URC Daily Devotion 22nd February 2019

I’m sure that many of you, like me, sometimes have trouble sleeping. Perhaps, like me, you’ve read up on ‘sleep hygiene’ and try to follow a set routine to help you sleep well, but still occasionally find yourself awake at 4am pondering the meaning of the Universe. Drawing on this passage, a question you could ponder is ‘how did Jesus sleep?’

In the Gospels Jesus is always travelling and rarely stays in the same place for very long, so he would never have known where he was going to be sleeping. He didn’t have a set routine. After a long day walking, teaching and healing did he sleep the sound sleep of the just, or did he often lie awake, uncomfortable in a borrowed bed in a strange house, thinking about what he, or those opposing him, would do next? Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but he had no place to rest his head, or at least no regular, known, safe place.

We often build routines for ourselves because they can help us. We like to feel safe, secure and in control. But routine can also lead to complacency. Can any of us honestly say we have never made an excuse when we think we hear God calling us to something new and risky? I certainly can’t, or I would have candidated for ministry earlier in my life. It was the same two thousand years ago. The excuses given in this passage for not immediately dropping everything to follow Jesus are pretty good and reasonable as excuses go. I have to bury my father – a requirement according to law and custom. I want to say goodbye to my family – who wouldn’t?

And yet sometimes to follow Jesus we need to be ready to break out of our routines, even if it risks losing sleep and pondering ineffable questions as we lie awake.

URC Daily Devotion 21st February 2019

I wonder how the conversation went between the disciples and the people in the Samaritan village? The Messiah is coming you say? Whose Messiah? Is he staying long? Oh – Jerusalem you say? – well he can’t be our Messiah, he’s going the wrong way.

For Samaritans, Jerusalem was not their sacred city – they believed the most important, holiest place, was Mount Gerizim.
The disciples, with their passion and faith in Jesus, had expected the Samaritans to welcome them with open arms perhaps?

It’s very easy when you are passionate about something, to expect others to feel the same – but unless it is relevant to them, they simply won’t. We spend long hours wondering how to take the message of Jesus to those who know nothing of Him, and, like the disciples, are we surprised at their indifference?

The disciples were hurt and angry that the village had been unwelcoming and perhaps sought to emulate Elijah in having it consumed by fire – but Jesus told them no. Indeed; what would that have said about the followers of Jesus that when they are not welcomed, they need to punish, to have their revenge?

Unless we live out our faith and help others to see the relevance of it to them, through the difference it makes to our lives, then the welcome we receive will be predictable!

URC Daily Devotion 20th February 2019

Jesus’ friends have come across someone “casting out demons in your name”.  It sounds as if they tried to stop him because they thought he was jumping on the bandwagon, or maybe giving himself a status that in their eyes he hasn’t earned? They had, after all, just had the conversation with Jesus about who was the greatest – perhaps they were trying to change Jesus’ mind? Status was important to the disciples and here was a man using Jesus’ name and casting out demons.

Last year the Gospel choir I sing with was asked to sing backing vocals for a Neil Diamond tribute show.  I told everyone, because I was excited, that I was singing at the theatre, but I stressed to everyone “it’s not the real Neil Diamond though,” not because I was disappointed, but because I didn’t want them to think it was the real one.  Possibly because I didn’t want them to think it was VERY important, just a little bit important. I don’t think the real Neil Diamond minds too much about tribute acts; after all, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, don’t they? The tribute actor isn’t trying to fool anyone, they know he is a tribute and it will become apparent that while he won’t be authentic, he will be almost as good, and the songs will still be the same.  

Perhaps that’s how Jesus felt – it isn’t about status, and those people casting out demons weren’t doing it in their own name, they weren’t pretending they were the Messiah – they were using Jesus’ name; and apparently it was working. False prophet – or tribute?

URC Daily Devotion 19th February 2019

We can be very sentimental about children, especially in churches that do not have any. We think we should treat them as if they are adults and tie ourselves up in knots about how much they understand about Communion.

There is no evidence Jesus was at all sentimental about children. He had younger brothers and sisters and no doubt remembered that children are just as capable of being unpleasant, selfish human beings as those of us in any other age group. But maybe he also remembered two characteristics of many small children that adults tend to honour less.

The first is a willingness to trust even when they do not understand, especially when a parent that loves them is involved. When we try to reduce God to what we can understand, claiming that this is what a scientific age requires, we downsize God until we have an idol of our own construction. We have decided greatness is ours not God’s.

The second characteristic is a sense of wonder that flows into what we would once have called reverence. We may not be good at nurturing this but many of us can remember moments when we felt it, long before we could have composed a theological essay. Worship is mechanical without a sense of wonder; but with it worshipping a mysterious and majestic God is possible for all, regardless of intellectual competence.

It should be no surprise that those close to truly great people frequently comment on their innate humility. Whatever hype surrounds them, they know that they are not the centre of the universe. Some of them know who is.

URC Daily Devotion 18th February 2019

While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples,  ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’  But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
Reflection
Bad news. Frightening news. Life-changing news. None of us like receiving the kind of news that Jesus is giving to his followers in this short passage. In fact, we’d probably much rather have fake news than the truth He is trying to tell them. Isn’t Christianity supposed to be about the Good News? And aren’t we supposed to put a positive spin on everything?

Well, perhaps not. Because there is always going to be both bad and good things in our lives. And sometimes we have to face up to and deal with the bad things honestly if we’re going to be the people God created us to be. Here, Jesus is telling His followers that His mission isn’t going to succeed and in fact He will be taken from them. How can this be true at the point when everything seems to be going so well? The disciples don’t want to understand it and are too afraid to ask. Wouldn’t we be the same? I know I certainly would.

However, there comes a point in everyone’s lives where we have to be brave enough and trusting enough to bring the negative issues out into the open and ask God for help with them. God is exactly the right Person to ask as He knows every single bad thing we have gone through and every single good thing too. With His help, we can deal with the bad things, and His grace alone can make good things come from them.

Dear God,
help us to trust You
with the pain and darkness
in our lives,
so that Your grace and power
can turn them into blessings.
Amen.

Today’s Writer

Anne Brooke, regular attender at URC Elstead

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 February 2019

1 Hear, O LORD, and answer me;
I am poor, and needy too.
2 Guard my life; save me, my God,
For your servant trusts in you.

3 Lord, be merciful to me;
All day long to you I call.
4 Give your servant joy, O Lord,
For to you I lift my soul.

5 You, O Lord, alone are good;
You are ready to forgive.
To all those who call on you,
You abound in steadfast love.

6 Hear my earnest prayer, O LORD;
Listen to my troubled cry.
7 In distress I’ll call on you,
For in mercy you’ll reply.

8 Lord, among the many gods
There is none to rival you;
Deeds that others may perform
Never match what you can do.

9 Lord, the nations you have made
Will come near and praise your name.
10 You alone are God; your deeds
Bring to you outstanding fame.

11 Teach me, LORD, your way, that I
From your truth may not depart;
So that I may fear your name,
Give me a devoted heart.

12 Lord, with all my heart I will
Praise your name unceasingly.
13 For your love to me is great;
From the grave you rescued me.

14 Proud men are attacking me;
And the ruthless men of strife,
Who have no regard for God,
Seek to take away my life.

15 But, Lord, you are merciful,
God of grace and tenderness,
Slow to anger, rich in love
And in cov’nant faithfulness.

16 Turn your face towards me, Lord,
And to me compassion show.
Give me strength and save my life;
On your servant grace bestow.

17 Grant a sign of favour, LORD,
Which my enemies may see;
Then they will be put to shame,
For you help and comfort me.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune Harts here.

URC Daily Devotion 16th February 2019

Information

Janani Luwum was born in 1922 at Acholi in Uganda. His childhood and youth were spent as a goatherd but he quickly showed an ability to learn and absorb knowledge when given the opportunity. Soon after he became a teacher, he was converted to Christianity and was eventually ordained in 1956, becoming Bishop of Northern Uganda in 1969 and Archbishop of Uganda in 1974. Idi Amin had come to power in Uganda in 1971 as the result of a military coup and his undemocratic and harsh rule was the subject of much criticism by the Church and others. After receiving a letter from the bishops protesting at the virtual institution of state murder, Janani and two of Amin’s own government ministers were stated as having been found dead following a car accident. It emerged quickly that they had in fact died on the implicit instructions of the President. Janani’s enthusiasm for the good news of Jesus, combined with his willingness to sacrifice even his own life for what he believed in, led him to his martyrdom on on 17th February in 1977.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”  The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Reflection
Janani was fond of an expression which he learnt as young man “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.” We can see this fixity of purpose as a mark of discipleship ‘where I am, my servant will be there also’. When many of his friends within Uganda and from around the world could see the storm clouds gathering they begged Janani to escape from the country. He gently refused , saying  ‘if I, the shepherd, flee, what will happen to the sheep?’

It is easy for us to be moved by the self sacrifice of another. The question comes as we attempt to live the life of Jesus today in the power that the Holy Spirit gives, in what area of life are we called to put the needs of others above our own.

Lord Jesus,
some said it was thunder;
we know differently, we hear you,
Grant us the grace of self sacrifice,
in the small matters of life as well as in the great,
so that when opinions are loudly voiced,
we testify with our lives,
to the truth we see in you,
Amen  

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Richard Church, member of Streatham URC, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship)

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 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 February 2019

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.  Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.  Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.  I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’  While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
Reflection
Luke writes of a great crowd, this is a few days after Jesus fed the five thousand, so we may be safe to assume that it was a crowd of several thousand people.  How did Jesus even hear the voice of one distressed father in such a crowd? It shows how carefully He listened with a compassionate ear and He heard the cry of a person in distress.  Did Jesus show a sign of temper when he said “‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” as Luke records the disciples being given authority over demons in verse one of this chapter and perhaps He is speaking to them or perhaps to the large crown who follow, listen, see miracles but show no sign of faith.  Jesus shows compassion on the father and spoke firmly to the unclean spirit and healed the boy.

Who are we like today?  Are we like Jesus annoyed at the lack of faith that we see around us?  Are we like the father bringing problems to Jesus and begging for help?  Are we like the large crowd, standing by and watching but showing no evidence of faith or belief in Jesus?  We should be a mixture of the first two we should be concerned that in our world today there are many people who reject the truth of the gospel message and who use every opportunity to decry those who believe.  We should also be like the father and bring our concerns to Jesus secure in the knowledge that He will help us deal with them. We certainly must not be like the large faithless crowd who listened and did not believe.  We should also be like the boy, transformed by our contact with Jesus.

Loving God
I thank you for your compassion
I thank you for your love to me
I thank you for your patience with me
I thank you that Jesus
  showed your love to the world

I ask that you give me compassion, love and patience as I try to follow you in my daily life
Amen.

Today’s Writer

John Collings is a Lay Preacher and member of Rutherglen 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 14th February 2019

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus  took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, ] they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said.  While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Reflection
I sometimes wonder if we shy away from the Transfiguration a little; a mystical event on a mountainside, Moses and Elijah, dazzling glory, a cloud and the voice of God. It’s a lot to process; all this glory, the glory of Christ. Yet there beside the glory is the reminder of the Cross, the humanity, the sacrifice, the promise.

Hills and mountains are so often places of encounter with God. This is the story of a moment; a moment linked to the past and the future by its location on a mountain. We are reminded of other ‘mountain moments’ by Moses and Elijah both of whom encountered God on a mountainside. We are rooted in the past but we are also pointed towards a future hillside and Jesus’s departure. When we think about God as outside of time it can change our perspective on events in our own lives.

We are located within our own stories, we are rooted within our own past; we are heading towards our own future. We can remember the past, give thanks for it, take our lessons from it…but at the same time we need to look forward. We need to look to the future and to God’s promises.

We should help our churches do the same. To celebrate what has gone before, to celebrate what is happening now but, most importantly, to look to the future. It is easy to understand how Peter felt; awed by the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the vision of Jesus dressed in dazzling white. It is easy, perhaps, to understand why he wanted to build three dwellings and to stay on the mountain. That wasn’t the future God had planned for him; it was not what Christ was calling him to. Like Peter we are called to go out into the world; to leave our dwellings, our churches, and to shine with the dazzling hope of Christ for the people we meet. 

Dazzling Christ,  
We give thanks
or that which has gone before,
for the people and communities
that have made up our past.
We give thanks for what is to come,
for those we will meet and journey with.
May we shine with your promise
and hope for them. Amen

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Jo Clare-Young is a URC minister in the North Yorkshire Coast Pastorate.

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 February 2019

He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone,  saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’ Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’
Reflection
The cat’s out of the bag.  Having been identified as ‘The Messiah of God’ Jesus candidly explains to his Disciples for the first time what lies ahead for him – suffering, rejection and death, and following that, on the third day, resurrection.

Furthermore, Jesus tells them that if anyone wants to go after him, follow him, walk his way, they too must take up their cross daily, and live, not for themselves, but for his sake alone.  This is the Way of the Cross, the way of discipleship, the calling of every Christian.

It seems to me that we can dress it up however we like.  We can make worship inspiring (it should be), Bible study interesting (this too) and involvement with a church community a joy rather than a chore (of course), but at the heart of our faith, the crux of the matter, so to speak, is the call to sacrificial living, humility and walking a counter-cultural path.  

Discipleship is demanding, the rewards are not always ours to see, and yet we are compelled, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to try and live the life of Jesus today, in our families, our churches and our communities.

How this looks to each of you will be different – no two people live out their faith in the same way, and we will all be aware of our human tendency to do all the things that Jesus tells us to guard against.  

Thank God then that our invitation to see the Kingdom of God depends not on the quality of our discipleship, but on the grace of God, who, in Jesus, took up his cross and died and rose again to save us all.

Lord Jesus Christ,
you said to your apostles:
Peace I leave with you,
my peace I give you.

Look not on our sins,
but on the faith of your Church,
and grant us the peace and unity
of your kingdom
where you live for ever and ever.  
Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d David Salsbury is a member of Horeb URC, Dyserth and serves as Programme Manager for Stepwise.

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