URC Daily Devotions 12th December

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’  and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;  strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack  and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
   therefore judgement comes forth perverted.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;  make it plain on tablets,
   so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
   it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
   it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
   Their spirit is not right in them,
   but the righteous live by their faith.
Though the fig tree does not blossom,
   and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
   and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
   and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
   and makes me tread upon the heights.
Little is known about Habakkuk other than he was called to prophecy in the run up to the Babylonian invasion and was probably a contemporary of Jeremiah.  As such the stark drama of the first two stanzas make sense.  The impending invasion and Exile wasn’t seen by the religious folk of the day as a result of poor foreign policy or failed international diplomacy but as a direct result of not living by the Covenant.  Judah bought the disaster on herself by forgetting her relationship with God despite, as the second stanza makes clear, God charging prophets with the ghastly ministry of reminding them. The third stanza, however, contains hope.  In an agricultural society there could be little worse than the type of crop failure symbolised by the failure of fig, grape, olive crops and starving livestock.  In the face of that disaster – famine – Habakkuk stubbornly refuses to despair and his faith in God is undimmed.  Like Jeremiah he would have given a hope – albeit a far off one – to those who believed in God as the armies of Babylon approached.  

In our day we tend not to see God at work in international politics and find hope difficult when presidents conduct diplomacy in fewer than 140 characters and seek to prove machismo by increasing nuclear arsenals.  Hope is hard when 20 million are displaced for fear of their lives and when rich countries build walls instead of bridges.  It is hard to hope as countries retreat into narrow nationalism ignoring the links that bind us together as a human family.

Yet in Advent we must proclaim hope – the stubborn hope of Habakkuk – that things will change.  We pray “thy kingdom come” yet dare we believe that the Coming King will turn things around?  Dare we believe that Jesus will, finally, turn our weapons into welcoming signs and, as his mother – another audacious believer – sang fill the hungry with good things and turn the rich, empty, away?

Lord Jesus,
coming King,
turn our world around,
bring judgement to the rich who oppress,
admonish leaders who,
often in your name,
make your people suffer,
and teach us, day by day,
to pray, work and hope for your Kingdom.
Come Lord Jesus!

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston is a minister of Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs in the Synod of Scotland.

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 11th December

Living in central London often feels like a strangely absurd and irrational experience. I would argue that London is the greatest city in the history of the world. On its best days, London foreshadows many of the realities of the New  Jerusalem — a city where the nations live side-by-side in unity and reflect the glory of God. On most days, well — shall we say that it perhaps resembles Nineveh to the prophet Nahum.

We often feel profoundly uncomfortable as we read the Old Testament prophets. Many even try to dismiss them by suggesting perhaps that they were writing out of their feelings and not out of God’s inspiration, they were simply reflecting their cultural perspectives and not God’s inspiration, or sometimes even suggesting that it was God who changed with the coming of Jesus. We’re uncomfortable because some of the sentiments expressed by these prophets seem at first inconsistent with the love of God as revealed in the cross of Christ.

Looking more deeply, we discover that not only are such sentiments not antithetical to love they are also essential to love. Genuine love abhors that which undermines, opposes and inhibits love — both its expression and its reception. In prophets such as Nahum, we discover those things that hinder the full expression and experience of God’s love in our cities and communities, things which God himself vehemently opposes. Once we see these things from God’s perspective and the effect they have on experiencing God’s love, we cannot help but oppose these things ourselves.

So what does God see in Nineveh that leads God to express God’s anger so strongly?

God sees a city full of “lies and plunder”, a place where people use dishonesty and greed to take advantage of others for their own benefit. In such a city, people use dishonest weights and measures so that people might gain an advantage over others, enriching themselves by impoverishing others. The economic system becomes profoundly unfair, preventing normal people from providing for themselves and their families.

God also sees a city full of violence. In the case of Nineveh, such violence seems to be primarily physical. While our cities experience such physical violence today, more often “violence” comes in the form of the strong oppressing and suppressing the weak. The “horsemen” represent those who have power and influence and use their power and influence to exploit and trample on other people for their own advantage. People are taken advantage of and victimised. Violence in our cities takes many forms, but God abhors such violence.

Finally, God sees a city full of sexual immorality. On the surface, it all looks charming and attractive. But looking deeper one cannot help but seeing human trafficking, sex slavery and child abuse. One sees people being used selfishly for personal pleasure, without love or genuine concern for their wholeness. In such a city, even whole ethnic groups are betrayed as their women and children become especially vulnerable to abuse. Yet, to most people, this sexual immorality seems appealing, harmless and fun, conducted in privacy.

By revealing his heart and showing us what hinders love, God invites us not only to feel his anger toward that which obstructs love but also to engage in the extension of God’s loving rulership (the kingdom) by working in the power of God’s Holy Spirit to oppose these same things in our cities today. We do so knowing that the cross of Christ has broken the power of all demonic opposition to God’s love and enabled the release of God’s loving justice into our cities.

Prophets like Nahum shatter the illusion that our cities might ever be perfect — New Jerusalems on earth — but they also shatter the illusion that we are helpless victims of what happens in our cities. Nahum reminds us that God not only opposes that which hinders love but is taking action against it. By God’s grace, in the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians can oppose everything that hinders God’s love and see our cities become more like the New Jerusalem and less like Nineveh, confident that this will benefit all people living in our cities.

URC Daily Devotions 10th December The Second Sunday of Advent

The LORD’s my saviour and my light—
who will make me dismayed?
The LORD’s the stronghold of my life—
why should I be afraid?

When evildoers threaten me
to take my life away,
My adversaries and my foes
will stumble in that day.

Although an army hems me in,
my heart will feel no dread;
Though war against me should arise,
I will lift up my head.

One thing I’ll plead before the LORD,
and this I’ll seek always:
That I may come within God’s house
and dwell there all my days—

That on the beauty of the LORD
I constantly may gaze,
And in his house may seek to know
direction in his ways.

For in his dwelling he will keep
me safe in troubled days;
Within his tent he’ll shelter me,
and on a rock me raise.

My head will then be lifted high
above my enemies;
And in his tent I’ll sacrifice
with shouts of joy and praise.

LORD, hear me when I call to you;
be merciful and speak!
“Come, seek my face!” you told my heart;
your face, LORD, I will seek.

O do not hide your face from me,
and do not turn aside
Your servant in your righteous wrath,
for you have been my guide.

O God my Saviour, leave me not;
do not reject my plea.
My parents may forsake me, LORD,
but you will welcome me.

Teach me, O LORD, how I should live,
and lead me in your way;
Make straight my path, because my foes
oppress me every day.

Give me not over to the will
of vehement enemies;
For liars rise to slander me
and breathe out cruelties.

Yet I am sure that in this life
God’s goodness I will see.
Wait for the LORD; be strong, take heart.
For him wait patiently.

URC Daily Devotion 9th December

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before the Lord with burnt offerings
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,.
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah is often listed among the minor prophets. It’s time to give him a promotion. This little gem from Chapter six raises him immediately to the top of the podium. It is hard to find a more succinct summary of the meaning of the journey of faith than this. Micah cuts through the trivia of religious dogma and cultic ritual with gentle dynamic power.

First he asks the most basic human question: “OK. How do I put a smile on God’s face?”  And the answer?. “OK. human traveller. First stop trying to make it up to God. You can’t merit God’s smile. You can never bring enough gifts and offerings to God in order to merit his favour. Certainly the practice of child-sacrifice is the last thing God wants from you. You need to stop and think.  Let God be God. Now, get this into your head. God is already smiling in your direction.  All you have to do is get on with God’s agenda not yours.  

His agenda is threefold:  

First, because God is a God of justice, start rooting out injustice in the world where you live. Take the side of the marginalised and wounded ones. Challenge prejudice. Reach out to the stranger. That is the first thing God wants you to do.

Second, fall in love with love. God is a generous grace-filled loving God so allow your life to be wrapped in steadfast love. The Hebrew word here translated  “kindness” is a bit weak. “Chesed” in Hebrew embraces the richness of God’s covenant love. God is totally committed to love us, and that is the quality of love we are asked to embrace.  
Third,  start a journey of joy. Walk gently and humbly with God as your companion. Keep it simple. Treat God as a close friend not a distant dictator. Remember that worship is not a ritual to get through but a relationship of warmth and thankfulness. It is not duty, but delight.  And it is not static or rooted in one place. It involves “walking.”  Expect to go somewhere new!  Expect God’s surprises. Step out into December.

Thank you, Micah. Not a bad message for Advent from a country boy!

Grace-filled God,
remind us once more
of the essentials of faith:
generosity of spirit,
sincerity in devotion,
wonder at the gift of life.

As Advent times open up
in dark December days,
prepare our hearts and lives
for new beginnings,
birth moments,
genesis happenings.

Then may the message of prophets
and the words of song writers
be fulfilled in us as we seek
to act justly
to delight in generous love,
and to travel with you
as our pilgrim friend. Amen,

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d David Jenkins is a retired minister and member of  Marple URC in Cheshire.

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 Devotions 8th December

When God said to him,

“What right do you have to be angry about the plant?”

Jonah replied,

“I have every right to be angry—angry enough to die!”

The Lord said to him,

“This plant grew up in one night and disappeared the next; you didn’t do anything for it and you didn’t make it grow—yet you feel sorry for it! How much more, then, should I have pity on Nineveh, that great city. After all, it has more than 120,000 innocent children in it, as well as many animals!”

Stories have a heart and a point, and so it is with Jonah. The heart is a quiet, mournful song, the prophet’s grateful prayer that he did not die when sinking in the sea. It is almost a shame that the narrator interrupts to tell us that at God’s command prophet is vomited onto the seashore.

The point is treated just as abruptly. Jonah is furious about the death of a plant and complains to God about its death. Oh hard-hearted Jonah, you sat under that plant waiting for a catastrophe to kill thousands. Should you not care more about people than plant life? The book ends at this impasse, and we never find out whether he answered back, walked off sulking, or had a deep and lasting change of heart. How often do we change our minds in the middle of a confrontation?

We know our own struggles and our family’s worries inside out. We share the worry of imminent redundancy, or life changed after a stroke; the high feelings around a divorce in the family, the impact of stress on a body and a family. Sometimes, as we find our way through troubles we are moved to a new understanding of ourselves and God which can grow our faith. Yet the softening of Jonah’s heart to his own troubles does not softened his heart towards those he has previously despised. He fails to make the connection between knowing “how precious life is to me” and “how precious life is”.

If our task as followers of Jesus is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, perhaps we can take those moments in which we understand ourselves better and ask God to help us to use them to understand other people better too. To deepen our empathy, to recognise our common life, and desire good for one another.

Sometimes, Lord,
I live the moments in which I know
that I depend utterly on you,
and more often
I remember them with gratitude.
Through your Holy Spirit,
let these moments
soften my heart to others,
and move me to action.
In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Dr ’frin Lewis-Smith is minister to the URCs in Darwen and Tockholes.

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 7th December

For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, all the nations around you shall drink; they shall drink and gulp down, and shall be as though they had never been.

But on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape, and it shall be holy; and the house of Jacob shall take possession of those who dispossessed them. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken.

We hear a lot these days about late justice. Fraud, abuse, domestic violence, war crimes, ethnic cleansing – the perpetrators may get away with it for a while, but they are never really safe. Memories, clues, witnesses and records cannot be counted on to go away, and the slow, steady pace of justice catches up in the end. Hold this thought for a moment.

Now add in the motif of bad neighbours, of peoples and communities who know each other so well that all love has been lost. Judah and Edom, as the case in point. Shepherds and farmers of the Holy Land hill-country, and mountain people across the Jordan valley, whose high and rugged territory is visible on a clear day. You can see but never touch. So near yet so far. Out of reach, of good social contact, and perhaps even of justice too.

Put those two themes together, and you have Obadiah. The bad neighbour is Edom (a.k.a the children of Esau). And late justice comes from God. For Edom had treated Judah wretchedly, laughed at her misfortune, taken advantage of her suffering, and lived through the generations as a neighbour but rarely as a friend. Yet God would catch up with the situation. Edom would not freewheel for ever on the momentum of old contempt. Judah, victim and punch-bag as she had so often been, would rise in glory, triumph over her oppressor and be gathered in the love of God.

Which is where our text comes in. It’s the word of hope at the end of Obadiah. This smallest of Old Testament prophecies speaks for the victim. It turns bad history into renewing justice, and wretchedness into reckoning. It believes in a God who never gives up.

Justice – reaching out across the years, grounded in heaven, making a difference on earth. That’s Obadiah’s message. Take the victim seriously, it says. Take God seriously too.

God of justice and judgment,
   of care and commitment,
        of memory and mercy,
teach us to listen to the victim
and hear the voiceless,
   to know when to remember
   and what to forget,
    to understand how to support
    and where to give space,
              to speak rightly about justice
              and truly about Jesus,
                 who speaks your judgment
                  and brings your mercy. Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d John Proctor, is a member of Emmanuel Church, Cambridge, and works as General Secretary of the 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 6th December 

The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
Judgment on Israel’s Neighbors

And he said:
The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds wither,
    and the top of Carmel dries up.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire on the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
I will break the gate bars of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and the one who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Aram shall go into exile to Kir,
says the Lord.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Gaza,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they carried into exile entire communities,
    to hand them over to Edom.
So I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza,
    fire that shall devour its strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod,
    and the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
    and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,
says the Lord God.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Tyre,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they delivered entire communities over to Edom,
    and did not remember the covenant of kinship.
So I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre,
    fire that shall devour its strongholds.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Edom,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because he pursued his brother with the sword
    and cast off all pity;
he maintained his anger perpetually,
    and kept his wrath[g] forever.
So I will send a fire on Teman,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead
    in order to enlarge their territory.
So I will kindle a fire against the wall of Rabbah,
    fire that shall devour its strongholds,
with shouting on the day of battle,
    with a storm on the day of the whirlwind;
then their king shall go into exile,
    he and his officials together, says the Lord.

Amos comes with a message which reverberates from his days – around 755 BC – till now.  The date can be fixed because there is archeological evidence in Galilee of an earthquake from Amos’ time. The stunning nature of Amos’ calling and the explosive force of God’s message through him are like the reverberating roar of a lion.

Amos’ background is that of being a tough keeper of sheep and sycamore trees in Tekoa, a small town about six miles north of Jerusalem. He comes from the southern kingdom (normally called Judah) and prophecies to the northern kingdom (normally called Israel). The reason why this is important and why Amos is an unusual prophet is that he prophesies outside his home country. He crosses borders! Amos is the only one of the written prophets to have done this; all the others prophecy to their compatriots.

“The Lord roars from Zion”. Amos utters what he sees like a lion’s sudden roar. In the prophetic judgment speeches Amos talks about the different people, not to them. He criticizes both Israel’s neighbouring nations and then follows with judgments against Judah and Israel. Amos listens and then delivers difficult messages.

Pilgrims today come back from Israel/Palestine with challenging messages. Visiting Embrace the Middle East projects we were asked to do 4 things –to say thank you for coming, to tell stories, to pray for the projects and to encourage others to visit.

Loving God
we give thanks for Amos
and for all people of faith
who had the courage to travel beyond their home territory
to deliver disturbing and difficult messages.
May we be still during this season of Advent
and listen as today’s prophets
challenge us to go beyond comfort zones
and to walk forward.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Mary Taylor is the minister of Selkirk URC in the Synod of Scotland and Crookham URC in the Northern Synod.

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 Devotions 5th December

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
Whether the plague of locusts that form the storyline of the prophecy of Joel are symbolic or actual does not matter. What matters is that in times of communal or individual crisis we deepen our connection to God and orientate ourselves towards hope. The human experience encompasses tragedy and celebration, sadness and joy, pain and well-being. The challenge that Joel sets us is to choose the positive over the negative. Our 21 st century economic and political systems are predicated on scarcity. We have unconsciously adopted the same limitations in all our relationships while the Biblical injunction is to celebrate generous abundance. The advent journey is the anticipation of a new future, one in which darkness will give way to light and a birth will surprise and delight. We journey from fear to hope. Yes there are challenges and disappointments, life isn’t always fair but change is possible.

The catalyst for change is revealed in the promise of God to ‘pour out my spirit on all flesh’. A key passage in the Pentecost sermon this divine initiative is a startling indicator of a universal embrace.

The barriers of gender, age, slavery and freedom that were normative and almost impenetrable in the Jerusalem society of Joel are swept aside. We are no longer defined by the labels or limits others impose upon us. The gift of God is no longer restricted to the pious, or the religious, to priest or regular attender but even to those who only turn up once a year for the carol service. The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ is translated here as ‘spirit’ but elsewhere rendered as ‘wind’. We are to understand that what is promised is power, like a wind that can destroy or move the immovable. Now the truly radical insight of Joel and Pentecost is evident; power will no longer rest with the elite and the privileged but with the many and the ordinary. And isn’t that the lesson of incarnation? The storyline of Advent is the birth of a baby in whom rests the power to change the world and us with it. Given the power how will we use it?

Generous God,
As you have empowered me,
so help me to choose hope over despair.

When life is hard and the way uncertain,
let me feel your strong embrace.

When injustice is denied to others,
give me courage to speak out.
When I doubt my own worth,
remind me that I am yours.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d David Grosch-Miller is a  member of St. George’s Morpeth and Immediate Past Moderator of General Assembly

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 4th December

Even a cursory reading of Hosea – he of the wandering wife and the children with colourful names – may lead you to side with Private Fraser in proclaiming ‘we’re doomed’.

Hosea is very zealous for the Lord and he doesn’t hold back in his descriptions of his times. Iniquity, idolatry, immorality, all arising from dalliances with other religions’ fertility cults and ill – judged alliances with foreign powers. There will be wailing and trembling and desolation.

Hosea diagnoses the root of the problem: Israel’s unfaithfulness to the God of the covenant. Marriage is the vehicle used to illustrate the breakdown of this relationship. Israel is the adulterous partner and under serious judgement, but God will heal and love when / if the nation returns. For this reader, some of the language and threats meted out to the unfaithful one, make for uncomfortable reading. The overall message is believed to be one of healing and loving, but the book contains several of those images of God that we would rather were not in the Bible and one would have to perform exegetical gymnastics to make some verses look good.

We have, however, some light and hope today in agricultural images. Our verses speak of crops and rain and fruitfulness – properties much valued by the cult of Ba’al with whom Israel was flirting. ‘Our God goes further than mere rain and food’ says Hosea. ‘Our God rains righteousness’. Prepare yourself by sowing and breaking up your fallow ground so you may reap steadfast love.

In this Advent time, as we prepare to meet our God, we take heart that even the zealous Hosea, much troubled by sin, was able to understand that at the heart of all creation is a loving, forgiving, faithful God. A God whose righteousness wills the wellbeing of the world, right and loving relationship and the health of creation.

Our God rains righteousness and when his reign is fully established steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness and justice will be the order of the day.

Frère Roger of Taizé says ‘All God can do is love’. Strangely, we often feel more at home with a God of judgement, a God whose love is peppered with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.

Maybe Advent will be the time when we will glimpse more of the loving God who comes to us again and again to make a home with us.


Daily Devotions in Advent

Dear <<First Name>>

The Daily Devotions from the URC are now a year old!  Building on an initiative of the North Western and Northern Synods (itself building on an programme in one of our churches) we have seen the Daily Devotions grow from a subscriber base of 600 to almost 1,700.  Hundreds more read them on Facebook, on the URC Devotion Archive site or through local church websites.  From tomorrow you can also keep up with the Daily Devotions if you use Twitter.  Our identity is @URCDevotions.

Each day our team of writers help us all receive inspiration in our inboxes.

As we enter the Season of Advent we will look at the Major themes of the Minor Prophets.  Each day we will look at a key verse from the prophets selected to help unpick their wider message.

We hope this series will help us all as we reflect on the prophetic edge of this season.

with every good wish


Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project