’s here that David reflects on the concern and care which he had for his father’s flock and he sees God doing the same for him.

When we look at David in the psalms, despite his unceasing troubles, we see that these could never dim David’s
Joy in God. Time and time again we read sing, shout for JoyRejoice.

What is Joy?

A vivid emotion of pleasure.
Things that cause delight.

1 Chronicles 23 v5

David had an orchestra of some 4,000. They had string instruments – harp and psaltery, wind instruments – flute, pipe, horn, trumpet, percussion – cymbals and timbrels, all coming together to sing and
Rejoice before God. Psalm 30 v1-5 – I will extol thee – Joy cometh in the morning.

Singing and
Joy are to be found with God. At creation Job 38 v4-7 “when all the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for Joy” and then at the birth of Jesus Luke 2 v13-14, we have the angels praising God.

What is Joy? – Things that cause delight

Job 38 v25-27 Rain on the wilderness – purely for the Joy of it bringing forth life.

David rejoiced in the praise of his God unlike Israel of old
Deuteronomy 28 v47not with Joy, fullness and gladness.

David rejoiced in the fact that
Joy comes in the morning. The night of sin and pain having passed Psalm 30 v5.

David was beset by his enemies
Psalm 5 v1-12.

Then in
Psalm 145 v1 and 3 we have the Joy of praise.

Green Hymn Book 395Joy cometh. Click here to sing along to the accompaniment.

Then in
Psalm 56 v1-4 – I will not fear what flesh can do.

Psalm 34 v1-5 David shows complete confidence in God.

Psalms 56–60 are called “Michtam” that is a record of memorable events.

Psalms 95-100 are normally called Theocratic psalms. Praising God.

Psalms 146-150 are Hallelujah psalms – “Praise ye the Lord” – making a joyous end to the psalms but it does not end there because Revelation 19 v1-3 refers to Hallelujah and 19 v 4-7.

David in
Psalm 23 v6 -his hope was to “dwell in the house of the Lord” – which is our hope.

JD
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The Way We Once Were!

It is difficult not to think of how things used to be.

A year ago, at mid-term, we were away together with our daughters, their husbands and our grandchildren. We paid visits to museums, and cafes and sites of interest.

This time, we are under the strictest confinement instructions in the UK. So, we stay at home (mostly), wear masks, don’t travel too much, and we keep away from our own family as we do from other people.

A strange world!

It’s not a new thing to look back fondly to the past. Remember the Israelites after they had escaped from slavery in Egypt:
 … the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

(Number 11:4-6, NIV)


In fact, despite all the restrictions, we are very well off, even though present conditions are particularly hard for some people.

If you look at the history of plagues in Europe, times in the past were really awful.

For example in Venice in 1576-77 about 50,000 people died of plague – a third of the population. In 1645 half the population of Edinburgh died of plague, and more than half of the population of Leith. That would mean that you lost half of your friends, and half of your family (on average). No anaesthetics, no hospitals, no medicines. Grim times.

So the measures to protect us and our families and friends are worth it, by comparison.

For many people, nevertheless, life is much harder now than it used to be.

I expect Abraham felt the same when he moved to an unknown country, but he did so in faith:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

(Hebrews 11:8-10, NIV)

I am sure our Iranian brothers and sisters (here in Edinburgh and in the rest of the UK) must have mixed feelings. They left families and comfortable homes, and have had to escape as refugees.

Life is different and difficult here.

But they, like Abraham, like ourselves, are all in reality
“foreigners and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Our lives are limited, and as Paul said:

… we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Meanwhile, let us enjoy new things in new ways. By Zoom, emails, telephone we can contact people we might not otherwise speak to very much. Let us do our best to look after each other, and to care for those who are finding things grievously difficult. Let us be grateful that we live in a world where for all its faults, our government seeks to save lives and help people to come through the present pandemic.

Paul said:

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him [Christ] who gives me strength.

(Philippians 4:13)

IMcH

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Safety or Freedom?

It’s a shame we are not able to visit in person this weekend. Beth and I always enjoy our visits to Edinburgh, but we are where we are and hopefully I can at least provide something here to provoke a few thoughts about the relationship between our Father, his son and ourselves.

The events of the past few months have, for me at least, brought to the forefront the age-old debate between safety and freedom. Namely how much freedom should be given away (or forcibly removed) to achieve a level of protection against some threat. I’m sure you could scrawl through the history books for examples and find current day examples also of where a lack of protection has resulted in terrible exploitation and injustice – indeed does James not challenge us that the quality of our “civilisation” is in a large part demonstrated by our care for “orphans and widows” i.e. the most vulnerable in our communities?

Conversely though, we don’t have to go too far to find examples where too much “protection” has led to terrible oppression and other injustices. And so we find ourselves in the middle of a similar debate – have governments gone too far? Have they gone far enough?

Government representatives and media outlets like to tell us about the sacrifices we have all made, and maybe you agree with that description. For my part, though perhaps these changes to our lives have been necessary, I struggle to think of them as “sacrifices”, partly because my own personal circumstances are really not that bad but partly because of the element of compulsion and threat of punishment for non-compliance.

The Bible presents us with a useful example of the conundrum we have been talking about in the story in 1 Samuel of the people of Israel demanding a king just like those of the surrounding nations. What they got was a big, powerful figure who would provide them with a protection of sorts from their enemies but who would extract a price for providing this protection. Samuel warned them against following this path in 1 Samuel:10-18 but they had their hearts set on this solution and would not be deterred.

I suppose the moral of the story of Israel and its kings is that people are limited in how well they can protect others, even with great resources at their disposal, but will more often than not misuse the powers that have been given to them and squander those resources. Sometimes this will be out of selfishness and greed, sometimes out of malice, sometimes out of panic and fear, sometimes out of incompetence, sometimes a combination of these.

But it isn’t government action I’m interested in focusing on too much here but instead the role of protection and freedom in the relationships between God, Jesus and ourselves.

Firstly, observe the role of choice in God’s dealings with people. Just in Genesis we have Adam & Eve given a choice about whether to eat that fruit or not, Noah’s choice in building an ark, Abraham’s choice of travelling to Canaan, Lot’s choice in leaving Sodom. Each time there is choice but there is also a threat, sometimes explicit, sometimes more subtle. The choice God presents to these and others (and us) is summarised nicely in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 where God invites the Israelites to “choose life”.

At this point I invite you to dig a little and have a think about some of these and other examples. Often, I suspect these choices do not come completely unexpectedly or on a whim but as an answer to prayer. So think of the “cry” that went up to God about Sodom – who made that cry? Think about the “cry” that went up to God from Israel in Egypt and the eventual choice about whether to listen to Moses and follow him or not. Think too about the conversations between God and Cain.
Extend the idea of a connection between choice and prayer further and reflect on the story of Mary and the conception of Jesus. Mary’s use of the prayer of Hannah in her “Magnificat” is suggestive that the choice of Mary as the mother of Jesus was partially her own (Luke 2 :46-53).

God, obviously, can provide as much protection as he likes, so why not just fully protect? Why such a key role for choice? The only answer I can come up with is that it is a part of God’s character and his plan for us is that we develop this character.

We all have a tendency to focus on the outside and the flaws, the threats and the problems that are “out there”, but God is really only concerned about the inside and the threats to our character and our thinking. Can too much “protection” at the same time be a threat? Perhaps physical protection can be a threat in other ways? Perhaps true protection only comes from true freedom? (think freedom in Christ). Perhaps the ultimate freedom is to choose to give that freedom up and submit to the will of God? –the seemingly contradictory choice of becoming a “slave to righteousness”. Not being able to look at things with God’s perspective can easily lead us to complicate things.

How much choice did Jesus have in his own sacrifice? The Bible seems to imply that it was “necessary” for his own personal salvation (a discussion for another time) but that it was also a central part of the “manifestation” of God – a humble self-sacrificing act driven out of love. So an apparent contradiction. Well no, not really – we know that God looks on the heart and this sacrifice was acceptable and perfect therefore we can be sure it was indeed entirely driven by love and not at all driven by self-protection.

But just reflect on what an awful position Jesus must have been in – the path to be followed is the one of self interest but if you follow this path out of self interest you will fail. It must be love holding him to the cross – how sure can he be that in those dark moments to come that his purity of purpose would hold up?

Think of the time it took him to be “ready” and the steps he took to bolster his love – why wait until he was 30 years old to begin his ministry? Why surround yourself with people so often and spend so much time with the sick and the poor and the outcasts? Why spend so much time with his Father in prayer? Why such sorrow and doubt in the Garden?

Reflect on the temptations in Matthew 4 with this challenge in mind. Can I love enough to take the difficult course? What if I fail? Would it not be better to take the opportunity to do a great deal of good now with this power rather than trying and failing to take the more difficult path and so doing little good?

Reflect also on the fact that despite the barrage and vitriol he faced in his last hours, despite the fact that most of those whom he had surrounded himself with forsook him and fled, despite the agony and suffering that it was indeed love which held him to the cross.

Such is the strength of the love of Christ.

GR
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You're Not Alone

I'm sure we all remember the story of Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8 . Let's go back through that story for a moment. This Secretary of the Treasury from Ethiopia travelled from his country in Africa up to Israel to worship the God of the Jews. He was travelling first class in a chariot, not a chariot built for war but a proper posh one with a driver; he had a copy of the scroll of Isaiah and had just been worshiping in Jerusalem. He must have been feeling great! But the problem was, he was so unfamiliar with the Jewish scriptures and teachings he had no idea what things meant. That’s where God steps in. “Philip, go and join that chariot.”

When Philip is near the chariot he asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian said, “How can I unless some explains it to me.” He invited Philip to join him and the passage he was reading is found in Isaiah 53. Philip started there and told this man the story of Jesus and what it meant to be saved. At some point in time, the Ethiopian saw a body of water and wanted to be baptised.

What did he do when he got back to Ethiopia though? His joy was real. His hope of salvation through Jesus changed his life, but what happened when he got home? We don’t know, but he was probably alone in his new faith in Jesus. That joy could have turned away quickly, or perhaps he could have taken his story and shared it with others.

Today, we may well feel spiritually isolated. Instead of getting better, things are getting worse. We're not able to meet face to face and break bread together as an ecclesia. I don't know how you feel but we definitely miss this. We've been joining online with Kings Heath or Bournemouth Winton on a Sunday morning but it's just not the same, is it? I even gave an online Skype exhortation for the Irvine Ecclesia. Obviously with the current situation seeming to worsen it's just not possible to meet together in the hall for a good few months. We have the joy of our hope in Christ, but lack fellowship because of the current pandemic that we face.  These feelings of isolation that many may well be feeling are real, but we need to remember that the feeling of spiritual isolation is not new, even though it is new to many of us. There have been Christians around the world that have had to meet in house churches or “underground” just to be safe when they gathered. There are others, like the Apostle Paul, who were often alone spiritually throughout their lives.

In
2 Kings 5 we read of a man who was actually the commander of the army for the king of Syria; not really a friend of Israel. His name, we all know, was Naaman and he had a deadly and scary disease that was put in the general category called leprosy. How severe a case of skin disease he had, we don’t know. What we know is a young girl who was captured by the Assyrians and became his wife’s slave spoke about a man who could cure him. To make a long story short, after being told to dip seven times in the Jordan River, and finally being willing to do it, he found himself clean from the leprosy. Now this is the part where the story gets interesting.

If you heard that we came up with an instant cure for COVID-19 how excited would you be? How much would a cure be worth to the people of the world right now? If it was your spouse, child or parent who was sick to the point of death, how much would an instant cure be worth to you financially?

The interesting part is, this gift of an instant cure was offered free of charge. Here is what Naaman learned. There is no God in all the world except the God of Israel. To say that Naaman believed and was filled with joy is an understatement. But there was a problem; the king of Syria was not a believer in the God of Israel. So Naaman asked for a second gift. Two mule loads of dirt.

He had already received a cure, but here is his second request in verse 17. Here is a man who knew he would be spiritually isolated. A man who had a job in a world that didn’t believe, yet he became a believer. He didn’t want his spiritual isolation to end his relationship with God. Isn’t that where so many of us are today, with not being able to gather in a church building, praising God in hymns, sharing the emblems together as a family, reading from God's Word, approaching Him in prayer. There may even be a fear that the church won’t exist for a very long time because of COVID-19. It’s time for us then to get our two mule loads of dirt.

We know there is no other God. The creator of the heavens and earth. Through His love, His grace, His mercy we have a great hope in our lives. We’re not alone even if you are physically right now. We’re not alone, even if this time of isolation keeps us apart for several more months or longer. Let's keep affirming our faith in God.

The ground in Israel was no more holy than the ground in Syria. But Naaman knew he was going to be alone in a spiritually sinful world and didn’t want the king’s worship of idols to keep God from seeing his worship. So what did he do with all that dirt? Maybe it was to be a reminder of his cure and God. Maybe he took it back to have a place where he could worship God. He certainly must have felt that isolation.

We need to get our two mule loads of dirt. By that I mean it’s time for us to make sure we stay connected to God and as a church family. We have the opportunity online with Zoom Bible Class, Coffee mornings, fraternals, conferences and so on. Too often for ourselves we let work get in the way, we need to try harder to keep in touch with our Brothers and Sisters. Perhaps we could follow other Ecclesias and have an online Sunday Service since it may be several months yet before we can meet together?

Just because you are not in the building doesn’t mean you are isolated from God though. God will never leave you nor forsake you. Our connection right now is more through technology or a good old fashioned phone call than it is person to person. But we are never alone. We need to take our spiritual earth/soil and keep our ground holy in worship of God.

In conclusion, we miss you all. Online gatherings can be a great source of strength and connection but let us not forget that God’s message of salvation was not meant to be kept in isolation.

Perhaps now is the time for us to offer help to others, perhaps now is the time to be reaching out to our neighbours or family and friends who have not come to know God and the Lord Jesus as we have. Share your story and perhaps they'll come to realise that there is something missing in their lives.

God be with you until we meet again.

DB
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O.M.G.

Hello to all my brothers, sisters and friends in Edinburgh. I’m really sorry that Amy & I (& Dexter too) aren’t able to meet with you all today. We hope you are all well and we send you love. We look forward to seeing you in 2021, God willing (and that phrase takes on a completely new meaning these days doesn’t it?!).

I’ve spoken to you before about my bike riding, haven’t I? Well, during lockdown, I’ve made the most of the extra time because of not having to commute into the office, and have done quite a lot of cycling. In the past I’ve attempted to wear earphones but have never liked the feeling of not being able to hear my surroundings, but I’ve bought myself some ‘bone conducting’ headphones that allow me to listen to recordings but also to be able to hear the passing traffic, and as a result I feel much safer. Since then, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts, mostly of a religious nature, and there is a wealth of really interesting content on the internet. I’m going to share just a very small amount of this with you now…

O.M.G.

If I was to say “O.M.G.” or “Oh my God” to you, what would your reaction be? As Christians, I think we can have quite strong feelings about phrases such as this. I’ve been brought up from a young child not to say this sort of thing. It’s ingrained in me!

I work in IT, so I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes come out with a few choice words, things my mother wouldn’t approve of! But I would never say “Oh my God”. This, of course, has its roots in the 10 Commandments. Exodus 20:7 says:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

So I don’t say God or Jesus in any sort of a phrase that brings them down to my level. And that’s clearly a good thing. But in doing this, are we actually obeying the 3
rd Commandment in full?

What does taking God’s name in vain actually mean? As Christians, we have taken on the name of Jesus in baptism. And in the time of Moses, the Jews did something similar: in the previous chapter they accepted God’s covenant. They took on the name of God. Right from the first chapter of Genesis. Firstly to bear God’s image and then to take on his name is an immense responsibility. It’s much more than just promising not to say “O.M.G.” or such like, it means to show God (and Jesus, of course) in the best possible light to all those whom we come into contact with.

Thinking about things in this way, this commandment isn’t just about
not doing something: it’s not something we can tick a box for and then just tut at the people on TV and around us who say things we don’t like. Instead, we are seen by God as ambassadors for his Kingdom. This is an immense responsibility, and we will inevitably fail, but by the grace of God and because of the obedience of Jesus, we have the hope of eternal life.

So finally, what’s the opposite of “in vain”? Well, just to take a few words from the dozens suggested by an online thesaurus, let’s all take the name of God in a profitable, powerful and fruitful way.

GD
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War and Peace

If you were to look at the ecclesial plan you would see that Ian and I were due to organise a service for today on the subject of “Peace”. Jack and Hazel ran one earlier in the year on “Gentleness and Self-control” and we had hoped to do something similar and have hymns, readings and prayers on the topic of “Peace”. As we often do when we are planning anything like this we gather our ideas and thoughts so that we can put them together in a relevant way. But a service of this kind is not now possible. Our thoughts have been more influenced by reading about the war in former Yugoslavia.

Recently we have been proofreading a book on the work of Edinburgh Direct Aid which started in the early 1990s helping war victims in Bosnia. We were struck again by the horror of war as we read the different chapters on the start of the war, the convoys and the danger they were in. We read a particularly telling account of one of the refugees. She lived through terrible times, soldiers took over her village, her husband had to flee and was eventually captured and murdered. She had two children to care for, living in ruined houses and then escaping through woods at night with soldiers shooting the refugees or the transport they were in. She eventually got to safety and to this country, and we now know her quite well. Some of those doing the killing, raping, torturing were neighbours, the school teacher and former friends! When we read about what she suffered and others like her, I think we can understand those who want retribution and those who want revenge. The reasons for war are varied and complex but seeking revenge is often one of the reasons why conflict continues and continues. But that is not the Christlike way. We can see from this how vital an attribute being peace-loving is and yet we wonder what we can do to help.

War is not just something that happened in the 1990s. We know that throughout the centuries there have been many, many wars and we know that there are a number of wars going on at the moment. We ponder what we can do? Help the victims. Perhaps we can help the charities that work to give aid. It is a start.

But what about ourselves. I read this on one of the discussions on “Peace” on the internet.

No Jesus, no peace.
Know Jesus, know peace.

Jesus taught us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:44). I question whether I could do that but it is what many Christians over the centuries have done and it is Jesus’ way and the way of peace. The Apostle Paul in Philippi was flogged and imprisoned and put in chains, but he praised God, saved the jailor’s life and taught him and his family about Jesus. He experienced opposition but without retaliation. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”. So far I have not had to deal with war, violence and imprisonment, abuse of any kind. Anything I have had to deal with has been on a much smaller scale. There are times when we feel annoyed when we sense an injustice or people are rude or unkind. What do we do? Do we want to retaliate or do we turn the other cheek as Jesus tells us to? In Matthew 5 we are told that anyone who is angry will be subject to judgement. We know from Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger”. But it is not easy. We are told in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the peace-makers for they will be called children of God”. That is what we want to be, we want to be “children of God” and we think the only way to work towards this is with God’s help. Pray for patience to be able to cope with difficulties but not just pray for ourselves but for the victims of abuse and injustice and for a change of heart of the perpetrators. When the opportunity arises we can be a non-judgmental listening ear. This is “knowing Jesus”.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” What did Jesus mean by his peace? I don’t think that in this context it means stopping war or violence, or preventing people from being rude or unkind, but I think it means peace with God, peace because we are working with God and Jesus in the purpose they have for human beings. Jesus gives us the confidence to try to heal broken relationships, or do as much as we can to work towards that, giving us the courage to stand up for right, to support the oppressed and to see God’s activity in the world through people who try to be peace-loving.

So, Jesus’s peace means we try to be peace-makers. It is frequently not easy and we are in danger of failing. God is a loving God and understands our failures, either when we are angry or when we do not manage to make peace with others. We need to turn to him, ask for help and to try again. Jesus suffered violence and a cruel death but he said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. We pray to develop understanding and forgiveness like that. And if we do, it should help us to be peace-makers.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

AMcH
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A New Time

How To Be A Bible Believer In A Changing World

A fuller, audio version of this talk will be published as a special episode of the four cubits and a span podcast, and will be available at https://bit.ly/4QS-LS3 (or wherever you get your podcasts). All scripture quotations from the Revised English Bible, copyright © Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press 1989. All rights reserved.

We live in a changing world. Truly I don’t think there’s a time when the world is not changing, but it can be unsettling to live through times like these when so many aspects of our social landscape seem to be shifting. Our society here in the Western world is shifting, moved by tides that have been building for many years. As Christians we look to scripture during unsettling times, and our faith tradition can be comforting and reassuring.

But when we come to the Bible, we are coming to a collection of books written by and for a particular people, in a particular time, and in a particular place. How many ways has society changed since then? How different is our context from the context of our sacred scriptures? And how often do we think about this when we come to it, looking for guidance on navigating change? Are we looking for an instruction book, a manual for life? Navigating times and places so different to our own is challenging, and - just like navigating change - it may not be easy to do.

But the Bible can guide us if we allow it to. Scripture itself expects us to experience change, because change leads to growth. To a community struggling to accept new ideas, the writer of Hebrews has this criticism:

About Melchizedek we have much to say, much that is difficult to explain to you, now that you have proved so slow to learn. By this time you ought to be teachers, but instead you need someone to teach you the ABC of God’s oracles over again. It comes to this: you need milk instead of solid food. Anyone who lives on milk is still an infant, with no experience of what is right. Solid food is for adults, whose perceptions have been trained by long use to discriminate between good and evil. Let us stop discussing the rudiments of Christianity. We ought not to be laying the foundation all over again: repentance from the deadness of our former ways and faith in God, by means of instruction about cleansing rites and the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement. Instead, let us advance towards maturity; and so we shall, if God permits.

Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3

The writer clearly expected the believers to grow in maturity on a personal level, to learn more and allow their perspective to change as they did so. But Christianity is not just about individuals, not just about people who follow God; it’s about community, a people (group) of God. Scripture expects communal growth as well. Here’s what Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, as followers of God in Christ:

And it is he who has given some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip God’s people for work in his service, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity inherent in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God — to mature manhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ. We are no longer to be children, tossed about by the waves and whirled around by every fresh gust of teaching, dupes of cunning rogues and their deceitful schemes. Rather we are to maintain the truth in a spirit of love; so shall we fully grow up into Christ. He is the head, and on him the whole body depends. Bonded and held together by every constituent joint, the whole frame grows through the proper functioning of each part, and builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:11–16

Change leads to growth. In new times and new circumstances we are confronted with new perspectives and ideas. We can choose to resist change, or we can choose to learn, grow, and respond with a Christian conscience; we can exercise the mind of Christ. Scripture encourages us to confront these tensions and learn more about following God. As our examples, to guide us into wisdom, we have both the people in the scriptures and the people of the scriptures. 

Take the story in Genesis 22, where God commands father Abraham to take his son of promise, Isaac, and sacrifice him on a mountain top. In the Christian tradition, we usually refer to this as ‘the sacrifice of Isaac’. This is a story from an ancient time where sacrifices were a way of life. The earliest stories of Genesis describe blood sacrifice as one of the first practices of human culture. And as Christians we can easily read this story as a story about resurrection. We can see Jesus in this story, the beloved son of the father who goes to sacrifice and lives by an act of God’s deliverance.

But our Jewish cousins have a very different view of this story. It’s one of the most debated stories of the Hebrew Bible, the subject of thousands of years of Jewish commentary. In Jewish tradition, it’s (more accurately) known as ‘the binding of Isaac’, or simply ‘Akedah’ (the Hebrew word for "binding"). It’s a story that forces the reader to ask the most uncomfortable questions. 

Why did God make this demand of Abraham? Child sacrifice is an abomination throughout the Hebrew Bible. Sacrificing children to Molok is one of the behaviours of the Canaanite nations given in Torah as reason for the Israelites to prosecute a genocide. In 2 Kings, the great sin of King Manasseh of Judah was sacrificing his own children to Molok, and his sin is so abominable that Judah falls to Babylon. It’s the ultimate act of idolatry and immorality in the Hebrew Bible. So why did God issue that command?

Indeed, why did Abraham follow it without question? Just a few chapters earlier, Abraham withstood God and, at least in the narrative of the story, changed God’s mind. Announcing the destruction of the cities of the plain to Abraham, God allows Abraham not only to object but to barter with God, to argue and bargain with God. And no wonder: the sanctity of life is at the core of the Hebrew Bible. It’s enshrined in the first law code in Genesis, the Noahide laws in Genesis 9. So why did Abraham follow God’s command without question?

These are the most obvious questions to ask, and yet the text passes no judgement and offers no answers in either case. So perhaps it is not the answer that’s important, but the act of asking the question. Abraham learns something about God. He learns that this God that he followed out of his homeland is not like the gods of his homeland. He grows and his perspective changes, even as God stays his hand and literally forces him to change his point of view to see the ram caught in the bush.

And this is not the last thing that the people of God have to learn about sacrifice. The Law given to Moses frames the sacrificial system as something more than atonement by blood. In Leviticus 5 we read that the act of offering reparation to God for sin is more important than the method. It enshrines economic justice: those who could not afford to bring an expensive animal to sacrifice could bring less valuable animals; those who could not afford that, could bring flour.

In Leviticus 6 we see one of the most significant strands of Torah sacrifice: uniting the people of God around a system of justice.

When any person sins by false use of the LORD’s name, whether the person lies to a fellow-countryman about a deposit or contract, or a theft, or wrongs him by extortion, or finds lost property and then lies about it, and swears a false oath in regard to any sin of this sort that he commits — if he does this and realizes his guilt, he must restore what he has stolen or gained by extortion, or the deposit entrusted to him, or the lost property which he found, or anything at all concerning which he swore a false oath. He must make full restitution, adding one fifth of the value to it, and give it back to the aggrieved party on the day when he realizes his guilt. He must bring to the priest as his reparation-offering to the LORD a ram without blemish from the flock, valued by you, as a reparation-offering. When the priest makes expiation for his guilt before the LORD, he will be forgiven for any act for which he has realized his guilt.

Leviticus 6:2–7

This is about reparation. One can’t be reconciled to God until one has addressed the harm that one has done to others. Later scriptures go even further, focusing even more on the underlying aspects of community and justice.

“O Israel and Judah,   what should I do with you?” asks the LORD. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist   and disappears like dew in the sunlight. I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces—   to slaughter you with my words,   with judgments as inescapable as light. I want you to show love,   not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me   more than I want burnt offerings."

Hosea 6:4–6

In fact, this is the attitude of the rabbis towards Torah that shaped the Jewish world in which Jesus lived and taught, A minor tractate of the Talmud preserves words attributed to a leading Rabbi just 40 years after the time of Jesus’ ministry. When the temple in Jerusalem is destroyed, the centre of liturgical Jewish religion ceases to exist. There can be no more sacrifice and no more priesthood, on which a significant majority of the ritual, religious law relies. It’s a cataclysmic and sudden change, but this is how the Jewish tradition adapts to it:

It happened once that Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai was coming out of Jerusalem, followed by R. Joshua, and he beheld the Temple in ruins. "Woe to us," cried R. Joshua, "for this house that lies in ruins, the place where atonement was made for the sins of Israel!" Rabban Johanan said to him, "My son, be not grieved, for we have another means of atonement which is as effective, and that is, the practice of lovingkindness, as it is stated, ‘For I desire lovingkindness and not sacrifice.’" 

from Avot Rabbi Nathan (5)

That’s the quotation from Hosea 6:6, there at the end of that passage. What do you do when your temple is destroyed and your entire society changes irrevocably, but your religion is still vibrant, and meaningful, and connects you to God? You change your perspective. You don’t read Torah without Hosea, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Amos. You reframe your worldview, in continuity with your tradition.

So why did I tell you this big long story about Jewish scripture, interpretation, sacrificial systems? Because we are a part of this story, and these stories are a part of our faith heritage. As Christians, we’re part of that same tradition of following the trajectories of our scriptural heritage, the practice of growing, and changing, and finding new meaning. 

The famous 13
th century Jewish writer, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (also known as Maimonides, or simply Rambam) explicitly taught that sacrifices were always supposed to have been a temporary provision for a particular time to lead God’s people away from sacrificial systems. If Jesus remains away, where will our faith tradition be in a thousand years?

Change is important, new ideas and new situations are important, because it pushes us to examine our faith and change our behaviours.

Teacher and writer Jared Byas has a snappy phrase. He says, “All theology has an adjective.” What he means is that we find it very easy to label and box different views/perspectives that are different to ours, without realising that we live within our own box. In talking about what it means to be a Christian, we could talk about Black theology, feminist theology, womanist theology, queer theology, liberation theology; about other Christian communities and worship practice. But more than that, Jared’s quip challenges me to ask what adjective describes my Christian faith. My white, Western (and very male) theology is not more significant, or even more historical. 

We all have a lot to learn, from each other, and from people whose experiences of life and faith are different to ours: whether economically or socially, or by race, gender, nationality, or any other aspect that makes up the diversity of a humanity made in the image of God. Just like Abraham and the ancient Israelites, just like the priests and prophets of the Old Testament, we will face conflicting thoughts/ideas. We have a choice about how we focus our faith tradition, how we worship God, how we continue the story of the people of God. 

We may find we need to radically change our focus or even repent, as we try to heed the apostle's call to grow together, as individuals and a community, into the fullness of Christ. Dr James Cone, was a 20th century Black theology writer and teacher, and a civil rights activist from the 1960s until his death just a few years ago. Cone was a Christian leader too, and here’s what he writes about the power of the gospel.

I believe that Christian theology achieves its distinctive identity when it takes on the issues of those who are struggling to be human in an oppressive world. Christians believe that their faith has something to say about this world and about the human beings in it – something that can make a decisive difference in the quality of life. It is therefore the task of theology to demonstrate the difference that the gospel can and does make in human lives, using the resources of the scriptures and traditions of the churches as well as other modern tools of social, historical, cultural, economic, and philosophical analysis.

James Cone, For My People (1984)

I can’t read this without thinking of the words of the apostle Paul, back in Ephesians 4 where we started. I can’t help but believe that this expansive vision of Christian community, and its responsibility to shine into this world the light of the gospel of life in Jesus Christ, exhorts us continually to grow through change.

...you must be renewed in mind and spirit, and put on the new nature created in God’s likeness, which shows itself in the upright and devout life called for by the truth.

Ephesians 4:23–24


DA

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Dancing?

Psalms 149 and 150 are for me two of the most liberating and yet agonising chapters in the Bible. Both tell me to do something that I think collectively we should do …. as I do not actually have to do it myself. Let them praise his name with dancing (Psalm 149) …. praise him with timbrel and dancing (Psalm 150). For someone who given the choice tends towards contemplation, chanting and perhaps a whiff of incense the thought of dancing (!) in order to praise God is excruciating (and to be fair watching me dance is no picnic for anyone else). And yet this is what we are encouraged to do, along with singing for joy, playing every available instrument and generally rejoicing. This is a picture of exuberance, of wholehearted praise, of being loud and happy and thankful, using the whole body to praise God.

This may seem a long way from our usual approach. A very long way. But it challenges me in two ways. Firstly, it makes me ask myself how I measure up in the praise department. Psalm 149 tells me clearly that ‘…
the Lord takes delight in his people’, but exactly how delightful to him is my praise when I compare it to the images in these two short psalms? When I praise God am I radiating the kind of fulsome and unabashed joy and wonder that these Psalms describe? Would someone alongside me know for sure that God is really the greatest and most wonderful thing in my life? Would it make someone want to share in the joy that faith brings? And secondly, have I been generous in my heart to those who do praise in this way (probably not, to be honest). Of course, it is easy enough to point to other passages in search of justifying a quieter approach to praise, but it remains that dance was an integral part of worship for Israel and as such should we be setting it aside?

So, do I think we should all now start dancing down the aisles? Well, let us ask ourselves a different question first: is our heart so full of praise for God we at least feel like we want to? When we consider what God has done for us, and will do for us, are we not astonished, filled with wonder, filled with joy? I hope so. And no, I do not think that we all HAVE to dance before the Lord, I am sure that we can express our praise in different ways and God will delight in us if we are indeed filled with the joy of knowing him and what that means for us. But if there are those who want to dance before our God, then let us make room for them as they delight in the Lord, let us see them as God’s ‘faithful people (who) rejoice in this honour and sing for joy on their beds’ (Psalm 149), and if you feel you want to join them, then do so, go ahead and ‘praise his name with dancing’.

DH
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Living in the Past?

I am often accused of living in the past. These accusations become more pointed when I’ve been overheard giving directions around Edinburgh by using shops, and even buildings, that actually no longer exist. For example – Binns corner (never mind Frasers). Yet I can picture them clearly in my mind - they could be there. I still feel confident. I know my home-town, it’s been here for centuries, there isn’t much to surprise me. There’s hardly change at all. There is reassurance in the solidity and permanence of the streets and buildings. But am I correct?

Over the last few months we have been out walking in places I have known since my childhood. You can imagine my astonishment at coming across two harbours which I didn’t know had ever existed yet both within twenty miles of Edinburgh and on a very familiar route.

One was in Aberlady Bay. All that can be seen now are wide mud flats of the nature reserve. When the tide is out the sea cannot even be seen. But unlikely as it now appears, in the 16
th century there was a harbour and it was important, serving the county town of Haddington. Only the customs and stores building remains. The pier has long gone – invisible and forgotten. Looking now at the miles of sea marsh and mud, who would have thought ships could ever have sailed from there?

The second was near Musselburgh, substantial and built in stone. Dating from 1526 and first built by monks, the port became busy during the industrial revolution and was used for exporting bricks, pottery, glass and coal from the adjacent mine. Over the centuries ships from France, Portugal and even America visited. But not now. It is buried in the Cockenzie landfill and is only just visible breaking the surface of the new ground level. The last ship to visit, the Topaz, was abandoned when it became stranded on the silted harbour bed. No funds were found to dredge the harbour and it never left - all that productive endeavour, skill and engineering standing against the stormy sea, all gone. So, another example of the seemingly permanent and invincible – but now invisible, barely recognisable and forgotten. All things do indeed pass.

What about us? It’s uncomfortable to consider feeling forgotten or being unrecognisable to friend or even foe. It makes us feel isolated, adrift and valueless, discarded, futile. Jesus used some strong words in Matthew 7:21-23 of false disciples.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Their style was to prioritise human ideas instead of God’s, following a compromised lifestyle and indulging in selfishness and self-exaltation. They were not recognised when they knocked on the door. There is discomfort here for us. We can recognise ourselves in their failings.

When Jesus spoke of not being recognised he knew the force of it and what it felt like despite his being the very best. But he did not and does not want that for anyone. He promised to be with us always and in the bread and wine he asks us to remember him – why? Because he makes all things new, even us. Paul reflected on this in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Yes, we do compromise ourselves, we do let God down. But, through looking to Jesus we are a new creation now, in his grace, and even as in verse 21, the righteousness of God.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

And yes, this is timeless.

PMcH
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Furlough?

Firstly, loving greetings to you all. Sorry we aren’t together, but at least you’ve been spared not only my company but also the hordes of pesky tourists clogging your pavements. To those of you who miss the Festival/Fringe, you have my sympathy; to those of you who usually make a killing by renting out your properties at eye-watering rates, my heart positively bleeds.

So, as you can tell, the pandemic has done wonders for the state of mind. When Pete emailed to say you might appreciate some words from me for today, I rang him to clarify.

“Oh no, we don’t need your thoughts, just a few words leading us up to the emblems.” So, leaving aside thoughts on boosting one another’s self-esteem for a later date, some words leading up to the emblems.

Furlough has been a welcome break for many, a strange extended holiday to be paid for by this generation and the one to come. It has, though, come with more than just a financial cost. Those of us furloughed increasingly wonder whether there will be a job to return to at any stage. Further, we look at colleagues who have been brought back in to work and wonder if they are somehow higher up the pecking order now, even if purely by dint of place and circumstance, despite assurances from senior leadership. The whole question of identity, certainly in relation to work, but also stigmatisation by postcode vis a vis the virus, has become an issue.

So consider the Lord Jesus. How could it be that the identity of the Son of the Most High could be inextricably linked with the role of divinely ordained human sacrifice? Could the mighty king, the Son of Psalm 2 really be the suffering servant of Isaiah 52 and 53? The Lord Jesus’ own mind played tricks on him around this theme – “If you’re the Son of God...”

No furlough for the Son of God. Times of rest and recuperation only serving to allow for prayer and communing with the Father, seeking after strength to continue, and guidance as to the way to go. Exhausted to the point of sleeping through the storm that threatened to sink the boat full of terrified but seasoned sailors, only to rise and quell the storm. “Peace, be still.”

Until at last, on the cross, the cruel jibes rang in his ears to echo his own thoughts: “If you’re the Son of God...”

Jesus’ unspoken response to the disciples in the boat was effectively,“Yes, of course I care that you’re perishing, I will give my life to save you, but storms will still come. Don’t let go of your trust in me and the Father.”

The anchor rope may feel like it’s slipping through our hands at times, but blessed is the one who holds fast to the end.
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Prayer: Moves the Hand that Moves the World

Readings for the Day – I Kings 3, Jeremiah 30, Mark 4

1 Thessalonians 5v17 – ‘Pray without ceasing’ – When we look at Scripture Enoch/Noah/David/Jesus/Paul all put their trust in God through prayer.

Before the Battle of Bannockburn (23 June 1314) King Edward II rode out to survey the enemy, some 15,000 Scots, having some 25,000 English troops. When they came near the Scottish lines, he was amazed to see how few were ready to resist the initial onslaught. Then he saw bowed on one knee the main army of men ‘praying’. The general with him said “Yon men will either win or die”.

Some years later (1542-1587), Mary Queen of Scots was said to have feared John Knox in prayer more than 10,000 soldiers.

It is a common mistake to miss the fact that God’s presence is always with his people.

Jesus said “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”
Matthew 18v20.

Psalm 91v2-11:

2. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
3. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
4. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
5. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day.
6. Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
7. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
8. Only with thine eyes shalt though behold and see the reward of the wicked.
9. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation.
10. There shall be no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
11. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in thy ways.

So
Psalm 91 speaks about destruction and fear of the ‘pestilence’, but Moses, the writer of this Psalm, knew the power of God through his angels. Psalm 34v7-8 speaks about the angel of the Lord encamping around them that fear him.

Moses knew this through experience
Exodus 23v20-21

The Lord said to Moses:

20. Behold I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.
21. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him.

The angelic power being with Moses.

Just as the Lord God was with Elisha
II Kings 6v15-17. Verse 16 ‘Fear not’ Elisha prays for his servants eyes to be opened: ‘They that be with us are more than that be with them’.

So God is always at the side of the believers
Hebrews 13v5 the Lord God says ‘I will never leave nor forsake you’.

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, said in
Matthew 26v53 he could call twelve legions of angels to his help through prayer and communication with God.

In
Mark 4v38, we find Jesus asleep in the rear of a ship resting on a pillow. Jesus trusted completely in God, his father. Philippians 4v7 speaks about “the peace of God which passes all understanding”.

So the hardened fishermen wake Jesus up, totally afraid. They say “
carest thou not that we perish”.

John 17v9 Jesus “I pray for them”.

Jesus continues:

John 17v21 ‘That they all may be one; as thou Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us’.

This is the one who cared more than they knew for he gave himself for them and us!!

JD

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Everyone Likes a Paddle

(Reading 1 Thessalonians 1)

A couple of weeks ago Christina and I stayed up in Dundee for a short break. On a less than warm Sunday afternoon we went to Carnoustie for a wander and after sheltering from the rain under cover on the station platform we headed down to the beach. The tide was in so there wasn't too much sand on show but we could see that on a nice day it would be great for the grandchildren with plenty of rock pools, ideal for a paddle and "everyone loves a paddle", don't they? That particular day, there was a cold wind blowing and we didn't have a towel tucked away so it was just a very brief notion but perhaps another day.

Beach

What's so enjoyable about a paddle though? Rolled up trousers, sand between the toes, that initial excitement that makes you get straight back out the water when it first hits your feet then straight back in just waiting on that searing ankle pain until your body gets accustomed to the cold water. After that it's all good, the freedom to explore those rock pools and feel the waves lapping on your legs. You're in the sea but it's nice and safe, no danger of being swept away, the water's not even up to your knees.

We like nice and safe in all parts of our life even in our life in Christ. Too often we are happy to stay in the shallows, not get too involved.

In 1 Thessalonians 1 we read about the great example of the Brothers and Sisters there. Paul remembers their work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus, they received the Word with joy even amid much affliction. They became an example to all the believers in Macedonia, their faith in God going forth everywhere. Sounds like the Ecclesia in Thessalonica were doing pretty good, living a truly Christian life.

As we go through the letter we see Paul praying for them, praying that the Lord will make their love increase and strengthen their hearts, basically telling them they're doing a good job but they need to do better still, they need to go deeper in their life of service to the Lord.

Isn't that true for us too? Do we too need to go deeper, to leave those comfortable shallows, to challenge our comfort zone and do more? We are all different, we have different abilities, different amounts of confidence, what can we do, what do we need to do?

Paul tells us frequently to live our lives to please God, conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel, to bear fruit and grow in the knowledge of God. Why should we do this? Hopefully because we love the Lord God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

We are also called to be Holy, different from the World, to become more like the Lord Jesus. Our lives should be a song of praise to the Lord. Yes we may well make mistakes, get a word or two wrong along the way or even in some cases a whole verse. Too often we dwell on the negative side of our lives, refer to ourselves as sinners, which we are, but instead let us focus on the positive, we are chosen, friends of God and the Lord Jesus, that's something to rejoice about. We do need to strive to do better in all aspects of our lives in Christ, to go deeper, to leave those comfortable shallows where we can simply and safely paddle around.

If we remain in the shallows too, there is much more chance of being pulled back in to the world around us and all its attractions, maybe less so at the moment though! It might be a bit scary heading out into the deeper water, our faith may be tested but remember what it was like when we were learning to swim, clinging to the side, staying where our feet could still reach the bottom then as time went by and our confidence gradually increased we were soon doing "cannonballs". This is what the Lord wants, a full life in the Lord not just a safe paddle. I've said before, the Lord wants us to thrive not just survive, to be lifesavers not just someone who knows just about enough not to drown.

That's our challenge then, to stop holding back from the Lord, have the faith to step out into deeper waters or if we feel we are not confident enough to dive deeper into God's Word.

"ALL Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

DB

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Things will Never be the Same Again

…nor should they be. But more of that later.

Ellenabeich pier

What and where is this? Or more realistically, what was this (it’s still in the same place)? The large pile of broken slates may give you a clue, provided you know something about the Scottish slate industry.

It is the pier at Ellenabeich on the small island of Seil, a few miles south of Oban. The district, and especially
Easdale the island at the top of the picture, had a thriving slate industry, which at its peak exported worldwide 9 million slates a year. But in 1881 a disastrous combination of wind and high tides flooded the quarries, which in some cases went as deep as 80 metres below sea level. Fortunately none of the 500 quarriers were in the quarries at the time, and no lives were lost. But almost all the livelihoods were. The industry never recovered, and production finally stopped around 1914. And so what was once a busy thriving pier became redundant. There was nothing wrong in itself, it had just outlived its usefulness, through changed circumstances.

You might think there is no connection between the pier and Coronavirus, and in one sense you’re right. But there is. The lives of the quarrymen were changed in an instant. Our lives have been changed over the course of a few months. But for us (though I suspect not for the quarriers) there is a silver lining: it has made us rethink so many aspects of our lives. What is really important? What were we doing, just because we always had? What had become redundant and should be left behind? Things we did might have been very useful in the past – necessary even – but now no longer serve any useful function. The pier became obsolete overnight. We have had a few months to consider the questions.

As Christians, we are encouraged constantly to examine our lives and think where we could improve. As John put it in his first letter:

If we claim that we’re free from sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant* nonsense. (1 John 1:8 The Message Bible)

Since lockdown, most of us have become acquainted with doing things differently; in particular the use of Zoom and other methods of communicating virtually. Would we be doing so now, if we hadn’t been forced into it? For me, no. I had never even heard of Zoom before March. But so quickly we can see the benefits, and we should be careful not to lose them. It will mean working and worshipping in different ways, but as someone said, “God is big enough to cope with that”.

Hymn 393 in the Green Hymn Book is rarely sung, but each verse starts with a line that has never been more true:

Change is our portion now

The implication is perhaps that change is not to be welcomed. If the author was thinking of advancing years and ultimately dying, he was right, but the message is correct and important in other ways.

Those who met Jesus had their lives changed radically:

  • Zacchaeus, who changed from being a dishonest money-grabbing tax collector
  • Some ordinary fishermen, who became church leaders and preachers
  • The woman at the well in Samaria
  • Those who were healed of physical or mental illnesses
  • The apostle Paul, changed from a persecutor to a leading evangelist

The list could go on. Our lives are unlikely to be so dramatically affected, though there are accounts of some today whose lives have been turned round completely by following Jesus. Most of us have the blessing of living in a supportive family, in a civilised society and in a relatively safe country. But perhaps that can lull us into a false sense of security. Do we take for granted
  • the houses we have?
  • the money we have?
  • the family and friends we have?
  • the food and drink we have?
  • knowing not just about Jesus, but knowing that we are loved by him and God?
  • the freedom to worship God as we wish?

Are we in danger of not really thinking about what we do and why? There are probably many things we could do better if we stopped and thought. Someone gave us a flip-over collection of sayings about getting old (can’t think why). One of them is “Progress was fine when I was young, but now it’s gone on far too long”. There is a danger that we get set in our ways, and think that is the only and correct way to do things. If we look back, not into history but into our own earlier days, we can see how things at the time that were frowned upon, or even strongly resisted, have now become accepted:
  • using you instead of thou and thee in prayers
  • sitting instead of standing in church for prayer
  • having a television
  • going to the theatre, or worse, the cinema
  • using a piano instead of an organ to accompany hymns

So change is not always to be resisted, but rationally evaluated and embraced where helpful.

As followers of Jesus, we
should be changing and progressing throughout our life to become more like him. Paul realised that he had still got some way to go:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have made it. But I am well on my way, reaching out to Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. (Philippians 3:12-14 The Message Bible)

I don’t know what happened to the quarrymen after the disastrous flooding. Nor do I know what will result from the severe disruption to our lives caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. But let us be optimistic that from enforced change will come new better ways of doing things and leading our lives more as God would like them to be. As Sir Winston Churchill said:

A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.

So things shouldn’t be the same again, they should be better.

And remember that finally
“we will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51 NIV)


*Is this word American for ‘arrant’ – complete and utter? Or its usual meaning in Britain of ‘behaving wrongly’? Both seem to fit.

DMcH

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Not Alone

Our current daily readings have us back in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is looking to the future: his own and that of the world. Matthew 24 paints a vivid picture of a time of reckoning and the events leading up to that time. The signs of the times seem less emphasised nowadays than they appeared to be in the days of my youth. Current global events will, I am sure, see people revisiting and reconfiguring the apparent signs within these events although there is, for me, a certain dichotomy between recognising any signs for what they are and recognising equally that what is to happen won’t necessarily be heralded but rather take the “thief in the night” approach.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 and the follow-up recorded in Matthew 25 underscore for us areas upon which we should be thinking. The criteria that he lists for judgement tell us what it is that we, as Christians, should be about: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, taking in the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoner, and whatever else contributes to the 21st century equivalent of this “pure religion and undefiled” taken up by the Apostle James later in the New Testament.

Jesus’ words encourage us to be mindful of what is expected of us and to be watchful that, in an ever-changing world, we remain conscious of whose we are and whom we serve. With the passage of time – and there’s an allusion to that within the context of Moses and the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai in Matthew 24:48-49 – we need to be careful not to lose focus on these important things.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 24/25, leading up to the Last Supper, set the scene and provide the context for us and within which we operate. We are all familiar with the context that Jesus has provided us with in these words but the difficulty is frequently that, in the hurly-burly of life, that context isn’t always at the forefront of one’s mind. We are, as a result of the way in which society has developed, more often than not in danger of being tied up entirely with the here and now and hardly at all with the hereafter. I’m not suggesting that we become so heavenly-minded as to be no earthly good but we are threatened with only seeing the small material picture, while ignoring the larger, spiritual canvas.

We plan our lives. Sometimes, depending on our position in life, we plan aspects of the lives of other people and we can become, if we’re not careful, too involved in the mundane elements of that. But these plans can quickly go awry. I am sure that many families, like mine, will have made plans, both short- and long-term, both nebulous and firmed-up and will have seen those plans upset and overturned by the current pandemic; all too often and for all too many, with devastating and tragic effects.

We still need to make plans. We have responsibilities both to ourselves, our families and those with whom we come into contact that demand a kind of planning. We cannot go about our everyday lives within the too chaotic constraints of accepting in advance that “the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley”. There has to be planning but not presumption. That is what James appears to be saying in James 4:13-15 (NIV) – 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” – echoing in part the sentiments of Job, a man who knew more than most about what can happen to your life’s plans.

Our understanding of what Jesus says in Matthew 24/25 helps us to avoid such presumption. What we do is hedged about by what we know; by what we understand of what God expects from us; of what he has prepared for us. Generally in the society in which we currently live that can be difficult to achieve. Apathy towards God and towards Christian values and expectations has tended to see a good deal of presumption attached to people’s plans. Jesus foresaw such apathy in Matthew 24:12: because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.

We have to try and avoid such apathy. We have to try to keep God, Jesus and the promises that have been made to us at the forefront of our thinking. To help us we have the example of Jesus whose very existence and whose every movement within that existence were underpinned by what he knew lay ahead of him and the various stages that that would take. Nevertheless he gained the necessary strength when he felt ill-prepared for the task ahead. And why?

In John 16:32, he says “I am not alone”. Neither are we. The comfort for Jesus was that he had God with him. Our comfort, and that has never been more obvious in these recent, strange self-isolating times, is that we have God and Jesus with us, against whom we should not and cannot presume and, conscious of the context that they have prepared for us, we should frame our preparations and plans, and fit the picture of the Christian disciple who, at all times, fulfils their obligations and expectations. 45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Matthew 24:45-47 NIV).

JS
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...Worth a Thousand Words

Arthur's seat
Edinburgh Christadelphian Church
Loch Lomond
Balmoral Hotel and Register House
Fairy Glen, Rosemarkie
Cuillin Mountains from Elgol
Dean Village
Unknown
Edinburgh from the viewing gallery, Museum of Scotland
Morar, Highlands
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What is God Made Of?

A fuller, audio version of this talk will be published as a special episode of the four cubits and a span podcast, and will be available at https://bit.ly/4QS-LS1 (or wherever you get your podcasts). All scripture quotations from the Revised English Bible, copyright © Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press 1989. All rights reserved.

A young friend recently asked this question: “What is God made of?” Those who have been long in the faith might smile fondly at this youthful query, having spent many years contemplating the mysteries of God’s inscrutable nature, but her question is neither naive nor misguided. As humans, we try to make sense of the world by relating it to our own experience. We project ourselves onto the world as we most easily relate to things in terms of our own senses.
So when we want to relate to God - whom we cannot see, or touch, or hear - we want to know what God looks like. What does God sound like? What colour is God? Does God see and taste as we do? If we could enter heaven, as our Lord Jesus has, would we be able to hug God? Would we be able to look God in the eye, and converse with God as a friend or a parent? As adults, and as we grow in faith, we may come to accept that we cannot answer these questions, at least not in this life.
Yet the writers of scripture address questions just like these, and more. Sometimes the questions are phrased differently, with a wisdom and understanding from which we can learn to ask better questions; and what answers there are, are not always the kinds of answers we were looking for.
The creation story in Genesis 1 puts this question right at the climax of the narrative. After creating the cosmos and filling the sea, and the sky, and the earth with life of all kinds, God sets Godself to rule over it in the most unexpected way: 
Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness, to have dominion over the fish in the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, all wild animals on land, and everything that creeps on the earth.’
    God created human beings in his own image;     in the image of God he created them;     male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:26-27)
God will not personally live or rule in this new world. Instead, God’s presence - God’s image - will be present in human beings. This is a great responsibility, but also very surprising. God shares with humans the authority and privilege that belongs to God as the creator and sustainer of the cosmos. 
This is not an act of condescension so much as partnership, an act mirrored in the following creation story in Genesis 2-3. Here, there is only one human in the beginning, and God creates for the human a partner with an equal capacity, because no other creature in the cosmos can stop the human from being alone.
That theme of partnership is one that permeates the story of the people of God in scripture. It continues in the story of the Exodus, where the God of liberation frees the Israelites to be a people dedicated to the name of God; not as servants but as priests, the ones who bring others closer to the divine.
Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I have carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you here to me. If only you will now listen to me and keep my covenant, then out of all peoples you will become my special possession; for the whole earth is mine. You will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” Those are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
(Exodus 19:3-6)
Shortly thereafter, Moses and Aaron and the elders of the people climb Mount Sinai and see in a vision a representation of God who sits enthroned - but who also shares a meal with them. Ezekiel envisages the same God, and so does John the Revelator: a God who sees, and who knows, and who invites countless others to join with God at the throne (Exodus 24:9-10; Ezekiel 1; Revelation 4, 7:9-11).

When Moses leads the Israelites through the wilderness, the glory of God rests in a tent at the centre of the encampment. Moses goes inside to commune with God, and when he comes out his face is shining like the sun, a physical reflection of the God in whose image he is made. The people of Israel are so terrified that Moses covers his face.
Moses is transformed when he comes closer to God, and the apostle Paul picks up on this powerful imagery in his letter to the church in Corinth. This is the kind of transformation he envisages for the resurrection when the earthy body is transformed into a heavenly body, which he also describes as a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45-50). 
In 2 Corinthians it is this spiritual glory that Paul focuses on, which he calls a spirit of liberation. Here, he reminds us directly of Moses in the wilderness, reflecting the glory of God, and he calls us all to that same transformation.
READ: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 
Paul is choosing his metaphors and examples very carefully in drawing on the Moses story.  Moses is described as “the most humble man on earth” (Numbers 12:3), whereas most of the others who lead God’s people after the time of Moses and Joshua are characterised either as flawed leaders or as outright cruel tyrants and unjust rulers. 
The prophets chastise the kings of Israel and Judah in the most uncompromising terms. In Amos 5, for example, the prophet observes of Israel that, “She has fallen, to rise no more, / the virgin Israel, / prostrate on her own soil / with no one to lift her up” (v2). This is a dirge for Israel, and the prophet explains why the nation has fallen to the ground to be trampled: because it is responsible for trampling its own people into that same soil.
    You that turn justice to poison     and thrust righteousness to the ground,     you that hate a man who brings the wrongdoer to court     and abominate him who speaks nothing less than truth:     for all this, because you levy taxes on the poor     and extort a tribute of grain from them,     though you have built houses of hewn stone,     you will not live in them;     though you have planted pleasant vineyards,     you will not drink wine from them.     For I know how many are your crimes,     how monstrous your sins:     you bully the innocent, extort ransoms,     and in court push the destitute out of the way.     In such a time, therefore, it is prudent to stay quiet,     for it is an evil time.
    (Amos 5:7-13)
In the prophets’ rhetoric, those who used their power to dominate and exploit and cast down instead of nurturing and lifting up, reap the violence that they sowed.
If Moses’ humility is his defining characteristic, and this is the kind of person who reflects God, then we can draw some conclusions about the leadership of Jesus, whom we as Christians are supposed to be following and reflecting. 
He is the radiance of God’s glory, the stamp of God’s very being, and he sustains the universe by his word of power. When he had brought about purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of God’s Majesty on high, raised as far above the angels as the title he has inherited is superior to theirs.
(Hebrews 1:3-4)
This is the man who made himself a servant to all, who leads not by domination but by example; who is a shepherd, not a tyrant. He is one who empowers and invites people to partner with him in shining the light of God into the world
The parable of the good Samaritan is based in this tradition of liberation, where the freedom that comes with a life following God is not the freedom to do whatever you want for yourself: it’s the freedom to make others free. It’s the freedom to lift each other up in a community - a society - where no person wields authority over any other. 
“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 
(Mark 10:42-45)
This is why Jesus washes his disciples’ feet at the last supper, saying, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14-17). Christians should be trying to project into the world a reflection of the Lord whom they serve, who was himself a servant.
Reflecting God into the world is not about making everybody more like us. It’s about making ourselves - in all of our natural, human diversity - more like Jesus. This is why Jesus always centred other people, not only respecting the image of God in others but drawing attention to it and allowing it to shine out into the world. Jesus honoured women and foreigners and the poor. He touched those with diseases and disabilities. And, like the prophets he sharply criticised those ‘leaders’ who spent their energy flouting their own power instead of empowering others.
What do people see when they look at us? If we claim to be driven by the spirit of God, then our claim will be easily tested. Proverbs 27:19 reads, “As someone sees his face reflected in water, so he sees his own mind reflected in another’s.” Our thoughts and intentions are reflected in the way that we relate to others.
Do we reflect Jesus, as ambassadors? Jesus is the word - the heart and mind of God - embodied in a human being. If we are reflecting Jesus Christ, then we are showing the heart and mind of God, and what is in our hearts will always show in our actions. I think this is what the writer of 1 John describes in chapter four of that letter.
God has never been seen by anyone, but if we love one another, he himself dwells in us; his love is brought to perfection within us.
This is how we know that we dwell in him and he dwells in us: he has imparted his Spirit to us. Moreover, we have seen for ourselves, and we are witnesses, that the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is God’s Son, God dwells in him and he in God. Thus we have come to know and believe in the love which God has for us.
God is love; he who dwells in love is dwelling in God, and God in him.
(1 John 4:12-16)
If our hearts are filled with the love of God - if the spirit of the Lord dwells in us - then that way of living and thinking that was epitomised by Jesus will be reflected out into the world. As the Elder writes just a few verses later,
But if someone says, ‘I love God,’ while at the same time hating his [brother or sister], he is a liar. If he does not love a [brother or sister] whom he has seen, he is incapable of loving God whom he has not seen. We have this command from Christ: whoever loves God must love his [brother or sister] too.
(1 John 4:20-21)
So if somebody asks us what God looks like, or what God sounds like - if somebody asks, “What is God made of?” - we might honestly answer, “I don’t know… but everything that God wants you to know about Godself can be seen in humans like Jesus.” And if we’re following Jesus well, and honouring the image of God in this world, then we can invite people to look for God embodied in our humanity: in bodies of all colours and genders and abilities; in children as well as adults; in the care of a stranger for another human; and in the love of a family, whether by birth or of choice.
We may not look God in the eye in this life, or hug God, or converse with God as to a friend or parent. But as we grow in faith, we may come to accept that God wants us to see God’s glory unveiled in the mirror of each other, where the spirit of the Lord is transforming us and leading us all to freedom and liberation.
D&CA
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Plenty of Food

Unlike my siblings and my wife, I am not much into gardening, though I am a dab hand at lopping bushes!

However, with lockdown, I have been enjoying (looking at) the garden more, and have come to appreciate better the marvel of how things grow.

I am also surprised how fast changes take place: the leaves in spring, the flowers, and in no time at all (it seems) the flowers die and the fruits start to develop.

IMG_0090 (1)

The words of Paul at Iconium come to mind:
“God has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:16-17)

The process of growing, flowering, fruiting gives us our food, as well as much pleasure en route as we see the pretty colours.

IMG_0363 (1)

It is part of the cycle of life. And we are part of that too. We are born, we grow up, we flourish for a bit and hopefully produce some good fruit, and then we die!

What is the purpose? As far as plants are concerned, it is to carry on the plant life. The main plant dies, but the fruits produce seeds, the seeds grow, so the plant as a species carries on.

And what of ourselves? The same could apply to us, that we live on in our children!

But it is more than that. For human beings, the purpose is greater and grander.

At the time of Jesus, there were two schools of thought.
There were the Sadducees, who believed that this life is all. Death is the end.
There were the Pharisees, who believed that those who had died would be raised by God to new life.

Jesus had confrontations with both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. But when he was challenged over the subject of life after death, he sided with the Pharisees. However, he produced an argument, as far as I am aware, a new argument. Certainly, I have never seen it used elsewhere before Jesus used it. To the Sadducees, Jesus said this:

“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 
… about the resurrection of the dead — have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:29,31,32)

Now, my understanding of what Jesus meant is this. The famous ancestors of the Jewish nation, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – all long dead – had a relationship with God. It doesn’t make sense of the world or of that relationship, if death puts a final end to that. If God is eternal, if God worked with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their God, then He must have a purpose with them beyond this life.

And that is our belief too. It is why we gather as a church, it is why we have the Life Training Club — to train us for a good, God-serving life now, and for a purpose in life that has greater meaning for the future. “Life Training” is for us all. Someone was once asked “When did your education end?”. He replied, “It didn’t end. I’m still learning!”

That commitment should be for each of us. And likewise, the hope of a bright future in the Kingdom of God, for as it says in John’s Gospel:

“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.’ (John 3:16)

IMcH

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God's Wonderful Creation

I send you the love and greetings from Irvine Ecclesia.

During the Coronavirus lockdown I have had time to enjoy the countryside around where I live. This has demonstrated to me the wonder and beauty of God’s creation.

Less than ten minutes from my house is Carron Dams nature reserve. This was originally part of the Carron Iron works 1759-1963. 57 years ago, this area would not be that pleasant to visit. The main dam held water diverted from the River Carron to provide water to cool the forge in the Carron Ironworks. But that is long ago, and nature has reclaimed the land. The lake is almost completely covered in reeds and bullrushes. Trees have self-seeded and wildlife has moved in – deer, foxes, grey squirrels and ducks. As I have walked through the park, I have particularly noticed the trees. They have not been managed – they have been allowed to do their own thing.

13.05.20 (2)

I noticed several large trees with branches extending precariously away from the main trunk a huge distance. They have not chosen the best or easiest path and have made life difficult for themselves. Despite the seeming mistake they continue and make the best of it producing a good crop of leaves. This reminded me of Elimelech and Naomi in Ruth. They made the decision, no doubt prayerfully to leave the promised land and move to Moab due to a famine. They were godly people and I suspect were convinced this was the way GOD was leading them. Although this looks to us, and no doubt to many others at that time, to be a wrong move, it was indeed GOD’S will. If we had provided advice to them, although it seemed sound to us – it would have been wrong! There is a lesson for us to accept decisions made by brothers and sisters since we may not understand how GOD is guiding them. The result in Ruth is that Ruth marries Boaz and is an ancestor of Jesus. The lesson is to be guided by GOD and make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in. Remembering that even if you get it wrong, as we so often do, GOD will never leave you or forsake you.

I have also noticed trees have a great ability to live and get on together – at one point there is a silver birch and a beech tree growing together with their trunks touching. Amazing how different trees can grow and flourish together, a great lesson for us to be tolerant of each other.
Philippians 2:1-4. We should accept each other. As we come around the table to break bread we remember Jesus gave us the command to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. John 13:34-35.

Birch and beech tree joined together

PG

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All you knead is love

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7, ESV)
 
Our family loves bread – it’s often the best bit of a meal for us. The breaking of bread is the most important part of our church activities, and Jesus says in John 6:48 “I am the bread of life.”
 
Over the past few years, we’ve periodically tried to make our own sourdough starter but have never done so successfully. Then lockdown came and we were running low on yeast so (inevitably) turned to the internet for help. Lo and behold, you can buy starter that’s guaranteed to work.

 Sourdough (1)

Since that special day when it arrived, we have eaten more sourdough than anything else. Some days have been successful, some not so much – but every attempt has taught us something. It’s like our spiritual journey in so many ways…
 
Once our starter was well fed and joyously alive, we made sure to freeze some and dry another batch just in case something happened and our original lot died. It’s always good to have some spiritual juice in reserve for when we need it; for each of us, we get this in different ways. Sometimes an uplifting Zoom session will do it, other times it’s hearing bird song or a lovely hymn.
 
The way sourdough works is simply by mixing flour and water together and leaving it so that the natural yeasts develop. In order to keep it alive, some of this mixture is discarded and replaced with fresh flour and water.
 
The ‘discard’ is then used to make something. In our spiritual lives, we need a central source of life – and as the hymn says, “for this, we have Jesus”; just like he saw the outcasts from society and saw their worth, it’s the sourdough discard that actually makes the delicious bread. But it’s not just bread that it’ll make – anything that requires water and flour can be given the sourdough treatment and it’ll turn out tasty. We might not think we’re impressive enough to be a showy big loaf of bread, but everyone loves pancakes just as much.
 
If you search the internet, you’ll find hundreds of recipes to make sourdough bread. We tried a few but weren’t overly happy with the end result – they were still perfectly edible, but not quite what we wanted. In the end, it turns out the least amount of effort and plenty of time left alone gave us a loaf that was light and airy with just enough sourdough tang. All the mixture needed was to given a few pulls every now and then, and just left to get on with its job. When dealing with other people, it’s hard to know when to interfere and when to leave well alone.
 
The baking process starts by having the loaf hidden from sight. It’s such a sense of satisfaction to remove the lid part way through and see how it’s risen and started to turn golden. Our efforts with others often don’t bear fruit straight away, and then something happens and it all feels worthwhile.
 
Sharing our new-found love of sourdough making is something that comes naturally because we’ve been excited about it and enthusiastic about the end results. Imagine sharing the joy of God’s message in an equally enthusiastic way to anyone who asks. Just as others have gone and bought their own starter after our recommendation, how lovely it would be if others came to know God and Jesus because of our passion.
 
We learnt so much on our sourdough journey – we needed help to get started and couldn’t do it on our own; the starter needs fed regularly; it’s the discarded bit that is valuable; and sharing the joy gives great satisfaction. The same principles apply when we (virtually) share the bread and wine, and throughout our journey to the Kingdom.

RC

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