David's Blog

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,


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,


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!

The greatest event - Midweek Message 13th May

Dear Friends

The one thing that unites all Christians, now and throughout history, is our joyful assurance that the greatest thing that ever happened on our planet is the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The message of the gospel is quite simply the best news ever!

So says Rebecca Manley Pippert in the opening lines of the introduction to her latest book Stay Salt. It’s quite a statement containing quite a claim and worth spending a little time pondering. Think about it. If I asked you – or if you asked your neighbour - or if someone hosted a Television Programme with the question: What is the greatest thing ever to happen on planet earth?, what kind of answer would you give or expect to hear? On one website someone came up with the invention of the wheel and another with humanity’s landing on the moon and there were other interesting suggestions but I genuinely believe Becky Pippert is right: the greatest thing that ever happened on our planet is the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Yet it is one thing to affirm it. It is so easy to forget it, even when you say you believe it. It is so easy to live in effect as if it were not true. I know I have often been guilty of both of those but reading that introduction made me consider again why I think it’s true. Let me mention five reasons -not exhaustive - but I hope significant.

Firstly, because it supplies or rather he, Jesus Christ,  supplies meaning and purpose to life in that he remains the best historical and examinable evidence for the existence of God and without God life, all life, is ultimately devoid of meaning and purpose. Without God -  the Creator God, the God of the Bible, the Triune God, the God who has come into our world in Jesus his Son -  life for all of us is as Shakespeare famously said a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing – or as the atheistic philosopher Quentin Smith put it: “The fact of the matter is that the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing and for nothing”  In contrast to that, Paul, speaking of Jesus, reminds us For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (Colossians 1:16) This world this universe is not a cosmic accident. You are not an accident. Both it and we have an origin and a purpose in him.

Secondly, Jesus in his person, his words and his actions not only testifies to the existence of God, he confirms that nagging feeling that any  thinking person has as they look out on the world, on humanity, namely, something’s wrong – things, we, as human beings are not as they should be.  In particular when we look at him in the gospels in his large-hearted love, his compassion to the needy, his lack of prejudice, his patience with his disciples,  his care for the weak and the outsider, his integrity, his exposure of hypocrisy and fearless commitment to truth, his passion for the glory of God but also his love for his enemies, his giving of himself, and all he had, to and for others and then set ourselves against him – our self-centred lives, our often petty and wayward desires, our narrow concerns  - you realise how far we have fallen.

But then, thirdly, at the same time because of who he is and particularly because he has done at the cross, there is hope that though as human beings we are broken, we can be mended  - rebellious and guilty as we may be, we can be forgiven because he made it plain he had come not in the first place to condemn but to save – I think of those words that breathe hope into everyone who has ever become aware of their moral and spiritual failure "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17) or again Peter’s summation of what Jesus accomplished on the cross Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

Fourthly, his resurrection means death is not the end. It does not have the last say on our lives. It does not render meaningless anything we have been and done, believed and loved in our time on earth. It is true if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… and  we are to be pitied more than all men but it is equally and overridingly true  Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:14,17,19,20) If anyone or any worldview is going to bring genuine and lasting hope they must have an answer for death. Jesus is the only one who ever has.

Then following his resurrection, fifthly and finally, his ascension into heaven (Luke 24.51, Acts 1.9), and taking his place of ultimate authority at the right hand of God the Father with the promise of his final return in glory, reminds us that nothing that happens in this world or in our own lives, however painful or puzzling, is outside of his control. As our risen, reigning and returning Lord as well as our sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4.14-16) he is the assurance that one day all questions will be answered, all disease and death will be vanquished, all wrongs will be righted and all tears will be wiped away. (Revelation 21.1-5)

Friends, Becky Pippert is right – the greatest thing that ever happened on our planet is the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  I need to know it. You need to know it, whatever is going on in our lives now or will go on in the future. Or more importantly, we need to know and trust Him and with his help, find ways of making him and this good news known to others,

Yours hopefully in Him


Scott family update

Dear Friends,

We wanted to express our thanks to all who have phoned, sent cards, emails, texts, flowers, messages of one kind or another. Even though we may be unable to acknowledge each one, these have meant more than you can possibly know, especially in these days when it is not possible to see people in person. And with that, of course, to thank all who have prayed for us. In that particular regard, can we further ask that you remember us we we travel to Aberdeen, go to Susan's family home and then on Thursday afternoon at 2pm  hold the joint graveside funeral for Susan's Dad, Gerry and her sister, Pam?

With our love and gratitude,

David and Susan

Sad news - Midweek Message Wednesday 29th April

Dear Friends

This is just a brief message, as I know you will understand, given the circumstances

On Saturday 25th April, after a long battle with MS, Susan’s sister Pam (aged 57) died quite suddenly at the end in Kingsmills Care Home. We were grateful to be able to be with her. Susan and Pam’s father, Gerry who, up until last week, had been keeping pretty well for his age, was taken into hospital in Aberdeen on Monday, and died suddenly there yesterday 28th April aged 94.

We’re grateful for a Saviour who weeps with us in all our sorrows and grateful too for your prayers at this sore, sore time

With our love and thanks

David and Susan

Making the best use of the time - Midweek Message Wednesday 22nd April

Dear Friends,

                Our homes will be very quiet at this time. But I have found that the quieter my surroundings, the more vividly I sense my connection with you all. It’s as if, in solitude, the soul develops organs of which we are hardly aware in everyday life’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer1)

                …the raft offered an unlikely intellectual refuge. He had never recognised how noisy the civilised world was…. his mind was freed of an encumbrance that civilisation had imposed on it. In his head, he could roam anywhere, and he found that his mind was quick and clear, his imagination unfettered and supple. He could stay with a thought for hours, turning it about (written of Louis Zamperini2)

Social isolation and lockdown have presented us with many challenges, not to mention frustrations and difficulties, but I wanted to consider with you one particular opportunity of these unique days that may be available to at least some of us, and  to which the quotes above bear remarkable and striking testimony.  They come from two men experiencing a form of social isolation and lockdown which, I think we would probably agree, goes way beyond anything the vast majority of us are currently experiencing.

The words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer come from a letter that he wrote from an underground Gestapo prison cell,  which was ‘eight by five feet… had no opportunity to see the light of day…no prison yard to walk, no thrushes to hear sing and no friendly guards3 It was written in Christmas 1944 to his fiancé Maria von Wedemeyer, who was at the time living with his parents.  The letter was accompanied by a poem he had also composed, which would later become a well-known German hymn, and which concluded with the following lines:

While all the powers of good aid and attend us,
boldly we'll face the future, come what may.
At even and at morn God will befriend us,
and oh, most surely on each newborn day4!

(If you want to read the whole poem/hymn you can find it here)

The second quote describes the experience of Louis Zamperini, the US 1936 Olympic Athlete, who served in the US Air Force during the Second World War. While conducting a search and rescue mission, Zamperini’s bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and he found himself, with 2 fellow crew members, drifting on a life raft for 47 days… in almost total silence, with no scents other than the singed odour of the raft, no flavours of the tongue, nothing moving but the slow procession of shark fins, every vista empty save water and sky5.

I wouldn’t want to play down for either man, all that they had lost, all that they endured in circumstances neither would have chosen for themselves. Yet, in their different ways,  both testify to the opportunity such solitude afforded them to use and stretch their minds. Freed from the distractions and the encumbrances of everyday life, they could reflect and think. Bonhoeffer was a clear and committed Christian and undoubtedly used the time to think and pray and reflect on Scripture which he had memorised. Louis Zamperini, at this point, was not a Christian but it is possible to see in some of his thinking and reflecting on that life raft, God sowing seeds of thoughts and inclinations that later would come to fruition in his committing his life to Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham rally after the war ended. However, they both used this time of isolation to think.

I’m conscious that out our circumstances will vary during the current lockdown. For some involved in delivering essential services or indeed seeking to look after, or home school, children life may actually be busier and for others, little may have changed. But for some at least, the pace and demands of our lives have reduced, our diaries are emptier, we find ourselves with more free time than normal and the noise and distraction of everyday life is not as pronounced. Of course, for such as these, we could use the ‘extra’ time to watch more Television. I heard this morning that Netflix has had 16m (!) new subscribers since Covid-19 began to make itself felt across the world. But I would want to encourage us to see this as a God given opportunity to use and feed our minds, recalling that exhortation of Paul’s at the beginning of Romans 12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.( Romans 12:1-2)

So, here are 4 possibilities (by no means exhaustive) but which occur to me:

1) Read (or if you have access to the Bible online) listen to one of the gospels right through – or in large chunks -  asking God to reveal the wonder and uniqueness of the person and the work of Jesus and why it is such a great thing to be a ‘truster’ and  follower of Him

2) Read through the New City Catechism (accessible here) using one Q & A per day and taking some time to think and reflect on the relevant Scripture and the associated writings as a commentary, and praying slowly the given prayer

3) Read a biography of a Christian. As you may have recognised from these last two Midweek messages, I have found tremendous stimulation, challenge and encouragement  in reading through Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is always of immense value to see how God worked in someone else’s life to bring them to faith and to sustain them and use them in that faith to make a difference in the lives of others.     

4) Read and meditate on Scripture. Take a truth about God about Jesus – maybe something about their character or what they have done - that has struck you from your reading of a Bible passage and spend some time, say 10 -15 minutes, thinking about it, turning it over & over in your mind,, admiring, appreciating what you have seen and understood and allowing it to inform and shape your praise of, and prayer to, God .

When trying to explain the purpose of such Christian meditation in which you are seeking not to empty your mind but to fill it with biblical truth, true truth, someone has likened it to putting a tea bag into hot water:

 Hearing the word, or reading it, or listening to a sermon is dipping the tea bag and removing it. There is some change, some transfer of the tea to the water, but not much. Meditation, however, is allowing the tea bag to soak in the water so that the flavour and power of the tea is transferred to and integrated throughout the water. The water becomes tea….. For the tea analogy, imagine yourself as the water, the scripture as the tea bag, and God’s spirit as the tea itself. Allow the scripture to soak in your mind, repetitively dip it in your thoughts as you would a tea bag into warm water. Listen in faith, believing that God will speak to you through his word. Allow the spirit and nature of God to steep in your spirit, entering your heart and mind through his word.6

All of these are suggestions; no hard and fast rules in this – but simply again trying to respond to a similar and general injunction of Paul’s to the Christians in Ephesus who would have found themselves in a range of circumstances in terms of the competing demands (or lack of them) upon their time: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,  making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.(Ephesians 5:15-16)

Yours in that call to live and use our time wisely,


1 Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – Eric Metaxas p496
2 Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand p173-4
3 Metaxas p 494
4 Metaxas p497
5 Hillenbrand p 174
6 John Tillman from an article in Park Forum The Practice of Meditation – Tea which can be found here

Friendship & Adversity - Midweek Message - Wednesday 15th April

Dear Friends,

I mentioned in the Easter Sunday message that I am currently reading Eric Metaxas biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who was part of the resistance within Germany to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis before and during the Second world War. As a result, he ended up being executed 75 years ago on 10th April 1945 by Hitler’s express orders. It is a humbling and inspiring story of Christian faith and courage in the face of much evil and adversity. Yet one of the things that has come out of the book and was confirmed for me by a recently published article on Bonhoeffer, was that he was not ‘a lone hero’ , a ‘self-made man leaping from strength to strength’ rather he was a ‘son… brother…friend…neighbour…citizen’ ; and was ‘formed in the small, mysterious, slow, even weak places of life—home, family, friends’;  ‘ the strength in his life was born out of the vulnerable and loving constraints of committed relationships.’* As well as forming and fashioning Bonhoeffer’s faith and life through his Word, God used relationships with those around him to shape and support him, to encourage and equip him for the work and witness to which he was called. 

Bonhoeffer himself recognised the importance of such relationships, not only in his own life but for all Christians. Given the powerful pressure  to submit and conform to  Nazism, he realised that if Christians were to remain faithful to Christ & oppose and undermine it, then the mutual support and encouragement of deep relationships, deep friendships in Christ was going to be necessary. He wrote a remarkable little book ‘Life together’ about the vital importance of such Christian community.

Our current context is very different from that facing Dietrich Bonhoeffer and yet, I wonder if, at a very general level, we are learning something similar in the wake of the impact of Covid-19 on all our lives. There have been so many heartening stories all over communities, up and down the country and across the world of people contacting and connecting with neighbours, friends, families, in some cases complete strangers as we realise we are in this together and need, at some level, to respond together.  In many cases, such connections have not been with people totally unknown, but perhaps simply those who, in the busy-ness of everyday life, were simply nodding acquaintances, known by sight but little more. The circumstances of the crisis have afforded a very natural opportunity to engage at a deeper more personal level as people look out for others and help in practical ways.

From speaking and listening to many within Inshes Church I know this has been happening and it has been a real joy and encouragement to hear of it. And, therefore, from a Christian point of view & in the context of our life as a church, all I wanted to do was to encourage us to make the very most of such opportunities.  Further, I hope that whenever this crisis is over and things return to ‘normal’, we won’t forget the people we have got to know better. I hope we will recognise, again especially in the context of the Christian life, that one of the prime ways God encourages and equips us, shapes us and supports us as Christians is through the giving and receiving of  friendship with fellow Christians. Equally,  one of the ways in which He commends Christ and his gospel to non-Christians is the friendship of Christians. In relation to that last point, I heard a pastor comment of those who have come recently into a church family that they are not as interested in people being friendly as they are in finding friends. Friendship is a precious thing in God’s sight and significant in His purposes.

You may remember from our series last year in Proverbs the value God places on the true friend.

17:17  A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

18:24  A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

In the light of all that we have  been celebrating this Easter weekend, seeking to be such a friend to others in a time of need and indeed at all times, is surely a right and fitting response to all that God done for us and has given us in Christ. Jesus is the one who ‘laid down his life for his friends’ (John 15.13) He’s the one who came to be the friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt 11.19); the one who, over the disapproving voices of the crowd, stopped to listen to and answer the desperate cry of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46ff), and the one who sought to befriend not just the socially isolated, but the social outcast, Zacchaeus (Luke 19.1ff). As we sang fairly recently: What a friend we have in Jesus!

Yours with much to learn from Him about being a true friend,

PS Remember, if you are able, praying on Wednesday at 7pm for 7 people for 7 minutes
*  from an article by Laura Fabrycky – The Witness of the weak centres – belonging, friendship, and prayer in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Comment – you can find the whole article here

Midweek Message - Wednesday April 8th

Imagine seeing a toddler confronted with a 2-metre-deep swimming pool and they are told to get across it. They can’t swim and are, therefore, frightened and fearful – indeed, totally incapable. If they even step into the pool that will be the end of the toddler.

However, having stepped away from the swimming pool, you return 5 minutes later, and you cannot believe what you are seeing. This toddler is moving through the swimming pool. You can’t see their feet. You can’t see them from the waist down, but the toddler is moving through the water. It’s impossible. How can this be?
But then you take a closer look and realise that hidden from your sight, totally submerged in the water but directly underneath the toddler and carrying them on their shoulders, is this toddler’s father. That’s why this toddler is moving through the water. That is why this toddler is going to make it to the other side: they are being carried on the shoulders of a larger, stronger other.

As we make our way through Holy Week, heading for Good Friday and Easter Sunday, this, for me, is a wonderful picture of what Jesus has done for us and will do for us. At his birth Jesus, the eternal and infinite Son of God, took upon himself our humanity. Now, at the end of his life and according to the loving and saving purpose of God the Father, he chooses to submerge himself under the waters of death – a death on the cross in which he bears the dreadful consequences of all our wrongdoing & rebellion against our Maker – only, on Easter Sunday, to come out the other side  of death, as he rises from the grave, never to die again. And all that, so that we, trusting and relying on him, sitting by faith on his shoulders, may be carried through whatever life may bring us , through ultimately what death will bring us - through all of that to the other side to take our place with him in God’s eternal home.

These are testing days for all of us. It may feel much less like a swimming pool, much more like a stormy ocean that we find ourselves having to cross as we navigate all that Covid-19 has brought & threatens to bring to our lives. Nevertheless, when you consider all that Jesus endured on his way to the cross and especially in the cross itself – when you consider all that he triumphed over as he emerged from the tomb and ascended into heaven, it demonstrates his shoulders are strong! Strong enough to support the youngest, the weakest, the frailest of believers. Strong enough to keep our head above the stormiest of waters. He is more than able to bring us home.

Remember in that first Holy Week, his words in the Upper Room to his fearful disciples, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me’ (John 14.1)

Remember, too, the opening question and answer in the New City Catechism:

Q: What is our only hope in life and death?

A: That we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, to God and to our Saviour, Jesus Christ. (Listen to a recently published song based on these words here)

PS Remember, if you are able, praying on Wednesday at 7pm for 7 people for 7 minutes

A Prayer of Lament over the Coronavirus Pandemic

We may find ourselves looking for help, for words to express our prayers and cries to God in these days. The following prayer by Trina Dofflemyer with its introductory words  first appeared on the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries here A prayer of lament

A Prayer of Lament over the Coronavirus Pandemic
Trina Dofflemyer

A lament is a prayer searching for understanding and peace in the midst of suffering or disheartening circumstances. The Old Testament psalmists and prophets wove many such prayers of lament into their writings. Below is a prayer of lament over the coronavirus pandemic:

Hear our cry, Almighty God. Listen to our prayer. How long will we have to hide in our homes from this invisible enemy? Where will it strike next? And whom? And what if…? Our screens relay a continuous escalation of suffering and death around the world. Panic and anxiety abounds. Our souls are weary from the strain of the life-altering unknowns.

Heavenly Father, from the depths of our pain and confusion, we cry out to You. From fear-filled hearts and anxious minds, we plead with You. Rescue us, Father of compassion and grace. We lift up our eyes to You, Lord God, the One who sits enthroned in heaven.

On all who have contracted the virus

Lord have mercy

On all who have lost loved ones to this sickness and are in mourning and anguish

Lord have mercy

On all who are unable to earn an income because their jobs have been suspended

Lord have mercy

We cry out for healing and needed resources
We cry out for comfort and peace

On all medical professionals and caretakers attending to those infected with the virus

Christ have mercy

On all scientists and technologists striving to find a vaccine and to make it available

Christ have mercy

On all leaders of institutions and governments as they make decisions to try and contain the virus

Christ have mercy

We pray for strength in the long and exhausting hours of labour
We pray for wisdom in the research and difficult decisions

On all who have not yet contracted the virus

Lord have mercy

On the most vulnerable of our society who are unable to buy extra food or get proper medical attention

Lord have mercy

On all disciples of Jesus Christ discerning how to reflect His love to others within this crisis

Lord have mercy

We plead for protection of health
We plead for all to remain calm and kind

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the expanse of the universe. And yet this earth is no longer as You created it to be. Holy Father, our earth groans from the devastation caused by the curse of the Fall. My God, Your Word is true. One day You will liberate creation from its bondage to decay and death.

Life is sacred and precious in your sight. You are the God Who sees us and sustains us.

Nothing can separate us from the Father’s unfailing love and kindness, not even sickness or the fear of tomorrow. You are our Light as we walk in this darkness. We will remember to celebrate the beautiful gifts You have given us in this present moment.

Almighty God, You are our Rock, our Refuge from the enemy, our hiding place.
You calm our frantic thoughts and fill our despairing hearts with joy and strength.
In Your Presence living water springs forth in the wilderness.
You restore our souls.

*Please note: this prayer may also be personalized by using “I” and “my” instead of “we” and “our.”

Why prayer in these days matters

This is an extract from the latest pastoral letter from Jerry Middleton, minister of Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen. You will not be surprised to know he is writing about Covid-19 and setting down what he calls markers to guide Christians in their response to this virus and all that it continues into bring to our world. He has 7 of them - they all begin with P - Perspective, Prayer, Planning, Protection, Provision, Poverty, Proclamation - but I must admit it was what he said about the second of these - namely our responsibility to pray that spoke to me & so I reproduce it here below. If you would like to read the whole letter you can find it here

Our primary calling as the people of God - indeed our primary responsibility - is to pray. From day 1 of the life of the church, when Peter picked up on the words of the prophet Joel, it’s clear that we are as God’s people in a very real sense a ‘prophetic people’: “I will pour out My Spirit in those days and they will prophesy” (Acts 2.17-18).

And what do prophets do? They pray. The very first time that the word ‘prophet’ is used in Scripture, that’s what we find the guy doing. Praying. “He is a prophet,” God said to the king of Gerar about Abraham: “he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live” (Gen.20.7).

Let’s never lose sight of that calling. A prophet. He’ll pray: you’ll live.

Our primary calling is not to be throwing in our tuppence-worth as to the rights and wrongs of what we should be doing in these days: not to be up in arms about who knows just what, but down on our knees in prayer.

There are all sorts of ways in which all sorts of people can play their part in securing the common good at a time like this. But who has access to the King? Who can draw near to the One who alone can save and plead the cause of a nation? Who (as the Lord Himself once asked through His servant, the prophet Ezekiel) will build up the wall and stand in the gap on behalf of the land? That’s our privileged calling as the people of God. Prophets who’ll pray; and others will live.

That’s what the well-known passage in 2 Chronicles 7.14 is on about. Most Christians know the verse as the “If My people ..” verse: we’re perhaps not quite as familiar with the context, which has everything to do with the present crisis - “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain (it’s the Lord who is speaking) or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people …” .
That’s the context in which this well-known verse kicks in: “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” And you’ll see it’s not just an exhortation to make sure we’re saying our prayers. It’s prayer characterized by our humbling ourselves, by our seeking God’s face, and by our turning from our wicked ways.

If I write most fully on this, it’s because it’s surely the most important ‘marker’ of all. Scientific ‘modelling’ is doubtless very helpful: but the Lord is well able to stop a plague in its tracks. We’re called to be ‘prophets’. We’re to pray, that others may live. 

May God yet come in healing grace and power.
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