URC Daily Devotion 7th October2019

Monday 7th October

Philippians 1:1 – 11

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,  because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.  I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel.  For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Reflection

There’s a post that comes up periodically (and repeatedly) on social media entitled ‘Very British Problems’ which pokes gentle fun at our embarrassed approach to life, worrying unnecessarily and awkwardly about things that really don’t need to be worried about!  

But another of the characteristics associated with our British mores that is valued still is politeness – a characteristic that, sadly and heartbreakingly, seems to have gone out of the window in many circumstances following the Brexit Referendum.  

But politeness is far from a solely British characteristic and one that is clearly evident in all Paul’s letters, even in his one to Galatian churches where he is about to set off both barrels of criticism.  He starts by writing, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ …”

But it’s about more than politeness, it is about that word that is in both this and the Galatian letter, not to mention elsewhere in bucket-loads of Paul’s writings.  It is about Grace.  

Approach people with grace and faithful love (characteristics that are massively evident in the works of God and in the words and actions of Jesus), and there is a more than average likelihood that they will listen, take on board what you say and act in, yes, a grace-filled and loving way.  As Paul began his letter, that is what he was hoping anyway, so that the Philippians will indeed gather the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.  

As we begin to explore this beautiful, and beautifully written, grace-filled letter, may we gather some of that harvest too.

Prayer

God of grace, love and peace, 
may we learn to control our urges to interrupt, 
criticise and / or take umbrage.
As we greet, initiate and share all we know of 
and understand about Jesus,
may we do so with mountains 
of that same grace, love and peace.
Amen 
 

URC Daily Devotion 6th October 2019

1 Praise the Lord, O all you nations;
all you people, sing his praise.
For his love is great towards us;
his commitment lasts always.
He is faithful now and ever.
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Regent Square here or to Westminster Abbey here.

Reflection

Psalm 117 forms the shortest chapter of the Bible but it is a little gem of praise. It emphasizes that God’s covenant relationship is with “us” and with “all nations”. Martin Luther wrote a long commentary upon these two verses on the grounds that they were basic to our understanding of the love of God. “As I see it,” Luther declared, “the whole book of Acts was written because of this Psalm.”

On 3rd July, St.Thomas’ Day I was privileged to attend two powerful acts of worship in London when members of the Guys and St.Thomas’ Hospital chaplaincy team were welcomed to both the Community of the Cross of Nails and its new interfaith sister network, Together for Hope. The latter is a network of faith based and secular organisations who inspired by the story of Coventry Cathedral, share a common commitment to work for peace, justice and reconciliation.

The congregation included Jews, Buddhists, Christians and people representing the Muslim, Sikh, Humanist and Hindu commnities. The second ceremony, opposite the Houses of Parliament, was followed by a moment of praise when there was a release of doves on the river bank, signifying peace and healing.

Prayer

For love which heals wounds,
we will stand.
For generosity which opens space for hope,
we will stand.
For nurturing, which builds a culture of peace,
we will stand.
For compassion, which seeks the best for all,
we will stand.
For respect, which enables us to love with difference,
we will stand.
For humility, which allows healthy relationship with others,
we will stand.
Together for hope,
we will stand.

Together for Hope -A Pledge for Transformation

URC Daily Devotion 4th October 2019

Friday 4th October

Romans 15: 22 – 32

This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you  when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints;  for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things.  So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,  by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf,  that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,  so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. The God of peace be with all of you. Amen.

Reflection

The world that Paul knew was much smaller than ours, and time was much more compressed too. This first generation of believers had been expecting all things shortly to come to an end, though some will certainly have recalled Jesus’s words  that “the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations” (Mark 13.10). As the years are ticking by, I sense that Paul is checking up on himself and the scope of his own ministry. And like many of us, he probably wonders if he could have done more.

Here he is reflecting on how far he has been, and how far there is yet to go. He began the letter by expressing the hope that he would soon be able to visit his readers in Rome – a surprising ambition as he is usually concerned only with churches that he has founded himself, “so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation”. Then he knows that there are promises to keep, which will mean first travelling back to Jerusalem, with the money that others have been collecting for the “mother church”.  Jesus’s disciples realise that they are never completely free agents: we may try to make plans, but there are always new challenges and demands on our time.

But now Paul discloses one further ambition – to go to Spain, which is of course in his world as far anyone can go. This is not an item on an ageing man’s bucket list, nor is the journey contemplated just for the satisfaction of saying “from Jerusalem as far as Illyricum… and even further”. Paul is thinking about what faithfulness to the Gospel may now be demanding of him – to take the good news to earth’s very extremity.

But so far as we know, he never made it to Spain. God’s plans and ours do not always coincide.

Prayer

Help us in our life journeys
to follow your directions
to be ambitious only to carry out your will
and to know the fullness of Christ’s blessing
in the company and service of his people.   Amen

URC Daily Devotion 3rd October 2019

Thursday 3rd October

Romans 15: 14 – 21

I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters,  that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God  to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God.  For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news  of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,

‘Those who have never been told of him shall see,
    and those who have never heard of him shall understand.’

Reflection

When parents evening came around, I, as a child, made sure I booked appointments with the teachers I knew wouldn’t give such glowing reports right in the middle of one’s I knew who would. It was kind of like a constructive criticism sandwich and it meant my parents started and ended the evening hearing wonderful things about me and not focusing on the negative!  I’m not sure how well it worked but this the tactic Paul employed in this part Romans. 
 
Having never met them before, Paul wrote of how he heard positive things about them, how they were full of goodness and able to instruct one another.  He was, however, also keen to point out that he had to oppose some of their strongest prejudices in order for them to be true to the message of the Gospel. In this section of Romans Paul shows the interest that he had in the welfare of these people he had never met. 
 
When we care for one another, we want to be building each other up.  Sometimes, however, we need to be prepared to have difficult conversations. Paul explained that he will only speak of what Christ has accomplished in his own life. We can be all too ready to exploit one another’s struggles when really, we struggle in this area ourselves. Paul brought something to the attention of these people, out of genuine care,  because he had dealt with it in himself . There is no sense of judgement here, only a deep concern for the welfare of the people and the sharing of the Gospel. 
 
Prayer 

Gracious God, help us to have the wisdom to know how to approach difficult conversations for the sake of your Gospel. Let us not be judgemental but to approach things in a loving way seeking your guidance at all times. In Jesus name. Amen 

URC Daily Devotion 2nd October 2019

Wednesday 2nd October

Romans 15: 7 – 13

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
    and sing praises to your name’;

and again he says,

‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;

and again,

‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
    and let all the peoples praise him’;

and again Isaiah says,

‘The root of Jesse shall come,
    the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.’

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Reflection

For weeks we have been immersed in Paul’s closely argued theology.  In today’s passage he repeats his conviction that Christ is for Jew and for Gentile, and he quotes the Old Testament in support of this understanding. 
 
But it is the first and last verses that make my heart sing.  There is enough challenge and encouragement in these words to last a lifetime, let alone just today!
 
“Welcome one another … just as Christ has welcomed you” (v.7)
 
For the Christians in Rome, and in the context of this letter, this meant welcoming one another across the Jew/Gentile divide.   What does it mean for you? Who is it that you or I might be inclined to avoid or dismiss, but in fact are to welcome? Our welcoming of those God brings us into contact with day by day is to be of the same depth and generosity as Christ’s welcome of us.
 
And lest we be discouraged as we face up to the gap between our intention and our practice, we have in verse 13 a glorious benediction to bless us in the coming hours of this day. 
 
When I consider the little church in the hostile capital of Empire that was Rome, I find this blessing truly remarkable.  Not only did they exist in a threatening external environment, but this letter indicates serious tensions within the community itself.  Yet Paul’s calls on God to fill them with joy, peace and hope. It is an expectant prayer that springs from the writer’s own experience. 
 
So may it be for us on this ordinary autumnal Wednesday.  Whatever each of us is facing today, personally or more widely as a community, God is the God of hope, who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, makes real for us hope in abundance.  
 
Prayer
 
Thank you, Lord, for welcome.
Help us, today,
to understand more deeply
that at the heart of everything
is your welcome, for us, and for everyone.
And so fill us with all joy and peace in believing.
 
Thank you, Lord, for hope,
hope which is rooted in You.
We hold before you situations where hope is hidden …
God of hope
make us today
people of hope and of welcome.
 
Amen
 

URC Daily Devotion 1st October 2019

Tuesday 1st October 

Romans 15: 1 – 6

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’  For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection

Yes, the strong should help the weak, of course they should!  It’s common sense isn’t it? This is one of those principles which seems so right – until we try to figure out how it might work in practice.

In the business world, weak might be a bottom line with very small numbers, or very large, but negative, numbers.  Strong might be fingers in big well-known pies. In the sports world, strong might be having rich owners, expensive players at the top of their game, huge publicity budgets.  Weak might be the local cricket team living from hand to mouth, with players giving up their free time not only to play, but to maintain the cricket field and pavilion.

So what about the church world?  Strong could be a large congregation on Sunday mornings, it could be a large reserve fund to provide for those “rainy days” and weak could be the opposite of those measures.  

However, a church can have either, or both, of those features but still be weak if its focus is on protecting the status quo and pulling up the drawbridge of self-preservation.

And a church can be strong with a small congregation, and with no reserve funds available, if that church has a vision  which has been prayerfully discerned and which gives it the confidence to step out in faith and join in God’s adventure even if the risks look insurmountable.

Prayer

Father, help us to see our strengths as you see them and help us to use those strengths to help others, be they individuals or fellowships, who have not yet found or accepted your strength and encouragement. Help us also to see our weaknesses as you see them, and be willing and able to accept help from others to overcome our weaknesses and to give you the glory. Amen.

URC Daily Devotion 30th September 2019

In his book, Being Disciples, Rowan Williams writes of what Christian faith and discipleship can offer Western society, where everything is a matter of personal preference and my human rights are paramount.  He describes 2 principles: firstly, we are each of equal value to God, and secondly, we are all dependent on one another.  These principles are consistent with this passage.
As we are each of equal value to God, and as God loves each one of us, then we need to love one another and help each other.  If I make someone struggle in their faith by the way I live, I am not showing love to that person. Paul speaks of food and drink, and today’s stumbling blocks might also include other matters, such as styles of worship or how we dress in church.  To build up our church community, we need to think of our brothers and sisters and how our behaviour affects their conscience – so if we visit a church where shoulders are expected to be covered, we should cover our shoulders, even if we are convinced that Jesus has no objections to bare shoulders.
We are dependant on one another for mutual support – for both giving and receiving, so that we are constantly building each other up in our faith, and setting each other free to respond to God’s calling, rather than putting stumbling blocks in each other’s way by judging others’ behaviour unfavourably.  We are not the ones to set standards of ‘holiness’ for ourselves or others – we need to leave the judging to God. 
As we walk the way, we need to consider not just our own journey, but also how our journey impacts on the journeys of others, so that together we grow as followers of Jesus.
 

URC Daily Devotion 29th September 2019

Sunday 29th September

Psalm 116

1 I love the LORD because he heard my voice;


He listened when I cried to him for aid.
2 I’ll call on him as long as I shall live,
Because he turned to hear me when I prayed.

3 The cords of death gripped and entangled me,
Upon me came the anguish of the grave;
With grief and trouble I was overcome.
4 Then on the name of God I called: “LORD, save!”

5 The LORD our God is kind and full of grace;
Both righteous and compassionate is he.
6 The LORD protects all those of childlike faith;
When I was in great need, he rescued me.

7 Rest, O my soul; God has been good to you—
8 For you, O LORD, have saved my soul from death,
My feet from stumbling and my eyes from tears,
9 That I may live for you while I have breath.

10 I trusted in the LORD, and then I spoke;
I said in anguish: “I am sorely tried”.
11 And in the very depths of my dismay,
“All men are liars—every one!” I cried.

12 How can I thank the LORD for all he’s done?
13 With gratitude salvation’s cup I’ll raise;
14 I’ll call upon his name, and will fulfil
My vows to him before his people’s face.

15 The LORD holds dear the death of all his saints.
16 Hear me, O LORD! I am your servant true;
I am your servant and your handmaid’s son,
And from my chains I have been freed by you.

17 Thank-off’rings I will sacrifice to you
And call upon the name of God the LORD.
18 When all his people in assembly meet,
With joy I will fulfil my solemn word.

Before his people I will keep my vows,
19 Within the courts of our God’s holy place,
Within the city of Jerusalem.
Unto the LORD alone be all the praise!

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this, from v5,  to the lovely tune Eventide here.

Reflection

‘Father, I cannot tell a lie” – the famous admission of George Washington that he had felled the cherry tree – was of course a lie, a fabrication. The question posed by the BBC TV panel show. ‘Would I lie to you?’ seems almost rhetorical. Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, lying is part of our standard discourse. Is lying inherent? Are we programmed to deceive? Of course, we offer mitigation – Are white lies really lies? How about the re-assuring lie, the convenient lie, the kindly lie, the lie that resolves the situation …?

We are tutored from childhood to believe that lying is a Bad Thing.
My teacher told me I should never tell a lie
Because a lie will bring your troubles sure as pie (but I like pie!)
It’s an awful thing to do
And it’s true as true is true,
You’ll get caught and then you’ll start to cry …
you’re much better off to never tell a lie.
Not even sometimes.
Remember, never never tell a lie. (
InsideOut A Cappella)

But we do.

Yet, even if there is truth in ‘all are liars’, it’s a dangerous presumption. The Psalmist speaks ‘in my haste’, a knee-jerk reaction, a defensive response, the starting assumption, perhaps even a default position. It’s opposite is trusting. Which creates for better community, more positive relationships, less suspicion? If lying is the norm, many will follow the norm; if trust, then trust is built. There’s a saying in an old Icelandic code: ‘So shall every word be, as it is spoken’ (13th century Jónsbók). Being trustworthy and seeing the other as worthy of trust go hand in hand.

Prayer

You, O Lord, I trust.
It’s other people about whom I’m not so sure.
Often, I play ‘safe’ and treat others with suspicion.
Help me to trust not only you but my neighbour.
Amen

URC Daily Devotion 28th September 2019

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.  Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For it is written,

‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
    and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Reflection
The issue of what food was considered ‘proper’ would have been very controversial in the Early Church. I can imagine the heated arguments in their equivalent of Church Meetings! Whilst this debate over correct ways of eating may not be familiar to us today, the problems differences of opinion can cause is not.
 
I’ve always valued that the URC Basis of Union specifically mentions respecting personal conviction and have seen this best in practice when my own congregation discussed supporting same sex marriage back in 2016. As important as these major debates are, however, I don’t think Paul was just talking about the ‘big stuff’.
 
There is much in our church life that we can have an opinion on. Which songs we sing, which version of the Bible is used, all the way down to which biscuits are served with the coffee before or after the service. Whilst it is important to examine the way we do things (and indeed to overhaul them from time to time!), what Paul is cautioning against is something different. He is trying to ensure we don’t use our own standpoint to judge the character of the people who hold a different view. There is the reminder that it is God, not us, who judges what is ‘right’.

Of course, in practice it’s never easy. Our principles are often long-held and anything that pressures us to allow even a little wiggle room can cause us to react in ways that we aren’t proud of.
 
This passage is a reminder that sometimes, in the midst of it all, we need to take a moment to consider the bigger picture – that what is important, above all else, whether in our churches or elsewhere, is a life in service to and praise of God.
 

God of debate and discussion.
When faced with differences in practice or approach, give us understanding and tolerance in place of judgement.
Help us to work together to discern your guidance in how we should worship, serve, and live together in our shared walk of faith as a community of believers and friends.
Amen
 

Today’s Writer

Katrina Clifford, Elder, Trinity United Reformed Church, Wimbledon

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 27th September 2019

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;  the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.  Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Reflection
I prepared this reflection a day after my birthday.  I’ve reached that time of life where birthdays seem more of a countdown that a milestone!  The sense of urgency to make the most of what’s left is exacerbated by friends’ talk of bucket lists and carpe diem.  Paul also conveys a sense of urgency in his words in Romans 13 as there was an expectation that the Second Coming was imminent, and was getting closer by the day … and so we are urged to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’.

It appears that the practical teaching given to converts in the Early Church was designed to be easily memorised, like a simple form of catechism.  To ‘put on’ is one such memorable catchphrase which encouraged early Christians to behave like, or copy, Jesus. Out of interest, and remembering my little grey catechism I had as a boy growing up in the Catholic church, I searched for the latest catechism.  This is no longer a document meant for easy memorization: it is 1425 pages long! Let us retain and enjoy the simplicity of Paul’s message, which after all is credited with initiating Augustine’s conversion. Go on, put on the Lord Jesus Christ again, before the countdown ends!
 

Father God, we do have a natural tendency to over-complicate things.  
We confess that we take your simple message of love and encase it in frills and wrappers that disguise its truth and distract us from its purpose.
We pray that you will give us the wisdom to be simple, and the focus to be effective as we put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Today’s Writer

Alan Yates, Immediate Past Moderator of General Assembly and Convenor of the Education & Learning Committee.

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