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.

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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.

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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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Redemption

We will start by asking a question. Do you become suspicious when you are offered something for FREE? – We know that very little is free in life, and there is usually a catch. If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is! That’s the usual guidance to us in this, perhaps, cynical world. Something for nothing often means there is a scam involved especially as they seem to be on the increase since the current lockdown. But we have been offered something wonderful – for free – and there is no catch. Paul writes in Romans 3 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:23-24. The Greek word for redemption here, according to Strong’s Concordance, means “a ransom in full”. Justified means to be declared righteous, freely, without cost to us “on all who believe” v 22 tells us.

When we think about the way Jesus spoke about sin, we remember that he put a price on our sin against each other and against God. Read Matthew 18 v 21-22.

Then follows the parable of the unforgiving creditor, read Matthew 18 v 23-27. The sins against God, depicted here as the King, were represented by a debt of ten thousand talents. To put that into context,1 talent was equal to 6,000 denarii and a denarius was a man’s wages for 1 day. 10,000 talents are therefore equal to 60m denarii or equivalent to about 164,000 years of wages for one man. That is the size of our debt to God – HUGE. The parable continues in v 28-35. Our sins against each other are represented by a debt of 100 denarii, or just over 3 months wages. Our debt to God is impossible to repay compared to any trivial debt owed to us. If our debt to God was in monetary terms, it is more than we could ever repay. Our sins against each other are as nothing by comparison. Verse 35 is a warning about the penalty for not forgiving others when our sins are forgiven by God.

When we live in Christ, all OUR debt is wiped away and we are justified freely by God’s grace. This is nothing that we deserve. Cancelling our debt is God's free gift to us. It costs us nothing though we deserve none of His grace.

Because we have been freely forgiven and justified, let us be thankful for God's grace on us and freely pass on the blessings to others as we forgive them for what they may have done against us.

Notice that we have been “justified freely” It is one thing to be “justified” but the emphasis here is that it is “without price as it is written in
Isaiah 55 v 1 “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat”. Bible echoes are found in Revelation 22 v 17 “…let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” Without a price, because Jesus has paid the price on our behalf. Consider how we have been redeemed.

Redemption means to deliver someone or something by paying a price. Redemption is spoken of many times in the OT. Animals were offered as a sacrifice for sin. The 1st animal sacrifice was to cover the sins of Adam & Eve and they were covered with animal skins.

In Egypt God’s people were saved by the blood of animals. Read Exodus 12 v 12 – 14. It pointed forward to the deliverer of all people as the perfect Passover lamb. John the Baptist announced “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

We see another example of redemption in the OT in the lovely story of Ruth and how Boaz acted as her redeemer. The redeemer had to be a relative, and so Boaz purchased the land that had belonged to Ruth’s husband and with it Ruth herself and she became the great Grandmother of David from whose line our Lord sprang. The redeemer had to be a relative and pay the price in full. Jesus is our brother and paid the ultimate price for our redemption.

Ephesians 1 v 7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”

Romans 5 v 19 tells us “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” It promises a new relationship with God. 1 Peter 3 v 18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God”, and it promises a new life in Christ.

The Priests in the Tabernacle and the Temple offered animal sacrifices for the people’s sins, but Hebrews speaks of a better sacrifice. Read Hebrews 9 v 11-15 & v 25-26. By this sacrifice of himself, Jesus put away sin which is something that was absolutely impossible for the Levitical sacrifices to do v28.

Conclusion - Romans 3 v 22 – 24 the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. No one (except one) has lived up to what God created us to be; we all fall short. We cannot save ourselves because as sinners we can never meet God’s requirements. Our only hope is faith in Jesus Christ. Those who believe are justified, that is declared righteous, freely, without cost, by God’s grace. Jesus died to provide redemption; he died to pay the price required to ransom sinners. And so we, who were once without hope and estranged from God can approach His throne and be restored to a proper relationship with Him.

Ephesians 2 v 12 – 13 “Remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” v18 “For through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father.

So, to answer our original question – is there something for free that has been offered to us? Yes, but not because of us, but because of our Lord and his sacrifice, for our redemption.

CA
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Look After Yourself

Good Morning! Sorry I can’t be with you and that we all can’t be together in these difficult times.

I think it’s important to look after ourselves, physically, mentally and of course spiritually. If we are looking after ourselves, do we sometimes feel that it is selfish? “I don’t want to be selfish!” “I want to be kind, isn’t kindness always better?!” we might ask ourselves. But is taking time to look after ourselves un-Christlike?

I get it. We want to be loving, kind and gracious toward others. And those are good things. What we often don’t realise is that love, kindness, and graciousness flow from a heart that has received those qualities first. John put it this way
“We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4 v19)

We need to remember that if we don’t love ourselves then how can we love others? An inability to give self care immediately makes it more difficult to care for others as YOUR tank is already empty.

There are pitfalls which we can fall into (funnily enough!) I’ve learnt this as I learn to be a therapist.
1. We can start to appease or over indulge others without helping them grow.
2. We can take on others’ problems as our own instead of listening and enabling them to deal with them.

When we are run down within ourselves then we may want to help others but we may take the easiest but least helpful route for them as we simply don’t have the means within ourselves to help.

So we need to look after ourselves too. God loves us, He wants to see us glorify and love him but he wants to see us WELL, loving ourselves and loving others more easily because of that. How can we know how to be kind to others if we aren’t kind to ourselves?

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I’m reminded of Jesus taking himself into the wilderness to pray; Jesus went out to a mountain to pray; Jesus sent the disciples away to pray before he was crucified.

He took himself away and gave himself the nourishment he needed from His Heavenly Father before he gave his very life in the ultimate act of love the world has ever seen.

We know that we look to Jesus and try to emulate him; look after yourself, pray and love others. We all need to think about these things as we take the bread and wine this morning.

Much love to you all,
Lewis, Kat and Reuben xxx

PS. Signs you might be needing some self care
1. You’re irritable and short with everyone around you
2. You feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities.
3. You want to be kind, but you can’t muster the energy.
4. You’re struggling with decisions and worried about letting others down.

What to do about it...
1. Plan a day off and get out of your house. (if current government rules and health allow!)
2. Take a walk with yourself. Turn off your phone and spend some time noticing your thoughts and feelings. Talk to God about it.
3. Ask a friend, counsellor, to just listen. It’s amazing what happens when our hardest thoughts and feelings are witnessed by a loving “other”. (And guess what? Those loving others are probably getting care for themselves, too.)

(Advice taken from Alison Cook PhD)
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The Tonic of Humour

Alan Witcutt was due to do the exhortation today. He agreed last Monday to send material from which we could extract a short “Thought”. Very sadly, and unexpectedly, he died on Tuesday. His correspondence did not arrive, but I was able to select from notes that he had earlier sent for me to type. We offer our condolences to his family, and keep them in our prayers.

When Alan Witcutt returned from visiting his son Paul in New Zealand he was straight in to lockdown. He had been thinking of adding more anecdotes to his book “Nine Lives and More” and so he took the opportunity of being at home to write these down. He then sent them and his exhortation on forgiveness for me to type. It is from these that I plan to select a “Thought” for today.

The murder of his wife Christine by a sniper in Sarajevo while delivering much needed supplies with Edinburgh Direct Aid during the war there was a shattering blow to Alan and his family. Throughout Alan’s exhortation on forgiveness he says how difficult it was to put forgiveness into practice. He says, “I also am struggling daily to fulfil Christ’s commands.” He says, “The way of Jesus had become costly and painful to me. It imposed on me an almost impossible discipline of love. To my shame, I founder on occasions.” The grief was there but it was in the background. He finishes one part of the exhortation with “Daily prayer is my only answer to solving this problem of how to forgive.” And I think this is a lesson for us.

What did we see of Alan when he chatted to us on a Sunday morning or he entertained us or we him? We saw someone who was cheerful and ready to relate anecdotes that would entertain and inform us. Grenville Kleiser (a North American author on personal development 1868-1935) said, “
Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment.

Jesus used humour in his storytelling and we can learn lessons that we can remember.
Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” This gives a very vivid picture of how we can be critical of others whilst not realising our own faults.

During the lockdown we have been receiving WhatsApp messages with lots of entertaining videos. The aim of these has been to lighten our mood, take our mind off our problems and give us something to laugh about.

Alan tells the entertaining story of his cousin who had a problem with a smoky chimney which needed to be swept. “
To save the expense of having it done professionally she decided that she would do it herself. Unfortunately, she had no knowledge of the procedures and it is very important to do it correctly.” She borrowed the brush and poles from a neighbour. “She was not aware as to the importance of turning the poles continuously in a clockwise direction to prevent the brush head from becoming loose and detaching from the pole screw thread.” At this point Alan’s mother arrived and the draught of the door opening brought soot pouring into the room. She was asked to go and see if the brush was poking out of the top of the chimney. It wasn’t but the pole without the brush was. “The disaster was now complete. She unscrewed the poles, but the brush had become lodged in the chimney. She had no option but to phone her plumber and explain the difficulty.” Instead of saving money, Alan’s cousin had to buy a new brush and pay the plumber to remove the old one. Alan says, “Sometimes, even I have had to admit defeat when trying to save money attempting to do a repair myself in or outside my house.”

So I think there are some lessons for us. It is not always easy, especially in difficult times, to put into practice Jesus teachings but with prayer and God’s help we can daily try. Sometimes we have to accept our dependence on other people and we have had to do that perhaps more than usual in this time of pandemic.

AMcH
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Spring's Abundance

Matt’s recent blog about the beautiful buildings in Edinburgh resonated with me because my morning exercise during lockdown is a time for reflection and prayer as I tramp – at a much more sedate pace than our professional runners, of course! – along country lanes and quiet backwater streets out in the suburbs, without a soul in sight, enjoying the burgeoning life all around me.

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Springtime never ceases to amaze me - all these different plants erupting into fabulous displays of colour and scent; all the instructions for their blossoming into cherry or rhododendron or choisea or daffodils inside them, only needing rain and warmth and light to make them realise their full potential. We have within us the potential to be fully realised spiritually if we soak up the right nourishment and bask in the light of the world. And picking up John’s thoughts about light, what a difference sunshine makes.

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We might not feel like flamboyant or even beautiful plants sometimes, but we can still quietly and effectively make a difference, just as an understated clematis adorning railings, or cascading over plain trees can transform them. What do people see when they look at me in action, I wonder … or you?

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Even an unassuming weed, like this herb robert, can brighten a dreary spot and tell its own story about motivation and allegiance.

It might seem difficult to be any kind of Godly example in these days of isolation and social distancing, but even small acts of kindness can speak volumes, and open up an opportunity to reveal God in action today … through us, his hands and feet. Certainly I've personally had far more interaction with our neighbours during this last two months than I’ve had in all the busy years before lockdown.

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Even if our scope for showing God’s love is limited, we still need to nourish and care for our spiritual selves, too, looking forward to a time when we can be more active - much like this apple tree that promises us baskets full of lovely fruit in the autumn if it’s fed and watered now. I've certainly benefitted greatly from the imagination and hard work of others streaming services and good ideas for anyone who cares to link in to them online.

So huge thanks to everyone who is posting exhortations for us while we’re confined to our homes. Several people have commented that they welcome the chance to re-read the thoughts and pick up on ideas they missed first time round. We’re learning valuable lessons for life from this pandemic.

HMcH

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Light

During these dark days of “Lockdown” when so many have lost their lives, and so many mourn their passing, we take “hope” in the words of Jesus when he said “I am the light of the world”. He that follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life – John 1 v4. In Jesus was life and the life was the light of men and women.

Matthew 5 v16 shows us that we possess the knowledge of Eternal Life, Jesus tells us “let your light so
shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven”.

Matthew 5 v14 and 15 tells us quite powerfully that “you are the light of the world”. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.

V15 Neither do men Light a candle and put it under a bushel but on a candle stick and it gives light unto all that are in the house”.

2 Peter 1 v19 Light shining in a dark place. Jesus is the light/dark place (our hearts), day dawn (Christ in our hearts)/day star arise (Jesus in our understanding).

Isaiah 58 v8 tells us that a time will come “when thy
light breaks forth as the morning and thine health shall spring forth speedily and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the Lord shall be thy re ward.

But before this time many things possibly have to be endured. The apostle, Paul, in Acts 16 v12 in Philippi, here smeets with Lydia.

Acts 16 v22 Magistrates commanded Paul and Silas to be whipped and thrust into the inner prison feet fast in stocks. At midnight they came around and sang praises to God and the prisoners heard them. So here in this stinking cold prison, pitch dark/not able to lie down/backs cut and bleeding. They sing to God.

V26 tells us a great earthquake shook the prison, all bands loosed, doors open. The prison guard seeing the situation, drew his sword so to kill himself.

V28 Paul stops him.

V30 This man asks “Sirs what must I do to be saved?”

V33 Paul preaches Jesus. The man and his family believe and are baptised.

So Paul and Silas were sent specifically for this one man and his family.

Paul writes to exhort Timothy, 2 Timothy 4 v2 to preach in season and out of season.

Exhort with all long suffering (pain and suffering) to the end we glorify God.

Righteousness: By Faith in Jesus Christ Romans 3 v22.

Romans 5 v18 Righteousness “free gift” to us through Jesus and so we look forward to that time when we shall all join together and sing Hymn 294 “Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning”.

JD

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Pressing Forward

Recently, with another big birthday, I have been encouraged to reminisce. Perhaps I have thought about the past too much, but I may not have too much future. I suppose that could be said of us all, irrespective of age, especially in these difficult times.

In the Bible we are encouraged to put the past behind us and press forward "to the mark of our high calling”. Perhaps this refers to past mistakes.

As many of you will know, I am very interested in recollecting hymns that express my thoughts and aspirations. Hymn 155 in our green hymn book came to mind. "Lord, who Thyself hast bidden us to pray for daily bread.” The words of verses 4 and 5 are:

We could not bear to hear complete the tale,
    If it were told;
Enough to know Thy mercies cannot fail,
    Nor love grow cold.

So, day by day, Thy never-failing love
    Our soul shall stay;
So let us be content Thy love to prove,
    Each passing day.

Both the words and music were written by an Anglican priest called George Wallace Briggs, who lived from 1875 to 1959.

MMcG
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The Direction of our Lives

What an odd situation – and yet we are getting used to it – being unable to meet and greet!

Do you remember not that long ago when we were able to meet but it was not thought prudent to shake hands and give a hug? It affects us all a bit differently – Kathy is really missing the opportunity to hug our family especially after the death of her father.

Our exhortation this morning is a little reflection on the direction of our lives.

The daily readings over the past couple of weeks or so (if we choose to read the word of God that way) have been dealing with new beginnings.

In Deuteronomy there we have a record of the Children of Israel just before they move into the promised land. The first 4 verses of Chapter 12 of Deuteronomy detail what they were required to do once they moved into the land. They were not to worship the Lord God in the same way that the nations in the land worshipped the multiplicity of their gods and remove all high places. And yet these clear and unequivocal commands were never followed through completely. Even in the reign of good king Amaziah of Judah, we read in 2 Kings 14v3,4, “And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, yet not like David his father. He did in all things as Joash his father had done. But the
high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places”.

In Acts we have been reading of the beginnings of Christianity. It started all really well when we read in Acts 2v42-47
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

But soon all sorts of problems emerged!

Each week we start with a new beginning but it never seems long until things go wrong and we forget about what we are remembering today.

Even though we are no longer servants of sin (after our baptism) we still are affected by our sin. As we start a new week, and as we perhaps begin to contemplate a change in our freedom with lockdown being eased, we need to be careful to remember God’s love and the love of Jesus Christ for you and me and use that as a restraint in our daily lives. We need to cease to serve self and be servants of God. God gave his own son to present to us the wonderful opportunity of a new beginning in His kingdom. Jesus devoted his life to always serve His Father and give us the opportunity for that renewed beginning. We remember the sacrifice made for us in the Bread and cup which we now are about to share.

LY
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Inside and Outside

There is a lot in the news at the moment about inside and outside. We must stay inside as much we can and only go outside when we need to. We can only go outside for exercise once a day and when we get back inside, we must wash our hands. We’re staying inside to meet together when we would normally travel outside to meet.

Since the lockdown started Ros and I have been out every morning for a run. We started off running around The Meadows but quite soon got bored of that every day and have been finding new routes around Edinburgh, in particular looking for nice streets and houses. When I was at university studying architecture and building construction, I preferred modern architecture but as I run around Edinburgh now, the old buildings are my favourites.

As we run round, we see nice streets and houses and think it would be nice to live in there. It could be easy to get jealous of other people’s houses and where they live but all we can see is the outside.  Although they look nice, most of the time we’ve no idea what they are like inside or what it’s like to live in a particular house. We do know that burglary is an issue when you have a large house in a nice area.

In a similar way when we look at other people we only see what’s on the outside, but it’s still easy to judge them based on that view, either by looking down at them and thinking how much better we are or by looking up to them and thinking we’re not worthy because we don’t appear to behave like them. We may get glimpses of what they are like on the inside, like looking though a house window, but we don’t really know. God knows though – he can see what we are all like on the inside and how we really think.

The only person we should be looking at and comparing ourselves to is Jesus; we know his Father saw the inside and declared he was pure on the inside as well as the outside. We’ll never reach his standard, just as I’ll never get to live in the perfect house in Edinburgh (that I’m sure doesn’t actually exist), but that shouldn’t stop us looking to him, and trying to follow his example.

One place we have run past a number of times is what used to be Donaldson’s School in Edinburgh; it’s a grand building that has now been converted into flats and around the back of the school the developers have built some modern flats, which don’t look special themselves but have lovely views of the old building. I’ve pondered if I’d rather live in the fabulous old building or in the modern ones looking at it, concluding I’d probably prefer the view.

It has also occurred to me that if I use this as a parable, we could see our lives at the moment as living in the ‘ordinary’ building looking at Jesus, in his perfection, but from the outside. However, really I think we are on the inside – we are part of the house of God now and we can put our trust in God. Being part of God’s house is a lot to live up to, but we know he is a merciful and gracious God.

As brothers and sisters of Jesus we are living inside the beautiful house and it’s a place of safety and security. We might be tempted by what’s outside but it’s not the best neighbourhood right now. However, we need to go out to do the work of God in the world, to show others what God’s house is like on the inside and to try to reflect the behaviour of our Saviour.

So let’s not look at others, like we might look at houses and judge them from the outside. Let’s stay inside God’s house, enjoy his love and only venture outside (metaphorically) to help others and show them what it’s like inside.

MC
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Gospel Pictures

In these days of seeing into people’s homes by their webcams, it interests me to see that in most homes, there are framed pictures. This is not new; there have been pictures on walls for centuries.

I would like us to look at ‘pictures’ in the Bible, to be exact, Luke chapter 15.
A favourite chapter.
Some of you will know that I’m a ‘Yes - But’ person, and I am with this chapter.
These parables are often described as being about the ‘lost’ sheep, coin, son, – or – about the ‘found’ sheep, coin, son. There is the alternative of ‘the forgiving father’ which is good.

‘Yes, But’  I say, ‘I see these parables’ punchline as JOY!’
The point of these parables, see verses 1 & 2, is that the religious leaders were rejecting these ‘sinners’:
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” Luke 15:1-2 

SO Jesus was finding! Restoring them; a cause for JOY! Like finding hidden treasure; or that perfect indescribable pearl, the joyful knowledge of the Kingdom when we do find it. Search for it, or find it given us by heritage.

Another ‘But” is that the word ‘prodigal’ was ruined for me by its use here for a title. It’s a heading, an addition, as is the ‘importunate’ widow. (To restore the meaning of prodigal; generous, overflowing, burgeoning, see ‘Prodigal Summer’ by Barbara Kingsolver.)

The picture of the lost sheep is familiar. It is a relief to restore one to the flock, joyfully carried home. It says ‘Rejoice with me’. And see here, 99% of the ecclesia is still safe. See verse 7: those 99% ‘do not need to repent’.
See “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners .” Matthew 9:13
I suggest, that when we have been baptised, accepted Christ, had sins forgiven, ‘we are no longer sinners’. Potential stumblers maybe.

The scene of the anxious woman seeking one coin, although she still has 9. 
A pause in the tale, in the gloom, – then exultation, joy, calls her friends and neighbours; “Rejoice with me!” Yes it was lost, it was found, but I see the jolt of joy being the message.
Lydia, my wife, lost all trace of a lovely watch recently. It just vanished. Phone calls, retracing journeys, steps, activities; where have we been? Till one day, out of the blue – there it was! What relief! What joy!

Now, the scene of the younger, reckless, wasteful son and brother.

The estate was secure. Father, older son and their workers were there. No word of mother. The absent son was missed. Father hadn’t gone to fetch him, then - we love that line “When he came to his senses”. So often we have imagined it. When his father saw the distant figure moving wearily closer, I see him dusty, he ran, hugged and kissed him! (That pleasure denied us at present.)
The message? Less ‘he was lost’; less ‘he was found’, but, running, spilling over, that surge of absolute joy. That ‘prodigal’ joy! Before that confessing son could blurt his rehearsed line “make me as one of your hired servants” his father restored him: he had come home!
In these scenes we have the descriptions ‘joyfully’, ‘rejoice’, ‘rejoicing’, ‘safe and sound’, ‘celebrate’ ‘celebrate’, ‘be glad’, and the only mention in the gospels of ‘music’!

The religious leaders are the older brother; but let’s imagine, as it’s a parable and not fact, that the elder brother came round; after all, his father had said “All that I have is yours!” He had lost nothing, like the labourers in the vineyard, ‘I give as we agreed”.
The younger son ‘your brother’ was dead, now alive; lost, now found; because of his restoration there was celebration and music and gladness. That is – Joy.

We can bring that joy here. Jesus was dead and is alive again; was lost to the disciples and found resurrected! He was led from temptation and testing; delivered from evil.
We know of the execution of Jesus which he endured, and the joy of his resurrection. That was the joy set before him.
When we take bread and wine as they did, we take of that joy.

************

PS Recently we read from Proverbs 29:3 NIV

“ A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth”. I wondered what relevance it has.

It does fit remarkably well with the retort of the older brother.
“But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
Luke 15:30 NIV

But, as we know, ‘he came to himself’.

JC

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Amen

Have you ever wondered why we say “amen” at the end of our prayers? Is it just a way of saying “OK, that’s it”?

“Amen” is related to the Hebrew for “truth”. When we say “amen” after someone offers a prayer, it means we concur with what has been said; we echo the requests and sentiments expressed on our behalf.

It’s likely that brothers and sisters in the early church also did this. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:16 about speaking in tongues, and how important it is to speak or pray in a language that others understand:

"If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified."

We might not speak or pray in tongues (other languages), but if we’re asked to offer prayer on behalf of others, it’s important that they understand and agree with what we pray. Prayers ought to be addressed to God, offering praise, or thanksgiving, or asking him for something. Paul’s comment above implies that what we say should also edify (build up) those on whose behalf the prayer is offered. I’m sure we all appreciate it when someone offers a prayer on our behalf that expresses our feelings and requests more effectively than we could in our own words, so that we can sincerely and thankfully say “amen” to the prayer.

When we say “amen”, we’re using a Hebrew word that has been incorporated into the English language (the correct Hebrew pronunciation is actually awmane). The Greek text of the New Testament also borrows the word “amen” from the Hebrew. One writer tells us:

... “amen” is a most remarkable word. It was transliterated directly from the Hebrew into the Greek of the New Testament, then into Latin and into English and many other languages, so that it is practically a universal word. It has been called the best known word in human speech. The word is directly related – in fact, almost identical – to the Hebrew word for believe, or faithful. Thus, it came to mean “sure” or “truly”, an expression of absolute trust and confidence.

The very last word in the Bible is “Amen”; many New Testament letters close with “amen”. Sometimes an important saying or prayer in the body of a letter finishes with “amen”.

The gospels record more than seventy times that Jesus used the word “amen” to introduce key teachings. This isn’t always obvious in English translations, which use expressions such as “I tell you the truth” or “Verily I say unto you” to represent the phrase “Amen I tell you” in the original text. “Amen I tell you” emphasises that what Jesus is about to say is true and reliable.

In John’s gospel, Jesus always repeats the word “amen” for emphasis: “Amen amen I tell you”. The King James Version indicates this by repeating the word “verily”, as when Jesus says

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”

Other Bible versions render these double amens of Jesus in other ways, such as “truly, truly, I say to you”, or “most assuredly, I say to you”. Although “amen” is a Hebrew word, it’s actually used more often in the Greek New Testament than in the Hebrew Old Testament.

Of the 24 times “amen” appears in the Old Testament, half are in the same chapter: Deuteronomy 27, describing how a series of curses was recited loudly by the Levites to all the people of Israel, who were commanded to say “amen” in response each curse. In fact, in the Old Testament the word “amen” is used most often in exactly this way: as a response, or a confirmation, following a statement, or a command to do something. In 1 Kings 1:36, for example, when King David gave instructions to Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah son of Jehoiada to anoint his son Solomon king of Israel,

"Benaiah son of Jehoiada answered the king, 'Amen! May the LORD, the God of my lord the king, so declare it.'”

Even today, we might hear a similar expression, when someone says “amen to that”.
But as we’ve seen from its use by the Lord Jesus, “amen” means more than just “I agree” or “roger, understood”. In Isaiah 65:16, the prophet writes

"Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the God of truth; he who takes an oath in the land will swear by the God of truth. For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.”

The Hebrew word translated “truth” here is in both cases amen. Isaiah literally refers to “the God of Amen”.

The essential idea behind the word amen is of someone standing steady and upright, with his feet firmly planted on the ground – by contrast with someone whose stance is unstable, his feet slipping or stumbling. This notion of a man standing steady and upright developed into the metaphor of one who is faithful, trustworthy, loyal and dependable.

So the Hebrew word amen that we commonly – and perhaps unthinkingly – use to close a prayer can mean truth, faith or trust. Other closely related Hebrew words mean steady, stable, loyal, dependable.

We saw that amen is also used to describe the character of our heavenly Father: the God of truth, the God of Amen. It’s even used to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Revelation 3:14, the apostle John is commanded to write to the angel of the church in Laodicea:

"These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation."
This title “the Amen” applied to our Lord sums up so many facets of his character: faithful and true, steady, unwaveringly loyal and dependable before God, his Father, and to his bride, the church.

We saw that Jesus, the Amen, the faithful and true witness, frequently emphasised the truth of his teachings using the formula “verily I say unto you”, or “I tell you the truth”: literally, “amen I say to you”.

The Greek word for “truth” occurs twenty times in John’s gospel, and seventeen times in his letters – showing the importance that he attaches to the truth of the gospel and the teachings of Jesus. John particularly contrasts truth with lies and falsehood. One example is in John 8:44, where Jesus told those who were questioning his authority and teaching,

"You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!”

Similarly, in 1 John 2:3

"We know that we have come to know him [that is, Jesus] if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him”, but does not do what he commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Indeed, if we claim that we know and follow Jesus, but don’t do what he commands, he may well deny knowing us at the judgement.

But, brothers and sisters, we have all responded amen to the call of Jesus, and his teaching, when we were baptised into his saving name; we undertook to follow “the way, the truth and the life”. Whenever we say amen at the end of a prayer, we should try to remember its wider meaning: acknowledging truth, showing faithfulness, and standing firm as witnesses to Jesus and to the word of God.

I’d like to conclude our thoughts by quoting from John chapter 6. As we find so consistently in John’s gospel record – four times in this chapter alone – Jesus emphasises the truth and importance of what he’s about to say by stating

ajmh;n ajmh;n [“amen amen”]: “verily, verily”, “I tell you the truth”.

Jesus says in John chapter 6, at verse 47,
"I tell you the truth
[amen amen I say to you], he who believes has everlasting life.
"I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

IR
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Rainbows

I am so pleased to see that children have put rainbows in people’s windows. I think everyone sees them as a symbol of hope and sympathy with all the brave NHS and other workers who are on the front line.

At school during World War 2 our teacher told us about the first rainbow from the Bible (Genesis chapter 9) and in the art class we painted one and put the words of Genesis underneath (chapter 8 verse 22):

‘While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.’

We read the story of the first rainbow:


‘And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I have made between me and you and every living creature that is with you for perpetual generations. I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.’

We don’t use the King James version of the Bible much nowadays but we children understood those words very well and they were a comfort to us. Somehow we remembered them in bed when the sirens sounded to tell us that bombers were on the way.

Coronavirus is the new enemy, one which we can’t see or hear. In wartime we were told to take many precautions, using gas masks and blackout curtains. Signposts had been removed – even the sign over shops that mentioned the name of the village.

The day came at last when war was over. Slowly, over several years, life got back to normal.

MMcG
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