Church at Home – 31 January 2021

Intimations

JAM Kids’ focus: The Virtual Sunday School

Here is the link for Sunday 31 January 21 Virtual Sunday School:

JAM young adults Ignite Live have a separate programme at 11:30am.  Please contact Gary Torbet on garytorbet@btinternet.com for more details of today’s programme.

Baptist Union of Scotland National Prayer Livestream The monthly prayer livestream takes place next on Sunday 7 February, 2021 7.00–7.30pm. It will be available on Youtube. 

Call to worship:

Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
because of what my enemy is saying,
because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest….

Cast your cares on the Lord
and He will sustain you;
He will never let
the righteous be shaken.

Psalm 55 selection

The book of Psalms covers the full range of human emotions. Psalm 55 was written by someone who had been through some really tough weeks or months and had been feeling completely overwhelmed. The later part of the Psalm, though, was the source of encouragement he wanted to share with his first hearers and us. God understands what you are going through.

In the person of Jesus, He endured all kind of pain and suffering, supremely dying in our place on the cross taking the punishment for our sins so that instead of facing the consequences of our shortcomings we might by faith receive God’s welcome into His family. I don’t know what kind of week you have had, whether an awful one like the circumstances David describes, an average one or a good one, but there is one thing we can be confident in is the amazing love and grace of God, which is available to each one of us today.        

Our opening song of praise and worship is I stand amazed

Opening prayer

Heavenly Father, 

Once more we come with deep gratitude in our hearts for all Your amazing love to us. We do ‘stand amazed in the presence of Jesus’ for all He has done for us. ‘How marvellous, How wonderful! And my song shall ever be; How marvellous, How wonderful is my Saviour’s love for me.’ Lord we come as we are to You today in our weakness, in our tiredness, or with all our anxieties about how we can continue to do all we need to do in these difficult days through which we are living at the present time. Lord speak into our lives today from Your Word, minister Your peace through the presence of the blessed Holy Spirit in our midst. Cleanse us from all our sins and equip and enable us for the week that lies before us, we bring our prayers in Jesus’ name Amen.  

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

We continue in worship as we sing:

All-Age Talk – Alan McRobbie

Have you ever been invited to a party or a wedding? Did you accept the invitation?

When invited the invitation often says RSVP on it. When receiving an invitation that says RSVP you are expected to respond as to whether you are planning to attend. RSVP comes from a French phrase and means ‘please respond’.

I’d like to tell you a story about a wedding singer who sang at a wedding ceremony. When the wedding ceremony was over the wedding guests went to a nearby hotel for the wedding reception to celebrate the marriage with food and a party.

The wedding singer and her husband followed the wedding guests to the hotel to join the wedding reception. The wedding singer and her husband parked their car in the underground hotel car park and took the elevator to the top floor of the hotel where the wedding ceremony was taking place.

When they arrived at the top floor of the hotel they walked toward the room where the wedding reception was being held. There was a man who worked for the hotel standing at the entrance to the room holding a list of the guests who were invited and had responded to the invite to attend. The wedding singer gave the man at the door their names, however, the man said they were not on the guest list for the reception.

The wedding singer protested and said, “but I’m the wedding singer, surely I’m on the list.” The man checked the list again, but their names were nowhere to be found. “I’m sorry, said the man, but I can’t let you in. Your names are not on the guest list.” The wedding singer and her husband turned around, went back into the elevator, and travelled back down to the car park. As they were going down the singer’s husband turned to her and said, “did you RSVP to the invitation to the reception?” The singer said “I didn’t. I thought I didn’t need to.”

In the Bible, Jesus tells a story about guests being invited to a wedding feast. He said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come” (Matthew 22:1-3). In this story, Jesus is describing another way of thinking about God’s Heavenly Kingdom, and how we can be part of it. Here, He compares it to being invited to a special party or banquet.

This invitation was to a large party that the king wanted to have to honour his son. He invited several people, but they turned him down. When the first people rejected the king’s generous invitation, he went out and invited others, generously enticing them by explaining the sumptuous feast he had prepared. But they still made excuses and refused to come to the celebration!

If you go to a birthday party that passes out goody bags, all you must do to get one is be willing to accept the party invitation and the goody bag. If you turn it down, you won’t get one. Well, the gift of God’s mercy is much better than a goody bag! And all we have to do to get it is believe, accept the invitation and receive. Then we are on Jesus’ list and we won’t be turned away like the wedding singer.

God does want everyone to be in His Kingdom and offers salvation to all people. However, we do have to enter through Jesus, the “way and the truth and the life.”

Only through Him are sins covered and removed. Our sinful human nature is what separates us from God’s Kingdom. Jesus is knocking on your door. You’re invited. Jesus wants you to RSVP. Will you respond and accept His invite?

Our next song is

Prayers for others

Heavenly Father,

We remember that the Psalmist wrote: ‘I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.’ (Psalm 121:1-2) Lift our eyes up O Lord, lift our eyes up, that we might see Your faithfulness and help in the midst of the storms of life and place our trust wholly in You.     

 We continue to pray for the many people devastated across the world by the terrible coronavirus pandemic. We pray for those mourning the loss of loved ones, those struggling to breathe in hospitals and those living with the after-effects of the virus. We pray today for the doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and support staff who are continuing to work under the most serious and challenging conditions. We give thanks for them and their dedication, but we also pray for their mental health and well-being at this difficult time.

Bind up the broken-hearted and give rest to the weary. Lord, have mercy and hear our prayers. We give thanks for the vaccination rollout and we pray for the massive logistical task ahead of the NHS and other bodies in making sure that the vaccine roll out is timeous and efficiently executed. Please give wisdom to the people coordinating this mass vaccination programme. We are deeply concerned by the fights between governments over the limited vaccine doses currently available. Help us as a world community to combine our resources to ensure that each person can be provided with the necessary vaccine to put an end to this pandemic.

We pray too for everyone struggling with the current situation whether under pressure at work, isolation at home or in a wide range of other circumstances at this time. Help us to turn to You the living God to give us the strength we need for this coming week.

We pray for the following chaplain and churches:

We give thanks to You for the diversity of churches we have across Scotland. We pray for Your your blessing upon each one and pray that the truth of Your good news may be declared through their witness in local communities all around this land. Within our family of church we pray this week for:

Marion Carson (pastoral Support Coordinator, Glasgow City Mission) – We join her in praying for the staff and volunteers at the City Mission who are caring for guests in difficult circumstances. We pray too for their guests, especially those who find isolation difficult. We pray for wisdom for Marion as she tries to serve them.

Bourtreehill BC – We give thanks for the church family at Bourtreehill BC in Irvine. We pray for the church as they continue to seek to share Jesus with their local community.

We come to pray for the needs in our own congregation:

Heavenly Father, We pray today for Henry and Sheena G and their family at this time when his mother is seriously ill. We pray for Your strength and peace for them at this difficult time. We pray for Your continuing comfort for Ali and Gary T and their family after Ali’s dad’s funeral last Friday. We pray too for Mary D for the recovery of sensation and strength in her left hand.

We continue to pray for a restoration of health for other members of our congregation or members of their families…

We continue to pray for anyone else with ongoing health conditions and bring them before You now…

We pray for the people whom we cannot visit in residential care, and others who are at home on their own…

We pray for those who have been bereaved and ask Your comfort for them …

We now pray silently for anyone else known to us who is in need of our prayers at this time…..

We pray also for our own needs…

We bring all these prayers before you in Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Bible Reading II Corinthians 1:23 – 2:13

23 I call God as my witness – and I stake my life on it – that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.

So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent – not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 

Another reason I wrote to you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven – if there was anything to forgive – I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.

Before we come to listen to God’s Word let us sing:

The Message

II Corinthians 1:23 – 2:13 The importance of caring for others

Introduction

What matters most? Getting tasks completed or maintaining and building relationships with other people? Both are important, but I trust that at the heart of all we do is a commitment to care for and respect other people and their needs. Work needs to be done; no-one can deny that. However, how we do it including how we seek to work with others in the accomplishment of agreed goals is particularly important. In Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth we see glimpses into the heart of this servant of God.

The tough young man, who was so violent and aggressive towards followers of Jesus, prior to his conversion to the Christian faith, has been progressively changed by Jesus and was a radically different person in so many respects in the later years of his ministry. In his early years of Christian service this pretty intolerant young man had split from his Christian mentor Barnabas over whether to take a younger man Mark with them on a second missionary journey.

Luke tells the story in Acts 15:36-39: Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. 

It is very clear that the older, wiser Christian Barnabas was in the right. However, Paul would not accept at that time that his very harsh way of treating people who made mistakes was inappropriate. Towards the end of his life he admitted that he had misjudged Mark as these words in his last surviving letter indicate: Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry (II Timothy 4:11b).

This example of God transforming the attitudes of both Paul and Mark is a reminder to us to ask ourselves how well do I relate to fellow believers? Am I more inclined to have negative or critical thoughts of the choices of others? Or is my natural inclination to attempt to find a way to be an encourager to other people through the words I speak or the things I do? Let us look briefly at the person behind this letter and his interaction with this local congregation in Corinth.  

1. The reason for Paul’s change of plans (II Corinthians 1:23-2:2)

23 I call God as my witness – and I stake my life on it – that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 

As you read through the two letters written by Paul to the church at Corinth it is very clear that his relationship with some members of that congregation was strained. There had been all kinds of issues to address from incorrect beliefs to inappropriate behaviour. The church itself was divided up into cliques, something untypical at the time.

Although there is so much we do not know about these people it is clear that they had come from very different social or religious backgrounds to one another and had not made very much effort to try and get on better together. Paul repeatedly had to challenge them about the need to live out the faith they claimed to profess.

The problems in Corinth, although different in detail to our world today, are a powerful reminder that any congregation that fails to set its house in order will not be attractive to any potential newcomer to its ranks. The Christian faith has to be lived effectively as well as proclaimed to the outside world.

Paul effectively admitted to them that he had struggled to work out the best way to assist them to make the necessary changes required to address the relational problems in their midst. It appears likely that Paul had made a special visit to Corinth to try and help them resolve their difficulties, but it was unsuccessful. The details of what happened are unknown, but there was clearly frustration all round that all this effort had gone into tackling this problem without a satisfactory resolution at that time.

There was effectively some time out on both sides to allow for reflection on the situation. There can be times for us all when we need to step back and reflect on challenges we are going through and see if there could be a different way to sort out a problem. If one way isn’t working it is unlikely that repeating more of the same will work in the future. It appears that Paul setting out in written form what needed to happen was the means of bringing about the breakthrough.

I believe that normally interpersonal conflict would be best resolved by face to face discussions as soon as possible after a difficult arises. But sometimes other approaches are required. The important thing to learn from this situation is that Paul did not give up and persevered so that in time not only were relationships restored but the people concerned continued in the same local congregation having put behind them the painful difficulties of the past.

The challenge to Christian congregations today is this: are we communities of reconciliation? The world around us is full of broken relationships, of cliques of people not talking to others or not working together as they should in families, workplaces and wider communities. The tragedy too often is that churches are no better and no worse than other groups or organisations in the community at addressing these kind so of issues. It is a constant work in progress. We must continually be on our guard to maintain the highest standards of interpersonal relationships and seek to model Christ-like love for one another.

Notice what Paul says about how he had tried to address the problem in this church in II Corinthians 1:24: Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.  Paul could have simply ordered them to do the right thing from his position of authority as the Apostle to the Gentiles. It might have saved quite a bit of time in the short-term, but it would not have helped them address any future issues on their own. He wanted to encourage them to develop the necessary skills and to agree a commitment to work through their own difficulties.

It was an autonomous congregation, not one controlled centrally by a hierarchical denomination. Therefore, in a congregational setting Paul and his ministry team tried to work with them in a way that they could follow in the future when Paul was unable to be present with them. Why did he persevere with them to resolve this conflict – for your joy; the health of the congregation required relational issues to be resolved. People can pick up on tensions when they visit a new group of people. They can tell very quickly if newcomers are welcome or not, even if a sign on the door or noticeboard declares that ‘visitors are welcome’.

I am thankful as the pastor that in the time immediately prior to the current restrictions due to the virus pandemic that new friends felt welcomed into our midst. Once we are able to return to ‘normal’ in person gatherings we will have to work hard to ensure the same quality of fellowship and welcome is evident as I fully expect we will have some new friends join us who first made contact with us during this difficult time.             

2. The motivation behind his letters to them (II Corinthians 2:3-4)

I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

Paul did not give up on the people in this church. He was determined to do what it took to help them resolve their issues. It is a big challenge to us all. How many of us live in families where some people are ‘not talking’ to others? How many of us are in workplaces where something similar is quite normal. When we are busy going about our daily routines, especially at times like this, it is the last thing we want to get involved in.

There is no disguising the difficulties we can encounter or the frustrations along the way in helping people address relational difficulties or in the specific case in Corinth a serious moral failure. We cannot deny that too often there are people who don’t want to do what it takes to restore relationships. It can be a thankless task. The question for us to face though is this: do we have confidence that God the Holy Spirit can work through ordinary people like you and me to make a difference?

What does Paul write here in II Corinthians 2:3: I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. Paul was not content to have the support of the majority of the congregation. He wanted to win over the entire congregation and get on the right track for their future Christian service. His vision for them was long-term. He saw rightly that building good foundations doctrinally and in interpersonal relations was essential for building the Christian Church over the longer term.

What motivated him to go to these lengths in the midst of his busy schedule? II Corinthians 2:4 states: For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. 

Relationships really matter. They may not have seen this side of Paul weeping in prayer as he cried out to God for wisdom to help these young Christians resolve their problems. At its heart was a deep love for them. When we love people we will pray for them. When we love people we will want the best for them. When we love people we will sometimes go ‘the extra mile’ to help them succeed in something.

I have no doubts that in recent months many people have shed tears as they have struggled to adjust to the necessary changes required in work practices or in supporting their children doing school work online or in trying to set up or operate unfamiliar online technology and in many other contexts.

In whatever relational context we are working, those in which problems are successfully overcome will very likely be based on a motivation of love or care for others, wanting to help them address the difficulties they have experienced.

In this letter we see an unfamiliar side to this great apostle. We tend to focus mainly on his great intellectual gifts, his theological insights or his incredible stamina and commitment to accomplish his church-planting goals across the Mediterranean world. All these things are true, but he reminded them then and us now, that the secret of being able to continue this kind of work is a deep love for other people that includes a desire to help them to be the best they can be for God.     

3. Grace and forgiveness in pastoral care (II Corinthians 2:5-11)

(a)What had happened in Corinth? (II Corinthians 2:5-6) If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent – not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 

From general principles Paul comes back in these verses to the specific difficulties being faced in Corinth and the prominent male member of the congregation at the centre of it. What has taken place in the time period before II Corinthians was written to this church? First of all, Paul’s letter to the congregation pleading for a resolution of this matter had accomplished its goal. It had been a costly letter to write. Paul had been emotionally drained as he entrusted it to a friend who would hand-deliver it to a church leader in Corinth some weeks later.

He would have been less than human had he not repeatedly in his mind gone over the possible responses to it. Not least, if nothing had changed then there could have been a fear that his relationship with church was broken and future visits pointless. Thank God, it had the opposite effect. Although not all the church had been persuaded, a sufficient majority were willing to take action to discipline the man and lay done as a church that they were committed to Christian moral standards even if they were significantly out of line with the wider culture in Corinth.

It was this willingness to stand firm on their Christian principles that appears to have been the cause of his willingness to admit that what he had done was wrong. What a joy that was for Paul when his messenger returned with the good news. It is possible that the church, through Paul’s messenger, had asked ‘what happens next?’ Here in this section of II Corinthians 2 Paul will write to them about what steps should next be taken.       

(b)The next steps to follow (II Corinthians 2:7-11) 7Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote to you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven – if there was anything to forgive – I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

At the heart of the Christian gospel are the gifts of grace and forgiveness from our reconciling God. Paul will address this topic in a later part of his letter. The words in II Corinthians 5:18-19:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

It is in this aspect of our work as a Christian Church that we should stand out as a witness to the world. God’s reaching out to us to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus demonstrates the lengths to which He went to restore the relationship with His people whose sins had separated us from Him. How well do you and I model this aspect of the character of God in our homes, our families, within our circle of friends and in our church family?

It was a real blessing to my heart recently to hear a member of our congregation share how living this way had impacted some relationships in their family circle. In the wider community many people will not understand what we believe as it is unfamiliar to them, but they can observe how we behave towards one another. In some contexts it may be better to pray Lord help me live the gospel better today alongside this person rather than pray for an opportunity to speak with them about it. If we can live it better it might lead to them asking us about it. This week for our prayers: Is there a relationship I need to work on? Ask God for wisdom how this might be possible in practice.

Praise God that the congregation in Corinth didn’t ‘sweep the issue under the carpet’. Instead they acknowledged the problem and addressed it. What was the next step that Paul encouraged them to take? 7Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him (II Corinthians 2:7-8).

When genuine apologies have been given and accepted it should lead to reconciliation of relationships in most contexts, especially in a church context, and a restoration to fellowship within the church. I am well aware that in some family contexts where relationships break down that there are practical difficulties that may prevent a full reconciliation to how things were before, but normally, this ought to be what we aim for as Christians.

Certainly in Corinth, Paul was asking this congregation to welcome the man back into the fellowship and close the chapter on what had happened in the past. The latter step could only happen properly if the underlying issues had been properly addressed. Sometimes churches, like other sectors of society, have tried to avoid addressing issues and this is profoundly sad. However, what a joy when as in this case there is repentance for sin and a person can be restored to fellowship in the church. The gospel can be good news at every level of society if we are truly living it out as individual Christians, and collectively in local congregations.

Relationships work on trust. Paul models that here with respect to the resolving of this situation. Paul continued in II Corinthians 2:9-10: Another reason I wrote to you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven – if there was anything to forgive – I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake.

He gave them the responsibility to handle this matter and his act of trust was vindicated. It was a huge step forward for this congregation. It was also a powerful witness in their local community amongst the people that knew them. The growth of the Christian church over the first two to three centuries was to a significant degree not only as a result of effective personal evangelism, but equally the quality of relationships in the local Christian communities as others witness the quality of their love and care for one another.

It was true that they also assisted other people outside of their churches, but there are witness accounts that the consistent manner of living by followers of Jesus opened the door to many people wanting to find out more about Jesus. In verse eleven Paul warned that failure to address misconduct in our midst allows an opportunity for the evil one to damage our witness to Christ.

There are many modern examples that could be given here to illustrate this point. In the Republic of Ireland, a country dominated from the 1920s to the 1990s by the Roman Catholic Church, it was the tragedy of the unaddressed child abuse scandals by priests, together with the brutal treatment of minors in residential homes run by Religious Orders that caused the collapse in support for the church, especially by younger adults, in the last few decades.

It is profoundly sad that the outstanding work in social care done by many churches in that country and others can be overshadowed in the public memory by the appalling actions of others within their ranks. The apostle Paul is very clear that we must live and apply the gospel in our midst so that in a troubled world the light of the gospel is both visible and effectively modelled in our personal lives and church communities. How might I live the gospel more effectively this week could be a point for reflection today and coming days?     

4. God makes a way through difficulties (II Corinthians 2:12-13)

12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.

Paul was expecting Titus to return with news of how the Church at Corinth had responded to his letter requesting this pastoral issue be addressed. In the weeks while he waited he engaged in some evangelistic work there for a time prior to making the short journey from what is now Western Turkey back to Greece (Macedonia).

There was and is always more work to be done for the Lord. There are many times when ministries or activities we had planned are stopped or paused as we have experienced in the last year by a virus pandemic. The constant challenge for us all is to pray: ‘Lord open doors of opportunity that you want me individually or us as a church to take at this time. Please give us wisdom to sense when You are speaking and give us obedient hearts to act when You direct us to act. In both evangelistic work and ministries of practical care for others, may we demonstrate similar compassion and care for others as Jesus modelled for us two thousand years ago’. 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 that You are wholly trustworthy; that we can rely totally on You through all the ups and downs of life. Thank You too for the people You have placed in our lives that have been there for us in our times of need and also in our times of thanksgiving. Help us this week and in coming days to be people who truly show Your love and care to others, in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen

Benediction:  The Grace

                       

Church at Home – 24 January 2021

Intimations

JAM Kids’ focus: The Virtual Sunday School

Here is the link for Sunday 24 January 21 Virtual Sunday School: ‘Adam & Eve’

JAM young adults Ignite Live have a separate programme at 11:30am.  Please contact Gary Torbet on garytorbet@btinternet.com for more details of today’s programme.

Call to worship: Psalm 32 selection:

Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

I acknowledged my sin to You
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, ‘I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.’
And You forgave
the guilt of my sin.

You are my hiding-place;
You will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Our opening song of praise and worship is ‘I Could Sing of Your Love Forever’

Opening prayer

Lord we come once more into Your holy presence in the wonderful name of Your Son our Saviour Jesus to worship and adore You for all Your goodness to us. We are thrilled by Your amazing grace and loving kindness to us. You know us through and through yet time and again You forgive us our sins when we seek forgiveness for them.

We can sense the real joy in David’s heart when he wrote the opening words of Psalm 32: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And You forgave the guilt of my sin.

Thank You Lord for Your great love and mercy to us each new day. Lord, we want to live our lives with a clear conscience before You and in the sight of other people. Grant us the enabling power of Your Holy Spirit to equip and enable us to reflect something of Your holy character in the choices we make. Speak O Lord to our hearts today as we sing Your praises, read Your Word and consider what it might be saying to us today, for Jesus’ sake Amen.

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

We continue in worship as we sing: ‘The Blessing’ UK version

All-Age Talk Moraig Piggot

People make promises every day. Sometimes we give something to another person as a sign of our promise; sometimes we sign our name to seal our promise, other times we just give our word to another person that we will do something.

I’m sure you have all seen a ring like this. (Show the wedding ring.) When a man and woman get married, they usually make promises to one another. They say something like, “I promise to love you for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health as long as we both shall live.” Then they exchange rings as a symbol of that promise.

This is an ordinary letter like the ones we receive in our letter box every day. Right in the middle is the name and address of the person for whom it is intended. What do you see up here in the corner of the envelope? Right! It is a stamp.

When the Postal Office sells you this stamp and you put it on a letter, it represents their promise to deliver it to the person to whom the envelope is addressed. It doesn’t matter if it is cloudy or sunny, raining or snowing, hot or cold, the mail gets delivered. That is the promise that this stamp represents.

People make promises every day. Do they always keep their promises? Unfortunately, some people don’t. The people of America will all be hoping that their new President Biden will mean the promises he made on Wednesday as their last President Trump wasn’t always very good at sticking to the promises he made!

God makes promises too. The Bible is full of God’s promises. Does God always keep his promises? Yes he does! In the Bible it says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. (2 Cor. 1:20) That is what Brian is going to be speaking about today.

God can be trusted. There is no need for fine print or disclaimers. Whatever the promises of God are, in Jesus Christ they are Yes! And Amen! Which promises of God do we need to be reminded to hold on to? Do we need to be reminded about God’s promises about our past? God promises to forgive all the sins of our past.

 God has promised to forgive our sins, and for that reason we can live without guilt; at peace with God – what a blessing!! Do we need to be reminded about God’s promises about our present?

God promises to be with us and to help us, no matter what we face.

How wonderful to know that God has promised to be with us always, and to help us, so that we need not be afraid of anything! Do we need to be reminded about God’s promises about our future?

In John 14, Jesus promised: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

How’s that for a promise!! We will be with the Lord in a place He has especially prepared for us. Promises, promises, promises…God makes them and God keeps them!  For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ! AMEN!! AMEN!!

Our next song is ‘my Lighthouse’

Prayers for others

Heavenly Father,

We come before You with our prayers for others very conscious that so many people are really struggling with their emotional and mental health at this time. We are aware that ten months into this virus pandemic many of us are exhausted and finding it difficult to do our work as effectively as we would like; others of us are fearful that we might lose our employment at a time when it is especially difficult to gain alternative employment.

Some of us are lonely, used to spending time with family and friends as well as attending services and activities at church, but in this period of lockdown we see few people to talk with and rely on occasional phone calls for conversations with other people. By contrast, some of us are extra busy at work and are under heavy pressures to keep going especially in our hospitals where record numbers of patients with the covid-19 virus pandemic are stretching our resources to the limit.

Some of us who are getting older are finding our confidence in our abilities to do things diminishing as we are forced to stay at home; others are finding it hard to cope with ongoing health issues that in some cases have been a problem for quite some time. Lord we pray that You would give us the strength we need this week and the peace of mind to trust You that we will in time get through this pandemic to a more normal way of life in the future. 

We pray for the following chaplain and churches:

Nick Blair (Chaplain, Merchiston Castle School) – We pray for continued freshness, wisdom, strength and a positive witness as Nick ministers to over 500 boys and staff. We give thanks that the blogs Nick has been writing over the last few months have been well-received and continue to be a blessing to others. 

Ayr BC – The Church leadership completed a review exercise setting out a road map on the direction of travel. We pray for them as they seek God’s leading and guidance in implementing the road map for the future of their work and witness

Bearsden BC – We give thanks for the work that many people have done during lockdown to maintain the church’s role as a worshipping and missional community of believers. Many have up skilled to make all of that possible. Some of the highlights have been people recording songs, prayers, readings and testimonies for use in the services.

We give thanks too for their Barista cafe which opened outside during the summer and continues to open one day a week, rising to two days in mid-October.  We pray for their children and youth work which was tough during the lockdown. Their live Kidzone family events on a Sunday morning in the gardens have been a great blessing as the lockdown has eased and many families have connected with that, however, the youth work has still been tough, but is beginning to open up now with a couple of live events recently.

Bellshill BC – We continue to remember the outreach from this church, in particular the work of the cafe during this season. We give thanks for the gospel message that goes out each week at the cafe. We pray that people may come to faith in Jesus through this witness.

We come to pray for the needs in our own congregation:

Heavenly Father, We pray Your blessing on Garry Adam as he has now commenced his studies with Teen Challenge in England. We pray too for others in our congregation who have returned in person or online to their university classes this month. We pray Your blessing on staff and students alike as they adjust to the ever changing situation.

We pray too for others in the congregation in their workplaces that they will be able to do their work effectively but also safely. We remember especially front-line workers who are potentially exposed more often to the virus as they are mixing with many other people day by day. On the other hand, we pray that You would draw close to those living on their own or in residential care, especially those that are unable to have visitors as they would prior to this pandemic. 

We thank you that Betty W continues to make progress in her recovery as does Bill Turner. We continue to remember Dorothy and Jim G in our prayers, likewise for Alva and Hamid D, Isdale A’s dad, and for Fiona and Frank K that God may grant the strength needed at this time. We pray too for Fergus R with his ongoing health problems and for Helen S as she recovers from surgery.

We continue to pray for the T family, as they prepare for Ali’s dads funeral this week. We continue to pray also for Nicola L’s dad, Lawrie, as he recovers from major surgery and for Shona H’s niece Lynne too that she may make a good recovery.

We continue to pray for those with ongoing health conditions and bring them before You now…

We now pray silently for anyone else known to us who is in need of our prayers at this time…..

We pray also for our own needs…

We bring all these prayers before you in Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Bible Reading II Corinthians 1:12-22

12 Now this is our boast: our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 

13 For we do not write to you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.

15 Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to let you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’?

18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us – by me, Silas and Timothy – was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, but in him it has always been ‘Yes’. 

20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Before we come to listen to God’s Word let us sing: ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’

The Message

II Corinthians 1:12-22 Maintaining integrity in a troubled world

Introduction

The apostle Paul has been speaking in the first half of II Corinthians 1 about his struggles in recent years in his work. It had been exceedingly difficult to continue with the ministry to which God had called him. The people and the circumstances he had endured had caused even him to think his life might be coming to an end. However, he was enabled with God’s help to continue and not just to survive; instead his work had become remarkably successful in the planting of new churches. Now he turns inward to speak about something equally important, our character. 

Does it matter that we are people of our word? When we make a promise to another person to say or do something, do you or I feel obliged to honour what we have said as far as we possibly can? Or do words mean nothing? Stepping back from our own lives and thinking of our wider society, let us consider the importance of this subject.

Political parties produce manifestos prior to an election campaign. If elected, should we expect them to do what they have promised? I didn’t say do we expect them to honour their undertakings; sadly too many people have lost faith in the promises of our elected representatives and sometimes with good reasons.

But what about our local garage, do we trust them that they have carried out the work for which we are charged before we drive the car away? Or what about the doctor who diagnoses a particular medical condition and provides a prescription for its treatment or who recommends a surgical procedure in hospital. Does it matter that they are telling the truth? Overwhelmingly we would say ‘yes’ here.

In the same way, in so many other social or work contexts the truth really matters. In our families or church family, or within our circle of friends, it really does matter that we can be trusted to be truthful and operating with personal integrity. Character matters. Who we are as people is just as important as what we do. Our private life and our public one are two sides of the same whole.

It is painful, to read, for example, the inconsistency of some American Evangelical Church leaders in their public pronouncements about the character qualities required in a US President when commenting on a candidate from their own favoured party to one of the other main party. The mainstream media so often are less than fair in their own pronouncements in moral matters in the public square.

But Christians and others who make public pronouncements too often make it easy for them to highlight our inconsistencies in the things we address. The response, though, is not to stay silent, but to take great care to be thoughtful and measured and consistent in such statements. The apostle Paul knew that not everyone in Corinth would agree with all the views he expressed, but he wanted to stress that no-one should doubt his personal integrity and sincerity in the way he carried out his work. In the same way, today, we must ensure that in the way we live we are honouring the Lord.  What does Paul particularly highlight here?    

1. The importance of personal integrity (II Corinthians 1:12-14)

(a)His conscience (II Corinthians 1:12-13a)Now this is our boast: our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 13 For we do not write to you anything you cannot read or understand.

It is clear that at least some members of the church in Corinth had in some way communicated to Paul, probably by hand-delivered letter, that he was viewed as inconsistent in his practice of the faith. This behaviour had clearly upset him and he stands his ground here insisting that he had conducted himself appropriately in the matters to which they refer.

It is certainly also claimed by individuals in that congregation that Paul is bolder in criticising things he believes are inappropriate in the church by letter than when he was in the church with them in person. We rarely have all the details about any situation in the present let alone the past, but it is possible that he asked for some issues to be addressed very graciously in person and then because nothing happened wrote a follow-up letter making the point more strongly. Was he wrong to have done that? Actually, no, this letter actually had the desired effect.

The letter is apparently lost, but in II Corinthians 7:8-13a, Paul makes a detailed reference to it. There is no doubt that Paul did alter his schedule of visits to churches at times when he saw a greater need to address or an opportunity that had to be taken in new evangelistic work.

All of us change our minds about priorities at times and can do so for very good reasons. It is quite inappropriate to view another person in a bad light automatically over decisions they have made. There is a big need for greater kindness to other people across society not just behaving this way in our families or church family. In a time like the present, with some people facing severe pressures, we need to be exceptionally gracious and encourage one another to keep going through their times of difficulty.

In his letters maintaining a good conscience was crucial for Paul. It was a repeated theme in his letters to other Christians. In I Timothy 1:5 he wrote: The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Church leaders, he said, … must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience (I Timothy 3:9).

In his final letter to Timothy, he testified that: I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience(II Timothy 1:3). In the letter he wrote to the church in Rome, he stated in the most deeply personal part of it these words. I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit (Romans 9:1).

In court when under oath before the Roman Governor Felix, he spoke these words: I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man (Acts 24:16). This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a pattern in his life.  Do you and I have the same determination to do the same before God and other people? We live in a culture of half-truths, fake news, political spin, and social media targeting. It is as hard as it has ever been to determine what is truthful or right. You and I cannot determine what other people do, but maintaining our integrity in a troubled world is something we can do – if we make that choice.  

For Paul, his strongest motivation for maintaining personal integrity is shared later in this letter. II Corinthians 5:9-10 states: 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.

Other people may never know the full facts of situations. Far too often judgements are made with limited information and if we speak hastily or unwisely we can cause deep hurts that can take a long time to heal. However, like Paul, if we have this same goal in life to please the Lord by the way we live then we are placing ourselves in a better position to avoid making major mistakes.

We cannot assume, for example, over an issue with which we disagree with another person that they have approached the matter with the same assumptions as ourselves. If we ‘stood in their shoes’ we might understand more clearly the decision they came to or the choices they made. Sometimes there can be genuinely more than one way of looking at an issue and as a result potentially different approaches to its resolution. We are currently in the midst of a virus pandemic and in such a time as this need to be particularly gracious and kind to other people, and some of us to ourselves as well. Our calling is to love and follow the One who first loved us and went to extraordinary lengths on the cross to demonstrate it.   

(b) His hope (II Corinthians 1:13b-15) And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus. Why is being a person of our word so important? Why is it crucial to seek to maintain our integrity in our conduct?

Most of the time in life we either accept someone’s word or reject it based on our past experience of them or on our past experience of other people. If a person has seen you living the right way in the past they are much more likely to trust you in the present. In the same way, a person brought up with family and friends who keep their word is more likely to trust the word of another person more than someone who had grown up in a family marred by broken promises and complicated relationships.

What kind of culture are we developing or maintaining in our families or church family? How do other people view us when they first meet us? I thank God for the number of times when I have had people new to our church comment favourably on the warmth of welcome they received or the favourable perspective they reached of us by observing how people talked with one another outside of services.

How we live really matters. It can open a door to conversations about faith or do the very opposite depending on the opinion that person has reached about the life we lead. Paul had lived and worked with this congregation for more than eighteen months in total so they had plenty of opportunities to assess his approach to living. He sincerely hoped that they could be happy to acknowledge him as an important part of their lives and commend him to others, just as he wanted to be able to do the same for them.

Are you and I seeking to think the best, speak the best and act in the light of such a view towards one another? F.F. Bruce, the famous New Testament scholar, was brought up in Brethren Assemblies in some tight-knit small communities in the North-East Scotland. In later life he reflected on those years and included this remark with respect to churchgoers in one particular location: ‘…while others went to church to hear the gospel preached, they went to hear if the gospel was preached’ [cited by R. Kent Hughes, II Corinthians, and p.38]. 

In case anyone missed the point Bruce was making, he was expressing sadness that certain individuals went to church with the mind-set of looking for something to criticise rather than primarily in anticipation of God speaking to them through His Word! The culture of a church is determined by the choices its members make on this matter. It begins with each one of individually making Christ-like choices about our attitudes. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves – how am I getting on? Am I pleasing the Lord in my choices?  

2. Integrity in his decision-making (II Corinthians 1:15-22)

(a)A man of his word (II Corinthians 1:15-17) Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to let you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’?

Paul had planned to visit them twice on the way to Macedonia in Greece and then on his way back to Jerusalem afterwards. Travel in the ancient world was tough and lengthy. There were no tourist facilities or travel lodges for business travellers until much later in history. In part this was due to the very limited demand for such facilities. To have a friend or family member who could put you up for a few days to break a journey would be a real blessing. However, this was not the reason for Paul’s proposed plans. In II Corinthians 8-9 Paul will explain why he had this plan for two visits.

An alternative translation of the second half of verse 15 in II Corinthians chapter 1 is this ‘… so that you might have a second experience of grace.’ [English Standard Version] It is helpful when we come to the language of II Corinthians 8:6-7: So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

It appears that the church at Corinth was one of the wealthier congregations in this era. They were not in the habit of taking regular collections, but only when there were specific things to pay for. In his first surviving letter to this church, Paul urged them to start taking a weekly collection as part of their acts of worship (I Corinthians 16:1-2). You may be surprised that it was only in the last hundred years that our churches started taking weekly collections for the work of the local church as part of acts of worship. Up till then a visitor might have observed a fellowship offering taken at communion to assist with the cost of practical needs for members or offerings for other causes, but in house contributions were often collected during the week by members appointed to visit homes of members for that purpose.

Paul was seeking to instil a pattern of behaviour as disciples of Jesus that included them giving a proportion of the money they earned to the Lord’s work. They had been more than willing to cover their own costs; but the apostle wanted them to have a much greater vision for generosity in supporting other Christians in need (in Jerusalem during a time of famine) as well as also supporting mission work as church-planting was taking place in other parts of the Roman world. They would also have the blessing of his presence with them for two shorter visits as well.  

There are times when we have no choice but to change our plans. Circumstances can arise that we had not anticipated that require us as responsible individuals to change the course of action we had proposed. However, what is important is that we are seen consistently to be people of our word who maintain our integrity in a troubled world. In the past for many people in our country, a spoken promise over, for example, a business deal or a house purchase, and a resultant handshake, was viewed as coming to an agreement that the participants would honour. It was as good as a written legal agreement. Yet how many people would honour such a commitment today if they had been financially disadvantaged in the light of later information? Sadly it would be a minority of the population. Are you and I people of our word?

In 1984 Bernard Levin a well-known British journalist recounted a relatively recent story of an American police officer who held to these standards. The officer on lunchbreaks regularly ate at a café not far from where he was based. On this particular occasion he was filling in the numbers on a lottery ticket while eating his food. The waitress who regularly served him returned to the table and in a light hearted conversation he asked her to choose the rest of the numbers for his ticket and promised her half the proceedings if the ticket was successful. It was the winning ticket with a prize of six million dollars.

Shortly after receiving the prize money he made a point of giving three million to her. Some media critics at the time said he was a fool when a lesser gift would have been sufficient. His response when questioned was simply that ‘a promise is a promise’. Levin who warmly approved of the man’s actions wrote this: ‘The policeman kept faith with his friend the waitress. But he kept another faith with his own soul (which is the breath which animates the voice we call conscience.’ [B. Levin, The Times, 24 August 1984]

When we are people of our word in practice as a way of life, other people may be more open to give us a hearing when we speak about our Christian faith. But, by contrast, if we say one thing and live a different way then there will be little respect for us or anyone else who chooses to live that way.     

(b) The power of Christian integrity (II Corinthians 1:18-24) But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us – by me, Silas and Timothy – was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, but in him it has always been ‘Yes’. 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Maintaining our integrity is a reflection of God’s character by people created in His image. I thank God for the many people in our communities who also are honourable men and woman who may or may not share our faith. If we believe that we are all created in the image of God, as Genesis 1:26 states to us, then we should not be surprised at the good choices of others; just as we are not surprised in the opposite way when human sinfulness is seen to affect the choices of even the best of us on occasions.

In this passage the focus is on the positive emphasis of honouring God by being people of our word.  Throughout the Bible there is testimony to how God acts in history. In the book of Numbers there is a remarkably gifted but unusual prophet called Balaam. In one of his best known public addresses, in this case to Balak King of Moab, he included these words about the character of God: God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change his mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfil? (Numbers 23:19)

Paul shares Balaam’s conviction that God is entirely trustworthy. God’s Word is entirely reliable. The coming of Jesus was a fulfilment of all the promises about the future Messiah in the Jewish Bible, our Old Testament. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, is based on this conviction that God is to be trusted because He keeps His promises. Try reading through the first few chapters of Matthew’s Gospel and count how many times the author highlights the fulfilment of what God had promised in the Old Testament.

What is particularly remarkable are the words at the end of this passage: He anointed us, 22 set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (II Corinthians 1:21b-22).

The referencing of the seal of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:13-14 is seen as a proof of our conversion, of being a member of His family. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory.

Here in this passage, the reference goes further and suggests that as God’s children we are reflecting something of His character as well as a guarantee of being children of God for ever. The child of God will act like their heavenly Father because they are revealing something of the family likeness! What a challenge that is to me and to you! How will I live this week in ways that reflect the character of my heavenly Father? One way is to safeguard our personal integrity and be people of our word. ‘Like Father, like…-how accurately will your name and mine fit such a statement? I pray it will do so accurately this week, so that through our lives others are pointed to Jesus as the way for their lives too, Amen.

Our song before we come to communion is: ‘How Deep the Fathers Love’

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: ‘How Great Is Our God’

Closing Prayer:

Thank You Lord Jesus that You modelled for us the way we ought to live. Thank You that through the power of the Holy Spirit You honoured God the Father in all that You said and did. Help us in this new week to glorify Your name through the way we live our lives, for Jesus’ name’s sake, Amen. 

Benediction:  The Grace

                       

Messy Church – 23 January 2021

Join us on Saturday 23rd January, 11.30 am for a mini Messy Church on Zoom. Last month we made heart shaped bead decorations as we thought about God’s love shown to us all, this time we will hear a Bible story about a man and his friends, who did all they possibly could to help him to meet Jesus.

Please sign up by EMAIL to familyworker@outlook.com with the number of children in your household taking part and your address. An envelope with the items for the craft activity will be made up well in advance and either popped through your door during exercise or essential trips out or posted to you.

We’ll have a short Zoom session lasting less than half an hour, including a video on our Bible theme, a talk from Moraig, we’ll do the craft together and we’ll finish with one of our action songs. Zoom invites will be sent out by another member of our team and so by signing up, you consent to your email being shared with them for this purpose only. Any questions, then please get in touch! We’d love to see you then 🙂

Boogie Babies – 23 January 2021

Looking for something to do with your little ones at home? Join us for Zoom Boogie Babies on Saturday 23rd January, 10 am.

Moraig will lead us with some of our favourite Boogie Babies action songs and nursery rhymes for you to sing and dance along to, ideal for age 0-5. It will last around 30 minutes.

Please book a space by sending an email to familyworker@outlook.com with your full name and your child’s name. The Zoom invite will be sent out in advance by another member of our team and so by signing up, you consent to us sharing your email address with them for this purpose only. If you would like any more information, please get in touch. Hope to see you then! 😀

Church at Home – 17 January 2021

Intimations

JAM Kids’ focus: The Virtual Sunday School – ‘Saul’s Conversion’. Here is the link for Sunday 17 January 21 Virtual Sunday School:

JAM young adults Ignite Live have a separate programme at 11:30am.  Please contact Gary Torbet on garytorbet@btinternet.com for more details of today’s programme.

Baptist Union of Scotland National Prayer Livestream – The monthly prayer livestream takes place next on Sunday 7 February, 2021 7.00–7.30pm.

Call to worship

I waited patiently for the Lord;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
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.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in Him.

Blessed is the one
who trusts in the Lord,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders You have done,
the things You planned for us.
None can compare with You;
were I to speak and tell of Your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.

Psalm 40:1-5

Our opening song of praise and worship is ‘O Lord my God’

Opening prayer

Lord Jesus we come with a sense of awe and wonder at the amazing privilege that is ours to come before You today with our praises and our prayers. We look around at the universe You brought into being in its magnificent vastness and complexity. ‘How great is our God’!

We rejoice in the wonderful blessings that are ours to enjoy as we walk in parks and pathways, along the sands on the beach or in the hills and valleys of this land. Thank you Lord for all the other creatures with which we share this beautiful planet. Help us to take good care of this magnificent environment that future generations may experience the same blessings we have enjoyed.

But help us also to love You and follow You as we are guided by Your Holy Word. May we honour You in the way that we live. Please forgive us once more our sins and equip us with the enabling power of Your Holy Spirit in this another new week. Speak to us through the singing of Your praises and the reading and reflection on Your Word. We bring our prayers in the wonderful all-powerful name of Jesus, Amen.  

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

We continue in worship as we sing: ‘Waymaker’

All- Age Talk: ‘Thank you’  

In I Thessalonians 5:16-18 the apostle Paul wrote:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I want us to stop for a few moments of silence and to ask ourselves this question: ‘For what or for whom am I thankful today?’

I wonder what thoughts came first into your mind – for many of us a named person will come to mind; for others maybe an act of kindness. I thought of someone in our church who makes time to write letters or cards of encouragement to other people as a ministry they can exercise in lockdown.

In the live service I will ask for a few people to share very briefly what or whom they are thankful for and why; maybe you can share your answer with someone in your home or if you live alone mention it in a phone call or some other means of messaging to someone else.

There are many problems to address in this world. We could draw up a very long list and feel thoroughly depressed at the end of such an exercise! However, even though every entry on such a list might be true, it is not good for our emotional or mental health to focus on that for too much of the time.

The apostle Paul will go on to speak about some things that were so hard for him that he almost felt he might even die. There were times when he and his team members were so sad or depressed that they were tempted to give up because life was just too hard. In the lists of problems he faced he didn’t include a virus pandemic, but if God could help him and his friends keep going with their problems he can help you and me today too.  

Take a few moments to think about something you want God to help you with today. Then, take the time to pray – for one thing to thank God for and one thing to ask Him for in expectancy that He will answer your prayer. The Bible never promises us that God’s answers will be what we are expecting, but it tells us that God will always hear and answer our prayer. Now that in itself is something to be thankful for!    

Our next song is an All-Age song of praise:  ‘My hope is in the Lord’

Prayers for others

Heavenly Father,

We are very conscious of the seriousness of the health situation in our country with the rapid growth in numbers of people testing positive with the new strain of the Covid-19 virus. We pray in particular for the overstretched health care workers seeking to care for them in our hospitals and pray that there may be increased numbers of medical staff provided to cope with the increased demands upon our hospitals. We pray too for the people living in nursing homes and other supported accommodation that the staff there also will have the necessary resources to support all the residents under their care.

We also bring before you all those working in our nurseries, schools, colleges and universities. We pray for wisdom as they continue to adapt to new ways of working, especially online learning, and ask that all children and young people who need it will have the necessary access to the technology required for it.

We particularly pray for the older children in the key examination years and ask that ways may be found to ensure that they can complete the necessary work expected and also that an appropriate assessment system can be put in place to ensure that no-one one is unfairly disadvantaged going forward.

We give thanks for the work of various Christian debt counselling agencies. We pray for the volunteers from within our churches who work with these agencies to help people in debt and despair find freedom and hope. We pray too for those struggling with debts that each person will be able to find a person or people or an appropriate agency with the necessary skills to assist them through this difficult time.

We give thanks for the Deep Impact youth conference online yesterday and hope that Gary, Aedan and Natanya were encouraged as they took part in it. We pray God’s blessing on all the people involved in youth and children’s ministries in churches across this country. This last ten months have been so difficult for them planning and leading appropriate online events when face-to-face events have been necessarily limited. We pray for wisdom for all concerned as they continue this work in 2021     

We pray for the following chaplain and churches:

Graham Bell (Chaplain, HMP Glenochil) – We give thanks for the use of in cell technology over recent months which have allowed services and other programmes to go out throughout the prison. We give thanks that there have been no cases of covid in the jail at Glenochil. We continue to pray for the work of chaplaincy – in demand now as much as ever.

Alva BC – We praise God for His hand upon this fellowship, as they continue to grow and reach out to people in the community with the good news. We pray for God’s blessing on the work of Alva Baptist Church, and thank God as people from differing backgrounds are being transformed, and grow together in grace.

 Ardbeg (Rothesay) BC – We pray for continued imagination, creativity and perseverance and they seek to remain faithful together in unpredictable and ever changing circumstances. We join them in giving thanks for the beauty of creation and the ever present faithfulness of God in the changing seasons.

Arran BC – We join them in praying for their work on the island of Arran;  we pray that while they can’t meet together face to face that the mini services online and cd will be encouraging and the weekly phone calls will continue to bind them together as a family. We thank God that there have only been a small number of Covid cases on Arran and are also encouraged by the growing number of folks who are being ministered to through their online services.

We come to pray for the needs in our own congregation:

We are grateful for the improvements for Betty W and the good news that she is now making progress at home. We are thankful too for Bill D’s progress and pray that as he is rehabilitating in Arbroath Hospital he may soon be well enough to return home. We continue to remember Dorothy and Jim G in our prayers, likewise for Isdale’s dad, and for Fiona and Frank K that God may grant the strength needed at this time. We pray too for Fergus R with his ongoing health problems. We are grateful that Helen S’s operation went well last week and pray that things may go well as she goes back to hospital this week also.

We continue to pray for the Torbet family, as they prepare for Ali’s dads funeral. We continue to pray also for Nicola L’s dad, Lawrie, as he recovers from major surgery and for Shona H’s niece Lynne too that she may make a good recovery.

We continue to pray for those with ongoing health conditions and bring them before You now…

We now pray silently for anyone else known to us who is in need of our prayers at this time…..

We pray also for our own needs…

We bring all these prayers before you in Jesus’ name,

Bible Reading

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 

If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 

Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

II Corinthians 1:1-11

Before we come to listen to God’s Word let us sing: ‘By faith’

The MessageII Corinthians 1:1-11 Welcome to the Christian Life

Introduction

‘Come to Jesus and your problems are all over?’ ‘Follow Jesus and life will get easier?’ Not true! In many parts of the world life will become considerably harder and in a growing number of countries active discrimination, potential loss of employment, possible imprisonment or even martyrdom for your faith might be your lot. Anyone who has been told it is easy to live as a Christian has been ‘mis-sold’ the good news of the gospel. Jesus in Mark 8:34-36 Jesus told His first followers these clear words:

Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 

In the same way Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth explains just how hard it can be to live the right way, speak in appropriate ways and to have right attitudes towards other people. There can be a cost to integrity when others around us chose a different approach.

I am aware on the day I am writing this message of a news story in some media today of the consequences for an outstanding Anglican prison chaplain who spoke out courageously against some appalling things going on in that High Security Prison. The matter will now be heard in open court, but it appears that the man who refused to be intimidated by those involved in this misconduct is the one who was punished for damaging the reputation of the institution concerned. The details cannot be given in the light of current legal proceedings, but it is a sobering reminder that doing the right thing can be costly for us or anyone else.

Today, some of the hearers or readers of this message may be going through exceedingly hard times. It may be excessive work pressures in your workplace. We particularly pray at the present time for the staff in hospitals that are close to being overwhelmed with the current numbers of patients being admitted with the covid-19 virus. Some of the interviews with doctors and nurses on our TVs and radio in the last week or two have been profoundly concerning with respect to the pressures they are facing on a daily basis.


However, your struggles may not be in your workplace. Some people have ongoing health issues or difficult family circumstances. Others under extreme financial pressures or feeling so lonely with not being able to meet up with family or friends; Paul in this letter speaks powerfully into the real world in which we live at present. Let us look at the social context into which his message was sent in the middle of the first century AD.      

 Corinth was a relatively new city. The ancient city had been destroyed by the Romans in 146BC, and abandoned until Julius Caesar ordered its reconstruction in 44BC. Paul makes his first visit there in AD49-50 when its population had reached 80,000 people. It was a vibrant city composed largely of individuals migrating to make a new start in life. Many were former slaves who had been given their freedom; others were former Roman soldiers and their families settling down in this new community after completing their twenty-five years of service in the Roman Army.

There was no aristocracy or historic powerful families that controlled its governance. Its typical businesses were small run by self-employed people. It  was a city popular with young adults with an eighteen thousand-seater theatre and a concert hall with a capacity for three thousand people to attend events. It was well known as a key sporting venue in the ancient world and the Isthmian Games, second only to the Olympics, were held in Corinth.

In many ways it was like a frontier city in the westward expansion of the United States in the nineteenth century. Like other places there were temples for the Greek and Roman gods and major festivals were incredibly popular, but in terms of day to day life the values and attitudes of local people and the many visitors to Corinth were far from sympathetic to the beliefs and the way of life Paul and his fellow Christian missionaries were sharing with them.

It was one of the toughest places in the Roman Empire to plant a church and disciple a new congregation. Luke, a Christian doctor and companion of Paul, wrote in the book of Acts chapter eighteen about the time Paul spent in that city when the church to whom this letter was written was planted around seven years earlier. The apostle had persevered through some exceedingly hard times to establish a church he could entrust to the care of other leaders, though he kept in touch with them through exchanges of letters and occasional visits to him from church members.

It was clear too that not everyone in the church was keen to maintain fellowship with Paul so it was at best a strained relationship. However, there is much we can learn from this correspondence between their former pastor who loved them deeply and prayed for them regularly and this Greek congregation.       

What does Paul speak about in the opening section of this letter?

1. The calling to Christian service (II Corinthians 1:1-2)

(a)The foundation of our security II Corinthians 1:1a … by the will of God. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, In Corinth they loved the charismatic entertainers and eloquent public speakers. For some strange reason, relatively well-off, charming and good looking individuals who told you what amused you, or who proclaimed what you wanted to hear, were particularly popular in this city! Paul did not fit this description.

A latter historical novel written a few years after Paul’s death in the 60s AD contained a description of the apostle. ‘He was a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well built with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace.’ [See P.E. Hughes, II Corinthians, p.1]. Although most of the novel’s content has no basis in historical fact, it is assumed by most scholars that this description of Paul is probably reliable. Although a man who was intellectually one of the great Jewish theologians of his day, this was of no significance whatsoever to most of the locals in Corinth who were unimpressed by his appearance and his plain-speaking together with his fairly long sermons!

It doesn’t matter who you are, how successful you are in life, there will always be others who will be critical of what you have done or how or why. All of us are sinners so we make mistakes. All of us are imperfect creatures so we can benefit from the wise advice from other people to improve what we say and do and need to listen to each other. Yet, having said that, there are too many people, sadly including some who profess Christian faith, who are incredibly quick to fire critical comments at others, especially but not exclusively on social media.

Corinth was not a comfortable place for people who felt insecure in their identity or self-worth. When living through incredibly stressful times like the present we must be particularly sensitive to focus on building one another up, because our resilience to handling setbacks is diminished. So where does our security lie?

Paul declares upfront the secret of his personal resilience; how he was enabled to continue his ministry despite some awful difficulties. II Corinthians 1:1a states: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. It was not the title he could have worn on a name badge or the impressive entry he could have placed on his curriculum vitae (CV) –had they been invented all those years ago! His secret source of assurance was his calling into this ministry by God. The security you and I have as followers of Jesus is because we are children of God.

By faith, we accepted the gift of salvation, obtained for us through Jesus’ perfect sufficient sacrifice as a substitute for sinners on the cross. God the Father loves you and me because of Jesus. He sees the sacrifice of His Son in its infinite value to all who seek to be His children through faith in Him. Paul from the time of his conversion saw himself identified with Jesus. He committed his whole life to telling others about Jesus, the Messiah [or the Christ] promised in the Old Testament. He was not promoting ‘Paul of Tarsus Ministries’ but Jesus. He was not seeking personal glory and praise but to direct it to God. Too often Christians can fall into the trap of asking God to give us what we want, rather than asking Him to give us what He wants us to have. This latter way is the Jesus way, as He directed His followers to pray in Matthew 6:10: Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.            

(b) The focus of our calling (II Corinthians 1:1b-2) To the church of God in Corinth, together with all His holy people throughout Achaia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Western world we tend to focus too much on individualism or my family’s wants or needs which are important, but in New Testament references to the people of God tends to be plural. We are in it together.

What we can accomplish for God in serving collectively is far greater than what we could do on our own. Paul places a greater emphasis and priority on being a part of the Church of Jesus Christ, both universal and local, than many professing Christians today. Despite the ‘rough edges’ of some believers and our difficulties at getting on with others, God has called us to work together to help build His kingdom on earth.

He also highlights the blessings we ought to share with one another and other people. The grace of God that ministers to people in their times of need; the peace of God that is so much needed when so many are filled with anxiety about today, let alone next week or next month! How are you and I seeking to do that in 2021? Never underestimate the effectiveness of a grace-filled life, and a prayerful one, but equally there are times when words of witness are powerful too.    

2. The comfort of God (II Corinthians 1:3-7)

(a)Declared (II Corinthians 1:3)Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort… We are created to be a people of praise with thankfulness for our blessings. It is so easy to overlook the good things we enjoy and to fail to acknowledge or appreciate them. It is so much easier to focus on our difficulties, our disappointments and other problems. When times are hard and energy levels are at times close to empty it takes a lot of mental exertion not to be overwhelmed by the challenges in front of us. If we are sleep deprived as well then our ability to keep things in perspective is even more diminished.

Paul in I Thessalonians 5:18 wrote these extraordinary words: …give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Please note that Paul wrote ‘in’ not ‘for’ all circumstances. There is a world of difference between the two. Paul in this letter will shortly go on to describe just how tough things have been for him. Yet still invites us and his first readers / hearers to make the effort each day to find things for which we can give God thanks each day. It is a conscious choice we are being invited to make so as to try and retain a sense of perspective on our lives when we are going through very difficult times. One thing that might help as an aside is not spending too much time listening to the news about the virus pandemic. We need some information, but all our lives are about so much more than that. What can you and I give God thanks for as our blessings today?      

(b) Experienced (II Corinthians 1:4-5) …4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. ‘Paul you don’t understand my circumstances’ or ‘If you had been through what I have been through, you wouldn’t be looking for positive things to thank God or anyone else for’, might be opinions someone might express.

We need to remind ourselves what was in the CV of life experience before Paul wrote this letter. II Corinthians 11:23b-28: I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

No-one could call this a sheltered and comfortable existence. What is more, notice that Paul stated: 4who comforts us in all our troubles. There is no exclusion of virus pandemics, state initiated discrimination or terrorist persecution for our faith or any other particular time of hardship. Out of an incredibly difficult experience of life Paul could testify to experiencing the amazing love and care of God. Yet the reception of this comfort or encouragement from God is with a view to passing it on…so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian was imprisoned by the Nazi government in 1940s Germany for some time prior to his execution in 1945. He sent many letters to friends and family and especially to his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer.

One of the last messages received by Maria before his execution was a poem entitled “New Year 1945.”  Written from a Gestapo-run prison during the air raids on Berlin, Bonhoeffer’s words still hold their meaning for us today despite vastly different contexts.

With every power for good to stay and guide me,
comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I’ll live these days with you in thought beside me,
and pass, with you, into the coming year.

While all the powers of good aid and attend us,
boldly we’ll face the future, be it what may.
At even, and at morn, God will befriend us,
and oh, most surely on each new year’s day

The old year still torments our hearts, unhastening:
the long days of our sorrow still endure.
Father, grant to the soul Thou hast been chastening
that Thou hast promised—the healing and the cure.

Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
even to the dregs of pain, at Thy command,
we will not falter, thankfully receiving
all that is given by Thy loving hand.

But, should it be Thy will once more to release us
to life’s enjoyment and its good sunshine,
that we’ve learned from sorrow shall increase us
and all our life be dedicate as Thine.

To-day, let candles shed their radiant greeting:
lo, on our darkness are they not Thy light,
leading us haply to our longed-for meeting?
Thou canst illumine e’en our darkest night.

When now the silence deepens for our harkening,
grant we may hear Thy children’s voices raise
from all the unseen world around us darkening
their universal paean, in Thy praise.

[https://jamesfenwick.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/a-poem-for-new-years-day/ accessed 12.1.21]

Three months later just as the war was ending Bonhoeffer was hanged on Hitler’s orders in Flossenburg prison. Eighteen years later another bride to be whose fiancé had died from injuries obtained through a leisure activity accident gained much comfort from this poem. She in turn passed a copy of the poem to her fiancé’s parents Joe and Mary Lou Bayly. Joe published this poem in a small book of poems called Heaven aiming to offer comfort to other bereaved families.

Twelve years later he got a letter from a pastor friend in Massachusetts who had given a copy of the poetry book to a terminally ill woman in a Boston Hospital. Despite being close to death, on her last evening she stayed awake long enough to read this particular poem and gained great comfort from it. Before she died the next day she shared this fact with this un-named pastor.

Her name was Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller, Bonhoeffer’s fiancée (R Kent Hughes, II Corinthians, pp. 21-22). Who might be so blessed by an act of kindness you did this coming week that they determined to comfort someone else…who knows how God might use you and I if we are available to Him?           

(c) Applied (II Corinthians 1:6-7) If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We live in a troubled world where there are so many people in need of God’s compassion experienced through the kind attitudes, speech and actions of ordinary Christians like you and me. Like Paul we will have times when we cry out to God that our troubles are almost or apparently beyond our capacity to handle. Should we be surprised that life can be tough sometimes for a follower of Jesus? No! The New Testament is very clear on this point.

In I Peter 2:20b-21, the apostle Peter wrote: But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps. Paul and Peter as older Christians both wanted to assure younger believers that as they remained faithful to God during their times of hardship, God would comfort and encourage them in and through those times. The same principle is true for you and me today as well in our hardest times.

3. Death and Resurrection (II Corinthians 1:8-11)

(a)A description of his suffering (II Corinthians 1:8-9a)We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.  

Paul wanted to emphasise to the Christians in Corinth that the difficulties he and his church-planting teams experienced were not mere inconveniences, instead severe trials and on some occasions they did not expect to come out alive. In the current virus pandemic health and social care workers have willingly given their lives for their patients or home residents. In other countries pastors and other church members have died supporting people who contracted the virus.

I have had a number of message exchanges or phone conversations with pastors in economically-disadvantage countries over the last year. I have been humbled by the sacrifices some of them have been making to share food with hungry people alongside the good news of the Christian gospel. Some could have given up those hard situations and concentrated in serving in other places, but felt led to continue to serve others in Jesus’ name.

I thank God for examples much closer to home of Christians that I know who, alongside others, have honoured God during this virus pandemic by enduring some incredibly tough circumstances as health care or social care or as other essential workers in our community. From my heart, I and others here want to acknowledge our debt of gratitude to you for what you have done, are doing and will do before this virus pandemic is finally overcome. Someone or some people reading or hearing this message may identify with the feelings described in these verses. You are not on your own. There are people willing to support you in any way they can to get you through this overwhelmingly difficult time.    

(b) The purpose of his suffering (II Corinthians 1:9b-10) But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us…

Many of us have had times of crushing disappointment. Relationships that crumbled, or precious loved ones who died so unexpectedly; or church difficulties that caused such heartache or work or career trials, shattering health diagnoses and the list we could all add too can be exceedingly long.

In II Corinthians 4:10-11 Paul wrote: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body. In north-east Scotland where we are privileged to live we have to admit that few of us can testify that this has been our regular experience of life.

In contrast, for example, to Christian brothers and sisters in northern Nigeria, Somalia, and Eritrea; the apostle wants to encourage us all that whatever our lived experience to date – God’s grace will be sufficient to meet our needs. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us…  Do you need to hear these words of encouragement today? Nothing is too difficult for God.

C.S. Lewis wrote at the end of his famous work Mere Christianity: ‘The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give yourself up and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day, and death of your whole body in the end; submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look [not for yourself] But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.’ [C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.189]When we have faith in such a great God we will have a solid basis for present and future hope.

(c) Prayer and his suffering (II Corinthians 1:11) …as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many. God’s kingdom will be advanced by Easter people; that is, those who identify with the crucified, risen, ascended Saviour Jesus. Those people willing to die to self and live for Him. What is more, through prayer we invest in the lives of other people more than we ever imagine is possible. Are you committed to investing in the lives of other people through prayer in 2021?

At times our lives may be more difficult than we ever imagined possible, but we have hope in God, not hopelessness; we may feel overwhelmed with pressure, troubles or even in the worst cases think death may be near, but we rejoice in resurrection life – where God intervenes in mighty power as He did that first Easter Sunday. We can face uncertain futures because we know through God’s Word that even physical death is not the final word, because in Jesus’ footsteps we will overcome death and enter eternal life. Welcome to the Christian life, a way of life that at times is more difficult than we ever imagined, but equally a pathway to blessings greater than we will ever pray for and ultimately joy unspeakable that is literally out of this world. Amen.     

Our song before we come to communion is: ‘Yet not I but through Christ in me’

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: ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’

Closing Prayer:

Thank You Lord that You are the God of all comfort who can encourage us and strengthen us in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in this week. We are thankful for the testimony  of the apostle Paul that You were sufficient for his every need, and we trust that You will be sufficient to help us in our difficulties and struggles of this new week. We declare that You are the God of resurrection who in the person of Jesus triumphed over even physical death so that we too know that one day we shall triumph over it also prior to eternal life with You once this life is over. In the remaining time allotted to us, in good times and tough, may we experience Your presence with us strengthening and encouraging us through all our times of need, for Jesus’ sake Amen.  

Benediction:  The Grace

Church at Home – 10 January 2021

JAM Kids’ focus:

Here is the video for Sunday 10 January 21 Virtual Sunday School: ‘John the Baptist and the locust eating challenge’

JAM young adults Ignite Live have a separate programme at 11:30am.  Please contact Gary Torbet on garytorbet@btinternet.com for more details of today’s programme.

Baptist Union of Scotland National Prayer Livestream

The monthly prayer livestream takes place next on Sunday 7 February, 2021 7.00–7.30pm. 

Call to worship

I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise Your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise You
and extol Your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends Your works to another;
they tell of Your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendour of Your majesty –
and I will meditate on Your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of Your awesome works –
and I will proclaim Your great deeds.
They celebrate Your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of Your righteousness.

Psalm 145:1-7

Our opening song of praise and worship is ‘Tell out my soul’

Opening prayer

Heavenly Father,

Many of us have struggled to adjust to the events of the past week. We had expected some tighter restrictions as the virus pandemic infection rates had increased, but as the reality sinks in of tougher times for the foreseeable future, it has been an emotionally difficult week.  

At the start of this new week it is a relief and a privilege to come into Your holy presence as Your children. Thank You for the honour of calling You our Father. Thank You that it is not earthly rulers who are in ultimate charge of this world. We are so grateful that we can come to You honestly and openly to honour and to glorify Your name as we sing and listen to songs of praise and worship; as we read Your Word and reflect upon it.

We come confessing our sins and asking for the forgiveness of them and the fresh empowering of Your Holy Spirit this week. We would not forget to express our thankfulness for all our blessings of family and friends; of food and the other necessities of life and so much more, we bring our prayers in Jesus’ name 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. 

We continue in worship as we sing: ‘The splendour of the King’ 

All- Age Talk:   ‘Being strong or being weak?’

How do we decide if someone is strong?

Is it how thick a branch someone can break with their bare hands?

Is it the ability to open a vacuum sealed jar in the kitchen without one of these tools?

Is it the ability to pick up your son or daughter and hold them safely in the air with only one arm?

How do you decide if someone is strong?

Is it the ability to keep going when life is very hard and things keep going wrong?

Is it being able to be happy with someone else when they share their good news – at a time when we are struggling to keep going?

Is it being able to keep encouraging other people at a time when we are feeling discouraged or even sad inside us? 

All of us may have suggestions about something really good someone did for others when they could easily not have done it, because it took their time or their money or just the effort to help someone else.

However, we don’t need to pretend we are strong or fine or okay when we are not. Life is very difficult at the moment for many boys and girls and also for many adults. 

There are many people who are working who are so exhausted because their work is harder physically or because of longer hours of concentrating their minds on work on a computer. Other people have health problems that may be giving them daily a lot of discomfort or pain.   Maybe you are finding it hard keeping up with your school work with all the changes that have happened in the last year? 

Other people are feeling under great pressure for so many reasons, health issues for themselves or others, someone special may have died, or they may struggle to pay their bills or pay for enough food to eat.     

What is really important?

We must not be too hard on ourselves or other people when we or they are struggling at hard times like this.  We must try to be more patient and kind and understand why someone else might not be okay.

We have not failed when we are not okay. We are human beings not robots. The apostle Paul took a long time to learn this lesson. He wanted always to be strong and okay, but he had to learn to accept his times of weakness and struggles and when he was not okay at all. It was in such times he had to rely even more on God. In a letter Paul wrote to a church in the city of Corinth in Greece these words that God has given to him: 

But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I [Paul] 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 12:9-10)

I hope each one of us will be able to be honest with ourselves about how we are getting on and be able to rely more on God, one day at a time, to get through the tough times we are going through at the moment. 

Prayers for others

Lord Jesus,

In I Timothy 2:2 we are encouraged to pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

We have to confess that though we find it easy to comment on politicians and the choices they make, we are not as consistently willing to pray for them as they exercise the responsibility of governance in our country. We are conscious of the heavy pressures upon them at particularly difficult times like this and ask that You would grant them the necessary wisdom to lead and govern with choices that are beneficial for all, but particularly ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable people are cared for in our midst. 

It is appropriate to remember other countries that have serious problems with governance at the present time. We pray for our friends in America and ask that You would guide the law enforcement officials to act in a way that ensures a peaceful transition of power this month.

We plead for the people of Hong Kong whose political leaders of the opposition parties have been arrested for engaging in democratic politics. Lord have mercy upon them. We pray that pressure may be brought to bear on the Chinese president to honour the political settlement for Hong Kong and also ease the suffering imposed of the Uigher Muslims and on our Christian brothers and sisters in Mainland China.

We also continue to remember that in August 2020 there was a presidential election in Belarus. We are aware that the current President has closely protected his power through political oppression and control of media for 26 years. That election was widely agreed to have been rigged. Massive peaceful protests followed the election, but were met with police violence, abuse and torture. Over 7000 people were arrested in 3 days alone. The peaceful protests have continued for over two months, as have the political arrests and abuses. We pray that the hearts of the leadership and police would be softened and the violence stop, that God would bring peace and justice to Belarus.

In our own land we ask for the necessary strength for so many people to carry out their duties in health, social care, education and so many other spheres of work. Help us to be kind and encouraging to one another at this time looking out where possible for others around us. We are very aware that so many people are struggling with their emotional and mental health and pray that those individuals needing assistance may get the necessary help they need at this time.  

We pray for the following chaplain and churches:

Marylee Anderson (Chaplain, Aberdeen University) – We pray for Marylee as she seeks to support both students and staff in her chaplaincy role. We pray for strength, wisdom and good opportunities for her to help people in their time of need.

Airdrie BC – We pray for their search group, as they are in the process of asking God to lead them to a new Pastor. Their Sunday morning service had started with half the fellowship attending on alternate Sundays. We pray that they all stay safe and that their live stream works well. We praise God for their Zoom Bible study on a Sunday evening and also for their Zoom prayer time on Wednesdays. Both of these meetings have many participants – much more than anticipated. We praise God for all the little kindnesses shown to the older people in their fellowship and they thank Him for the renewed interest by many friends.

Alexandria BC – We give thanks for the church fellowship in Alexandria. We pray for this small fellowship as they faithfully meet together week by week. 

Alloa BC – They give thanks for the generous financial giving for the support of the local Church and BMS. They are encouraged by the number joining through Zoom for the mid-week prayer meeting. They are grateful that the dry rot problems in their church premises have been treated and for the time to redecorate. They pray for a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit upon their small church – that they would seek to ‘shine for His Glory’. 

Alness BC – They praise God for a real sense of God doing something new among them! We pray in particular for their ongoing building revitalisation work as they seek to be a hub within their community. They give thanks to God for the faithfulness of God’s people serving the local community in many different ways living and loving like Jesus.

We come to pray for the needs in our own congregation:

We are grateful for the improvements for Betty Watson and the good news that she is now home. We thank you that she has regained sufficient mobility to return to her own home and pray that she will continue to make further progress in regaining her health and strength. We particularly remember Ali and Gary T after the death of Ali’s dad Frank. We pray for Your comfort for Ali’s mum and each member of the family as seek to plan funeral arrangements. We also remember Bill D who was taken into Ninewells Hospital and pray that You will heal Him and enable Him to be restored to better health so that he will soon be able to go home. We continue to pray for Nicola L’s dad, Lawrie, as he recovers from major surgery and continue to remember others with ongoing health problems. We also pray for Isdale’s dad who has been experiencing problems swallowing food that he might get the right medical treatment. We give thanks that Shona H’ niece, Lynne, has responded well to her cancer treatment. We pray for her complete recovery.

We continue to pray for those with ongoing health conditions and bring them before You now…

We now pray silently for anyone else known to us who is in need of our prayers at this time…..

We pray also for our own needs…

We bring all these prayers before you in Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Bible reading

‘Yet you have not called on Me, Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for Me, Israel.
23 You have not brought Me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honoured Me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with grain offerings nor wearied you with demands for incense.

24 You have not bought any fragrant calamus for Me, or lavished on Me the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened Me with your sins and wearied Me with your offences.

25 ‘I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more. 26 Review the past for Me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. 27 Your first father sinned; those I sent to teach you rebelled against Me.
28 So I disgraced the dignitaries of your temple; I consigned Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn. 

‘But now listen, Jacob, My servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what the Lord says  – He who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: do not be afraid, Jacob, My servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants. 

They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.Some will say, “I belong to the Lord”; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, “The Lord’s,” and will take the name Israel.

Isaiah 43:22-44:5

Before we come to listen to God’s Word let us sing: ‘Jesus You are changing me’

The Message 

Pre-recorded version of the message

Isaiah 43:22-44:5 Our hope for the future

Introduction

Here in Scotland we have many monuments about the past history of this nation. The vast majority are statues of great people, or monuments erected in honour of heroes from the past. What they did was deemed a success. Yet not all of them point to past successes.

Another part of our heritage acknowledges gallant losers –people admired as courageous for their cause such as the Presbyterian Covenanters who were killed for rejecting the Stuart monarchs’ restrictions on practising their faith in this country in the seventeenth century. Their monuments are found in central or south-west Scotland.


However, a better known monument to a cause that in its day was unsuccessful is found on the road from Fort William to Malaig in north-west Scotland. I refer to the Glenfinnan Monument. It was erected in 1815 as a tribute to the men who had rallied to the standard of Prince Charles Edward Stuart on 19 August 1745 when he launched formally the final attempt to reclaim the British crown for the deposed Roman Catholic Stuart monarchy. Several thousand highlanders and their chiefs rallied to his cause and in the months to come would march down into England with a surprising degree of success.

However, the task was always beyond them and eventually on the battlefield of Culloden, outside Inverness, this army of Highland Scots was defeated by another composed primarily of lowland Scots and allied to the Protestant Hanoverian (German) monarchy, in whose honour the national anthem was composed!

On 16 April 1746 the final attempt to overthrow the representative democratic form of governance under a Protestant monarchy was defeated. The Glenfinnan Monument was not built immediately, that would not have been permitted by a Government nervous about revolutions, not least in the light of the French Revolution under Napoleon Bonaparte.

However, his revolution was destroyed at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 by a combined British and German army thus securing the position of the British Government and its empire. Jacobite supporters could erect a monument then as their small numbers were no longer a threat to the Government. The Monument was a reminder for them of a past failure, of what might have been, but it gave no hope for the future. This fact is in complete contrast with the argument of Isaiah in this encouraging message to the Jewish people whose hopes had been dashed and whose country had been brought to ruins by the Babylonians. What had happened in the past was not the final word, because the God of Israel was and is sovereign over His people and His creation.

1. A Past to be addressed (Isaiah 43:22-25)

‘Yet you have not called on me, Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel.
23 You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honoured me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with grain offerings nor wearied you with demands for incense. 24 You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me, or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offences. 25 ‘I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
 

God has created each of us with different temperaments. There are some people who have absolutely no interest in anything that happened in the past. Yesterday to them is history that cannot be changed and as a result their focus is entirely on the present and especially what might happen in the future.

Now being forward looking is a positive thing and commendable as we cannot rest on our laurels when there is so much still to be accomplished for God and for other people and for ourselves! However, sometimes such people can have no comprehension that their past mistakes or actual sins have negatively affected other people and cannot simply be put out of sight and buried deep in our memories. The past has to be faced up to; we have to come to terms with what has previously taken place; good and bad, encouraging and discouraging, in order to live more effectively in the present and to prepare more confidently for the future that God has in store for us. 

How can we do that most effectively? Look at the start of verse twenty-five with the emphatic statement from God. I, even I, am He… In their past were real issues that got between them and God; and there was a clear acknowledgement that the people of Judah had not done very well in seeking to remedy the situation. Either they had failed to offer the appropriate sacrifices prescribed in the Levitical law or they had kept the letter of the law, but were not serious about getting right with God in their hearts. God knows our hearts so we can never put on an act before Him. This was not a new issue for Isaiah. As early as Isaiah chapter one the prophet gives this strong message to Judah and Jerusalem.

The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 

14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 

17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 ‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. ’For the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 1:11-20);

The past was a problem but never beyond resolution with God. What had been missing was God in His central place. The outward ritual practices had continued as normal but there was a problem with failing to honour Him. This wasn’t the only time the nation needed to be reminded about God in their midst, the great I AM. In Exodus 3 Moses, who had been required to live in the remote desert south of the borders of Egypt as a result of seeking to accomplish God’s work by inappropriate means, sees a bush burning but it is not consumed. In the course of the revelatory encounter Moses asks about the identity of the One who has invited him to meet with Him. Exodus 3:13-17 states: 

Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ 14 God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’ 15 God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.” ‘This is My name for ever, the name you shall call Me from generation to generation. 16 ‘Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, “The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – a land flowing with milk and honey.”  

In essence, the Israelites in Egypt, like their successors in Isaiah’s day are in need of a reminder of the One who is really in charge of their situation. Now in human terms the Israelites of Moses’ day were slaves at the beck and call of their Egyptian masters. The people of Judah of Isaiah’s day felt extremely vulnerable in the light of the proximity of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, superpowers that greedily gobbled up kingdom after kingdom on their borders.

The gods of the other nations didn’t appear to make a difference when their followers were in crisis – would it be any different in Judah?  It can get more complicated because there may have been genuine committed believers crying out to God for years for an end to slavery in Egypt with nothing visible to show for it or for a relief from the possibility of a brutal war in the later era which they had no chance of winning. Deep down some of them may very well have doubted either God’s ability or willingness to act on their behalf. In part this may have been because of their recognition of personal or national sin that had not been atoned for. Were they a nation beyond redemption? Are there hopeless cases? What does Isaiah 43:25 remind us? 

‘I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more. 

You and I individually and collectively have sinned and made mistakes in the past, but praise God that is not the last word. What does this verse tell us? He who blots out your transgressions… and remembers your sins no more. 

The past failures and mistakes that have been repented of and dealt with before the Lord are beyond His recall. The devil may try and accuse you and me of not being good enough to serve God or live for Him – remind him on such occasions what our heavenly Father has done with our past! Why has He done this? Is it to please us or is it an arbitrary decision? No! for My own sake… It is in order to bring glory to His name. He wants to work in us and through us both for our good and supremely for His glory.

Unlike the Glenfinnan Monument that forever reminds Jacobites of their failure in 1745 and 1746, God has erased our past failings and any obstacles to His working in us in the present and the future. Is there anyone here who needs to let go of past disappointments or failures or sins that are potentially hindering you from being the person God wants you to be? Take encouragement from these words from God through Isaiah. They are just as true today as they were 2,750 years ago. 

2. A Present to be acknowledged (Isaiah 43:26-28)

(a)The Challenge from God (Isaiah 43:26) 26 Review the past for Me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence.  

The next verses are ironic in tone. God through the prophet invites the people of Judah to respond and give detailed information if they think God has erred in His handling of their cause over the years. Presumably when Isaiah delivered this message orally that he paused for a few moments at this point, like a minister pausing in a wedding service after asking the congregation if they know of any reason why the couple standing at the front of the church may not be married legally and in the sight of God! It is likely that people had complained to Isaiah that God was not treating them fairly.


Maybe even with the confidence demonstrated by football fans as they enthusiastically communicate to a referee that he has been less than fair to their team! If a few people had spoken the words, presumably more had though these sentiments in their heads. Maybe you and I have thought hard thoughts about our lot in life at times? We all know deep down that life isn’t fair in many respects, but how we understand that may reflect on how we interpret God’s superintendence of the world He has created.

Here the people of Judah were put on the spot and asked –if you have a grievance against God to make it plain. If you believe you are completely innocent and without sin and not needing God’s grace then please let Him know! All of us have known times when in a minor or major way we nursed a grievance against someone, but when we tried to articulate it audibly even in private the strength of the matter somehow seemed less convincing – maybe it actually was not as significant as we had previously thought?

On occasions we only have part of the picture and can misjudge the motives of other people or misunderstand how God has chosen to respond to our prayers. God appreciates honesty in our prayers. In the book of Job He didn’t mind the patriarch raising his concerns in his prayers, but in turn asked Job to reflect on a series of questions that indicated that there was a bigger picture than even this godly man had grasped. Equally important God was less than impressed in that story by Job’s friends who had everything cut and dried and who had made his trials worse by their pastorally disastrous theology! God here is genuinely being gracious allowing His people to share their concerns prior to His confirmation of humanity’s fall into sin.          

(b) The Confirmation from God (Isaiah 43:27-28) 27 Your first father sinned; those I sent to teach you rebelled against Me.28 So I disgraced the dignitaries of your temple; I consigned Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn. 

God’s response begins with the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden where each of those present passed the buck and said: ‘It wasn’t my fault it was….’s fault!’ Adam bore the ultimate responsibility leading to the separation of our first human parents from the close fellowship they had previously enjoyed with God. Now they were excluded from the Garden of Eden and thrust into a new and much harder way of life. The one repeated refrain in the first human genealogy in Genesis 5 are the salutary words: …and then he died.

From the father of the nation Abraham to all the prophets, priests and kings, all without exception failed to live up to God’s standards. The story of the children of Israel throughout the Old Testament is a cycle of sin, repentance, good behaviour, before the pattern is repeated again and again, generation after generation. It is not as if there had been no warning of God’s judgement. Moses, in his final messages to the nation before his death passed on these words from God in Deuteronomy 28:58-63: 

If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name – the Lord your God – 59 the Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. 

60 He will bring on you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. 61 The Lord will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed. 62 You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God. 63 Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please Him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. 

Exile for a disobedient nation was inevitable. However it would not be the last word. 

As Christians we can take the gospel story further than was revealed in its clarity in Isaiah’s day. The I AM whose message was relayed by the prophet Isaiah took human flesh and was born as a baby in Bethlehem. The purpose of that coming was explained so clearly by Paul in Galatians 4:4-5: 

But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 

John the apostle, in the opening verses of his Gospel presents something of the wonder and significance of that event. John 1:14-17 states: The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.15 (John testified concerning Him. He cried out, saying, ‘This is the one I spoke about when I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.”’) 16 Out of His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ

On seven occasions in John’s Gospel the writer is directed to explain aspects of Jesus’ identity through the use of the I AM sayings, for example, I am the Light of the World (John 8:12); I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25); in Jesus we have genuine hope for the future, because although the consequences of unrepentant sin are extremely serious, the blessing to the recipients of His grace are out of this world. Paul sets this out very clearly at the end of Romans 6. 

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:22-23) 

Have you received this grace from God? Have you known a time when your sins have been forgiven? Have you had your past shortcomings erased by God and released to be the person He created you to be in Christ? On our own there are many situations in life which appear hopeless. When the Lord Jesus Christ is in the picture our predicament is completely transformed. We have to be honest that on many occasions the way God chooses to work in people’s lives can be very different to what we had either hoped for or expected, but the One who has invested so much in us through Jesus must only want the best for us –even if we cannot see it at the time.

3. A Future to be anticipated (Isaiah 44:1-5)

(a) The Assurance (Isaiah 44:1-2) ‘But now listen, Jacob, My servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what the Lord says – He who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: do not be afraid, Jacob, My servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. 

The opening two words here signal a change of direction: But now… we have had the bad news, here is God’s good news! He speaks in covenant language of the people whom I have chosen in verse 1; and in the language reflecting the creation account in Genesis 2 in verse 2 here. These words of assurance in this section are similar in intent to Jeremiah’s familiar encouraging words to the exiles in Babylon in Jeremiah 29:10-13: 

This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil My good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. 

The circumstances in which God’s people find themselves at any particular time may be less than encouraging, but God hasn’t changed and His promises are still as reliable as ever. It is supremely important to grasp that God chose us in Christ and loves us through the atoning sacrifice which He offered once for all time so that we might have fellowship with God the Father both now and into eternity. God wanted to stress a number of things to these fearful Israelites in Jerusalem. Here in Isaiah 44:1-2 it is an assurance of His amazing love to us, from eternity to eternity.

As Jesus explained it to His followers at the Last Supper there is a purpose in God’s plan In John 15:16 Jesus said: You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – Jesus has His hand on your life and mine as well. His message is exceptionally clear. You are in My plans for the future!  You may not this side of eternity understand all the way I work, but I want you to be assured that the work I have begun I will bring to completion on the day I return in glory. Do you need to hear Jesus’ words of assurance today?    

There is a play on words here in the original Hebrew in the contrast between the two names used in verse 2: Jacob, My servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen… Jacob as I am sure most of us know means ‘deceiver’. Jeshurun means ‘upright’. God sees both from where we have come from our sins and by His grace, together with where we are going with His help. He sees the potential in every one of His children and is excited at the thought of it being fulfilled in all our lives.

God is not playing a game here. He knows of our sins and failures, but will do everything in His power to ensure that all of His children complete their earthly journey in His grace, prepared for their eternal future. Do you find it exciting that God has invested so much in you and me? We all have a past. We are all living in the present, but most of all here God wants to assure His children of the blessings He has in store for us in the future.  

(b) The Promise (Isaiah 44:3)For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants. Isaiah has already drawn attention to God’s plans to bless Israel in the future in Isaiah 35:1-2: 

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God. 

This encouraging prophetic passage concludes with these words: But only the redeemed will walk there, 10 and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 35:9b-10).

The people of Judah in their despair could only see ‘the desert’, whereas, God could see a future flourishing landscape in the Holy Land.


In our culture we speak of two types of people; those who see ‘a glass half-full’ and those who see it ‘half-empty’. Here the contrast is between a glass that is truly empty, with one overflowing with blessings from God. However, the blessing is a future one which needed to be claimed by faith. It required a people thirsty for God who would continue to seek His blessing and favour until they saw it come down on their land.

Are we a people who will keep on praying for people to come to faith, come back to the Lord or whatever the need might be until it happens? Will we make the time for both personal and collective prayer to that end? Over the centuries, sadly, church prayer meetings have been the poorest attended gatherings of Christians.

Have we missed out on some blessings because we have not sought them seriously enough? What are your expectations over these next few years, or the next decade for Him working in our midst?  Too often our timescales are shorter than those of God. Many blessings are generational in which parents or grandparents cry out to God for blessings that a younger generation will experience.

What is the promise here? I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants… There is undoubtedly a fulfilment of the promise on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) at the launch of the Christian Church. The prophet Joel proclaimed at some point prior to the exile to Babylon this message from God: 

And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls (Joel 2:28-32).

The secret here, though, is not simply greater effort or greater prayer from God’s people but a plea for a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit to cascade God’s blessing on His people in an extraordinary manner. To which we cry out: ‘Lord please do it again’ in this our generation! 

(c) The Blessing (Isaiah 44:4-5)They will spring up like grass in a meadow,  like poplar trees by flowing streams.Some will say, “I belong to the Lord”; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, “The Lord’s,”and will take the name Israel. 

To whom did the Lord send these words of encouragement? To a people in despair who were on the verge of giving up hope of God working in their midst in the future. God’s exhortation to them and to us was not to be afraid; not to allow past failures, sins or disappointments to rob us of our confidence in God’s future blessings.

However, this passage also hints that such blessings will be granted to those who are earnestly seeking them from God and have an expectation, despite the lack of visible proof that God will work in our midst. Is that you and me? For some people like old Jacob it takes desperate circumstances, in his case in the battle with the heavenly being at Peniel before he would say to God: I will not let you go unless you bless me (Genesis 32:26b). Oh, may that be the spirit with which we seek God’s face in prayer and that same spirit by which we serve Him day by day, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Our song before we come to communion is: City Alight’s song ‘Ancient of Days’

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: ‘Rejoice, rejoice Christ is in you’

Closing Prayer: 

Lord You are the giver of hope in our lives. It is You who encourages, strengthens and supports us in our times of need.  As we enter this new week we do so with confidence in You that You will supply all the resources we need to persevere in tough times, the wisdom we need when choices have to be made and the courage to continue when it would be easier to draw back. Help us in all we do to live lives pleasing to You, in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. 

Benediction:  The Grace 

                

                     

Church at Home – 3 January 2021

Welcome

Thank you for visiting our Church at Home online service, at the start of this new year! We will be focusing on our bible verse for this year:


Baptist Union of Scotland National Prayer Livestream The monthly prayer livestream takes place on Sunday 3 January, 2021 7.00–7.30pm. You can access it here.

JAM Kids’ focus: The Virtual Sunday School. Here is the video for Sunday 3 January 21 Virtual Sunday School: ‘Moses and the burning bush’

Out of the Box were running a Christmas series and the episodes can be accessed here.

The older JAM Kids might like to check out some Bible stories about people who also experienced ‘lockdown’. The videos along with a link to some questions to think about together, can all be found here.

JAM young adults Ignite Live have a separate programme at 11:30am.  Please contact Martin Leiper on jmleiper@btinternet.com for more details of today’s programme.

We are grateful to Isdale Anderson for leading and selecting the songs for worship for this service

Call to worship: 

Your unfailing love, O Lord is as vast as the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your justice is like the ocean depths.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
Your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike O Lord
How precious is your unfailing love, O God!

Our opening song of praise and worship is: ‘Behold Our God’

Opening prayer

Lord, we are aware that many of the Psalms in the Book of Psalms in the Bible encourage us to praise You. Psalm 100 begins with these words: Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. 2Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; 

Thank you heavenly Father that we can state these words with real joy in our hearts with the assurance of Your amazing love to us through Your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. We begin another New Year with confidence that despite out struggles and our fears, our failures and our tears in 2020 we come grateful for Your goodness and mercy to us over that year as well. Once more we begin a New Year not knowing what will take place during the next twelve months, but we know that the future is in Your hands and we come to commit ourselves to You.

Once more we confess our sins and ask for Your forgiveness and request the empowering of Your Holy Spirit to equip us to live effectively for You in our homes or places of work or in any other setting, that through our attitudes, speech and conduct You may be honoured. Speak by Your Holy Spirit into our hearts and minds today from Your Holy Word and give us receptive hearts to take notice and act on what You say to us. May all that takes place in this service be honouring and glorifying to You heavenly Father, for Jesus’ name sake 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. 

We continue in worship as we sing: ‘Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah’

Prayers for others

Dear Lord,

At the start of this New Year, we pray that Christians in Scotland would rise up together in 2021 to share the good news of Jesus and to partner with God in all that He will do in Scotland this coming year. There are so many people anxious about the future, please give us the words and the wisdom to know how and when to speak and how best to point them to You the living God. 

We are very conscious that there are real causes for concern about the rate of the spread of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus. We pray that You would grant wisdom to the politicians leading our country together with the scientists and the medical staff in our NHS to know how best to contain it as well as to administer the vaccination programme as effectively as possible in the coming months. We pray too for staff in our schools, colleges and universities as they prepare to go back to work educating our children and young people. We ask that the right choices are made regarding in person or on-line learning in the coming weeks. 

We pray too for all other workers preparing to return to their employment after the Christmas and New Year break. We do not forget to remember those that have lost employment and are seeking new work opportunities and pray that they may soon be able to obtain some alternative employment. 

We pray too for the Pre-Accredited Ministers Conference of the Baptist Union of Scotland being held online on Thursday 7 January. We pray that they would have a good time of fellowship together, as well as encourage one another in the vocation to which they have been called. 

We pray for the following churches:

Abbeyhill BC, Edinburgh – We praise God for His continuing provision and care for them during these uncertain times. We pray for them as they seek to develop a new vision for a church family that seeks to live for Christ wherever He has placed them around the city. Let this congregation have the good grace to listen for His word of instruction and the wisdom to pick up or let go of the things He brings to their attention. 

Aberdeen Christian Fellowship – We give thanks for the work and witness of Aberdeen Christian Fellowship (ACF) and for the Christmas Hampers they gave to those in need in their community over Christmas. We pray that 2021 would be a great year of worship and witness for Christ at ACF. 

Aberfeldy Community Church – We pray that they can continue to unite as one small fellowship in the body of Christ in the midst of the ongoing restrictions and wisdom to proceed in future. We pray that the Lord would send other labourers to join them in the harvest here in Aberfeldy and the Tay valley. Also we pray for the children in the fellowship that they would know God’s help in their struggles and find significant fellowship with others.

Adelaide Place BC, Glasgow – We pray for this busy city centre church in Glasgow. We pray for the ongoing ministries and connections the church has in the local area. We pray for their missional communities as they seek to come alongside people in different communities and in different ways.

We come to pray for the needs in our own congregation:

We particularly remember Ali and Gary T after Ali’s dad Frank died on Thursday. We pray for your comfort for Ali’s mum and each member of the family as they come to terms with their loss. We also remember Bill D who was taken into Ninewells Hospital and pray that You will heal Him and enable Him to be restored to better health so that he will soon be able to go home. We give thanks that Betty W is being discharged from hospital to her home tomorrow. We continue to pray for Nicola L’s dad, Lawrie, as he recovers from major surgery. We give thanks that Shona H’ niece, Lynne, has responded well to her cancer treatment. We pray for her complete recovery.

We continue to pray for those with ongoing health conditions and bring them before You now…

We now pray silently for anyone else known to us who is in need of our prayers at this time…..

We pray also for our own needs…

We bring all these prayers before you in Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Bible reading

Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, ‘It is true.’ 

10 ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor will there be one after Me. 11 I, even I, am the  Lord, and apart from Me there is no saviour. 

12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed – I, and not some foreign god among you. You are My witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am He. No one can deliver out of My hand. When I act, who can reverse it?’ This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘For your sake I will send to Babylon and bring down as fugitives all the Babylonians, in the ships in which they took pride. 

15 I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.’ 16 This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, 17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 

18‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honour Me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, My chosen, 21 the people I formed for Myself  that they may proclaim My praise. 

Isaiah 43:8-21

Before we come to listen to God’s Word let us sing: ‘Speak O Lord’ 

The Message

Isaiah 43:8-21: Looking Back – Looking Forward 

Introduction

A New Year has begun. An old year has passed. But these plain statements barely scratch the surface of the past twelve months or prepare us for the year to come. Who on 1 January 2020 foretold the experience through which we have passed?  No astrologer or occult practitioner, newspaper columnist or politician not even a religious leader can truthfully state that they anticipated the growth, spread and impact of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

For many people 2020 has been like a rollercoaster ride at the fairground wearing a blindfold. We will get to the end of the ride, but it will not be a pleasant journey. What has your experience been like? As you stop to reflect on its impact on your home, family, workplace, social settings or church family our stories will have both similarities and differences.

For others it is a matter of healthcare received or delayed in 2020. And for a proportion of the population there has been a real fear of either death through catching the virus or of being a contributory cause to the death of someone else by inadvertently being an asymptomatic carrier of the deadly virus. 

In the middle of this pandemic we can look back and see the damage caused by its spread, but we can equally be thankful to God for the creation and production of vaccines in record time that point to a future when this virus will either be greatly diminished and at worse become like annual versions of the flu, or even better that it will be eliminated eventually altogether.

The promise of a return to a more normal life is on the horizon, but not yet in sight of being our daily experience at the beginning of 2021. The passage from which our verse for the year as a church has been chosen is Isaiah 43:8-21. It is a part of a message to the crushed people of God in Babylon (Iraq) who had experienced the devastation of their country by the super power of that day and all hopes and dreams they had had for the future had been crushed beyond repair.

But was that the last word on their situation or potentially on some of our hopes today? No! Absolutely not! God through His servant Isaiah brought a wonderful message to them to give them hope for the future. They were invited to look back to see what God has done in the past, in order to gain a perspective to turn round and prepare to play a part in what God was going to do in the future. There are no hopeless cases or situations where God is involved.    

1. Looking back to see what God has done (Isaiah 43:8-17)

Getting a sense of perspective in all kinds of situations is essential in life. A problem can arise that we have to deal with, but at first we might be overwhelmed with what confronts us and not see a way out of the difficulty or even the crisis. Once we get over the shock that the problem has arisen in the first place, we may sense feelings of hopelessness or despair because it is far too difficult for us to resolve.

It can be even worse if we feel that there is no-one to whom we can turn for assistance. This last scenario was the situation experienced by many of the first hearers or readers of these words from Isaiah. They needed to hear and to understand fully that there is no hopeless situation where God is involved. Is there someone reading or hearing this message who needs to grasp this point as well today?

In 2020 we have experienced such a range of emotions and for many of us serious struggles to keep a sense of perspective on what is going on. But God is on the throne and He wants to reassure us that there is nothing that will separate us from His love and grace in 2021 or any other year. What does God through His servant Isaiah want His people then and us today to consider from this passage in the Bible?   

(a)A test for the people (Isaiah 43:8-9) Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, ‘It is true.’  

The imagery quite commonly used by Isaiah is of a court scene in which witnesses are invited to come forward to testify to something. In this case it is representatives of the gods of the surrounding peoples to share how their deities can do the things that the God of Israel has done for His people over the centuries. What is the scene that is witnessed? It is clearly one where the witnesses are unable to convince their hearers of the validity of their case.

They are pictured as the equivalent of blind people testifying about what they have seen or deaf people about what they have heard. Isaiah is supremely confident that there is no god who compares with the Holy One of Israel. However, this declaration which is obvious to us who are Christians would not have been seen in this way by some of Isaiah’s audience at that time. In the ancient world gods were often viewed as territorial and when one country conquered another it was seen as the god of the victor being more powerful than that of their defeated foe. 

In 2021 Isaiah might have broadened the appeal to proponents of non-religious world views as well. He would still ask the question of all witnesses for evidence from the past that their worldview or religion provides the best answers for meaning and purpose in our world for the future.

The Christian response might include some of many biblical examples of God’s interventions in history or sometimes from later history, but supremely we point to Jesus Christ who entered out world to show us how to live and later died in our place on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that we might, by faith, become part of God’s family for ever.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus point us to the best evidence of God the Father’s love for us as His children. However, please don’t forget your own testimony of God at work in your life. Someone may challenge what you believe, but will have much greater difficulty doing the same with your lived experience of God at work in your life. Why not pray for an opportunity this coming week to share something of your faith journey with another person.       

(b) A testimony from God (Isaiah 43:10-13) 10 ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor will there be one after Me. 11 I, even I, am the  Lord, and apart from Me there is no saviour. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed –  I, and not some foreign god among you. You are My witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am He.No one can deliver out of My hand. When I act, who can reverse it?’ 

The assumption in the courtroom drama is that the witnesses for other gods were unable to convince the jury of the strength of their case. God intervenes and asks the Jewish people to step forward to testify to what God had done for their nation in its earlier history. The greatest example available was the miraculous intervention of God in Egypt that delivered the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh in the time of Moses and opened up the Red Sea to allow them to walk through on dry ground.

In the modern era we are more cautious in making such claims, but in former generations we had National Days of Prayer throughout the land and at the time many people not just regular churchgoers attributed divine intervention as the best explanation of the miraculous successful evacuation of the British Army in May 1940 from the beaches at Dunkirk. On May 24, 1940 King George VI addressed the nation:

“Let us with one heart and soul, humbly but confidently, commit our cause to God and ask his aid, that we may valiantly defend the right as it is given to us to see it.”

On May 26, at Westminster Abbey, the Archbishop of Canterbury called on God to protect the troops. Across Great Britain, tens of thousands of people responded to the king’s call, uniting as never before. Cathedrals and churches, mosques and syna­gogues were packed to overflowing. At Westminster Cathedral, the line extended for blocks and hundreds kept vigil outside.

The people didn’t know exactly why they were praying, yet they prayed even so. “Nothing like this has ever happened before” was how one English newspaper described the scene. It seemed like disaster was inevitable as allied troops were cornered in a small stretch of territory, but as the people around the UK and elsewhere were praying Hitler inexplicably ordered a halt of the German tanks for three whole days.

Bad weather prevented the German Airforce bombing the stranded soldiers and the amazing sight of hundreds of small boats over a number of days ferrying in excess of 338,000 men to safety across the English Channel.

No wonder Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his speech in the House of Commons on 4 June 1940 described it as a miracle. God can and does act in history, for which we give Him all the glory and praise.   

[https://www.guideposts.org/inspiration/miracles/gods-grace/the-four-miracles-of-dunkirk accessed 30.12.20] 

Most Christians can identify times when we have earnestly prayed to God and received real encouragement when our prayers have been answered as we had hoped in those times. We are well aware that in His sovereign wisdom God chooses sometimes to say ‘yes’, sometimes ‘no’ and other times ‘not yet’. It is so helpful to keep a written record of the encouraging answers to prayer so that we can read and recall them to be encouraged when life is particularly hard for us. 

(c) A promise from God (Isaiah 43:14-17) This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘For your sake I will send to Babylon and bring down as fugitives all the Babylonians, in the ships in which they took pride. 15 I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.’ 16 This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, 17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 

What assurance can be given to these vulnerable emotionally crushed people in exile in Babylon? First of all it comes from the description of the One making the promises to them. He is, first of all, your Redeemer (Isa.43:14). ‘Actions speak louder than words’ is a common saying in our cultural context. God redeemed Israel from enslavement in Egypt and created out of them a nation.

The events in Egypt that led to their freedom were miraculous and culminated in the parting of the Red Sea to allow them all to cross before the waters came back to swallow up the  Egyptian cavalry that had been sent to harass them or even bring them back to be slaves once more for Pharaoh. God overruled Pharaoh and opened up a way for their future.

Now the recipients of this message are in a similar position with no rights as slave workers in another Empire. What Isaiah communicated loud and clear to them was this: you cannot see a way to freedom, but God can do what seems humanly-speaking to be impossible. Even more remarkably, God revealed to Isaiah the name of the ruler, yet to be seen in public office who would set them free once again (Isaiah 44:28-45:1)  

What is the principle point for us from this passage? Nothing is impossible with God. There is no hopeless situation. God can find a way through it. Are you despairing of your situation today? Then this message of encouragement is for you. This time of trial will not go on forever.

There are so many things you or I might struggle with, even apart from the impact of the virus pandemic. God’s message through Isaiah is this: Remember who I am, the holy Almighty God. Look at what I have accomplished for Israel in the past. Trust Me with your future. Let Me guide and direct your life in 2021. For some readers this might be the time when you commit yourself to follow Jesus and start a new year as His follower for the very first time. It will be the best decision you have ever made if you take that step today.  

2. Looking forward with confidence to see what God is doing now (Isaiah 43:18-21)

Having looked back to see what God has done in the past and taken encouragement from that, how should we go forward into this New Year 2021? What is God’s message to us as well as to the first hearers of this message? 

(a)The proclamation (Isaiah 43:18) 18‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. These words seem very blunt and a bit extreme. Are we really expected to wipe our memories like the hard drive on a computer can have all its files erased beyond recall? Praise God that ‘No’ is the quick answer! This is not what God is saying through Isaiah here. What then is being asked for by God? It is an acknowledgement that however much we love the happy memories of the past they are over.

We cannot repeat those years. We cannot act as if events of the recent past had not happened carrying on blindly into the future on that basis. It was clear and completely understandable that these, in many cases, traumatised people simply wished their nightmare to be over so they could go home again and carry on life as before. But that world did not exist any longer.

Their cities and towns had been destroyed, deliberately, building by building. All that was left of most of their homes was ruins. Their few possessions of any value had long since taken by the invaders. Few if any people they knew were still living in the districts they once called home. It was an awful reality to face. But though the past was over, God was inviting them to be a part of what He would do next in the future. A different chapter of life could, and would by God’s grace, open up to them.

For you and I living through 2020 and the Covid-19 virus pandemic and all the disruption this invisible foe has caused has been very difficult.  There can be few people and homes untouched by this challenge. As we enter a New Year in 2021 it is clear that although the vaccination programme is beginning we still have months of uncertainty to face. This fact will mean that in many families, for example, health issues, work pressures, financial challenges and so much more will not simply go away, although we can catch a glimpse of the end being in sight.

For us it is probably wise to stop and take a short time to process this year that has finished and then commit it to the Lord. Take time to name before God the challenges you have had to live with or have come through or know will continue into this New Year. Thank Him for the grace you have been given to still be standing at the end of 2020.  Then take time to name your blessings or the good things that have happened this year. Bring them also before God one by one. Commit them to the Lord acknowledging that He has enabled us to come through one of the toughest years in our countries history, at least in recent decades.

The world has changed for ever through the events we have experienced but alongside the bad things there have also been some good things. For example, the technological advances that have allowed the church to meet online on zoom for services and for our outreach courses.

We thank God for the several hundred new friends who take our Wednesday or Sunday services in some online form week by week across the world. We are encouraged by the people signing up for our introductory courses in the Christian Faith and the numbers that have already signed up for Discipleship Explored that starts later this month. 

What do you most thank God for this year?  Make sure you write it down and keep it visible in a place where you can be encouraged by it in your home in 2021.

(b)The perspective (Isaiah 43:19-21a) 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honour Me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, My chosen, 21 the people I formed for Myself… 

What is God saying to us or showing us about the way forward as a church going into 2021?  I think the biggest thing is ‘Trust Me’. I have provided for you in 2020 and got you through things that have been tougher than you ever expected.  You can trust Me to provide for all your needs in 2021 as well. We must acknowledge that it has been difficult to keep in touch with some of the people associated with our church or others who are friends who attend various of our activities throughout the week.

We pray that God will help us find a way to have closer connections in 2021. I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  We know that God has surprised us this year. For example in March 2020, He gave us the opportunity to partner with others in our community to run a Food Bank, one of many that sprung up across our city. It was one we rightly embraced; and thank God for the wonderful partnerships across the city that have been so incredibly successful in meeting the needs of vulnerable people and others who needed temporary assistance at different times in 2020. I am thankful that many churches have contributed to this effort in our city. It raises for me the big question: what doors of opportunity will we receive to serve others as a church or as individuals in 2021?

God alone knows the answer, but this community of Jewish exiles in a Middle Eastern country were told by God through his servant Isaiah: I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. It was a declaration that there was hope and a future for them. They could not see it, but God was already at work preparing that good future for them. We cannot see what will happen in 2021 and few of us would dare to attempt to make predictions after the year we have had. I believe that God is preparing a way for our future as well, as we entrust our lives to Him.

We are disappointed that our Christmas outreach events were not large gatherings of people in person, as we would have liked, but under the circumstances we can be very pleased that we were able to attempt so much as we sought to encourage people in our community, for example through the extensive distribution of The Good News Newspapers and the All Age online services. 

We are especially grateful to those who worked so hard with the new technology that has allowed us to have online services and courses that opens up fresh ways for enabling people to participate in services or find out about the Christian faith in person, but still in their own homes. We are so thankful to all those who recorded items for Christmas services including the pre-recorded one on the website and those who week by week have provided the technical support we needed. We can see a little of the incredible potential in this new technology in future years.

We rejoice in the friends in other countries who have attended or spoken at meetings or services, together with the growing number who receive online versions of services in different parts of the world. As the pastor I am thankful to God for the privilege of speaking at online services in India and Pakistan and growing links with pastors and other church leaders in a variety of countries.

Also to have a little time to pray with and for some of these fellow servants of the Lord Jesus; I am not a great fan of New Year’s Resolutions, but maybe instead of writing down a resolution, you might write down and keep for the next twelve months a written statement of what you are hoping and praying God will do in 2021, in our own lives, our families, our church family and in our wider community.      

(c) The purpose (Isaiah 43:21b) …that they may proclaim My praise. Why would God do what He had declared through Isaiah for them? In order that they might truly acknowledge Him as their Lord and Saviour and give Him the praise and honour He deserves. Prior to the crisis they had gone through, so many of them, like so many in our own land, were good people who were not against honouring God or acknowledging Him, but the thought or action was simply crowded out of busy lives.

Then and now in the current virus pandemic God has allowed us the time to stop and reflect on what is most important in our lives. The question that challenges us now at the start of this year is this: Have I ever committed my life to God through faith in Jesus? If the answer is no, can I encourage you to take that step today. There is no better time to do it.  If you are already a Christian, where is God in your list of priorities –does He have the first place in your life? If the answer is ‘yes’ then pray that God will help you maintain that way of living through 2021. If the answer for 2020 has been ‘no’, God had a place, but not the priority He deserves, then the question to face is this: What changes do I need to make to honour Him as Lord of my life in 2021? The promise from God through Isaiah will only be realised by the person who takes this step, for Jesus’ sake, Amen

Our song before we come to communion is: ‘I do not know what lies ahead’

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: ‘Lord for the Years Your love has kept and guided’

Closing Prayer: 

Thank you Lord that the future, our future, is in Your capable hands. We have no idea what this year will bring but we are happen to entrust it to You in expectation that You will work things for our good and for Your glory. We bring our prayers in Jesus’ name Amen

Benediction:  The Grace