URC Daily Devotion 17th January 2020

1 Corinthians 3: 1-9

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?  For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Reflection

Any public speaker knows that there is nothing like a good metaphor to change the way we see the world, and even, some would say, to change the world itself. We all like to hear facts, opinions and stories, but most of us, if we are really to develop our thinking and our being,  are truly shaped by metaphors.

I wonder if we can even begin to estimate how much of our faith world is shaped by the metaphors Paul uses. There are countless ones in his writings even just to describe the church; living stones, a family, betrothed to Christ… These are so familiar to us. And even within these few verses in this letter he has us as infants, milk fed not ready yet for solid food, as seedlings in need of watering, as God’s field, and as God’s building.
 
These particular metaphors show how Paul sees our belonging to Christ as something that will always involve growth and development. Just as babies grow into adults, as seedlings grow and flower, as fields move from seedtime to harvest, and as buildings emerge from their foundations, so following Christ is like an organic process of growth and change. It’s much more like that, you might say, than signing once for all on a dotted line, or being converted from one state to another.

So, on this day, perhaps we might reflect on what growth the Holy Spirit is nurturing in us right now (the word ‘growth’, in this context is of course already a metaphor, if a deeply buried one). If prayer is like sunbathing, then how can we turn our faces towards the energy that will help us to grow in Christ, to grow as human beings?
 
Prayer

O God,
nurturer of my humanity
and tender carer of my flesh and spirit,
give me courage this day
to let myself be grown in you,
that I may become
more fully your creation
and more completely myself,
in the name of Jesus,
on whose path I long to walk.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 16th January 2020

1 Corinthians 2: 14 – 16

Those who are unspiritual[e] do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually.  Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.
 ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord
    so as to instruct him?’
But we have the mind of Christ.

Reflection

Nicky Gumble shares the story of a South-American au-pair taking the Alpha Course. She got a bit exacerbated by children, running riot in the house. She exclaimed quite passionately: ‘what are you doing, on earth?’ She rather meant: ‘what on earth, are you doing?’ Christians, immersed in the Spirit’s culture, should not be surprised and disheartened that the world around does not understand their beliefs and actions.  Paul makes the challenging point that people who do not have the Spirit of Christ, are alien to Kingdom culture and thus unable to grasp Kingdom realities. Similarly, a blind person cannot fully appreciate a beautiful outfit, and a deaf person cannot give credit to the best symphony.

The church of Corinth was largely made up of gentiles. As their church planter, Paul wanted to equip them to live for Christ and by Christ’s Spirit in a secular and polytheistic society. The previous verses suggest that there are divisions in the congregation because of disagreements over issues such as the message of the Cross. I am also convinced that sharing in the Spirit of Christ increases harmony and unity in relationships.

God’s will can be challenging, demanding and even controversial.  As we seek to honour Christ in all we do, the Spirit can give us the grace to accept God’s will and leading, even when they sound like foolishness to the world around us. To people who struggle to understand the Bible and its relevance for their lives, my advice is to always seek the Spirit’s assistance through prayer before, during and after they read.

When we go through rough seasons of life, when things around us are bewildering, the Spirit of Christ can share God’s wisdom and heart with us, so that we can persevere when others would give up.
 
Prayer

Christ, our way, our truth and our life,
thank you for sharing your heart and mind with us.
In confusion, may your Spirit bring clarity and peace.
In division, bind us together through unity in diversity.
When ridiculed for being faithful to you,
grant us the grace to keep our eyes fixed on you.
When we feel lost and shaken,
may your Spirit be our anchor and compass.
Amen. 

URC Daily Devotion 15th January 2020

1 Corinthians 2: 6 – 13

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But, as it is written,
‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him’—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

Reflection

One of the interesting things that sociologists of religion tell us is that people in our society are spiritual but not religious.  Folk are interested in a range of spiritual things but don’t see themselves as religious. All those folk who like mindfulness don’t realise that it’s a form of meditation.  A friend of mine once told me of the Buddhist meditation group he attends (in a former Methodist chapel) where they meditate each week, have a box for donations and a rota for the tea and coffee.  He went on to tell me he wasn’t religious….

Paul talks long and hard about the spiritual realities of life, comparing and contrasting them to the wisdom of the world.  Spiritual truths counter the wisdom of our age – the first don’t want to be last after all. The Lord of Life was put to death as a threat to the status quo.  And yet our people long for spirituality; they don’t dream they will find it in a church.

Maybe that’s because we spend longer talking about pulpit supply, rotas, the building or the budget than we do about the spiritual.  My born again Buddist friend was longing for a spiritual practice, having found it he then mucked in with all the normal stuff.

Perhaps my church might have attracted him if we’d talked more about the things of the Spirit.

Prayer

In you O God
do our hearts find their rest,
in your are our longings stilled,
our hunger sated
and our thirst quenched.
Help us to speak of the truth we live,
that our people might be saved.
Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 14th January 2020

1 Corinthians 2: 1 – 5

When I came to you, brothers and sisters,  I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Reflection

Some years ago in, I think, Australia, a group of church-going young people were asked to define some of the Christian jargon that is commonplace in churches. According to them, ‘Redemption’ is what you do with a voucher, ‘salvation’ is an ointment you put on a graze and ‘grace’ is what you say before a meal if you’re having the vicar over for tea.

One of the questions I am often asked as a Children and Youth Development Officer  is “Have you any tips on how to do a children’s address?” to which my answer is always “Keep it simple and avoid jargon”.

You see, whilst WE might think we know what a word or phrase means, we can’t be sure that the listener shares that same understanding. And this is true not just of children in the church but also the adults who are there, too. And the adults who maybe aren’t at church with whom we are tasked to share the Good News.

We can make our faith as difficult and wordy as we want, we can use jargon which actively excludes others, we can be a little clique with in-jokes and our own language… but how does that help us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

How refreshing that Paul in his letter to the emerging church in Corinth recognised this.

How disappointing that, some two thousand years later, we seem to have forgotten.

Jesus knew what to do – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Prayer

Loving God,
Help us to use language that builds bridges rather than walls
Help us to use language that opens You up, rather than closes You off
Help us to remember to keep it simple.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion 13th January 2020

1 Corinthians 1: 26 – 31

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:  not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one  might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

Reflection

This is the first time I am writing a Devotion; therefore I feel no pressure to write something clever !?!

As I reflect on the words of this passage, I consider first how others see me (the reference to human standards) and how they may not see me as anything special or unique or powerful….as I don’t shout the loudest or strut! But how God uses us time and time again to show or demonstrate something to others.. It may be he that he enables us to be positive in dark times, or to smile and say nothing when we are tempted to say something negative or that he just encourages us to just ‘BE STILL’ (Psalm 46:10) and in that shows others what real patience looks like.  Whatever it is, God chose us; he CHOSE us…..How great is that we are called and chosen to be children of God…. This is a gift that keeps giving, as time and time again, God shows us that he is on our side, bringing us through challenges and difficulties; sometimes in a more triumphant way than we could ever have imagined.

However, the passage also reminds us to be humble and to recognize that we must not become boastful; not easy when things are going well or when you are being held up by others or when you get that job or that partner or win that prize. 

We are reminded that God is our centre and we are reminded that IF we are to boast, we must boast recognising who chose us; who made us whole; who continues to be faithful, who is  always kind, who works through us.. As the passage says ‘we must boast in the Lord’.

Prayer 

Father God, how awesome you are, and 
How Humble we should be; 
But sometimes that isn’t easy when things are going very well.
Lord, please remind us to focus on you; to keep you at the centre; to boast IN you;
Always remembering the gift of life and love that you have given us as HIS children; making us whole, joyful and secure.
And in this way we are able to bring more people to your Kingdom planting seeds of joy and goodness across the world.

URC Daily Devotion 12th January 2020

Sunday 12th January Psalm 131
 

1 My heart’s not proud, O LORD,
nor haughty is my eye;
I do not occupy myself
with things too great or high.

2 My spirit I have calmed;
my heart is pacified.
My soul is like a little child
close to its mother’s side.

Just like a little child
my soul is calmed in me.
3 O Isr’el, hope in God the LORD
now and eternally.

Reflection

This short Psalm, thought to have been written by David, has a wealth of meaning for all of us who lead busy full, lives. There is humility and gentleness of spirit, and a true sense of being at peace and rest in the one who is our hope, the Lord God Almighty.

There is a beautiful sense of simplicity and childlike trust rather than always trying to make life more complicated than it really is. Our society does seem to dictate the opposite and these observations consequently appear so refreshing and life-giving. Such is not taking on too many things that might cause confusion, or in fact make our faith in the Lord more complex than it should be. Rather than deepening our theological intensity, it is more importantly developing our own awareness of God himself. Perhaps it sounds too simplistic in this day and age?

But how is it that David, whose life was not what one could call uncomplicated, can write such words which convey such peace and rest? The secret seems to be in the calmed and quiet spirit to which he testifies, something which he has had to cultivate through his relationship with his God which brings such a wonderful contentment in life. There is a striving not to be tearing around like the proverbial, but instead being like the cosily, comfortably contented, peaceful and replete child, nestling in his Mother’s arms after a satisfying and adequate feed, not having a care in the world.

The question to us is how do we indeed achieve a similar close, restful feeling in our spirits, when life is anything but calm and collected? Maybe the secret is found in other psalms of inspiration from David, such as “He leads me beside still waters” (23:2) and “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him?” (37:7)

Prayer

Drop Thy still dews of quietness
till all our strivings cease.
Take from our lives the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess,
the beauty of Thy peace.
Lord, warm ours hearts to yours,
that resting in you,
peace, calm and contentment
may become the hallmarks of our lives in you.

URC Daily Devotion 11th January 2020

Saturday 11th January

I Corinthians 1: 18 – 25

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Reflection

They liked playing mind games, those ancient Greeks – they called it philosophy, the love of wisdom: well, at any rate, the men in the leisured classes did as Paul had found on his visit to Athens. Paul seems to have tried to share their approach, offering them something new. It was quite interesting for an hour or two, but not life-changing. But it was life-changing that was Paul’s mission and his letter to the Christians in Corinth suggests that he had taken a very different approach when he had moved on to their city, seemingly targeting a very different set of people – “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

In our tradition we have valued a “learned ministry” and understandably so because to grow in our Christian faith we need to move beyond bland baby food. But Paul’s experience, and the experience of Christian leaders of every generation, shows us that playing mind games may entertain and develop interest for a while, but will not change lives. Dr John Short (a former minister of Richmond Hill Church, Bournemouth) wrote, “True eloquence is not of the schools: it is the offspring of a spirit that is impassioned by some great message that has laid hold of it, possessed it, and made it the instrument through which the message is uttered …. Paul learned that it was hopeless to attempt to get in touch with the reality of God by philosophy as the Greeks of his day understood it.”

So, Paul could write, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles … For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Is this the Gospel we preach?
 
Prayer

When I survey the wondrous Cross,
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
 
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

Isaac Watts

URC Daily Devotion 10th January 2020

Friday 10th January

I Corinthians 1: 10 – 17

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’  Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

Reflection

We are all different, we are individuals and often see things differently.  As Christians we need to be united in what really matters. As a lay preacher I go to many different churches and each has its own traditions and characteristics.  What matters is that they all should be following the truth in Scripture and worship the one true God. 

A new minister was surprised when during the first part of every service the congregation all sat on the left side of the church and during the second hymn, they all moved to the other side.  He asked a few elders about this and eventually it was explained that the only heating used to be a fire on the left side, so they sat near it but as it burned brighter it became too hot so they moved away.  Despite having a new central heating the tradition continued. 

This might be a slightly ridiculous story but sometimes we can cling to ideas that have no relevance today and no foundation in the truth in Scripture.  How many churches and members do things because it has always been done that way, rather than because It is the right way? By following such ideas we run the risk of following the modern equivalents of Apollos or Cephas rather than the simple truth from Jesus.

Paul was warning against anything becoming more important than the truth that the power lies in the cross of Christ.  We can follow the example of the early Scottish Congregationalists who held that every congregation is united in their faith, hope, and obedience to the gospel.  As the United Reformed Church we should all strive to be united in Jesus and to follow His teachings, as individuals and as a church.

Prayer

Loving God,
We thank you for the truth that we can find in scripture,
We thank you that we have your Holy Spirit with us to help us understand as we read your word.
We ask you to help us see what matters and lead us to the paths of truth,
Protect us from false ideas and doctrines but keep us on the path that Jesus shows us

Amen

URC Daily Devotion 9th January 2020

Thursday 9th January

1 Corinthians 1: 4 – 9

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,  for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Reflection

Who am I? How do I know who I am? The question of how we understand ourselves and our identity is hugely complex. Tomes of sociological and psychological theory have been written addressing this topic. Most basically, identity is tied up with what we believe about ourselves and about the world around us. 

Paul’s opening remarks to the Corinthians are interesting, because he is writing to a community wrought with division and in crisis about what they believed and as a result who they understood themselves to be. Anyone who’s ever experienced a crisis of identity will know it can be a pretty destabilising experience.

Rather than open with criticism and condemnation, Paul affirms the Corinthians’ worth by thanking God for them. But he does this by thanking God for who they find themselves to be in the light of God’s grace and in Christ Jesus, which sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment. In fact, what Paul seems to be doing is reminding them that their identity is rooted in God and in God’s provision to them. 

I’m reminded of some words attributed to Archbishop Justin Welby, when in 2016 he made the shock discovery that the man who he believed to be his father was not in fact his biological father. He said, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes”. 

In contemporary life, there are umpteen voices that will seek to tell us who we are – advertisers, public policy decision makers, political propagandists dare I say it (as I write we are in the midst of the general election campaign). We also see the impact of social media on shaping our young peoples’ identities. 

Sometimes, we too face destabilising crises of identity just like the Corinthians. But I take comfort in Justin Welby’s words which seem to echo Paul’s 2,000-year-old sentiments, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ… and my identity in him never changes.” 

Prayer

Loving God,
Thank you for your love. 
A love that is rock-solid and unchanging. 
In times when we struggle with our beliefs,
Or knowing who we are,
Help us to remember the firm foundation
That you have offered us, 
In the love of Christ Jesus, our Lord and our brother. 
Amen. 

URC Daily Devotion 8th January 2020

Wednesday 8th January 

1 Corinthians 1: 1 – 3

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection

‘… and our brother Sosthenes.’

In my Bible they have given this letter a title. Apparently, it’s The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, but what about Sosthenes? His name is right there with Paul’s, at the letter’s beginning. Was he just the scribe, writing whatever Paul dictated? (At the end of the letter Paul announces that the last few words are in his own handwriting.) If so, it’s strange to give Sosthenes such a prominent mention.

Maybe he’s there to provide visible support for Paul, to validate his message. After all, Sosthenes is “one of their own”. He’s someone who knew from painful personal experience the challenges facing followers of Jesus in this bustling Greek city-port (Acts 18:17).

Just imagine being part of that group of Corinthian Christians, listening to the newly arrived letter.

“What do Sosthenes and Paul want to say to us? You know, I’ve never been entirely sure about Paul but if Sosthenes thinks he’s ok …”

“They say we’re the ‘Church of God’ in this place. This local group is God’s Church. We belong to God.”

“They say, we’re ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.’ Jesus has made / is making us into a holy people.”

“They say, we’re not the only saints. There are ‘saints in every place [who] call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.’ There’s little church and big Church, and we’re a part of all that.”

“Well, we seem to be on the same page there, so let’s hear what else they have to say. Yes, grace and peace to you too, Sosthenes (and to you, Paul), from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Prayer

Gracious God, I thank you,
For my local church which is your Church;
For the impact of Jesus Christ upon me and others;
For all your saints, past and present,
Not forgetting Sosthenes, Paul, and the Corinthian Christians,
Amen.