31 May 2020
Luke 1 39-45
Mary visits Elizabeth
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’
Treated with honour
Having learned from the angel that she will give birth to the Son of God, Mary hurries to visit her pregnant relative Elizabeth. The conversation suggests Jesus as more important than John. It also shows God already at work to overturn the world as it existed at that moment in time. The spotlight shines on Mary and Elizabeth, two women through whom God has chosen to begin the transformation of the world.
Though Luke clearly signals that the unborn child’s leaping is prompted by the Spirit, it is Elizabeth, John’s mother, who takes on the role of prophet by speaking the prophetic words “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear” Furthermore, through the Spirit she knows who Mary’s child will be, for she calls Mary “the mother of my Lord
Elizabeth greeted Mary with honour, and by doing so she overturns social expectations. Mary is an unmarried pregnant woman and Elizabeth knows from her own experience the cost of being shamed and excluded. In her culture a woman’s role in life was to bear children, so as an elderly infertile wife she had endured a lifetime of being treated as a failure. By being pregnant God had reversed her social status and emphasis Gods ability and his amazing grace.
So the pregnancy that might have brought Mary shame brings joy and honour instead. When Elizabeth welcomes Mary, she practices the same kind of inclusive love that Jesus will show throughout his life and his ministry. And like these women we too are blessed to have God in our life and the knowledge that he has come to free us from sin. Like these two women we belong to a community that supports each other as we hope and wait. Especially in these strange times.
Let us pray. Father God as we come to another Sunday, another Sabbath we remember your church today. As we are scattered in our own homes and in our own community we know that your church is wherever your people are praising and we praise you today. We pray today for all the people who we invite into our lives through social media, the Internet and television. People who have taken the time to share your word to us while we sit in our own homes. We pray too for Ramsay and John who carry on and share their thoughts and your scriptures each week while our church buildings are closed. And of course we pray for those of your flock who may, at this time, feel vulnerable and alone. May your Spirit fill them with the love and confidence to carry on while we make progress in what’s happening in our towns and cities. Amen
30 May 2020
Matthew 5 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount
5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I read yesterday that one of the big criticisms of The Bible is that it is no longer relevant. It is full of rules and advice that is irrelevant and out of date. There are criticisms too of the language used. People say the KJV is not easy to understand and other translations are misleading. Personally I think the language used in the KJV is beautiful and I think some of the translations are great for Bible Studies and great too for injecting some fresh understanding. I could fill a book about the Beatitudes and what they mean for us and what the background is but today I thought I would address the critics about irrelevance and poor translations. I know I go on a lot about Eugene Peterson and his translation of the Bible but just for a moment think about what’s going on in your life today and the “ relevance” and read his translation of Matthew 5
Reading from Verse 4
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds!
Read that last bit again “ All heaven applauds” and that applause is for you and me. That applause is for the pain and the sorrow as well as the joy and the triumphs. That applause is for the person going through all of this alone as well as the big families living under the one roof in lockdown. That applause is because you are special…….Amen
29 May 2020
Romans 8:14-17 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to son ship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
And so (as we read in John and in Acts) after the promise of eternal life and through the gift of the Holy Spirit we can call him Father and we can call ourselves Gods children. In Israel’s wilderness God went before them every day in a pillar of cloud but now it’s the Holy Spirit that provides our leadership. But there is one difference and that is we are not to become slaves to the law, Christ has freed us from slavery as well as sin.
The scripture then uses the word “ adopted” and when you think about the true meaning of those words it tells us that we have been welcomed into the family of God as a full member. I especially like the story of the mother of two children – one natural born and the other adopted. When someone asked, “Which child is adopted?” the mother gazed for a moment into the distance and then answered, “I can’t remember.”
So we have a relationship with God that enables us to call him Abba, Papa, Father. We can live as Gods children, led by the Holy Spirit and enjoy the full rights and privileges as sons and daughters. Our inheritance will be unbelievable through the good times and especially through the bad times. Amen
28 May 2020
Acts 2 New International Version (NIV)
The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.
…..even to the remotest parts of the earth
In Acts chapter 1 Jesus instructed the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father and that they would be “ baptized with the Holy Spirit” and they would receive power to be Christ’s witnesses even in the most remotest parts of the earth.
Just as Jesus’s ministry would depend on the Holy Spirit, the disciples too would benefit greatly from The Holy Spirit working alongside them with their work on earth.
And so in Acts chapter 2, we are witnesses to a historical event signifying a new period in God's dealing with His people. It is the dawning of the age of The Holy Spirit where people would be empowered to witness to all nations even in the remotest parts of the earth.
And today that’s what this all means for you and me. God is equipping His church with the power of His spirit so that he can be glorified throughout the whole of the earth. And the earth that was created by Him will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of The Lord.
And that’s up to us now! We have to bear witness to the crucified Christ and to show people that a spirit filled church is the answer to all problems that exist today.
Let us pray
27 May 2020
John 3:31-36 New International Version (NIV)
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
You could fill up a whole library building with the books that have written about people who have gone to heaven and come back to tell the tale. I’ve even bought a few to my shame.
John is telling us in this text that only Jesus can testify about heaven, because he is telling us what he has seen and heard. In other words he is the key witness to all of this. Nowhere in this text does Jesus use the words “ I’ve heard” or “ I think” or “ it has been said”. No speculation or theorizing Jesus is speaking the very words of God and as far as being a witness he is 100% reliable and certain.
Eugene Peterson translates this as
“31-33 “The One who comes from above is head and shoulders over other messengers from God. The earthborn is earthbound and speaks earth language; the heaven born is in a league of his own. He sets out the evidence of what he saw and heard in heaven. No one wants to deal with these facts. But anyone who examines this evidence will come to stake his life on this: that God himself is the truth.”
John then repeats the promise from verse 16 in verse 36 “ whoever believes the Son has eternal life” which means if we accept the authority of Jesus unquestionably and trust in him with our lives has a complete life and forever. Petterson goes on to remind us
“And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn’t see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that.”
Let's remember the great hymn “ Jesus is Lord”
Jesus Is Lord! Creation’s Voice Proclaims It,
For By His Power Each Tree And Flower
Was Planned And Made.
Jesus Is Lord! The Universe Declares It,
Sun, Moon And Stars In Heaven
Cry, ‘Jesus Is Lord!’
Jesus Is Lord! Yet From His Throne Eternal
In Flesh He Came To Die In Pain
On Calvary’s Tree.
Jesus Is Lord! From Him All Life Proceeding,
Yet Gave His Life A Ransom
Thus Setting Us Free.
Jesus Is Lord! O’er Sin The Mighty Conqueror,
From Death He Rose, And All His Foes
Shall Own His Name.
Jesus Is Lord! God sent His Holy Spirit
To Show By Works Of Power
That Jesus Is Lord.
26 May 2020
1 Peter 4:7-11 The Message (MSG)
7-11 Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!
Someone recently commented that I live by the KISS concept,( really?) which apparently is “Keep it simple son!”. Well I don’t know about that but I do know that living with stress in your life dictates that a simple life is an easier life, rather than one that is bogged down with complicated issues and demands.
I read somewhere that one of the keys to an excellent life and an excellent church is simplicity and that is by doing a few simple things that can attain excellence. Many people and churches are not experiencing excellence because they are trying to accomplish too many things, and through a lack of urgency the important things are being set aside.
Today’s reading asks three things of us. All of these three things demand a sense of simplicity and yet these three things are the backbone of our Christian lives.
These three things are
Prayer (verse 7) “Stay wide-awake in prayer.” We should pray with a sense of vigilance, being aware of what and who we are praying for. More importantly keep it simple. Don’t send yourself to sleep with your prayers, keep it alive with the spirit within you.
Love (verses 8-9). “Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything” Loving each other gives us a sense of purpose, makes us and others feel good and creates a better world. Simple love, without trying to emulate anyone from the pages of a magazine or the chapters of a novel
And finally. Serve (verses 10-11) “Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if its words, let it be God’s words; if it is help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, “
They say the secret to good mental health is routine. Pray, Love and Serve and we will not go wrong. Amen
25 May 2020
Peter 4:1-6 again from The Message (MSG)
Learn to Think Like Him
4 1-2 Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.
3-5 You’ve already put in your time in that God-ignorant way of life, partying night after night, a drunken and profligate life. Now it’s time to be done with it for good. Of course, your old friends don’t understand why you don’t join in with the old gang anymore. But you don’t have to give an account to them. They’re the ones who will be called on the carpet—and before God himself.
6 Listen to the Message. It was preached to those believers who are now dead, and yet even though they died (just as all people must), they will still get in on the life that God has given in Jesus.
Get on with your short Life
Brian Kennedy is an Irish singer who has spent his life touring with Van Morrison. Alongside that, he has had his own career and at the height of his career he released a song “ you raise me up” which he sang at George Bes's funeral.
Just after 9/11 he was in America and couldn’t believe how things had changed. The people he knew were worrying about what was going on and what had happened. They were suffering and had made it into an art form.
Their life was slowly grinding to a halt. In response Kennedy wrote a song which became popular amongst his fans called “ Get on with your short life”, a warning to all that our time on earth is temporary.
I think that this passage in Peter was written for people who were suffering for their faith, who were known for their past and didn’t want to be remembered for it or by it. The words of this chapter ( to me) are saying “ you’ve be been there, you’ve done that but don’t listen to them. Instead listen to The Message, the words of God.
But now get on with your short life.
There is no point looking back. What we are going through at the moment will improve eventually, we have to show patience. Its human nature to look forward and plan things.
But what can we take from today’s reading? Four words :
“ Listen to the message”
That message tells us “ you are loved”.
I have a card on my desk and it never fails to make me smile. It’s a quote by Max Lucado
“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning... Face it, friend. He is crazy about you! ”
Let's have a good day. Amen
24 May 2020
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.
To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
Sometimes Words speak for themselves
If you are familiar with Dessert Island Discs you will be aware that as well as their favourite music the person gets to take The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Bible. It always annoys me when some of the participants feel the need to say “ Oh I wouldn’t want the Bible” and I can hear myself saying “ well you're getting it anyway!”
Today’s reading again from the lectionary, probably planned for publication a few years ago. It’s a letter written mainly for the new Christians during the times of The New Testament. But on this day, that is Sunday 24th May 2020 has anything from the Bible ever been more relevant for us in Milngavie.
Eugene Peterson translates the first part of our reading as
“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” He then goes on to translate the reading as
“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good.
Sometimes in life its best to say nothing and let the words speak for themselves I hope they speak for you today. Amen
23 May 2020
22 May 2020
The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.
The seas have lifted up, Lord,
the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea –
the Lord on high is mighty. Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
holiness adorns your house
for endless days.
Trust and Obey (still)
This is Psalm 93. Yesterday was Ascension Thursday when we read about Jesus ascending to his throne. Today we are reminded about God our creator “ robed in majesty and armed with strength” These are powerful words to describe a powerful God. The psalmist reminds us of the power of the sea, being lifted up and the pounding of the waves. The thunderous noise it makes, the impact it has as it crashes to the shore
But we know of a man who could calm the stormiest waters, who could direct the fisherman to their biggest catch and then defy nature by walking on the sea.
I’ve talked recently about the” constant” Christ in our lives never changing, always available and there for all.
The Psalm ends telling us the Lord's statutes stand firm. I had to have a think about what that means (statutes?) I read somewhere it means that by Loving God in such a way everything else will follow. We need to listen to His voice, focus on his commandments and walk in Gods ways. Amen
21 May 2020
While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me;
For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
20 May 2020
John 16:16-24 The Message (MSG)
16 “In a day or so you’re not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will see me.”
Joy Like a River Overflowing
17-18 That stirred up a hornet’s nest of questions among the disciples: “What’s he talking about: ‘In a day or so you’re not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will see me’? And, ‘Because I’m on my way to the Father’? What is this ‘day or so’? We don’t know what he’s talking about.”
19-20 Jesus knew they were dying to ask him what he meant, so he said, “Are you trying to figure out among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘In a day or so you’re not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will see me’? Then fix this firmly in your minds: You’re going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You’ll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness.
21-23 “When a woman gives birth, she has a hard time, there’s no getting around it. But when the baby is born, there is joy in the birth. This new life in the world wipes out memory of the pain. The sadness you have right now is similar to that pain, but the coming joy is also similar. When I see you again, you’ll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you. You’ll no longer be so full of questions.
23-24 “This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!
The late Scottish preacher, Alexander Whyte, observed that we all tend to hang heavy weights on the thinnest wires. He meant that we hang our happiness on fragile things that easily and quickly can be taken from us: health, friends, children, jobs, homes, or possessions. These are all blessings from the Lord. But they sometimes fail to give us lasting joy, because they’re all so uncertain and “transitory”.
At the last birthday celebration of the Queen, a famous Christian was heard on TV saying that the Queen was the one “ constant” in his life, she had been around for so long as a public figure and someone he admired. I remember looking at the screen waiting for next bit, but it never came.
You see I expected him to say “ as well as God and my friend Jesus Christ. But it was never said. Maybe I was being naïve but I became disappointed in his comments.
The disciples are confused over what Jesus is saying. They will have sad times but that doesn’t compare to the joy that will come later. The pain will be overwhelming just like childbirth but as soon as that passes there will be joy untold.
This joy will come from something that is not temporary or a passing phase. Peterson translates this as a “ joy that no one can rob you of”
I’ve said it before but I love Deuteronomy 28 v 15 “ And it came to pass” and that’s the reassurance we have in our lives today. This too will pass. Tough times, trying times sad times and hopeless times they cannot compare with the joy and the peace that passes all understanding. And that one constant thing in our lives?
Is God. Always there, always available, never too busy for a chat, never engaged ….always there.
19 May 2020
18 May 2020
Exodus 13:17-22 New International Version (NIV)
Crossing the Sea
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.
20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
God's people are on the move
One of my hobbies has got to be driving. Finding places out of the way, and discovering lovely things (normally coffee shops!). My dad used to say “ how did you find this place Alex?” That was easy as I had taken the scenic route.
People today are too busy, they want to get from A to B in the quickest time possible. Some people don’t like the scenic route as it takes longer, sometimes its quite difficult, certainly not the most efficient but its usually beautiful in the long run.
I think God took his people on the scenic route, on the desert road towards the Red sea. And through all of this, he gave them guidance in the form of a cloud of dust by day and a pillar of fire by night.
God was teaching his people the importance of trust. “Trust and obey for there’s no other way”
When God’s Son came to this earth and took on human flesh, God led Him on “the scenic route.” It was the most difficult way imaginable, the way of the cross. When Jesus began to tell the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the Jewish leaders and be killed and raised up on the third day, they thought that He had lost it!
If you are finding the route long and hard, rest assured because God is in front of us giving us light in the darkest of corners. All we have to do is Trust ( and obey) Amen
17 May 2020
16 May 2020
Genesis 8:13-19 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.
15 Then God said to Noah, 16 ‘Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.’
18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds – everything that moves on land – came out of the ark, one kind after another.
How many times have people said to you “ you must be mad !” or better still how many times have you said to someone else “ you must be mad?” Sometimes people astound you when they show grit determination and tenacity. Sometimes there’s just an odd notion behind their action but sometimes their actions are driven by God.
I remember many many years ago ( and I hope they don’t mind me saying ) when I heard about the Ferguson family were going to Japan I thought “ really?” and of course off they went and look at the life and experience they have had since then.
People can be an excellent example of faith. Faith in God. Faith in what God is telling them. Faith in their ability to deliver the goods for God.
We all know the story of Noah. His story covers many topics and examples of faith. But there is also another thing that it covers and that is “ obedience”. In our passage today, it wasn’t until God spoke did Noah remove the coverings protecting them in the Ark. It wasn’t until God spoke did they take possession of their and renewed world.
Today as we are bombarded with information it is important to remain obedient to God. And when all is said and done we will be like Noah and take off the covering and look at the new land, the new church. And of course all of this will happen when God is ready. Amen
15 May 2020
Acts 27:13-38 The Message (MSG)
13-15 When a gentle southerly breeze came up, they weighed anchor, thinking it would be smooth sailing. But they were no sooner out to sea than a gale-force wind, the infamous nor’easter, struck. They lost all control of the ship. It was a cork in the storm.
16-17 We came under the lee of the small island named Clauda, and managed to get a lifeboat ready and reef the sails. But rocky shoals prevented us from getting close. We only managed to avoid them by throwing out drift anchors.
18-20 Next day, out on the high seas again and badly damaged now by the storm, we dumped the cargo overboard. The third day the sailors lightened the ship further by throwing off all the tackle and provisions. It had been many days since we had seen either sun or stars. Wind and waves were battering us unmercifully, and we lost all hope of rescue.
21-22 With our appetite for both food and life long gone, Paul took his place in our midst and said, “Friends, you really should have listened to me back in Crete. We could have avoided all this trouble and trial. But there’s no need to dwell on that now. From now on, things are looking up! I can assure you that there’ll not be a single drowning among us, although I can’t say as much for the ship—the ship itself is doomed.
23-26 “Last night God’s angel stood at my side, an angel of this God I serve, saying to me, ‘Don’t give up, Paul. You’re going to stand before Caesar yet—and everyone sailing with you is also going to make it.’ So, dear friends, take heart. I believe God will do exactly what he told me. But we’re going to shipwreck on some island or other.”
27-29 On the fourteenth night, adrift somewhere on the Adriatic Sea, at about midnight the sailors sensed that we were approaching land. Sounding, they measured a depth of 120 feet, and shortly after that ninety feet. Afraid that we were about to run aground, they threw out four anchors and prayed for daylight.
30-32 Some of the sailors tried to jump ship. They let down the lifeboat, pretending they were going to set out more anchors from the bow. Paul saw through their guise and told the centurion and his soldiers, “If these sailors don’t stay with the ship, we’re all going down.” So the soldiers cut the lines to the lifeboat and let it drift off.
33-34 With dawn about to break, Paul called everyone together and proposed breakfast: “This is the fourteenth day we’ve gone without food. None of us has felt like eating! But I urge you to eat something now. You’ll need strength for the rescue ahead. You’re going to come out of this without even a scratch!”
35-38 He broke the bread, gave thanks to God, passed it around, and they all ate heartily—276 of us, all told! With the meal finished and everyone full, the ship was further lightened by dumping the grain overboard.
Fastened to the Rock.
I was listening to the radio yesterday and I heard someone asking a young parish vicar this question “ can we honestly say that anything good has come out of this pandemic ?. I don’t think there was a second between the question and his answer. His answer was confident, useful and very reassuring.
He said that when we are going through a storm we tend to focus on ourselves and what's going wrong but it was obvious to him that a lot of people today were focusing on others. The people that were at risk, the elder statesmen who needed special care and attention and the heroes and heroines from every walk of life who were still working and avoiding society to grind to a halt
We learn that Paul did not keep Gods encouragement to himself, he shared it with every single person on board, pagans and prisoners among them.
Today's reading, like the message from the young vicar yesterday is powerful useful and reassuring.
We can encourage others by being with them in the storm. It is said that often God puts people into the storm for the good of others.
We can encourage others by praying for them. When faced with rejection Paul put his feelings aside and prayed that they would all be delivered.
We can encourage others by ministering to their needs ( and yes, from a distance ) Paul encouraged the men to eat food so that they would have the strength to carry on. Remember our assistance does not have to be spiritual all the time.
And finally, we can encourage others by reminding them of Gods greatness.” You're going to come out of this without a scratch” Paul said. Now that’s not to say that we will all come out of this pandemic unblemished. But we can remind each other of Our God, Our Church, Our Fellowship and the fact that we have an anchor that keeps the soul “steadfast and sure while the billows roll”. Amen
14 May 2020
Acts 27:1-12 from Eugene Petersons The Message
A Storm at Sea
27 1-2 As soon as arrangements were complete for our sailing to Italy, Paul and a few other prisoners were placed under the supervision of a centurion named Julius, a member of an elite guard. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium that was bound for Ephesus and ports west. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, went with us.
3 The next day we put in at Sidon. Julius treated Paul most decently—let him get off the ship and enjoy the hospitality of his friends there.
4-8 Out to sea again, we sailed north under the protection of the northeast shore of Cyprus because winds out of the west were against us, and then along the coast westward to the port of Myra. There the centurion found an Egyptian ship headed for Italy and transferred us on board. We ran into bad weather and found it impossible to stay on course. After much difficulty, we finally made it to the southern coast of the island of Crete and docked at Good Harbour (appropriate name!).
9-10 By this time we had lost a lot of time. We had passed the autumn equinox, so it would be stormy weather from now on through the winter, too dangerous for sailing. Paul warned, “I see only disaster ahead for cargo and ship—to say nothing of our lives!—if we put out to sea now.”
12,11 But it was not the best harbour for staying the winter. Phoenix, a few miles further on, was more suitable. The centurion set Paul’s warning aside and let the ship captain and the ship owner talk him into trying for the next harbour.
We learn in some detail about an incredible storm that took place on Paul's journey to Rome and as always there’s something to learn from the scriptures today. And as we read through this we will learn how NOT to react to the storms of life and there are even more lessons to be learned if you decide to read further into the chapter.
Tom Wright tells us in his book on Acts that Luke tells us specifics about where exactly they sailed. When they left Caesarea they travelled along the coast of Asia, around the island of Cyprus. The next day they landed at Sidon, where the centurion Julius allowed Paul to go to his friends so that they could provide for his needs. Then they sailed on to Myra where the centurion found a larger grain ship that was sailing for Italy and transferred all 276 passengers onto this vessel. Verse 7 tells us that from there they made slow headway for many days and they finally made it to Cnidus. Because the wind wasn’t cooperating they sailed to the lee of Crete (which meant that the island was hit by the wind first and they weren’t as affected by it). They continued to move on, still with difficulty and arrived at Fair Havens. But Luke explains in verse 9 that a lot of time had passed and it was now past the Day of Atonement, which meant it was late September or October and past the time of year they should be sailing. So Paul told them in verse 10 that they should just stay in Fair Havens for the winter because the voyage was going to be disastrous if they continued on. But the centurion decided to listen to the pilot and the owner of the ship rather than Paul and they decided to sail on to Phoenix, which was a better harbour to spend winter in. And this is where we start learning from the negative example of the men on the boat.
So from this reading today what can we learn?
- Listen to God and seek his guidance and above all else obey him
- Sometimes we need to “ block out” the worldly advice of others and even ignore the majority vote and take matters into our own hands and pray. These actions will lead us back to number one above.
- John Ortberg has a great book called “ If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat” and it's all about our confidence in God. Negativity can be a killer but confidence can be the rocket fuel that we all need.
There is a lot of advice going on all around us today and it seems every day it changes. But sometimes the best thing is to shut it all down, find a quiet space and just sit. Listen to God and tell him about your day. Amen
13 May 2020
John 14 27-31
.27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
I read an article yesterday in the newspapers that said that 25% of the people questioned said that they had “prayed for the first time”. All of these people said they did so because the believed in God. Most of them said that the prayers gave them Hope above everything else.
These words of Jesus in John chapter 14 were said just hours before he was going to be crucified. But what was in the forefront of his mind was those he was leaving behind. He was going to make sure that there would be others to look after his followers. He would not leave them “orphaned” and this message he was leaving behind was not from him but from his Father. He was giving them Hope. He was leaving them with Peace and that Peace is still with us today.
Damien Hirst the artist has painted a rainbow as well as a rainbow heart. Its seen as a sign of Peace. We think of Noah and the ark and the rainbow that he saw, And if you think about it we only see the rainbow after the rain has gone and there are brighter days ahead.
Yesterday was International Nurses day. Hirst wanted to thank the NHS staff for what they are doing all around the country. Today children are putting up rainbows on their windows waiting for better days when they can go back out with their friends and meet up with other members of their families, especially their grandparents.
As long as we have a Saviour we have hope.
12 May 2020
Proverbs 3 5-12
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[a]
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
Honour the Lord with your wealth,
with the first fruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.
Just a spoonful of sugar
The meaning of the word proverb, according to the online dictionary is a short, well-known pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice. I’m not sure that’s how I would describe the proverbs of the Old Testament but what I do know is that they give us rich medicinal advice coupled with some harsh realities.
I once heard someone sing this proverb to the tune of “ just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” and afterwards when I thought about it, this all made perfect sense ( in a broad sense)
The psalmist is telling us that we should always put God first, and in every sense we will benefit by this action. The dangers are clear, don’t try and figure out everything on your own. Don’t assume you know it all, and above all else don’t resent God's discipline.
The benefits are clear, he will make our paths clear, keep us healthy in body and mind and our barns will be fit to burst with all the necessities in life. And why does He do this? Well just like the father who loves his child we are in a loving relationship that works two ways and does require us to knuckle down now and again. At the beginning I said a proverb contains the general truth or a piece of advice. Our parables are filled with Gods truth, his fruitfulness and his loving hand in our lives. Amen
11 May 2020
10 May 2020
09 May 2020
Acts 12 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
Peter’s miraculous escape from prison
12 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, ‘Put on your clothes and sandals.’ And Peter did so. ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me,’ the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.’
12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognised Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’
15 ‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel.’
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. ‘Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,’ he said, and then he left for another place.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Peter is going to be executed, so his friends thought. So they gathered in prayer. Then Peter's chains fall off and he turns up at this friends door. But they thought he must be an angel after all he should be dead. But behind that door they had all gathered to pray.
Finding peace during a struggle, is like trying to find calm in a hurricane. But just like there is calm in the eye of the hurricane, we can find peace and calm right in the middle of our struggles. Simply pray!
Tom Wright tells us that “Prayer works even when we mess up the words. Prayer works, even when you don’t know what to pray! When you don’t have the words to pray, you can pray in the Spirit, The Holy Spirit knows exactly what to pray for you and it works!
Prayer gives God free reign to do whatever it takes, to bring about not just your desired outcome, but His will in the situation, which works everything for your good!
That in itself is a miracle. And this story of Peter is yet another miracle all made possible through prayer. Even today God is working and changing lives so prayer in these darkest of days is a priority, it's your first resort not your last. Some people say “ I don’t know what to pray for. I don’t know how to pray” And if that’s the case you are not alone many people feel like that.
There is a great hymn that we sing in church
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him King of glory now;
this the Father's pleasure, that we call him Lord,
who from the beginning was the mighty word.
These words ring out and remind us that we should pray that we should glorify his name and exactly who were are praying to. The Lord who from the beginning was the word
There's a story about a heart-broken little girl who began to kneel and pour out her heart to God in her local church. She did not know what to say. As she wept, she began to remember what her father had told her, "God knows your needs even before you pray, and he can answer when you don’t even know for what to ask." So she began to say her alphabet.
A concerned adult from that church came beside her and heard her sobbing and saying her ABC’s and inquired what exactly she was trying to do. The little girl told this caring adult, "I’m praying to God from my heart." But the adult answered, "It sounds to me more like you are saying the alphabet!"
"Yes," she said, "But God knows more about what I need than I do, and he can take all these letters and arrange them in just the right way to answer my prayer.
Lives were changed in the bible through prayer and all these years later lives are still being changed. So let us pray….
Father in heaven we come to you this day and we ask that you take the words from our heart and make sense of them and turn them into my prayer. I know you are an awesome God and you already know all my needs so today I ask for calm and confidence so that I can share this peace and this love that you give to us in abundance. Amen
08 May 2020
Acts 11 New International Version (NIV)
Peter Explains His Actions
11 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was.6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with[a]water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
It could be said that this is just a repeat of the previous chapter. I read somewhere if you see something repeated in the bible then we should take notice. In this reading this morning there is an important lesson to be learned. Our text shows how God changed the thinking of these Christians on a matter that was essential for the spread of the gospel. If the Gentiles had been required to adopt Jewish rituals and ceremonies to be saved, the gospel would not have spread around the Gentile world as it did, and it would be a different “gospel.” The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include this story twice so that the Jewish believers especially would see that salvation is not a matter of adopting Jewish rituals, but rather of God saving people of every race through faith in Christ alone.
God had to change the thinking of His people and in just the same, sometimes, he needs to change the way we think. Sometimes the way we think, will stop people coming into our churches. It gives people the opportunity to label us as part of some exclusive club.
Verse 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
07 May 2020
Acts 10 verses 1-8 and then 17-23
Cornelius Calls for Peter
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
….17, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
My very first General Assembly was a controversial one. There were two people going forward into the ministry and each had served a prison sentence. One for murder and one for fraud. In the small group of people I had to be with in the assembly there was certainly a fair bit of prejudice, each giving their own reason why these men should not be in Edinburgh that year.
Once again in the Bible we come across a story of opposites. In one corner we have Cornelius a centurion gentile and in the other corner Peter a Jewish apostle. This might be a story of Prejudice but God is about to bring these two parties together to teach us all a lesson.
It is said we all have a bit of prejudice in our selves, some say it’s a human disposition. We try and pigeon hole people into them, and us to show that we are not a part of their lives. We are all aware of our own prejudices and for most of us we try and work through them. Scripture and prayer are the best two antidotes to prejudice. God is the answer of course to all prejudice.
Thankfully, God works gradually and gently with us in spite of our many shortcomings and sins. He teaches us by putting us in uncomfortable situations, challenging us to be more like Jesus who befriended sinners and those that were prejudiced against.
This passage speaks for itself but the most important verses are verses 47 and 48 when Peter is talking about those originally against God
“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
So we are told that nothing can stand in the way of being baptized. John 3 v16 said that God so loved the world and that in itself should take away all prejudice from our hearts. So today in our prayers we should be praying for all our own prejudices and those that destroy the world that we are living in. A hymn also that brings this to mind is
Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood
Would you o'er evil a victory win?
There's wonderful power in the blood
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb
Would you be free from your passion and pride
There's power in the blood, power in the blood
Come for a cleansing to Calvary's tide
There's wonderful power in the blood
Let us pray
Heavenly Father, it has been a strange time for us as we come into another week of lockdown – a time when we have been prevented from meeting Sunday by Sunday to listen to your Word and to have fellowship with our brothers and sisters. We have also been restricted in our ability to travel to places near and far, in our socialising with family and friends, and in our visits to parks and restaurants. We confess Father that we miss these important times and pleasures in our lives, but we remember our Brothers and Sisters in the Faith, in countries where the regime is harsh, who have endured and been denied so much more than we have because of their faith and trust in You. We pray that you will be close to them at this time. We give you thanks Father that it was always Your plan that when Jesus, your Son, gave His life on the Cross it was not only for the Jew but it was for the peoples of all Nations, then, now and in the future. We know that this was a lesson that Peter needed to understand – and so we give you thanks that because of him and the other apostles that the Gospel was preached throughout the world. Thank you for making us part of your plan – Amen.
06 May 2020
Acts 9 from verse 19
Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,[a] but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
One of the things that I think about is “ will the church ever be the same?” after the lockdown is over. Will the changes be too big to cope with. In fact it could be that over a period we will slip into the new norm as if it never happened.
Things according to Luke in the book of Acts are changing constantly. Stephen is stoned to death, Philip is converted and everyone is on the move. Meanwhile there appears to be a madman called Saul who stirring up trouble. No sooner is he doing that when we find him in verse
20 preaching “ that Jesus is the Son of God”. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name?
So maybe this latest change is too much to swallow by the believers in Christ. One thing that has dawned on me since the lockdown is that God still wants us to serve Him and his church in whatever situation we find ourselves in and whatever changes we have made.
Paul teaches us that we must deepen our roots and prepare for the big comeback for it will be even more important to bear witness to Christ the King, than were before. I think there will be people that will tell us that the church has no priority over other outlets so we should be ready and face any opposition or rejection. And be like Barnabus who took Saul under his wing and convinced others confidently and without question. And as I think of these things I am immediately drawn to the Getty’s hymn
O Church Arise
O church, arise and put your armour on;
Hear the call of Christ our captain;
For now the weak can say that they are strong
In the strength that God has given.
With shield of faith and belt of truth
We'll stand against the devil's lies;
An army bold whose battle cry is "Love!"
Reaching out to those in darkness.
Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole
We will fight with faith and valour.
When faced with trials on every side,
We know the outcome is secure;
And Christ will have the prize for which He died—
An inheritance of nations.
05 May 2020
9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
5 ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 6 ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
7 The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus, there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.
11 The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’
13 ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
The chip van man
I think it was in 1992 that there was the Billy Graham Campaign in Scotland. I volunteered to work in the campaign and did so, with the great St Paul's Parish stalwart Moira MacAllan. I would meet Moira straight from work and we would go for a bag of chips at one of the many food vendors that were around the football stadium. I always remember the man in the chip van telling us how he was “raking it in” with all us folks going to see Bill. I think we would call this man a real Glasgow character both in looks and in his choice of language. For a few nights that week we tried hard not to listen to him as I bought my roll and chips. On the last night of the campaign the caravan was not there and after it was all over Moira and I saw him walking down the road with his daughter and in case you never guessed, he was carrying one of the bibles given out when you walked onto the grass at Billy’s invitation.
The conversion of Paul could fill more books that are in the biggest library the world has to offer. Its all been said in print and will continue to do so for many many years to come. But to me the conversion of Saul tells us that God is able to convert the unlikeliest of people. The bible tells us this and history shows us. Just look at people like John Newton slave trader and convert who told us “ I once was blind and now I see” (was he telling us about Paul?)
Another thing this reading tells us is that it’s not down to the will of man to seek conversion (or even avoid conversion). I’m sure conversion was the last thing on Saul’s agenda up to a point. All of this is down to the sovereign power of God and no one can escape from that.
Over the past two thousand years, who knows how many people have been converted no one can be sure. But there is one sure thing and that is people are not converted on their merit and what they have done but they are converted through the grace of God and the fellowship that comes from knowing Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
The result then is a conversion from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight.
04 May 2020
Acts 8 reading from verse 26
Philip and the Ethiopian
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
An unusual baptism?
I know that as a child I was “ christened” as they called it then, when I was around three months old. But it's only when both of my parents died that I found a document that said I was “ christened" in Ward 4 of Ruchill Hospital at 02:40 am by the Rev John Macnaughton of St Brides Parish Church Rosevale Street Partick. (All I know is that I had contracted a bad case of Dysentery).
An unusual baptism you could say. As with the story of Philip, we are about to witness an unusual baptism. The man in question is a eunuch and Philip finds him sitting reading Isaiah the prophet.
The man asks Philip to explain the scripture that he is reading and Philip then tells him the good news about Jesus Christ. We are told they saw some water and the eunuch was baptized by Philip. No sooner had that happened when Philip is spirited away and the eunuch never saw him again. Philip reappears in other towns until he reaches Caesarea.
Philip had validation; he was guided at all times by the Holy Spirit. He had explanation. His revealing of the scriptures and sharing the good news led to the salvation of the man he met. The celebration was in the man being baptized.
Philip’s story gives us a prime example of how the gospel smashes through barriers - not only geographical but, more importantly, barriers of racial pride and prejudice, religion, nationalism, and any other barrier that people erect to keep people who are different out of the picture. And all these years later we must learn from the early church as we move forward on our journey of life. Amen
03 May 2020
Acts 8 using Eugene Peterson “The Message” translation.
Saul was right there, congratulating the killers.
8 1-2 That set off a terrific persecution of the church in Jerusalem. The believers were all scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. All, that is, but the apostles. Good and brave men buried Stephen, giving him a solemn funeral—not many dry eyes that day!
3-8 And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home base, the followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God’s action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!
9-11 Previous to Philip’s arrival, a certain Simon had practiced magic in the city, posing as a famous man and dazzling all the Samaritans with his wizardry. He had them all, from little children to old men, eating out of his hand. They all thought he had supernatural powers, and called him “the Great Wizard.” He had been around a long time and everyone was more or less in awe of him.
12-13 But when Philip came to town announcing the news of God’s kingdom and proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ, they forgot Simon and were baptized, becoming believers right and left! Even Simon himself believed and was baptized. From that moment he was like Philip’s shadow, so fascinated with all the God-signs and miracles that he wouldn’t leave Philip’s side.
14-17 When the apostles in Jerusalem received the report that Samaria had accepted God’s Message, they sent Peter and John down to pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Up to this point they had only been baptized in the name of the Master Jesus; the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet fallen on them. Then the apostles laid their hands on them and they did receive the Holy Spirit.
18-19 When Simon saw that the apostles by merely laying on hands conferred the Spirit, he pulled out his money, excited, and said, “Sell me your secret! Show me how you did that! How much do you want? Name your price!”
20-23 Peter said, “To hell with your money! And you along with it. Why, that’s unthinkable—trying to buy God’s gift! You’ll never be part of what God is doing by striking bargains and offering bribes. Change your ways—and now! Ask the Master to forgive you for trying to use God to make money. I can see this is an old habit with you; you reek with money-lust.”
24 “Oh!” said Simon, “pray for me! Pray to the Master that nothing like that will ever happen to me!”
25 And with that, the apostles were on their way, continuing to witness and spread the Message of God’s salvation, preaching in every Samaritan town they passed through on their return to Jerusalem.
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church
Continuing with the many contrasts that Acts brings to us. Stephen has just been stoned to death. A martyr in the true sense of the word. While it’s a time to mourn for the disciples, perhaps even regroup and consider their options, there’s a guy called Saul who is wreaking havoc and persecuting all the believers. Dragging them from their homes and putting them in Jail. Two figures come into the story. First of all there is Simon who Peterson calls a magician. He has everyone in the grip of his hands as he entertains them with his tricks of the trade. The second character is Philip. He comes proclaiming the glory of the Messiah and in doing so heals the sick and cures the lame.
Another contrast here. One man “performs” with his sleight of hand tricks and sorcery. The other is filled with the Holy Spirit and wins over the crowds to a more permanent solution to their lives.
Simon is so enthralled by what Philip has and what he is doing…. he wants to buy it! But the glory of God cannot be bought it has to be lived. It has to be a way of life not a performance. It cannot be a bargaining tool in our approach to God. Simon asks for prayer and hopes that he can live a different life. Meanwhile the disciples scatter to spread the message of Gods salvation.
Maybe you have tried to make a deal with God at some point in your life. I know I have. Maybe, like me, you have been impressed with what other churches have to offer in terms of gizmos and different forms of worship. But the real job of the church (I think) is to spread the word of God and that includes outside the four walls of the church. The last verse of our reading “And with that, the apostles were on their way, continuing to witness and spread the Message of God’s salvation,”
That’s how the church will survive today by being reminded of the relentless journeys of the disciples and their mission to spread the word of God and increase their flock.
This morning let us pray for the church as it is today. In lockdown, with sanctuaries lying empty. But the family of God working on the outside using every tool in the box to continue fellowship and to fuel our hearts through the scripture and keep us amazed in His holy presence.
02 May 2020
Acts Chapter 7
Stephen is being held as he makes a very passionate speech. We pick up that speech from verse 48
48 The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’[l]
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
The Stoning of Stephen
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
When the world gives its worst Christians show their best
Stephen, by accepting Jesus Christ and offering a new covenant is found to be guilty of blaspheming God, Moses the law and the temple. These were considered to be the big four so they brought him to trial before the council. Stephen is able to defend himself confidently and not only that he indicts Israel for the execution of the Messiah.
Someone once said “ when the world gives its worst, the Christian shows their best” So we read that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and all his accusers could do was gnash their teeth, they were speechless in their rage. It’s a good thing to point out here the comparison between the two. Stephen, he was calm and serene and they were grinding their teeth. Then Stephen looked up to heaven. There’s a lesson there. When things get tough…..look up.
Stephen draws their attention” behold” he says “ I see the heavens open and the son of man standing by the right hand of God” And that was the last straw. They dragged him away and stoned him.
And just at that point something interesting happens “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul”. Some say that this showed that Paul was the ringleader and he was the one heading up all the charges.
And while they stoned Stephen “ he kneeled down”. He somehow got himself in the praying position and he cried aloud “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
6Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
I have loved learning more and more about Stephen In this chapter. In the arena of adversity he remained calm. When they looked down on him, he looked up. When they raged and hurled stones, Stephen prayed.
Augustine said “ The church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.
Willie Barclay said, “Saul would never forget the way Stephen had died. The blood of the martyrs had begun to be the seed of the Church” Amen
01 May 2020
Acts 6 from verse 8
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”