Psalm 11 (NIV)
1 In the Lord I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
‘Flee like a bird to your mountain.
2 For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
3 When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?’
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
We make a brave show of it and use technology to make the best of a bad job but we can’t seriously pretend that the present restrictions on large gatherings has been anything other than harmful to church life as we’ve known it. In that sense perhaps the foundation we’ve constructed for congregational life and what we have built on it God has blown away that in his providence we might have space to think and pray.
I hope you are praying as I am that God will protect what is crucial, what is foundational in his eyes, and that the church will emerge from this crisis perhaps leaner but stronger, having taken to heart the lessons and being more dependent on his grace and power. As it ever has been, the present and future of the church and his purpose for us are in God’s hands. So, what will remain and what have we learned?
Well that’s what I hope we can think about in our internet services over the coming weeks under the title “Essential Church”. We are going to examine those things that are central, the things we’ve missed most perhaps, the things circumstances can’t destroy for those things are the foundation on which we can and must rebuild. The Lord is in his holy temple, The Lord is on his heavenly throne.” “In the Lord I take refuge” (Ps11:4 & V1)
I hope you will join us at 11am on Sunday on the church website when we begin by examining our identity.
Reign in me. (Chris Bowater)
Psalm 145:17-21 (NIVUK)
17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.
This has nothing whatever to do with the Coronavirus so that’s your opportunity to exit if that’s what you want, but if you want to hear of God’s faithfulness read on. Today is 29th April I’m sure in the history of the world there is a significant event somewhere that took place on this date or a famous person who was born or died on this date. This morning as I wrote the date in the book I use for my own devotional jottings I got no further, not yet anyway, because my mind went back to this day 43 years ago and if that’s too hard for you to work out at this time of day the year was 1977.
It was a Friday evening and St Andrew’s, my home congregation was nearing the end of a two week mission as the church did in those days. If you’ve jumped the gun and think, oh here goes, he’s going to tell us about his conversion, I’m not for I had been a Christian for about a year and three months at the time. No the story I hope will encourage you especially if you are praying for someone and have been for a while.
A few days before this date I had finally plucked up the courage to invite a friend and his girlfriend, later to be his wife to the mission; I had been praying for them for some time and was convinced that they would come to know and trust in Jesus. The speaker gave a particularly powerful address that evening and I felt deeply moved to rededicate myself to Jesus but during the last hymn there was a struggle going on internally and it came down to this.... I was so convinced that God had spoken to them but I felt he needed a hand so I reasoned that if I made a move to go to the front they would follow. I went, they stayed and I was deeply disappointed. God had failed me and I was confused.
It ended well however, for within a short period of a year or 18 months they had come to faith through the ministry of their own church. As I thought about it years later and again this morning a number of things occur to me. My conviction wasn’t wrong God was at work in their hearts but as is often the case our timing and his don’t coincide, in our impatience we’re inclined to run ahead. What I had tried to do by that show of commitment on my part was force God’s hand, not a clever thing to do!
Many years later as an assistant minister in Rathcoole church my boss said something that I’ve never forgotten but still at times find frustrating “ when the fruit is ripe it will fall” meaning that when God the Holy Spirit has completed his work hearts will yield naturally without my help.
If the conviction to pray for someone is fresh in your heart then have patience and continue to pray. Why? Because God is faithful and he does answer those who call on him in truth (verses 17&18 above). Ask for wisdom to know what to pray for, ask for patience to wait for God’s time, ask for perseverance in prayer and faith to sustain you. “The Lord fulfils the desires of those who fear him.” V19. Ask that your will may be conformed to His will for His glory.
Lord today, grant me wisdom that what I ask in prayer will conform to your will. Give me patience to persist in prayer and give me the gift of faith to continue to trust you even when there is no outward sign to encourage me. In Jesus name I pray. AMEN
Faithful God (Chris Bowater)
Last week during one of our daily exercise slots as we were returning to the house we got into a conversation with a neighbour, all suitably socially distanced and everything, in the course of which she said that her daughter was preparing at home for the transfer tests or AQE’s as they’re known, the “Quallie” in my day... a dozen years or so ago, ahemm!
The subject was aired on Radio Ulster this morning and apparently the application process has been delayed due to, you guessed, the Coronavirus crisis. As I sat there with nothing else to do at that particular moment I began to think how lives can be shaped, not so much by one event though that’s possible, but by our response to it, or even the response of others around us. In the end however important this or any other set of exams may be we should never interpret them as crucial to our future or the future of our children. Exams can be retaken, another path may open up, a different career beckon and people who are motivated will find their place.
We can’t make people the same; we’re all too complex and individual to fit into the same mould but equality of opportunity is a goal for which we ought to aim. Along with that if this virus has taught us one thing, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s taught us that some occupations we considered to be low grade in January have proved to be crucial for the community as a whole.
The side of our nature that is often overlooked of course is the spiritual. People are not simple physical beings but spiritual and physical, though I recognise that some don’t accept that. There you go! And just as a wee aside I discovered this morning in looking at an on-line bible concordance that in the three occasions listed where body and soul come together in the one phrase the soul always comes first making it soul and body. I wonder does it reveal what we consider most important and what God judges important. I digress!
Spiritually we need to remember that we have all failed to make the grade, not one has made a success of living in their own power in a way that pleases God, not since the Eden affair anyway. You know what’s coming next, a bible verse.... “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23, a truth indeed but it is what comes next that we don’t always hear which brings hope.
We have a champion who has made the grade who is totally righteous and who when we come to him in faith out of his goodness gives us his righteousness. Our grade made perfect by him. So let’s hear the whole statement not just the bad news. “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness,”
Let no-one say God is unfair this is what equality of opportunity looks like. You only have to ask in faith. That’s our good news story!
Loving heavenly Father I thank you today for the grace that has been shown to me, for the fact that I am justified or set in a right relationship with you by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I didn’t deserve this but I praise you for your love, for the compassion that you have shown to me and not only me but to the whole human race. Holy Spirit draw many people to faith in Jesus so that they too may have peace with God. AMEN
My worth is not in what I own (Fernando Ortega and Kristyn Getty)
One of the positive outcomes of the Covid-19 crisis, one of the few positive outcomes, is that we have become more aware of those around us. We’ve been encouraged to look out for the vulnerable and the isolated and to shop for someone else if possible when we’re at the supermarket. It’s all calling us to think in new ways and that is good, if it restores something of a sense of community.
This morning I’ve been reading John 13:1-17, it’s the account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet but you’ll know that if you’ve read it for yourself. It’s a passage we know well and while we imagine we know the lessons have we taken them to heart? It’s very much harder as always to put them into effect and easy to read and carry on regardless. The illustration of washing one another’s feet points to serving one another, being willing to take on the role, even more than that, actually embrace the role of a servant as this was the task of the lowest servant in the household. It disturbed Peter that Jesus should do this and he at first resisted until Jesus said that he must wash him or Peter could have no part of him. Peter seemed to get the point and asked that he might be washed from head to toe.
You know, I think Peter learned an important lesson in humility that day. Humility is not only serving it is allowing others to serve us and very often that is the most difficult part of serving one another in the body of Christ. For reasons of pride it offends us to think that another might for a moment imagine that we need help. This though is not optional it is something we have to do since we have the example of Jesus himself but what a source of blessing it is because it makes us dependent on one another and binds us closer in Christ. Let’s consciously practice serving and being served in the church family until it becomes our second nature.
Lord thank you for the example of service in this act of washing the disciples’ feet, and for the greater service to which it pointed as you washed us from sin at the cross. Lord by your Holy Spirit’s work in us give us the grace and the humility both to serve and be served with humble, thankful hearts and out of love for you and for others within the family of the church. In Jesus name, AMEN
The servant King
Last night again the nation stood to applaud the work of the NHS and frontline workers, in doing so we are acknowledging the value of their work and the scale of their commitment to the health and well being of the nation. It is good to do that, and right that we as a people should show our gratitude. On another level though our applause adds nothing to the magnitude of their work, it is not valuable because we recognise it and applaud it, but because the facts speak for themselves. The work they do is testimony enough to their commitment and every patient who leaves hospital or recovers at home confirms it. On April 20th the Guardian newspaper reported that at least 100 health care workers at all levels have died of Covid-19 while the official statistics record 27 deaths. What more need be said of their commitment?
This morning I was reading John 5:31-47 Jesus conversation with the religious leaders who were out to silence him claiming that he had blasphemed in calling God his Father but the testimony Jesus pointed to was not that of John the Baptist or any other person, but of the work he was doing. That was testimony enough of his identity, look for example at verse 36. The greater testimony however comes from the Father himself through his word but as these leaders studied the scriptures it was as if they were blind. We who follow Jesus should not depend on others testimony or their acknowledgement as proof of our faith. The evidence of our faith, the proof of our discipleship should be known in the work we do and the life we lead, not as an alternative to but as confirmation of the witness we give to Jesus.
Lord we praise you today that in the healing work Jesus did we saw your Kingdom breaking in to time. We thank you that in His death and resurrection our pardon was won and new life secured. We thank you today for those who have dedicated themselves to the care and healing of others. We thank you for the gifts, knowledge and skill that enables them to do their work and we pray that you the Great Physician would crown it with success. Grant your care and protection to all who work within our health and care system and keep them safely we pray. In the perfect name of Jesus our Saviour we ask it. AMEN
His mercy is more.
It seems that whilst restrictions currently applied to our lives for the sake of our own health might be relaxed in the coming months that “social distancing” will be around for some time yet. How that changes in the longer term the way in which we relate to others has yet to be seen but, if it’s the law we have to obey and remember it’s for our own good.
My daily reading this morning was Deuteronomy 30:11-14 but in my own pattern, forgetting where I was to stop I read on to the end of verse 16, and at the beginning of that verse Moses commands the people to love the Lord and walk in obedience to him. Just then a thought popped into my mind, how can anyone command love? Love is given and received it can’t be commanded, it grows out of a relationship. It looks like a conundrum until you read further back in the chapter at verse 6..... “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” You see the initiative is taken by God who opens a relationship with us and gives us life by his grace, who has shown us love and makes it possible for us to love him in return. So, love is a response to God’s first love, a love that is shown comprehensively in Jesus and our love for him is seen in how we live day by day in harmony with his revealed will; obedience in a word.
Writing in his first letter chapter 4 John puts it like this “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus.” Of course were not always like Jesus, and our behaviour does not always glorify him nor our attitudes reveal his love in us and therein lies the problem. We complain that understanding what God wants is too hard, we can’t understand his word it’s too hard. That might require us to think! Well, Moses won’t have any of that and writes in Deut30:14 “No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it.” The problem and the answer are identified by the hymn writer William Cowper in the hymn “Hark my soul”..... Lord, it is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint; yet I love thee, and adore: O for grace to love thee more!
Lord I praise you that your very nature is love and I thank you that in grace you called me to know you and that in Jesus my sins are forgiven. Thank you Lord you have enabled me to respond in faith to the call of Jesus. I ask for grace to love and serve you, for the help of the Holy Spirit to face and overcome the challenges, trials and the temptations that come along day by day and I ask this to you glory and so that Jesus my Lord may be seen in me. AMEN
Your love (Pour over me) Stuart Townend.
1st Peter 1:13-21
There is a saying, “variety is the spice of life”. How old it is I don’t know nor does it really matter but from my conversations with people variety is the thing that we most miss in this present “lockdown”. Almost every day is the same. What will we do today? The same as yesterday! It seems at times that we forget, if even momentarily, why we are forced into this position. After three weeks and into four the question arises how much people will put up with curtailment of their routine before it becomes and infringement of their rights. The question again debated on the radio this morning. I suppose again, that the answer is as variable as individuals.
We have become used to freedom of choice in a way other generations before us did not know. The reasons are probably economic; we have greater wealth. Go to a superstore today and you have almost endless choice in bread, coffee or beans, even toilet rolls. The choice offered in some products is bewildering. The problem is, maybe problem is too strong a word, so potentially is that this can be a problem for Christian growth.
Our freedom in Christ does not extend to making choices that are detrimental to our faith or sinful at heart. This is not a new problem but one addressed by Paul in his first letter to Christians in Corinth, to believers who had become confused over the nature of their freedom. So, he wrote speaking for them in chapter 10:23 ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’– but not everything is constructive.
You see the answer and in that the point of his argument, is yes as Christians we still have freedom, but not every choice we make is right or good and that calls for discernment. The problem is one of the mind. When we think that we have been denied something it suddenly becomes attractive. I know this from experience at least at a mundane level. I have tried numerous diets periodically over the years and I have never missed any food until I deprive myself of it. Then the choice of other meals, though vast in reality, suddenly becomes very bland.
As Christians perhaps we haven’t really grasped the inverted values of God’s Kingdom. Our liberty in Christ is not liberty to sin, but liberty not to sin, to choose the right which before we could not do and Peter I think has the answer. Look again at verse 13. The Authorised version translates the original almost literally “Gird up the loins of your mind” Hearing that read from the AV years ago in Union College I asked an older student, not older in age but one who had been there longer “What does that mean?” I was trying to make the point that the phrase was almost meaningless to people of our day but not taking the point he answered “Get ready to think!”
Actually he was 100% right it goes back to the practice in the day when people wore long robes they would gather them up and tuck them into their belt so that they could run or engage in some strenuous work. They were then free from entanglements. When linked by Peter with the encouragement to be sober-minded it seems to me that he is really emphasising that the battle is lost or won in the mind. Dwell less on the attractions of sin and more on the grace that is still to come in Christ and as that hope takes root in the mind it will shape the actions. Being holy in our conduct (our behaviour different and God honouring) then is not an optional extra for believers. It is not only something we are commanded to be but if our minds are fixed on Christ, we will truly long to be and all our choices and steps will be to that end. True freedom!
Lord help me to dwell on the grace that is mine in Jesus your Son. Enable me to fix my mind on him and so prepare for action in the Christian life. I rejoice in the grace that you have shown me, I look forward to the grace that is yet to be revealed when Christ returns in glory. Lord today as I confess my sin I do so in the confidence that Christ has atoned for sin and that you have promised to forgive. So purify my heart take from me the love of sinning and set me apart to live always for you Lord. In Jesus strong name I pray. Amen