Minister's blog

A' Chaingis

"When the day of Pentecost came..." Acts 2. 1 Some regard today as the birthday of the church. Why not? Celebration strengthens our appreciation of the occasion or person being celebrated. It also redoubles our commitment. The coming of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem at the Jewish festival of Pentecost fulfilled Jesus' promise to the disciples (Luke 24. 49 and Acts 1. 4) and it reminds us that we have been saved for a purpose, for which the Holy Spirit equips us and towards which he guides us. I came across one example in the ministry of The International Justice Mission (IJM). This growing global movement focuses on the continuing outrage of slavery, which currently blights the lives of 40 mi

Love

"Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end..." John 13.1 "Love" the word is elastic - it has to be, such is the range of interpretations it must cover. Other languages can be more specific. Greek distinguishes between romantic attraction (eros), worldly affection (philia), and spiritual devotion (agape). Gaelic has at least two words for love: "gaol" agus "gradh". English used to have more. Famously the oft-quoted trilogy "faith, hope and love" is rendered "faith, hope and charity" in the Authorised Version of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13. 13). But "charity" now means something else. A case of distorted emphasis? Sin mar a tha e. Love is... nebulous. From "the love

Hope

"... being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." Romans 4. 21 This verse refers to Abraham, whose trust in God is legendary. With only that trust to go on, Abraham left home with no idea where he was supposed to go. He believed God when God told him that he and his wife Sarah would have a son and descendants as numerous as the stars, even though they were both barren and old. And when that precious son finally arrived and was approaching manhood, Abraham obeyed when God told him he would have to sacrifice Isaac and everything he represented. Abraham was not perfect. The stories about him in the Bible confirm that. But he did trust God implicitly and for two reasons:

Faith

"Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17. 20 The other day I was listening to someone talking frankly about a challenging season in their life. They entered that season full of bravado, confident that their faith would get them through. It didn't. The problem did not lie in the object of their faith (God) but in the quality of their faith. Looking back they described the faith they used to have as big but frothy - like candy-floss. As soon as things got serious their candy-floss faith dissolved. Happily it did not dissolve into nothing. There rema

The dark side of discipleship

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16. 33 According to the para-church organisation Open Doors, throughout the world 8 Christians are killed every day on account of their faith. Meanwhile 182 Christian buildings are attacked every week and 309 Christians are unjustly imprisoned every month. Last year over 260 million Christians suffered high to extreme levels of persecution. 80% of those who suffer religious persecution are Christian. These are sobering statistics but, if we take Jesus' warning to heart, they should not surprise us. The Lord did not say his followers might suffer oppression, he said it was a certainty. Why? Because the Gosp

Scared?

"... perfect love drives out fear..." I John 4. 18 Another giant which oppresses many people is fear. Fear manifests itself in many ways: lack of confidence, a variety of so-called "phobias", worries about "getting it wrong", a guilty conscience, conviction of sin and - in some situations - raw physical fear of death or injury or persecution. In the first of his three letters which appear in the New Testament, the apostle John addresses fear among believers in relation to God. He explains how fear is motivated by the dread of something bad happening - in this case punishment for sin. And his message is as profound as it is simple: that Jesus gave his perfect life as the once-for-all sacrific

Burning out?

"For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." Ephesians 2. 10 Why is it that my mind turns to work on my day-off? Maybe it's all part of the cycle of relaxation: putting one's feet up releasing the reflective juices... Recently I was advised that the antidote to burn-out is doing what makes you fully alive. Now why is that? One might assume that doing what makes you fully alive would induce burn-out because isn't that what "driven" people do? Not necessarily. People can be driven by various things: guilt, greed, ambition... And any of these would very likely lead to one form of illness or another. Doing what m

Corona-coaster

"... let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5. 16 I learned a new word yesterday: Corona-coaster. Some wag described it as what happens when commitment to Joe Wicks' work-outs diminishes and tantrums increase. Another way to describe it may be as what you get when you mix emotion with confinement. So much for the problem, what about the solution - or, at least, a strategy for recovery? I was inspired by a Tearfund podcast on the topic. It suggested that we start by lamenting over the broken-ness which the Corona-crisis has revealed: whether that amounts to recognising the vulnerability of those of a certain age or eth

Abba, Father, Athair

"He said to them, 'When you pray, say: Father...'" Luke 11. 2 And with that simple word "Father" Jesus launched a revolution. Because the word he used was the Aramaic equivalent of "Daddy". Jews of the time expected to address God formally in classical Hebrew, just as Muslims still chant the Quran in classical Arabic and Hindus read the Vedas in Sanskrit. But Jesus opened the door to communicating with God in one's own language. Jokes abound as to what the language of heaven might be. The truth is that God is multi-lingual. And so the Christian Bible is composed of at least three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) and wherever the Gospel is preached, fresh translations are made into local

Confinement

"Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about." Acts 1. 4 I wonder how the disciples, now apostles, felt on the morning after Jesus' ascension? Were they itching to go, or nervous about the future. Had they a sense of the hand of God being on their shoulder, or were they just desperately hoping the Romans wouldn't find them? As we celebrate Ascension and Pentecost in our own unique circumstances, we find ourselves pondering the significance of our own experience: are we just unlucky, or are we poised for something extraordinary? I have just been attending a Church of Scotland webinar, which gathered 1000 office-bearers to focus on the

Don't look up, look forward

"... why do you stand there looking up into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." Acts 1. 11 Jesus disciples apparently couldn't take their eyes off him. He had defied everybody's worst fears and exceeded their greatest expectations (though they couldn't quite get their heads around it all just yet). Being transfixed by something or someone wonderful is not an unfamiliar human experience: it happens when lovers gaze at each other, or when a climber is confronted by a glorious view. We lose ourselves in the moment, which is wonderful. But it cannot last. Jesus' ascension was certainly worthy of the

Great when it works!

"Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall..." Isaiah 40.30 The gremlins have been hard at work. I'm currently trying to log in to a seminar at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig but the technology is against us. Previous to that I was dealing with a dramatic reduction in our Broadband speed at the manse. In the greater scheme of things these are minor irritations rather than major catastrophes. Yet they remind us not to take the technology we rely on for granted. The same could be said of one another. Tragically it is too often when we lose touch with someone, either through absence or death, that we realise how much they meant to us. And so it goes on across a range of categories: it

Deliver us from evil

"Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming." Ephesians 4. 14 Under our noses public morality has undergone a sea-change. Where Christianity once governed society's ethical framework, aggressive liberalism has seized the reins so that anything goes - except what used to! By which I mean that, in everything from the laws we make to the debates we hold, you can say whatever you like as long as it panders to formerly oppressed minorities. But you must not uphold values which may be deemed exclusive. The irony, as is frequently pointed out, is tha

Work

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." Colossians 3. 23 Work: what a topic for one's day off (if only!). But they say it's what most of us spend most of our time doing - under normal circumstances. Might there be something useful in considering the matter, precisely because we are in such abnormal circumstances that many are having to adjust to doing without the very thing that most absorbs us? In the parent and toddler group in the previous church I served, there was a chorus we used to sing, which celebrated how creatures please God by being and doing what they were created to be and do: cows mooing, birds flying, fish swimming -

When the shadows encroach

'Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!' Philippians 4. 4 I had a bad night last night. In the morning I drew strength from something written by Martin Luther, who suffered from depression (I don't suffer from depression). Writing to a fellow sufferer, he advised countering the darkness by vigorously praising God. That might seem odd and the last thing someone feeling low would be inclined to do. I can't help thinking Luther must have had in his mind the words of Paul to the Philippian church, quoted above. Paul was writing to people who knew all about suffering and his words were not naive, nor insensitive because he understood their predicament. He makes the careful dist

Unstoppable

"Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17. 20 Last night we cosied up on the settee (as is our habit of a Friday evening) and watched a film. On this occasion it was 'Unstoppable', which tells the story of surfing legend, Bethany Hamilton, whose arm was bitten off by a shark. Instead of giving in to despair, she bounced back to take the surfing world by storm, getting married and having a child along the way. It is not an overtly Christian film but there are several modest yet unmistakable references to Bethany's secret: her faith in the one who pr

Aligning work and values

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29. 11 Last night I tuned in to Praxis, an on-line course run by Tearfund to encourage Christians to put our faith into action. That particular session was looking at values and how to align those which are most precious to us with the way we spend our time and, in particular, with the work we do to serve the community and earn a living. Why not take a moment to consider the values which you prize above all others? Write a list and then select the top 5 or 10. Then ask yourself: Is what I do - with my leisure and in my work - consistent with thes

Testing our faith

"He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand." Psalm 40. 2 There is something gritty and real about the Bible. People make mistakes, things go wrong, even the heroes have clay feet! Yet, through it all, runs the thread of redemption, that despite the mess and the tragedy, everything is coming together and that it's going to work out in the end. At the end of the road stands the risen Jesus, his arms stretched out to welcome us. All the while he is alongside us too: guiding, helping, carrying even. That doesn't necessarily make it easier when we find ourselves in the firing line, when our own lives fall apart, or when

Laying to rest

"He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit..." 1 Peter 3. 18 Today we lay my beloved Uncle John to rest. But what do we mean by "laying to rest"? Is it the person or their physical remains? Are they present at all, or is it the shell which the "real person" used to inhabit? And what about cremation? Are the resurrection prospects of those who have been blown up or eaten by sharks any less than those who bodies are encased in a wooden box? We prefer not to discuss these questions, though I suspect they occur to many of us, especially at funerals. At the heart of the Christian faith stands the resurrection of Jesus: the belief that "He was put to death in the body but made a

Near miss

"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6. 2 I woke up yesterday and realised that we are into Christian Aid Week and I had failed to make any mention of it in church on Sunday! Yet this is the annual opportunity to remind ourselves of the outrage which we should never forget: that in a world of plenty many do not have enough. It is said that one should put one's own house in order before criticising others. We are quick to blame God when things go wrong, yet he has made us in his image and given us stewardship of creation. Until we learn how to care for, and share, this generous inheritance we have so right to question the Lord's integrity. How we deploy ou

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