David's Blog

Re-opening of the church building - some matters to consider - Midweek Message 5th August

Dear Friends,

I was encouraged yesterday afternoon to receive an email  from the current Moderator of the General Assembly, Martin Fair  which had been sent to Presbytery Clerks, Ministers, OLMs and Auxiliaries, MDS, Interim Moderators and Locums, Readers, the Diaconate, Ministry Candidates & Probationers and Session Clerks in the Church of Scotland. It was calling on all these and the congregations they (we) represent to a Week of Prayer for Church and Country from Monday August 17th to Saturday 22nd. Let me quote you a little of Martin’s reasoning behind this:

While some churches have already re-opened for public worship, most are still considering how best, and when, to do so. The need to navigate our way through the challenges involved and to properly implement the published guidelines is causing a degree of anxiety not seen since the beginning of lockdown. Rightly so, there are all kinds of questions to be answered and systems to be put in place to ensure as much as possible that those who visit our buildings are kept safe. I am enormously grateful to all those who at national, regional and local levels have worked so hard to get us to this point.

 

But while we order supplies of sanitising agents and face coverings, measure our sanctuaries to calculate allowable numbers, and work out how best to handle ‘in church’ worship alongside digital content, we mustn’t miss the opportunity that is now before us to ask the crucial questions of what it is we’re going back to do and how best are we going to do it? Will it be business as usual or might this be an opportunity for us to invite a fresh blowing of the wind of the Spirit to refresh and reinvigorate us and to ‘revive us for this hour?’ (bold print added by me!)

 

This may well be a critical moment in the life of our Church - a paradigm-shifting moment. And if that’s true for the Church then it may be equally true for the country, not least as COVID-related economic realities begin to bite.

 

All of that resonated with me and gives us all good cause to be praying, not only during that week but in the run-up to the re-opening of our own church building, whenever that happens. As I mentioned at the weekend, no date has yet been fixed and nothing is going to happen before September.

 

However along with that encouragement to pray I also wanted to write something in this message about the principles the elders have been wrestling with in any decision about the timing of re-opening as well as some of the practicalities that have to be included and addressed in preparation for re-opening and in the format of Sunday Gatherings when we do re-open. This is simply to give you an understanding of why this is not a straightforward decision.

 

In terms of principles, one of the things the Session has been thinking deeply about concerns the limited number of people who under current Government guidelines are able to meet in a church building for worship at any one time on a Sunday. The limit is currently 50. As you’ll be aware, we would normally have between 200 and 250 people at our morning gatherings. This restriction has led some churches, particularly with larger congregations, to consider delaying reopening until more (or in the case of one congregation we are aware of, all) people can come at the same time. (It’s worth saying in relation to this, the Kirk Session have decided in principle that when we do re-open we will be livestreaming our Sunday Gatherings so that those who are not able to be there for whatever reason might have the opportunity to watch online at the same time.)

 

Practically speaking as well if we do re-open under current guidelines it’s important that people have an idea of what will and what will not be part of Sunday Gatherings. Here’s a list of some relevant matters:

 

·         There would be  a maximum of 50 people , which would include ministers, those on door duty & other volunteer helpers.

·         Each individual/ household would be seated 2m distance from others.

·         There would be no congregational singing (though we would intend to play hymns/songs to listen to)

·         Face coverings are strongly advised.

·         Hand sanitisers & toilet facilities will be available

·         There will be no Truthtrackers or creche available (though the gatherings would seek to take account of any children present.)

·         There will be no tea/coffee etc served. If they wish, people can bring their own water.

·         People will have to reserve their place at the Gathering ahead of time & we are required to keep a register, for a period of 21 days, of those who attend to support contact tracing as part of NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect programme.

 

Procedurally, we also have to inform Presbytery of our decision to re-open and have to complete the Church of Scotland’s Covid-19 Reopening of Church Buildings Checklist and the Risk Assessment Form.

 

 We hope in the next week to send out a survey to the congregation to see who would intend to come whenever we do re-open. This is to get some indication of the numbers we might be dealing with.

 

All of this is seeking to keep you informed as best we can and to assure you that we will continue to communicate with you as and when decisions are made and there are developments. In the meantime, please continue to pray and keep looking out for one another.

 

If there any questions in relation to any of the above or any other relevant matters, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with myself,

 

Yours in Christ

 

David

 


A life well-lived - Midweek Message 29th July 2020

Dear Friends,

While I was on holiday, I heard the news that J I Packer had died. I realise that name may not mean a great deal to some who read this but for me it meant a lot. When I was a student in my first year at University in Aberdeen, I was introduced to the book that Jim Packer is probably best known for, namely, Knowing God. It was among the first Christian books I ever read. I still have it. I still refer to it.  It’s a wonderful book – ‘a spiritual classic’ as John Stott described it. Or as Rico Tice said:  Dr Packer says we're cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. I'm convinced we're cruel if we deny ourselves the wisdom contained in this Christian classic.' 

The story behind the book is interesting. In the early 1960’s Jim Packer had been asked to write a series of articles for a relatively small UK Christian magazine on the attributes, the characteristics, of God – the God of the Bible, the God and Father of the Lord  Jesus  Christ.  The magazine was published every second month which meant he ended up writing about 5 such articles in a year. After two or three years he realised he probably had a book, so he went to Inter-Varsity Press (IVP) to ask if they would be willing to publish it. IVP had published at least two of his previous books. However, they believed that the pressing issue of that time, and the book that they were looking for from him, was one which would give a response to the increasingly influential charismatic movement. They, therefore, turned Packer down.  So, he went to Hodder & Stoughton and they published it. It has been reprinted many times since. It has sold over 1m copies in North America alone and I’m pretty sure that 100 years from now it will still be being read!

In the introduction to the book, he makes this statement: The conviction behind the book is that ignorance of God – ignorance of both his ways and of the practice of communion with him – lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today. Almost 50 years later that statement surely speaks to our own day as well. The book is a reminder that our greatest need, and indeed our greatest joy lies, and will always lie, in knowing God – in a personal and deepening relationship with the God who made and still runs the world – the God who makes himself known and calls us into relationship with himself through his Son Jesus Christ.  This is life as it was intended to be. Jesus himself said so in his prayer to his Father in John 17: This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  (17:3)

Isn’t that just the most remarkable statement and glorious invitation? Not just that God is there but that people like you and me, can know him in the same kind of personal relationship that someone knows their husband, their wife or their best friend and that this is the very reason Jesus came into the world, was sent into the world to accomplish all he did in his life,  his death his resurrection: No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, (i.e. Jesus the Son of God) he has made him known (John 1:18)  .    

Think of what you love. Some of us love the outdoors, the hills, the rivers, the seas. For us, there is nothing better than driving, walking, climbing or camping in wide open beautiful spaces and places. But it surely it must be better to know the One who put those hills and rivers and seas there in the first place!

Some of us love sport –playing it watching it. It’s our primary passion, our pleasure. In our mind nothing beats it – but knowing the One who gave to men and women the ability, the athleticism, the energy, the skill they (we) exercise in any sport must beat it.

Others love beautiful things in nature, in our houses, our clothes, in people themselves. We give our time, our attention and our money to appreciating and accumulating things of beauty but again to know the One who is the source and fountain of all such beauty must surely outweigh these.

There is no-one, and nothing, like God and there is, and there can be, nothing better in life than knowing God in and through Jesus Christ. That’s what the Bible proclaims and reveals. That is what Jim Packer recognised. That’s why he lived as he did and wrote and taught as he did. It’s also why he lamented on one occasion in relation to what he saw in contemporary Christian circles:  

When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service—but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine—but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus, we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

But, clearly, it wasn’t a small thing to Jim Packer. It was the most important thing. Someone described him in these terms: he ‘lived slowly enough to think deeply about God’  That’s why I find news of his death and  memories and testimonies to  his life and ministry encouraging me to say to myself and to you:  whatever may be going on in our lives, whatever may compete for our love, in the words of Hosea 6.3:  Let us press on to know the LORD.

Yours in Him

David

 


Our liberating King - Midweek Message 1st July

Dear Friends,

In the course of preparing for last Sunday’s sermon on the final petition in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer: Lead us not into temptation but deliver me from evil, I had been  reading later in Matthew in chapter 8.14-17: When Jesus came into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.  He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.  When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases."

It wasn’t so much the healings that caught my attention rather it was  the significance of Jesus dealing with those who were demon-possessed and driving out these evil spirits with a word.

In the late 1980’s Hollywood produced a film The Untouchables which starred Kevin Costner and Robert de Niro and which earned Sean Connery an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It’s pretty gruesome in places but these were dark times. It  tells the story of  Eliot Ness,  a treasury department official and the team that he gathers around him, who come to prominence in Chicago in the days of Prohibition because they are determined to bring to justice the infamous gangster Al Capone. Capone is making vast sums of money  through supplying illegal alcohol and other illicit activity and no one seems willing or able to do anything about it. He can  do as he pleases because as a result of bribes, he has both the city authorities and many of the local police turning a blind eye to everything he does. But then Ness and his team arrive, and they refuse to be corrupted (hence the term The Untouchables). By their presence, their activity and their persistence, they in effect  announce that Capone’s days are numbered, his iron grip on the people and the city will be broken and sure enough he is in time put behind bars. A new day has dawned for the city.

Matthew is describing something similar but much more significant in his account of Jesus ministry in these verses and wherever in his gospel he mentions Jesus driving out demons and evil spirits. As we were saying last Sunday, from the Bible’s point of view and from Jesus’ own point of view evil and the evil one are powerful realities in this world which we need to take into account if we are to understand ourselves and our world. However, understanding them as realities is not enough. They are powerful realities – too powerful for us to manage and deal with on our own. In one way or another they hold us in their gruesome grip in the same way that Al Capone held Chicago in his grip.  That is why what we see in Matthew 8.16 is so significant. Here is Jesus, the Son of God but God in our human flesh announcing and demonstrating  that he is stronger than evil and the evil one himself (see Matthew 12.29) – that he can liberate men and women from their bondage to evil and the evil one and begin to  enable them to live under the rightful rule of their Creator God, their heavenly Father.  That’s one of the primary reasons he came – that’s why he died and rose again – to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3.8)

It’s true that not many of us may have come across anyone suffering from demon possession as such, but we have never met a human being who has not at some point been deceived or distracted by evil or the evil one- held captive in some manner. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil and/or the evil one. That is also why we need to know we have a God who can deliver us who has as Paul put it rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption (freedom) the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1.13) . Knowing and trusting him we really can fear no evil,

Yours in Him

David


How to change - Midweek Message 24th June

Dear Friends,

I was sharing with the Men’s Breakfast on Saturday some extracts from an article  published in the Guardian at the end of May in which a number of people had been invited to write a letter to themselves to be opened in May 2021. The article was entitled A letter to my post-lockdown self 1 and each person set down lessons learnt in lockdown that they hoped might in some manner change the way they (and maybe others too) approached life in the post-lockdown world.  In addition to that article, I also shared some further reflections on that whole idea from Brian Draper, a Christian author published on the LICC under the heading Note to self 2.  It is a worthy idea and it made me wonder to myself and the men at the breakfast what we ourselves might write in such a letter to our post-lockdown selves. There are surely some things we hope might have changed within us for the better as a result of lockdown.

However, in that last regard, one particularly honest observation and comment by the philosopher, Julian Baggini, in the original article gave me cause for further thought. He wrote as follows (and remember as you read, he is writing now to himself in May 2021:

I’m curious to know how, if at all, the world around you has changed. As I write, many people are enthusiastically predicting that community is back, that greed is out.  I’m not so sure. Even when we’re convinced we’ve shaken off old habits, they have a tendency to creep back until, unnoticed, they’re as much at home as ever…..It feels like a time of momentous transformations, but I fear that you, like the rest of the world, overestimate your capacity for change. Please, prove me wrong: restore my faith that we naked apes are capable of learning our lessons.

You can hear in that last sentence his longing for change in himself and in society and yet he fears we all overestimate our capacity for change and that in the passing of time we will quietly drift back into old habits. Change, even where we may seem to desire it, he is saying, is not a straightforward matter.

As you might have guessed from that reference to naked apes Julian Baggini is an atheist, a very honest and evidently insightful atheist, and is addressing an aspect of life, that is of infinite relevance to all of us, whatever our worldview. It’s one the Bible addresses. Jeremiah for example asks, Can the leopard change its spots? (Jeremiah 13.23) Can we as human being really change? Can we change for the better? And if so, how?  The Bible’s answer to that is:  though we cannot change ourselves - our own spots - we can be changed, radically and ongoingly changed, by the grace of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ and his gospel.

But, again, we might well ask, how does that work? How does Jesus work through his gospel to change his people and to keep on changing them? In order to try and answer that, let me turn to someone from an earlier age – as it happens, a prolific writer of letters, namely John Newton, best known for authoring his autobiographical hymn, Amazing Grace.  Newton was also a pastor who regularly wrote to encourage Christian people struggling with how to change and to be changed by Christ and his gospel. I wanted to quote a number of things he says, all of which can be found in one of the chapters of Tony Reinke’s book John Newton on the Christian life 3.  (Interestingly you will notice in one of the quotes Newton makes reference to the personal and often painful issue we were thinking about last Sunday - how to forgive others)

Newton was clear that for the Christian, crucial to growing and continuing to change for the better was constantly looking to Jesus Christ in faith. He wrote that in Christ there is “a balm for every grief, an amends for every loss, a motive for every duty, a restraint from every evil, a pattern for everything which he is called to do or suffer, and a principle sufficient to constitute the actions of every day, even in common life, acts of religion.”

He expressed the same basic conviction in one of his other hymns:

Since the Saviour I have known

My rules are all reduced to one -

To keep my Lord, by faith, in view,

This strength supplies, and motives, too

 Elsewhere he wrote: “It is thus by looking to Jesus, that the believer is enlightened and strengthened, and grows in grace and sanctification.” and “To behold the glory and the love of Jesus is the only effectual way to participate of his image.”  In other words, it is as our eyes are opened to and fixed upon the wonder, the attractiveness of what God has done for us in Jesus – what he would call the beauty of Christ and seen particularly in his dying for us - that we are changed into an increasing likeness to himself.

He gives a specific example which takes us to what we were thinking about on Sunday. He talks about the call to care for and forgive others: “None can truly love it but those who have tasted it. When your hearts feel the comforts of God’s pardoning love, you will delight to imitate him. When you can truly rejoice that he has freely forgiven you that immense debt, which is expressed by ten thousand talents, you will have no desire to take your fellow-servant by the throat for a few pence” (Matt. 18:21–35) and then continues “If you find this practice difficult, it is owing partly to the remaining depravity of your nature, and partly because you have had but a faint sense of his mercy. Pray for a more powerful manifestation of it, and you will do better; mercy will be your delight.” In other words ask God the Father to give you a better heartfelt understanding of the depth of his forgiveness and mercy to you through Jesus and his death on the cross and you will become more merciful and forgiving to others.

 Finally, Newton expresses our dependence upon the Lord Jesus but also his ability to effect ongoing change in us and complete that change at the last

“Though [the believer is] weak in himself, he is strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus the Lord, upon whom he relies, as his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification; and expects from him, in due time, a complete redemption from every evil.”

“The life of a Christian is a life of faith in the Son of God. He, undoubtedly, is the greatest Christian who most exemplifies in his own practice what is recorded in the Gospel of the temper, converse, and actions of the holy, the harmless, and undefiled Jesus, and depends the most absolutely upon him, for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”

So John Newton, and the Bible before him, is saying to us:  if we want to change and  keep changing post-lockdown and throughout our lives, it is not about having our faith restored that we naked apes are capable of learning our lessons, it’s about placing our faith in Jesus Christ and continuing to look to him. Or as Paul expresses it in 2 Corinthians 3.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (RSV) Keep beholding the Lord Jesus!!

Yours in Him,

David

Notes:

1 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/may/23/a-letter-to-my-post-lockdown-self-keep-listening-to-the-birds

2 https://www.licc.org.uk/resources/note-to-self/

3 Newton on the Christian life – to live is Christ, Tony Reinke, Crossway - Ch 6 Christ-centred holiness p 127ff

 


Please Pray - Midweek Message 17th June

Dear Friends,

This is a slightly different Midweek Message from recent ones but as I hope you will see a vitally important one.

You don’t need me to tell you these have been, and remain, strange times and we’re not exactly sure how, and when, they are going to end, or what life will exactly look like after  lockdown. However, Jesus taught his disciples to trust in the care and the overruling sovereignty of God the Father in such times when, for example, he told them: Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.(Luke 12.6-7)   With that, we also  believe that God is never thwarted by what seem like setbacks in the lives of his people but is always turning everything to the accomplishment of his sovereign and saving purposes, as Joseph recognised looking back over the setbacks and the suffering of his own life, not least that perpetrated by his brothers. He was able to testify to them: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  (Genesis 50:20) In the light of that, we believe God is at work in these trying Covid-19 affected days, in the lives of those who are his people (see for example 1 Peter 1.6-7, Acts 8.1-4, James 1.2-4) but also in those who are not yet his people. If nothing else, online services have meant a scattering of the seed of his Word further afield than our reach on Sundays and we know his Word will not return to him void but will accomplish that for which he sent it (Isaiah 55.10-11)  

With all that in mind, the elders have a had a couple of meetings recently to consider how we can best serve and keep in step with whatever God is seeking to do in these days in terms of fulfilling the mission we believe He has given us to be a church that ‘brings in, builds up and sends our followers of Jesus Christ to the glory of God’  Two particular matters have been on our minds. About these we have, as yet, reached no firm conclusions, hence the reason for this message and this request: please will you pray with us that God would, in his time, make plain his will for us in relation to:

1) Sunday Gatherings

a) Whenever we can open the church building again for Sunday gatherings, there are a number of practical issues that require to be addressed e.g. seating arrangements, health & safety matters, recording/livestreaming of services, etc – please pray for wisdom for the Preparation Group made up of some Session & Board members currently looking at these.

b) As important, if not more important, than the practical, is this question: are there any things we might do in relation to our Sunday Gatherings that might make them more accessible and helpful to anyone coming in for the first time who may have had an interest in Christ and the Christian faith aroused during this time? It is a good time to review all that we do, how and why we do it and for whom we do it. Maybe nothing requires changing but if so, we want to be sure of that.  So again, please pray with and for us.

2) Milton of Leys (MOL)

In the period immediately prior to lockdown, we had been running monthly gatherings in the school to which a number of families and individuals had been coming on a regular basis. We had also received the offer of piece of land on which a church building could be erected. This was the culmination of a number of years of praying, planning and making contact with MOL people through events like Holiday Club. This had all been instigated with the long-term plan, God willing, of planting a church in MOL. Lockdown has interrupted something of the momentum of this work.

Our view has been that 3 key elements are required for this goal of planting a church to be realised

1) a team of committed people who would form the core of a new church in MOL.  

2) a leader for the work with all the necessary energy to see the work through the stages involved in birthing the church.

3) the funds necessary to pursue the erection of the church building

As things stand at present:

Re- 1) notwithstanding the great number of people who have willingly played their part in enabling the monthly gatherings, we currently have 7 people who have definitely committed to being part of a future Milton of Leys congregation

Re-2) some of you will be aware that Farquhar has an underlying health condition which requires to be managed. These last 10 months have been particularly trying in that regard. He is currently on a week’s ‘sabbatical’ with a view to physical rest.

Re-3) we have not in earnest sought to address the challenge of the funds for a building, but we are aware that in the current climate this will not be our only financial challenge.

Looking back, we did not embark on the work in Milton of Leys naively or blindly, but rather believe we have sought at every stage to be prayerful and faithful, wanting to follow God’s lead so that , ultimately, if anything comes of this it will be to his glory and people will look on and say, the LORD has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes. (Psalm 118.23) However it would seem to us we have come to a crucial juncture, where once again we must cry out to God particularly in relation to these 3 things.

Would you therefore join with us in praying, in asking for his will to be done, his kingdom to come in MOL and that we might know clearly what it is he is asking of us in relation to that?

Would you ask him to provide the people, the health, the money and anything else that He regards as necessary for this to go ahead or to keep moving forward or  at least tokens that might indicate this work  remains as part of his purposes for us as a church? Or if not, make it clear that we need to pursue a different direction?

As I said we have not reached firm conclusions or made concrete decisions in regard to Sunday Gatherings or Milton of Leys. Rather, we find ourselves echoing Jehoshaphat’s prayer: We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. (2 Chronicles 20.12). I also find myself recalling Jesus looking out with compassion on the crowds in Matthew 9, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd and concluding the harvest is plentiful….  And then urging his disciples, Ask the Lord of the harvest….. (Matthew 9.36-38).  That is what we are asking you to do, please pray with us and for us to this Lord that his will in these things and for the sake of his saving purposes might be done.,

Thanking you for your fellowship in the service of God and his gospel,

David


Accepting one another - a prayer

Here's a prayer from Scotty Smith which was sent to my email box last night and seemed in keeping with yesterday's Midweek Message:  


Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Rom. 15:7

 

     Dear Jesus, you know everything about us, and yet you joyfully, completely, and tenaciously accept us. More so, you actually enjoy and delight in us. This is heart-humbling glorious.

     For we are the self-absorbed younger son you welcome home, and the self-righteous elder son you constantly pursue (Luke 15). We’re the one lying at your feet others would stone, and hypocritical, religious rock-throwers. We’ve been up in the tree with Zacchaeus, and down in the depths with Peter. We easily see the speck in other’s eyes, and yet ignore Redwood forest in our own; yet you deeply, unwaveringly love us.

     Thank you, Jesus, and HELP! For as you’ve accepted us, you’re calling us to accept others. There are many folk—even in the Body of Christ, with whom we strongly disagree. Though we are one in You, we are often quite divided, when it comes to theology and sociology; COVID-etiquette, and who should be president; how to raise kids, and how to spend cash. And that’s just for starters.

     We need thicker grace-skin and bigger Gospel-hearts. We love well when we show kindness without compromise; and listen to learn. Teach us the difference between essential and nonessential matters, Jesus; and the difference between acceptance and acquiescence. It gets fuzzy, at times.

     Free us from the limitations of our perspectives, and the prejudices of our heritages. Help us remember our Father’s promise to complete his good work in us, also applies to each of his children. Burn the conviction indelibly into our hearts: It brings you great praise when we work to accept others as you accept us, Jesus. So very Amen we pray, in your matchless and merciful name.


Grounds for Compassion - Midweek Message 10th June


Dear Friends,

Following on from Sunday’s sermon, I wanted to think a little more with you on the subject of compassion and particularly as that relates to one particular issue raised by the death of George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis, USA.

Remember what compassion means?  Fellow feeling – feeling (passion) with (com) another person in their situation, moved in your heart by their plight. Such compassion for others, for those in any form of need, marked the ministry of Jesus. Some years ago, BB Warfield wrote an article entitled ‘The Emotional Life of our Lord’ in which he noted that in the gospels, the emotion most frequently attributed to Jesus was compassion. (see for example Matthew 9.36;14.14;15.32;20.34) Significantly, in each of these cases, Jesus compassion resulted in his acting in some manner to alleviate the particular need that had aroused the compassion – a call to prayer (9.36), feeding the hungry (14.14,15.32), healing the sick (20.34).

How is compassion aroused? It is aroused when we try to place ourselves in the shoes, in the situation of the person  before us, when we try to understand how the world looks, how the world feels from where they are, which may of course be very different from the way it looks or feels to us. In seeking to understand, attentive listening is vital. As one writer put it: Listening is where compassion and wisdom begin.  So following the death of George Floyd, I  have found myself trying to listen to voices which help me to understand particularly how the world looks and feels from the point of view of many African Americans in the USA and along with them, many across our world and indeed within our own society, who have seen and experienced prejudice, discrimination, injustice and violence because of the colour of their skin.1

Firstly, some extracts from an article entitled George Floyd and Me2 by Shai Linne, who is a Christian hip-hop artist. He had been asked by a fellow (white) Christian how he felt in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Initially, he said he had hesitated to reveal how he was truly feeling for fear of being misunderstood but he continued,

Sister, I am heartbroken and devastated. I feel gutted. I haven’t been able to focus on much at all since I saw the horrific video of George Floyd’s murder…

This is about how being a black man in America has shaped both the way I see myself and the way others have seen me my whole life. It’s about being told to leave the sneaker store as a 12-year-old, because I was taking too long to decide which sneakers I wanted to buy with my birthday money and the white saleswoman assumed I was in the store to steal something. 

It’s about being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police car while walking down the street during college, and then waiting for a white couple to come identify whether or not I was the one who’d committed a crime against them, knowing that if they said I was the one, I would be immediately taken to jail, no questions asked…

It’s about walking down the street as a young man and beginning to notice that white people, women especially, would cross to the other side of the street to avoid walking past me—and me beginning to pre-emptively cross to the other side myself to save them the trouble of being afraid and to save me the humiliation of that silent transaction.

It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin.” 

Secondly there was an article by David French, who is a Christian lawyer and writer, entitled American Racism – we’ve got so far to go3 in which he reflected on his own experience as a white father living in Tennessee who, with his wife, adopted Naomi, a little girl from Ethiopia:

I freely confess that to some extent where I stood on American racial issues was dictated by where I sat my entire life. I always deplored racism—those values were instilled in me from birth—but I was also someone who recoiled at words like “systemic racism.” I looked at the strides we’d made since slavery and Jim Crow and said, “Look how far we’ve come.” I was less apt to say, “and look how much farther we have to go.” 

Then, where I sit changed, dramatically. I just didn’t know it at the time. I went from being the father of two white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids to the father of three kids—one of them a beautiful little girl from Ethiopia. When Naomi arrived, our experiences changed. Strange incidents started to happen.

There was the white woman who demanded that Naomi—the only black girl in our neighbourhood pool—point out her parents, in spite of the fact that she was clearly wearing the coloured bracelet showing she was permitted to swim.

There was the time a police officer approached her at a department store and questioned her about who she was with and what she was shopping for. That never happened to my oldest daughter. 

There was the classmate who told Naomi that she couldn’t come to our house for a play date because, “My dad says it’s dangerous to go black people’s neighbourhoods.” 

I could go on, and—sure—some of the incidents could have a benign explanation, but as they multiplied, and it was clear that Naomi’s experience was clearly different from her siblings, it became increasingly implausible that all the explanations were benign.  

Then, thirdly, there is  the film Just Mercy,4  which unfortunately I can’t show you, but which I would encourage you to watch, again if you want to understand what life can feel like from an African American perspective. It tells the true story of Bryan Stevenson, an African American Harvard lawyer, who in the 1990’s went to work in Alabama to represent poor people who could not afford proper legal representation. Among others, he came across the case of Walter MacMillan, also an African American man, and on Death Row because some years previously he had been wrongfully convicted of the murder of a white woman. The film tells the story of the many barriers that were placed in Stevenson’s way as he sought simply to get justice for MacMillan and his family.  

In all this, there is a danger of our responding, Oh that’s just America. However, if we are tempted down that line I would direct you to a paragraph from an article written from this side of the Atlantic in the wake of the death of George Floyd by Selina Stone, again a Christian, on the LICC (London Institute of Contemporary Christianity) website5:

In the UK, recent research demonstrates that black children are twice as likely to live in poverty than white children. Black people face discrimination in employment and health care. They are more likely to be stopped and searched by police, to get sentenced to prison time and to be given longer sentences than white people. As a country, we have our own stories of excessive force and of the deaths of black people in police custody. Stories that do not end with justice.

In addition and more personally and poignantly, there is a line that comes to mind from Robert Murray McCheyne in which he confessed: The seed of every sin known to man is in my heart

None of us are immune from the pride and the prejudice that give rise to racist attitudes and actions nor the blindness and indifference that can allow them to go unchallenged around us. Therefore, as well as seeking to listen and understand those who have suffered and who continue to suffer and doing whatever we can in our own small way to alleviate that suffering,  we surely must  pray. We must pray  to the God in whose image every human being is made and is therefore worthy of equal respect and dignity and justice, and ask Him, not so much to reveal the sins of others but rather along the lines of Psalm 139 : Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting ( Ps 139:23-24)  And with that ask Him to teach and enable us to love others as we have been loved by Him in Jesus and to be as compassionate towards our needy neighbours, whoever they are, as our Lord  has been to us

Yours in Him

David

 

1 I hope it goes without saying that none of what follows condones or justifies the violence that has soiled some of the reaction to George Floyd’s death and none of those quoted would  do so either, but their words and lives do expose the underlying issue which I believe merits our attention and our compassion.

2 George Floyd and Me – Shai Linne – whole article can be found here

3 American Racism: We’ve got so very far to do – David French -  whole article can be found here    

4 Available on Google Play, YouTube & Amazon Prime

5 We can’t breathe – Selina Scott – whole article can be found here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The privilege of prayer & being prayed for - Midweek Message 27th May



Father…glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you…I pray… for those you have given me, for they are yours… I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message… Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory… I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17.1,9,13,20,24,26)

Dear Friends,

Have you ever found yourself in a café (remember them??) and you’re looking around at your fellow customers when your curiosity is suddenly aroused by one particular table. There, two men from different generations and yet bearing a family resemblance, are engaged in deep conversation. The younger is evidently pouring out his heart to the older and the older is giving him his full attention. As they lean in towards one another across the table, their eyes fixed on each other, they seem completely unaware of anyone else. This goes on for some time and you can’t help watching and wondering to yourself: What on earth are they talking about? What  has prompted the younger to speak in such animated fashion? What causes the older to listen so intently? You would love to know but you feel to ask, or even to seek to get closer to eavesdrop further, would be intrusive, an invasion of their privacy. So, you get up, pay for your coffee and leave but still wondering what that conversation in the café was all about.

It strikes me that scenario is very similar to one in which Jesus' disciples find themselves in John 17. It wasn’t in a café. We’re not quite sure where they were. Possibly still in the Upper Room. Possibly in the Garden of Gethsemane but wherever they are, they witness a profoundly intimate conversation between a son and a father, between the Son and the Father, as Jesus, the Son, pours out his heart to God the Father  in prayer - only with one huge and significant difference. They get to hear exactly what is said. Jesus clearly means for them (and us) to hear what is being said because what he says, what he prays, concerns them and all future Christian believers and he desires to share with all his disciples all he enjoys. As we listen, we are given glorious insight into the privilege of prayer, of being prayed for and of belonging to Jesus through faith.

Some would call John 17 the real ‘Lord’s prayer’ and certainly it is the longest recorded example we have in the New Testament of Jesus actually praying. You can hear within it some of the features and concerns that he  taught his disciples to pray in what we traditionally refer to as the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6. Jesus begins this prayer by addressing God as ‘Father’ v1 and that is the privilege he bestows on everyone who trusts and follows him. This then is how you should pray,  he says to us in Matthew 6.9, Our Father in heaven (compare also Mark 14.36 with Romans 8.15, Galatians 4.6) Then we hear his primary concern for the honouring of God i.e. hallowed be your name cf v1,6 ESV, 11,12,26 ESV. There are echoes too of deliver us from evil cf v15  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  . So listening in to Jesus we are encouraged to enjoy and use the privilege of praying to God as our Father that Jesus grants and to allow him by his words and example to shape the concerns and content of our prayers. Yet at the same time, we are surely aware that there are things here in John 17 which are unique to Jesus, which we could never pray. Who but Jesus could pray, And now Father glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began (v5)?

What of the blessings of belonging to Jesus? Notice Jesus prayerful desire that his disciples then and now share his joy I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. That joy he knew eternally in the Father and with the Father. That joy he knew in obedience here on earth to the Father in completing the work that the Father had given him to do – the work that would take him to the cross (see John 4.34 & 15.10,11) He wants all his disciples to know that joy. He is praying to that end.  

He further wants his disciples then and now to share and enjoy the Father’s love for them  - amazingly he identifies the nature, the depth and the quality of that love as being the same as that of the Father for him cf  v23 you  he says speaking of and to the Father have loved them even as you have loved me  & again in v26 he prays for his ongoing work on his disciples behalf so that  the love you have for me may be in them.

Christian believers can often struggle to believe in our hearts that God the Father genuinely and deeply loves us, that we truly and eternally and unchangeably matter to him. Often, we do so because of the dark and difficult things that are happening or have happened in our lives. Yet think about the situation in which Jesus prays here.  v1 sets the scene: Father, the time has come  Throughout John’s gospel that phase the time  or in the ESV the hour always refers to Jesus death and all that accompanies and follows it. So, Jesus is about to be arrested, tried unjustly by a kangaroo court,  mocked, spat upon, stripped naked, publicly shamed and humiliated before an angry and self-righteous crowd, deserted and abandoned by his friends and ultimately forsaken by his Father as he is crucified. He knows all that is coming and yet He has no doubt about his Father's love for him and evidently desires that his disciples in all their darkest moments may know and trust that same love for them. He prays with that end also in view. 

Further, beyond those dark moments of their life in this world  he prays that his disciples, then and now, may be with him in the world to come, in his Father’s house (14.2), to see and to share his eternal glory Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory (v24).

Friends, you know as well as I do that prayer can be hard work. We can easily be distracted, easily discouraged. We can struggle to pray or persist in prayer but maybe sometimes that is  because you and I fail to see the privilege of prayer that has been given to us by Jesus – through him, to be able to  know and speak and pour out our hearts to God as Father as he does here. When through Jesus, you catch a glimpse of God the Father’s desire that we speak to him, the lengths to which he has gone to give us access to him and how deep the Father’s love for us actually is then surely we rightly sing, What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.  But even if somehow in the darkness of our current situation, we still struggle to see and enjoy that privilege can we also see the equally great privilege to know that we have Jesus himself the Son of God praying for us, bringing our case, our concerns our needs to God the Father.  When he says here in v20 My prayer is not for them alone (i.e. his immediate disciples the eleven) . I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message that is you and me and all who have responded in faith to the good news of Jesus recorded by his apostles in the New Testament. He is praying for our protection, for our perseverance, for our joy, for our experiencing God’s love.

I often recall a story one of my theology Professors used to tell of a young woman who was a Christian and came on one occasion to him when he was in his first charge as a minister. She was in a dark place and almost thoughtlessly, he asked her, ‘Have you prayed to God about it?’ And she looked at him in despair and said, ‘I can’t pray’ To which he replied, ‘Well… remember that Jesus prays for you’ That thought, that reality lifted her spirits. Let it lift yours and mine too. As we listen in to this most intense and intimate of conversations in John 17, let’s remember as the author of the letter to the Hebrews puts it  he (Jesus) is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25)

Yours in that encouragement and privilege,

David

PS In the light of this let me further encourage you to take the chance that the Thy Kingdom Come initiative provides, particularly this Saturday (30th May) to join with our fellow Christians all across the world to pray for others to come to know the Father through Jesus – to see His kingdom grow. If you can, ‘Zoom’ in!

Our Father in heaven - Midweek Message 20th May



This then is how you should pray, ‘Our Father in heaven…’ (Matthew  6.9)

Dear Friends,

Following on from last Sunday, I wanted to think a little further about some of the implications of what Jesus teaches all his disciples to pray  and particularly what he says here about how we are to address God in prayer, namely Our Father in heaven. I don’t think Jim Packer was exaggerating when he wrote, as I quoted last Sunday:

“You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.” (Knowing God  J I Packer p224)

So, what specifically does knowing and speaking to God as our Father in heaven tell us about Christianity and being and living as a Christian? As always there is so much that could be said but I want to mention 3 things.

Firstly, Christianity is relational.  Father is essentially a relational word. It speaks of personal relationship, of intimate relationship, of familial relationship. Jesus came to bring us back into relationship with God, back into the family of God – the God who made us and sustains us but from whom we had turned. John sums up Jesus’ mission in the opening chapter of his gospel to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12) – and then he spends the rest of is gospel telling us what the repairing of that relationship, that bringing us home to God the Father involved for him – in particular it involved his suffering death on the cross in our place and then rising again from death. After his resurrection Jesus says to Mary Magdalene “Go… to my brothers and tell them,`I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” (20:17)  He calls his disciples ‘brothers’ and refers to his Father as one who has now become ‘your (his disciples) Father’.  To be a Christian is to know Jesus as your Elder Brother and his Father as your Father.

So many people struggle today with issues of identity and look for their identity -  their sense of being, of significance, of security, of worth -  in a whole variety of places like gender, sexuality, race, wealth, career, etc -  but Jesus restores and bestows  on all who trust themselves to him the truest, most human, most secure and enduring identity  a person can ever have: a child of the living God. Why is that so? Because as Genesis 1.1 puts it In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth but long before God was a Creator – he was a father he was THE Father, living and loving eternally with Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit as one God in three persons. To know God as Father, to know God the Father through his Son Jesus by His Spirit is to know the one who is the eternal source and origin of everything that ever came into being. It is to come face to face with eternal reality who is personal who is God, the triune God. As Jesus prayed in John 17 Father…this is eternal life that they know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (17.1,3) It doesn’t get any better than this – this is life, eternal life, life as it was meant to be, life as it will always be in the new heavens and new earth  – knowing God the Father through the Son by the Spirit.

Secondly, Christianity is outward looking.  In this, of course, it finds itself totally at odds with popular secular thought. Carl Sagan the US astronomer and  communicator once said  ‘The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be’ and on another occasion, looking on a photograph  from space of earth – the Pale Blue Dot as he called it -  he further wrote: Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. Therefore, if we have problems on earth, problems in humanity, we have got to sort them out ourselves. There is no outside help. There is nothing outside the material universe. We are on our own. But Jesus said differently. He tells us the cosmos is not all there is. It is not self -generating it is not self-existent. This is not a closed universe. There is an unseen realm beyond the material which is even more real than the material. There is God – God the Father in heaven – who made everything and continues to rule over everything in this world, even though this world may have ignored and rejected him. The best evidence (though by no means the only evidence) for that is Jesus’ own presence on earth. He is the one sent by the Father (John 17.3)  So when he teaches his disciples to pray Our Father in heaven  he is reminding  us our help, our hope, our joy, our peace lie beyond ourselves, beyond this world in our Creator who through Jesus is our heavenly Father, our merciful and powerful Father, living and active in the world. We are not called to try and fix our own problems. We are not called to try and be our own Saviour. That is always doomed to fail because our problems ultimately are beyond human capacity to deal with. Look out. Look up. Call out to your Father in heaven. He can, he will help – again Jesus presence and work in the world confirms that.

Thirdly and lastly, Christianity is corporate as opposed to individualistic. Jesus taught his disciples to pray Our Father in heaven, as opposed simply to My Father in heaven. It is true of course that once I have come to know him through Jesus he is My Father, but he is not only My Father.  He is the Father of all who trust Jesus and having him as my Father means I am now part of a family, his family – the church local and global. I am not an only child. I have brothers and sisters, whom I need, if I am to live and grow as a child of God. This is why lockdown and the inability to meet in person in fellowship on a Sunday or any other day of the week with fellow Christians is so hard, so ‘unnatural’ for a Christian. We were meant to meet – we were made and re-made in Christ to meet together as Christians. It is in our meeting together with our heavenly Father and our Elder Brother and sharing together their  Word and the various gifts they have given us by the Spirit that we  grow up together in faith, have our characters shaped and fashioned more in the family likeness and are able to reflect back to our triune God, the wonder of his saving grace manifested in the diversity and unity of the church family.

In that regard, I hope that one of the things that may come out of this unique period of lockdown is that whenever we are able to meet again, we will value and make the very most of every opportunity to gather with our church family and know, serve and enjoy God our Father together. Any desire within a professing Christian to self-isolate, to social distance from fellow Christians is, spiritually speaking, dangerously unhealthy and is totally out of step with our Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father. Remember how the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us: Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10.25)  

So, Christianity - being and living as a Christian -  as Jesus revealed it, is relational, outward looking and corporate. It is impossible to underestimate the privilege or the intended significance and implications of being able to pray, Our Father in heaven,

Yours in the outworking of that privilege and significance,

David

PS This coming Sunday Farquhar is going to look at a bit more of the Lord’s prayer (particularly the first 3 petitions in Matthew 6.9-10) so keep thinking about these things, keep enjoying the privilege – keep praying!

  • Gatherings

Latest Church Video

Our "YouTube" Channel - For all our videos

Church Diary