URC Daily Devotion 22nd September

1 Not unto us, LORD, not to us,
but do thou glory take
Unto thy name, ev’n for thy truth,
and for thy mercy’s sake.

2 O wherefore should the heathen say,
Where is their God now gone?
3 But our God in the heavens is,
what pleased him he hath done.

4 Their idols silver are and gold,
work of men’s hands they be.
5 Mouths have they, but they do not speak;
and eyes, but do not see;

6 Ears have they, but they do not hear;
noses, but savour not;
7 Hands, feet, but handle not, nor walk;
nor speak they through their throat.

8 Like them their makers are, and all
on them their trust that build.
9 O Isr’el, trust thou in the LORD,
he is their help and shield.

10 O Aaron’s house, trust in the LORD,
their help and shield is he.
11 Ye that fear God, trust in the LORD,
their help and shield he’ll be.

12 The LORD of us hath mindful been,
and he will bless us still:
He will the house of Isr’el bless,
bless Aaron’s house he will.

13 Both small and great, that fear the LORD,
he will them surely bless.
14 The LORD will you, you and your seed,
aye more and more increase.

15 O blessèd are ye of the LORD,
who made the earth and heav’n.
16 The heav’n, ev’n heav’ns, are GOD’s, but he
earth to men’s sons hath giv’n.

17 The dead, nor who to silence go,
GOD’s praise do not record.
18 But henceforth we for ever will
bless GOD. Praise ye the LORD.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland Congregation some of this to the lovely tune Land of Rest here.

URC Daily Devotion 21st September

Sacrificial living and non-conformist outlook.  Both are counter-cultural, costly, demanding, and do not necessarily come easily or naturally to us. 
 
The word “sacrifice” can all too readily be used when, in fact, at best we are referring to “inconvenience” rather than any significant costly gift.   Being challenged to present our bodies as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” underlines the fact that in every decision and choice we make we are willing to place our commitment to Christ and neighbour before our own comfort or desire.   Inevitably we may want to place limits on our generosity and to negotiate deals that leave us with some measure of comfort but those who respond to the call to sacrificial living must be ready – inspired and energised by the One who gave his all – to forget limits and conditions.   In the words of Horatius Bonar: Fill thou my life, O Lord my God, in every part with praise, that my whole being may proclaim thy being and thy ways.  Praise in the common things of life, its goings out and in; praise in each duty and each deed, however small and mean.  (Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889)  
 
Non-conformity – being wise and strong enough to risk standing out from the crowd and against the tide as and when we discern that it is right to do so.   We risk making ourselves unpopular. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one example of faithful non-conformity – standing up against the sinister forces of Nazism (and paying the ultimate price for doing so).   In his book, Costly Discipleship, he writes, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate …  Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a [person] will gladly go and sell all that [they have].”  
 

URC Daily Devotion 20th September 2019

So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’
 ‘And this is my covenant with them,
    when I take away their sins.’

As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors;  for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.  For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counsellor?’
 ‘Or who has given a gift to him,
    to receive a gift in return?’

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 19th September 2019

So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry  in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!  If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree,  do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.  You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.  And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Reflection

Have you ever watched a tree grow?  Apart from the fact you would need a very long time, it is fascinating to see how trees develop from a fragile sapling into mighty trees.  They provide shelter from the elements, food for animals, oxygen for the planet. They protect properties, provide a playground for children and playthings with conkers, yet still stand with a certain elegance – made more pronounced when viewed in winter in silhouette.  But they can move with the wind so they do not break.
Yet trees remember every year (the deciduous ones anyway) to shed their leaves and grow new ones.  Dying branches are discarded and new shoots grow. Roots spread out in all directions and break through the human-made restrictions around them in roads and pathways.
How much of this is true of our faith?  Do we provide shelter to those who feel exposed?  Do we provide food for those who are hungry? Do we provide a safe place for people to pray (and play) and learn?  Do we conduct ourselves with a certain elegance while being flexible enough to allow ourselves to be accessible? And all of this while discarding old ideas and being open to new ones?  We can learn a lot from trees – take a moment to just look and see…
 

Lord Jesus, help me to be a tree in my faith:
with firm roots, spreading out to my community;
with strong branches to provide help for others
and take away my pride that I might allow the wind to blow through me to inspire me to movement.
Amen

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Ruth Watson, minister of Patricroft and Worsley Road URCs in Salford.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 18th September 2019

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?  ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ But what is the divine reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

‘God gave them a sluggish spirit,
    eyes that would not see
    and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.’

And David says,

‘Let their table become a snare and a trap,
    a stumbling-block and a retribution for them;
let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
    and keep their backs for ever bent.’

Reflection
In this passage Paul struggled with two ideas.  As a faithful Jew he believed that God hadn’t rejected the Jewish people – the Covenant still stands.  As a Christian, who had come to realise that trust in Jesus’ faithfulness is what mattered, Paul realised that simply being part of a chosen people wasn’t enough for salvation.  Paul asserted that the Jewish people are still the people of God but, at the same time, held that simply being part of the Chosen People wasn’t enough. 

Paul used the idea of the Remnant;  after commiting genocide against pagan priests, Elijah had to flee the wrath of Queen Jezebel.  Believing he was the only one left who truly worshipped God, Elijah had to be reminded that there were 7,000 others who had also held firm.  From this a remnant theology grew as the prophets realised there would never be a time when the whole nation was faithful to God. Paul used this dividing the wheat from the chaff to differentiate between those, in God’s chosen people, who held firm and those who succumbed to a sluggish spirit.

Of course Paul’s insight applies to us too.  Christians can have a sluggish spirit believing that church membership, even regular attendance is enough for salvation.  We can serve as members, elders or ministers and believe that all will be well – but if we fail to trust in Jesus’ own faithfulness we can act as if we are, what a friend of mine calls, functional atheists.  When I did my theology degree, back in the 1980s, the Church growth people forecast that the URC would die by the year 2,000 simply by plotting our decline on a graph and extrapolating. Sociologists will tell us that increased longevity has saved the URC, I hope it’s a radical trust in Jesus believing he hasn’t finished with us yet!
 

Lord Jesus,
you were faithful,
travelling to the Cross and beyond,
waiting for vindication, exultation and glorification.
Help us to be full of faith,
faith that you haven’t finished with us,
faith that our lives, words, and actions touch others with your love,
that we may continue to be part of your  chosen and faithful people. Amen. 

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston ministers in the Synod of Scotland’s Southside Cluster and co-ordinates the Daily Devotions project.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 17th September 2019

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?  And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’  So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for

‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
    and their words to the ends of the world.’

Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
    with a foolish nation I will make you angry.’

Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

‘I have been found by those who did not seek me;
    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’

But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’

URC Daily Devotion 16th September 2019

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”’ (that is, to bring Christ down)  ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?”’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

‘The word is near you,  on your lips and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);  because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Reflection
What was I thinking? I know there will be many of you who will relish a theological challenge on a Monday morning, but I think it was, to me, a simple statement that drew me to this reading. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

I am not sure it is that simple. Aren’t there pages of Terms and Conditions that have to be read and agreed to? And, surely  there are huge differences between Jew and Greek, and many other groups of people today? We don’t have to look far beyond the places we inhabit to find those who are marginalized and excluded. Even if, and when, they call on the name of the Lord!!

Maybe it is only God who can bridge the huge divides that surround us.

On a Monday morning it may seem an insurmountable task, but maybe calling on the name of the Lord is a good place to start.

Hear us, when we call on your name, Lord.
Save us,
Save us. 
And let us be a bridge over the chasms of division and exclusion in our world.
Do not let us fall.
Amen

Today’s Writer

Fredwyn Hosier. Synod pastoral Consultant, Thames North and Elder at Palmers Green URC

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 15th September 2019

This Psalm is probably my favourite of all 150. When I was younger, it was the Psalm we used to sing in the school choir to the Anglican Chant ‘Tonus Peregrinus’, and the ancient words of the Book of Common Prayer still spring to mind whenever I read it – ‘When Israel came out of Egypt, and the house of Jacob from among a strange people’.

Psalm 114 is a Psalm that, since the 6th Century, has been used at Christian burial services and while ministering to those who are dying. It also has an association with Easter Day, and is often read during Easter services – the deliverance of Israel seen as a metaphor for our deliverance from sin.

First and foremost, though, this Psalm is a song of God’s strength, power, and glory. It is a Psalm that tells of God’s glories in times of old, when God led the people of Israel out of slavery, and prepares us for the wonders and glories to come.

It is around this time that the Church enters a season known as ‘Creationtide’. Described by its organisers as ‘a period… dedicated to God as the Creator and Sustainer of all life’, it is during this season that we are called to give thanks for the world in which we live.  Many churches will hold their Harvest Services around this time – they will give thanks to God for the blessings of this life, our food, our homes, our families and friends.

But it is also at this time that we are called to remember those who go without, those for whom the harvest is not a time of celebration. It is our duty to provide for them, just as the Lord provides for us.

Let us pray that we may never forget ‘the presence of the Lord’, and pray that He may continue to provide to those who need it.

URC Daily Devotion 14th September 2019

Brothers and sisters,  my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.  I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness.  For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Reflection
Have you ever broken the law? You might well reply “Yes, but not intentionally.” Law can be very exacting and complicated, I know this from the experience of working in a Crown Court for some years. Often laws are amended but the new slant on any particular law is not always adequately publicized resulting in people being caught out. When you consider that the vast majority of people in Paul’s era were illiterate, it raises the question what chance did they have in understanding the Law. The Jewish Law, the Torah, was very precise but its interpretation had been complicated by the Scribes with their own interpretation of what the Law meant. Paul, like Jesus, had no problems with what was written in the Law, but on the other hand did have issues with the way in which it was being interpreted and applied by the scribes and Pharisees. In Jesus’ time, it would seem that its application was as much about social control by the Sanhedrin, thus keeping the Roman authorities happy, than being aware of the nature of a meaningful relationship with God.

Paul reminds the Church that it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that brought about a new relationship between God and the believer rather than adherence to a set of rules in order to have a closer relationship with God. That description ‘believer’ is the key to that different kind of relationship with God. No matter how much we have struggled to find a meaningful relationship with God, He always welcomes us back home just as the father did with his prodigal son. Our salvation from the power of sin was brought about by Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection rather than adherence to a set of rules – Hallelujah.

Redeeming God, so often we feel that we can only function by following a set of rules, forgetting that it is through faith in your redeeming love that we receive forgiveness for our weakness and sins. Open our minds to the truth and magnitude of Your love for all, through Jesus our Risen Lord. Amen

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister, worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex 

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 13th September 2019

You will say to me then, ‘Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’  But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is moulded say to the one who moulds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—  including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people”,
   and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved”. ’
‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”,
   there they shall be called children of the living God.’

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved;  for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.’ And as Isaiah predicted,

‘If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us,
   we would have fared like Sodom
   and been made like Gomorrah.’

What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling-stone,  as it is written,

‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’