3 June 2020 – Philemon 17 …welcome him as you would welcome me.

Once more we reach the middle of another week and I invite you as in previous weeks to set aside some time to pray about what is going on in the wider world and our own land, as well as for ourselves and the local community in which we live.

Philemon 17 …welcome him as you would welcome me.

Where do I begin in living out my faith in a context of institutional racism and a total disregard for the poor and marginalised? This was the social context in the Roman world in which the Christian faith began and spread across the urban centres of the empire in the first century AD.

When we add into the mix that most Christians at that time were enslaved persons with no rights at all as human beings under Roman law then there appears to be no chance they can contribute anything to the public debate.

We might add, how should American Christians respond to the appalling and tragic events unfolding in their country just now in the light of the killing of George Floyd? Or how should we as Christians serve our communities during the Covid-19 virus pandemic? There is a book of the New Testament that speaks powerfully into the social content then and now and suggests a way to move these issues forward in our local communities today.

This letter of Paul has a special place in his writings as it is not a formal treatise to a congregation or group of congregations covering a range of doctrinal and practical topics. Instead, it is a personal letter that may have been intended to be a private communication to this man and his family.

Its survival almost certainly results from the success of Paul’s request that the two men are reconciled. Ignatius the bishop of Antioch martyred approximately 108AD wrote a letter referring to Onesimus as the current Bishop (pastor) of the Church in Ephesus (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 1:3).

This would imply that at a date unknown Philemon had set him free to serve in wider Christian work in the neighbouring country of Turkey. Had I been in Onesimus’ shoes I would have wanted a personal copy of it as his life and future depended on the success of Paul’s plea to his friend and fellow Christian concerning Onesimus, legally a slave in the possession of Philemon, but now officially a fugitive on the run from his master and potentially at risk of being killed if captured before he arrived back at his owner’s home. There are other letters in the Bible, for example 2 John and 3 John, but none carry the incredible social implications invested in this short communication between two friends.

What is it that Paul asks here? He asks this man to welcome home a young man who is very likely to have behaved inappropriately in the past, incidents of which Philemon will be able to recall with ease, but now as Onesimus has been converted to the Christian faith his actions reflect his name. Useless has truly become ‘useful’.

Paul admits that he would like to keep Onesimus with him to assist in his work. Maybe he was even hoping that his friend would suggest that. But what is not in dispute is that Paul was asking Philemon to put to one side Onesimus’ failures from the past and going forward to treat him as if he was Paul himself coming to that home.

These words speak powerfully to our lives and how we conduct relationships with one another. Do I keep retaining negative feelings to another believer because of their past failings, even though they may have apologised at the time or sometime later? If the answer is ‘yes’, then I need to ask myself to reflect on the wonderful gospel of grace we proclaim and challenge myself to live more closely to it in my daily life.

Paul does not ask for Onesimus to be freed, although he believed enslavement was wrong; instead he asks for something greater. Treat Onesimus in your home as if he were me your long lost friend! Allow him to stay in your home as a brother in Christ not as a slave. This was an explosive request! Like a soldier pulling the pin out of a hand grenade and tossing it around in an ammunition factory! It was also a Christian request.

The letter to Philemon shows that the gospel has significant applications to our daily lives. We are called to live out our faith not just when it is easy, but also when it is incredibly hard as well. For example, in a context of institutionalised racism to ask how can I help break down the barriers? In this context a Christian might ask: Do I have any friends or acquaintances of a different ethnic background and if not can I make friends with someone from whom I might learn so much about their understanding of current affairs? If we don’t it becomes significantly more difficult to ‘stand in someone else’s shoes’ and see things from their perspective.

A local church might ask how can we identify with the poor and needy? It was an obvious step to take when our church was invited to be a partner in our local food bank during the current Covid-19 virus pandemic. Do you need to ask for prayer concerning issues over which you are struggling right now?

All of us at times know the right course of action to take, but wonder how on earth we can actually accomplish it! Thinking of the society in which we live, is there an issue or situation in our land where the gospel brings a deep challenge to the majority view in our nation? Is there something I can do to make a difference whether it is something small or something much larger? Remember the significance of this one letter from Paul to Philemon – you can be a world-changer one person at a time!

Our song for reflection today is: ‘Filled with compassion’

Pointers for our Prayers

• For whom or what are you particularly thankful this week? Let the Lord know!

• Continue to pray for the Government in Scotland and in the wider UK and for their clinical and scientific advisers, that they may have wisdom to lead us effectively especially now as we are starting to emerge out of lock down.

• Pray for the political, religious and other community leaders in the USA as they seek to navigate a way through the tragic events that have engulfed their country. Pray for individual Americans as they seek through friendships to build bridges across the ethnic divides that exist in many communities. Pray for people in other countries including our own that we also seek to model good relationships with people of different ethnic or cultural backgrounds.

• Pray for our NHS and Social Care Staff as they continue to serve so willingly the many people under their care. We particularly remember Hannah A and the social care staff who have been caring for very vulnerable people under extreme pressures in the last few weeks. We pray that they and all other workers in our country may be renewed in their health and strength.

• Pray for John G’s daughters Nicola and Alison and their families at this time as they prepare for his funeral on 6 June. We thank God for the short time John was a member of our congregation while living in Lochleven Care Home.

• Pray for Jan and Mark F and other members of Jim’s family at this time. We also pray for Betty and Scott R, Betty W, Eloise P, Elizabeth F and their families following recent bereavements.

• Pray for those in the church undergoing tests or treatments in hospitals as well as those in need of tests or other forms of treatment including surgery who are having to wait much longer to get the medical support they need.

• Pray for those ill with the Covid-19 virus that they may soon regain their health and strength. We pray also for people with other health conditions that they may also have access to the medical care they require at this time. We continue to remember older members who are required to be at home or in care homes that they may not feel discouraged or forgotten by their friends and families who are unable to visit them. We pray also for Ali T’s parents, Jude R’s grandma and Isdale A’s dad;

• Pray for teachers and pupils, and lecturers and students, at different levels of education especially those known to you. That they may be able to work adequately online. Help them to overcome the challenges of technology and the difficulties of communicating effectively through online learning. Help parents also trying to work from home alongside supporting their children doing schoolwork.

• We pray for the emotional and mental health of our nation, especially those of whatever age who are particularly struggling to cope with the lock down and the inability to meet with their families or friends.

• Pray for ourselves that we always make time each day to read His word and spend time in His presence.

• Pray in advance for the online meetings and activities throughout this week and the service next Sunday

Brian Talbot

2 June 2020 – Can these bones live?

Ezekiel 37:3 Can these bones live? In other words is my situation or your situation hopeless? For example, the question some people might be asking in the USA today is this: Can the racial divide be bridged? You will have your own examples to insert here. The questions are not only legitimate but also genuine and provide an opportunity for engagement. The encouraging answer from God to Ezekiel was that in even the most difficult situations God’s presence with us is the ground of our hope. Notice here:

(1)The question raised by God (Ezekiel 37:1-3) The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’

In this vision this probing question from God was not a theological test for the prophet. Ezekiel was trained as a priest from within a priestly family. He has been ministering as a prophet to the exiled community for some years so he knows the theoretical answer that nothing is impossible with God.

Furthermore since the earlier revelation of the fall of Jerusalem the prophet had explained to the people that it was their sinfulness in turning away from the Lord that had led to their present predicament (Ezekiel 36:16-21).

Yet at the same time the Lord was angry at other nations taking real pleasure in Israel’s vulnerability and exile (Ezekiel 36:1-4, 14-15, for example). The key criterion was the honour of God’s name and His holiness (Ezekiel 36:21-23). How seriously would they honour the Lord? How seriously do we consider God’s honour and His perspective on the choices we make? Ultimately though it is not a general question; it is a personal one from God to each one of us.

It is a picture of hopelessness as bad as it could possibly be. In other words God bluntly tells His servant: do you know just how bad your situation is? Do you realise that humanly-speaking you do not have any vestiges of hope left of returning to the homeland. They were literally the living dead –existing with nothing, absolutely nothing to look forward to. It was in such a pointed situation that the question was posed:

He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, You alone know (Ezekiel 37:3).

How often does God allow His people to come to a complete end of themselves where they have nowhere else to turn but Him so that we truly depend wholly on Him?

In case we begin to start thinking that God was being unfair putting such pressure on an extremely vulnerable man, it is important to remember that in the previous chapter (Ezekiel 36:24-38) God had revealed to Ezekiel that the nation would be restored to the land; that it would one day prosper again; that God would never abandon His people because His honour was at stake. Ezekiel 36:33-36 states:

‘“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: on the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. 34 The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. 35 They will say, ‘This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.”

Why would God restore Israel to the land? Because His name was tied up with the keeping of His promises for His people; this biblical pattern is a thread that runs through the Scriptures.

Has God made promises to us through the new covenant inaugurated in Jesus? Yes of course He has! Can we rely on Him to keep them? Yes! because the evidence before us of His loyalty to the Jewish people even when they have gone far from Him reminds and reassures us of our promise-keeping God. This is why we can be so joyful in reading verses like Hebrews 13:5b-6:

‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ 6 So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

This is why when we come to seek forgiveness for our sins we can rejoice in the wonder of I John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Each of us at times will be in situations where we have prayed and prayed and claimed the promises of God and seen nothing to show for our efforts.

Why do we keep going? Because God never fails to honour His promises because the honour of His name is at stake; the answer to this question is a definite YES! Because God’ Spirit is at work in our midst. We need to ask Him to lead and direct us as we seek to live for Him today, Amen.

Our song for reflection is: Holy Spirit Living breath of God

A bonus for today an additional contemporary song of encouragement that was sent to me a few days ago:
‘For king and country today’

1 June 2020 – The credibility Challenge. What does the Lord require of you?

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

What does the Lord require of us? This is the fundamental question in Micah’s prophecy –what is good? The news in the last few days, although still dominated by the covid-19 virus pandemic, has had another focus for our attention. An event that horrifies every decent person who had viewed the footage online or even seen the stills in newspapers, I refer to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, U.S.A. on Monday 25 May 2020.

In the United Kingdom we must humbly confess that racism has not been eradicated from our midst. The murder of Stephen Lawrence on 22 April 1993 in London, followed by the inadequate police investigation that followed, was a sobering reminder of this fact. The institutionalised racism in the Metropolitan Police Force uncovered by Sir William Macpherson’s enquiry that followed was a reminder of much more work needed to be done to ensure all citizens of whatever ethnic background were treated equally.

How does what Micah proposes translate into daily life?
He gives three principles for action:

(1)To act justly What does this mean for me in daily life today? Examples from this book in the Old Testament include fair prices for both buyer and seller when houses are sold; integrity in legal and financial transactions (both in Micah 2:2); and proper provision for the needs of the most vulnerable in society (Micah 3:1-2); Micah described a society where leaders, priests and prophets are no longer respected as authority figures, due to malpractice on their part;

In our own country there has been much debate about the extent to which certain figures in public life have observed the lock down guidance put in place some weeks ago. In the light of the sacrifices made by so many people during this time it has generated significant anger that others have chosen to act in a different way.

Micah would want to highlight first personal responsibility from each individual person. We may not have influence over the choices of other people, but we are accountable for our own.

He would also want to highlight the necessity of structural justice in the wider society. The laws and their application in a country in order to be fair should treat people equally. With respect to citizens, their race, religion, sexuality and social status and so much more should be irrelevant in the due observance of the laws of the land.

The tragic situation in Minneapolis and some other American cities in the recent past witness to underlying structural faults in the whole justice system that must urgently be addressed. God says here through Micah, no matter what other people are doing act justly, stick to your convictions. Will you and I do that –even if there may at times be a price to pay?


(2) to love mercy This word speaks of covenant loyalty, both in secular agreements and with the Lord. The language of Micah here is expressed in a legal covenant term hesed, implying that not only do we want to do the right thing –act justly- but to remember the basis on which we make such choices.

We make agreements /promises when we get married; when we purchase a house or a host of other transactions; supremely when we commit our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ; yet God says here through the prophet it is not about ticking boxes, we all do more than enough of that with paperwork.

What is being asked here? to love hesed. In other words to take delight in doing what is right before God and in our relationships with other people, not to do it grudgingly –because we ‘have to’. Why? because God is the compassionate and gracious God (Exodus 34:6); He delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18b);

Why is this important? Because if we have pleasure in doing what is right, because our heavenly Father wants us to have pleasure in it as He does, then it will not affect our attitudes when others around us are giving into temptation and delighting in inappropriate conversations or behaviour; we are not legalistically following a list of ‘Thou shall nots’, and with a solemn face; rather we are taking pleasure in doing what is good and honourable and appropriate for the best of reasons, supremely to please God, but it is also for the benefit of ourselves and other people around us. This is far more than playing with words; it is an approach to life

(3) to walk humbly with your God Here is a summary statement of the lifestyle of a man or woman of God. In Genesis 5:24 there is the obituary of a man called Enoch: Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. Can you imagine the impact that man had on his peers? Every now and then there are Christian men and women who so radiate Christ that loads of people are just drawn to them.

It is an attitude of heart and a passionate Christ-centredness. However, Micah is not speaking about results or the fruit of a godly lifestyle in our Christian ministry or vocation, rather his focus is more on our character and disposition. We are all called to be representatives of Christ wherever He has placed us. May we take up His call to serve in whatever setting and gain delight and satisfaction in pleasing Him as we act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with [our] God, Amen.

Our song for reflection today is: ‘Beauty for brokenness’

Brian Talbot

Sunday 31 May 2020 – Church at Home

Intimations

  • Morning worship online has moved to start at 10am and JAM at 11:15am on the Zoom platform.
  • You may want to use some of the Engage Worship resources for daily worship during this week.
  • The Messy Church At Home information is now available.
  • Jam Kids Focus – Navigate Family Series Episode 5
  • A worksheet to accompany the video is also available here.
  • Another option for children is the Virtual Sunday School sessions which give an activity idea too.
  • JAM young adults Ignite Live have a separate programme at 11:15am on the Zoom platform –parents of teenagers can get a link code by contacting Gary Torbet on garytorbet@btinternet.com
  • Sunday Evening Prayer Livestream – We will be continuing the Prayer Livestream at 7.00pm tonight (Sunday). This will be another significant time of national prayer for us. Please join in and, if you don’t already do so, would you let your fellowship know about this and put it on your social media. Click here to access.

Call to Worship

Praise the Lord.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures for ever.
2 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord
or fully declare His praise?
3 Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.

4 Remember me, Lord, when you show favour to Your people,
come to my aid when You save them,
5 that I may enjoy the prosperity of Your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of Your nation
and join Your inheritance in giving praise.

Psalm 106: 1-5

We are grateful to Chris and Eileen Lim for selecting the songs for worship for this service. Our opening song of praise and worship is:

We continue to worship the Lord in our second song of praise and worship: ‘Blessed be Your name’

Opening prayer

Thank you Lord for the wonderful joy of coming into Your holy presence today. We do declare:’ Blessed be Your name’ as we have been singing moments ago, not just because it is written in the Bible, but also because it is the desire of our hearts to make such a declaration of praise. You are worthy of all praise and glory. You are so amazing. We thank You that in another week just concluded Your grace has been sufficient for our needs.

Through the good times and tough You have been with us each step of the way. Thank you Lord for Your incredible goodness to us; we come once more confessing our sin and asking for Your forgiveness. Empower us afresh by the Holy Spirit with Your enabling power to equip us to live for You in another new week. We ask You to speak into our lives today in accordance with our needs, in the name of Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Let us say together the words Jesus taught His disciples when He said:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.      
For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever Amen.

All Age talk – Moraig Piggot

I wonder what you have missed the most during lockdown? Maybe it’s a game of golf, your favourite coffee shop, going to a football match, going on holiday or even going to school or nursery. Whatever you are missing I am sure it’s not so much the actual activity but the people you would do this with.

I am absolutely missing people; I am even missing my sister, although she does keep appearing on various screens in my house!! But do you know what I am missing the most is us all being together in Panmurefield- singing together, chatting at the end of the service, saying the grace in time and I am even missing stacking up the chairs each week! I am especially missing all our little Boogie Babies, Club 567, Messy Church and even deacons meetings!!

Our weekly services here on Zoom are brilliant and I know we are so grateful that we have this opportunity but I can’t wait for the first Sunday when can see each other in person! Especially all the people who can’t join us on Zoom each week, it will be extra special to meet with them again.

You see lockdown has given me a lot of time to think about what is really important in life, what really matters. I don’t know about you but my life before lockdown was pretty hectic. Working long hours, family, church life and so on; Lockdown has given me a much slower pace of life in some ways. It has made me think about what I truly need and don’t need. It has made me appreciate so much more what I have. I need God, His love, His word and His people. I need the opportunities he gives me to share His love and His word. I need the people he has brought and will bring into my life.

Later in the service Brian will be sharing with us a passage from the Bible in 2 Corinthians 12; in verse 10 it says: That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We will all have had times during lockdown and may still in the months to come get a bit fed up of not being able to do all the things we want to do and especially not being able to see the people we would normally spend time with. It does feel really hard some days and there will be people we all know and love that have gone through or are going through some really tough situations during this strange time. Hard times do not sound like things that we would take pleasure in. In fact, those are the times that most of us do our very best to avoid. But, these are times that keep us humble. They are also times that help us appreciate the good times that God has provided us and the joy that is ahead in our futures.

What we need to keep remembering and reminding each other right now is to be relying on God’s wisdom and trusting in His plan, and then we will came out of this hard time stronger than we were before. We need to look at this as an opportunity to become stronger in our faith and love for God, especially because we may have more time than ever to be praying, reading our bible and exploring his word.

So boys and girls what can we do this week to remember this? well we can encourage each other. When things change people find it hard. We might need someone to encourage us and help us. When someone encourages us or helps us it is like they are lighting up our darkness. Our friends or family might need someone to encourage and help them, someone to light up their darkness. Can you do that?

Think about others from your class, or elsewhere. Who do you know that needs encouragement or help at this time? Who needs light in their darkness? Ask an adult to light a candle (or supervise you lighting it). Say a prayer (talk to God) for the person or people you’ve thought about. Ask God to help them and think about how you could encourage them this week. Could you send them a message? Go and do it! The Bible says: ‘Therefore encourage one another and build one another up’

Even though we are missing seeing each other right now and missing things we do together we can still in God’s strength be an encouragement and made a difference during this time. Go and shine bright for Jesus this week boys and girls and us all too!

Our All Age Song is:

Prayers for others

Thank you Lord once more for the privilege of praying for other people:

We remember in our prayers the people of Hong Kong at a time when there is an attempt by the Chinese government to reduce dramatically the democratic rights and form of governance of its citizens agreed at the time that city state was returned to China. We are aware of the fear of many people there of further violent clashes between protestors and the security forces. We pray for the many Christian Churches that You would grant them wisdom as they seek to be a good witness in the wider community at this difficult time.

We bring before you the United States of America in the light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We are deeply grieved that so many years after the Civil Rights Act was passed in that country in 1964, that citizens of African American heritage are still not treated fairly or equally in that country. We thank you for the Christian leaders and others who have called once more for this issue to be addressed, but pray that not only will there be justice for his family, but that the much deeper structural reforms within the law enforcement agencies will be carried out to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

We continue to remember the many countries around the globe deeply affected by the Covid-19 virus pandemic and pray in particular that the most vulnerable people, the millions of day labourers in the two-thirds world can find sufficient food to feed their families. We are distressed at the suffering seen in Africa and Asia in numerous countries over recent weeks. We pray too for the Christian Church in these places where the poverty levels are such that in addition to food scarcity they cannot afford access to the online technology that has been such a blessing to us here in the United Kingdom during this time of lock down.

We come to pray for our own country. We are grateful that overall the numbers of people infected by this Covid-19 virus is declining, but recognise that the seriousness of this issue will affect the way we live our lives for many months to come. In particular, we pray for the families who lost loved ones this week and ask for Your comfort for them at this time. We continue to remember our NHS and Social Care staff alongside other workers who continue to do such a great job in caring for those in need and in keeping our country going at this time.

We ask for Your assistance to those struggling with loneliness and isolation as a result of lock down regulations, but also ask for wisdom as some regulations are reduced that as citizens we will exercise appropriate care to ensure there will not be a second spike in the infection rates. We pray too for those in businesses and in the field of education that they may have the necessary wisdom as they seek to restructure what they do to reshape or recommence their work in the coming days.

We pray too for the ongoing work of the Christian Churches in our land that You will help us be the best witnesses we can be in our local communities at this time. We thank you for the other churches in our local community and ask Your blessing on their work as we pray similarly for our own activities this week. In particular we pray for:

Jan F and Jim’s son Mark who has come over from Australia; We pray for God’s peace and comfort for them and other family members and friends after Jim’s death last week. We thank you that some of us were able to gather to give thanks for Jim’s life at his funeral last Friday.

The family of John G We give thanks for his life too. In the relatively short time we have had John in our congregation we thank you for his presence in our midst. We pray for his daughters Alison and Nicola and other family members as they plan for John’s funeral on Saturday 6 June.

We are aware of other members who have experienced bereavements or ongoing health difficulties and pray for God’s strength for them at this time. In particular, we remember …   In addition, we bring our own needs to You at this time … in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Amen.

Bible reading

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. 3 And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

II Corinthians 12: 1-10

Before we come to listen to God’s Word let us sing: ‘Yet Not I but Through Christ in Me.’

The Message

II Corinthians 12:1-10: My grace is sufficient for you

Introduction

The day has just begun and your in-tray is full of things to attend to, but your desire to launch into your work simply isn’t there. On the contrary, you feel overwhelmed with emotion that it is all getting too much for you to handle and what difference are you making anyway. Would anyone really notice if my contribution stopped altogether? I think many people would be very surprised to learn that they were not only not alone in feeling that way, but one of a large majority of individuals who struggled at times with this issue; even some people who look and appear outwardly successful at what they do feel deeply insecure and vulnerable.

The sports person or musician who is only as good as their last performance or the writer who is judged on their latest essay or book; in a local church how do we define a church year as ‘successful’ rather than ‘unsuccessful’? How do we ‘know’ that we are making progress rather than declining in effectiveness in sharing the good news of Jesus with other people around us? Superficially it is easy to offer answers, but deep down we might not even be convinced ourselves by the words coming out of our mouths.

The question is not just a collective one, it is also profoundly personal. In what or in whom do we boast? Or what do we see as our greatest achievements in life? Take a few moments later today to seek to write an answer to this question and then come back to it a bit later and reflect on the words you have written. Will we find it easy to reaffirm the words we have written or going forward might we want to revise some of these priorities?  

Paul had really struggled in Corinth more than in any other city to plant a Christian Church. It appears from the account in Acts 18:9-10 that despite seeing some conversions and the start of a new church he was almost ready to resign and go somewhere ‘easier’. What was God’s response to him? One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God (Acts 18:9-11).

You can be in the right place and doing the right thing and still face serious problems and be enduring significant hardship. However, even the most talented in our midst can feel overwhelmed at the size of the task they face on some occasions. It is not a failure to admit we are struggling; failure would be to deny it when we need support and assistance. It is almost certainly for that reason that Paul and his colleagues went out in small teams to encourage each other in the work they sought to do for God.         

II Corinthians 11-12 concerns events some time later when some ‘super-apostles’ arrived in town. These were men who saw themselves as ‘God’s gift to the church’ with titles to match. They could perform greater miracles than Paul and had such dynamic charismatic personalities that, by comparison, Paul’s preaching was too monotone and dull and his physical appearance after all he had gone through looked old for his age and his eyesight problems were becoming quite a problem.

They never stopped telling people about all their amazing success stories whereas Paul what had he achieved!! It is easy for us two thousand years later to smile or laugh at their arrogance, but it was no laughing matter at the time for Paul and his companions.  We too can feel discouraged at the little we think our efforts are achieving, but God at the end of our passage wanted to encourage Paul and by application us as well to realise that with His help we can accomplish all He wants us to do for Him.   

1. Paul’s problem (II Corinthians 12:1-6)

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 

I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 

We need to understand the culture in which Paul and his readers in Corinth were living. To use our language not theirs, it was secular and not religious; and the majority of people in prominent places in society had no expectations of life beyond the grave so promoting your achievements in this life was so important. ‘Blowing your own trumpet’ was the norm, humility and modesty in proclaiming your qualifications or achievements was rejected as foolish.

The super-apostles were boasting their superiority in the contemporary style of secular leaders in the Roman world. Paul then decides to play them at their own game but in a very different kind of way in II Corinthians 11:18: Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast.  The section on Paul’s boasting actually begins in II Corinthians 11:16 and concludes here in this passage in chapter twelve.

The apostle in chapter eleven lists all the kinds of things he has endured for the sake of the gospel. The ‘super-apostles’ for some mysterious reason had a blank in their ministry CV at this point. Take a few minutes to read II Corinthians 11:16-33. The amazing thing was that he was still standing and continuing in his work for God after all those difficulties had been experienced.

 Life for you and I will also be difficult at times. None of us will avoid disappointments and setbacks, though the trials each of us will go through will be very variable if we compare with other people around us. It may be worthwhile taking time to list all the hard times and difficult situations you have come through in your life. Stop and give God thanks you have come through them and like Paul are still standing.  If you are currently in the midst of a particularly hard time, is there any encouragement you can find from how God helped you through tough times in the past?

Now in II Corinthians 12:1-7, almost as a throwaway remark Paul digresses to declare that he too has had spiritual encounters or experiences of God that have shaped his life and ministry. The super-apostles do not have a monopoly on that. However, boasting about his experiences is something he would rather not do. His focus is on the Lord Jesus Christ. He wants to direct them to Him, instead of on God’s servant. The problem is that we cannot at the same time believe and promote our greatness and God’s glory at the same time. There is only room for one person to have the control of our lives.

As Paul in his earlier letter to the Church at Philippi had declared: For to me, living means living for Christ (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, here having quickly mentioned his spiritual credentials, he wrote: Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. His identity was ‘in Christ’ so he did not need to go on self-promotion tours. Where is your identity and mine today? This is very important because our priorities will be shaped by living out our understanding of our identity.  Take a few moments to articulate what is most important to you? Then reflect on how what you have recorded significantly affects all the choices you make.

2. Paul’s prayer (II Corinthians 12:7-8)

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

Paul openly states that God permitted him to endure this trial to keep him spiritually grounded and dependent on Him, rather than become a conceited individual boasting in all his successes. It hints that without his thorn in my flesh, he might have been less sympathetic to other Christians who struggled with their trials. God didn’t actively cause Paul’s difficulties, but as Paul came to see later, God had worked for good in his life during this particular time.

I don’t plan today to discuss the nature of this thorn in my flesh, because what is clear is that the anonymity of this particular health problem has ensured this passage is applied into the lives of so many Christians enduring different ongoing difficulties. Maybe today you are experiencing some trial as well and need similar help to that God gave Paul to get through his time of difficulty.

Notice here Paul prays in II Corinthians 12:8: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. Was this because he didn’t pray hard enough?  No! Absolutely not! Don’t even think that when you have poured your heart out to God in prayer. Remember who else prayed in a similar fashion?

Luke 23:39-46: Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him. 40 On reaching the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 Father, if you are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but yours be done.’ 

43 An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’  

When God the Father appears to say ‘no’ to our requests we need to leave it with Him. He knows what He is doing. He had a purpose in allowing Jesus to go to the cross. He had a purpose to allow Paul to live with this difficulty. Our trials and temptations are not random acts of fate; by contrast, somehow, God plans to redeem something good out of this experience. It is good to pray earnestly in seeking God, but like an earthly parent declining the request of their child to have a particular present for their birthday, we have to assume our heavenly Father genuinely wants the best for us and this principle affects whether He grants or declines the petitions we bring to him.     

3. God’s promise (II Corinthians 12:9-10)

But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

What does God say in response to Paul? Read II Corinthians 12:9-10. The problem was not going to go away and he would have to live with it for the rest of his days. It took some time for Paul to accept this response from God.  How do you react when something you really wanted to happen doesn’t, even though you prayed to God many times for it?

The revelation burned into Paul’s being was this: My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’   Do you feel weak and inadequate to live for God as you would like? Join the club! This message and Bible passage is for you and me as God gives us the assurance of the sufficiency of His grace in our time of need. Amen

Our song before we come to communion is:

The Lord’s Supper

Jesus invites all Christian who have committed their lives to follow Him to participate in this act of worship. The apostle Paul wrote these words of Scripture in I Corinthians 11:23-26 to guide our observance of Communion.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ 25 In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 

Prayer: Choose your own words of prayer to give thanks for the bread and wine that represent the costly gift of His body and blood for us.

Take the bread: Jesus said: ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.

Take the wine: Jesus said: This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’

Our closing song is:

Closing Prayer:

Thank you Lord for Your wonderful blessed assurance of Your presence with us each day of our lives. We are so pleased that You will go with us into this new week to uphold and strengthen us in all we go through whether encouraging or challenging, because Your grace is sufficient for us, because Your power is made perfect in weakness, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Benediction:  The Grace

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God
and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore, Amen

Remember tonight the national online prayer service at 7pm.

Big Questions “Where is God in a Corona Virus World?” – online course starting 2 June 7.30pm

“Big Questions; Where is God in a Corona Virus World?”

We are starting a four week discussion course via Zoom, led by our Youth Pastor, Rev. Gary Torbet and Alan McRobbie, starts on Tuesday 2 June at 7.30pm.

We are particularly running this course as an opportunity for you to invite your friends to, or for those seeking to explore more about the Christian faith, during these difficult times. For more information or to register for the course, please email garytorbet@btinternet.com.

29 May 2020 – John 11:21 Lord…if You had been here…

How many of us have our ‘if only’ moments? The circumstances are many. We have been given an opportunity to do something or even a choice between some options, but the option we though best at the time was probably not the right one and we may have regretted it ever since. Or it may not be our choice that we regret. It could be the decision of another person or people whose preference causes us to have an ‘if only’ moment.

Here in John chapter eleven we see a situation that caused great anguish of heart. First Lazarus was unwell, increasingly so leading to his death and burial. The hard fact of the occupied grave was the visible evidence to Mary and Martha that their prayers for healing had not been answered as they would have wished. They had asked Jesus to come and pray over their brother but by the time He arrived Lazarus was already in the grave. This next section of John chapter eleven covers Jesus’ short time alone in this public place with Martha, Lazarus’ sister.

1. The cry of anguish (John 11:17-22)

17 On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give You whatever you ask.’

Her hopes had been dashed. All the plans for the future stopped in their tracks. Or that is how it looked on the outside. Death looks and feels so final. Christians in our celebration of bodily resurrection can sometimes be at fault in minimising the pain of grief. We must not do that. The process of handling grief and loss takes time to work through. We are ‘human’ beings not robots. ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if You had been here… The circumstances she had wanted did not happen.

However, although she did not know it she was about to experience something far greater than she had ever dreamed could take place. She was right to say to Jesus: But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask (John 11:22). Do you have a similar confidence in the Lord Jesus? It is possible that your situation right now is extremely difficult, but that God has something even greater in store than you had ever imagined, let alone prayed for. Can I encourage you to trust God for your future? Can I ask you to pray: Lord open my eyes to see what You are doing or plan to be doing in my life, my church, my community in the coming days. Help me to pray that what You want will happen here for our good and to the glory of God.   

2. The declaration of triumph (John 11:23-27)

23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’27 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.  Death is not the end. Death is not the final word, not even close. The apparent finality of death can be so tough to deal with. We must never minimise that as we seek to support those going through tough times. However, these words of Jesus point to our wonderful hope for the future. Martha assumed Jesus was talking about the end of this world and affirmed her belief in the common conviction taught in the synagogues based on the Old Testament teaching (Daniel 12:2-3, for example).

But the first of her big surprises is what Jesus said next to her: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; Resurrection life or eternal life in glimpses can begin here on earth. At best here we experience small moments of heaven when life could not be better, but they are accompanied by other times of anguish and tears. Part of the normal human experience is to pass through both joy and sorrow. However, the glimpses of the former leave us hungry for more.

As we approach the home call, so many Christians have been at peace, yes still sad to leave precious loved ones here, though equally ready to enter what Jesus has prepared for us beyond the grave. Have you made your peace with God? Have you trusted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? If you have not done so yet –why not do so today? It will be the best choice you have ever made. Thank God for Martha’s public confession of faith in Jesus. I hope I can also thank God for your commitment to follow Jesus. The benefits of making this choice are truly out of this world, Amen.

Our song for reflection today is: ‘Thine be the glory’

Brian Talbot

30 May 2020 – John 11:43 Lazarus come out

In the ministry of Jesus over more than three years there was no parallel event that matched this one for its impact in the nation. Jesus did restore to life the Widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11-17) and the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue ruler (Mark 5:21-43), but these events took place in a small village and a private house respectively. The raising of Lazarus took place only a few miles from the city of Jerusalem, a short time before the Passover festival and in a public graveyard! There are no words adequate to express the emotions of those present to the sight of a man dead for days and buried in a tomb coming out of his grave completely restored to health and strength. It is a wonderful encouragement that if God has the power over death and life, and He has, there is no area of my life His interventions cannot reach. What situation do I need to bring to Him today? What do we see here?

1. The compassion of Jesus (John 11:32-35) When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled34 ‘Where have you laid him?’ He asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. 35 Jesus wept. It is extraordinary to see the depth of emotion in Jesus on this occasion when He was not very far from the grave of His friend Lazarus. I think He already knew what He was going to do, but seeing the depth of grief in the face of His friend Martha, caused this extraordinary reaction of sadness. When you and I come to Him in prayer with our needs we come to One who is incredibly sympathetic to our plight. He understands all we may be going through today. In I Peter 5:7 Peter wrote: ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you’. Do you have something you need to pray about today that you really need addressing? Bring it to God who cares so deeply about your well-being.   

2. The purpose of Jesus (John 11:36-40) 36 Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ 37 But some of them said, ‘Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 ‘Take away the stone,’ He said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’ 40 Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ A big debate amongst the people there in the crowd watching on was the question raised here. Could Jesus have stopped this illness taking hold if He had got here sooner? We all have our ‘why?’ or ‘what if…’ questions concerning a wide variety of things in our lives or those of other people close to us; God never promises to make everything better, but His extraordinary power can transform any situation. Here no-one really expected God to work a miracle and their prayers were for his sisters Mary and Martha. Yet sometimes God can do amazing things through a direct divine intervention or through a God-honouring intermediary. What expectations do you have today of God hearing and answering Your prayers?     

3. The power of Jesus (John 11:41-44) 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ 43 When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice,  ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ (John 11:32-44) The tomb was opened up; whether the doorway was positioned so that the rays of the sun could penetrate into the darkness we have no way of knowing. What is clear, though, is Jesus’ confidence in His Father hearing and answering His Son’s request. I knew that You always hear Me (John 11:42). What a beautiful picture of spiritual intimacy here that has flourished as a result of the dedicated time Jesus put into prayer in earlier years.

Are you willing to invest time more regularly in praying for other people? What was so spectacular was the sight of the previously dead man shuffling out in his grave clothes. This is our God in action. We can pray for the scientists to find a vaccine to destroy the power of the Covid-19 virus, for example. We can pray for God to open someone’s ‘spiritual eyes’, even individuals who had failed to see a need for Jesus in the past. Who or what might you be praying for today? What answers to prayer might we receive if we had a greater confidence in our heavenly Father hearing and responding to our requests? Thank God for this amazing story. The challenge now for each one of us is ask God for an increased capacity in our thinking to understand more clearly what God is doing and to start praying earnestly that God’s kingdom, that is His rule, may be more in evidence both in us and through us as we live for Him today?

Our song for reflection is ‘Men of faith rise up and sing’

Brian Talbot

28 May 2020 – The one you love is sick

We have all had it in our families and some of those reading this message may even have had it personally, news that we have a health problem that needs immediate attention. It was much more serious than the basic aches and pains that affect us all from time to time, or even more frequently as we get older. The news affecting this family was of a serious illness that might not result in a restoration of health and strength. Let us look at the part of our story found in John 11:1-16:

The announcement (John 11:1-3) Now a man named Lazarus was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay ill, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’

This was an unusual situation two thousand years ago in Israel to find three adult siblings, two sisters and a brother sharing a home; they were all probably in their twenties or thirties and single. It was a home where Jesus had felt particularly welcome and when in the Jerusalem area had often stayed there. They were good God-honouring people. However, no-one is exempt from difficulties in life. Health issues, for example, can arise in people of any age or stage of life. It is not just an issue with the Covid-19 virus. At times like this it focuses our minds on what is really important to us.

The attitude (John 11:4-6) 4 When He heard this, Jesus said, ‘This illness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed where He was two more days…

At first glance Jesus’ response seems puzzling. He certainly appeared to be taking His time in going to see Lazarus. The family almost certainly were praying too, but it appears to be unsuccessful. It is a mystery why some people seem to have life so hard and some others appear to drift through life without any major incidents happening in their home or family. Then and now it can be an issue as to why it has happened. But don’t spend too long reflecting on the ‘why’ because on many occasions there is no obvious human explanation. However, despite the difficulties it was a situation in which God could work for their good and His glory. We can always pray for ourselves or others in times of need.

The appeal (John 11:7-10)7 and then He said to His disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’ 8 ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone You, and yet You are going back?’ 9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the day-time will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.’

Did Jesus stay away at first to avoid the risk of arrest or stoning? No I don’t think that is correct. I think it more likely He set aside extra time for prayer to prepare for returning to Bethany. When needs are announced some of us by temperament, including me, want to get on with fixing the problem straight away. The example of Jesus here suggest we slow down a little so that we spend time talking with God about the predicament in front of us, before any attempt to solve the problem. How God answers our prayers may be very different to what we were either asking for or expecting to happen.

The action (John 11:11-16) 11After He had said this, He went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’ 12 His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ 13 Jesus had been speaking of His death, but His disciples thought He meant natural sleep. 14 So then He told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

This news of Lazarus’ death would have shocked these disciples, but not Jesus. When you and I pray for people or about particular circumstances we come to God who can do anything to change a situation. He may answer ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not yet’. The important thing though is to ask. We must never make the mistake of failing to ask God to work (James 4:2b) but we must be equally careful not to presume that we know what God will do in response. However, we serve an amazing God who gives us real hope and confidence in His Holy Spirit working both in our lives personally and in the wider world around us.

Our song for reflection today is: ‘Waymaker’

Brian Talbot

27 May 2020 – What is my goal in life?

As has been our custom during these last few months I have invited you to put aside some time in the middle of the week for prayer and reflection. I am aware that many people are finding life very hard at the present time and although there is so much we are not able to do just now, we can always pray for one another.

II Corinthians 5:9-10 What is my goal in life?

9 So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

(1) Our Goal (II Cor.5:9-10a) 9So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.

In Roman cities the governor sat on the judgement seat to hear court cases, as Paul knew well from his time before Gallio’s court in Corinth (Acts 18:12). This was a serious matter as the most serious penalties could in principle be given to guilty defendants. However, Paul is much more concerned by a much higher court and a greater judge, before whom we shall all one day appear, the Lord Himself.

In the light of this reality it is no wonder that Paul says in II Cor.5:9: So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

Is that what you do? A significant proportion of our lives other people in our church family, and even our human family, know little about, unless we care to tell them. But, there is one person who knows and sees everything and it is before such a One that we will stand on that day.

It is not your husband or wife, mother or father, son or daughter, brother or sister who makes that call but the Lord of glory. It is not the mocking person in the street, the cynical colleague in the workplace or the caustic critic on the TV, but the One who hung on a cross and said: Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).

It is not the helpless victim of injustice or oppression or one of the starving multitudes in parts of Africa who will judge you and me, rather the One who rebuked Peter for chopping off Malchus’ ear in the Garden of Gethsemane and said in Matthew 26:33-34: Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?

Without exception, every man, woman, boy or girl, who has walked this earth will stand before King Jesus –the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). What is your number one goal? Is it the same as that of Paul? It needs to be as that is why you were placed on this earth in the first place.

(2) Our Reward (II Corinthians 5:10b) that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Our salvation is eternally secure because Jesus obtained it on the cross. However, our judgement as believers covers rewards for service rendered; and all our works will be tested to discern their quality.

In I Corinthians 3:10-15 Paul explains this point in more detail: For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Are you / am I as Christians on course for a pleasant surprise or an awful shock or a bit of both when we stand before Him? May our goal be to put Him first throughout our lives and on that day be delighted to hear Him say: Well done good and faithful servant…come and share your master’s happiness (Matthew 25:23).

Our song for reflection today is: ‘Great is the darkness that covers the earth’

Pointers for our Prayers

• For whom or what are you particularly thankful this week? Let the Lord know!

• Give thanks for the many gifts that have come in for our care packages for the staff of the residential care homes. It has been an excellent initiative.

• Continue to pray for the Government in Scotland and in the wider UK and for their clinical and scientific advisers, that they may have wisdom to lead us effectively

• Pray for our NHS and Social Care Staff as they continue to serve so willingly the many people under their care. We particularly remember Hannah A and the social care staff who have been caring for very vulnerable people under extreme pressures in the last few weeks. We pray that they and all other workers in our country may be renewed in their health and strength.

• Pray for John G’s daughters Nicola and Alison and their families at this time as they prepare for his funeral on 6 June. We thank God for the short time John was a member of our congregation while living in Lochleven Care Home.

• Pray for Jan and Mark F and other members of Jim’s family as they prepare for his funeral on Friday 29 May. We thank God for Jim’s years of faithful attendance in this and other churches and his work for the Lord over those decades.

• Pray for those ill with the Covid-19 virus that they may soon regain their health and strength. We pray also for people with other health conditions that they may also have access to the medical care they require at this time. We continue to remember older members required to be at home or in care homes that they may not feel discouraged or forgotten by their friends and families who are unable to visit them. We pray also for Ali T’s parents, Jude R’s grandma and Isdale A’s dad; we also pray for others waiting for hospital appointments to address their health issues at this time.

• Pray for teachers and pupils, and lecturers and students, at different levels of education especially those known to you. That they may be able to work adequately online. Help them to overcome the challenges of technology and the difficulties of communicating effectively through online learning. Help parents also trying to work from home alongside supporting their children doing schoolwork.

• We pray for the emotional and mental health of our nation, especially those of whatever age who are particularly struggling to cope with the lock down and the inability to meet with their families or friends.

• Pray for those recently bereaved that they may experience more of God’s love and comfort at this time, in particular we continue to remember Betty and Scott R, Betty W, Eloise P, Elizabeth F and their families.

• Pray for ourselves that we always make time each day to read His word and spend time in His presence.

• Pray in advance for the online meetings and activities throughout this week and the service next Sunday

Brian Talbot

26 May 2020 – Daily Message

The newspapers and social media have been overflowing with comments recently about a certain Westminster government adviser and what he should or shouldn’t have done during the lock down period. Yesterday we had the extraordinary spectacle of this individual explaining in great detail in a press conference in London what he had done and why.

I have no intention of offering any comment on the details of this case, enough has been said already. However, as a Christian pastor I have been deeply disturbed by the tone of some of the criticisms I have seen on line and in the print media about this situation. When this is combined with the abuse outside his London home and apparently from others who made the journey to do the same outside his parent’s home near Durham, I think it is time to take stock as a society how we handle the shortcomings of others and in turn how we would want to be treated when we have made mistakes.

Jesus in John chapter eight was pressured to pass comment on the conduct of someone who was judged to be a heinous sinner who needed to be punished for their wrongful behaviour.
John 8:3-11 states:

At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts where all the people gathered round Him, and He sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.

5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. 7 When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’

The context (John 8:3) The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery… It was so obvious that a sinner had been caught flagrantly breaking God’s moral law and punishment must follow.

No-one could dispute the logic of such a claim. There is a problem, though, as every child knows that when you point the finger at someone else as a sinner, there are other fingers that point back at another sinner – ourselves! These individuals who dragged this woman before Jesus were assuming their moral superiority over her and expecting Jesus to agree. They ‘knew’ what had taken place and had the right to pass judgement.

Can I ask how many of us in the United Kingdom had already passed judgement on this government adviser long before his lengthy account of his actions at the press conference yesterday? How easy it is to rush to negative judgements on the conduct of others. Might it not be wiser to wait to see if we have gained an accurate account of proceedings first?

The claim (John 8:4b-6) ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.

The clue that something was wrong here is the fact that only one of the two people involved had been brought before Jesus. They were not interested at all in the man involved with her. He has been allowed to go free without charge. More remarkably, they were not really bothered about the woman and her conduct; she was being used as bait in a trap as they sought to ensnare Jesus into saying something they could possibly use against Him. In effect, they were using this couple simply as a means to achieve a particular end. It raises the question, how do I ensure I treat other people fairly?

The challenge (John 8:7) When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’

What a challenging declaration from Jesus. Instead of the woman being put in the spotlight, it was now this group of men who were making the allegations against her and who by implication were quite prepared to stone her to death should the opportunity arise. Jesus cleverly puts the question back to them in front of their friends and in effect invited them to polish their own halos or drop the case altogether. Do you and I need to remember this challenge of Jesus when we too are tempted to pass judgement too hastily on the words or actions of another person?

The conclusions (John 8:9-11) At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’

It was a remarkable day. The accusers had left and the woman was free to go. However, Jesus knew that she had made a bad choice, but she was not alone in that respect. Her accusers were equally guilty in wanting to use her to attack Jesus. May God help us to have a right view of ourselves as well as a similar understanding of our families, friends and neighbours as we continue living in the light of the lock down regulations.

Our song for reflection today is: ‘Purify my heart’

Brian Talbot