Monday, 13 March 2017

Thanksgiving

Heavenly Father,

We are conscious of so many things that make us strong:
The hills and lochs and everything that lives and breathes;
The bonds of love within our families and amongst our friends;
The gifts we see in others that show the goodness in living;
The daily access we have to food and clean water and shelter.

But we are most grateful for your Word:
Sustaining us in our most challenging days;
Inspiring us to reach for the best in life;
Revealing Jesus to us and bringing the assurance of forgiveness and renewal.

Let that Word feed our souls today and take us forward in a spirit of hope.


Amen.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

My Times.

I suppose like many of you I am finding it hard to believe that we are now in the month of March.  Where did these last few months go?   When I was in primary school we had a history book called ‘The March of Time’ and many of us might feel that the pace does not get any easier.  Mind you, people have warned me over the years that time passes quicker the older you get!  Perhaps, but what matters is how you cope with it.  Some might say you have to cram as much into every day, make the most of what time we have.  Others might point to the importance of having the best of relationships with everyone  we encounter.  You never know when there will be no more time to set right what was wrong.  And still there is that powerful impulse, as old as humankind, to drain as much pleasure out of life while we can, what the prophet  saw as the attitude that says: ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die!’  (Isaiah 22: 13) 

All of this puts pressure upon us and creates an unhealthy drivenness that turns us more and more into ourselves.  But when we look at the spirituality of the ancient people of the Bible there is a great aspiration to live with a constant consciousness of God and to trust in his good purpose for our lives, even when it seems that time is running out for us.  We find this in the Psalms.  Have a look at Psalm 46.  All around the writer there are changes that are challenging, even frightening, but the voice of God is clearly heard to say: ‘Be still, and know that I am God.  Or Psalm 31.  This seems to be a time when there are many pressures acting on David’s life and he fears that he does not possess the resources to cope but he breaks through to the place where he can say: ‘But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands.’ (Psalm 31: 14-15)

That was the assurance that was strong in the soul of the Apostle Paul.  When it seemed that he was the victim of forces beyond his control he was able to say: ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances . . . whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I  can do everything through him who gives me strength.‘  (Philippians 4: 11-13)  


This is something we all need to learn in face of all the challenges of life, not least the feeling that time is running away with us.  We live in the presence of a loving God, who has a good purpose for us.  We might not always see this clearly but we are assured that what has seemed dark to us in this life will be made clear when the Kingdom comes.  Then we will be able to say: ‘My times were in your hands.‘    

Friday, 16 September 2016

"My Soul Is Troubled."

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

Jesus is approaching the ultimate sacrifice.
Pain, humiliation, dereliction are before him.
He is troubled in a way none of us will fathom.
Still his focus is on his Father,
His desire is that the completed mission 
Will bring glory to Him.

We might approach the worst of times
Troubled beyond words.
Jesus shows we can yet be witnesses

To the love and goodness of the Father.  

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Amazing Grace.

Anne Tyler is one of the foremost American writers of our day.  In many people’s eyes she manages to convey the lives of ordinary people in a way that makes them seem extraordinary.  Family life is a place where there is conflict, tension, suffering but also a place where people find the resources and the dignity to overcome.  In the simplest of language personalities are brought to life in all their variety and complexity.   Her latest book sees a family seeking to plan the funeral of their mother who was killed in a road accident.  They wonder if she has left any instructions and speculate what they might be: 

““My only fear is, she’s requested ‘Amazing Grace,’” said Amanda.

“I like ‘Amazing Grace,’” Stem said mildly.

“So did I, till it got to be a cliche”

‘It’s not a cliche to me.”

Amanda raised her eyes to the ceiling.”

I know what Amanda means.  Ever since Judy Collins made it a hit in 1970, followed by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in 1972, ‘Amazing Grace’ has been sung and played on various occasions with people of all faiths and none feeling able to join in.  It is, of course, essentially a Christian hymn, written by John Newton, praising God for the undeserved love that has flowed into his life despite his own shortcomings.  Newton’s progress towards faith was anything but straightforward and he stood amazed at how firmly God had held him in the face of ‘many dangers, toils and snares’.   Strangely, the name of Jesus is not mentioned which perhaps may account for its wide appeal, even to the extent that it was played on the bagpipes at the funeral of Mr Spock in one of the Star Trek movies!

Yes I know what Amanda means.  ‘Amazing Grace’ is one of those songs which can be sung without any meaningful connection to its heart and soul.  Which is why it meant a lot to me recently to lead a Bible Study with a group of people recovering from a range of addictions and to begin with the singing of ‘Amazing Grace’.  I am tempted to say it took on a whole new meaning but actually this was men and women connecting with the only meaning Newton intended.  From the brokenness of his own life along with a deep sense of shame and unworthiness, Newton marvels at the love of his God who thought him worthy of the death of His Son and brought him to that place where he could say:

‘The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.‘      


Not that this is a hymn merely for those with what might be described as a dark and difficult past.  Anyone with any insight into themselves can find reasons why they don’t deserve anything from God and so the assurance of His grace, covering this life and the next,  is something we can all celebrate.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Pierced Ears.

They say that with regard to your general health and well-being you should choose your parents carefully.   It seems that so much ill-health, particularly heart disease, has a genetic base.  So with that in mind I suppose I should be grateful with  my parents lived well into their eighties.  I can’t say that their quality of life was the best as they became more and more dependent on others and there was a particular problem with deafness.   That was very frustrating for them and for everyone around them.  I have to confess to a degree of impatience having to repeat things over and over again.  
Someone has suggested to me that part of that was not being able to accept what they had become, that I was reacting against this inevitable deterioration in people I loved.   That may well be.  The thing is, I am now getting a taste of what it must have been like for them.  Last week, at a function I couldn’t make out what people were saying at my table unless they were sitting next to me.  I found myself frequently nodding to someone as  she was speaking to me and I don’t know what I was agreeing with.   I put this down to a lot of background noise but then I was always good at denial.  When I go to the movies I am missing chunks of dialogue.  The subtitles go on when watching certain TV programs. Just yesterday, being served in Starbucks, I had to ask the girl to repeat herself three times.  (She was asking my name so that she could write it on my cup!)

I know that many people who have good hearing have a problem with modern acting.  Was it the BBC’s ‘Jamaica Inn‘ that received complaints about the cast’s mumbling?   And Christian Bale in the recent Batman trilogy.  Why did he have to whisper all the time?  So there is an  issue here but I can’t escape it.  I am definitely getting deaf.

Spiritual deafness is a huge problem in the Bible.  Paul Simon sang of ‘people hearing without listening’.  That sums up much of the experience of the people of Israel in the Hebrew Bible.  They hear God’s Word but they either ignore it or screen it out so that it is never put into practice.  The prophets continually roared out the command ‘Hear, O Israel’.  If the nation was to realize the vision of being God’s people on earth then first of all she had to focus on and embrace His Truth.  

Jesus faced the same challenge.  People had spiritually bunged up the channels through which God could speak to them and turn their lives around.  He said: ‘He who has ears to hear let him hear.’  

It has been good to have a moan about my diminishing hearing but of greater importance is my willingness to hear in a deeper sense.  The Psalmist once wrote: 

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but my ears you have pierced;
burnt offerings and sin offerings
you did not require.’  (Psalm 40: 6)


This is a familiar theme.  God is not impressed by the externals of religion unless they flow from a heart devoted to Him.  They way to that is to have ‘pierced’ ears.  No not in a decorative sense but in the sense in having ears that have been penetrated by God’s Word, ears that have been a channel of His truth,  ears that have been the medium for that truth to be established in our hearts.  

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Famous In Heaven.

There has been an unusually high number of famous people who have died since the beginning of the year.  In early January there was David Bowie and Alan Rickman and last week Victoria Wood and Prince.  And in  between quite a few other notable people.  

Someone has suggested that part of the reason for this is that there are more famous people than there used to be.  At one time the only people who were known world-wide were in the movies.  But then came television and  the internet and social media and men and women in all walks of life become household names.  In 1968 the artist Andy Warhol said: ‘In the future everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes.’  We might just be seeing that happening. 

It was possible to be famous thousands of year ago.  There is a king who is mentioned in the Bible, Solomon, who lived many years before Jesus.  Solomon was remarkable for his scholarship, his wisdom and state-craft and he was known beyond the bounds of his own country.  People would travel hundreds of miles to make contact with him and benefit from his gifts.  Jesus became famous in his own country.  His public life only lasted for about three years but wherever He travelled people would come to be healed of their diseases  and to hear His teaching.  

If they listened to His teaching they would understand that life wasn’t just about making a name for yourself.  The important thing was living a life that acknowledged God and that was obedient to values that flowed from God.  Jesus spoke about how God was seeking to overcome everything that was cruel and painful and unjust.  He was seeking to build a Kingdom on earth where love and justice and peace would be established.  And he was seeking to do this through people who would accept His values and work towards the vision of a renewed earth. 

The way Jesus saw this working was not in a spectacular way but in quiet ways that may never hit the headlines.  He told a story about the end of human history when He would return to the earth and God’s great Kingdom would finally be established.  That was the moment when He would gather to Himself all those who had shown in their lives the values of the Kingdom.  Who were they?  They were the ones who had fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, provided hospitality for strangers.  They were the ones who clothed the naked, cared for the sick, visited people in prison.  

These are things that go on every day in so many societies largely unnoticed.  They won’t bring you world-wide fame or win you an award or get you an invite to a chat-show  but Jesus saw in all this the evidence that God was working in the world to bring renewal and hope.  So we should never underestimate the power of kindness towards others who are struggling,  and never mind if it never gets noticed or acknowledged.  You are famous in the eyes of God.    


Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Living The Vision

Recently I was thinking about the Church and how it has held me from my earliest days.  I suppose it began with a sense of belonging.   Sunday was the day I went to Church and there were people there who were kind and thoughtful.  And they seemed interested in me.  Always asking what I wanted to be when I grew up.  At that time my horizons were limited to becoming a legend with a sporting institution not far from where I lived but other ideas popped into my head from time to time.

 There were the usual misdemeanours with my pals in Sunday School.   One teacher told me years later that myself and my pal Eddie nearly drove him to distraction every week.  Little did he know that Eddie was destined to be his future son-in-law and that his partner in mischief would be at his side on his wedding day as his Best Man. 

There came a day, however, when a teacher at school who led the Scripture Union brought Jesus to life for me and stressed how important it was for everyone to ask Him into their lives.   That impressed me and in time made me think of the Church in a different way.  It was the place where we learned about Him and His teaching.   It was from that place we would go to tell His story, share His love, and bring about change in the world through lives that were changed.   The Church wasn’t a building or a club or an organisation.  It was a dynamic movement of people whose foundation was God’s Word, whose energy was the Holy Spirit, whose purpose was God’s great plan to renew the earth. 

That is the vision that has kept me going through the years.  I am sure the same vision was before those who formed Milngavie Parish Church when it was established 175 years ago.   So many things have happened since then on a global scale that have challenged faith, not to mention the personal heartaches that individuals have had to endure.   So many things have happened that have threatened the unity and peace of the Church.    But we are still here, living the vision, telling the story, sharing the love. 

The diary of a Free Church minister, Rev Murdoch Campbell, was published recently.  As he was nearing the end of his life in 1965 he wrote this:

'There are times when the Church of God looks as if it had perished, but how glorious and astonishing is God's power in giving her an instant resurrection and clothing her with power! In the very hour her enemies rejoice over her decay, powerlessness and death she springs to life, "terrible as an army with banners." (Song of Songs 6: 10)'.


175 years behind us, an unknown future before us, we stand on this faith.