4 April 2020 – Being and Doing

The times we are passing through just now provide an opportunity to reflect on what is really important in our lives. There will be some things we saw previously as important, but now we want to give them a lesser place in our priorities.

By contrast, some people and activities may have been neglected and now we are in a place where we want to readjust our schedules to reflect different preferences as to what really matters. In the Gospel of Luke there is a very brief summary account of a time when Jesus spent some precious hours with friends He greatly valued. Notice what took place on that visit in Luke 10:38-42.  

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ 41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

It is not a complex story. It could easily have happened in many of our homes today. Some of us by temperament prioritise ‘being’ – reflecting and meditating on things. Others, by contrast, see so much that needs to be done and get frustrated at others who don’t see the need to give a hand. The ‘doer’ thinks that if everyone was like the other person who appears to be more chilled about life that nothing would ever get done! There can be truth in such a thought! However, we can use busyness as a means to avoid thinking about issues we ought to address. This choice is not sustainable over the long-run.       

In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus is pictured enjoying some precious time off with some of His closest friends in a village near Jerusalem called Bethany. In that home were two sisters Martha and Mary. They both loved Jesus to be in their home, but by temperament they were so different. Martha the activist by nature wanted the home to be presentable and the dinner that day one of the best she could produce. Mary by contrast simply wanted to spend time with Jesus. In this time of crisis some of us may be under intense pressure and working longer hours than we would like. Others, by contrast, unable to do our regular activities have much more time on our hands. We will learn more about ourselves as we experience our new daily routines.

Most of all though, we must remember that Jesus placed ‘being’ ahead of ‘doing’ in our priorities; who we are and the character qualities we are developing is even more important than the things we do.  By all means let us do the best we can to make this world a better place, but may we never neglect the priority of time with God. To give out to others requires us to recharge our ‘spiritual batteries’ so as to have something to give. We neglect that at our peril over the longer-term. 

A song for reflection by John Greenleaf Whittier Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

3 April 2020 – My confidence is in You

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the Lord,this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple. 

For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at His sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to theLord. Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. 

My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face!’ Your face,Lord, I will seek. Do not hide Your face from me, do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Saviour. 10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. 11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.

12 Do not hand me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. 13 I remain confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

The Psalms are definitely one of the key places Christians turnto when life goes wrong. Many of these songs were written in or after times of crisis and the author, here King David Israel’s greatest king 3,000 years ago, unpacks what they had experienced with a view to encourage those singing the song or reading its words to put their trust wholly in God.

Here the Psalm is by David, but we cannot be certain as to when he wrote it or the exact circumstances through which he was passing at the time. The words do speak for themselves and the point he is making is fairly clear – so why not take time to read slowly through this Psalm. I hope at the end of that you can share David’s confidence in God.

1.A declaration  The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1) David here is very clear that ultimately the circumstances were beyond his control. This is where we naturally begin to feel a bit nervous if events are happening and we have no sense of control. Does David share that feeling in his crisis moment? No! On this occasion he has been living with integrity and knows he does not need to say ‘sorry’ for stepping out of line with God. It is his life and the crisis is real but he breaks down the challenge into smaller pieces and declares that God is in control of each situation. I may not be able to see it, but He is in control.

Here the main emphasis is this: The Lord is… can you say that too? It is personal too.  Notice the repeated my in this verse. David has experienced this security in the past, therefore, he testifies that God hasn’t changed- so I can retain my trust in Him. Do you share that personal trust in God? David invites you to join him in living this way. It has consequences too.  …of whom shall I be afraid? If we have that confidence in God then we should normally be less frightened about the circumstances of life that are frightening us.

2. An example My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. (Psalm 27:8) What was the secret to David’s confidence in God? It was directly connected to the fact that he had invested in praying to God. This was not just a repeating of set words in prayer, no, it was heart cries to God. It really mattered that God got involved in this crisis situation. So David committed to regular times of prayer from his heart –it really mattered!

3. An expectation (Psalm 27:13-14) 13 I remain confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

The problem is real and continues just like our covid-19 crisis. However, David had a clear conviction –my crisis will not go on forever. I have an unshakeable conviction that God will bring me through safely to the other side, because I have seen Him do it before. However, it will take time now as it did then.  His advice to us: Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Many of us struggle with waiting for answers, but now as then the crisis we face will take time to be resolved. May we heed his advice and overcome our impatience in order to wait for the LordAmen

Why not also listen to Paul Williams playing a magnificent old hymn that expresses the same trust in God as David did.   ‘Through the Love of God our Saviour all will be well’ on Hereford Cathedral organ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54H3R6O5TdI

Brian Talbot

2 April 2020 – A sense of perspective

What do you see – a young woman or an old woman?

It is a matter of perspective. Both images are present in the one picture, but naturally most of us see one or the other. It is how we look on life. Some people are very closely following the statistics relating to Covid-19 developments. Members of the public might be tempted to focus on the headline figures, whereas the experts in the field look for trends to see how they relate to their mathematical models for future developments. Both approaches may be understandable, but the data is being approached from different perspectives.

The apostle Paul in the New Testament urges us to choose carefully our perspective on our lives. He wrote: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal(II Corinthians 4:16-18). 

We have immediate obstacles to address in the current crisis, but if that is our exclusive focus then it is a lost opportunity. What lessons are there for us to learn in the respective countries around the world to avoid getting into this situation again in the near future? What opportunities have we to make better use of modern technology in daily life? How, for example, might we improve relations between countries and within local communities in the light of our co-operation in getting through this predicament? How might churches do their work more effectively? What personal changes might I make once this crisis is over? 

There are undoubtedly some serious obstacles to be overcome, but will we also learn things about ourselves and how we live our lives so as to be in a better place once this crisis is concluded?

Brian Talbot    

1 April 2020 – Run with perseverance

Since this crisis began I have suggested the we might set aside an hour on a Wednesday evening at 7:30pm, or at a time that fits with your daily schedule in the middle of the week for prayer and reflection on what is happening in our individual and collective lives at this time. I am deeply conscious that some readers of this daily message will have more time than usual available, but by contrast others will be under greater pressures than in a ‘normal’ week prior to the start of this crisis. We stand together as a community of Christian people seeking God’s help and guidance to help us get through this difficult time together.

This health crisis we are experiencing will not be over quickly and even if it lasts ‘only’ a few months, the economic dislocation each country is experiencing will take longer to put right. A passage very suitable for our reflection today comes from the book of Hebrews. The recipients of this New Testament book were Italian followers of Jesus going through a horrendously difficult time. Some were clearly struggling to see whether they could carry on any longer. It was felt to be that bad.

Hebrews chapter 11, prior to the verses below, is a summary account of men and women who had triumphed against great adversity against the odds. It concludes in Hebrews 11:39-40, prior to advising them and us how to keep going in tough times in Hebrews 12:1-3.

It states: These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for usfixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 11:39-12:3) What advice does our author give us for today?

1. I will be encouraged by those who have gone before me(Hebrews 11:39-40)

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. If you read through the earlier verses of Hebrews chapter eleven it is a list of accomplishments against the odds, of people who kept going when it might have been far easier to quit. As a teenager I remember the great British shot-putter Geoff Capes explaining his philosophy for success in his chosen athletic discipline: ‘No pain no gain, no pain no glory’. Quitting was simply not an option in the mind of one of this country’s greatest field athletes.

The author of Hebrews has given us a list of named individuals who triumphed and came through their ordeals alive and then a summary list of others whose victories were at the cost of their own deaths. Each was equally commended for their bravery and endurance. These were all commended for their faith he wrote. The individuals cited in this chapter lived in different centuries. What they succeeding in doing varied greatly, but they faced up to the challenge that faced them and which they could not avoid. None of them were looking for fame and glory or to be a hero, but simply sought to do what needed to be done at that time. It is in principle no different to us alive at this time in history.

We are facing difficult times in numerous countries around the globe. Some individuals on our behalf are courageously battling at the front-lines in the health services; many more of us have other contributions to make, but to accomplish the goal we must work effectively together. We all have named persons who inspired us from the past, now the baton has been passed to us to play our parts in accomplishing a collective victory over the unseen enemy in our midst. Then and now victory will be accomplished by effective team-working. Who has been your biggest inspiration?  

2. I will dispose of anything that hinders me (Hebrews 12:1a)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. (a)Letting go of that which is unnecessary let us throw off everything that hinders…Professional sports people know that to accomplish their goals sacrifices need to be made. Their dietary preferences and social life, for example, will be greatly constrained compared to some of their friends. Why? In order to give their best to accomplish a set goal; on my computer sometimes there is a clean-up required to enable it to run more efficiently.

Similarly in our lives we sometimes need to reset our priorities to ensure that what is most important gains its rightful place in our schedules.  Is there any decluttering you need to look at today? (b) Letting go of that which is wrong and the sin that so easily entangles Sadly, a number of athletes over the years have taken illegal substances to boost their performances and many have later had to hand back medals won at the Olympic Games as a result. Our author issues a challenge to us not to cut corners or do things we know are not right. To maintain our integrity whatever we are doing is the principle commended. There are a lot of things we have no control over –but the maintenance of our integrity is a choice we can make? Have I recently or am I currently facing a temptation to do something I know is not right? What steps can I put in place to ensure I make the best choices?  

3. I will choose to persevere until I cross the finish line And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… (Hebrews 12:1b); Our lives are closer to a marathon than a sprint. To be successful in any line of work for many years, for example, requires sheer hard work it is not luck or chance. Likewise, effective parenting takes sustain consistent efforts to achieve any kind if successful outcome. The discipline of making consistent right choices through this covid-19 crisis will at times be hard or in some cases extremely difficult in order to accomplish the goal we seek. In what areas of my life do I need God’s help and further strength to keep going at this time? Let’s bring it to God in our prayers.    

I am thankful to John Steer for providing points for our prayers and reflections today:

Prayers for Disruptive Times

We thank you God our Divine Father, in whom we have come to trust, that nothing is beyond your reach and capacity to handle our concerns for the past present and future. 

We therefore bring our prayers to you through Jesus your son and our Saviour, knowing that He identifies with our humanness and will ultimately overcome even our worst fears as His resurrection proved.

We remember those who are involved with treating patients for all disorders in our hospitals, especially those with Covid-19. May they be protected from infection; Also pray for staff in children’s hospitals that have to comfort youngsters who cannot receive visits from parents; likewise, the anguished parents.

Be with all who are awaiting surgery that has been postponed. Alleviate their pain and discomfort and give them fortitude to cope with life’s challenges.

Pray for sound judgement by our Government and their advisors in combating the epidemic. Thank God for the willingness of volunteers to be involved, and that the organisation and cooperation between management teams will be harmonious and efficient.

Comfort those who have lost loved ones. Help them deal with the restrictions for funeral gatherings.

Be with all who feel frustrated that special occasions have had to be cancelled after much planning.

We thank God for modern communication networks that can enable groups to keep in touch with each other. Give thanks that our Congregation can access daily encouragements, a full Sunday Worship outline and Church Magazine. Pray for Brian our Pastor who provides the daily link and his involvement with the Pastoral Team and the Broughty Ferry Foodbank initiative. 

Remember those who are juggling life by working from home and have children to care for. Give them patience and grace with each other as tensions arise when restrictions apply.

We ask that scholars and students who have been working towards qualifications and experienced closure of schools, colleges and universities, will adjust to distance learning and get the support they need from their institutions. Pray for those known to you.

We pray for those impacted by loss of earnings due to the nature of their work that resources can be found, and we become sensitive to the need of genuine hardship. Give thanks that institutions are easing requirements on loans and rentals. Pray that the Government’s promised help can be delivered on time.

Remember in earnest prayer the plight of those in less able and prepared countries to deal with Covid-19. May the lack of travel options in third-world nations curtail the spread. Conversely pray for developed and sophisticated areas of the world who are reeling under the strain of multiple fatalities.

Finally, as we remember the words of our Lord’s prayer, ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done’, may we, who have the Eternal Hope in Christ within us, not be slow to make our requests known to Him.       

Brian Talbot