With thanks to the Rev David Anderson for providing these reflections
Midweek Reflection: “Water of Life” Wednesday 10th August
Many people enjoy a dram of their favourite whisky, whose name derives from the Gaelic for “Water of Life”. Good, fiery and satisfying it is, and such an important export and source of local employment. But the present drought that is being experienced particularly in the south of England reminds us of a more basic liquid that is life-giving and life-sustaining: water of course. People are being urged to save water by spending a shorter time in the shower and not using a hose to wash the car. There is the danger of reservoirs running dry.
On a world scale drought is a serious problem. There have been warnings of “Water Wars” between countries that share the same river. One country nearer the source of the river dams the flow of water to have more with which to irrigate their land, much to the displeasure of the downstream neighbouring country. And an appeal has been launched for help to East African countries experiencing their fourth year of drought in which climate change has been a major factor. We can currently give to this appeal through Christian Aid.
We need to value water and the rain that supplies it. It is so basic to life. We use it for many purposes. For our health we are urged to drink plenty of it. Let’s not waste it. Let’s thank God for it. As good stewards let’s use it wisely.
The scriptures speak a lot about water. We think of Moses striking the rock from which water then poured out when the Israelites had complained of thirst. Abraham and his descendants dug wells, and these were important meeting places where people gathered to draw their supply. Wells have been sacred places in many cultures, including the Celtic culture where we hear of the wells having healing properties. They were used as places of worship.
Jesus met the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well. She was drawing water there and Jesus who was thirsty asked her for a drink. This led on to Jesus speaking of a deeper thirst within us than our thirst for water. This a spiritual thirst which we all have though we have power to deny it. It is our thirst for the water that Jesus offers, which will become a spring within us welling up and providing eternal life. Remember eternal life is not only life beyond death. It is new life in this life, stemming from a life of different quality through our relationship with God which Jesus makes possible. As the prophet Isaiah put it, “With joy you will draw waterfrom the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).
Let’s value the water we need for life. But let’s cherish even more this Water of Life that Jesus gives, and drink continually of it.
Reading: John 4:13-14
Jesus answered (the woman), “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Thank you, Creator God, for life giving water that the rain and springs supply. May we use it wisely, and support as we can the people of the world suffering from drought. But thank you even more for the life-giving water that Jesus gives. May we joyfully and thankfully drink of it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
God bless you and keep you in eternal life.
Midweek Reflection: Let’s pray Wednesday 3rd August
A tortoiseshell butterfly is flying round the room as I write, obviously wanting to escape. A few minutes later – so now I’ve opened the windows, and just managed to coax it out into the open air and the wider world it inhabits. That was a live event you were following!
It’s a bit like that for ourselves. We are spiritual beings, and while we are made to live our lives in this world, don’t we long to free ourselves from its restrictions and experience a higher dimension? To have our feet on the ground but our eyes to heaven. We are made to relate to our Heavenly Father, unseen but spiritually discerned. We do this through prayer.
Just as we need to communicate with one another to keep our relationships alive, so it is with ourselves and our Heavenly Father, who longs for fellowship with us as his children. In prayer we speak and listen to him and start to see life from his perspective.
We live in this world. But when we pray each day we add a new dimension to what we do, even ordinary things. We ask God to guide us so that in the ordinary things as well as the more unusual things we are guided by him, serve him and seek his glory.
Jesus taught several lessons about praying. We are to pray in our natural way of speaking, not in a special language or using many words. We are to pray privately in our own space and not for show. We are to persevere in prayer (often we need to wait some time before we become aware of God’s answer). We are to pray to our Father in “faith that he exists and rewardsthose who seek him”. We are to pray with love for others, including those who have wronged us. Yes, even for our enemies. Think of someone who has wronged you recently, slighted you perhaps or been rude to you. Then pray for that person remembering that God loves her or him too.
I believe God changes things through our prayers. Miracles happen as a result. But often the biggest change that occurs is in ourselves. As, for example, when we pray for someone who has wronged us. Or while praying for those in our society who are struggling to pay for their food and power supply, we may feel a prompting to give to the Foodbank for example. As a result we act unselfishly. When Jesus taught us to ask, seek and knock when we pray, he goes on to say the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. It is the Holy Spirit who will fill us with love for Jesus and for others. And the Holy Spirit inspires us to pray for what God wants rather than our selfish needs.
From an early age I was taught to use ACTS as a guide to prayer: A for Adoration (praising God for who he is rather than for what he gives us); C for Confession (acknowledging our sins and seeking forgiveness through Jesus Christ); T for Thanksgiving (for his gifts and all that he has done for us); S for Supplication (praying for others and ourselves). In thanksgiving we can include the everyday things, seeing everything coming from the Father’s hands and being his gifts to us.
And let’s listen. Pray with an expectation that God will speak to us. Be aware of the Spirit’s promptings in our hearts and minds.
Reading: Luke 11:9-10,13
“And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks will receive, and the person who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks……..Bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Pray the Lord’s Prayer, noting, as you do, whose will you are praying to be done, and whose kingdom you are praying to come.
God bless you, and keep you close to himself. Amen.
Midweek Reflection: “What’s the use of worrying?” Wednesday 27th July
“What’s the use of worrying, it never was worthwhile
So, pack up your troubles in your old kitbag and smile, smile, smile”.
So go the words of the 1st World War marching song. Certainly worrying about something, as opposed to responsible foresight and planning , gets us nowhere. It does no good to our mental, even physical, health. But not so easy stop worrying. And what is the equivalent for us of packing our worries in an “old kit bag”? What to do with our worries remains the question. How do we handle them?
Some people suffer from anxiety to the extent that it is recognised as a medical condition. The problem may go back to early childhood and require medical help. But I am talking about the kind of worrying and anxiety that we are all prone to, to a lesser or greater degree. How do we handle these worries?
We find a command from Paul not to be anxious about anything! This in itself sounds unhelpful. “I would stop worrying if I could” might be your answer when you are worrying about a problem. But think of it differently. It is a command! It is spoken with the authority that is more than human, that carries with it the power of God’s word to make it happen. But that is not all. Paul continues, “…. But in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, that passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). By bringing our worries to God in prayer, handing them over to him and putting our trust in him, we can know God’s peace filling our hearts. Placing our worries in God’s hands is the equivalent of putting them into“the old kitbag”.
I remember a Church of Scotland missionary in India, David Rae, speaking about a service for healing taking place in that country. He went with his wife who suffered from epileptic seizures, and people ministered to her. To cut a long story short, she wasn’t physically healed, but she experienced the Peace of God about her situation, feeling she could trust God with the problem, rather than worrying about seizures happening and trying to avoid embarrassment. She may not have been healed outwardly, but she was inwardly healed. It was a transformative experience in her life.
David, the psalmist, exhorts us in Psalm 55: 22, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you”, and Peter in his 1st letter bids us “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”. This is surely the antidote to worry and anxiety – to realise we are in God’s loving care. Each one of us is! So as Jesus himself said, conveying his authority along with the command, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…”.
Reading: Philippians 4: 6-7 (The Message)
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life”.
God, our loving heavenly Father, thank you so much that we can place our worries in your safe hands, knowing you care about us. May we, too, know the peace that comes from this – your peace that transcends human understanding. We pray for those who do not seem able to stop worrying. Help us to listen to their worries and see if we can help them cope with what they are anxious about. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God bless you, and keep you in his peace.
Midweek Reflection:Our Real Self Wednesday 20 July
You may have watched the BBC documentary, “The Real Mo Farah” last week (available on BBC iPlayer). It is a very moving and shocking story, well worth watching. It tells how, when he was a young boy, his father was killed in a civil war in Somalia. He was later separated from his mother. He was then sent illegally to the UK where he served a family in slave-like conditions. But he was allowed to go to school, and after demonstrating his skills as an athlete, he confided in his PE teacher about his circumstances. He revealed to him that his real name was not Mo Farah at all, but Hussein Abdi Kahin. He was living under a false identity.
Apart from the school learning his secret, the truth was not publicly revealed. He pretended he had come to the UK from Somaliland with his parents. However he was not happy living under a lie (though this had in no way been his fault) and now has he revealed the truth publicly. It took a lot of courage, as he might well have had to join the queue for a plane to Rwanda. But thankfully he has not had to do that, and obviously is greatly relieved to have told the truth. He can now live with himself much more easily.
We can all live “under a lie” of sorts. We may be deliberately hiding something about ourselves or pretending to be something different from what we are. But we cannot, need not, hide from our Maker. He knows us as we are and his love reaches out to us as we are. We are invited to come to our Lord just as we are, and he receives us. If we do this we are more likely to be ourselves with others. John, in his first letter, tells us to “walk in the light as he is in the light”, and says that if we do so “we have fellowship with one another”. This is surely an encouragement to be honest with God, and be more open with each other. No room for pretence! We are called children of light, not of darkness.
The Psalmist was real with God. He told him where he was at, whether thankful, fearful, full of faith or wondering why God seemed to be deserting him. As the hymn says, “Just as I am I come”. Not as I would like to be, or what I pretend to be, or what I think I ought to be, but “just as I am”. And God can then accept us and help us to see things differently – from his perspective. Selwyn Hughes used to say, “God loves me as I am, but loves me too much to leave me as I am”.
Jesus called the Pharisees and teachers of the law who opposed him ‘hypocrites’. This word was used of actors in the Greek and Roman theatre, meaning people who pretended to be someone else. He said of his opponents who gave a pretence of righteousness, “on the outside you appear to people as righteous but in the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23: 28).
We may not be like that, but we can put up a front of being better than we are. Think of Mo’s sense of relief when he came out in the open. Let’s be our selves!
Reading: 1 John 1: 5-7
“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin”.
Heavenly Father, we come to you just as we are, trusting in your love, acceptance and forgiveness. Grant us the fellowship with one another where there is no pretence. Help us to be true to you, to ourselves and to others. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Midweek Reflection: Let’s think about Trees Wednesday 13th July
Let’s think about trees. They are one of the wonders of God’s creation. Have you seen, during these hot days, sheep huddling together under a tree’s shade to get out of the way of the scorching sun? Trees provide shade and shelter, timber for construction, fuel for cooking and heating, and fruit for food as well as having many other uses.
Trees play a significant role in reducing erosion, binding the soil together. They help prevent flooding, absorbing thousands of litres of stormwater. Of particular importance today, they absorb carbon dioxide as they grow and the carbon that they store in their wood helps reduce the rate of global warming. Hence the plans to grow many more trees, and the deep concern about the destruction of the rain forests.
Trees and forests provide a habitat for many species of animals and plants. Birds nest in them for example. Tropical rainforests are among the most biodiverse habitats in the world
They provide shelter from the wind, and cool the air as they reflect heat upwards from their leaves. With global warning and more frequent heat waves, we will probably be planting more and more trees around houses and in towns and cities. It’s estimated that trees can reduce the temperature in a city by up to 7°C.
Add to all these things the beauty and variety of trees. As the hymn goes: “Think of a world without any trees…”. Let’s praise the God of creation for them!
There are many mentions of trees in the Bible, from its beginning to its end. There is the Tree of Life in Genesis ch 2; the cedars of Lebanon used to build Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem;the tree from which Zacchaeus had a good view of Jesus entering into Jericho (reminding me of my boyhood delight in climbing trees!); the tree that produced the wood for Jesus’ Cross; the Tree of Life (again!) in John’s vision of the New Jerusalem, growing on both sides of the river of life, producing fruit every month of the year and providing healing for the nations.
And from a tree there is a clear message about a person trusting in God. Such a person is compared to a tree planted by the water. It sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes, its leaves are always green, it has no worries in a year of drought, and never fails to bear fruit. Let us learn from such a tree, and put our confidence in God – such confidence that keeps us going even in the heat of battle and enables us to live fruitful lives. So the message is simple – let’s renew our trust in God, put down our roots in him, and drink from the living water that sustains and refreshes us, which Jesus gives.
Reading: Jeremiah 17:7-8
“But blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Lord God who has created all things in heaven and earth, we praise you for all you have made and the wonders of your design. Thank you for trees, their beauty and their usefulness.
Help us whether our circumstances are good or bad to trust in you, to be like the tree by the waterside, to put down our roots in you and to live fruitful lives in your service. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you.
Midweek Reflection: What’s your name? Wednesday 6th July
The other day I was speaking to someone whom I knew but whose name I couldn’t remember! I find it a problem remembering names. Do you? I know myself that when someone calls me by my name, that in itself helps create a personal bond between us. In today’s culture we are much more likely to call people by their first name than was the case in the past, and I am definitely in favour of this (though some might think of it as lack of respect!).
Your name is not just a label to identify you; it speaks of the real you. Your name is a very personal matter. In the scriptures, names are given to describe the characteristics of a person, or the circumstances in which they were born. So Abraham means “Father of many”. Jesus gave Simon his disciple a second name, rather like a nick name, to describe the kind of person he would become. He called him “Peter” which means stone or rock. Peter became the rock-like leader of the early Church.
Jesus, who described himself as the Good Shepherd, says of himself “I call my sheep by name”. It is wonderful, isn’t it, to think that he knows and speaks your name? It indicates that he is drawing us into a personal relationship with himself. He speaks to us personally, and lovingly. It is awesome that the Son of God should speak to us by name. By our personal name. He knows not only our name, but also our character and everything about us which our name sums up. We are special to him.
The names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on stones and fastened to the garments of the High Priest when he went into the Most Holy Place on their behalf. He was representing the people before God. When the people of Israel said, “The Lord has abandoned us. He has forgotten us”, the Lord answers, “Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I HAVE WRITTEN YOUR NAME ON THE PALM OF MY HANDS” (Isaiah 49: 16).
Jesus is our High Priest who died on the Cross on our behalf, and continues to intercede for us in heaven. As we think of his nail-torn hands we can picture our names being engraved on the palm of his hands. All he did and does is for you and me.
Tony, in Westside Story, sings of the most beautiful sound in all the world being “Maria”, with whom he has fallen in love. God is passionate in his love for you and me. Your name is precious to him. Remember that!
And let the name of Jesus be the name above every other name for us. Tony sang of Maria’s name, “Sing it loud and there’s music playing, sing it soft and it’s almost like praying…… the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. Maria”. Change the name of Maria to Jesus and let’s be passionate in our love for him. Amen.
Reading: Philippians 2: 8-10
“…. he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! ThereforeGod exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…”
Dear Lord, our Shepherd, we praise you that you call us by name and that our names are written on the palm of your hands. That we are included in all that you did in love for humankind, and that each one of us is special to you. Lord Jesus, your name is so special to us. We pray that your name would be kept holy, lifted up and adored for ever. Amen.
Midweek Reflection: “Feel the Love” Wednesday 29th June
J Leach, the English spin bowler, who recently took 5 wickets in both innings in the Third Test Match against New Zealand, said afterwards that he “felt the love” from his fellow team members referring to their support and unity. So I did some googling. I discovered that “Feel the Love” was a song by drum and bass group Rudimental released in 2012. Earlier than that, in 1994, the “Lion King” animated film included “Can you feel the love tonight”, lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Elton John. I’m sure you know the song.
Here is an interesting fact. According to a survey, couples who chose “Can you feel the love tonight” as the music for the first dance at their wedding were more likely to stay together! But I don’t think it is any guarantee – I can think of better ones!
But what kind of love are we singing about? In the case of the couple it is romantic love. Then there is the love between a mother and a child which is natural and instinctive. Family bonds are this kind of love.
“Philia” is the friendship bond. We all have friends we love. And think of the love between David and Jonathan.
Finally there is Agape Love, the unconditional love of God shown to us in Jesus Christ.
C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, describes these Four Loves in his book “The Four Loves”. He says that as Christians we can love in these different ways (they are all gifts of God), but we should subordinate the first three to Agape Love. In that way our other loves are purified. Agape love is supreme.
Let me tell you when I have often “felt this Love”. It is in Christian fellowship. When we are together worshipping God, hearing his word, celebrating the unconditional, self-giving love of Jesus, offering our prayers for the world, sharing in fellowship, do we not “feel the Love”, this Love that comes from God, and is among us through his Spirit?
I am sure it is possible to be a Christian without belonging to a Christian Church or fellowship. But then we are limited in our experience of Agape. I know things can go wrong in Church. People can get hurt. There can be division. But we can learn from these things, forgive, confess our sins and grow again. Grow in Love. Love should be the norm. When we have to, we can learn to “disagree agreeably” about some things.
Then there are some who are no longer able to go to Church. But they can be included in our love by our prayers, by a visit from someone else in the Church, by watching a service online if they are able.
It was Jesus who said to his followers, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This is where it begins. But it doesn’t stop there. We want that love to overflow to the world around us. For “God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son…..”
Reading: John 12 vv34-35
“Let me give you a new command: love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognise you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.” (The Message)
God our Father, we thank you so much for your love for us shown to us in Jesus, your Son. Help us by your Spirit to know your love among us, to love one another, and to be channels of your love to others. In Jesus name. Amen.
Midweek Reflection: My Rock Wednesday 22nd June
We often hear of people speak about their partner, saying “He/she is my rock”. Sometimes it is a famous person who acknowledges that they could not have achieved what they had done without the solid support of their partner.
But whether we have a partner or not, we all need a greater Rock for support if we are to live our lives as we are meant to. There is a limit to what another human being can do for us. We all need to rely on the Rock who is Christ.
My wife eventually accepted my proposal of marriage. I had to wait months for this answer! And her answer came when we were on holiday, sitting on some rocks near the shore on the Isle of Cumbrae. She has been a rock to me since. But we were conscious then that we were both sitting on these rocks, and that in our marriage not only were we to support one another but also, together and individually, we were to depend on the much greater Rock who is the Lord.
The writer of Psalm 18, probably King David, proclaims: “As for God, his way is perfect……He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God beside the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?” (v30, 31). In the psalms alone God is called the “rock” 23 times, and many other times in the scriptures. He is called the rock of refuge, and the rock of our salvation. Let’s place our feet firmly on that great Rock, and build our lives onhim!
Of course, there may be times when we don’t feel so secure even on the Rock on which we stand. The waves rise up against us, and we feel we are just holding on. Then we can just hold on and let him hold us. His hold on us is so much greater than our hold on him. To change the metaphor, when the parent is teaching her/his child to walk it is not the child clinging to the parent’s hand that makes it secure, it is the parent’s firm grasp of the child.
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount told the story of the wise and foolish builders. One built his house with its foundations on sand, and when the rains came, the streams rose and the winds blew, the house collapsed. But the wise man who built his house on a foundation of rock found his house withstood the floods and the storm. Jesus said that the wise man who built on rock is like the person who hears the words of Jesus AND puts them into practice.
So we are to have Jesus as the foundation we build on, both in the sense of finding our security in him, and also in the sense of letting him and his words direct our lives.
Reading: Psalm 40 vv1-3
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God….”
“Praise the name of Jesus, praise the name of Jesus
He’s my rock, he’s my fortress, he’s my deliverer in whom I trust. Praise the name of Jesus”.
Lord Jesus, thank you for being the rock of our salvation. Help us to build our lives on you. We ask you in your love to reach out to those who have lost their foothold and give them a firm place to stand again. In your precious name we pray. Amen.
Midweek Reflection: Did you get the message? Wednesday 15th June
Two days ago, I sent an email to someone to pass on some information that she needed. But I didn’t get a reply. So last night I emailed her again asking her to let me know if she had got the information. She replied a short time later to let me know she had.
I gather there is an understanding that you don’t have to reply to emails. In a busy world where so many emails are sent this is understandable. But it is difficult if you don’t know if someone has received and read one. Having said that, and in case I’m getting on my high horse, I can fail to reply to emails myself, or more likely take a long time to get round to it!
Communication is important in God’s story. At the start of John’s Gospel we hear of the Word being with God in the beginning. The Word refers to Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, who became flesh. Jesus was God’s supreme communication with us. God’s message (the Word) came to us in human form. And this supreme Word calls for our response. We read in John chapter 1 that “to all who did receive him (Jesus)…. he gave the right to become children of God”. They received the message (Jesus) and responded with the giving of themselves to him. And when we hear the gospel, and the word of God in scripture, we are called to listen and respond. Going back to the illustration, we are called actually to read and answer the Email sent to us.
Communication as we all know is so important – between members of a family, within a congregation of the Church, within any organisation or business. How easily it breaks down. One person in the team doesn’t pass on some information that it is important for another person in the team to know.
Christians are called to be good communicators. Through our lives and words to communicate God’s love to others and not keep it to ourselves. We are also told by Jesus to communicate plainly and straightforwardly. He said, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” This is so important for us. In a world where truth is often hidden or distorted, truth can be hard to find. We hear of ‘false facts’ being spread around. And it’s not just Russian leadership that is guilty of that. It happens much closer to home! We need to be truthful in what we say, even if what we say is unpopular with some people.
However, Paul also tells us we should be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians ch4 v15). Some people say: “I speak my mind.” But that can be an opinionated way of speaking, without listening to what others say, and not considering the effects our words can have on others. God’s Word to us was Truth and also Love. “Grace and truth came from Jesus Christ.” It is surely good to follow his example and be loving and gracious in the way we speak to one another – being truthful but avoiding unnecessary hurt.
Now I must get down to replying to one or two emails!
Reading: Ephesians 4:15-16
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body…… grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work”.
Our Lord and our God, we praise you that Jesus is your supreme communication, revealing yourself and your will to us. Jesus, you said “I am the Truth”. Help us in our communication with one another to be truthful and straightforward, and always to speak in your spirit of love. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you in his love.
Midweek Reflection Wedneday 8th June
Three in One
There was excitement recently near us when a young lad found a four-leaf clover. Such a leaf is rare, and finding one of course is meant to bring good luck! Normally, as I am sure you will know, a clover has a threefold leaf. It is “Trifoliate” just to impress you – I found that through a google search!
It was St. Patrick who, according to legend, used a similar plant, the shamrock, to illustrate that God is three in one. Like the clover the shamrock is trifoliate, having three ‘leaflets’making up a larger leaf. Patrick explained that God is three persons in one, just like the shamrock leaf.
There is no word “Trinity” in the Bible, but the truth of it is there, at least implicitly. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all there in scripture, and are all God. And whenever God is working, all are involved
I have heard people ask the question: “How could God allow his Son, if he loved him, to suffer and die on the Cross? Is there not another way he could have brought us forgiveness and new life?” The thought is that God the Father was cruel to his own Son.
But while the Father and the Son are different persons they are also one. They are of the same nature and essence. They share the same love, the same passionate desire to save us, and are of the same mind. It is true that Jesus, also vulnerably human, struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane to accept the cup of suffering that was before him, but most deeply of all he shared in his Father’s will and the desire to do it for our sake.
And where does the Holy Spirit come in? He brings the saving love of God shown to us in Jesus to our hearts. He brings life to what we believe. He makes these things ours. “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5).
The Spirit bridges the time gap between what God did for us through Jesus 2000 years ago and us now! How much we need the Spirit who came to his followers at Pentecost and comes to us when we put our trust in Jesus. Through the Spirit we appropriate for ourselves all that was done for us 2000 years ago. And when we sense God near us or around us, when we gather as Christians, or when we pray for example, or the words of scripture come alive for us, that is the presence of the Spirit.
Last Sunday was Pentecost. Let us rejoice that God gave us his Spirit to fill us with his love and power, and to enable his love to overflow from our lives to others. We need the Spirit as much as we need the Father and the Son.
“For through him (Jesus) we have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Ephesians 2: 18
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:14
Our God, we worship you Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three yet one. Father, we thank you that you created us and care for us, Jesus, we thank you that you came for us, Holy Spirit, we thank you that you bring to us life, love, joy and peace. As you, o God, are one, make us one with you and with one another, sharing the same love. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you, and fill you with his Spirit.
Midweek Reflection: The Queen and Her King Wednesday 1st June
I don’t have to remind you that we are celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. She has reigned for 70 years, and is the UK’s longest reigning monarch.That is an amazing achievement. Strictly speaking she is Elizabeth I of Scotland and Elizabeth II of England, but she has reigned over all the UK for all these years.
She has been a source of unity for the nation. There has been Brexit which divided the nation so that some families would hardly speak to one another. There is division between those who want Scotland to be independent and those who want the UK to remain one nation. There is division not only between the political parties but also within the Tory Party (and within the whole nation) over the present Prime Minister’s entitlement to his position. But throughout her reign, and even now, she has been a unifying influence. The Jubilee brings us together through celebratory events, including the lighting of beacons, parties, picnics and concerts and Church services. Even Republicans who don’t support the monarchy respect the Queen and acknowledge the unifying influence she has been, and continues to be.
Why this widespread respect? Because of her outstanding example, and leadership in service. She has put the nation first and been its greatest servant. We admire her unselfishness, her devotion to duty, her dedication to the task – from being a young woman of 25 when she became Queen after the sad death of her father, George VI, to the ripe age of 96 she is today. And we don’t know how much longer.
In a country which has become increasingly secular she has lived and served as a Christian, unashamed of her faith. She has often spoken about it while still respecting those of other and no faiths. She has indeed been the Defender of the Faith and a fine Christian example.
All this time she has served a greater King whose supremacy she recognises. He is the King of Kings (and of Queens). As a mortal she humbly worships him and recognises herself as his subject. He rules eternally and will never die, the longest reigning monarch ever! He is the truest source of unity. He came to reconcile the world to God, and reconcile us to one another. When we concentrate on being united with him, as branches in the vine, we are brought together, and denominations as well as other divisions cease to be so important. He is our perfect example of loving service and faithfulness to God. Praise his glorious name!
Reading: Psalm 148:7a,11&13
“Praise the Lord from the earth…….kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth……let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.”
Lord our God, we thank you for Queen Elizabeth, her long and faithful reign and the service she continues to give to our country. Bless her through this year of Jubilee and give her the strength and wisdom she needs. We especially give thanks for her Christian witness and example. With her we lift our hearts to worship your Son, Jesus Christ, our everlasting King, our Saviour and Lord. In his name we pray. Amen.
God bless you and fill your heart with thankfulness and joy.
Midweek Reflection: Happy Birthday Wednesday 25 May
We like to mark the birthdays of family and friends. Cards, gifts, Facebook messages, even parties now that Covid restrictions have mostly gone. “Happy Birthday” we say or sing tunefully or otherwise!
But let us think about that simple birthday greeting, Happy Birthday. Let’s spell it out differently: Happy BIRTH – DAY. Meaning “Happy the day you were born. I am glad you are my friend/spouse/child/parent/colleague. That you were born to be. The world, my world, would be poorer without you. So “Happy day of your birth”. It is good to mean that, even spell it out. Say what that dear person means to you, and how we cherish them.
Some may not feel like celebrating their own birthday, however. Just another year older, they think. Or they can no longer do what they used to do and find it hard to see the purpose in their living. Or life is one of suffering rather than enjoyment.
To such people when we say, “Happy BIRTH – DAY” we need to show we understand something of how they feel, but let them know how much they mean to us and how they have enriched our lives. We are glad they are with us.
For a Christian there is special depth in the greeting “Happy BIRTH – DAY”. We believe God created each one of us. Psalm 139 puts it this way: “You created every part of me. You put me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” We believe our birth was no accident, even if it wasn’t planned from a human perspective. It follows from this that, if God created us, our life also has a purpose. Let’s rejoice in this.
God says to Jeremiah, the prophet, “I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations.” (Jer.1:5). And God created us too for a purpose, one that covers this life and extends into eternity.
I once attended a “Wholeness through Christ” weekend. The aim was to help us find Jesus’ healing in our lives, helping us deal with those areas where we could grow in freedom to our God given potential. The Holy Spirit was very much at work. I remember for myself having a mental picture of my birth symbolised by the positive charge on a battery. It gave me a very positive sense of God’s purpose in my birth and life.
I hope you have a very positive view of your own birth purposed as it was by God, and enriched through the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. Rejoice in your physical birth, and in your spiritual rebirth too. May your next BIRTH – DAY be a very happy one!
Reading: Ephesians 1: 4 & 11
“Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ so that we would be holy and without fault before him……. All things are done according to God’s plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of his own purpose, based on what he had decided from the beginning.”
God our Creator we praise you that we are so marvellously made. We praise you for the gift of every new-born child, so beautifully formed. Thankyou that our birth was no accident, but planned by you, and that you have a purpose for our lives. Help us to live for your praise and glory. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Midweek Reflection: Blessed are the poor – Wednesday 18th May
I’m writing this on Tuesday 17th May on a lovely, warm afternoon with a temperature of around 20 degrees. I am much enjoying it, but I think of those in the developing world who have had more than enough sunny days. They long for rain to end the drought they are experiencing, which has been intensified by climate change – climate change which they have done so little to cause. Christian Aid Week, this week, is focused on families in rural Zimbabwe, helping them grow food in these conditions by training them to grow drought resistant crops and providing water taps in fields. It is a privilege to help them. Walkers from Aberlour, Craigellachie, Dufttown, Rothes and Knockando, went on a Sponsored Walk for Christian Aid Week on Saturday raising money for this cause. Well done to them! Others support Tear Fund, or charities such as Oxfam which address the needs of the poor in developing lands.
But there are plenty poor people in the UK, I hear you say. What with inflation, the soaring cost of energy, and the rising prices of food, many people cannot see their way forward. We can support the food bank – they too are running short of supplies because fewer people can afford to donate. If we are able, supporting the foodbank is something we can all consider doing. We can give food, or, even better, money, as the foodbank can then purchase the products they are short of.
We often read the word ”righteousness” in scripture. The root meaning of the word is to do with right relationships. The prophets called God’s people back to a right relationship with himself by departing from the worship of idols to worship him alone. They also called us to right relationships with others. That includes being in a right relationship with those who have much less than we have. The prophets spoke against those who oppressed the poor and denied them justice.
The huge disparity between rich and poor both in the UK and in the world is a challenge to all. Let us heed the words of Psalm 41: “Happy are those who are concerned for the poor; the Lord will help them when they are in trouble”.
Reading: Amos 5:24
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream”.
Prayer (from Christian Aid “Hungry for Justice”)
Heavenly Father, stir up within us a hunger and thirst for justice and keep us burning with passion to right the wrongs that anger you. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you in his love, and in the knowledge of his will.
Midweek Reflection: Science and Faith Wednesday 11th May
Did you know that many birds in the UK have longer beaks than those in the rest of Europe? An explanation of this has been found. Far more British people than other Europeans feed their feathered companions regularly. The theory is that through microevolution the beaks of British birds have become longer so that they are more able to feed from bird feeders in people’s gardens. An example of scientific evidence followed by a hypothesis to explain it.
Science is amazing as it discovers what God has invented and made adaptable. As scientists discover more and more about the development of the universe, including our solar system and the planet earth, we are amazed, and given cause to wonder like little children. It continues to astonish me, for example, that the stars we see in the heavens we are seeing as they were perhaps thousands of years ago, it takes the light from them so long to reach us!
There is no necessary conflict between faith and science. The illustration I like to use of creation is baking a cake. The maker of the cake does the creating of it. You or I enjoy eating it. Some may go on to work out how the cake was made, the recipe and ingredients in other words. God is the baker of the cake. Scientists try to work out the recipe.
We believe God through Christ created the universe. We can all agree with God’s own verdict that “it was very good” (see Genesis 1:31. Scientists go on to discover more and more of how he created everything. Genesis 1 tells us why the universe exists and is so designed; the scientists attempt to discover how it all came about.
God, the Creator, is the God of everything, not just the God of the gaps that science has not yet explained. Many things point to a Creator God – that everything came into being and is kept in being; that there are laws, the “laws of nature”, such as the law of gravity, that govern the workings of the universe; that nature can be studied rationally and understood; all this points to a Creator God. It is our faith position that God the Creator, through the Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit, brought everything into being, holds everything together, sustains and renews it.
Things go wrong for believers when we reject science. Many rejected Copernicus’ discovery that the sun, not the earth was the centre of the solar system. Things go wrong for scientists when they deny that they are discovering what God first invented.
Newton said that scientists were “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. They are called to be creation’s choir leading us and all creation in the worship of our Creator. All honour and glory and power be unto him who has made all things well!
Reading: Colossians 1:16-17
“For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels – everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He (Christ) was there before it came into existence and holds it together right up to this moment.” (The Message)
We worship you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for all the work of your creation. You are indeed our Creator God. Bless all scientists. Thank you for all they discover. Keep them humble before you.
You sustain your creation, renew and hold it together. But creation like us groans for its final redemption, and we long too for that to come about. Help us, meantime, to be good stewards of the earth you have committed to our care. In Jesus name. Amen.
May God bless and keep you.
Midweek Reflection: The Bottom Line Wednesday 4th May
I remember my first computer. When I typed a document, a thick line appeared beneath where I was working. It wasn’t possible to move the cursor under this line. It was indeed the bottom line.
Psalm 44 witnesses the struggles of God’s people, Israel. They have suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of their enemies. They are disgraced by this humiliation. The writer protests that they haven’t been false to God’s covenant, or turned to idols. So he calls for God to save them. “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love”. This is the last line of the psalm.
This is the basis of his appeal to God: his unfailing love for his people. This unfailing love refers to the covenant he has made with his people, a covenant he has promised to keep. This “unfailing love” is the bottom line of the psalmist’s appeal.
This is available to us as the bottom line of our lives: that we are loved by God. This is the God who formed us in our mother’s womb, who created us in love. Amid any uncertainty, unresolved problems, suffering or pain, we cannot get beneath this bottom line.
Not only are we “fearfully and wonderfully made” by our Creator, we are redeemed by Jesus our Saviour. Through Jesus who loved us, who lived and died for us, we know this all the more clearly. He turns no-one away who turns to him. There is no limit to his love for us. Only our rejection of him can break that covenant of unfailing love.
We cannot move our cursor underneath this bottom lie. It was Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who was imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Second World War and who lost her sister there, who said that “however deep the pit, the love of God goes deeper”. Again the bottom line! She became an agent of reconciliation after the war, even forgiving the prison guards who caused her and her sister to suffer cruelly.
There is so much evil and suffering in the world today. It shocks us to think how the people of Ukraine have suffered and continue to do so. And it seems apparently all due to one man. The ripples spread out to affect most of the world through food shortages, soaring prices of fossil fuelsand in other ways. I don’t know about you, but I pray for Vladimir Putin and his associates to be ousted from power, that many more lives will be saved. The bottom line is that God loves the world he made and sent his Son to redeem. We must make that the bottom line of our prayers for the world and plead for justice and peace on that basis.
Reading: Ephesians 3:17-19
“…I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of the very fullness of God.”
Loving Father, we give thanks to you for the bottom line of your love that upholds us and undergirds our lives. We pray for the world on the grounds of your love for it. Help us also to ground all our relationships with others in that same love that Jesus reveals in all his dealings with us. In his name we pray. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you.
Midweek Reflection: There is an enemy Wednesday 27th April
Watching the small birds flying to and from our bird feeders, or exploring the nest boxes, we often spy a sparrowhawk nearby. Often it perches on the garden fence waiting to pounce. If they are to keep safe the birds must be continually on guard. Protecting themselves from the sparrowhawk is part of their lives. They have no option. If they denied the danger they would easily come a cropper.
In journeying with Jesus we must be on watch as well. That is if we believe there is an enemy, an intelligent, personal spiritual force who is out to oppose us on our journey. There have been times in my life when I have been very conscious of this opposition. When training for the ministry for example, and when reorganising my life to have an undisturbed time to draw near to God each day, to read the Bible, pray and seek his will. Someone does not like that!
I’m reluctant to use the term “devil”, as this conjures up an image of a creature with horns and trident. I prefer the term “the enemy”. Some Christians think that all evil can be explained in terms of the sin within us, and that to speak of an external spiritual force of evil is to fail to take responsibility for our own sin. That is true if we say “The devil made me do it”! But others find that they are much more able to resist evil if they recognise there is an adversary who is ready to exploit their weaknesses.
We read in the account of Jesus’ life and ministry that he was well aware of such an opponent. Remember how he was tempted by him in the desert just before he started his public ministry. And he resisted the works of the enemy throughout his ministry. On the cross and through the resurrection he won the victory over him.
We are not meant to fight this battle in our own strength but in the strength of Jesus who has won this victory. It is his armour we are meant to put on to fight this spiritual battle. It has been said that the most important thing about the enemy is that he has been defeated. This is the good news, that through God’s love for us we too can overcome and stay true to him in our Christian journey. The message today is always to put the armour on. You can read the whole passage about it in Ephesians 6: 10-18.
We see the enemy at work in society and in the world. For example he exploits people’s weaknesses through addiction to alcohol and drugs causing lives to be ruined and bringing families into misery. The Lord wants people’s happiness, the enemy wants their misery.
Let us thank God that in Jesus we have the victory, and we can be strong and safe in the armour he supplies. We need not be afraid.
Reading: Ephesians 6: 10-11
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Best to read the whole passage.)
Lord, who stood against the evil one and triumphed over him, thank you that we can be strong in your strength. We ask you to help us to avail ourselves of the armour you provide. so that we might be equipped to follow you and glorify you through our lives. In your name we pray. Amen.
May God bless, strengthen and keep you.
Midweek Reflection Wednesday 20 April – I am with you always
Do you remember a time when you were really glad to have someone with you? Perhaps it was an important doctor’s appointment when you wanted to be sure you took in all that was said to you correctly. Recently I had an issue to tackle which involved some phone calls. My wife was with me at the time, ready to remind me of anything I forgot to say! It just felt goodto have someone close to me supporting me, especially someone who loves me! For you it could be a case of asking a friend to accompany you on such an occasion.
But none of us can have someone with us in all the challenges we face. We are all humanly alone at times. We need to find strength within ourselves.
Yet, think of it, none of us need ever be alone. We have just celebrated Easter and rejoiced in the resurrection of Jesus. Before he left his disciples to go to be with his Father in heaven he promised them that he would be with them always, even to the end of the world! If we are disciples of Jesus, this amazing promise applies to us too. We need to remember this continually. Jesus does not leave us alone. He is with us as he has promised.
We may not always feel his presence however. I recall being taught as a young Christian that our faith does not depend on our feelings.
• The FACTS of our faith come first (one of these facts being that God loves us; another that Jesus has risen and is always with us).
• FAITH in these facts follows. Such faith does not depend upon feelings.
• Finally, FEELINGS follow our faith e.g. the sense that Jesus is with us.
You could look at it this way – the FACTS of faith are the engine that pulls the train. Our FAITH follows the facts like the tender of the train containing the coal to fuel the engine. Then the FEELINGS follow as the first carriage does. I hope you find this picture as helpful as I do.
It is good that we picture Jesus being with us, reflect on this and take it in. We are never alone because of Easter. Believe it and then feel it.
We want to bring this to others through our love for them and through our prayers. Let us pray for the people of Ukraine, and others facing adverse circumstances, that they would have both human support and the faith, and feeling, that Jesus is with them.
Reading: Matthew 28: 19-20
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. AND SURELY I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS TO THE END OF THE AGE.” (my capitals)
Living Lord, bless those who are lonely; those in places of conflict and danger; those persecuted for their faith; those who are refugees. We pray that they, and all of us, may believe the promise of your presence and know that you are nearer than the breath they breathe. We ask this in the strong name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.
Midweek Reflection: The Cross of Jesus Wednesday 13 April
As we journey through Holy Week we look towards the Cross. There were many crosses by the roadsides in Palestine where the Romans crucified those they regarded as public enemies. So the physical suffering of Jesus was not unique. But the one who was crucified on Good Friday was unique. He was the Son of God. He was the best person who ever lived. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him…” (John 1:11) This exposes the evil in human hearts that, faced with such goodness, this was the world’s final response – to destroy him. The crucifixion was not really a judgment on Jesus but a judgement on the world for what we did to him. This above anything else calls for repentance, but there is hope for us all because, as he died, Jesus prayed out loud “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”.
This brings us to the heart of what Jesus did for us through the Cross and Resurrection. It is often expressed in terms of Jesus becoming our substitute. He who was without sin, a man of total integrity, died in the place of us who are sinners and paid the price of all our sin. So that we could be forgiven, and set free from condemnation and guilt. The distance between us and God is finally bridged. This was his spiritual suffering, experiencing abandonment by God as he bore the sins of all the world. Greater spiritual suffering than anyone else has experienced. The Cross was God’s work of reconciliation between himself and us. What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus!
We can also see the Cross as a warrior winning a great victory. Jesus seemed far from being amighty warrior as he carried his cross to Golgotha. He had been flogged and abused, was in a state of physical weakness and he stumbled under its weight. But after a mighty struggle in Gethsemane he resolved to “drink the cup” of suffering, and then battled spiritually to win salvation for us all. The ancient “Dream of the Rood” (Rood means Cross) describes Jesus as a brave warrior leaping up on the Rood and fighting a great battle to overcome the powers of evil. He is our hero and victor.
Another very important aspect of the Cross is that Jesus suffered. When we suffer we can know close fellowship with our suffering Lord. He feels for us in our pain. When we see no way out of our suffering we know Jesus is there with us. He feels for us and weeps with us. Let us turn to him for comfort at these times.
Above all, the Cross reveals God’s heart of love. He loved us so much that he gave up his dearly beloved Son for us. It has been said that there has always been a Cross in the heart of God, long before Jesus died at Calvary. But there his heart of love was fully revealed.
Reading: Romans 5:6-8
“You see, just at the right time…… Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us”.
Loving Lord, your Cross is like a precious diamond with many facets. We cannot praise you enough for your incredible love demonstrated there. Thank you for all it means to us, and as we meditate upon it help us see new depths in Christ’s suffering and sacrifice. May we also, being loved so much, reflect this wonderful love to others. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
God bless you richly this Easter and always.
Midweek Reflection: I couldn’t follow Jesus – Wednesday 6th April
The title of an article in this month’s Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland, reads “I knew that I couldn’t follow Jesus”. At least that is what I thought it reads! I also thought it was an unusual title in a Christian magazine. It was therefore successful in catching my attention. But when I read it again I discovered I had been mistaken! The title actually reads: “I knew that I couldn’t NOT follow Jesus” (capitals mine)!
However my first reading of the title makes a real point. If you for the first time read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and his other teaching on the cost of discipleship, it would be a very reasonable conclusion. Though you were deeply impressed by Jesus’ words, and were amazed at his exemplary life, you might well decide that as much you would like to follow this man of Nazareth it was impossibly difficult to do so. Think of it. I am to love my enemy, forgive those who sin against me, put Jesus before my own selfish desires and ambitions. This might well be your conclusion: “I couldn’t follow Jesus”.
This would be true except for one basic factor. Jesus hasn’t only won the victory over sin and death, and made of us a new creation, he has given to each one who believes in him the gift of the Holy Spirit. He hasn’t only cleansed us from our sins, he has empowered us to follow him. We cannot follow Jesus in our own strength. It is too much. But his Spirit within us enables us. This Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus and enables us to live and love for him. Of course, we still fail at times, but he will also forgive us and renew us. The Spirit comes to everyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ. But we are commanded to keep being filled with the Holy Spirit. “Be filled with the Spirit” is in the continuous tense (Ephesians 5:18). Why? Because without the Spirit filling us, we are not able to follow Jesus and reflect his love.
I am reminded of settling into a manse with a large lawn. Thankfully a petrol driven lawn mower was provided. The first time I attempted to cut the grass I pushed the mower around the lawn while the blades were powered by the engine. It was still hard work. Then eventually I spotted a lever which I pulled, and the mower was propelled forward with little effort on my part! What a difference that made. And what a difference it makes to realise that we are to follow Jesus not in our own strength, but as the Holy Spirit enables us.
Reading: Acts 2:38-39
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’”.
Lord our God, we thank you for this marvellous promise. Help us to be open and alive to this precious gift of yours that in the strength and love of the Holy Spirit we may follow and serve Jesus all through our lives. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you.
Midweek Reflection: Back to Basics, Wednesday 30th March
If you’re old enough you may remember Prime Minister John Major’s Back to Basics campaign. He was urging a return to traditional values. This, he thought, would help cure many of society’s ills. Unfortunately for him, a number of skeletons in the cupboards of his own MPs were exposed. Later he had a lapse from family values himself, so the campaign was largely discredited!
But as Christians I think it is good for us to get “back to basics”, not traditional values but thebasics of our faith I mean, to make sure they are firmly established in our lives. To illustrate this, I am recalling the example of David Sheppard, the famous and successful English test cricketer, who went on to be ordained in the Church of England, and later became Bishop of Liverpool. There he championed the poor and disadvantaged in the inner city. Along with the Catholic Archbishop Derek Worlock he fought for change on their behalf. His biography is called “Batting for the Poor”, and he wrote the book “Bias to the Poor”. This particular expression of his Christian faith to which he was called is what he is remembered for (along with his cricketing achievements).
His decision to enter the ministry, however, arose from his coming to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. This he never forgot. It was “basic” to him. He describes going to a Christian mission with a friend, where he heard that only by “the undeserved love and grace of Jesus Christ can anyone be accepted (by God)”. Church going which he had done since childhood did not in itself win God’s acceptance.
He realised that his sin came between himself and God, like a cloud; that Jesus on the cross took our sin upon himself; that Jesus had died for him. His faith became personal. He found that his sins were forgiven through the mercy and love of God. He later wrote: “Either Jesus was outside the door of my life, or he was inside. Though I had, so to speak, talked to him through the keyhole or on the doorstep, I knew very well that I had never sincerely asked him into my life and take charge of it”. He personally put his faith in Jesus.
While David Sheppard became more and more committed to serving the poor in Jesus’ name, this was his starting point. We all have our specific callings as Christians, but our grounding needs to be in coming to the same personal faith where we own Jesus Christ as our Saviour and submit to him as Lord of our lives. Of course our spiritual growth only begins here. We are to go on and live fruitful lives for Christ, to live “a life of good deeds which he has already prepared for us to do”. But it is the basis we start from and constantly renew. Let’s keep going “back to basics”!
“Christ himself carried our sins in his own body to the tree, so that we might be finished with sin and be alive to all that is good.” 1 Peter 2:24
“Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
God of all grace, who gave your Son to live, die and rise again for us, open our hearts to him so that our lives may always be grounded in his saving love and mercy. To you be the glory for ever. Amen.
God bless you and keep you in his love.
Midweek Reflection – Wednesday 23rd March:
Since boyhood I have been a Hibernian supporter. They’re not doing so well at the moment, but that’s beside the point! This is the point – in 2005, when Hibs were playing Dnipro in Ukraine in a European cup-tie, some Hibs’ fans started a charity, “Dnipro Kids”, to help children in orphanages in that city. You may have heard that the same charity has managed to arrange for about 50 children from Dnipro orphanages to come to Scotland to escape their war-torn country. They are due to arrive in Scotland today, and soon will go to Edinburgh to live in family groups there. It is hoped that after the war they may return to their home country. They may all be Hibs’ supporters by then!
That is one practical way people have helped the victims of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. There has been an enormous outpouring of compassion for that nation and its people. Many people pray for that country. That is something we can all do: bring its needs and suffering to God, seeking his mercy upon them. We can give too. The Disasters Emergency Committee(DEC), comprised of leading charities including Red Cross and Christian Aid, have an appeal at present. You can give online. There is also an opportunity to give to DEC through a retiring offering at Craigellachie and Aberlour churches the next few Sundays. As Andrew stated last Sunday, the charities say this is the best way to give as they know what the greatest needs are at the time. Many have given clothes for refugees, which is fine, but the charities have to wash them all before they can be distributed. Some have even driven out to Ukraine or the border with Poland to distribute supplies to refugees.
I’m reminded of the relevance of the story of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus told in response to the question “Who is my neighbour”, the neighbour whom God has commanded us to love. First, the man who came to the aid of the injured man was of another nationality. He was a Samaritan helping the man who we presume was a Jew. That relates to us helping the Ukrainian people. And secondly, after the Samaritan had treated the victim’s wounds and taken him to an Inn, he paid the innkeeper to look after the man. Then on his return he would pay any more money that he owed.
We cannot all go to Ukraine to help, but we can see the charities in the DEC as the innkeeper to whom we pay money to help refugees and those still in Ukraine.
Jesus calls us to “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Our neighbour is anyone, near or far, whom we are able to help. How do we respond?
Reading: Luke 10: 34-35
“…. Then (the Samaritan) put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”
Father, who has compassion for his children, look upon the people of Ukraine in their hour of suffering. Some of us do not have a lot to give, but show us all if there is some way in which we can help. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Midweek Reflection: Spring, Wednesday, 16th March
I’ll start with the gloom, but I won’t finish there! When we take a moment or two to reflect on what’s going on in the world, the picture appears extremely gloomy. There is the suffering of the people of Ukraine, we do not know how far Putin will go, and other European countries fear invasion too. There is the threat of a third world war, and even of nuclear weapons being used if that were to start. And just to deepen the gloom, what about the future effects of climate change, not to mention the continuing spread of the omicron BA2 sub-variant or the state of the British economy? Not too bright a picture!
BUT then I think of the natural world around us. Spring is coming again – that has not been stopped. The Spring flowers are delighting us, the daffodils in our garden are starting to flower, the birds have smartened up to attract a mate, and before very long the lambs will be playing in the fields. God’s creation is still doing its work. Our God is always working. No gloom there!
“BUT” is a crucial word to answer the gloom! How often in scripture we hear “BUT GOD”. The Israelites often rebelled against God and were defeated by their enemies. BUT GOD showed mercy towards them and when they called on him delivered them. This happened time and time again. In the New Testament we read of our condition prior to faith. “As for you, you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins..…” then it goes on: “BUT God’s mercy is so abundant and his love for us is so great he brought us to life with Christ….. it is by God’s grace you have been saved”.
Let us remember the power of “BUT GOD”. This changes things radically. If our personal circumstances ever tempt us to despair, let’s look to him and say these words. They are a statement of our faith in him and in his love. They can really make a great difference to how we see things. They bring the most important factor into account, that God is there and is loving us. This is not to belittle any suffering we experience, but it helps us to see things from a different perspective.
In the world situation that seems so gloomy, let’s add the fact of faith – it is God’s world. He is Lord overall. It is ultimately in his hands. Only he knows the future but we can entrust everything to him. Hope can arise in the darkest of places.
Spring speaks of new life and new hope. That comes to us once again. God is still caring for his world. He loves it more than we do. Yes, there are grave problems in the world…… BUT GOD!
Reading: 1 Peter 2: 9-10
“But you are the chosen race….. God’s own people……. At one time you were not God’s people, but now you are his people; at one time you did not know God’s mercy, but now you have received his mercy”.
Forgive us, Lord, that we often look at things from a merely human perspective, whether our own situation or the situation the world is in. Whatever the situation helps us to know the difference you can make, even to our suffering, and so come to know more deeply the BUT of your transforming power and love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you.
Midweek Reflection Wednesday 9th March: Listening
Remember Rose Ayling Ellis, the deaf contestant in Strictly Come Dancing, who, with her partner Giovanni Pernice, danced wonderfully despite her disability, not only keeping in time to the music but winning the competition! She must have had some other way of “listening” when she couldn’t hear the music. Most of us do have a reasonable level of hearing, and listening is what we do with it.
We have been given ears to listen. Someone said, “we’ve been given two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak.” Logically that wouldn’t work out in practicevery well, but the saying makes its point.
How much do we listen to other people? Are we really listening when the other speaks, or are we thinking about what we want to say next? Sometimes people really need a listening ear. If you are really listened to, it makes you feel that what you say and feel matters. That you matter. This is especially true when someone shares what is important to them in their lives, what is hard for him or her at the time and what it is a relief to speak about. Listening, with occasional understanding responses, helps a person feel affirmed and valued. We are told for example that it is good for our mental health to speak about what we feel. Men especially are slow to do that. But when one does, a good listener is required. Only when we listen can we help another. Often no advice or suggestions are required, just the fact of being listened toand understood is what matters. Listening is an act of loving.
James, in his letter, teaches that “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” (James 1:19).
As well as listening to other people, friends of Jesus are described as those who listen to his voice. But how do we do this? How do we know what he is saying to us? Surely by getting familiar with Jesus’ teaching and example. We do this by reading God’s Word. But for specific guidance we can also listen for the Spirit’s promptings. This is something we need to practise. There are so many other voices trying to get our attention it can be hard to discern what God is saying to us. But often, as we pray and read the Bible, we get a clear sense of what is being said to us. Then in faith we can act on it.
So let us, however good or bad our hearing, seek to be good listeners, both to one another and to the Good Shepherd of the sheep.
Reading: John 10:2-3
“The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out.”
Dear Lord, help us to be good listeners and help others in this way. Help us also to listen to you, to learn to discern your voice and in faith obey. We remember too those who are deaf or hard of hearing, that love from others would lessen the isolation they may feel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
God bless you and keep you in his everlasting love.
Midweek Reflection, Wednesday 2nd March: Putin and Ukraine
It has been heart-breaking to learn of President Putin’s war on Ukraine, of the fear he has spread, and the suffering and death that he has caused. At the same time, it has been inspiring to hear of the Ukrainians’ resistance. They certainly slowed down the Russian forces’ advance. Russian lives have also been taken. Blood shed on both sides shows once again the terrible folly and cost of war. In fact many Russians are against the war.
We see God’s love at work in the welcome refugees from Ukraine have received in Poland and other Eastern European countries. We also see it in people from countries such as our own engaging in humanitarian relief. The world has opened its heart to that land.
There have been despots all through history. In more recent times there have been Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. We hear of power-mad kings and emperors in Biblical times too. But the conviction of the Biblical writers was that however powerful they were their power was limited, because ultimately they were under God’s control. He was, and is, the Sovereign God.
The New Testament book of Revelation is written in graphic and colourful style. It has been likened to a comic cartoon strip! John names some of these power-hungry individuals as ‘the beast’, who has been given its power by the dragon who is identified as the devil. Evil is embodied in them. We may not understand why God allowed such terrible evil as the Holocaust, but such episodes of history bring home to us the reality of evil in our world.
God took an enormous risk when he gave human beings the gift of free choice. This choice led to the continuing battle between good and evil starting in our own hearts. This free choice has led to wonderful heroism and unselfishness, but also to such atrocious events as the cruel attack on Ukraine.
But although this freedom exists, evil will not have the final say. Though ‘the beast’ may triumph for a period, its doom is inevitable, and its empire bound to be destroyed. The gospel proclaims the victory of good over evil, love over hate, life over death, pledged through the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We look forward to, and work with him for his kingdom of goodness, justice, peace, mercy and love – to the time when the kingdoms of this earth will become the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 11:15a).
It is right that we lament the war that is being waged in Ukraine, and have compassion for those who suffer there, but let us not despair. God’s call is for us, though our faith in Jesus, to pray and work for God’s kingdom which we now know in part but will one day know in allits fullness.
Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 19-20
“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…..”.
Father God, we praise you that You gave us the gift of freedom to choose, so we are free agents rather than puppets. Help us in the strength and love of Jesus to choose what is good and be ambassadors of your kingdom that will never end. Amen.
God loves you. May he bless and keep you.
Midweek Reflection on the Weather
I love the description in Psalm 14:16: “He spreads the snow like wool; he scatters the frost like ashes”. The snow is soft like wool, and spreads over everything. Let’s reflect on the snow.
Snow can change our plans, a bit like lockdown. Meetings can be cancelled. We may choose to stay inside. We’ve not had a lot of snow for some time, and even if there is we can cope with it with four-wheel drives or winter tyres. Except sometimes when roads are closed, especially if you live in the country. Then normal life comes to a halt, and we have to wait and be patient. The hustle and bustle of life stop, and we remember our control over our lives is limited. “Be still and know that I am God” comes to mind.
Strong winds, which we have had plenty of recently, remind us of the God we can’t control. They are wild and unpredictable. Stefanie Green, a three-time Paralympics medal winner speaks of how her childish understanding of God changed when she had a nasty accident. Her life was saved after losing lots of blood, but she had to have her right foot amputated. She says she realised then that a God who did exactly as she wanted wasn’t the God of reality. “I had to understand God is wild and untamed, but he’s good. I don’t control him. I can speak to him, and he will always be with me, but he’ll always be slightly mysterious. And that’s a good thing. I’d be bored and disappointed with a God I fully understood.”
We cannot contain God’s Spirit. He is free and can disturb us out of our comfort and lead us in unexpected ways. The wind blows where it wills, Jesus said to Nicodemus, and so it is with those who are born of the Spirit. Remembering the God who is untameable and not under our control balances our knowledge of him as the loving Father with whom, through Jesus, we enjoy a close relationship.
Then there is the sunshine most of us revel in. People travel far to seek it. Jesus is the Greater Sun who shines in our lives bringing to us the warmth of God’s love and the light of his truth. There are times when we walk knowingly in this light, when we are very conscious of his presence with us, and of his will for us. His love is not hidden from us. Then there are the times when the clouds hide the sun from us when God’s presence and his will are not so clear. But then we need to remember that the warmth and light of the sun are still reaching us when it is behind the clouds. So during difficult times his presence is still with us, and he continues to hold us in his love. Let’s say “Halleluiah”!
Reading: John 3 vv7-8
“You should not be surprised at my saying, ’You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Creator God, we praise you for wind, rain, snow and sunshine. Help us to learn lessons from your book of nature, as well as from your word in scripture, and from the Word made Flesh in Jesus Christ. In his wonderful name we ask this. Amen.
May God bless and keep you always. Amen.
Midweek Reflection 16.2.22
It’s the evening of Valentine’s Day as I begin writing. I did an unusual thing today. I wrote my wife a letter! I don’t know when I last did that, probably in our courting days, but she had given me a card and I hadn’t reciprocated…. so I decided to write instead to tell her what she meant to me. Someone else said to me about Valentine’s Day, “We’re past that kind of thing”. But it is surely good to keep the spark of romance alive, and not take one another for granted.
I am aware that some people reading this may have lost their partner through death or a breakdown in a relationship. Or you may have wanted a partner, but it has never worked out for you. But there is an even more important relationship we can all enjoy and will last forever.
I am speaking of our relationship with our Lord which is offered to all of us. It is a relationship which can go deeper than any other relationship. It is one that meets our deepest needs. For he is the Bread of Life, as Andrew reminded us in Craigellachie and Aberlour on Sunday. No other human being can meet our deepest needs, only the one who made us, redeemed us, knows us better than we know ourselves, and loves us utterly. He is always knocking at our door, and offering love, meaning and purpose for our lives.
Romantic love is affirmed as a God given part of human experience in the Bible. This is true particularly of the Song of Songs which is in fact an amorous love poem. Christians have traditionally interpreted it as an allegory of the love between Jesus Christ and us, but this is not so commonly accepted today. Still God is passionate in his love for us, and longs for a relationship with us that is based on mutual and total self-giving. And in the New Testament Jesus is described as our husband and ourselves as his spouse (Ephesians 5:31-33).
Thinking of Valentine’s Day, it is not only a partner we may take for granted. So easily we may forget those who make our Church what it is. Perhaps they serve in the background, seeking no praise or thanks for what they do. Let’s remember them. People who serve in our community too. It would be a good idea to show our appreciation to someone like that, or to share a word of encouragement with them. So whether we make something of Valentine’s day or not, let’s seek to avoid taking anyone for granted especially within the Body of Christ, his Church. We are called to love, support and encourage one another.
Reading: Song of Songs ch8 vv6-7
“Close your heart to every love but mine; hold no-one in your arms but me. Love is as powerful as death; passion is as strong as death itself. It bursts into flame and burns like a raging fire. Waters cannot quench love; many rivers cannot drown it.”
Father, we thank you for love of all kinds – between lovers, in families, and between friends. We especially praise you for your passionate love for us demonstrated in Jesus your Son, a love stronger than death. Kindle the flame of love for you in all our hearts. Inspire our love for one another, that your body here on earth might be built up in unity. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you in his love.
Wednesday 9th February
Campaigns for justice are a regular feature today. People march for decent wages, for climate justice, for equal rights for women, against domestic abuse. There are calls to reduce the widening gap between rich and poor in our own society, and to end racism and discriminationof any kind.
Justice was a major concern of the Old Testament prophets. Not only did they denounce the worship of idols and false gods; they also exposed injustices such as the exploitation of the poor, or the taking of bribes. They had visions of a new society where justice and righteousness reigned. “Let justice roll like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream”, proclaimed Amos, the prophet.
Jesus isn’t often reported using the term “justice”, but he did apply to himself the description of God’s servant in Isaiah ch 42:1, “I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justiceto the nations”.
Jesus was more than just. It was not a formal, external justice that Jesus was about. It was justice with a heart to it. He regarded and treated people in such a way that they felt they mattered and were of eternal value, and they were recipients of God’s attention and care – the leper, or the woman of Samaria for example. Seeing people this way is at the heart of acall for justice where all are treated fairly. It is justice with love at the heart of it, and which refuses to accept any of God’s creatures being treated wrongly. Equally it opposes anyonewho exploits, abuses, mistreats or shows disrespect to others.
As Christians and as the Church we are called to “bring justice to the nations” and may experience a specific calling to fight for justice in a particular context. Climate justice, or justice for the poor for example. But the justice we seek is the justice with love at its heart.
God’s justice is seen supremely in the cross of Jesus. Humankind came under God’s judgement because we had rebelled against him. This is what the story of Adam and Eve is about. So we carried a burden of sin and guilt. In the fullness of time Jesus came and after his ministry of teaching and healing he died on the cross for you and me. He who was without sin “became sin for us” taking our sin and its consequences upon himself and paying its price so that we go free. “I felt a great burden lifted from my shoulders” said someone who realised for the first time that Jesus had done this for her. The Cross demonstrates the seriousness of our sin, that the price for it had to be paid, but in God’s love and mercy Jesus paid it. This is God’s justice with love at the heart of it. How grateful I am for this. Are you?
Reading: 2 Corinthians 5 vv20b-21
“We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to become sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Lord God, we praise you that you are the God of justice with love at its heart. Show us how we can be your servants as you call us to share your love and engage in the struggle for justice in your world. We thank you most of all for the just reward of new life offered to all humankind through the sacrifice of your Son. In his wonderful name we pray. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you in his love
Wednesday 2nd February
Have you suffered a power cut in the last few days? The very strong winds we have been experiencing – Storm Arwen, Storm Malik and Storm Corrie – have brought home to us that extreme weather conditions are increasingly common in our part of the world. We may have been rather complacent, thinking that climate change was mainly affecting other countries of the world while we were largely unaffected. We may even have been pleased that there has been less snow than previously and so winters are easier to cope with!
But the storms and power cuts have made us sit up. Yes, it is happening to us. Western civilisation through industrial development and use of fossil fuels has caused the bulk of climate change. Countries which have contributed the least to climate change have so far suffered the most as a result of it. There have been rising sea levels leading to Pacific islands becoming uninhabitable, and increased flooding in Bangladesh. There has been severe drought in African countries. Wild life has been threatened too: polar bears through the melting of ice in the Arctic and many species as a result of forest fires whether in Australia or California. But now we are tasting the consequences of climate change too.
For most of the decades of industrial development people were not aware of the dangers it would eventually bring to planet earth. But there have been warnings for a long time now, prophetic voices telling it as it is. Yet many have been in denial. They have not wanted to hear these voices and have tried to silence them. Now we are facing the truth, hopefully not too late to reduce the potential harm.
How should the Church respond? First by confessing on behalf of our nation the harm we are causing and have caused; by repenting and asking forgiveness. Also by affirming human beings’ place in God’s creation. Being made in God’s image and likeness means we are given the mandate to share in God’s rule over the earth. The words of Genesis 1:26 don’t mean we can exploit the earth and do what we like with it, or that we can happily make its creatures extinct. Yes, we are to have dominion over the earth, and rule over animal life, but only as God’s representatives doing his will. Thus we express God’s likeness. And he declared time and again (see Genesis ch 1) that what he had made was ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Another reason why we should look after it. Then we can make changes in our own lives to reduce the carbon emissions we are responsible for. We can speak out to our politicians and others that we want the fight against climate change to be the national priority. And we can pray in faith, hope and love to the God who loves the world.
Reading: Genesis 1 v26
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Father God, you love the world and all that is in it, and you revealed this love supremely in Jesus Christ your Son. We are sorry we have not been good stewards of all that you have made. We pray for a change of heart among all people, so that there will be a promising future for our children’s children and generations to come. Amen.
God bless and keep you in his love.
Wednesday 26th January
The other day I was filling up the bird feeders in our garden, and while I was doing this a robin came flying to the feeder to fetch some sunflower seed. When my hand was round the middle of the feeder the robin alighted within an inch of my fingers. If I had been patient, I think I might have trained the robin to eat from my hand.
St. Francis of Assisi, and many of the Celtic saints, were known to form close relationships with animals. They befriended them, and the animals grew to trust them. I don’t place myself in the same category – my neighbour’s dogs just bark at me when I try to befriend them! But these Christians won the animals’ trust. There are stories of animals co-operating with them, carrying heavy loads for them or guarding and protecting them.
It is good for us to relate to God’s world around us – the natural world with its creatures, its trees and plants, the weather above and around us. Some do this through gardening and so being in close contact with the soil and growing things. For many it is through walks particularly in the countryside. Or one can simply sit still, watch and listen.
During a walk, or resting somewhere, we can notice the sunshine and the breeze, and the formation of clouds in the sky. We hear birds sing and the sound of the flowing water in the river or tiny burn. We can smell the scents around us as well and breathe in the fresh air. It is good to stop and take note of all these things. We are relating to God’s world. As has often been said this is good for our mental health and can change our mood and feelings.
When I was able to climb the Scottish mountains, there was aways the temptation to think only of getting to the top and ticking one off on one’s list. I might say I climbed three peaks in the day, and feel proud of it, but did I take enough time to really appreciate what was around me? Did I spot the bird of prey, notice the wildflowers or take in the amazing grandeur of the mountain scene? It is so important to be still for a while and drink it all in.
Some people worship nature itself – they call it Gaia. But Christians believe that all is God’s creation and is distinct from him, its Creator. We don’t believe nature is God (pantheism). However, we find everything exists in him and he is in everything (panentheism), sustaining the earth and renewing its life. Psalm 104 v30 speaks of his breath (or Spirit) creating and giving new life to the earth.
So let us escape sometimes from a manmade world, and take in, breathe in the wonder of creation, and be mentally and spiritually renewed. And let’s praise God, the great Creator!
Reading: Colossians ch1 vv16-17
“For by (Christ) all things were created ………. all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”.
Lord our God, you are over and above all things, yet you are also in everything. Help us to find you in your creation, and through it to let you refresh our spirits. We ask it through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
God bless you.
Wednesday 19th January
The trees in winter might not seem so attractive to us, stripped as they are of their leaves – the deciduous ones at least! But there are advantages in seeing them this way. We may spot birds more easily as they cannot disappear among the leaves. But what strikes me most is that we clearly see the structure of their trunk and branches. We see their hidden, inner strength.
In the “winters” of our life journeys, when we face testing times through illness, a broken relationship, bereavement, or coronavirus affecting our mental health for example, we may feel stripped bare like the trees. The things that normally bring enjoyment and satisfaction to our lives are no longer there for us. We are stripped as it were of our leaves.
All is not lost. We learn to rely on the inner resources within us, resources we are not normally aware of. We must rely on them. We have little choice. Along with support from others whose strength we borrow we find the endurance we require. We hold on.
But for those who believe, there is an awareness of more than this. We draw from the resources of the Spirit within us, the Spirit given to all who believe. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul prays for them, asking God to “give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves”. The psalms constantly remind us that God is our Strength on whom we rely.
But trees, despite their strength, can fall, as many did during the storm Arwen. And we are human, and sometimes we fail to rely on God’s strength within. Relying on our own strength can let us down. Remember Simon Peter, Jesus’ disciple, who swore confidently that he would never forsake his Lord. Yet, on his own and in the darkness of the night, when put to the test he denied three times that he knew Jesus.
After the Resurrection Jesus met him again and gave Peter the chance to reaffirm his love for Jesus – again three times, one for each denial! He also recommissioned Peter as his disciple. Later, strengthened by the Spirit given at Pentecost, Peter became the rock on which Jesus built his Church. Now he relied on God’s strength rather than his own.
And God equally shows his grace and mercy towards us when we fail to rely on him. He forgives us and is ready in his love to strengthen us again so that we might follow Jesus.
Reading: Ephesians 3 vv14-16 (21)
“For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth receives its true name. I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith…”
Dear Lord, we thank you for your loving kindness towards us and the provision of all we need to be your followers. We ask you through your Spirit to make us strong in our inner selves that we might serve you faithfully in all the seasons of our lives. Amen.
May God bless and strengthen you.
Wednesday 12 January
I keep hearing about people doing their best to help refugees, whether those who have come into the UK, or those in refugee camps in other parts of the world. A near neighbour is continually knitting blankets, shawls, and baby clothes for refugees in such camps. I know the issue of refugees coming to our country is not straightforward. There need to be limits as we cannot take more than we can make room for and accommodate. But remember thatrefugees flee from their homelands because of war, because of discrimination and persecution or because of dire poverty. They are desperate as we can tell from the risks they take, and not having any certainty where their journey will take them.
But one thing is sure. God has a big place in his heart for such people. In the Old Testament we read of his instructions to his people to welcome strangers and foreigners into their community. He wanted his people to show love and offer friendship. Jesus, speaking of the final judgement, said that when we welcome strangers into our homes we do this for him (Matthew 25: 27-40). And not long ago we were thinking of the family of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus journeying as refugees into Egypt to escape the cruel sword of Herod. Jesus himself was a refugee!
Come to think of it many of our ancestors were refugees. During the Highland Clearances, people were forced to leave their land to make way for sheep. They crossed the sea to North America to make a new home for themselves. They relied on help from the people there. And think of the Pilgrim Fathers who left England for America to escape persecution.
As Christians we are called to be good neighbours to those close to home. But God’s love doesn’t stop there! If we have been reluctant to take the plight of refugees to heart, let’s ask ourselves, “What shapes my thinking?” Is it tabloid headlines, or populist politiciansappealing to our small mindedness? Or is it scripture, especially the example and teaching of Jesus? We are to “let God transform (us) inwardly by a complete change of mind. Then (we)will know the will of God…..” (Romans 12v2)
Let our attitudes be moulded by the Father heart of God, and by the compassionate love of Jesus. And let us pray that those who escape from danger may find a new homeland where they can settle and prosper, where they are welcomed and where they can make a positive contribution to society through their gifts and abilities.
Reading: Psalm 107 vv4-8
“Some wandered in the trackless desert and could not find their way to a city to live in.They were hungry and thirsty and had given up all hope. Then in their trouble they called to the Lord, and he saved them from their distress. He led them by a straight road to a citywhere they could live. They must thank the Lord for his constant love, for the wonderful things that he did for them.”
Father God, we pray for refugees everywhere that they would find a new homeland where there is a welcome and support. Open our hearts to them in their need and show us what we can do to help. In Jesus name. Amen.
God bless you and them.
5th January 2022
Someone recently pointed out that there is an if at the centre of LIFE. And this is surely true. As we set out on our journey into the new year there are many ifs facing us. We might be making plans for a holiday we hope to have if coronavirus regulations allow it. We plan to meet up with other people depending on the same if. Even in “normal” years all our plans are subject to an if. It could be if our health allows it; if we have enough money for it, if nothing untoward stops us. Life is full of uncertainties.
Reminding ourselves of this keeps us aware of our limits. We are not totally in charge of our plans. These may or may not be fulfilled. Proverbs tells us that we make our plans but God directs our steps. Of course, when we sense that what we plan is right for us we want to stick to it and be resolute about it. We can check our motives, as Christians we can pray about it, perhaps consult others, but we remain dependent on God’s will.
James, in his letter, tells his readers to say, “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that”. People used to say “d.v.” when describing what they would do – which means “Deo volente” or “God willing”.
So we start our journey along the road of another year with uncertainty, this year more than most. But there is certainty for us in our Christian faith. It is the certainty of God’s love for every one of us, the certainty that he goes ahead of us and goes with us, the certainty that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, the certainty of his promises to us. We make our plans trusting in our Lord who will direct our steps in the way that is best for us. Solet us put our anchor down deeply in God’s love and faithfulness as we travel along the road of a new year.
And a Happy New Year to you and yours.
Reading: 2 Corinthians 1 vv 19-21
“For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was preached among you …. is not one who is “Yes” and “No”. On the contrary he is God’s “Yes”; for it is he who is the “Yes” to all God’s promises. That is why through Jesus Christ our “Amen” is said to the glory of God. It is God himself who makes us, together with you, sure of our life in union with Christ…”
Prayer (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate)
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
29th December 2022
Thanks to Andrew for giving me this space each Wednesday for a reflection which I pray will be helpful to those who read it.
A significant number of people are bothered with SAD each winter. It stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. More hours of darkness and fewer hours of daylight lead to this seasonal depression.
Probably most of us, even though we would not describe ourselves as having this disorder, can understand it and sometimes feel our mood change in winter. Well the good news is that we are past the shortest day, and each day now there are four minutes more daylight! We are journeying more and more into the light!
Christmas fulfilled the longing for light in a different sense. We rejoiced in the Son of God slipping into this world in human form. In his adult ministry he was to describe himself as “The Light of the World”, promising that those who followed him would not walk in darkness but have the light of life.
What is the result of walking in the light of Jesus Christ, and allowing his Spirit to work in and through us? According to our reading below it means we will reflect the glory of the Lord, and we will be transformed into his likeness to an ever-greater degree of glory. Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him”.
Of course, it doesn’t always seem as straightforward as that. It can be more like stop and start, getting brighter then dimmer for a while. We can go through periods of emotional and spiritual darkness but let us trust that the Lord is always at work even then. And what greater goal can we have in life than to become more and more like Jesus?
What will that mean for us? Through life and its experiences surely it means we will be come more loving and caring for others as God is towards us. It will mean we are able to forgive more quickly as we realise how much we have been forgiven. We will be more patient as he has been patient with us. It will mean we will become more courageous, people of integrity, ready to stand for what we believe is true, compassionate and just, inspired by Jesus himself. But our faces need to be turned to him so that we can receive and reflect this light of his truth and love.
Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:18
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Lord, help us to look to Jesus, become more and more like him, and reflect his glory in our lives. Use even the darkest times of our lives to form us into his likeness through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen.