SSCB News Blogs

National Giving Day

We have all come through unprecedented times in the last 18 months or so, and we can’t even say that we are completely through it yet. The effects of the pandemic have been life altering and will continue to influence our lives in the future.

We have all felt powerless, even helpless, and certainly vulnerable in this time. Philip Yancey said: “vulnerability is the landing strip for grace”. Feeling weak and vulnerable is not a pleasant experience, but in moments like that we are more perceptive of God’s grace, and more grateful for his gifts and blessings.

The Church of Scotland is encouraging congregations to participate in a National Giving Day during this season of Harvest (September – October) with exactly this in mind. So we will take a moment to reflect on God’s presence with us through these challenging times and offer gifts of thanksgiving back to God.

Money received through this initiative will remain with participating congregations. This money may be used to fund specific work, to launch a new project or simply to offset deficits considering the challenging financial circumstances faced by many of our churches over the last year. 

We at SSCB want to acknowledge and give thanks to our church family and supporters for their faithful giving during these challenging times. Without your support and encouragement our ministry could have not continued, and progress of the Vision 2020 building project could not have been achieved!

The Church of Scotland’s encouragement to us is most welcome as we want to be well prepared, moving forward with our ministry at SSCB. Your gifts will make that possible, they will contribute towards our Youth Ministry and the building fund.

So, we want to encourage you, our church family, and supporters to consider prayerfully a special offering to SSCB for Youth Ministry, or the building fund or just for the general fund of the church, as our reserves need restoring. All money raised will remain here at SSCB and used for the purpose you choose.

The only criteria are these:

  • Please make the giving by 31 October (it does not have to be on 31 October, you can make your giving any time until then).
  • Indicate that it is for the National Giving Day and, if you wish, please indicate whether your giving is for Youth Ministry; Vision 2020 Fund; or General Fund.

We will hold a thanksgiving for the generous gifts on the 31 October. Please follow the future articles for more information.

Account name: St Stephen’s Comely Bank Church
Sort Code 80-11-05
Account Number 00294121

Please indicate the purpose of your gift: i.e. National Giving Day

Thank you,

George Vidits, minister, on behalf of the Kirk Session

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Our Treasure

I’ve been asking the workmen at the church every week if they came across any hidden treasures during their work. The response was consistent: a resounding NO, none whatsoever.

So, I was delighted when Tim showed me the ‘treasure’ he found buried in the church. It is a ha’ penny from 1971. Perhaps not a huge value in monetary terms. But what is some people’s junk, is other’s treasure.

This is so true of the Gospel as well. Some people hear it, have it for a while and then they drop it and don’t miss it. Like the ha’ penny that was dropped in the West Transept, perhaps it fell through the cracks and laid hidden for decades. I wonder if the owner of it missed it at all!

Jesus said about the Kingdom of God that it is “like treasure hidden in a field; when a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44). That ha’ penny is a parable to me.

The man who found the treasure in the field, deemed it extremely valuable, in fact so precious that he sold everything he had, everything for he worked for up to that point, everything that was important and precious to him, for the treasure was even more valuable than all he had, or he could ever get. He did that not with a grudge, or complaints but with joy! There is no such thing as half-hearted discipleship! Jesus warns us: “No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

The kingdom of God is of such great value that you should be willing to give up all you have in order to gain it!

If you have it, don’t drop it! Make sure you will not lose it! Rather share it with others, it will not get smaller doing that!

[from GV]

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Names of God: Yahweh Tsidkenu

Seven Redemptive Names: 4. Yahweh Tsidkenu (יהוה צדקנו) The LORD Our Righteousness

You may recall that Jehovah derives from Yahweh, an anglicised version of YHWH, for the ancient Hebrew language did not have vowels, YHWH being Yodh Heh Waw Heh in Canaanite-Hebrew. In the same way, Tsidkenu was originally, “tsdq’ and has been extended into Tsidkenu. It means ‘straight’ or ‘a state of justice’ or ‘righteousness.’

Combining the two, Yahweh-Tsidkenu means The LORD Our Righteousness and points us to the righteousness that comes from God. It is generally used to describe Jesus – even in the Jewish Talmud (the body of Jewish ceremonial and civil law), it is viewed as a name of the Messiah (Christ). It is found in Jeremiah:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will grow a righteous branch for David.
He will be a king who will rule wisely.
He will do what is fair and right in the land.
In his lifetime, Judah will be saved,
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name that he will be given:
Yahweh-Tsidkenu. (Jeremiah 23: 5-6)

We are made ‘right’ with God through Jesus. This is done in the manner of righteousness and of justice. God forgives us through His justice, and invites us to walk in His righteousness so that we remain right; redeemed once and for all. Jesus paid the price for our sins but did not just leave us there, for:

He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)

If you think you are a failure, that you will never be good enough to earn the name Christian; if you think that you cannot be at peace until all the wrongs you have committed have been put right (and you just don’t have the power to put them right); if you think that YOU do not have the righteousness that is necessary for all this, then relax. It’s not you. None of us has this righteousness that we can earn our way in. But Jesus gave us the righteousness. His is the righteousness that allows for the justice that secures our forgiveness. A free gift for us and all we have to do is to accept it. As ever, Scripture sets it out best:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26)

In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live securely. Jerusalem will be called Yahweh-Tsidkenu. (Jeremiah 33:16)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Encouragement for the Day of Prayer

I was reading the Bible and praying the other morning (14 September) and as I sat in silence afterwards, these words came to me.

‘Like a rushing wind, I will blow through St. Stephen’s, displacing the stagnant air. Who is with me on this journey? Don’t give up hope, “Joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5)!’

These words did not come out of my own thought processes! I know that it is God speaking to me as it has happened many times before. His words are always so encouraging!

Have you had this experience and if not, would you like to?
I would encourage you to sign up for a slot in our Day of Prayer on Saturday 25th September.

Our loving Heavenly Father will be delighted to spend some time with you and you may just hear His voice as you wait in his presence.

[from Jacqueline Young]

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Names of God: Yahweh Rapha

Seven Redemptive Names: 3. Yahweh Rapha (יהוה רפא) (The LORD Who Heals)

For those of a certain sporting persuasion, this does not refer to the Lord providing all our upmarket cycling clothing – although I can confidently say that God loves cyclists.

We find reference to Yahweh-Rapha – the LORD who heals – in the Book of Exodus, just after the LORD (continuing to provide for His people) enables the bitter waters of Marah to be drinkable after three days without water.

He said, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am Yahweh-Rapha.” (Exodus 15:26)

There is healing in that – this was straight after the Red Sea had parted to allow the people to cross, escaping from the pursuing Egyptian army. The people had been slaves for some 400 years. Moses, assisted by his brother Aaron and their sister Miriam, had followed the LORD’s commands and gained freedom for the Israelites. But it did not end there. Generations had known only slavery and an entire people and culture cannot simply come into their freedom, be wished a happy life and be left to get on with it. They needed to learn how to live in freedom, and they needed to heal. There were many things the LORD did for then in their ensuring 40 years in the wilderness, and healing was but one of them.

Again, Psalm 23 maps this out for us:

He refreshes my soul. (Psalm 23:3)

Ultimate healing is soul healing, leading to true wellbeing. Being healed like this involves doing what is right – you cannot embrace healing whilst still embracing and actively carrying out the harmful behaviour. And the LORD does this not for some personal gain, but because of who He is – He is love. He loves us, has compassion on us, and will take the time and effort to teach us the right ways (discipline, justice) but to refresh our souls (forgiveness, mercy) because of His love for us. All that is true healing, but it is not healing that we have done or earned – He refreshes us; He guides us.

Rapha is not simply ‘healing’ though – it is restoration.

If we have grief, trouble, injury, sin and harm, we give that to Jesus (I have had a picture in my prayers of Jesus on the cross and each sin given, each nail driven further into Him, is met by Him lifting His head, smiling in love at us and saying, simply, “Thank you.”). And having given Jesus our sin, we receive the healing; we are restored and made whole with God. It’s the most one-sided, unfair and yet compassionate and brilliant trade-off ever, and leaves us wanting this complete healing, this encounter with Yahweh-Rapha, for everyone else:

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. (3 John 2)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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9/11 – remembering in the shadow and the light

It was a shocking realisation this morning that already today (11 September 2021) is the 20th anniversary of the twin towers terrorist attacks. 9/11, as it became known, changed life and the world for ever. Changed it for the worse, filling hearts and souls with fear, suspicion, doubt, hatred, and anger. Its shadow is still looming over many hearts, households, even nations and countries.

It is unavoidable to remember and share in the pain and sorrow of those who lost loved ones in the attacks, or since then because of it, as with those who were injured in the attacks and their lives were changed. We remember the heroic sacrifice of all who rushed to rescue and save others. So, we remember, share, and pray with them and for them all.

But as Christians we cannot avoid remembering that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary also changed the world for ever! It brought hope, life, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation! Remember the hope that is in the cross of Christ! Jesus brought light that cannot be overcome by darkness, even by the darkest, most evil deeds! We can live in the light of Christ instead of the shadow of fear, suspicion, or hatred.

I invite you to remember today – and every day of your life, especially when the day seems particularly dark, and fearful – the light and hope that Christ brought, which drives out fear. Yet don’t just remember it, share it too with others, and pray for all who are in darkness that the light of Christ will shine on them! Don’t just remember, share, and pray, but live in the light of Christ, for He promised:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12)

[from GV]

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Introducing Our New Youth Pastor

Kenny McCartney, Youth Pastor, SSCB and his trusted friend

What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been: saying a bittersweet “goodbye for now” at Liberton Kirk to being inducted and welcomed into the St. Stephen’s family. Here’s but a few adjectives of how I can describe it: exciting, affirming, humbling, absorbing, worshipping. I’m delighted to add another one: FUN!

There is an enjoyable sense of purpose within the family – to honour, exalt, and experience the Lord and help others to do the same. It is therefore such a privilege to lead and to worship alongside you. I shared some of my testimony this past Sunday, so I hope you don’t mind if I share a bit more.

I mentioned a fella named Lenny who played an important role in the formation of my faith. Thankfully, Lenny didn’t hang up his boots and call it job done. He warmly welcomed me into his friend group: a handful of misfits but all of whom were eager to know more about God. He was intentional – gathering us weekly to eat, laugh, and most importantly: open the Bible together.

Rest assured, we certainly wouldn’t have met every week if it wasn’t loads of fun. But it was more than that: we prayed together, we studied the Bible together, and we dreamt about God’s plans for us together and how we could serve him. The Lord was faithful. When we explored his Word all doubts faded away and when we saw him answer prayer we knew something of his goodness and power.

Though they are far away, that motley crew all still love and follow the Lord and I am still in contact with them today. One of our friends once brought along her sister to our Bible study (exact date: 21/02/2003), who is now my wife and best friend Ashley. That’s a fun story for another day, along with dozens more!

All of the gracious gifts that God gave which stem from that time is a reminder to me of James 1:17-18: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

It is because of that formative time in my faith that I wish to “be a Lenny” to the teenagers of SSCB and introduce them to the fullness of life that God has designed for them. Through fun and fellowship, yes – but also through a focus in God’s Word, prayer, and worship.

I covet your prayers for the friendships forming in the present, for the adjustment to the rhythm of life in your fellowship, and for keen awareness where pastoral care is due. It is an honour to serve the Lord among you and I look forward to witnessing the fruits of what the Lord will do and to praising his name together with you!

God bless,
-kenny

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Names of God: Yahweh Yireh

Seven Redemptive Names: 2. Yahweh Yireh (יהוה יראה) (The LORD will Provide)

Back in the Book of Genesis, in chapter 22, we read of Abraham being tested by God, commanded to take Isaac for sacrifice on the mountainside. The Lord sees Abraham’s faith. Importantly, Abraham sees his own faith in the Lord and can take ‘ownership’ of it. Isaac is spared and the Lord provides a ram for the sacrifice. And that’s it, right there … Abraham calls the place Yahweh-Yireh (or Jehovah-Jireh) – the LORD will provide.

This theme is picked up in verse 1 of Psalm 23, with the simple statement that “I shall not want.” The Lord provides and the Lord continues to provide. And what is being provided for us is not just the basic logistics of food and drink – of material needs, but our spiritual needs in Him: 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want (Yahweh-Yireh). (Psalm 23:1)

God continues to provide, for we find Jesus saying in the New Testament:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 31-33)

Jesus not only knows that God will provide; he has faith that God will provide – a deep-seated knowledge that is more than mere hope and yearning. It is a knowledge that demonstrates the trust as between a sheep and shepherd; a Son and Father.

And this in turn leads us into a deeper understanding and a deeper relationship. When Jesus bridged the gap that we had created with God, He shared His riches and majesty with us even though we were sinful and not worthy. We were adopted into God’s family with God not just as ‘the’ Father but, as the Lord’s Prayer says, as ‘our Father.’ A Father who provides for us in everything we need, out of His love for us:

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 19)

We can look at these needs through the perspective of our bodily lives – providing us with what we need (more than mere ‘want’) in food, fellowship and the like. But we must also remember that our Lord provides us with what we need for eternal life in the spirit with Him. What was it that Abraham said to Isaac on that mountainside – God Himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice. Sometimes the things we say carry more resonance than even we can imagine.

The name is not the Lord DID provide or ONCE provided: The Lord WILL provide. Present and future, now and forever; through a godly sacrifice on a cross on a hill.

Abraham named that place Yahweh-Yireh. It is still said today, “On the mountain of Yahweh it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Inspire at Loch Monzievaird

Nestled among the Perthshire hills, almost hidden out of sight, yet only 2 miles from Crieff, lies the tranquil Loch Monzievaird, a true Highland gem. With secluded log cabins dotted around its wooded shores, it has, for the last seven years, been the home of Young Life International in Scotland. Founded in 1941 in the United States, Young Life International believes that every young person has the right to hear the good news of God’s love. It does this by going out to where young people are, building personal relationships with them and providing fun, adventurous life-changing experiences, often in a camp setting or clubs in local secondary schools where the Christian gospel is explained through short talks.

On a warm, sparkling day in mid – August, 17 of us from SSCB arrived at Loch Monzievaird where we spent the morning enjoying an array of water sports, including paddle boarding, kayaking and, for the less adventurous, letting the world drift by from the more sturdy safety of a pedalo. Despite occasional, unintended and intended dips into the loch, a great time was had by all. Following a delicious and very generous lunch, served by volunteers, in a marquee, we experienced the adrenaline rush of the zipline suspended 50 feet above Loch Monzievaird, something few of us will forget. For the last hour, the young people participated in the YLI club where they heard an inspiring Gospel message from the youth leaders and took part in a range of interactive games. This was a fabulous, memorable day out, one which we hope to repeat in subsequent years. Our special thanks go to Andy Chittick, one of the YLI directors, who made us feel so welcome and made the whole day possible.

[from Michael Chittleburgh]

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Names of God: Yahweh Rô’eh

Seven Redemptive Names: 1. Yahweh Rô’eh (יהוה רעי) (The LORD is My Shepherd)

As we continue our look at the names of God, seeking through this to draw closer to God, we come to the seven ‘redemptive’ names. These names show us not only who God is but what He does for us. Particularly, they show us that the LORD our God fills every need we can have (His love for us); and the names lead us directly to Jesus, His redemptive sacrifice and ultimate victory on our behalf (His compassion for us).

And, beautifully, Psalm 23 incorporates these redemptive names.

The first of the redemptive names is Yahweh-Rô’eh. We know that Yahweh (this series uses Yahweh, but we could as easily say Jehovah) means ‘Eternal; the Existing One” or, simply, ‘LORD.’ And Rô’eh (sometimes expressed as Roeh or Raah) means ‘shepherd.’ So quite simply and yet completely, Yahweh-Rô’eh: the LORD is my Shepherd.

We know that a shepherd knows, leads, protects and looks after his flock. We know that a flock look to the shepherd for that leadership, that care, provision and protection. This is a relationship based on trust and love through knowing each other. The shepherd, knowing his flock, loves his flock and trusts his flock to follow him – trusts the flock to recognise that he is leading them to good pasture fields; trusts the flock to feel secure and know that he will protect and defend them.

The flock knows the shepherd – trusts that he will take them to good pasture, that he will protect them and care for them; providing everything they need. And out of that trust, the flock learns to love the shepherd.

It is an interesting dynamic – the shepherd loves first; the flock learns to trust, accepts the shepherd amongst them and comes to love him.

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

True ‘Rô’eh’ – true shepherding – reveals a close relationship. It is not just farm worker and animals; aloof employer and workforce. It is a friendship. Yahweh-Rô’eh can be translated as ‘the LORD my friend’ and we see this in:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

So when you come to God, acknowledge the intimacy of the relationship He is offering to have with you. The LORD – the Almighty, the Eternal One. He leads you, providing for all your needs. But amazingly, He is not distant. He knows you so well and He seeks deep friendship with you.

Yahweh is my Rô’eh. I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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citius, altius, fortius – Olympian Portrait

SSCB Olympian – Olympian Spirit

Timothy Pitt (fencing, men’s sabre, silver: 1987 Wenlock Olympian Games)

There are three weapon disciplines in the sport of fencing – sabre, epee and foil. Traditionally, Hungary is the leading nation in sabre and indeed this summer Áron Szilágyi (no relation to the minister’s wife) became the first person to win gold at three Olympics in a row.

A little closer to home, one member of our church family used to be a fencer and his Olympian effort secured a silver medal.

At university, there was a dedicated fencing club (it’s a wonder most of them ended up with a degree and a career) and the coach had his own minibus, so throughout their university time in the mid / late 1980s, they would travel to as many competitions as they could. One year the call went out that they were going down to Shropshire for an Open Competition. The minibus was packed up with kit, food and athletes, and off they went. Truth be told, they thought it was just another competition.

The competition was at Much Wenlock, and slowly the word came round that competition here was special – unique in fact. For Dr William Penny Brookes had introduced the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850. Baron Pierre de Cubertin visited in 1890 and in 1896 he introduced the modern Olympic Games that we know today.

It was truly inspiring to be there at Much Wenlock, part of the Olympic story.

Our fencer even made it to the final which ended in a rare 3-way tie for 1st place. There was a three-way repechage (a ‘fence off’) for the places, and our fencer came away happy with a medal, although he had not won outright.

But he took with him not just the bronze medal, but the knowledge of the Wenlock Olympian Games, Dr Brookes and the sleepy town of Much Wenlock. He found himself sharing the extraordinary tale of the ‘original’ revived Games with anyone who would listen (and quite a few others who were subjected to ‘tales from the fencing minibus’ over the years.

There was a wry smile (and an opportunity to share more of the story) when the London 2012 Olympic Committee named one of their mascots “Wenlock.”

When our minister announced he was going to do a series on the Olympics, it was shared again. ’Nice story. Prove it,’ smiled the minister. The medal had been lost many years before by the fencer’s late mother, but the internet soon guided him to the Wenlock Olympian Society where their archivist found a new newspaper cutting that showed that he had been there, but that he had not won the bronze. He had in fact been placed 2nd equal. The three-way repechage was purely to find the gold medal winner, and as they did not have a spare silver medal someone had to be awarded the bronze even though it was equal-silver. The fencer now has a replacement medal, free membership of the Wenlock Olympian Society and yet another excuse to continue to spread the word. That’s pretty much how the Holy Spirit tends to work: to be active for someone, be with them in their story and then help them to spread the message. Timothy Pitt: Silver medal in the Men’s Sabre, 1987. Holy Spirit: Overall victory.

(Logo of Wenlock Olympian Society Bby www.wenlock-olympian-society.org.uk/, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56558656)

[from GV after Timothy Pitt]

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Names of God: Yahweh Elohim

Seven Prime Names: 7. Yahweh Elohim (יהוה אלהים)

We come now to the last of the seven prime names for God, and this is a combination of two names we looked at earlier. Yahweh-Elohim takes LORD (as in, the Eternal One – a name of power) and joins it with Elohim (creator, mighty, strong and supreme judge). Combined, it conveys a sense of God as mighty Lord – always there, full of power, creating and judging – but in relationship, not aloof.

We find Yahweh-Elohim first in Genesis:

This is the account of heaven and earth when they were created, at the time when Yahweh Elohim made earth and heaven. (Genesis 2:4)

This is a second telling of the creation. Genesis 1 is more chronological and almost academic; Genesis 2 is more poetic – but both tell the same story. And in Genesis 1, as God creates, He pronounces His judgement: “And God saw that it was good.”

The name used in Genesis 1 is ‘Elohim’ (God, Creator, Mighty, Strong and Supreme Judge) and this is appropriate for a straight recording of the events. In Genesis 1, God announces His intentions and actions (“Let the earth swarm with …” and “Let the earth produce …” etc), but the narrative does not record the interaction and conversation between God and the first humans. Genesis 2, however, is more poetic and records God addressing Adam:

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”(Genesis 2:16-17)

And it records the words of Adam, inspired by the delight of being with Eve:

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”(Genesis 2:23)

So, Genesis 2 being more personal, it is appropriate that a more personal name be used – Yahweh. But also still showing the absolute power, absolute authority of the creator, we have Elohim. Together, the Eternal nature of the One who created and, in relationship, loves His creation we have: Yahweh-Elohim – often translated as “Lord of Lords.”

God maintains this relationship with us, even as we turn away and try to do things on our own. Indeed, even turning back to God (so often calling on Him when we want Him to do something, to punish all those whom we deem to be wrong), we reflect the maintenance of that relationship. In a sense, that is why even though we must leave it to God, still we have the temerity to ask for judgement to be pronounced. If we were not in relationship with the Eternal One, the mighty power, creator and supreme judge, then would you even dare to ask Him, seeking His protection?

“You, Yahweh-Elohim, you who are the God of Israel,
rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
   show no mercy to wicked traitors.” (Psalm 59:5)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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citius, altius, fortius – Paralympic Portrait

Lilo Ljubisic – The Choice Is Yours

Lilo Ljubisic (Canada) [Athlete & Goalball Player] (Goalball, 1984 Los Angeles: Silver) (Discus, 1992 Barcelona: Gold; 1996 Atlanta: Bronze; 2000 Sydney: participant) (Shot Put, 1988 Seoul: Bronze; 1992 Barcelona: Silver; 1996 Atlanta: Bronze; 2000 Sydney: participant)

(illustration by Simon Smith, © Simon Smith 2011, used with permission

Lilo (Ljiljana) Ljubisic was born sighted in Yugoslavia, but a childhood illness and the wrong medical treatment led to increasing blindness and pain. At PE lessons she normally did not participate, rather she remained in the library. So, it was a massive surprise to her when her PE teacher, Mrs Henderson suggested to her to play volleyball. ‘But I hardly can see to hit the ball.’ Lilo replied. ‘Don’t rule yourself out because of that! You got the physique, and I noticed you are estimating distances well.’ Replied her teacher.

It seemed a crazy idea. Two weeks later, after a quick crash course in volleyball and diligent practicing, Lilo played her first game. She was serving, and only heard a thud, and then silence. ‘What happened? Where did it go?’ Lilo asked. The referee shouted: “One nothing. An ace!” Lilo continued serving, sending fifteen straight serves sailing over the net to win the game for her team!

A new life began for the teenager. Lilo’s mother always told her that God had a special plan for her life, and sport began opening doors for her. At university she took up goalball, a team sport designed for blind people, winning silver with the Canadian Paralympic team in 1984. Later she turned her attention to field athletics, to discus and shotput. Lilo was determined that her disability will not get in the way of doing her best. With coaching, guidance and support she won gold, silver, and bronze medals at various Paralympic Games, setting new world records.

Lilo rediscovered her Christian faith of her early years and was baptised.

“Faith is the basis of my life, the sustaining power to overcome adversity. In the shadowy, cold valleys, we realise we aren’t self-sustaining – and need to lean on God’s love and mercy.” (Lilo Ljubisic)

Lilo learnt through her life by the aid of sport and the grace of God that we can make a choice. We can either accept the circumstances to dominate and control our lives or we can face our challenges and overcome them with God’s grace. Lilo made the choice not to accept the limitations put upon her by her disability or by others but dream big and set gaols: “visualising your dream brings you closer to your achievement – especially in my case since I’m blind.” I wouldn’t be surprised if her approach to life is based on Hebrews 11:1:

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and being certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

I personally love her advice for young people, indeed to all of us:

Frist, challenge yourself to do the best you can with the talents with which you are blessed. Second, grasp the power and strength in teamwork. No one stands alone. Find people who will support your dream and help you to make it a reality. Third, focus on what you can do, and not on what you can’t.”

So let us walk in faith not in sight, and make to choice of leaning on God’s love and mercy through Jesus Christ.

[from GV; based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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A Banner from Scraps

Are you a hoarder? Do you keep things, even if they are broken, or viewed by others as useless rubbish? Do you hold on to them saying the words: ‘This will be good for something later on.’ I suppose many of us are hoarders to some degree like that.

Last Sunday a new banner, or pulpit fall – if you prefer – greeted us in church. It is the handywork of Sheila. It is simple, colourful, and powerful. It is a cross, and it simply says JESUS. During early summer Sheila cleared the storage area at the balcony in the church. She came across some scrap textile materials. What Sheila saw was not rubbish that are a nuisance and should be thrown out but resource, raw material. And She envisaged a banner, the one we all can enjoy now. Something that is colourful, eye-catching, and proclaims that Jesus is Lord and Saviour.

When God looked at His creation and humanity broken and ruined by sin and evil did not say all this is good for nothing, I should get rid of them all. No, he rather came in Jesus Christ gathered the broken, the sinful, the marred, the ones who were regarded by the self-righteous as scrap, good for nothing and created something beautiful out of them! He saved them and filled His house with them and made them His people, His church to proclaim in colourful ways the victory of the cross and the saving love and power of Jesus Christ.

You cannot be so bad, so sinful, so broken that Jesus would not come and pick you up and create something beautiful, a masterpiece out of you! To me that banner proclaims not just the Lordship and saving grace of Jesus Christ, but also that there are no hopeless people or cases that God would throw away as useless scrap! He cares for all, for they are equally precious to Him. I give thanks to God that He is a hoarder, and he picked me up too! I hope the banner proclaims that message to you as well.

[from GV]

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Back to Church

The coronavirus pandemic hit us all suddenly, deeply and for such a long time. We realise that COVID-19 will not go away completely and in the last 18 months or so we have gradually learned how to live with it. This does not mean we accept it, but that we have adapted our lifestyle to protect ourselves and others from infection.

As part of nation-wide measures protecting our church family and the wider community we closed our church doors during lockdowns, and we are prepared to do so again if necessary. However, as restrictions have eased and the vaccination programme has progressed, we are delighted that our doors are open and we can welcome people in person to the church for prayer and worship.

As Scotland moved beyond Level 0 we have seen how people are making most of the opportunity to meet up with family, go out with friends to restaurants, spend time together outdoors and even support their sports team in person in a stadium. It is good to see ‘normality’ returning.

At Kirk Session, we discussed the implications of being beyond Level 0 and the possible further easing of restrictions at the end of August. We are grateful that technology was such a great help to keep us connected and enable us to share in worship. With more safe space available in church, we now approach the time when we can end our zoom services and encourage our church family to return to church.

The church, by definition, is the people whom God called out, gathered, and assembled as His people. So we want to encourage you to return to church. We very much long to see everybody back to worship, sing, share, and laugh together. Last weekend I watched the Match of the Day programme and saw thousands of football fans returning to the stadiums cheering on their teams, singing together and (at least those whose teams won) having fun. They were no longer satisfied watching the games online or on TV; they wanted to be back to feel the atmosphere, to sing the chants, to be part of it, even if that is more expensive than watching on TV! I pray we have the same longing and desire to be back together sharing in our experience of Jesus, His love – sensing and feeling the Holy Spirit moving among us.

The measures we retain in place ensure that our church building is a safe place for all of us to meet and to enjoy fellowship with each other.

On Sunday 5 September we will stop the zoom sharing of our services. It will be our Back to Church Sunday, if you like. It will be a significant Sunday with, we pray and hope, our praise band resuming their music and worship ministry. It will be the induction service of our new Youth Pastor, Kenny McCartney. We encourage you and invite you to come back to church to celebrate and worship together.

“Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”” (Isaiah 2:3)

[from GV, minister, & Timothy Pitt, session clerk]

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The Feast of St Stephen and New Bread

The 20th of August might not be a significant date in Scotland, or in the UK but for Hungarians it is a very important date. Here it is why.

The 20th of August is St Stephen’s Day in Hungary, the feast of the nation’s first Christian king. Traditionally the first baking from the freshly harvested wheat happened on or after St Stephen’s Day. Throughout the centuries the date became strongly associated with the establishing of the Christian Kingdom of Hungary and New Bread, and harvest thanksgiving.

We don’t know details of the circumstances of his conversion, but it seems that King Stephen firmly believed that if there is going to be survival for his nation and state in Europe that is possible only under the cross of Jesus Christ. One might say that he tasted and saw that the LORD was good and blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8). Jesus was the bread of life for him, and he offered that bread to his nation. He personally took refuge in the Lord and brought his people to Him to seek refuge and life eternal in Jesus Christ. Jesus said that His is the living bread that came down from heaven, and whoever eats of this bread will live for ever (John 6:51).

We might take it for granted that we have bread on our table, new or old, we might find it normal that we personally have a Christian heritage, confessing ourselves Christians and are part of the church. However, take a moment and give thanks for those who introduced you to Jesus as Saviour and Lord, who offered you a taste of the living bread He is. And while you are it, give thanks for those who brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to these shores! Give thanks to the living Lord Jesus that he is the Bread of Life, and He freely offers himself and his forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who come to him and believe in him.

I’m not inviting you to celebrate St Stephen’s Day, or New Bread, but I am inviting you to come to taste and see that the Lord is good and give thanks to Him for the forgiveness and the life he offers you. And I am inviting you to share the Living Bread with others, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, forgiveness and hope!

[from GV]

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back to school

A brief reflection on Psalm 121

The new school year just begun for most of our children, their families, teachers, and school staff. I don’t know how you fell about it. Is it with excitement, trepidation, or maybe indifference?

As a child, I wasn’t keen on going back to school, I preferred the holidays. But as we were back in the classroom, I enjoyed seeing my friends and made peace with being back to school.

What will the new school year bring? Will it be “back to normal” I suppose is the question in our minds. Is it going to be classroom learning, online, or a hybrid of them, or maybe home schooling? Will it bring more stress and uncertainty to children, teachers, and families? How will it affect their wellbeing? Will we be able to cope with it all?

I don’t know the answers to those questions either. I can’t see into the future either. But I want to offer you this encouragement I read this morning in my quiet time. It was Psalm 121. It is one of my favourite psalms – it is short, concise, and powerful.

It is a song of ascents – a song sang by the pilgrims as they were going up (ascdending) to the temple in Jerusalem, often on treacherous paths. The psalmist couldn’t see what is awaiting him ahead, or in the future either, but he knew where his help will come from! His help comes from the LORD (notice the present tense – the ever-present God is always ready and willing)! He knew and trusted God’s faithfulness that He is watching over him day and night, indeed over his whole life.

As we don’t know what is ahead of us during the day, or the night, never mind a school year, put your trust in God who is faithful watching over you. He cares for you that you will complete the journey of life safely: “He will not let your foot slip.” This reminds me how comforting and secure it was to know my dad was holding my hand all the way when I went to school for the first time! I didn’t know the way to the school, or what it is going to be like, large or small, how many classrooms, who will be my teacher, or how many teachers and pupils will be there. So many uncertainties. But one thing was sure, my dad was there beside me, and I felt really safe and happy in my dad’s hand!

God demonstrated His love for us by giving His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for our salvation. Entrust into His unfailing love yourself, your family and children, their teachers, and school staff that the Lord, for Jesus’ sake, will watch over you all, will keep you from all harm. He will hold you all the way, making sure you will complete this part of your lives’ journey we call school year 2021-2022 safely and well. May His life assuring blessing be upon you!

[from GV]

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Names of God: El Gibbor

Seven Prime Names: 6. El Gibbor (אל גּבּוֹר)

As we continue to look at the names of God and to draw closer to God through the process, we come now to a name that is both explosive and dramatic, filled with hope and promise. For through this Old Testament Hebrew name, we are introduced to Jesus.

Again, the name reminds us of God’s strength and might. Gibbor means just that: strong or mighty. And ‘El’ is Yahweh that we encountered earlier – Eternal God. So in El-Gibbor we have an Eternal God who is strong and mighty. In El-Gibbor we encounter Mighty God. Isaiah spoke directly and prophetically of this:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

We know this is Jesus – to us a child is born, and the reference is also clear that Jesus IS God because He is called Mighty God (El-Gibbor) and Everlasting Father (Yahweh, the Eternal One). In fact, Isaiah continues this in the succeeding verses, expanding on his reference to El-Gibbor, and writing of the final rescue of the Lord’s people, saying:

A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob
    will return to El-
Gibbor. (Isaiah 10:21)

This is God the Father and this is God the Son – one and (along with the Holy Spirit) the same. Jesus is described as having the same characteristics as God, the same Holy names as God. And God tells us that:

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me. (Isaiah 46:9)

So with Jesus having the same characteristics, being the same as God, and with God saying there is nobody else like Him … Jesus IS God: El-Gibbor, our Mighty God. He is our champion – quite simply, He wins. Always. Jeremiah understood this:

‘Ah, Sovereign LORD, you made heaven and earth by your great strength and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you. You show mercy to thousands of generations. However, you punish children for the wickedness of their parents. You, El-Gibbor, you are the LORD Almighty. (Jeremiah 32:17-18)

Jesus came amongst us and won the victory over the Enemy, death and sin. When He returns, Revelation tells us that:

A sharp sword comes out of his mouth to defeat the nations. He will rule them with an iron sceptre and tread the winepress of the fierce anger of El-Gibbor. (Revelation 19:15)

So give voice in praise to our God, strong and mighty, our Messiah. We see God the Father strong and mighty: triumphant. And in Him, we see Jesus mighty and strong: victorious.

Who is this King of glory? El-Gibbor strong and mighty! The LORD, heroic in battle! (Psalm 24:8)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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citius, altius, fortius – Paralympic Reflection

Paralympic Games

Dr Ludwig Guttmann – illustration by Simon Smith, © Simon Smith 2011, used with permission

The Tokyo Summer Olympic Games 2020 are over, but new competitions and excitements are still ahead of us, the Paralympic Games will begin next week in Tokyo.

To my shame, I must confess, for many years I did not know that there were Paralympic Games! It was about fifteen years ago when I became aware of it. The grandparents of one of the Scottish Paralympians were very active members of the church I ministered to in Helensburgh. I got to know about Paralympics through them. Their grandson, Gordon Reid, is a wheelchair tennis player, British Number One, multiple Grand Slam champion in singles and doubles and Paralympic Gold medallist (Rio 2016), a lovely, genuine lad.

But Paralympics have been around for quite a while! In 1948, as London was getting ready to host the first Summer Olympics after the war, Dr Ludwig Guttmann, who was working at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, helping people with spinal injuries, had an idea. Many of his patients were seriously injured ex-servicemen. Many doctors thought there was nothing more that could be done for them. Dr Guttmann did not share their thinking!

He saw sports and games as an excellent encouragement to help people regain their self-confidence after suffering terrible injuries – so why should they not have their own sports competitions as part of the treatment? They tried wheelchair polo, basketball, archery … and it worked! Competition was fun, exciting, smiles reappeared on many faces, and patients were looking forward with hope and purpose to life ahead! Sports gave them a new zest for life!

So, Dr Guttmann arranged for Stoke Mandeville to host its own Olympics with other hospitals at the same time as the London Games – with sports designed for wheelchair users. Four years later (1952) they did it again, with more than 130 competitors, a Dutch team being among them. The idea grew with every Olympic Games. By 1960 it was called the Paralympics (Parallel Olympics), and it was held in Rome with 400 athletes from 23 countries. By 1976 there was a Winter Paralympic competition too! The number of events just grew involving more and more people with various disabilities. On 24th August 3492 athletes representing 133 National Paralympic Committees will begin competing in Tokyo!

The Paralympics are a little like the great feast, Jesus talked about in his parable describing the Kingdom of God (Luke 14:15-24). God invites all with their strengths and weaknesses, their abilities of different levels to come into his Kingdom through Jesus Christ, where they all can shine and be victorious over sin, evil, temptations and darkness, because it is not their merits, or the level of abilities that make them qualify for the feast, it is their personal faith in Jesus Christ, who died to redeem them from their sins! He is inviting you into His Kingdom to share in His feast! You can come, qualify, through Christ. Have you accepted Him as your Saviour?

[from GV – based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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Names of God: El Elohim

Seven Prime Names: 5. El Elohim (אל אלהים)

In our look at the different names of God (what they mean, how they can draw us closer to Him in relationship) we come now to El Elohim (or just ‘Elohim’) – God the creator (but more than that, as we shall see). Elohim is the first name for God used in the Bible and in fact is the fourth word:

In the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth. (Genesis 1:1)

Elohim means ‘creator, mighty, strong and supreme judge’ which is appropriate when talking about the One who made everything. We cannot imagine the effort required, but for God it was not an effort as He is ‘mighty and strong.’ And He made it ‘right’ – correct and just.

Elohim is linked to Eloha (mighty, strong, prominent, with compassion and integrity), that we looked at last time. It is the plural of Eloha and this has been seen as an early (the fourth word of the Bible, remember!) acknowledgement of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. After all, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit were there:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:1 and 1:14)

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

Elohim is a collective plural and ranges alongside Eloah, Elohi and then Elohim itself. It is similar to flower, flowers and (for Elohim) bouquet of flowers – we talk of a bouquet as ‘singular, but it refers to the plural because when there is only one flower there cannot be a ‘bouquet.’ In the same way, Elohim is singular but referring to the plural: Father, Son and Holy Spirit is ‘God’ – three in one. And as ‘judge’ He has power to dispense justice and make it part of our very being:

“But this is the promise that I will make to Israel after those days,” declares God: “I will put my teachings inside them, and I will write those teachings on their hearts. I will be their Elohim, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

When Jesus was on the cross, crying out to His Father, he could have chosen so many ways of addressing Him: Yahweh as the Eternal One; Adonai as Lord or El Shaddai as God Almighty, to name but three. We miss a lot reading the English:

And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’) (Mark 15:34) 

Eloi (‘My God’) is the vocative of Elohim and shows Jesus calling upon His personal God and recognising God for who God is: ‘My God, Creator, Mighty, Strong and Supreme Judge.’ Jesus, dying for our sins, received judgement (the wages of sin is death) which in turn showed compassion on us.

Help me, O LORD my Elohim. Save me because of your mercy. (Psalm 109:26)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Is it Getting Hot Under the Collar?

– An Eco Reflection –

The publication this week of the UN IPCC report  on global warming and climate change will have caused many of us to stop and think. The conclusions make it clear that human behaviour has caused global warming and urgent action is needed. Issues of caring for God’s creation and climate justice were starkly brought to light through the contents of the report.

Like me, you may be thinking, what can we as Christians, do to respond to the findings? Here are some thoughts:

Pray

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
We know that the Lord hears and responds to prayer.

Keep the climate crisis in your prayers every week- pray for global action and a willingness among nations to work together to tackle this problem. Also pray for a desire to take individual and local action in the UK, in Scotland and in our church family.

If you find yourself suffering from eco anxiety or find the climate crisis overwhelming, put it to the Lord. He knows what you need and will faithfully listen. No prayer is too small and no cry for help ignored.

Pray for COP26 taking place in Glasgow in November and join churches and Christians around the world uplifting that conference in prayer. 

Educate yourself

Investigate responses from well-known environmental and Christian organisations and do not lose heart- there is still time to take action and that time is now.
Have a look at a summary of the IPCC report’s findings (like this one) and Christian environmental resources such as TearfundOperation Noah Less Waste Laura or Ruth Valerio.

Consider your own actions

Calculate your carbon footprint, buy less, shop locally, invest in and use green energy, turn your heating down, buy second hand – there are lots of things individuals can do to respond to the climate crisis!

Over the next few weeks and months, the new environmental group at SSCB (All things Eco) will be signposting small actions individuals can take to make a difference.

Participate in wider action

Climate change is a national and global issue and ultimately will need a global response to fully tackle it.

Join a campaign run by Christian Aid or Tearfund or write to your MP/MSP.
At a church level, our eco group would love your support – come along to our next meeting on 23 August, join our email list or pray for us.

As a church, we will be hosting two environment services on 3rd and 10th October where the Christian response to these global issues will be covered.

Do not lose hope

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2). As Christians, our hope is not in this world but in Jesus Christ. Keep focused on the big picture whilst still using your time and talents to care for God’s creation and those suffering due to climate injustice.

[from Emma D]

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citius, altius, fortius – Olympic Reflection 6.

Volunteers

Olympic Volunteers, London Olympics 2012

If you were fortunate to be at one of the Olympic Games that is a real privilege. The whole experience to share with thousands of others the successes of athletes, cheering them on, or sharing your sorrows with others over those that lost is indeed once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had that privilege in 2012, in London!

Besides the thousands of athletes the success of the Games is due to the very sizable (over 70,000 general, and some 16,000 specialist) volunteers, the Game Makers!

A cheery lot of all ages, ethnic groups, genders, and nationalities. They were the ones that greeted you with a huge smile as soon as you got off the train in London and guided you along the way to the Olympic venues.  They were on duty for eight hours a day, and many of them have done much longer shifts than that.  They were always cheerful, and helpful, although sometimes not necessarily knowledgeable, but there was always someone around that actually knew the answer to your enquiry.  They were just as happy looking, although exhausted at 11:00pm at night as they were at the beginning of the day, thanking you for your visit and wishing you a safe journey home.  They were happy to pose for a photograph and share a song or a joke.  They were fantastic!  I imagine they are the same at each Olympic Games. They deserve to have an Olympic Portrait, for they were the ones that hold the Games together, sustaine the carnival feel of the events.

The legacy of the Games is often mentioned around the Olympics, and many are wondering what that legacy might be.  I hope that part of that legacy will be the spirit of the Volunteers.  Not all of us are athletic, competitive, or outstanding. But we all can be kind, helpful, and supportive. Whatever we might do we should do it with a cheerful spirit, with a smile, with an effort to make someone else’s day.  After all Christians have the Good News to share with others to make their day, even beyond that, to make their LIFE.  Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” (Colossians 3:23)

In the church, by the way, we are all volunteers!  We all are Game Makers, Church Makers! I want to thank you all that are volunteering, participating in the life of the church.  Often your activities are not in the limelight, sometimes you must be there early, well before everyone else arrives to set things up; and now and then you have to stay behind after everyone else has gone home to clean up; or assemble, deliver, meet, lead, plan, remind, teach, pray, support, and organise.  And perhaps someone else gets the praise, while behind the scenes your work and smile were essential for that achievement, or success! The amazing thing is that I can’t remember the races, the scores of the games I have attended at the London Olympics nine years ago, but I remember how the volunteers made me feel, welcomed, safe and happy! For many who come to church your smile, kind word, the fact that you listened to them, spoke to them, or prayed with them will mean far more than the sermon! For they met Jesus in a very real way in you!

I want to thank you all members, volunteers, Church Makers of SSCB for your smiles, helpfulness, dedication, and patience in everything that you do to make this church a friendly place, a happy place, a family of God’s people. As we are slowly moving out of the COVID Pandemic this is particularly important.

THANK YOU!  Without you it is not possible!  And we know the Games for us as Christians are not over, we need to keep on smiling, helping, caring, loving, and volunteering doing God’s work for His glory and for His people.  So take the legacy, and make this church His church, and our church!

[from GV]

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citius, altius, fortius – Olympic Reflection 5

Closing Ceremony

“All is well when ends well” – they say. There is much truth in it. If an event or project ends well, all the effort, all the hard work, and discipline were worthwhile, and we all can celebrate.

The 32nd Olympic Games will end on Sunday, 8 August in Tokyo. It was a strange event in strange times, but it was a great event, it is worth to be celebrated.

Pierre de Coubertin reinvented the Olympic games in the 19th century with the purpose to increase friendly understanding among nations. Sadly, it did not work out that way, due to human sinfulness, cheating, and arguments.

The 16th Olympic Games took place in Melbourne, Australia in 1956. Although it was a very successful event, at the end there were quite a number of people and nations who were left with much bitterness, anger, and resentment.

The water polo final between Hungary and the Soviet Union was later renamed ‘Bloodbath of Melbourne’. It was a hostile match because a few months earlier in 1956 the Soviet Army quenched the Hungarian Revolution, killing some 2000 people, and imprisoning many more! Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon refused to compete because Egypt had been invaded by Britain, France, and Israel (The Suez Canal Crisis). The Chinese government were unhappy about Taiwan taking part. It looked like not all will be well at the end.

But something that was not planned by the organisers, has happened. A seventeen-year-old Chinese boy, living in Australia, John Ian Wing, wrote a letter to one of the organisers.

He did not sign the letter, for being afraid getting his parents into trouble. His suggestion impressed the organisers, and they rearranged the closing ceremony. John suggested that the athletes should not march in their national teams with their flags at the closing ceremony, continuing to highlight division, rather they should just walk mixing together as fellow athletes, becoming ONE NATION. “War, politics, and nationality will be all forgotten. What more could anybody want…” wrote John.

So that’s what happened and happens since at closing ceremonies.

However, this hasn’t stopped countries and nations from fighting each other. But the closing ceremony gives a hint of how things should really be.

The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians:

“You are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ… There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Paul testifies to the power of God’s love that can drive out pride, anger, and hatred. Through Christ people can reconcile to each other and live a new life in union with Christ and one another. We are all children of our Heavenly Father. We need to begin to behave and act like that!

[from GV, based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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COVID-19 Update

The First Minister has announced that COVID-19 restrictions in Scotland will move beyond Level 0 on Monday 9th August. She emphasised that the virus is still a threat and that care still needs to be taken. What does the statement mean to us regarding our worship and use of the church building?

Physical Distancing

While the law will not stipulate physical distancing, from 9th August the public is advised to maintain a safe distance from people of other households, particularly indoors, to minimise risk. It would therefore be possible to offer seating arrangements without restrictions, but it seems more reassuring to keep to the present 1 metre distancing in the church. We are also therefore following the guidelines of the Church of Scotland.

Face Coverings

Wearing face coverings indoors will continue to be the law, subject to existing exemptions, as is the case now. This means we need to wear our face coverings in church, even during singing. At coffee time, though, we can remove them.

Continuing Good Practice

We offer re-assurance to everyone that we will continue to manage the high standard of cleaning and disinfecting regimes, hand hygiene, and good ventilation. We will also continue maintaining our Risk Assessments, and Track and Trace procedures.

Looking Ahead

We understand that there are due to be further changes in Government regulations and guidance published on 30th August. In our response to those changes, we will continue to comply with Government guidelines and the advice from both the Church of Scotland and Edinburgh Presbytery.

In Short:

  • We are open as usual and welcome all (if you have any of the COVID symptoms please stay in isolation though!);
  • Physical distancing in church remains 1 metre between households;
  • Face coverings must be worn in church;
  • Hand hygiene, high standard of cleaning, and ventilation continues to be the norm;
  • Please continue to uphold these standards for the safety of everyone, even if it is not required by the law.

We very much appreciate your understanding and patience in these matters. We know how tiring this is for everyone. We continue asking you for your support and prayers not just for us as a church family but for all in the land, leaders, front line workers, young and old.

Lord, by such things people live;
    and my spirit finds life in them too.
You restored me to health
    and let me live.
(Isaiah 38:16)

[from GV, minister, and Timothy Pitt, Session Clerk]

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REVIVAL – Think Small!

Revival /rɪˈvʌɪv(ə)l/ – a reawakening of religious fervour, especially by means of evangelistic meetings.

When we hear about revival, we usually think of it as the definition above describes it. We think big! Some powerful big meetings with good enthusiastic speakers, and convincing evangelistic message. To suggest otherwise seems defeatist. Or is it?

The story is told about Gypsy Smith (Rodney “Gipsy” Smith MBE (1860 – 1947), British evangelist, active for over 70 years in the USA and UK.) that he was asked how to start a revival, how to pray for it. Gypsy Smith answered, “take a piece of chalk, and draw a circle on the ground around yourself and start praying for revival for everything that is within the circle!”

Think small, rather than big. Start revival with yourself! Ask the Lord Jesus to send His Holy Spirit to you, so He, the Holy Spirit, will begin His transforming ministry in your life, shaping your thinking, your attitude, your actions to be like that of Christ’s, so Christ will shine through everything you say, do, or think.

That’s exactly how Jesus began the revival that became the church! On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to the 12 disciples instead of the many thousands of people who were in Jerusalem at the time! Jesus started small. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, were transformed, revived, came out of hiding, and bravely began to testify to Jesus in front of a crowd, numbering thousands. By the end of the day 3000 people accepted Peter’s message, were baptised, and joined the disciples! (Acts 2:1-41)

We need a revival today too! Let’s begin small! Draw a circle around yourself and start praying for everything within that circle to be revived by the Lord!

[from GV]

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Names of God: El Eloah

Seven Prime Names: 4. El Eloah (אל אלוה)

As we continue our series looking at the names of God and seeking, through them, to draw closer to God, it is striking how many reveal His power: a power that is manifest in love for us and proactive action to protect and save us; not in desolation and disdain.

Eloah means God (the singular, or dual form of Elohim). It is sometimes written as El Eloah (literal translation would be God God), this combination emphasises God as powerful, strong, and mighty with compassion and integrity. This is well illustrated in Job – indeed El Eloah appears more often in Job than anywhere else in the Bible.

Blessing Comes When God Corrects You

“Blessed is the person whom Eloah corrects. That person should not despise discipline from the LORD. (Job 5:17)

It may not surprise to learn that El Eloah is the poetic form. We will look at another form, Elohim, next time, but for now let us spend some time in Job 5:17. A person is being ‘corrected’ – God loves us so much that He accepts us as we are, but does not leave us as we are. In being corrected, we are realigned with God’s holiness, His majesty. And this is where we are surely blessed: that we … WE … would receive this extravagant grace from the LORD! How often we push back when disciplined by others, but when we are disciplined and corrected by God in all His powerful, mighty, compassionate integrity, we should not reject and hate that discipline.

And think, also, about the way we receive discipline and correction from God – it can be powerful, really catching us, enabling us to turn right round (in other words, to repent). It can be mighty: an act or effect on us that overcomes our innate tendencies to insist that we are right and refuse to hear, see or acknowledge. This correction can be subtle, but it is revealed prominently when we simply acknowledge the difference in our lives that God makes, if only we choose to obey and choose to see. And yet it is compassionate – a constant love for us that is moved to act: a compassion that led Jesus to heal great numbers of sick (Matthew 14:14); a compassion that took Jesus to the cross to die in our place. It is an integrity that is mighty in its expression: that justice is required because evil must be dealt with, sin must be paid for.

But we circle straight back to the power to do something about that, the might to bring about an eternal plan, the integrity to insist on justice and the compassion to put it into action.

This has described the correction given out by God, but it describes God Himself – mighty, strong, prominent and filled with integrity and compassion.

It is no wonder El Eloah is the poetic form – so much depth and character in a single name whilst, in the English language, we simply talk about ‘God’! But when we say the name ‘God,’ let it hold all that meaning for us – power, integrity and compassion; let it be a precious name for our Precious Lord.

Who is El Eloah but the LORD? Who is a rock except our Creator? (Psalm 18:31)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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citius, altius, fortius – Olympic Portrait 4

Carl Ludwig ‘Luz’ Long and Jesse Owens – Love Your Neighbour

Carl Ludwig ‘Luz’ Long (Germany) [Athlete, 1936 Berlin: Silver – Long Jump]

Jesse Owens (USA) [Athlete, 1936 Berlin: four time gold medallist – Long Jump; 100 m; 200 m; 4×100 m relay]

(illustration by Simon Smith, © Simon Smith 2011, used with permission)

“Friendships born on the filed of athletic strife are the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.” [Jesse Owens]

It was Hitler’s Summer Games in Berlin, in 1936. It was the 4th of August, the day of the Long Jump final. It was the clash of the titans, in more than one sense. Carl Luz Long representing Germany, the European record holder was eager to compete against Jesse Owens of the USA who held the world record.

Luz set his expectations by setting an Olympic Record during the preliminaries.  He was in great form.  Owens, on the other hand struggled. As a warmup practice, he ran through the pit. To his astonishment it was counted as a foul jump. This threw him, he just could not concentrate. Owens fouled his second jump! Something was not right. He knew he must jump beyond 7.15 m at his third attempt if he wants to be in the final in the afternoon. Owens sat on the field dejected, not knowing what to do. They already called his name when someone touched his shoulder.  He thought it was one of the officials urging him to take his place to jump. He turned around and to his great surprise it was the German athlete, the man he had to beat. Luz Long said to him: ‘I think I know what is wrong. You are like me, trying to give your all. But you are afraid that you will be fouling again.’ Owens nodded. ‘You just need to take-off from further back. That way you can give your all.  I’ll put my towel to mark the place for you.’

It seemed so simple, but it needed Owens’ toughest opponent to point it out to him, it is about the take-off. The towel was placed some six inches before the board. Jesse Owens started slowly, then his stride became faster, and after then the take-off. It was a clean jump! But was it enough? It was! Jesse Owens was in the final! Thanks to his opponent

The final was nail-biting! Gradually the other opponents all fell short, and it was clear the gold medal will be decided between Luz and Owens. Luz was taking his final jump, an amazing effort. He flew through the air, landed – and set a new Olympic record (7.87 m)! The stadium cheered! Now it was Owens last jump.  He ran, he leapt into the air, flew, and landed even further than Luz. It was a new Olympic Record: 8.06 metres! Throughout the competition they equalled the old record once and crashed it five times! Jesse Owens crashed not only an Olympic Record, but an evil ideology. After the event the new champion Jesse Owens and the runner-up, Luz Lost posed together for photos and walked arm-in-arm off to the dressing rooms. Jesse Owens won four gold medals in Berlin (Long Jump, 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay)!

Jesse Owens and Luz Lost became good friends. ‘It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler … You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the twenty-four carat friendship that I felt for Luz Long at that moment.’ – said Jesse Owens later.  Luz and Jesse kept in touch afterwards by writing letters.

‘Who is my neighbour?’ is a common question, it was in Jesus’ time, and so it is today. Jesus responded to it by the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). The answer is obvious: ‘The one that has mercy on the other one.’ Luz Lost responded by embracing Jesse Owens. In his last letter, written as a soldier shortly before he died in World War II Luz asked Jesse contact his son after the war ‘tell him about how things can be between men on this Earth.’

People of God go and do likewise, go and tell how things can be –should be– between people on Earth!

[from GV; based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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Coming Soon: The Forgotten One

Eight Sermons on the Holy Spirit – starting 1 August

In every family there are relatives the family does not speak much about, try to forget, or find it difficult to engage with. They are a kind of unmentioned ones of the family, who soon become the ’forgotten ones.’

Sadly the Holy Spirit is like that in the church. He is the third person of the the triune God, but you hardly hear him mentioned in sermons, maybe he is briefly added at the end of a prayer, but we, the church, don’t speak much about him. We find it hard to engage with him. God, yes, the creator, sustainer, he is fine, we can talk about him, we can even talk to him in our prayers. Jesus, his teachings and miracles, death and resurrection, Christmas and Easter, these are intriguing, and worth talking about. But the Holy Spirit, we are uncertain about him, he is not tangible enough for our minds and hearts. For many the Holy Spirit is a kind of figure of speech for spiritual matters.

Yet the Bible reveals him as a person, the third person of the triune God, without whom we would not have the Bible (2 Peter 1:21), without whom new life is not possible for us (John 3:5), without whom we would not be able to confess Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3), without whom we have no power to be witnesses of Christ in the world (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit is our Comforter who guides us into all truth, reveals Christ, and makes us holy.

He is not just exciting and optional, but essential for our Christian faith and life! Therefore I am inviting you to explore the truth of Scripture together in our sermons series to get to know the Forgotten One (eight sermons in August and September) – not just to know about him, but to be filled by the Spirit, being enriched by his gifts, to bear the fruits of the Spirit, to live life to the full as Jesus intended it for us.

[from GV]

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Names of God – El Shaddai

Seven Prime Names: 3. El Shaddai

We continue our look at some of the names of the LORD. Any name works, if used with reverence and as a means to draw closer to God. But the various names reflect different aspects of His holy character. El Shaddai may be known to some as the title of a 1980s praise song, and it highlights a particular strength of God.

El Shaddai means ‘God Almighty’ and shows His ultimate power over everyone and everything. To those of us who can be a bit overfriendly (after all, He’s our dad; He loves us; He’s our mate!), this is a good reminder that He has such power and strength that it’s just as well He loves us for who we are; filled with compassion as well as justice. We would not stand a chance if we attempted to argue our way against God, for:

“And the LORD said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the El Shaddai? He who argues with God, let him answer it’” (Job 40:1-2).

El Shaddai is one of the most frequently occurring names for God in the Bible. One of its strengths is that it shows God’s strength: God is described according to who He is: He IS Almighty (I AM who I AM); mere pagan gods are described by things they create – Thunderer etc. Scripture does not limit God’s description to His creation simply because He is more powerful than all creation. Mysterious lightning bolts can kill a pagan god or two, but God is not subject to such things. He is the overpowerer – His power achieves anything, and He does not need a prop to do it. The first occurrence of this name is:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am El Shaddai; walk before me, and be blameless.’ (Genesis 17:1)

He speaks His name and, in the power of who He is, He both commands and enables Abram to walk before Him; to be blameless, and says that He will then make His covenant with Abram and will greatly increase his numbers. Through the simple power of who God is, it happens. Later, God says to Jacob:

“I am El Shaddai: be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants “. (Genesis 35:11)

How reassuring that He has the power of command because He is so powerful; not just a bit powerful, nor even merely ‘powerful enough.’ But almighty. El Shaddai is used most in the Book of Job and after questioning God’s purposes and reasons, Job says:

“Then Job answered the LORD: ‘I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more’” (Job 40:3-5).

You can almost hear the screech of mental brakes, the penny dropping as Job realises the enormity (and the consequences) of God being ‘almighty.’

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of El Shaddai. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’(Psalm 91:1)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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citius, altius, fortius – Olympic Portrait 3

Shane Gould – By Grace

(Australia, Swimmer, 1972 Munich: Gold – 200m freestyle; 400m freestyle; 200m individual medley; Silver – 800m freestyle; Bronze – 100m freestyle)

(illustration by Simon Smith, © Simon Smith 2011, used with permission)

If you make it into an Olympic Team you are good; if you make it into the Olympic Final you are great; if you win at the Olympics you are outstanding!

Imagine doing all that before your 16th birthday! Shane was the Australian swimming team’s superstar; she has broken five world records already! Her sporting career was still in front of her! She could own the pools for many years! The 100m freestyle was her thing! Everyone expected her to bring home yet another gold medal matching the one she won a few days before. She had trained hard for this, she expected the best too.

The time has come, the loudspeakers called her name, the crowd cheered, she stepped forward waved and forced a smile despite the distraction. Just two lengths, freestyle her favourite. She breathed deeply, wiggled her arms, tried to loosen up, getting ready for the starter pistol.

Then she dived, trying to storm ahead, but something was different, something was wrong. Shane felt flat, lethargic, but she kept going. The energy just wasn’t there. But she did all the moves, pushed hard not paying attention to the others. She got to the other side, tumble turn, under and round and pushing off again, the water felt cool, lovely, stroke after stroke. Then she touched the side of the pool. Emerging from the water she heard the crowd cheering. But it wasn’t for her. Someone else came first, and second! Shane was ‘only’ third. She did not know what she was supposed to feel. Disappointed? Angry? Upset? Strangely she did not feel awful. Something inside her said: ‘You do not have to win everything. You just have to be here, doing what you do, and doing it the best you can, and enjoy it!’ It was a hard lesson for the teenager, especially as she had to learn it in front of the whole world. But in a strange way she felt good, grown-up! Even as she received her medal on the podium she was pondering this big new idea – winning isn’t everything!

Arriving back to the Olympic Village, she entered her room to find it redecorated with pink and white toilet tissues! ‘Well done Shane!’ squealed her room-mate giving her a big hug: ‘A bronze medal as well! Fantastic! The best cheer she ever had, Shane said later.

Afterwards there were more races, and more medals, she returned home down under with five medals, three gold, one silver, and one bronze.

Arriving home her mother asked her to take her medals with her to church. During the service they were laid on the Communion Table. In her prayer Shane thanked God for them and that felt right.

After the Olympic Games Shane found being a ‘celebrity’ very hard, and she retired from competitive swimming at the age of 16!  But she learnt a great lesson in Munich: ‘I could see my achievements as something outside of myself, she said, as a gift to be appreciated and a responsibility to be honoured, not as an ability to be owned and controlled.” One of her favourite Scripture passages was: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Her life, talent and achievements were a gift of God by grace to her, and she was grateful to Him for that.

[from GV; based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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Names of God – Adonai

Seven Prime Names: 2. Adonai

We are looking at different names for our Father God, seeking through them to become closer to Him whilst all the while knowing that He is the one who has created the opportunity for close relationship, through the sacrifice (and resurrection) of His son, Jesus.

We have seen that ‘YHWH’ (which became Jehovah or Yahweh: I exist and always exist; I Am who I Am) is a holy name; a sacred name; not to be taken for granted. Indeed, the ancient Jews (and many to this day) would not pronounce it. In Christian English translations of the Bible, this spilled over into writing the name as ‘G-d.’ But that created a problem for people trying to tell the wondrous stories of … well, how do you tell of someone when you can’t actually mention that person?

One answer was to use the word Adonai. It means simply “Lord.” It is actually the plural of ‘Adon’ (Master) and denotes an early understanding of what we have come to know as the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Adonai is often referenced as God’s relationship with Gentiles, whereas YHWH is in the context of Israelites. A lord, of course, is simply someone in authority. In 1 Samuel 24:8, for example, David refers to Saul as ‘my lord, the king’ and he uses the word ‘adonai.’ Consider, for example, Lord Nelson: a specific peer of the realm, ennobled, in authority. But not to be deified.

What began as Hebrew scriptural references to one name (YHWH) became, in speech and in writing, a completely different word (Adonai). But Adonai was also used in its own right – for example:

When they had gone, an angel of Adonai appeared to Joseph in a dream… (Matthew 2:13)

When the Bible came to be translated into English, both were ‘Lord.’ To distinguish them, YHWH became LORD and Adonai became Lord. And someone simply in authority became lord, thus:

So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ (Genesis 18:12)

Intriguingly (and beware, for we can start to tie ourselves in knots here instead of doing what we are supposed to do and drawing closer to our Father), in Psalm 110:1 David could say: ‘The Lord says to my lord’ but in some translations it is ‘The LORD [YHWH] says to my Lord [Adonai].’

When Saul first encountered Jesus, he did not actually know who was speaking (although his answer was as insightful as Caiaphas who said that it was better for one man to die for the people than that the whole nation should perish):

‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. Acts 9:5  [‘Who are you, Adonai?’]

Adonai means ‘Lord’ – the ruler; the master. Everything is His. We do well to remember not just who is lord but who is Lord … and it is the LORD.

The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Adonai of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see His glory. (Psalm 97:5)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Reviewing Day of Prayer – SUMMER

This quarterly event emerged from our Thy Kingdom Come initiative. It was pleasing and encouraging that so many people booked up for their hour slot, some being led to send in feedback which sits well under five headings:

Praise – Protection – Power – Perseverance – People

Praise

It begins, of course, with praise for our Loving Heavenly Father. It was quite a thought for each person settling down (or walking, or driving or running etc) at the start of their hour of prayer to know that God was central to each one before, each one afterwards. It was a blessing to be able to take time just to focus on God, who He is and all He has done (is doing and will do) for us.

Protection

And for some, in their feedback, this brought them to a sense of God’s incredible protection for us all. One person drew from experiences on the Online Alpha Course to spend time seeking God’s protection. God protects us as we seek to resist evil, which led them to a time of prayer on: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10-11)

Power

In prayer they rested in the next verses, considering the belt of truth; the breastplate of righteousness; the boots of the gospel of peace; the shield of faith; the helmet of salvation; and the sword of the Spirit. Even just reading that, you can see the strength of God’s protection; you can almost taste God’s awesome power. And someone else seemed to pick up on that, for they reported back that they had a sense of the power of God’s spirit evident in us and amongst us, and with us for the long haul.

Perseverance

For not only are we called to persevere, but we must remember that God is faithful and loyal to us – He perseveres with us. And so prayer developed into seeking God to support and provide for us as we persevere at SSCB – persevere in looking to God, in worshiping God and in acting out of God’s calling to us.

People

We are called together to praise God, seek protection in His Power and persevering in our faith, for we are God’s people. We had feedback which was straight prayer for those who do so much in this church for the rest of us, leading and informing us, helping with the Epistle, the Zoom services, the Home Groups – all ways that we can be a people together. There was prayer, too, for our people in San Diego – for the church family in La Jolla Christian Fellowship and just a wave of love for them. Inspired by Proverbs 27:23-27, we heard back that it will be the people, not things, that grow and flourish in the Lord. We will have plenty, be plenty – if we look always to Jesus. 

This feedback was regrettably delayed, but amidst George’s series on Hebrews as we approach the Olympics, we can see that the five headings are like the five Olympic Rings. We end, as one person did, praying where someone else began: in Ephesians:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… (Ephesians 3:16-17)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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19 July – Freedom Day?

The 19th of July is fast approaching, and the date is much anticipated by the vast majority of the UK. It is the day when various strict COVID related regulations will be eased or completely lifted. The date entered the public’s vocabulary as ‘Freedom Day’. Some are planning parties, and some kind of ceremonial disposal, even burning of face coverings to mark the end of lockdown, restrictions and the rule of COVID.

It appears that many treat the 19 July as a threshold, as if when they will step through it COVID-19 will lose all its infectious power and we will not need to be careful, we will be able to abandon all precautions and forget about all safety advice. It is a wishful thinking, and both dangerous and unrealistic one.

It is sad to see people committing the same mistake over and over again, anticipating that radical transformations will happen instanteniously. When the Romanian dictator, Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas Day, 25 December 1989, we knew that Communism was over, but hardly anything changed in our daily life by 26 December. There were still empty shops, food shortages, crowded buses and poor health care. It took a long time until things changed in all those areas. In a similar fashion many in the West and perhaps in the East as well expected that everything will be different overnight in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, people will gladly embrace, and practice western style democracy and peace and happiness will rule in the country straight away.

Christians know (or should know) that change and transformation, especially on a large scale do not happen instantly. When one comes to faith in Jesus Christ, yes, the person is a new creation, but it takes time for the Holy Spirit to cleanse us from all our sins, guilt, and ungodly habits and practices (usually because of our resistance to him!) until we will be indeed free from those influences and Freedom Day truly arrives. All Christians must watch and pray, be alert not letting sin and evil to overcome them, just because they are saved. The Apostle Peter wrote:

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, stand firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:8-9a).

Peter’s words are wise and timely advice to us both on spiritual and health front! Just because most regulations will be eased you must not be complacent. COVID is not gone yet! Take to heart the advice of the Apostle, be alert, wise, and responsible. Give thanks to God for His mercy that we have vaccines, health care, and that the regulations are being eased and pray for His wisdom and protection.

[from GV]

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Would You Miss the Target?

I found it very disturbing and upsetting to witness the abusive reaction of some to the missed penalties at the Euro 2020 Final. I’m sure you found them distressing too! I felt for the players, especially as the cameras showed how they themselves face the goal. The goal seemed rather small and the goalkeepers rather large. I would have found it difficult to score even if the circumstances were not what they were.

But it is not just with penalty shootout that we tend to miss the target. We regularly miss the target in every area of life, and all of us do so. There are no exceptions! Not one!

The New Testament frequently uses the word hamartia for ‘sin’. Its literal meaning is ‘missing the mark’, as an archer would miss the target. It delivers the sense that we get it wrong, miss God’s standard (not just missing the bull’s eye, but missing the target on the whole), we are not even close. It doesn’t matter how much one tries, perfects their skills, practices, we miss the mark God set for us because of our sinful state. The Apostle Paul put it this way in: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were professional religious people, to use a sports analogy. They committed themselves to know the law, to master it, to fulfil it to its minute details. They wanted to get it right. They still failed.

There is only one resolve for all of us, professionals or amateurs: God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Jesus was the only one who was able to get the target, and to get it perfectly. He was obedient to God and fulfilled the law completely. When he died on the cross he died for our sins, for all of our misses, and paid the penalty fully for them. He fulfilled the law (got the target) on our behalf, for us and instead of us, and paid the penalty for our misses. Because of this God forgives everyone who trusts in him.

Jesus showed us how to deal with ‘missing the mark’, whether it us who miss it or someone else. His response was forgiveness, and we should forgive one another also. 

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) 

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

[from GV]

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citius, altius, fortius – Olympic Portrait 2

Wilma Rudolph (1940 -1994) – Determination

(USA, Sprinter, triple gold medallist, Rome, 1960: 100m, 200m, 4x100m; world record holder)

(illustration by Simon Smith, © Simon Smith 2011, used with permission)

Wilma was born into a very large African American family, Clarksville, Tennessee, in 1940, while segregation was the norm in many states of the USA, Tennessee included. She was her parents’ 20th child of the 22 they had!  Her family was large and poor, her father was a railway worker, while her mum was doing cleaning for others. Wilma was born prematurely and in her early childhood she was always getting sick. While they nursed her as they could, the family noticed that her left leg and foot were becoming weak and deformed. Wilma contracted polio. The doctors had no hope for her that she would ever walk. They were right up to a point, she didn’t walk, she ran.

Her devoted mother took her twice a week for years for treatment to a university hospital some 50 miles away. They faithfully did the recommended exercises at home too. When Wilma was 12 she was able to walk without her metal leg braces. In secondary school she began to excel in basketball but her passion was athletics.  Amazingly at the age of sixteen (!) she was selected as part of the national athletic team to compete at the Olympics in Melbourne 1956. She won a bronze medal with the 4x100m relay team.

Four years later in 1960 in Rome, she won the 100m equalling the world record, and later won the 200m and was part of the USA team that won the 4x100m relay. After the Olympics she continued to set new records and win competitions.

One day, her home town invited her back for a special civic reception to celebrate her achievements. There would be music, speeches, festivities, and thousands of people, but the event was to be segregated! Segregation meant that she could travel only at the allocated seats of a bus, being seen by only an African American doctor and go only to a school for African American children. Wilma thought hard and made a brave decision, she said No to the invitation. She would not come to a segregated reception. The city council had to think hard too, finally they gave in, and it was a reception where people could mix freely. Some 40,000 people turned up of all races and backgrounds.  Wilma always viewed it as one of the best things she ever did or achieved.

Wilma Rudolph was light in a dark world. Starting out from a multiple disadvantaged background with fierce commitment, love and support of her family, and her Christian faith she achieved great things, and not just on the athletic field, but contributed to justice as well. Wilma said: ‘When I was going through my transition of being famous, I tried to ask God why I was here? What was my purpose? Surely, it wasn’t just to win three gold medals. There has to be more to this life than that.’ Jesus said that we are the light of the world let our light shine in such a way that with our talents, and skills we make a difference in this world that will be noticed by people who in turn will give the praise to God, our heavenly Father.

[from GV; based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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Names of God – YHWH

Seven Prime Names: 1. YHWH (Yahweh)

The first name for the LORD can cause a bit of confusion, because there are different versions and to us today, they seem so hard to pronounce.

Certainly, when I first encountered ‘YHWH’ and ‘JHVH’ I presumed them to be abbreviations, and wondered what the full name was – Your Highest Worshipful Holiness, or something?

But no: when we see YHWH, this is the original Hebrew; a language that does not have any vowels and which uses dots and other symbols to assist with pronunciation. It is a tetragrammaton – four letters – and those four letters in Canaanite-Hebrew are Yodh – Heh – Waw – Heh.

More than that, ancient Hebrew does not have a ‘w’ sound – ‘wind’ would be pronounced ‘vind.’

It means ‘self-Existent or Eternal; the Existing One.’ It was a recognition that God was, is and will be; He is eternal, always existing.

In time, under the direction of the Roman Empire, the name was translated into Latin. But the Romans were faced with a problem for the name was considered so sacred that the Jews did not actually speak it, so there was no standardised set of vowels or sounds that could assist in its pronunciation. The Romans were also challenged by the fact that they did not, at the time, have the letter ‘Y.’ (When they did introduce it, to help spell foreign words, they assimilated it from the Greek and called it ‘i graeca” – Greek I. That continued in languages that had their roots in Latin and, for example ‘Y’ is today pronounced in French as “i grec.’)

So, in Latin, the four written Hebrew letters ‘YHWH’ were rendered ‘JHVH’ and the pronunciation of those four Hebrew letters “Yodh Heh Waw Heh” (or Yood Hay Vav Hay) became the nearest Latin equivalent of “Jeh-Hoh-Vah.” It was then a simple matter to write in the vowels that Hebrew lacked, and thus JHVH became written and spoken as ‘Jehovah.’

It is interesting to note that the name continued to be written YHWH in Hebrew, and was first reported as Yahweh only in 1869.

In English translations of the Bible, YHWH or Jehovah tends to be written as LORD (all upper case letters). We will come to the differences of LORD, Lord and lord later in this series.

So when we say Jehovah or Yahweh, we are saying the ‘self-existent One.’ Or as God said to Moses in Exodus 3:14: “I AM who I AM.”

Jehovah or Yahweh is a name of power; not any power that we can create or ascribe, but the immense, magisterial power of the LORD God who has always existed thus, and who chooses to be involved with us, present in our lives; not only knowing of us, but actually knowing us. It is a name to be used reverentially, devotedly, in worship.

Yahweh, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:9)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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citius, altius, fortius – Olympic Portrait 1

Eric Liddell – Complete Surrender (sprinter, 200m Bronz; 400m Gold; 1924 Paris)

(illustration by Simon Smith, © Simon Smith 2011, used with permission)

Our first Olympic Portrait is that of Eric Liddell, the ‘Flying Scotsman’.

Eric was an accomplished athlete when he arrived with the British Team to Paris for the Olympics. He was one of the fastest men in the world, the best sprinter of the British athletes, a favourite for the 100 metres. That’s why it sounded so unbelievable when Eric said that he will not compete in the 100 metres sprint at the Olympics because the qualifying race is on the Lord’s Day, on Sunday. He wanted to honour his God and Saviour rather than win an Olympic medal!  Baffled people were, and asked him what was he going to do?  He said, he will run in the 400 metres instead.  Many believed he wasted his preparation for the Olympics, and wasted his talents by not running in the 100 metres, and he is missing out on glory just because the qualifying events were on a Sunday and he is so stubborn no to run on a Sunday.

It was Friday, 11th of July 1924 the day of the 400 metres final.  The stadium was like a furnace in the stifling summer weather. Eric wanted to win, but maybe he also fought with his doubts, did he do the right thing? Then a note arrived from the team physio, saying: “In the old book it says ‘He that honours me, I will honour.’ Wishing you the best of success always.” That was it, Eric smiled gratefully. A confirmation, he was doing the right and honourable thing.

The athletes were lining up digging in their feet for the starting line. Eric could here bagpipes in the stadium, the sounds of his homeland, Scotland (although he was born in China)! The starter was giving the last instructions, the runners tensed up, waiting for the sound of the starting pistol. Bang! There went the gun. Up, and out, Eric sprinted as he could. That was the only thing he knew to do.  He was streaking ahead like a sprinter. But will he be able to keep up the pace for the whole 400 metres?  He was round the curve; he kept running as fast as he could. The others were catching up with him. He approached the last 100 metres, and he put everything into it, and he felt power coming from somewhere. Head back, chin forward, mouth open, knees jumping high up, arms waving as he pushed the air behind. There was the line, and there he crossed it. It was over. He won, and with a new Olympic record!

He collected his gold medal and went back to the hotel. On Sunday he was preaching in a Paris church, he had no time to hang around the stadium, he wanted to prepare his thoughts and sermon.

All those that said and published horrible things about him before, now hailed him as a phenomenon.   But that did not matter to him, he had other things to do, which were far more important. Later he went back to China as a missionary to honour and serve His Lord. He gave his life for his Lord in an internment camp in China during World War 2. Apparently, he could leave the camp as part of an exchange of prisoners, but he gave his place to a pregnant woman. His last words were “It’s complete surrender.” – referring to his life given to his Saviour. He honoured Christ till the end!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

[from GV, based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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Names of God – Introduction

I have long been interested in names, their origins and meanings. Names do not define us – after all, we are not aware of them until after we are born; and we are known by them before we grow up or formulate our character and our characteristics.

Some names, it is true, can be pre-determined. I am Timothy Michael. My Father is Michael Sidney. His father was Sydney William (I’m not sure why the ‘y’ became an ‘i’). Sydney’s brother was Lionel Arthur and their father was Arthur Edwin Pitt: Christian name becomes middle name down the generations.

But back to me for a moment – “Timothy Michael”: what does that mean? Am I to fit the name or does the name characterise me?

Timothy – Man of God; honouring God; God’s servant. I’ll take that! It is from the Greek “timi’ meaning honour and ‘theos’ meaning God.

Michael – from a Hebrew phrase ‘Who [is] like-El’ (‘Who is like God?’) and its answer that ‘there is none like El; none are as famous and powerful as God.’ It is a famous question, and is set out in Latin as ‘Quis ut Deus?’ I might suggest to my father that he takes the motto “Quis ut Deus.” I would suggest that I take “The Honourable Timothy” for myself, but I don’t think that is quite in the spirit and truth of it all.

Anyway, it occurred to me: What do we call God? How do we address or refer to Him? Well, ‘God’ is good. And we can say ‘the Lord God’ with all due reverence; also ‘LORD’ – we will come to the difference later in this series. Thanks to Jesus’ intervention on our behalf, restoring us to relationship with God when we trust in Jesus and repent of our sins, we are adopted into God’s family and are entitled – encouraged, even – to call Him “Father God.” Think on that for a moment: The King of the Universe; the Author of Creation, the Lord of Lords … and we get to call him Dad!

But what if we took a wander through the Bible and noted the Hebrew names for God, and the context in which those names were used? What might we learn about God’s character? Might we draw closer to Him and enjoy a more loving, complete relationship with Him? Relationship depends on the people in that relationship, not their names, but knowing what to call each other is a good start.

In the culture, in the time when the Scriptures were being written, people were more deliberate in how they referred to God – and why; each occasion, each circumstance. We miss both subtlety and intimacy when we simply and only say “God.”

Let’s find some names and make the introductions …

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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WIP – BAU

Work In Progress – Business as Usual

It is great to be back after our holiday. As we got back to the manse last week, we arrived to a construction site, as the kitchen refurbishment wasn’t quite finished yet. On Sunday, coming to the church we found another construction site.

The work was in progress at both sites, but business was as usual, which is great. They were a very tangible illustration to me of our Christin life. I expect that’s how God sees our lives: WIP – BAU (Work In Progress – Business As Usual).

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour He begins His work in us by His Holy Spirit to reconstruct our lives, our thinking, behaviour, attitude, our personality to mirror His life, attitude and standards. But our daily life does not stop, we are not ‘parked’ in a layby or the equivalent of a garage until we are fixed and the new Christ-like we roll out back into the world. No, business carries on as usual. We live our lives, do our jobs, engage with people around us, our loved ones and family, friends, etc. And bits and pieces in our lives are fixed sooner, and work well in a Christ-like manner; while other aspects, habits or attitudes need longer time to reconstruct. In some ways we work well as Christians, and in other things there is room for improvement! But life goes on, business as usual, while God faithfully works His purposes out in us.

It would have been fantastic to come home to a completely finished kitchen and church. But that is not the case. We are still extremely grateful for the work that has been done and is ongoing. It is exciting because the signs of something new and better are already visible. We give thanks to God for all that he has already done, and wait patiently for the rest to be finished too.

So when you feel you are not progressing in the faith as you wish, when you feel some aspects of your personality and character still need more work on, be patient and be grateful for the work the Lord is continuing in your life. Look back and see the changes he made in you. Rejoice over the things he already transformed, or even replaced. And wait patiently for the rest of the work to be accomplished.

I love these verses in the Bible:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)

Our God is faithful, and he keeps his promises. He never leaves any work unfinished, and when he gets down to work on something that will be good (see Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25). Trust Him as he continues His good work in your life. It will be ready on time!

[from GV]

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Up on the Roof – A Personal Blessing

Indulge me. Let me tell you of a scene in a television series and how I was blessed by it after preparing the recent sermon ‘Up On the Roof.’ I had pointed out the seven times, and their consequences, in the Bible where someone goes up on a roof:

  • Rahab – looking for safety;
  • Saul – looking for a way out;
  • David – looking for a demanded domination;
  • Absalom – looking for a displayed domination;
  • The Shunamite and Elisha – looking for blessings in service;
  • The Paralysed Man – looking for healing;
  • Peter – looking for sustenance.

I was deeply impacted by what I found as I studied: that we all have rooftop moments in our lives and what is important is our own heart attitude; our own reasons and reactions in how we approach Jesus. In a sense, researching and delivering that sermon involved one of my own rooftop moments.

The television series is The Chosen, depicting the life and times of Jesus and his followers and the impact of Jesus on those who encountered Him. It’s a blockbuster, quality tv series following the gospels but made off-system; a media project financed not by investor moguls, but by the largest ever crowd-funding. It does not follow the money; it seeks the truth. Authentically and faithfully it follows the Bible, and if a scene or conversation is not expressly in Scripture, it looks not just at what was possible, but what is plausible.

The Chosen team has expert advisers in faith, culture and history, including a Messianic Rabbi, a Roman Catholic Priest and an Evangelical Christian leader. I urge everyone to try it; it’s on YouTube and free on www.thechosen.tv – as Jesus said, `Come and see.‘ (John 1:39). Indeed, that has been one of the taglines of The Chosen.

Relaxing after preparing the sermon, I watched my next episode of The Chosen. In it, there is perhaps the most famous line in the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16). Jesus speaks these words to Nicodemus, introduced just before:

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”’(John 3:1-2)

The Biblical context is clear: Nicodemus acknowledging Jesus for who He is and asking about being born again in the spirit. The cultural context is clear: a Pharisee would not be seen with Jesus (it is recorded that Nicodemus came at night). And the historical context is clear: houses had flat roofs and were ideal secluded places for quiet meetings at night.

And so I was blessed when I saw that the scene was portrayed occurring on a roof. Not expressly scriptural, and not merely possible but actually plausible. Nicodemus was looking for the Messiah, Jesus and he found Him, up there on that roof. (Photo © The Chosen.)

Find the rooftops in your life and encounter Jesus. Find The Chosen and watch it.

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. (Matthew 10:27)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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citius, altius, fortius – Olympic Reflection 1

Introduction

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) are the Latin motto of the Olympic Games. Pierre de Coubertin borrowed it from his friend, a Dominican priest and athletic enthusiast. 

The modern Olympic Games were created with noble thoughts and ideals to foster good fellowship and friendly understanding among nations, to serve the good of humanity, and to promote world peace.

If you have been following the Olympic Games for a while you will know that they not always live up to the founding ideals. Wars were not necessarily cancelled during Olympic Games, rather the other way around (World War 1 and 2). They have witnessed terrorism (Munich 1972), extreme nationalism (Berlin 1936), settling ‘old scores’ (Melbourne 1956, Soviet Union v. Hungary ‘Bloodbath of Melbourne’ Water Polo Final), political protests and boycotts (Moscow 1980, and others), use of illegal performance enhancing drugs and then banning of athletes, and much more.

Olympic Games can be amazing, exciting, can promote many positive messages but they are not perfect. Athletes can be great role models, but they are not perfect either. In this series of reflections on Olympic Games and athletes we will share primarily who made them go faster, reach higher, and be stronger.

We will explore the grace and work of Jesus Christ in their lives. They went into strict training and competed in such a way as to get the prize. But primarily they were running to get a crown that will last for ever! The hope and prospect of that crown from the Lord Jesus encouraged and empowered them not to run aimlessly, not to beat the air but live their lives with the purpose of eternal reward (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)! They are our examples in the race for eternal glory!

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

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Celtic Christian Literature 4: The Dream of the Rood

The Dream of the Rood, an ‘epic’ in the Late West Saxon dialect of Old English, was written in the late 7th or early 8th century in Northumbria, a kingdom that once stretched from Derbyshire to the Firth of Forth. There is an extract carved into the 22-feet high Celtic Tall Cross at Ruthwell, near Annan, which itself dates from the 8th Century.

The earliest surviving manuscript copy of the 156-line epic is in the Vercelli Book (late 10th century) discovered in 1822 in the library at Vercelli in Italy. It may have been taken there by Jacopo Guala Bicchieri who had been papal legate to England in 1216 and who founded a hospice there for English pilgrims.

The epic follows the heroic style of the period. Christ is the hero who accepts the pain of his crucifixion and the sins of all humanity, just as the heroic soldier accepts untold hardship in battle for the greater cause. A Rood, of course, is Old English for cross or crucifix – still in use in Scotland and Northumbria today.

In the first of the three distinct sections, the narrator dreams ‘the choicest dream’ of ‘a wondrous tree’ for he dreams of the Cross. It is covered in jewels and guarded, it seems, by angels because it is so precious. Compared to the glorious tree and what it represents, the narrator feels aware of his own sin ‘wounded sore with woe.’ He sees the Cross seeming to sweat blood and is aware that this is Christ’s blood that had seeped into the Cross. And then, the narrator notes, ‘This best of wood began to speak with words.’

The second section recounts what the Cross tells the dreamer. It suffered too, cut down and set to work as an ugly killing platform for criminals. Then it saw the ‘Lord of mankind’ coming courageously to embrace the Cross in His agony (again, a characteristic of noble leadership in Anglo Saxon times). And so they suffered together: the nails pierced Jesus – and they pierced the Cross as well. Christ’s blood was shed, some of it on the Cross which was both horrific and honouring as the Cross stood loyally with Him. This was the supreme task for the Cross: Jesus was accepting this death, and the Cross could not fail Him. The loyalty that the Cross had for Jesus would have resonated well: a liegeman being trustworthy to his eorl, or sovereign prince. Christ died and his followers were ‘grim after that great battle’ (again in the ‘epic’ tradition). Jesus’ body was taken for burial while the Cross remained, watching sadly: “Yet we remained a-weeping.” Just as Jesus’ death echoed Moses raising the bronze snake on a pole to heal others (Numbers 21:4-9), so the Rood noted:

Beseech this bright beacon. For upon me God’s bairn 
Suffered at that time; therefore I am now gloriously 
Raised high to the heavens, and may heal 
Each and all who shall be in awe of me.

In the third section, the Cross urges the narrator to share the dream and to proclaim Jesus will come again to middle earth (loving the Tolkien!) to judge all:

Hither coming again Beseech this bright beacon.
To this middle-earth, mankind seeking
On Doomsday, the dear Lord himself.

None need be afraid, for they are redeemed under the sign of the Cross and through Christ’s victory, dwelling in heaven, their true homeland. The narrator sees that he, like the Cross, is a liegeman – his loyalty is to Jesus, his true homeland is heaven. He will follow the Rood’s advice.

It truly is an epic tale, imbuing the Crucifixion and all it stands for (our redemption through Jesus) with the flavours of Anglo Saxons steeped in Celtic Christianity. It is an epic that is so advanced in its concepts and narrative. It is uplifting, and as it says itself: “Hope was renewed with blessedness and bliss.”

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe (Psalm 107:2)

Extracts from the Dream of the Rood (This translation © Colin Symes. Reproduced by kind permission.)

THE DREAM OF THE ROOD

I.
Lo ! I will recount the choicest dream 
I dreamed amid the deep of night, 
When speech-bearers were at their rest.
Bethought me that I saw a wondrous tree, 
Lifted aloft, light bewreathing Brightest boughs. 
 
All that beacon was 
Bedecked with gold; gems glittering, it stood, 
Fair upon earth's face; five of them there were 
Upon the axis-span. There beheld God's angels all,
Fair of their fore-making. Nor was that any felon's gallows,
But rather, hallowed spirits beheld it there, 
Men earthly, mortal, with all creation's marvels.
Splendid was that saving tree, but I, foul with sin, 
Wounded sore with woe, I saw the wondrous tree, 
Winsome, shining, wearing a worthy covering,
Begirt with gold; gems now 
Weighed worthily upon the Ruler's tree.
 
Yet through that gold I still could glimpse 
The erstwhile agony, as it first began 
To sweat blood from its right-hand side. Full of sore distress,
I feared before that fair vision. I saw that fateful sign 
Change covering and colour; where it had been wet and damp, 
Steeped in a stream of blood, now in such wealth arrayed.
While I was yet a long time lying there, 
Heart-sorrowed, I beheld the healing tree, 
And then I heard that it addressed me; 
This best of wood began to speak with words:

II.
"It was years ago (I still remember well) 
That I was hewn down at the holt's edge, 
Stripped from my stock. Strong foemen took me thence;
Working me into a warning-sign - they meant to have me raise up their rogues. 
Borne on broad man-shoulders, 'til they set me on a hill-brow, 
Many foemen fastened me there. The Lord of mankind then I saw 
Hastening with great desire that he should climb upon me. 
There, then, I durst not at the dear Lord's word 
Bow nor break, e'en when I beheld the quaking 
Face of earth. Well might I have felled
All his foemen, but rather I stood fast. 
The young hero undressed himself, (this was God almighty) 
Strong and steadfast; he stepped up on the high gallows,
Mighty, in full sight of many, for he would loose mankind. 
I trembled as the Warrior embraced me; yet did not dare to buckle ground-ward, 
To fall upon the face of earth, but as I should, stood fast. 
I was raised up a rood; I lifted up the bless'd realm's King, 
High Lord of heaven, I durst not fail Him.                             
They drove me through with dark and evil nails: 
Upon me still the doleful wounds are seen, 
Open wounds of malice; nor durst I any of them injure.
They mocked us both together; I was all steeped in blood, 
Poured from that human side, after he sent forth his spirit.
Fully had I endured upon that hill 
A fearful fate. I saw the God of hosts 
Ruthlessly racked. The gloom had 
Covered in cloud the High King's corpse, 
That shimmering star; a shadow went forth,
Dark under the sky. All creatures wept,
Crying at the king's fall; Christ was on cross. 
 
But then came faithful ones from far 
To that Prince's side. I beheld it all.
Though sore was I, and sorrow-afflicted,
Yet I submitted to the warriors' hands,
Humbled most willingly. They took from me Almighty God, 
Hove him from that heavy torture. The warriors left me then 
Standing, drenched and streaming, wounded still with piercings. 
Laid they there that limb-weary one, then stood at his lifeless head,
Beholding there the Lord of heaven, and resting there awhile, 
Grim after that great battle. Began they then to make a grave for him, 
These brave ones, in full sight of his bane; carved of bright stone;
They laid therein their Lord and Victor.
Began they then to make lament, Eerie on the eventide, ere they departed after,
Wearied, from this wondrous prince; rested he there with the few. 
Yet we remained a-weeping a good while 
Still standing at our stations, after the departure 
Of the Warriors. The body cooled, 
Fair life-dwelling, then they began to fell us 
All to earth. That was a fearful fate! 
They dug us a deep pit and buried us. Yet there the Lord's servants, 
His friends, found me, 
And adorned me with gold and silver.

III.
Now you may hear, O my beloved hero, 
That I have suffered evil-doers' works, 
And sore sorrows. The season is now come 
When far and wide I am called worthy; 
Men earthly, mortal, and all creation's marvels,
Beseech this bright beacon. For upon me God's bairn 
Suffered at that time; therefore I am now gloriously 
Raised high to the heavens, and may heal 
Each and all who shall be in awe of me. 
Once was I made the worst of torments, 
By folk most feared, ere I life's way
Of righteousness revealed to speech-bearers. 
Lo, then was I honoured by the Prince of Glory
Above all holm and wood, by Heaven's Guardian!
Just as he too his mother, Mary, Almighty God
for all men Made worthy above all womankind.
Now would I have you, my beloved young hero, 
Tell this vision unto many men,
Unwrap these words; this is the wondrous cross 
On which Almighty God once suffered
For mankind's manifold sins 
And Adam's ancient work.
 
Death He tasted there, but the Lord arose 
In his mighty might as mankind's helper, 
Then stepped into the heavens. Hither coming again 
To this middle-earth, mankind seeking 
On Doomsday, the dear Lord himself, 
Almighty God, his angels with Him, 
Then will judge, with his judgement's power 
Each one, as he shall hereto
In this fleeting life have earned himself.
Nor may any there be unafraid 
Of the word which the wise Lord speaks: 
He will ask before many where might the man be, 
That for the Lord's name would 
Taste bitter death, as he did first upon that tree. 
But they then fearing, will little think 
What they could begin to say to Christ. 
 
Yet there then need not any be afeared 
Who ere bears in his breast this best of signs, 
For through this rood shall reach his realm 
From the earthly way, each and every soul 
That with the Lord desires to dwell."

IV.
I beseeched then at that rood-beam with blithe heart, 
With great zeal, while I was alone, 
Away from crowds; my mind was 
Focused on its forward path, fully enduring all 
Its times of longing. My life's hope now is 
That I might seek out this victory-tree 
Alone, more often than all other men -
It is well worthy. My will in this is 
Much in mind, and my mainstay is 
Rigged upon that rood. I have not many rich 
Friends on earth; for they hence forth 
Have quit the world's delights, seeking for that wondrous King.
Living now in heaven with their High Father, 
They dwell in glory; and I look for 
That day when the Lord's cross, 
Which here on earth I once was shown, 
From this fleeting life might fetch me
And then bring me where there is much joy,
Delight in heaven, where the Lord's folk are 
Seated at the feast, where there is single bliss, 
That I might then be sat where afterwards I may 
Dwell in glory, as well of those holy 
Delights partaking. Be to me, O Lord, a friend, 
Who here on earth once did suffer 
On that gallows-tree for human sin,
Unloosing us to give us back our life,
And heavenly home. Hope was renewed
With blessedness and bliss for them who otherwise should burn. 
The Son's victory secure, he then set out, 
Mighty and swift, as he came with many, 
A company of souls, to God's own realm, 
Almighty Overlord, to angels in their bliss, 
And to all those holy ones who now in heaven 
Dwelt in its wonders, as their liege-Lord came, 
Almighty God, to where his homeland was.
 
This translation © Colin Symes. Reproduced by kind permission.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Choose ‘The Chosen’

A new television series has started to gain traction – and viewing numbers. The series is … different. It is called The Chosen and it follows the gospels, looking at Jesus and His followers from the eyes of those who were there; at the impact on those who encountered Jesus.

It is a drama, not a documentary and it is not your typical ‘Jesus movie.’ It is the first multi-season show about Jesus and is essentially a 56-hour film in 7 series, each of 8 episodes. Globally, it has had over 190 million views to date, in over 50 languages.

It is not controlled by studios or corporates, requiring a return on their investment and taking poetic licence for maximum effect. It is curated by biblical, cultural and historical accuracy and, of those three, biblical accuracy is pre-eminent.

It is certainly a high-quality production and both impresses and engrosses through the quality of the filming and direction, the acting, music, sets and costumes. As for the writing quality, well, as the production team say, that was all done centuries ago when the Bible was written. Their job has simply been to lift those stories, records and anecdotes and faithfully re-tell them in today’s language.

In looking at Jesus and His ministry, The Chosen poses some questions and seeks to find answers. For example, given that the Disciples did not all grow up in the same household or even street, what was it like when they were getting to know each other?

In another article, I shall mention possibility and plausibility, but it is appropriate to introduce it now. There is input from many experts in theology and Bible studies, history, culture and geography. They look to the Scripture, and if they are providing some backstory or other element that is not expressly in Scripture, they do not just look at what is possible (what it might have been like) but at what is plausible (what it probably was like given Biblical references, cultural norms and historic evidence). For example, we know that Nicodemus was a pharisee, a member of the ruling council. We know Jesus told him “No-one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3) which prompted a conflict in Nicodemus: “How can someone be born when they are old?” (John 3:4) Was age a concern for him? In The Chosen, he is portrayed as old enough to be a grandfather. Expressly stated in Scripture? No. But from our knowledge of culture and history, it is not only possible that Nicodemus was older, but it is plausible as well.

I am utterly taken with The Chosen (at the time of writing, we are in season 2 which looks at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry after season 1 opened by introducing us to Jesus as he called His initial disciples. So we have 13 episodes already released. And watching is both easy and free. It is not controlled by corporate investors because it is crowd-funded. It is the largest crowdfunded media project in history, with some $10 million raised from over 19,000 people, and growing. All this enables the show to be produced, distributed and watched on a free platform, without adverts.

You can watch it by going to www.thechosen.tv and you can even download an app (IOS or android). It is also free on YouTube, but with adverts in episodes.

Jesus said, `Come and see.‘ (John 1:39). So come and see for yourself!

Link to ‘The Chosen’ home page

[from Timothy Pitt]

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kettle, cleaning & garden

The Kettle, the Cleaner and the Garden

(A Tale of Gifts, Talents and Requests)

The title might imply you are about to read the story of a spaghetti western. You are not. Still it is worth the read, and it is also important if you love and care for our church family.

We recently asked if anyone could help with a gift or loan of a kettle. Someone (and she knows who she is!) had previously said she would buy one and give it to the church, but she does so much already that we just could not accept yet another quiet gesture from her, instead looking to the wider Church Family to see if anyone had a spare kettle to fill the gap. Sadly, nobody came forward, but happily we have found that, with more people bringing their own re-useable cups, we can actually manage with one kettle. So, we are no longer looking for a gift of a kettle but thank you all for considering the request.

Saul said to his servant, ‘If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?’ (1 Samuel 9:7)

Meantime, our cleaner is taking a short break – the week of Monday 5th to Friday 9th July. Her standards are so high that, frankly, ordinary people would not notice if she missed a week. But in these Covid-19 times we want to maintain her highest standards of cleanliness. We can restrict this to cleaning in the Sanctuary, Vestry and Vestry toilet. Oh, and as a church, we don’t have much money …

So, could any person / group bless the church family by cleaning the sanctuary, vestry and vestry toilet (dust, vacuum and damp wipe) within the following windows:

  • After the end of church service on 4th July but before Open Prayer at 1000 hrs on Wednesday 7th July;
  • After the end of Open Prayer at 12 noon on 7th July but before Sunday Worship activities commence at 0930 hrs in Sunday 11th July.

Any fabric, woven or knitted material, or any leather article that has been washed and is rid of the mould, must be washed again. Then it will be clean. (Leviticus 13:58)

Which brings us to the garden, and our coffee time outside. We have created a seating area away from the building works and want to enhance that by trimming the large bushes outside the Tower Room entrance. Would anyone be prepared to lend a hedge trimmer (preferably cordless, but power cable is fine) so that I (your friendly Session Clerk and local Landscape Gardener) can do this work one evening?

Please let us know via office@comelybankchurch.com or just bring in the hedge trimmer and we’ll notice it is there! If there is one available, the sooner it is provided, the sooner we will have a better seating area for coffee time (and for the families who use the gardens through the week). It will also provide better access to daylight through a couple of windows at the church sanctuary.

You who dwell in the gardens with friends in attendance, let me hear your voice! (Song of Songs 8:13)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Celtic Christian Literature 3: Cædmon’s Poem

In the introduction to this mini-series, we met Cædmon again. He was a worker, probably a herdsman, at the vast Whitby abbey complex led by Hilda. He would hide – or just leave – whenever it was his turn to recite verse or sing a song as part of the evening entertainment. He had a dream where, despite Cædmon’s protestations that he could not sing, a voice said, “But you shall sing to me!” He was also told that he would sing about everything beginning. Wisely, he sought Hilda for counsel (you will recall that she made herself available to anyone for discussion and counsel, no matter their station in life).

Hilda encouraged Cædmon and sure enough, Bede and other historians recount that Cædmon did indeed find a talent for verse and for singing. He did indeed sing ‘to’ the Lord for his songs and poems were ecclesiastical in nature, in praise of the Lord. And when he performed, it was said that he was not addressing the people or performing for them, but it was as if he were speaking (or singing) directly to God. Hilda encouraged him to study the scriptures and he was said to have built a catalogue of songs and poems especially regarding creation, taking holy orders and becoming an evangelising monk.

Only one work of Cædmon has been known to survive, composed between AD658 and AD680. Known simply as “Cædmon’s Poem” it is the oldest recorded poem in Old English. (Remember that Hilda was of Anglo-Saxon heritage but led Whitby Abbey in the way of Celtic Christians.)

Originally a sung item and passed on orally it was written up in Old English by AD730 and nearly 20 verifiable manuscript copies survive today. There we might have left it, with only copyright-protected modern English translations from those who know ancient Anglo-Saxon as our key to unlock lines such as ‘Thā middungeard moncynnæs uard.’ (One thing I do know is that ‘middungeard’ means ‘middle earth’ – clearly Tolkien was onto something!) But I was delighted when my world-wide search on the internet brought me to Colin Symes, a Christian in Edinburgh. Colin has kindly allowed me to reproduce his translation of Cædmon’s Poem and also of the ‘epic’ which is the subject of the fourth article of this mini-series. First, Cædmon’s Poem:

Now let us praise all heaven’s mighty Lord
For His great wisdom and creating Word.
The wonder-Father’s wondrous works abound;
Almighty God and our Creator
First created for His children
Heaven a roof, this holy Maker,
Then middle-earth to guard mankind,
Th’ Eternal Lord then provided
Men for earth, the Lord Almighty.
[This translation © Colin Symes. Reproduced by kind permission.]

Those lines, from these shores, were composed in Old English at least 1,340 years ago! 

And yet:

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations. (Psalm 89:1)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Coming Soon – Go for Gold

Are you a sports fan? What is your favourite sport? I like all kinds of sports, mainly the ones that involve chasing a ball (football, handball, hockey, volleyball, tennis, water polo, table tennis, snooker, golf, etc. – you get the picture), but I just as much enjoy the thrill and excitement in any kind of sports. If you like sports, it is very likely you enjoy the Olympic Games that brings a vast array of sports to our screens.

This year we can enjoy the Tokyo Olympics (at the time of writing the games are still on!). Although, one year late and a bit squeezed, but they are still on to enjoy them. For our household we can really enjoy it as we can support Team GB, Finland, Hungary, and Romania! Let’s go for Gold.

Did you know that the Apostle Paul was a massive sports fan? Paul quite often used examples from athletics and sports to emphasise his message of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16; Philippians 3:12-14; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; Acts 20:24). Just like athletes who want to win the race, Christians too, need to discipline themselves, train hard and compete with perseverance and fairness to win the crown of life, we need to go for gold! There is no alternative, we cannot be mediocre Christians. In the Christian life there is not crown for the ‘also ran’. Paul admired all the qualities that went into fair competition. He saw those qualities as essential for Christians in their journey of faith too. One needs to put in all they have, into pursuing their faith. We need to do our best in following Jesus! There is no other way (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)!

However, Paul is not the only New Testament writer who was inspired by sports, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews also used athletic images to emphasise the gospel message. In ancient Greece athletes competed unclothed. They wanted nothing to hold them back in their race. The writer of Hebrews used them as an example writing that the followers of Christ should “throw off everything that hinders” their “race” following Christ, and they should “run the race with perseverance” (Hebrews 12:1).

We will explore Hebrews 12:1-13 in July to learn and discipline ourselves in running the race Christ marked out for us. Let us go for gold and let nothing hinder us in running the Christian race marked out for us!

[from GV]

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Refuel Lite 21

Refuel Lite 21, a family friendly Scottish Christian festival, 19th-23rd July 2021 

Can you imagine what it might be like to come together safely this summer, to worship with other brothers and sisters in Christ in the beautiful setting of the Morayshire Coast sharing times of ministry, community, worship, encounter, presence and connection?

Refuel is a summer family festival in the grounds of Gordon Castle Estate, in the Scottish Highlands from Monday 19 to Friday 23 July 2021. There will be worship, cafés, ministries and pop-up prayer stations. Optional activities are available across the region on the preceding Monday and Tuesday.

The main worship will be outdoors and led from an open sided stage where folks can control their proximity to others, sitting on the lawn or near various large screens throughout the grounds where the worship stage will be beamed to. Confirmed speakers include Bruxey Cavey, author and pastor from Canada, Fred Drummond, Director of Evangelical Alliance and Yinka Oyekan, President of the Baptist Union, pastor and author. 

All under 16’s can attend FREE and although they cannot offer the normal children’s ministry as in previous years there will be activities and ministries offering outdoor experiences for the over 8’s (e.g. Archery, Bushcraft, Canoeing, Kayaking, Mountain Biking and team games – requires payment, but will be subsidised).

For 12–18-year-olds, there will be a Refuel Youth event of camping, worship, teaching and mayhem, run by The Message Trust and DNA. The Youth event costs £60 for the 3 days and includes space in a campsite and some additional activities such as kayaking, mountain biking, archery paddle boarding. All under 18s must have a responsible adult onsite during the event and 12-year-olds must have completed their first year at High School.

Camping will need to be booked at local campsites but caravans and motorhomes can park in the estate. The cost for adults is £199 for the three days and Day tickets of £66/day are available too. If Refuel has to be cancelled refunds will be made. 

Check out www.refuelscotland.org.uk or phone 01343 610230 if you have further questions.

[from Elspeth Pitt]

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Prize Giving

When I was at Sunday School, we had an annual ‘Prize Giving’ service, when each child in the church was presented with a book in recognition of attendance. I still have some of these books, well read and well loved, the certificate in the front was a source of pride. From children’s bible stories to the adventures of C.S. Lewis, they enchanted and informed me. I was delighted to discover that this was also a tradition at SSCB. Our society has an uncomfortable relationship with tradition, we often write off things that we believe have ‘had their day’. I’m personally pleased that presenting children with good books has not had its day. 

Our children this past year have had the most challenging of times. They have been forced to keep their distance from their friends and grandparents, to adapt to new ways of learning, and to live with new things that even the adults didn’t want to accept. They have done this with fortitude and grace. 

Sunday Club was simply not allowed to meet in person for long time, and now, thankfully restored, they must use their own separate entrance and exit. They haven’t been allowed into the sanctuary of the church all year. Our youngest, pre-school members have struggled too – they don’t understand social distancing or one-way systems. Their parents are stressed by permanently keeping their physical boundaries in check in a way that isn’t normal. And the babies, oh, how I have missed having a cuddle with our church family babies.   

I don’t know about you, but I find our church a quieter place without our children, quiet in a way that isn’t right. As a family church, we are missing a critical generation- one of life, colour, challenges and difficult questions. Fear not though. Our children are still there- using separate door ways, leaving when the noise gets too much, dialling in on Zoom, trying their hardest to learn about God whilst keeping everyone safe. 

This years ‘prize-giving’ service will be all the more special because of the year that we have all endured. It will be a COVID safe service, naturally, but we will finally share the same physical space and be able to see and hear each other. I pray that our children will feel able to share with us something that they have learnt this year, that they receive amazing books, full of enchantment and adventure, inspiring them to learn more about our awesome God. 

The ‘Prize Giving’ / end of term service will be on Sunday 20th June, 11am. All welcome.

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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Filled & Transformed

We have recently celebrated Pentecost, often named as the birthday of the church. Jesus told His disciples to wait until He sent the Spirit, which would enable them to go out and proclaim God’s kingdom with power “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14 v26).  But have we forgotten this source of power in much of our church life?  Two pictures which may help.

We are encouraged by the New Testament writers to go on being filled with the Spirit, so how? Well think of those large glass jars full of coloured pebbles and water that people used to have on the hearth. You are the jar, the Spirit is the water and the pebbles, well the junk in our lives. Chuck out a pebble and you can get more water in. And so it is with God’s Spirit – as we turn away from those things which are not from God there is more room for His Spirit to fill us. What are you going to throw out this week?

Paul gives another picture in Romans (Romans 8: 12-17) Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation… For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. We are people of a different kingdom as we have been hearing over the last few Sundays, a Kingdom which was inaugurated when Jesus rose.  If we are children of God, born of the Spirit, we belong to a new Kingdom. Have you changed your passport, or have you got dual nationality, keeping the old one for times when it is more helpful in avoiding a conflict with the world view?

What happens when we take God at his word and let His Spirit fill us? The church grows and we see signs of His Kingdom.  We may also upset the rest of the world!

[from John Baggaley]

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Praying for Our Church

God’s church across the world continues to grow and thrive. Development in China, India, Russia, South America and Africa is strong. However, in some areas of Western Europe, God’s church is struggling to be heard. The Church of Scotland is struggling. Note, I don’t say the church in Scotland, because many churches in Scotland are growing in number. But the Church of Scotland is struggling. 

At the General Assembly last month, attempts were once again made to deal with the consequences of reduced attendance, finances, and ministers. New plans to combine Presbyteries and reduce the number of churches allowed to call their own ministers were fiercely debated. Many of God’s people are worrying as they look towards an unclear future.    

Change can be painful, no doubt. Many churches, members and ministers are exhausted and fearful. However, just as our gardens bloom from loving attention, we should not fear Godly pruning. Remember what we read in John 15, before He went to the cross Jesus gave his final sermon. In it, he spoke about spiritual growth and pruning, about how his disciples (and we) should draw our strength from God. God prunes and prepares his vines for growth and renewal.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Let us pray for our Church, for the Church of Scotland, for those making truly difficult decisions. Let us pray that the church will undergo Godly pruning, so that it will once again bear much fruit.

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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Celtic Christian Literature 1: Hymns, Poems and Epics

When we walked among the distant echo of the Celtic Christians, we saw in passing that there was an oral tradition for poetry and prayer. They were handed down, spoken and sung; repeated and learned. Not many were literate and so the oral tradition enabled not just the spread of those words but of The Word itself.

We paused at some Tall Crosses, and saw the biblical scenes carved into them. These were useful both as encouragement for passers-by and also as a community focus; a framework for a sermon to those gathered at that cross to worship.

At Christmas, we read through our own Celtic Christian Advent. Poems and prayers passed down orally and, finally, written and published as the Carmina Gadelica.

Celtic Christians had a particular expression of their love of God, reverence of the Holy Spirit and delight in Jesus. The oft-repeated (usually sung) words were embedded in the memories of the individual and the community. They prepared themselves for worship using the natural rhythms of God’s creation all around them (the ebb and flow of the waves, the rise and fall of a light breeze, the percussion of a river dashing over rocks), alongside which they might repeat:

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection. (Carmina Gadelica Vol 1)

But that oral tradition was not the only medium for Celtic Christians. As we saw, those in holy orders (both men and women) were usually able to read and write and would study Scripture by writing it out as they contemplated its meaning and beauty. This was a factor in vast religious settlements such as Iona, under Columba, and Whitby, led by Hilda. Monks, nuns, farmers, herdsmen, weavers, bakers … an entire community built around God’s Word and copying out that Word to share it and evangelise.

The ground was fertile: crops to feed the body. The culture was fertile: the arts to nurture soul and spirit. Hymns, poems and epic tales all pointed to God’s glory. Expressing faith was not just preaching a sermon but connecting in different ways.

We saw, for example, how Cædmon was a herdsman at Whitby who hid whenever it was his turn to sing as part of the evening entertainment. Hilda encouraged him, especially after he had a dream that he would sing and play for the person in his dream. He came to know God and used his songs and poems to evangelise all around the area – all in praise of the person in his dream; all in praise of Jesus.

So for the next three articles, we will look at some examples of Celtic Christian literature. We will look at a hymn, a poem and an epic. The Celtic Christians learned from the Scriptures, and so can we:

… be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord … (Ephesians 5: 18-19)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Love Shine a Light

As an aficionado of the Eurovision Song Contest, I recently decked out our house in bunting of European flags, printed out score sheets and tucked into food from a number of European countries as I settled down with family and friends to watch the annual extravaganza, which is, without doubt, my cultural highlight of the year. Apart from the two years I lived in Japan, I have watched every Eurovision Song Contest since 1966 and am genuinely moved by the show of solidarity and joy as people speaking and singing in different languages come together to celebrate this annual festival. There have been many touching moments over the last 65 years although one of the stand-out moments for me was when Israel awarded the coveted douze points in 1982 to Germany, the eventual winner, despite all the cultural and historical baggage between the two countries. The song, sung in German, by the 18-year-old Nicole Seibert, about the need for peace in the world was proof that deep-seated resentment can be overcome, and that love will always prevail. The performances and costumes may have become whackier over the years and some geopolitical voting may have crept in, resulting in the UK’s humiliating nul points in this year’s contest, but generally the best songs always shine through. Love it or hate it, criticisms of the contest can often obscure its real purpose.  Set up in 1956, in a ravaged post-war Europe, its aim was to bring people together through music and celebrate cultural diversity. 

In the same way, we can often forget the true purpose of the Church. The Church is not a collection of often crumbling buildings. The Church is its people, the people of God, the body of Christ, here to further His kingdom in this world. Non-Christians often point to the failings and divisions of the Church but, as Nicky Gumbel pointed out in the Alpha course, we are an imperfect people. The Church is not a museum but rather more akin to a hospital that needs the healing power and love of Jesus to restore and refresh us. It is true that there are many denominations within the church, all with a slightly different emphasis or appealing to different sensitivities yet we are all family, united in and through Christ.  Unity of purpose is a common theme in the Bible. In Corinthians 1.10 Paul says, ‘’I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement.’’ Even in the Old Testament we read in Psalms 133.1; ‘’Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.’’ One of the commonalities we have as believers is encouragement from our relationship with Christ. We can be united because we have in common the same friend, the same comforter, the same encourager. For each of us, Christ comes alongside to walk us through the pains and struggles of life. Another commonality and empowerment for unity that God has given us is the comfort from Christ’s love. In Romans 5.8 we read: ‘’But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’’ Christ’s perfect love casts out fears and anxieties that keep us from unity. Thirdly, we are all united through fellowship with the Holy Spirit. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12.13, ‘’ For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’’ The Spirit of God has made us one and works in us to work together and depend upon one another; however, we need to strive constantly to maintain this unity he forged within us. Unity, however, does not mean conformity. God made everyone different with different gifts and roles to fulfil within the Church. This should be seen as a strength and not a weakness of the Church and it is our responsibility to work together in love and tolerance to further His work.

The UK winning Eurovision entry of 1997 by Katrina and the Waves contains the following words: ‘’Love shine a light in every corner of the world. Brothers and sisters in every little part, let our love shine a light in every corner of our hearts.’’ Despite our failings as individuals, we can be encouraged that we are one in Christ and that His love will always shine through His Church.

[from Michael Chittleburgh]

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After Alpha – What Next?

Confession time – I have just completed the Alpha course and I was supposed to be helping out. However, I definitely got more out of it than I put into it. 

I’ve been a Christian for a number of years now and always thought that Alpha was for people who had no faith, or perhaps had a bit and wanted to explore it. To be honest, that’s exactly who Alpha is aimed at. So, in my mind, I was clearly in the category of helping others to explore, rather than exploring for myself. My ‘road to Damascus’ experience has long passed. 

But our God of surprises knew exactly what he was doing. I’m far more likely to make time to do something whereby I think I’m helping out, rather than making time for something for myself. God seized the opportunity to sit me down and refresh the foundation stones. 

If you weren’t able to join the course this time, the quality of the videos and level of information was excellent. As a history geek I loved the list of primary sources for evidence of the life of Jesus Christ. The questions were challenging and our group discussions were fulsome. My group had just 6 people in it, from different stages in our faith journeys, and it was such an encouraging place to come each week. I won’t name and shame anyone, but I learnt so much from everyone there. 

‘What next?’ I wonder. We all need the opportunity to talk about life’s big questions, to explore God’s plan for our lives, to dig deep into the Bible and figure out those passages that challenge us. It doesn’t matter how long we have been a Christian for, there is always more to discover and we all benefit from the company of others along the way. Fellowship, homegroups, personal bible study and quiet time are all possibilities. The church library shelves have many good books to borrow.  Homegroups are always time well spent and welcome new members. ‘The Bible in One Year’ is a free daily Bible reading app with a commentary by the people who lead the Alpha videos. It can be downloaded on the App Store, Google Play and at https://www.bibleinoneyear.org

For me, I’m a talker and a people person. It’s all about chewing it over with others, particularly over a coffee and a piece of cake. Lockdown has been hard, removing our face-to-face contact. But Alpha has reminded me that this can be done in different ways, and that spending time in fellowship with others and giving time to God, is critical not optional. Home Group, here I come!

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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EMMS COVID Fight Update

Friends of SSCB, EMMS International, have continued to support Christian hospitals and healthcare workers throughout the COVID pandemic. Their work has been impacted everywhere, but particularly at Duncan Christian Hospital, India, and Green Pastures in Nepal.   

India’s fresh COVID crisis has gripped headlines recently, with Delhi’s large, predominantly private, hospitals struggling to maintain their oxygen supplies.  Hospitals that serve India’s poorest and most rural areas rarely make the headlines. Duncan Christian Hospital, in rural Bihar state, is once again feeling the impact of the virus. Dr Prabhu, the hospital’s Medical Director, wrote last week:

“We are again flooded with COVID, and over 40 staff, including myself, are positive. The first three days are quite uncomfortable, but we are all recovering, and some are back to work. I’m sure you are watching the news on TV to get an idea of what’s happening in India. This time around, we were not locked down, and the virus had spread extensively.”

The pandemic is once again a crisis on top of the ongoing critical needs of the local community. Today, Bihar state has announced that it will go into lockdown to stop the virus’ spread. Lockdown will, however, put countless households at risk of hunger, particularly day labourers. 

Nepal is now also declaring a shortage of hospital beds and ventilators. “The situation in India is a big concern, and we too are experiencing a second wave of COVID,” wrote Dr Ruth Russel from Green Pastures Hospital in Pokhara, Nepal. Green Pastures Hospital will once again become an essential part of the coronavirus response. These amazing health workers are resolute in their commitment to serving their local communities and caring for those with COVID-19.

In the UK we are now daring to hope, thanks to lockdown easing and the widespread national vaccination. But we must share that hope with others. With vaccine numbers still low in India and Nepal, their crisis is far from over. EMMS International are seeking our support for their “Dare to Hope – Share the Hope” appeal. They are asking you to support Christian healthcare workers and those they serve. If you can spare a donation today, please visit www.emms.org

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled the lame, the blind and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you…” Luke 14:13-14.

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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Refurbishment Work Begins – Frequently Asked Questions

The long planned refurbishment work at the church is about to begin and it will affect our daily life and ministry at church. Timothy Pitt, our Session Clerk tried to sum up here most important information about the work and its implications for us. We hope you will find this helpful.

What are the planned dates?

Works start on 7th June and are due to complete in the week of 13th September 2021.

Roughly, what are we doing again?

Phase 1 involves a new kitchen and toilets and a better accessway. We are also moving the electrics box from the ‘toilet corridor’ to the West Transept ready for a new office and entrance where the prayer room currently exists.

Where are the ‘out of bounds’ areas?

Kitchen, ladies and gents toilets, both halls and the side access doors.

How do I get into church?

Via the Tower entrance (accessible) or the front entrance on Comely Bank Road.

If you need access through the week and no other door is open, even if you have a key, ring the bell and the builders will let you in; they control the site for health & safety.

Will we still do coffee and if so, how?

Yes! The vestry has been set up as a preparation point and we will then bring the tea and coffee from there into the main Sanctuary or outside in good weather, just as we do at present.

What if I need the toilet?

Repent! We are warned of ‘damnation without relief!’ Fortunately, others provide while your Session Clerk tries to joke: there is a toilet in the vestry. Please be careful as you pass the aforementioned coffee preparation area!

We will try to ensure the toilet in the Prayer Room is available each Sunday, but it is liable to be dusty.

What about Creche, Sunday Club and Inspire?

Creche facilities would be available, subject to Sunday clean up, in the Prayer Room.

Sunday Club will try to meet in the church gardens, and will use the Session Room if the weather is bad. Access to the Session Room is via the Vestry and the Church Office (please be careful of the coffee preparation point and the long queue of people waiting for the toilet!). Sunday Club does not usually meet over the summer holidays.

Inspire will remain flexible – likely to be meeting online for the Youth Alpha course, perhaps in the Session Room when not in use by Sunday Club. And I’m sure it says somewhere that God loves His children to go for ice cream and Bible study trips …

Can I see what’s going on?

You cannot access the corridors, halls, kitchen or toilets, but we will see the project taking shape. Please do come to church on Sunday and see for yourself.

I still have a question

Please speak to Timothy Pitt. (He might not answer, but you can still ask him!)

Against the walls of the main hall and inner sanctuary he built a structure around the building, in which there were side rooms. (1 Kings 6:5)

[from Timothy Pitt, Session Clerk]

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Heaven on Earth

We just finished, by God’s grace a sermon series about the life that is to come after death. As a wee reminder for those who followed it and as a note for those who missed it here are a few words about what we can expect after death: Heaven on Earth.

Heaven is the word in both Old and new Testaments for sky. It is referred to it as being somewhere up there. While Heaven is primarily the ‘place’ where God is, being in His presence, nevertheless right now is a location in physical, tangible, and real space somewhere (not necessarily ‘up there’, for what is ‘up’ for us in Scotland is very much ‘down’ for our brothers and sisters in Australia!). However, at the Second Coming of Jesus heaven will be a renewed cosmos.

Primarily Heaven is a PERFECT place. A place where life is lived to the full without sin – life free of sin’s effects, influences or curse!

Secondly, Heaven is a new world without pain, disease, death, or suffering, or tears. Life will be free from evil and the hurts of evil.

Thirdly, Heaven is the place where we will be together with the redeemed people of God. That will be our new society, the Kingdom of God. Relationships and fellowship without being marred by jealousy, fear, or distrust. What will we do in all eternity? Well, we will work, love, play, share, laugh, and worship together with the saints.

Heaven is a new earth with all its features, redeemed of its curse, pain and sin. Is Creation as it is intended by God, filled with his unspoiled image, redeemed humanity to live life to the full. And all of this for ever and ever, and most importantly in the presence and company of our Saviour, Jesus! We will see His face (Revelation 22:4), and not just having a glimpse of it, but seeing Him always, for ever. Talking to Him, thanking Him for all He did for us and in joyous worship and praise and adoration for who He is.

It is a place where you want to book your place now!

[from GV, based on Derek w. H. Thomas: Heaven on Earth]

Recommended Further Reading:

  • ALCORN, Randy: Heaven (Tyndale House Publishers) – detailed, readable, very informative, Biblical but a bit speculative
  • GRAHAM, Billy: Death and the Life After (W Publishing Group) – addresses all aspects of death and life after, thoroughly Biblical, shares personal testimonies, answers questions, practical, loving and comforting
  • LAWRENCE, David: Heaven: It’s Not the End of the World (Faithbuilders, originally by Scripture Union) – clear and positive presentation, very readable

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Wake Up! .– .- -.- . / ..- .–. -.-.–

Thomas Edison Sr. was very much fond of the Morse code. His first daughter, Marion was called in the family as Dot. When her brother, Thomas Alva was born they called him Dash. Apparently, Thomas Sr. proposed to his second wife (his first wife sadly died) using Morse code. The Morse code was very much part of the Edison children’s life from a very early age.

The story is told that on one occasion young Dash (Thomas Jr.) was waiting at the railway station for the arrival of his sister Dot.  The news came through that the railway bridge the train was supposed to cross before getting into the station collapsed. Panic broke out at the station for there was no way to notify the coming train about the danger waiting for it. Tragedy was looming! Young Dash had the idea to give Morse code signals to the arriving train with the whistle of a steam locomotive at the station. He hoped his sister will hear the code and interpret it in time for the train to stop. As it happened, she was asleep. But she was awoken by the shaking of the carriage and heard the signals. She instantly alerted others of the danger, but it took a while until some passengers (not all by any means) listened to her and pulled the emergency cord. Tragedy was avoided.

The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians:

‘Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.’
(Ephesians 5:14)

Paul’s quotation (probably from an early hymn) tells us that not everyone who is living is alive, and not everyone who is conscious is awake! From the story above it appears that some of the passengers who had their eyes open on the train were deeper in sleep than the young girl!

Are you awake or are you asleep? God sends waking calls to us too. He wants us to wake up to the truth that we have life only in Jesus Christ! We might seem to be active, moving about, have our eyes open, but we are in deep sleep, unaware of the danger ahead of us! They who hear the divine alarm and wake up realising their lost condition and stop their journey to be lost for ever, will truly live!

In this world there is a great pretence, lulling into a false sense of security, (‘chloroforming,’ if you like) going on! Evil tries to make us unaware about our real condition of sin by making it insignificant, or immaterial, or even calling it right and progressive, and by making us too busy to pay attention to it.

Give thanks to God that he sent His only Son to save us; has given His Word (not in Morse code but in a language we can understand!) to wake us up that we may stop and turn to Jesus for salvation.

Wake Up! in Morse Code

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Listener or Disciple?

He (Jesus) appointed twelve … to be with him…” Mark 3:14

Jesus had many listeners but only a few disciples. Even today relatively many hear about him but only a few know him personally! What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus, today? What do you think?

A disciple is more than a pupil or a student. Most dictionaries define ‘disciple’ as ‘a follower’ of a teacher, or leader. Someone who believes in the ideas of the leader. A pupil needs to learn only a predefined subject material, which is only a segment of the whole, and they are not required to believe in it. A disciple had to assimilate with their master’s worldview, and ideals. Today pupils or students spend only a short time with their teachers. In Jesus’ time a disciple literally lived together with their master for years, followed them wherever they went, they were involved in everything the master got involved. They received not just the master’s teaching but also witnessed the master’s behaviour, the ways how the master lived out their ideas in daily life, how they applied it to particular circumstances. It was so with the twelve, the gospels give plenty of evidence how they went where Jesus went, they got involved in the things Jesus was attending to. Because of the continuous togetherness they got assimilated to the master, to Jesus. Jesus also reminded them that they are to act as he was acting – that’s how people will recognise them as Jesus’ disciples (cf. John 13:34-35)!

Jesus called his disciples for this purpose, to be with him and then becoming like him they will be sent out to proclaim Jesus’ message and do Jesus’ acts of love. This is the order, first being together with Jesus, becoming a spiritual unity with him, then going out in his strength and love serving in His name.

The big personal question is: Are you a listener or a disciple? A listener, a pupil can preserve their distance, independence, neutrality to the teacher. They just study the material taught to them. A disciple on the other hand is a committed person. They take in and accept the teaching and try to implement it as a way of life. They make it their own! They remain faithful to the master and the teaching no matter what.

So, are you a listener or a disciple? Do you have only knowledge about Jesus, or do you know Jesus personally? Are you seeking spending time with Jesus only occasionally (Easter, Christmas), or are you in a daily fellowship with Jesus? Is your life beginning to resemble the life of Jesus? That’s a sign of becoming an actual disciple!

One needs to become truly His disciple here in this world and this life to be able to enjoy eternal fellowship with Him in glory!

Lord, Jesus, help me to follow you always not just listen to you!

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Praise of the Week: O Worship the King (1833)

Robert Grant was of Scottish ancestry, born in India. His father, Charles Grant, director of the East India Company, was respected throughout India as one of Britain’s finest statesman. He was also a deeply committed evangelical Christian, who used his position to encourage and support Christian mission in India.

Robert was six years old when the family returned to Britain, as his father became an MP for Inverness. His son, Robert grew up in a world of power, politics, and privilege. But he also grew up as a devout and most committed follower of Christ. He attended Magdalene College, Cambridge, and entered the legal profession. His intelligence and integrity were obvious. He became King’s Sergeant, and in 1818 he entered Parliament. Among his legislative initiatives was a bill to remove civil restrictions against the Jews.

As Robert was studying Psalm 104, he compared the greatness of the King of kings with the majesty of the British royalty, and found that they cannot compare!

  • Verse 1: “O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty.”
  • Verses 2-3 tell us that God covers Himself with light as a garment and makes the clouds His chariot.
  • Verse 5 reminds us that God laid the foundations of the earth.
  • Verse 24 proclaims that all of creation reflects God’s greatness.
  • Verse 31: “May the glory of the LORD endure for ever.”

Robert filled his heart with these verses, and from his heart came a magnificent hymn of praise:

O worship the King all glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love:
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendour and girded with praise.

In 1832, Robert was appointed Judge Advocate General; this praise was published in 1833, and he was knighted in 1834. Soon thereafter he returned to India, the land of his early childhood, to be Governor of Bombay. He died there in 1838. A nearby medical college was built and named in his honour. But his most lasting memorial is this hymn of praise, calling us to worship the King of kings.

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Pray for the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland begins this weekend (22 May), which is Pentecost Weekend. I believe this is significant and the basis of my appeal asking you to pray for the church to be filled to overflowing by the Holy Spirit. We need Spirit filled, Spirit driven, Spirit inspired, and Spirit empowered people to lead and serve in our church, in every church!

“The church that is man-managed instead of God-governed is doomed to failure. A ministry that is college-trained but not Spirit-filled works no miracles. The church that multiplies committees and neglects prayer may be fussy, noisy, entertaining, and enterprising, but it labours in vain and spends its strength for nought. It is possible to excel in mechanics and fail in dynamic. There is a superabundance of machinery; what is wanting is power. To run on organisation needs no God. Man can supply the energy, enterprise, and enthusiasm for things human. The real work of a church depends upon the power of the Spirit.” (Samuel Chadwick: The Way to Pentecost)

The sad thing is that the above was first published in 1932, and not in 2021! It is profoundly relevant for us here today! We have the same Holy Spirit who birthed, inspired, and empowered the New Testament church. The Holy Spirit never abdicated His authority or withdrew His power. Yet it seems the church in our age is powerless, lost her direction, and is just tossed by the waves of populist secularism.

We simply have forgotten the Holy Spirit. As William Fitch puts it, “He is the great forgotten one in all the work we do within the church.” When the church needs radical change, presbyteries need reforming, congregations seek their future in hubs, and clusters we desperately need the godly wisdom, guidance, and power of the Holy Spirit on every level, General Assembly, Presbyteries, Kirk Sessions, congregations, individual Christians!

So, in this season of Pentecost and General Assembly, pray for the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us all, so that we all will be filled with the Holy Spirit for the glory of Christ and the coming of His Kingdom!

[GV]

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Prayer During the Battle

There is a very interesting verse in 1 Chronicles 5, it is verse 20, and it goes like this:

“They were helped in fighting them, and God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers because they trusted in him.”

What makes this verse so interesting is the place where it is in Scripture. For this verse is in a 9 chapters long family tree, genealogy of the tribes of Israel. It is there because this was a hall mark of the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

They went into battle, and they cried out to God. They waged their battles not in their own strength but in the strength of the Lord! The significance is not just in trusting in God but that they prayed during the battle! Pretty sure they had a strategy, but they made time to pray too! Prayer was just as much important and reliable ‘weapon’ for them as their shields, swords, and bows (verse 18). They were trained for battle (verse 18), but they were trained for spiritual warfare too, they PRAYED in battle.

You might have a strategy for life, work, for your smaller and larger battles, you might be well trained for them, but as a disciple of Jesus Christ, as a Christian do you also pray during your battles?

We are calling you as our brothers and sisters, as members of our church family let us pray together at our Summer Day of Prayer. We as a church have got our skills, gifts, and some training too, but we have got our battles as well (adjusting to new ways of being church because of covid infections; church building redevelopment; confronting ungodly, non-Scriptural influences; mission; care; children’s and youth work; etc.). We are calling you to join in at the Day of Prayer (10:00 to 22:00, Saturday 29 May) to pray during the ‘battle.’ It is good to work for the Lord, but let us not forget it is His work, and we need to pray while we do it. We can accomplish His work, His victories not by our own strength but only by His grace, His Spirit, His strength. (Zechariah 4:6)

Find out more about our Day of Prayer-Summer and Sign up for a prayer time by clicking the buttons below. Let us all pray, trusting the Lord! And we will see His amazing works among us!

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Spirit of God, and Understanding

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)

In school, we regularly had to do poem analysis. One standard paragraph started something like this: Here the poet wants to say… and followed your understanding of the verse. I never liked these exercises. How could I know what the poet wanted to say? I wasn’t there when he or she wrote it. It would have been different if the poet were there and tell us what was on their mind writing those verses. But they never were there.

This is why I like Pentecost! Because at Pentecost when the Spirit came the Author of the Bible (and of Creation) came to us to explain what He means by every verse in Scripture. We do not have to guess, assume what God tries to tell us. We can know it for certain because He Himself explains it directly to us. We just need to ask Him, Lord tell me your truth; open my heart, mind, and soul before your Word, as Jesus opened the minds of His disciples so they could understand Scriptures (Luke 24:45).

So, when you read the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit you can recognise God’s own word, His voice, behind the words coming directly to you. You can understand His message, you can rejoice over them,

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16)

You will agree with them and obey them. Then the Spirit will start to work in you, shape and mould your life and understanding. It will bring you God’s peace, His guidance, His joy that will be your strength.

This Pentecost (23 May) give thanks to God that He, the author of all Creation and of the Bible comes personally to explain what He means with every word He says! Ask Him to speak to you every day!

[GV]

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Gathering v. Muttering

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2)

These two groups can be often found around Jesus, the tax collectors and sinner, and the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They never mixed with each other though! The latter group deeply despised ‘sinners’ group. The tax collectors and sinners hurried to gather around Jesus to hear him. The Pharisees on the other hand muttered and judged Jesus: “This man (!) welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The sinners were not satisfied with themselves, they wanted to get closer to Jesus having their hope in His help to change them. The Pharisees on the other hand, were not satisfied with Jesus and the sinners. The tax collectors knew they were lacking that they were sinners. The Pharisees believed to be righteous. The tax collectors could not hide their sins, while the Pharisees tried to cover up theirs.

Who can be helped? Only those can be healed who realise they are unwell and want to be healed. Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. … For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

In one of His parables a Pharisee prayed in the temple giving thanks that he was better than others, while at the same time the tax collector asked God to be merciful to him a sinner. Which of the two was changed? Jesus said it was the tax collector who went home being justified (Luke 18:14).

Because if someone is full of themselves nothing can be given to them! Who wants to get rid of their sins confessing them to Jesus, they receive righteousness, purity, peace, hope instead of them from Jesus.

Which group do you belong to? Do you want to be changed, forgiven, or you want to change Jesus as the Pharisees wanted? They accused Jesus that he was the friend of sinners. Do you belong to his circle of friends? If not yet, do you want to?

“You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14)

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Parable in F Major

As we are still not permitted to sing in church, here is the well-known parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) in F major.

Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow, Fred, forced his fond father to fork over his farthings.

Fred flew far, to fancy foreign fields finding foolish frivolities, frequent fornication and fabulous feasting with faithless friends and fillies. So, he frittered father’s fortune. Fleeced by his fellows-in-folly fully fatigued and facing famine, Fred found himself functioning as a feed-flinger in a filthy farmyard with fungus face and a fist full of fresh fragrant fertiliser. Fairly famished, he fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from the fodder fragments.

“Far out and fooey! What a fiasco! My father’s flunkies fare far fancier!” the frazzled fugitive fumed feverishly, frankly facing facts.

Freezing, frightened, frustrated by failure and filled with foreboding, Fred, following his feeling, fled forthwith from the filthy foreign farmyard to his family. 

Faraway, the father focusing on the fretful familiar form in the field flew to Fred, fondly flinging his forearms around the fatigued fugitive. Falling at his father’s feet, Fred forlornly fumbled, “Father, I have flunked and fruitlessly forfeited family favour.”

Fortunately for Fred, the far-sighted, faithful father, forestalling further flinching, forgiving, and forgetting Fred’s failings, frantically flagged the flunkies: “Fantastic! Fetch the finest fatling from the flock and fix a feast! Furnish Fred with fashionable flannel!”

Faithfully, the father’s first-born, Farley, was in a fertile field fixing fences while father, fugitive and family were feeling festive. The fugitive’s fraternal faultfinder flew into a fury, frowning on the fickle forgiveness of former folderol. “Fred’s a fool!” said Farley. His fury flashed, but fussing was futile. For the faithful father figured, “Filial fidelity is fine, Farley, but the fugitive is found! What forbids fervent festivity? Unfurl the flags! Find the fiddles and flutes! Let fanfares flare! Let fun and frolic freely flow!”

Former failure’s forgotten; folly forsaken! Father’s forgiveness forms the foundation for former fugitive’s future fortitude!

[adapted from Graham H Twelftree: Your Point Being…? (Monarch Books, 2003) p. 194.]

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the cup or the coffee?

A group of young professionals who achieved much quickly in their career visited their favourite old college lecturer during their reunion. They enjoyed each other’s company, but the conversation drifted off to a negative tone, complaining about the demands and the pressures of their work and responsibilities.

Their lecturer offered them coffee and brought in a big tray of coffee cups of different sizes and makes, some fine bone china, others plastic, or glass, simple mugs, and some ornate delicate ones too. They all picked a cup for themselves and the lecturer commented:

“Have you noticed that all the nice and fine cups were taken, leaving behind the ordinary and simple plastic ones. You all, quite naturally, want the best of everything for yourselves. But this is the source of your stress and problems too. What you all wanted was coffee and not the cup! Still, you consciously chose the better, bigger, nicer cups while you watched what others are picking up.”

The penny dropped for the ex-students:

“We assume than that Life is the coffee, and our work, positions, money are the cups. They are just tools for Life. They don’t really add to the quality of life. And by paying so much attention and using so much energy in choosing the “right” cup we miss enjoying and making the most of the coffee that’s in it. Thank you for continuing teaching us of things that really matter.”

Jesus said that He came to give us Life in abundance or as some translations put it to the full (John 10:10)! Pay more attention to the Life and the Life Giver this coming week, and always, to enjoy the full flavour of His Life. And you will see, somehow, only Jesus knows how, He will make “the cup” of your life nicer and better too!

[inspired by the Facebook post of Nagyvárad Olaszi Reformed Church in Romania]

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Wisdom of the Cluster

Right Rev. Colin Sinclair (Palmerston Place)

We are part of a cluster of congregations with Murrayfield, Palmerston Place and Stockbridge. We are exploring the ways we can serve our communities better together. One thing we can do is to learn from one another. I often shared that one of my favourite Scripture verses is Romans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

With this article series Wisdom of the Cluster, we want to grow and be encouraged by the shared wisdom of our brothers and sisters in the cluster.

We launch the articles with the wisdom of Very Rev. Colin Sinclair, minister of Palmerston Place. Colin and Palmerston Place gave thanks to God this week for the 40th anniversary of Colin’s ordination and ministry. Colin served the national church as her Moderator in 2019.

Q: Colin, how do you keep your faith strong?

A: Theologians talk about “the means of grace!” and by that they just mean that to keep your faith alive you need to prioritise: – making time for worship and spending time with other Christians – not getting isolated (not easy in a Covid19 world); keep your own devotional life alive through taking time to read the bible and pray and sharing in Communion and remaining active in Christian service.

Also, I have tried to keep in contact with people whose Christian lives I admire. Their example and inspiration have made me want to stand tall and be the best I could hope to be. Not wanting to let them down – many have been members of my congregation over the years though a good number of them have gone ahead to glory.

I have been inspired both by those I have met personally and those I have read about or whose writings have inspired me.

Finally, I have tried to set myself challenges and goals whether in study or service that take me beyond my comfort zone and increase my dependence on God.

Thank you Colin, and we also share in the thanksgiving for your fruitful ministry, wishing Ruth and you and Palmerston Place God’s continuing rich blessings in the ministry of the Gospel!

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Cluster Meeting Information – 3 May 2021

Cluster of Murrayfield – Palmerston Place – St Stephen’s Comely Bank – Stockbridge

You will recall that Presbytery instructed that congregations should collaborate in clusters amidst a realisation across the Church of Scotland of a lack of ministers for the available posts and a lack of funds generally. We are encouraged by the fellowship and common purpose shared in this Cluster and are looking to the future (both challenges and celebrations) in how we can support and bless each other.

The shared Holy Week services worked well and was a good start for working together as a cluster.

The Presbytery Strategy Team noted that there have not been any innovative and radical suggestions coming from Cluster Groups across Presbytery; certainly, no congregation has volunteered to disband in order to save money! In this Cluster, each church serves a distinct community and the congregations should be maintained, even the number of ministers reduces following retirement etc. Congregations should be aware that one or more buildings may be closed by Presbytery, acknowledging that merging congregations has not statistically resulted in 1+1=2; more like =1.6. Edinburgh and Glasgow Presbyteries have many of the most successful (spiritual growth, missional activity, numbers and finances) congregations and – as the Church of England found 30 years ago –  you do not grow the Kingdom by cutting churches that are active in promoting the Gospel whilst saving those that are not!

The Property Toolkit is being used by each Congregation, as required by Presbytery and the National Office, to assess Churches, Halls and Manses whether they should be marked for retention or disposal. (SSCB is in a good position and this is being enhanced by the Vision 2020 Refurbishment work, so we continue to pray for funds for the Phase 2 Works.)

The Dean Fund is being assessed as a potential source of funds for the mission work that all the churches in the Cluster seek to carry out and grow, and we are liaising with Blackhall St Columba which also ‘inherited’ some of the former Dean Parish.

Getting to know each other better will be progressed in both Kirk Sessions and congregations, looking at pen portraits for newsletters, visits to other churches, small team meetings and social gatherings when permitted. 

Name and Logo for the Cluster will be looked at. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Four main areas for initial collaboration were identified, namely Pastoral; Outreach; Youth Work; and Technology.

Prayer is vital and we will gather a couple of prayer points each month from each congregation to produce a monthly prayer list.

Pulpit Exchange is being considered for one worship service, to continue the introductions process – the Ministers would each move round one place and preach in another church in the Cluster.

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Dawn of Easing COVID Regulations

We give thanks to God for His grace and love by which He enabled scientists, medical professionals, front line workers, leaders and ordinary people to progress in easing the COVID Regulations. More and more light is dawning on us as the regulations are easing, and we are grateful to God for this!

Mainland Scotland is now in Level 3 and with the regulations for churches easing, this means the following changes for us at SSCB, for which we are grateful to God:

CHANGES:

  • The cap of fifty people attending worship has been replaced by a maximum for each building based on maintaining the 2m physical distancing. This means a slight increase in available seating capacity at SSCB. 
  • Church Balconies and galleries can be used for seating (still 2m physical distancing unless sitting as a small family group).
  • Informal hospitality (tea and coffee) after service is permitted. This is excellent news even though certain restrictions apply:
    • People must remain seated and be served in their place – tables will be set out.
    • Face coverings must always be worn unless exempt or consuming food or drink.
    • There must be 2m physical distancing between people at different tables.
    • The number of people at different tables must not exceed the current regulations, which at the time of writing is 6 people of 2 households.
    • People (other than servers) must not move between tables.
  • We will set up tables at the end of the service at the back of the church where we will have coffee and tea in line with the guidelines above. If weather permits it we will enjoy our cuppa outside.
  • The cap on attending weddings and funerals in church is now 50 for all (maintaining 2m physical distancing), with the following conditions:
    • Weddings: The maximum of 50 includes the couple, witnesses, photographer and guests. The officiating minister, church staff and/or volunteers facilitating the wedding are not included in that number 50.
    • Baptisms: Baptismal services take place as part of worship. Baptismal parties are counted in the number of the congregation. Physical distancing and good hygiene practices must be observed in the act of Baptism. Only the parents and the baby may come forward, and one of the parents holds the baby, while the minister pours or sprinkles water on the baby’s head.
    • Funerals: Again, a maximum of 50 at a funeral service in church, maintaining 2m physical distancing.

While there are considerable changes there are still many restrictions which have not yet changed, including:

UNCHANGED REGULATIONS:

  • Face coverings must always be worn in the church building unless someone is exempt on medical grounds.
  • 2m physical distancing must be maintained throughout the building.
  • Singing is still not permitted at a service. If singing is a necessary part of the service one soloist may sing behind a shield, maintaining the 2m physical distance from others.
  • Only certain musical instruments are permitted to be played.
  • Good hygiene practices must be observed.
  • Government regulations must always be followed.
  • A temporary register of attendance for track and tracing purposes must be kept.

There is much we can be thankful for. We continue with our blended services on Sundays, in church and shared on Zoom. Despite some restrictions, being in church is becoming even more meaningful again and more like a church family sharing in worship and fellowship. So, we encourage you to return to church. We have been particularly careful to make and keep the place safe for everyone. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask, or contact the church office: office@comelybankchurch.com

The good news from the Scottish Government is that if the number of cases continues to fall, further changes and easing will follow. According to their planned timetable, all of Scotland will move through the levels on the following dates:

  • 17 May to Level 2
  • 7 June to Level 1
  • June (late) to Level 0

Please continue to pray for the Government, scientists, medical professionals, front line workers and everyone that the much hoped for changes and easing will be fulfilled as planned.

[from GV]

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God, Creation, and SSCB

Gus Speth, an American environmental lawyer and advocate said: “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.” [Shared Planet: Religion and Nature, BBC Radio 4 (1 October 2013)]

King David wrote in Psalm 24 verse 1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;”

Gus Speth and King David together are laying a huge amount of responsibility at the feet of Christians and the church! As the followers of Christ, we are called to be good and faithful stewards of our environment! We are to protect, and wisely manage God’s Creation that it will flourish, and sustain and enrich life, and that way glorify God!

After all, how can we love the Lord with all that we are and have if we do not care for what belongs to Him? And how do we demonstrate our love for our neighbour if we do not care for the world that should sustain them too?

Jesus overcame sin (selfishness, greed and apathy are part of that too!) by His love for God’s world, giving Himself for it all, we included! We are called to love one another and our world as he loved us. How can we manifest that love here at SSCB in practical ways towards our God, neighbour, and environment?

We are inviting all who are interested to start discussing what we as a church family can do to become more conscious of and caring for our environment.

Join our Zoom meeting at 20:00 on Wednesday, 12 May to chat and pray on this topic and share our thoughts with one another. Zoom link will be provided in the newsletter as usual. If you would like further information, please contact Emma D through the church office: office@comelybankchurch.com

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: “Go and Do Likewise”

We have come a long way since we first caught a glimpse of the Celtic Christians. Hopefully we have seen that we are all essentially the same. We are human beings in need of God who not only created us, but who sustains us – for He provides life, justice and mercy through His love and power. 

In the Celtic Christians, we have seen how different peoples can not only see themselves as family, but be family; not through ourselves, but through being adopted by God the Father.

It can be good to find quiet times and quiet places – not as ends in themselves, but as a means of shedding distractions and drawing closer to God. He is always here: do we choose to turn to face Him or to turn away from Him?

We have seen how fulfilling a good and godly life is when we simply get on with it. But we need to remember that getting on with life includes times of contemplation – are we actually doing as God calls us; using the giftings God has given us; actively supporting others or just helping ourselves?

We were created to be in relationship, fellowship, community. We can come together and hold ourselves accountable to each other and to an especial dear one whom God provides for that purpose – and through all that, we can draw closer to God.

We can admire and learn from godly traits in others, but as a means of inspiring us to do godly things ourselves. We do not need to travel to journey; we do not need to see the result for there to be completion of God’s will.

We can learn and follow the importance of timing – seasons of activity and rest. We can relax into the care and love which our Father has for us all, through the power of a blessing:

The blessing of God and the Lord be yours.
The blessing of the perfect Spirit be yours,
The blessing of the Three be pouring for you
Mildly and generously, Mildly and generously.

We can seek protection in prayer, noting that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) provides us with the means of our protection even as we seek Him to encircle and surround us in providing for us and in loving us:

Form of Christ before thee
Form of God behind thee
Stream of Spirit through thee
To succour and aid thee.

We have blessings, caim and lorica prayers, in Psalms:

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
    you surround them with your favour as with a shield. (Psalm 5:12)

We are called to walk in step with Jesus so that we can see what He sees, do what He does, rest when He rests.

The Celtic Christians found so much expression and inspiration in simplicity, prayer and just looking to Jesus. But the point is not to stop there, admiring them. The point is to recognise – and to do – what Jesus calls of us. We have seen that already, and it is appropriate to close this series with the verses in Luke that sum up what we are called to do:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

‘Go and do likewise.’

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Now Thank We All Our God (1636)

There are over 130 passages in Scripture about thanksgiving. The Apostle Paul is encouraging us to give thanks in everything!

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

This is not as easy as it reads! What about circumstances when we feel or are hurt, put down, have lost something or someone precious? Somehow our heart finds it hard to beat in the rhythm of thankfulness.

There are only a few praises devoted just to giving thanks to God. But there is one that is very powerful: Now Thank We All Our God. In many German churches it is sung as some of our churches are singing the ‘Doxology’ after the offering is uplifted.

It was written by Martin Rinkart (1586-1649), a Lutheran pastor of Eilenberg, in Saxony. He was the son of a poor coppersmith, and felt God was calling him to the ministry. After his training he began his pastoral work just as the Thirty Years’ War was raging through Germany.

Floods of refugees streamed to Eilenberg, seeking safety behind its walls. It was a desperate time! The Swedish army surrounded the city, and inside the walls there was nothing but plague, famine, and fear. About eight hundred homes were destroyed, and people were dying in increasing numbers. The pastors faced a ministry that drained the soul and the body: preaching the gospel to encourage their flocks, caring for the sick and the dying, and burying the dead. One after another, the pastors themselves took ill and died, until at last only Martin Rinkart was left. Some days he conducted as many as fifty funerals!

Finally, when the enemy demanded a huge ransom, it was Martin Rinkart who went out to negotiate with them. He did it with such courage and faith that there soon was a conclusion to the siege, and the period of suffering finally ended.

Rinkart, knowing there is no healing without thanksgiving, composed this praise for the survivors. It has been sung around the world ever since.

I want to encourage you to sing it yourself, this week, every day, no matter of your circumstances! Your God is greater than all the troubles and sorrows!

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: Characteristics of Celtic Christianity

We have seen characteristics of individual Celtic Christians. Some were missional, kind or thirsty for God’s love. Some excelled as teachers or healers. Others were relational or had great leadership qualities. We have glimpsed some who were loving, wise, creative, funny and nurturing. As we noted earlier, all this hardly starts to build up a complete picture of the characteristics of Jesus Himself … but still, it is a start.

So what then about the characteristics of Celtic Christianity as an entity; this reflection of a culture and expression of a people? Is it enough to say that we will know it when we see it? There are some specific characteristics which, although shared in part with other expressions of Christian faith, do point us directly to Celtic Christianity.

Chasing the Wild Goose. The Celtic Christians readily accepted relationship with the Holy Spirit. They were guided by their faith rather than anchored by it, and that, in large part, was due to the way they viewed the Holy Spirit. The Wild Goose was a great analogy, because it showed to the Celtic Christians that the Holy Spirit was not some tame pet kept in a box and brought out to entertain others. The Holy Spirit could be seen and identified, would guide and reveal, but you approached only on the Holy Spirit’s terms. And even if the Holy Spirit appeared calm and gentle, there could be an edginess.

As C.S. Lewis wrote of Aslan in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Bible-based. Celtic Christianity saw the Bible as a living guide to life. Biblical scenes on Tall Crosses were formal preaching sessions and encouragements for travellers. As we have seen, the Celtic Christians were especially fond of the Psalms and many who could read had their own Psalter: a small volume of the Book of Psalms and usually other devotional material as well as a list of saints and saintly characteristics.

Caring. Celtic Christianity cared for others through hospitality and anam cara, and through loving stewardship of both land and livestock. It sought help from God as the ultimate example of powerful and gentle caring. It was caring that not only noticed but also took action – and brought together the faith and deeds of Celtic Christianity, leaving us prayers such as:

The Three who are above in the City of glory,
Be shepherding my flock and my kin,
Tending them duly in heat, in storm, and in cold,
With the blessing of power driving them down
From yonder height to the sheiling fold.

Praying. And this, of course, was another characteristic of Celtic Christianity. It should be a characteristic – a hallmark – of all Christians. For Celtic Christianity, this often circled back to the Holy Spirit, for after all:

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude vv. 20-21)

Four characteristics: not exclusive to Celtic Christianity, but together clearly indicative. Hold onto them and whoever or wherever you are, you represent Celtic Christianity.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Doors Wide Open

Praise God – it is delightful to have re-opened the church for worship. We believe everyone attending in person has been blessed. For many, not being able to attend church over the past few months has been a serious deprivation, and we give thanks for technology as services continue to be streamed by Zoom. We are grateful to God that we could re-open wide the church doors to welcome all. Gradually the restrictions are easing and we pray for safety and fellowship for everyone, whether attending in person or remotely. We continue to adapt our approach to the church set-up,  so that can all thrive alongside each other.

The return to church can mean renewed joy, anxious moments and also awareness of those for whom the time is not yet ready to return. Everyone is precious and every viewpoint is important as we look forward to welcoming more and more soon!

We are able to welcome up to 50 people together for worship. Soon this restriction will be lifted, but other safety measures (such as 2 metres physical distancing, hand sanitising, wearing face coverings and not singing in church) will remain for some time. We must follow these rules for everyone’s safety and wellbeing. 

Reducing unnecessary congestion in church we have a one-way system which does make it a bit longer to get around but it is a necessary requirement imposed on us, keeping each other safe. Please follow the signage!

Sunday Club and Inspire have been able to restart and it is great to have Children and Youth in church again. The Youth divide their time meeting in the halls, helping the wee ones and helping (running!) the Audio Visual. Sunday Club children meet in the halls for all their activities. Families with pre-school children are welcome in the church, and the whole Church Family can help because physical distancing and one-way system restrictions can be a struggle for younger children. To support this, we are making the Prayer Room available for them as a more spacious “base.”

Most Sundays we still have space for more people. Please be encouraged to come and worship together in church. It is lovely to see you in person and your presence is such an encouragement to the worshipping Church Family, especially those working so hard at keeping the church as a safe, welcoming place of worship in the present circumstances.

When you come, please follow the rules and the guidance of the Welcome Team so that the church can remain open. The Welcome Team will guide you to an available single seat (family seats available for spouses or wider families). We will re-start tea and coffee afterwards just as soon as we are permitted.

In spite of physical distancing and on-going restrictions, we hope you will enjoy being back in church. Not yet with singing, but we can return with the joy of the exiles returning to Zion:

“The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10) 

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Thank you Video Message from Phil

Phil and Mary have been part of our church family for the past two years (almost). They were much loved and respected. Recently they moved to the Borders. We did not forget them, nor did they forget us. Phil sent a short video message of thank you to the SSCB church family. Thank you Phil and Mary for thinking of us. We wish you and Mary God’s rich blessing as you settle in and settle down in the Borders.

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Cluster Meeting Information – part 2 of 2

Having identified a potential cluster with Murrayfield, Palmerston Place, Stockbridge and SSCB, we spent time assessing our links, strengths and clear differences. We found we could work together and want to do so. What could it look like? What can we continue to do well, or even better together, where can we collaborate and what should we lay down?

We have a group of four churches that feel connected and led to explore what that might look like in practice. We seek clarity on the plans that God has for us. Nothing has been decided or committed to, and we are simply throwing around some ideas, mixing them up with prayer and trusting to the Holy Spirit to provide the vital yeast. If it continues to look good, then we might pop it in the oven and see what starts to rise!

We know, from the shared Holy Week services, that we can collaborate using technology. We want to engage with each other and reach out to others. Perhaps we can share IT (experience and equipment), with further expertise from Presbytery, to run a Cluster team hosting Zoom events such as worship, fellowship and prayer meetings?

Perhaps we can collaborate with Youth and Outreach. Cluster-wide paid leaders can combine with volunteers who are called to serve in their own congregations?

What about ministers themselves? In the future, if the number of available ministerial posts were to reduce, perhaps we could combine fewer ministers covering the four congregations alongside enhanced IT facilities and volunteers who are prepared to preach and be involved in other ministry activities? 

We aim to retain and enhance our existing relationships – for example ‘Comely Bank Churches Together’ and our links with La Jolla Christian Fellowship in San Diego.

For many of us, a focal point is gathering together in fellowship and worship, but for some of us, we may have found that Zoom services keep us fed spiritually, allowing us to seek Christian fellowship in other ways. Maybe the churches will be refuelling stations, enabling us to go out into our community throughout the week (wherever that community is and whatever it may look like)? Even after pandemic restrictions end, there will be elements of how we have survived that we can use to help us thrive.

If so, then maybe a Cluster with its pooled resources can enhance us? It’s all up for discussion and prayer.

What we do know is that we want to build from our existing strengths, not lose them. We want to praise God and bring the message to others, identifying where we can do that better together. Our Cluster footprint is a city bridge. It can be enhanced and made stronger, but if any church is removed then we would be facing a large gap. Our separate identities and environments are reasons not just for continued existence, but for continued growth. And growing as a strong Cluster, allows for mutual support.

As we collaborate, we must honour and praise God. We have made a start, we like what we see, and we know there is so much potential. We pray that all that we do together as a Cluster and as individual churches will please and glorify God. So how should we do it?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ [Matthew 22:37-39]

[from Timothy Pitt, Session Clerk]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: Themes of Celtic Christianity

In looking at the Celtic Christians, we have looked at concepts and foundations, been to Thin Places and studied history. Seven themes have emerged which interlink and provide mutual support.

Prayer. Celtic Christians loved God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and sought to be in relationship with God, not just to know about God. Prayer was their foundation, and led to everything else. They prayed for strength and protection; they prayed blessings on themselves and others. As children, we innocently ask our parents when we need or want something. We remain children of God, and whilst He has the advantage of knowing us and our needs better than we know ourselves, still:

‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Luke 11: 9-13)

This inspiration was drawn straight from …

Scripture. For Celtic Christians, the Bible was their encyclopaedia, history book, guide to healthy living and source of future planning. It was their route map to a closer relationship to God. They were especially drawn to the Psalms, taking them as personal prayers. They carved Scripture scenes on Tall Crosses. Those who could read would read to others, for they lived in …

Community. They lived by supporting each other, both in mission and basic hospitality. Even hermits would not be in total seclusion, for they would meet in fellowship and share, enjoying having …

Soul Friendship. They discussed their lives with their Anam Cara, not necessarily looking for advice and counsel, but holding themselves accountable. Together they would consider their thoughts and actions and, in transparency, would be in …

Contemplation. They spent time thinking, not just aimlessly drifting from one task or snatching at the next. A modern contemplation would be ‘WWJD’ or What Would Jesus Do, and they could consider this anywhere and at any time; for any activity could be an act of worship, being their …

Pilgrimage. They did not have to travel (although they travelled extensively) on pilgrimage. They did not have to find a Thin Place (although that helped give them focus and enabled them easily to meet with God). A prayer walk was pilgrimage; providing hospitality was pilgrimage. They did not have to go anywhere on pilgrimage (although many did) because Jesus is their, and our, Emmanuel: God with us. They just needed to set regular time consciously to be with God; to find their …

Rhythm. The Celtic Christians sought regularity and rhythm, progress and balance. Through the rhythm of the seasons they could witness God who creates; through the rhythm of rest they could benefit from God who blesses.

Seven themes. The Celtic Christians did not have the perfection of Jesus. But they sought it; they sought God and were with God.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week – All the Way My Saviour Leads Me (1875)

In this praise Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) shared her own personal testimony of God’s guidance as she experienced it. It is a bold statement and a massive encouragement to any of us! Maybe you don’t know, but Fanny Crosby was blind, still she understood her own blindness was part of God’s plan, strange that might sound to us!

When Fanny was about six weeks old, her parents noticed there was something wrongt with her eyes. The local doctor was away, but they found someone else – strangely nobody was able to remember his name later – who claimed to be a physician. He applied hot poultice on the baby’s inflamed eyes. The infection cleared up alright, but white scars remained after it, and the family noticed in the coming months that the baby was not responding to visual signals or objects held in front of her eyes. Fanny’s vision was very badly damaged, but she was not totally blind. She could discern day from night even in her old age, but that was it, her vision was gone!

However, this tragedy stimulated other gifts, like her amazing memory. In her childhood she memorised whole sections of the Bible, most of the Pentateuch, the four Gospels, all the Proverbs, and vast portions of other books! I wonder how much of the Bible could we recite?! Whenever she wanted to “read” the Bible she just “turned” the pages in her head! “This Holy Book,” she said at eighty-five, “has nurtured my entire life.”

In her older age she regarded her blindness as a special gift from God, believing He had given her a particular “soul-vision” which equipped her for a special work. “It was the best thing that could have happened to me,” she declared. “How in the world could I have lived such a helpful life had I not been blind?”

“Don’t blame the doctor,” Fanny said on another occasion. “He is probably dead by this time. But if I could meet him, I would tell him that he unwittingly did me the greatest favour in the world.”

The praise expresses Fanny Crosby’s lifelong testimony, yet it was prompted by a specific incident in 1874. One day she didn’t have enough money for her rent. As she committed the matter to God in prayer, a stranger appeared at her door and pressed a ten-dollar bill in her hand and as suddenly as he appeared he disappeared again. It was the exact amount she needed! In response as thanksgiving and praise she wrote that night the praise: “All the Way My Saviour Leads Me.”

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The Triumph of Joy

At dawn, on the first day of the week the women went to the tomb of Jesus but the tomb was empty. They did not find what they were looking for! They found something else, the risen Saviour, and joy: “so the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy…” (Matthew 28:8)

Easter is the triumph of joy!

John dedicates five chapters to the last night of Jesus with his disciples (John 13-17)! What is so amazing about this, is that as heavy darkness is descending both outside and inside the hearts, and the frightening shadow of the cross is overcast on Jesus, he speaks about JOY to his disciples (John 16:17-24)! In a short interval Jesus mentions joy four times! One last time before his death Jesus wants to make his disciples to focus on and anticipate Easter morning, as the explosive dawn of JOY! All that is to happen on Good Friday and Easter morning is about JOY!

Easter is the triumph of Jesus over sin, evil and death. It is the triumph of joy! This joy is not a cover over bad things! It is joy that triumphs over all that is bad, hurtful, sinful, and evil! Easter is not about hiding your disappointments, suppressing your pain, trivialising your loss, putting on a smile and pretending with a happy face that everything is fine. No, not at all!

Easter means: A new age has begun! Jesus has risen and His kingdom is here. He has conquered death, sin, and evil! Jesus is alive and He sits on His throne! And He is putting His and all your enemies under His feet! Jesus is taking all your pain, and grief, and burden and overcomes them all, making you more than conquerors. That’s His promise to you if you put your trust in Him! You will have trouble in this world but take heart! He has overcome the world! Your sorrow will turn to joy, and no-one will take your joy from you! For you are more than conquerors through Christ!

Easter declares for all time that Jesus who has conquered death gives us the victory, the triumph of joy!

[from GV]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: Bible History-Who Were the Celts?

Celts appear to have come from continental Europe, around modern-day Marseille, first referred to as ‘Keltoi’ by the Greeks in 517BC. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus mentioned Keltoi living around the Danube (the Black Forest area of modern Germany) and they were also found in the far west of Europe.

To the Romans in the 1st century BC they were known as Gauls, or Galli, although Julius Caesar noted that they referred to themselves as Celts. The Continental Celts  (primarily France and Iberia) could regard themselves as those who stayed close to home, and they became known by themselves and others as the ‘Gauls’.

But a divergence had also occurred; a wandering of cousins north and east.

First, the Insular Celts had migrated north. They were the Celts of Britain and Ireland, the subject of our studies in Celtic Christianity. They came to southern Scotland which was then considered as far north as you could (safely) go. This was the land called Hen Ogledd or the ‘old north.’ The Celts painted their bodies and were known to the Greeks as ‘Pretani’ or ‘painted ones.’ Their lands were called ‘Pretannia,’ from which comes Britannia and the name for the whole island of Britain; its people being the Britons. The people living beyond them, in what is now central and northern Scotland, also painted their bodies. The Romans reached that far north and recorded them in AD297 as ‘Picti’ – Latin indicating painted or tattooed people. They were the Picts. The Insular Celts were crushed up against the Picts, but through intermarriage and intermingling, the Celts became utterly dominant in the new Kingdom of Scotland.

Second, some Celtic, or Galli, people had travelled east and south looking for a new home and a new identity. These Galli found both in 3rd century BC, settling in the highlands of central Turkey which became known as Galatia.

Paul wrote to the Galatians (Galli, Gauls and Celts – call them what you will). But if Paul was writing to family – to third cousins, twice removed of the ‘Scottish’ Celtic people – what did he have to say in his Letter to the Galatians? Is it relevant for the Celtic Christians?

Paul was concerned about the Galatians’ faith and emphasised that there was no other gospel. You will recall that paganism had counterattacked against initial evangelism (by Ninian and later by others) and that a desire for a consistent approach in the Faith was one factor in uniting under the Augustinian ‘Roman Church.’

Paul was at pains to explain his credentials and his mission amongst the Gentiles. The Celtic Christians worked amongst the Picts, Anglo Saxons and their own Celtic kin in spreading the Word.

Paul highlighted faith above (but not to the exclusion of) works. The Celtic Christians were led, by their faith, to act through hospitality, mission work, soul friendship and prayer.

And finally, and tellingly, Paul wrote to the Galatians of life by the Spirit. Their relationship with the Holy Spirit was so important to the Celtic Christians, and we have already seen how they were not so much anchored by their faith as led by it. They had freedom in going where the Holy Spirit led – of chasing the Wild Goose – for after all:

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:18)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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The Life to Come

New Sermon Series about Heaven and Life After Death

As I created the image for the sermon series, I noticed the unintended pun in it: ‘Coming Soon – The Life to Come’. I suppose it is very true. We don’t know how soon ‘the life that is to come’ will come! In some cases, it comes well before we expect it, never mind being prepared for it! Are you prepared for it? I know, I know, this is not a comfortable question! It is a bit easier to ask you in print, but don’t you worry I will ask you face to face, and eye to eye in these coming sermons! Are you prepared for the life that is to come?

Recently we explored the Book of Revelation and celebrated the Resurrection at Easter. They directed our attention even if we did not want it to heaven and life after death. Heaven, and life that is to come have been very much before us. In our present age life, death and heaven are subjects that people don’t want to think and talk about or even hear about. But we need to think about life, death and heaven, because whether we like it or not it will come to of us all! Sadly, many even in the church have confusing notions about life, death, heaven and hell. Many are not prepared for them at all. In these sermon series we will consider what the Bible says about what happens after we die. After all, the Author (God) knows it best. He has experienced them both and offers the opportunity to all of us to experience eternal life with Him!

I hope this series will guide you to know how to receive eternal life! So don’t miss the series, after all the life to come will be coming soon! The sermon series begin on Sunday 18 April.

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Cluster Meetings Information

You might be familiar with the phrase ‘cluster’ mostly in relation to mathematics, astronomy, linguistics, or chemistry, but churches? We want to share with you some information about clusters in relation to churches, in particular to our congregation and church family.

What is a Cluster in relation to churches? It is a local gathering of churches sharing in ministry, mission, vision and resources in order to mutually encourage and strengthen each other and primarily to build God’s Kingdom. It is like logs on the fire, feeding and fuelling each other to burn brighter and give out more light, heat and energy. Move a log away, and it will begin to lose its flame, heat and finally its spark and grow cold.

You will be aware that a couple of years ago the General Assembly put forward a Radical Plan to re-imagine and restructure the Kirk to make it effective in building God’s Kingdom in our present age and the future with diminishing resources.

The restructuring affects not only the central offices at 121 George Street, or the Presbyteries, but also the individual congregations. This means a restructuring and reforming of our Presbytery, by joining some neighbouring Presbyteries, and also developing a new Presbytery Plan for the ministry of our congregations.

Often such plans were drawn up by a committee with little or no input from local congregations until a draft version was presented for discussion, causing much distress and upset locally.

This time the Strategic Planning Committee proposed a different approach involving representatives of the local congregations. They proposed Cluster Groups for geographically close congregations around the city to begin exploring together how they could make the mission and ministry of the church more affective. What things they share, like circumstances, resources, vision, etc. This part of the process is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to find the matching or closely matching pieces to create the big picture. After a bit of jigging it seems to our Kirk Session we found our match, or we are part of the big picture we are happy to develop. Our cluster consists of four Church of Scotland congregations: Murrayfield Parish Church; Palmerston Place Church, Stockbridge Church, and St Stephen’s Comely Bank. Already our cluster congregations shared services during Holy Week, which were a real blessing!

We are at the very beginning of exploring the opportunities to share in ministry, mission, fellowship, vision and resources, while keeping our particular identities and cultures as individual congregations. We are asking God what His vision is for this area where our congregations live, work and witness. We are assessing our own resources, gifts and mission, considering the things we can contribute to God’s vision and plan! We are also exploring how we can continue ministering together with our brothers and sisters from other denominations with whom we have already been sharing in the past.

It is an exciting time. It is a radical time. But we need to remember that radical change in our church will not come from rearranging the present structure! Change will come by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, if we restructure our focus on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith! After all the builders labour in vain if the Lord does not build the house (Psalm 127:1)!

Please pray for our Kirk Sessions, all four (!), that we will seek God’s guidance, we will listen to Him and each other, and will be obedient to God’s leading.

“‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbour to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 3:10)

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Pray for Our Elders

Easter Sunday we rejoiced for by God’s grace we ordained and admitted four new elders to serve the Church of Christ in our church family. It is a delight to us that the Lord has called Veronique, Emma, Cat, and Jacqueline to serve Him and His people here at St Stephen’s Comely Bank!

As part of the ordination service I asked you, the church family to encourage and support our elders, and surround them with your love and remember them in your prayers!

I’m reminding you now to pray for our elders! Why is this so important?

First – elders are called to be overseers over the flock, to shepherd the church of God (Acts 20:28). The Apostle Paul regarded of great importance that elders will ensure the good order of the church, be faithful in upholding the message of God to encourage people by sound teaching (Titus 1:5-9). Overseeing the life of the church family requires sound Biblical discernment and wisdom!

Second – elders are called to serve the people of Christ; to comfort, counsel, and sometimes rebuke, teach and correct them (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Doing these are not always easy or pleasant, yet our elders are charged by Peter to shepherd us willingly, being eager to serve, and being an example to us (1 Peter 5:1-3)!

In all these our elders do need to demonstrate their own personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, seek the unity of the church family, uphold the teaching of Christ, assure the faithful worship of the Lord, maintain good Christian, Biblical discipline, service and government of the body of Christ.

Such calling is demanding in body and spirit! It is important for us the church family to know these things too – so we will appreciate the calling of our elders, the service they do, and all that is involved in fulfilling their calling diligently and serving the Lord cheerfully. These things also help us to know how to pray for our elders! Let me encourage you to pray particularly for the following:

  1. A strong and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, to give them zeal and resilience to fulfil their calling. The demands of eldership require a close walk with the Lord. Pray that this will be a priority to our elders!
  2. A solid Biblical discernment and godly wisdom. Elders must be people of the Word of God, training themselves to think and act biblically (Romans 12:2)! Pray that God will grant them the motivation to continue to develop themselves in the knowledge and grace of God!
  3. A Christ-like love for the flock (John 21:15-19). Such love flows from prayer for the flock, wrestling for them with and together with the Lord in prayer!
  4. Protection for our elders! Ministers and elders (and their families!) are prime targets of Satan for spiritual attack! Pray for God to protect them, empower them, and clothes them with His armour to stand firm against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10-18)!

Do you love your church? Then pray for our elders! Pray for them weekly! Pray for them daily! Few people beyond the elders’ families realise how great are the sacrifices our elders make for the well-being of our church family! Give thanks to God for blessing us with such faithful elders, who beyond their duties of work and family also devote their service to our church family!

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The Light of Easter – The Light of the World

Easter celebrations are over, but the light of Easter continues to shine! It is important for us to have the Light of Easter that revealed the victory of Jesus Christ over death and evil! There can be so many occasions when darkness tries to overwhelm us! Those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour need to remember and take constant encouragement that they are children of light! They are people of Easter! They walk in the Light and victory of Easter!

On Sunday evening, 18 June 1815, a few miles south of Brussels the Battle of Waterloo was over. Wellington defeated Napoleon and he wanted to send news of the victory to Britain. A series of line-of-sight communication stations were set up to pass on the message of the good news. But as the message was sent thick fog set in and the signallers could not see the second part of the message that was transmitted to them. All they could pass on to Britain was: “Wellington defeated…” The people in Britain were crushed and distressed. It was a devastating news. Then the fog lifted, and the second half of the message was revealed: “Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo!”

Imagine if we had only the first part of the news of Holy Week: Jesus died on the cross. That would be devastating news! Bad news of defeat! All hope would be crushed. But Easter morning dawned with glorious light and revealed the whole picture. The tomb was empty! It revealed God’s victory: Jesus died on the cross but rose to life!

You need the Light of Easter to see and read the full message of Good News! You need to be in the Light of Christ to know the full story of your life!

Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You

Here I am to Worship – Tim Hughes; 2000 Thankyou Music

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: Building Your Own Rule

Following the Celtic Christians, how might we craft a Rule? First, a reminder of Scripture, highlighting key points:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message: Romans 12:1-2)

Pray and contemplate before drafting a framework for life. Aspire big, but start with what is manageable.

A Rule can be for an individual, family or full church community. Consider what is happening in our church right now for we have definite signs of a Rule – a trellis – being identified and established to support and enable us in our journey with Jesus. We have been calling this ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ It should encourage us in the every-day aspects of life so the big decisions have a reference point. 

The Rule need not be complex – the Northumbria Community’s Rule is ‘Availability and Vulnerability.’ Our church family’s aim is to build each other up in Jesus and lead others to Jesus, so what are our building blocks?

  • Prayer: Remember lorica (armour) and caim (encircling) prayers. Pray for ourselves and others, for our church and our plans. Pray constantly.
  • Fellowship: We are called to serve others. Do not just make room at your table, but make room in your heart. Be together.
  • People: Be real for each other; Anam Cara for those to whom you are called – soul friend first; advisor second. Be family.
  • Mission: What does God want us to do to reflect the light of Jesus and not hide it under a bushel? Godly purpose.
  • Discipleship: How do we develop others and grow closer to Jesus. Live so others can learn. Be the example.
  • Worship & Teaching: We are church family. Worship. Read the Bible. Share insights. Take in; give out.
  • Buildings: How can we turn our buildings from stone structures to Thin Places, open and relevant? God’s home.

There is a gap between each bullet point and they are part of the Rule. They denote rest which is not just something for when we are too exhausted to function. Rest is part of life, not a reaction to it. I do not think that God sometimes cannot get out of bed and just needs some “me time” (or is that “I AM time”?), but still He incorporated rest into His own activities:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)

Then add the detail. For example, how regularly to pray and in what setting? Be deliberate and accountable as you craft building blocks into your every day. Discuss!

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Easter Pronouns

Pronouns are small parts of the language, yet they are very important and they do express a lot. They can tell what the focus of someone’s thinking is. The story of the Emmaus road disciples testifies to this (Luke 24:13-35).

For many in our world the order is I, I, I, or Me, Me, Me. There is only one person that is important to them and that is themselves. Their own interest, profit, joy. They view everything in the world around them from that very personal point of view. How something is affecting them!

When Jesus joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and began to talk to them, they tell Him the things that happened in Jerusalem in those days from their own personal point of view. They tell how it made them feel, what they have lost, what they have experienced, what made them upset. They are talking only about themselves, really. People in our world tend to look and evaluate things in the same way, how it makes them feel.

But when their eyes were opened they recognised Jesus (v. 31). And their eyes and hearts and whole being were filled with Jesus. Not Me, or I, but Jesus, only Him. How He stepped next to them, what He said to them, what He did, the risen Jesus became great and the most important, the first to them! And others became important after Jesus. Earlier on they just wanted to get away from the others, didn’t want to do anything with them, now they are hurrying back to them! They are taking the good news to them, they want to share it with them, they start out on the journey back to Jerusalem straight away!

These are the Easter pronouns. The order of I, you, he changed and turned around: He became the first, you/they become second. But what about the I/Me? It faded into the background, into insignificance. Just as Paul said: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The I/Me is not important anymore, because I met the risen Christ, I have been born anew and Christ is formed in me! I can’t but speak only about Him! This is the wonder of the Easter Pronouns! May this Easter swap around your pronouns too!

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen!

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Alpha “The Place to Ask the Questions You Always Wanted to Ask”

I first went on an Alpha course over 25 years ago. It was at a church very similar to SSCB. The minister invited Elders, house group members and the wider congregation to join.

Now, I am always in favour of anything related to food, so the weekly group meal at the start was a big attraction but I can honestly say that my favourite part of the evening was always after we watched the video, when we were in our small groups discussing the video and asking any questions. That was where I could ask all the daft questions I had always wanted to ask but didn’t feel confident enough to ask. The group leader and the rest of the group always made it feel so safe and supportive that it was just a joy to be part of it all.

The Alpha course was where I first really learnt about God as the Holy Spirit. I knew way more about God the Father and Jesus, the Son but not much about the Holy Spirit. Up until then most of my prayers were pretty much “Dear God/Jesus, please protect me and my family from bombs, earthquakes and volcanoes.” (It had worked so far, although when I did encounter all three later in life when we lived in Indonesia, God did protect us!) Anyway, we learnt to pray in a much more powerful and personal way than I had ever come across before and I can tell you that completely changed my relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a way that has shaped my faith to this day. 

So come and join the Alpha course, you won’t regret it, you will learn things about God and yourself and you may be surprised how much you get from it. You can remain in the comfort of your own home and although we might not be able to share a meal in person, I am sure it will still be one of the best choices you make all year. See you there.

[from Elspeth Pitt]

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Youth Worker’s Thank You & Good Bye

Dear St Stephen’s congregation and community,

I write this article having just made the classic mistake of not realising the clocks have changed! My morning has been somewhat tainted by the sadness and disappointment of missing what I thought was going to be my last Sunday meeting with you all on Zoom. Nevertheless, I choose to rejoice in the blessings of today and remember that God uses people who make mistakes! This morning (28 March) marks an end and a beginning for Mary and myself. My sheep flock at St Boswells had its first two lambs today, which marks the start of a busy season on the farm. Whilst, this afternoon will be my last bible study with the young people.

Although this is the end of my ministry to our young people, it is by no means the end of Rock Solid and Inspire as God has answered prayer and provided a team of nine amazing volunteers to keep the youth groups going. As such, the coming weeks are a time of change for the young people, as well as an opportunity for them to learn and grow through the wisdom and service of the volunteers. Join me in praying for the young people during this time; that their faith would grow as they experience the deep revelation of Jesus and that they would be supported in this season of change.

Mary and I have begun to get involved at Hope Church Borders, who are planning to start a new gathering in the area where we just bought a house. We sense God’s hand in this and are asking him how he wants us to serve Him in this area, with this home and through the Church. Please pray that in this new and busy season we would have strong connections – to God, to each other and to our new community.

I have learned a huge amount through serving the SSCB young people. I have given my best and have enjoyed it a lot. I firmly believe that the young people of SSCB are part of a generation that can turn the tide on ‘church decline.’ I believe this because Jesus promised “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” I find comfort and challenge in this promise. It was hard for me to step down as the SSCB Youth Worker because I believe this promise to be true, and I felt this role was helping me stake my life on this promise and allowing me to see this fulfilled. Thank you so much for all your prayers, support and advice during this time.

The Lord bless you and keep you,
    The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you
    The Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace. Amen

[from Philip Anderson]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: The Rule of Life

Celtic Christians found their lives and organised worship complex and stressful; so much to accommodate; needing time and resources just to tread water. They were too busy and that was 1500 years ago!

Their ‘go to’ for help was not to turn to a myriad of self-help books and apps about how to declutter your life; it was to turn to God and the Bible, where they found encouragement in Jesus’ words:

‘…  I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10)

In general, Celtic Christians were not disposed to be legalistic and wanted simple freedom in their lives. Freedom to choose to honour God, relate to people and steward nature; loose structure, less hurry.

Some, it is true, were tied to an austere and regulated life, and ironically many in Celtic Christian holy orders found austerity in the extremes of simplicity. The more relaxed Benedictine Order became more appealing than its Celtic Christian counterpart, which helped the Benedictine monk, Augustine, arriving on British shores with the new wave of the Church of Rome.

It is called a ‘Rule’ but it is not a legalistic set of requirements. The word comes from the Latin for ‘trellis’. The Rule is a framework to lift us up in Jesus, enabling better growth; preventing disease attacking from below:

‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)

We can, of course, find a biblical template. Despite us looking at Celtic Christians of so long ago, it is the contemporary version of The Message which perhaps highlights this best:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message Romans 12: 1-2)

A Rule is not regulation but rhythm. It supports our changing needs as we grow up and allows us to work with the seasons in which we live. What the Celtic Christians did – and what we can seek to do – is to find our rhythm of life in God; not work against it or even drive on relentlessly pursuing, for there is much to be gained from including a season of rest.

In practice this addresses both the positive and negative. It positively leans into godly habits and practices, drawing us closer to God and enabling us to have time with God. Remember that for Celtic Christians, any activity could be worship – they reshaped the routine of walking somewhere into a prayer-walk. It is also helps avoid evil and negativity: identifying and helping us remove habits and practices which prevent us from consciously being with God, consciously doing what He calls us to do.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Church Re-opening for Worship

Our church doors open for public worship at 11:00am on Sunday, 28 March! So, “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name, for the LORD is good and his love endures for ever; his faithfulness continues through all generations!” (Psalm 100:4-5)

The Scottish Government is allowing people throughout Scotland to attend places of worship, with certain restrictions, from Friday 26 March. The Presbytery of Edinburgh has granted us permission to re-open the church, welcoming people for prayer and worship.

What will our church service be like?
  • We have retained the safety measures we established after the first Lockdown and will continue to offer a warm welcome, operating amid certain restrictions.
  • Worship services will be held in the church building and live streamed by Zoom, just as before. This will continue to be a feature of our church family life for some time to come; one congregation sharing in various ways according to our circumstances.
Who can attend church?
  • All are welcome and we particularly encourage those who were unable to be part of a worshipping fellowship (online or otherwise) during Lockdown.
  • If you are shielding, you should follow the Scottish Government’s instructions.
  • If you display symptoms of covid-19 infection or you are self-isolating because you share a household with someone who has the symptoms or as a result of contact tracing, you should stay at home.
  • The capacity of our building, observing the required physical distancing is 35.
  • Sunday Club will gather, with its own maximum of 35, in the halls. 
What can you expect at church?
  • The presence of the Lord God Almighty! He promised to be with those who gather in His name. (But online does not cause difficulties!)
  • A clean and safe space for worship.
  • A helpful Welcoming Team to guide and advise you in the building.
  • Registration of your name and phone number for Track and Trace purposes (data to be kept secure and destroyed after 21 days).
  • Hand sanitisers, for use as you enter and exit the church.
  • While in the building you must wear a face covering.
  • Maintain physical distancing throughout the building.
  • One way system (anti-clockwise) within the building with clear signage throughout, in support of the physical distancing.
  • Designated seats at appropriate physical distance – you may not be able to sit in your usual place.
  • Sadly singing is not permitted during worship (but dancing, if you fancy it, is welcome!). As before (and on Zoom), we can listen and reflect over recorded praises.
  • Toilet facilities will be available.
  • We are not permitted to have any social mingling or refreshments after the service in the church. 

Please consider prayerfully your return to the church building. We would love you to be there and are looking forward to seeing you in person. As always, remember that both your own and the safety of others are important.

Also, please remember the clocks are going forward on Sunday 28 March, and we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper!

If you have any queries, please contact us at office@comelybankchurch.com

[from George Vidits, minister; and Timothy Pitt, Session Clerk]

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a matter of time

Summer Saving Time is starting on Sunday, 28 March as the clocks move forward an hour. It feels like we are losing an hour. Which poses the question how well are we using our time?

The Apostle Paul wrote: Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Are you living wisely? Are you making the most of the time that you have received?

Every new day we are given 86,400 seconds to use them well because at the end of the day they all will be gone. If you wasted some of it it’s gone for ever, never to come back. So be careful how you live, make the most of every opportunity of every moment, for they are precious. Often we don’t realise how valuable time is.

Look upon time this way. To understand the value of a year is, ask the student who just lost it because of covid. To appreciate the value of a month, ask the mother who gave birth prematurely. To know the value of a week, ask the editor of a weekly magazine. To recognise the worth of an hour, ask the person in love waiting for the beloved. To comprehend the value of a minute, ask the traveller who just missed the train. To perceive the importance of a second, ask the driver who could not avoid the accident. To grasp the cost of a tenth of a second, ask the sportsperson who after years of training got only a silver medal at the Olympics!

Every moment is valuable as a precious treasure. Make the most of the time you are freely given every day.

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: A Summary

We have met different people, encountered different lives and drawn inspiration from different characteristics all with a common thread: devotion to God.

Some remained local, godly examples to all who came to them – David’s heart was for the people who surrounded him. Many, like Brendan (navigator), travelled extensively, helping point us towards a relationship with God. It is a fallacy to think that life long ago lacked intelligence and people did not travel; the journey just took longer, that’s all. Serf came from Canaan to mainland Scotland; Cuthbert, born in Dunbar, was Anglo-Saxon but of Celtic Christian ways. 

Non cared; Adomnán protected. Hilda’s gentleness, nobility and intellectual prowess saw her respected and loved as a leader. Can we build a picture through these Celtic Christians of long ago who have come fleetingly within view? Characteristics did not represent the full person, but highlighted specific godly attributes. Histories could be painted with a broad brush to illuminate key details. We can highlight the godliness and the truth, and see where that takes us:

  • Ninian – Missional
  • Brigid – Kindness
  • Ita – Thirst
  • Serf – Teaching
  • Kentigern – Preaching
  • Columba – Relational
  • Aiden – Neighbourliness
  • Winifred – Healing
  • Hilda – Leadership
  • Cuthbert – Praying

This is not just a list of different Celtic saints; we are starting to describe characteristics of Jesus.

Sometimes being missional is simply pioneering – willing to go there first and leave a legacy of God’s love for others to build. When we carry kindness as our heart attitude, then we share God’s goodness. We must have a thirst for the Lord: not taking His love and mercy for granted but still, knowing that He is merciful in His love for us. Like the Celtic Christians, we need to share our knowledge of God by teaching and preaching; by our actions and attitudes as well by as our words. As St Francis of Assis famously didn’t actually say, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.” But the message is there.

And that message links, through word and deed, to being with others; being relational enables authentic preaching. Quite simply: consider others. In doing so, we demonstrate a neighbourliness to … well, to our neighbours. This does not mean living out of their back pocket (or vice versa). It means being available for them. Sometimes that simple availability helps heal them for we can heal by our words and heart attitude as also by medical skills. We carry Christ’s love wherever we go and whoever we meet.

In focussing on serving others we find that we are effective, decisive, gentle, and noble, inspiring others to follow us as we seek the Lord.

Above all, we need to pray. Constantly.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — (1 Timothy 2:1)

These characteristics are godly and relevant. They are of Celtic Christians and they are for us today. They build a picture of Jesus for us to live by. Not nearly complete, but still it’s a start:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Our Church is Re-opening!

We give thanks to God that we can announce with joy that our church is re-opening for worship at 11:00 on Sunday 28 March. As it is our Communion Sunday, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper! Please don’t forget that the clocks go forward an hour on Sunday!

On Tuesday, 23 March the Scottish Government announced that:

People living in all parts of Scotland will be able to attend places of worship in gatherings of up to 50, where there is space for physical distancing, from Friday 26 March.

Updated guidance publishing on Friday will also allow people to travel between Level 4 areas to attend their usual place of worship following sustained progress suppressing Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Read the information in full HERE

We will be open for prayer during the week on Wednesday mornings 10:00 to 12:00 starting on 7 April.

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For Jesus – For Church Family – For Me

A long time ago in a church far, far away … OK, our first church (also called St Stephen’s) as a married couple. The minister spoke broad Aberdonian – almost as unintelligible as Transylvanian! Anyway, Jim suggested the Alpha course.

I prepared my defences – I was already a Christian and there was decent football on the tv. He just asked quietly if going to church on Sunday was ‘enough.’ If I simply opened my heart and mind to Jesus during this course, might it be possible that it would please Jesus? Might it be possible that He would bless me for seeking Him?

In the congregation, I knew a few folk, nodded hello to a few other folk and generally just got on with going to church then getting on with my life (my prayer time and my fellowship was my own business).

I started off attending Alpha – helped hugely by there being a feast of a meal as part of the proceedings. It was so interesting and involving that I soon chose to up my level; no longer just ‘attending’ I was now ‘participating in Alpha.’ I got talking to people I hadn’t really talked to, despite sitting alongside them ever since going to that church (and I don’t just mean Elspeth). Relationships were created, strengthened and developed – THIS was fellowship, not just ‘doing’ church on  a Sunday. We started to be even more of a family.

And then I realised that, whatever else was happening, I was the one who was benefitting. I was trying desperately to say “it’s all about you, Jesus” and to realise I had a church family, and yet I found I was being blessed with an inner maturity (yes, even me!) as I took time to acknowledge the Holy Spirit.

What did we do? There was a presentation (we’ll do this as a video we watch together on-line) and then, in our small groups (break out rooms), we just chatted – usually keeping roughly on topic. Some people were happy to speak ; others just soaked up the chat. But we all grew together, bouncing thoughts and questions off each other.

So I did it for Jesus, and to help grow into a Church Family. But ultimately it was for me.

SSCB On-line Alpha: try it.

[from Timothy Pitt]


Our Online Alpha Course starts at 19:00 on Tuesday, 6 April and in eight sessions and The Weekend continues till the end of May.

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Plans to Re-open Our Church for Public Worship

We are getting more and more excited as Tuesday, 23 March approaches. This is the date the Scottish Government intends to confirm places of worship may open their doors for service (max number: 50). We pray and hope there will be nothing hindering them, and therefore us, from re-opening our church for prayer and worship.

The Church of Scotland and the Presbytery of Edinburgh have already assured us that they will not issue further requirements for the re-opening of churches. Churches (like us) that have been open after the first lockdown had satisfactorily shown the safety of their buildings. We just need to maintain the same vigilance, physical distancing and hygiene standards we had practiced before.

We are eagerly awaiting both the civil and church authorities’ permission and guidelines to re-open our church building for prayer and worship as soon as possible (earliest date: Sunday worship – 28 March; church open for prayer – 7 April). While we wait, we are planning the cleaning and setting up of the church to welcome you for worship and prayer.

As we obtain all the necessary information for the opening of our building, we will let you know through our website, newsletter, and social media (Facebook, and Twitter). As you wait, please pray that we will be able to open the church and it will be a safe place for all! Please also pray and consider how you will be able to help keeping the church open for prayer and worship. Consider helping by being on the welcome team on Sundays or being a friendly face to those who will come to pray on a Wednesday. Let Alison, our Operations Co-ordinator know if you can help by emailing to office@comelybankchurch.com.

[from George Vidits, minister]

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Confessions of an Alpha-holic

Here we share personal experiences of those who have already participated in an Alpha Course, so you can have a flavour of it. Here are the confessions of Alison F.

“I returned to live in Edinburgh in my early 30s after a number of years overseas.  My sister asked me to go on an Alpha course with her at the church she had just started attending – I thought it might be interesting and I hadn’t developed much of a social life by then anyway.  It was an unpromising start – it was in a drafty old church hall, lumpy sofa and an old telly in the corner.  But the people there were friendly and the coffee was pretty good.  Astonishing to me still is that by week 2 of the course, I had heard for the first time in my life that Jesus died for me – ME! – and by week 5, I found myself saying over and over ‘Oh my goodness, this is actually true!’  By the end of the course, it was clear that my life was going to be very different from that point forward – it changed pretty much everything.

Since then, I have been involved in numerous alpha courses – hence the alpha-holic – in church, at lunchtime business meetings, and now on Zoom.  And for me, the question shouldn’t be ‘should I do this alpha course’ but rather ‘why would I not do this course?’  It is well constructed, full of evidence about the facts in the Bible and I guarantee you will have some of the most worthwhile conversations of your week.  Hopefully, we will have a laugh too!  So, whether you know the Bible inside out or just have some vague knowledge about some bloke called Jesus who lived a while ago, you will get something new and something potentially life-changing from this course.  I could not recommend it highly enough.”

See you there!

[from Alison Franks]


Our Online Alpha Course starts at 19:00 on Tuesday, 6 April and in eight sessions and The Weekend continues till the end of May.

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Cuthbert [praying]

Cuthbert was born in 634. Bede wrote much about Cuthbert, for although only fifteen when Cuthbert died, Bede had entered Jarrow monastery aged seven and served alongside an old monk, Sigfrid. Sigfrid had been a novice at Melrose when Cuthbert yielded his horse and spear, entered the church to pray, then approached Prior Boisil seeking holy orders.

A young Cuthbert, as an Anglo-Saxon minor noble, was armed guard for shepherds when on 31st August 651, in the Lammermuir Hills, he saw a shaft of light. Taking it as both a soul ascending to heaven and godly guidance that he should become a monk, he set off for Melrose, being accepted by Boisil who confirmed that it was Aiden who had died on 31st. Outstanding in study and work, Cuthbert was happiest when simply praying. Under Boisil, he developed a reputation for prayerful contemplation, then travelling on foot and evangelising (much like Aiden).

Abbot Eata, Cuthbert and others established a monastery at Ripon, but after two years they were ousted and forced to return by an ambitious monk named Wilfred who had studied at both Lindisfarne and Rome. Wilfred would go on to argue the case for the Church in Rome at the Synod of Whitby and pursue, largely unsuccessfully, high office.

After the Synod of Whitby, Cuthbert became Lindisfarne’s prior and set about healing a fractured community. He did so by praying on his own and with those who were on opposing sides, and by listening to them before finally offering his counsel. He meditated on the Lord’s Word before mediating on man’s word.

Lindisfarne’s prior for a decade, he then relinquished office and withdrew to a hermitage on Inner Farne. There he remained, occasionally visited and visiting, but constantly praying (including prolonged periods standing in the sea praying to help him focus). After another decade, he was reluctantly persuaded to become Bishop of Lindisfarne.

Again, Cuthbert governed by prayer and contemplation, by listening and discussing; not by authoritarian decree. Again, he travelled, preached and evangelised. He met to pray with Herbert, his Anam Cara who lived in Cumbria, and who died on the same day as him. After only 2 years as bishop, he returned to Inner Farne where he died in 687, being buried at Lindisfarne. His body suffered from a series of exhumations:

  • 698 grave ‘elevated’ into a tomb (undecayed);
  • 793 removed inland when Vikings threatened Lindisfarne (undecayed);

(Monks settled on Dunholm (brown hill) as his resting place when they saw a dun cow there, and built a simple church incorporating his tomb.)

  • 1104 church rebuilt to become Durham Cathedral (undecayed);
  • 1538 Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Reformation, body reinterred (undecayed);
  • 1827 artefacts removed from the coffin for display (skeleton);
  • 1899 formal post-mortem with findings ‘consistent’ with all that was known of Cuthbert’s life (skeleton).

Given the dun cow and Cuthbert, it is delicious irony that for many years the Edinburgh Co-op was St Cuthbert’s Dairy.

Cuthbert led by prayer; his leadership example was to follow the Holy Spirit and encourage those he met to know and act upon God’s will.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. (Colossians 1:9)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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When the earth shook

Most of us, I assume, do not have real experience of an earthquake. What I experienced about it hardly can be called an experience.

I was eleven, it was a Friday night, we were watching the TV, when I noticed that the light hanging from the celling was slightly swinging. That was it. For me, and for our city. But for others, who lived some 560 km away, where the epicentre was, the experience was disastrous! 1578 died in that earthquake!

Earthquakes can be devastating. They can change the landscape unrecognisably! Luke tells of an earthquake in Acts 16:16-34 that changed things profoundly.

The Apostle Paul and his companion, Silas were badly beaten and in chains in prison in Philippi. At about midnight they were praying and praising God. Suddenly a great earthquake shook the earth, the prison doors all opened up, and the chains fell off the prisoners. When the guard saw the open doors, assumed that all the prisoners were gone, he wanted to commit suicide. Paul stopped him, saying that they were all there. To this the guard asked: “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responded: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” And that man believed and got baptised. He cleansed their wounds, took them home, set a meal in front of them, and rejoiced because he and his household had come to believe in God!

Not only the foundations of the prison shook because of that earthquake, but the foundations of this jailer’s life were also profoundly shaken! The door of his heart also flung open, and his eyes were opened. He believed the word, and accepted Jesus as the new Lord of his life, whom he obeyed. He washed, and bandaged and fed Paul and Silas. For when someone believes in Christ and becomes His follower their thinking, their whole life changes. Up to that point they wounded others, now they heal the wounds!

Sometimes we need a spiritual earthquake to realise the most important question of our life is: “What must I do to be saved?” Happy and blessed is the person who is not reaching for their sword, but for the life giving word! They do not turn inwardly, trying to do it themselves, but turn to God, and His messenger to them. They do not want to end their life, but begin their true and full life offered by Jesus.

Do you want to know more about the life Jesus is offering us? Why not join our Online Alpha Course, starting after Easter?

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Are We Really Listening?

The Lord came and stood there and called as he had before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak, Lord. I am your servant and I am listening.”  1 Samuel 3:10

One of the amazing things about God is His ability to speak to us all, both as a church, and as individuals. On Sunday, 28th Feb, George talked about the importance of listening to God, really listening to the whole message, not just the bits we want to hear. It’s clear that we can hear God and harden our hearts to his word, not fully listen, mentally turn our back. It’s hard when God challenges us, whispers words that we don’t want to hear. We all know that it isn’t the right thing to do, yet it’s often easier to ignore and carry on, than to make changes within ourselves. 

Many years ago now, in SSCB, the minister spoke about the passage in 1 Samuel 3, when God spoke to Samuel for the first time. You may well have been there and heard the same sermon, I don’t know if you recall it. 

My recollection of it was a realisation of how faithful Samuel was from his very first words, and a self-analysis of my own responses to God’s word. ‘Speak Lord, I am your servant and I am listening’ said Samuel. Wow, what a short sentence with such humility, Samuel acknowledges who God is, he offers his service without question and he listened. 

There was no pause to consider the personal costs of serving God, no argument or hesitation. This teaching challenged me to reorder my priorities, to put service to God first. It helped me to refocus my prayer life and respond to God’s word, ‘here I am Lord, I am your servant and I am listening.’ We know that God’s church in Scotland is struggling, struggling to authentically represent our awesome God and His love for His people. We are all challenged to respond like Samuel, to listen and serve, to invite God to guide us and faithfully follow where He leads. As the hymn puts it “Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if You lead me, I will hold your people in my heart.”

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Hilda [leadership]

We met Hilda in the introduction to Celtic Christianity – one of the most noble, gracious, significant and intellectual leaders of her day. She lived AD614 to AD680 and, as abbess, she led a community of monks, nuns, lay persons and general workers at Whitby, chairing the Whitby Synod in AD664. 

As a girl looking at icons of saints, she was asked if she knew who the saints were. Rather than naming them, she answered generically: “Saints are people who let in the light.”

Hilda was encouraged by Aiden to set up a community in Northumbria, and she created a double one – for both monks and nuns. She was responsible for faith well-being and advancement; and for general livelihoods, health and education. Under her leadership, Whitby became a centre for arts and education and for theological study, and Hilda saw to it that all people – not just the ordained – could attend and learn. 

Bede wrote that, filled with the Holy Spirit and yearning for Jesus, she simply exuded peace and love, which only attracted more people to Whitby under her.

She could find giftings and use them to the Lord’s glory. A man, Caedmon, came to work at the monastery, the inference of the records being that he was not then a Christian. Hilda sought to engage all people and everyone took a turn singing in entertainment, but Caedmon always slipped away to his duties before he was called. One night he dreamt a man appeared and asked him to sing. Caedmon objected that he could not, only to be told, “But you shall sing to me.” Caedmon told Hilda who set him the task of setting Scripture to poetry and song. He became an ardent evangeliser and Hilda worked with him in using his poetry and song to reach out to villagers beyond the monastery.

Whitby grew under Hilda’s leadership but, importantly, the gospel message flourished under her care. She loved her people and gave of herself for their welfare. She had high standards, using them to measure herself not to condemn others. Her intelligent stewardship of available resources allowed her people to live and to live well, providing also for others in charity. And she was always available for counsel, whether as a listening ear or to pronounce and guide; and whether for kings and nobility or for ordinary folk. All served her and all loved her, just as she served and loved them.

The Whitby Synod decided against Celtic Christian ways, not against the Bible, so Hilda did not run but asked herself: “How do we love Jesus? How do we love each other?” and proceeded to answer them in her life and leadership.

Leaders are often said to ‘need’ a hard edge to them – making them admirable but perhaps not sought out in friendship. Hilda displayed a gentleness, nobility and intellectual prowess which made her not just respected as a leader, but loved.

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

In all her ways, Hilda did not just ‘let in the light’ but she positively reflected out the light that is Jesus.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Suspicious Christians Wanted

On Sunday, 7 March, a news item on the BBC website caught my attention. It shared the recent experience of Amanda Gorman, the young American poet who recited her poem at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. She was walking home on Friday night, 5 March, and a security guard followed her to her home, and demanded to know if she really lived there, for “you look suspicious.” She showed him her keys, buzzed herself into the building, and the guard left without even apologising. She commented “this is the reality of black girls: One day you’re called an icon, the next day, a threat.”

Amanda also added on her twitter page: “In a sense, he was right. I AM A THREAT: a threat to injustice, to inequality, to ignorance. Anyone who speaks the truth and walks with hope is an obvious and fatal danger to the powers that be.”

This last comment of Amanda made me reflect about our Christian commitment. Because she very profoundly described what a Christian, you and I are supposed to be in this world! The followers of Christ ought to be A THREAT! A threat to injustice, inequality, ignorance, hatred, evil, and sin! We need to speak the truth and walk with hope in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

We need more Suspicious Christians in the world, who are a revolutionary threat to the rule of evil, greed, hatred, injustice, poverty, persecution, to the reign of sin in the world. Jesus called us to be heralds of His Kingdom! To bear witness to Him who overthrew the power of evil and sin on the cross! Easter is about His victory! We are called to testify that with Jesus the victory over sin and death is possible! He called us to tell that truth and give hope of liberation, and redemption to all under the suppression of evil.

Are you such a threat? What do you need in your life to be a threat to sin and evil? Put on the armour of God, for our battle is not against flesh or blood, but spiritual forces!

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains.Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

(Ephesians 6:10-20)

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Data Protection Update

Following a routine review of our Data Protection measures we have revised the Data Protection Policy, created a new Data Retention Policy (both are on our website) and created a new Privacy Notice with all three also displayed inside church. Overall, nothing has changed – we comply with the law, minimise our personal data use and protect people. We have added a bit of colour to the basic terms, now that the current data protection system has been in place for a couple of years.

We must comply with legislation, but our higher (and highest!) authority is, of course, God. We are all called to His standards and this can be summarised as: A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. (Proverbs 11:13)

So we ask: Am I allowed, or do I need, to have, to use or to share this information? If so, how can I keep it secure and use or share it safely?

Data Protection Policy

We will process personal data fairly and transparently, and collect it for legitimate purposes.

‘Personal information’ relates to a living person. ‘Special category data’ reveals certain characteristics and one of them is ‘religious beliefs’ so clearly we are closely involved with that!

Using special category data is prohibited unless we have an ‘exemption’ of which three are relevant: (1) consent; (2) legitimate activities of a religious organisation with appropriate safeguards; and (3) necessary for the public interest, particularly to protect an individual’s well-being. In practice, as well as praying for you and just showing family love to you, if we know your details, we can reach out to you and send you the E-pistle newsletter, details of services and call to check all is well. At any time, you can always tell us to stop!

We keep the data secure – this means we don’t share it unless we have to by law or as part of our church family activities, for example, someone in the church family using your phone number just to call on behalf of the church and see how you are.

Data Retention Policy

We look after your data and will not leave address lists lying around or sell them. The Congregational Roll can be kept, by law, for 100 years (and can then archived). Miscellaneous contact information can be kept but must be reviewed and then deleted when there is no requirement to keep it. So, for example, if someone asks us to send correspondence to a relative who is not themself a member of SSCB, we can do so.

Privacy Notice

We use your data to administer membership records, for pastoral care and in relation to our activities (such as sending out this E-pistle) etc. This is why and how we have the information and are using it.

There are basic protection measures for all – e.g., if we are sending an email to a number of people, we will seek to send it as a ‘bcc’ blind copy so everyone’s email address is not listed openly. If we refer to anyone in a document but do not need to name them fully, then we will use a short form or use their initials etc.

All this applies to printed records as well as electronic.

Please be reassured: none of this stops you keeping and using your own contact details of people in church, even if you are also a church office-holder. It applies where you are acting on behalf of SSCB in carrying out a church task.

The Session Clerk is the ‘Data Protection Officer.’ If you have any questions or concerns, please make contact and they can be addressed.

This is a summary. Please refer to the full Data Protection / Retention Policies and to the Privacy Statement. It is your information and it is our duty to keep it safe for you.

While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. (John 17:12)

[from Timothy Pitt, Data Protection Officer]

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Don’t Be Late!

“As Jesus started out on his way, a man ran up to him…” (Mark 10:17a)

The Rich Young Man ran after Jesus as He was leaving. He arrived late perhaps because he first wanted to finish his business. Isn’t this ‘first’ often the reason that we miss out on so much that is good, blessed, that Jesus is offering us? Because he was late he did not hear what he really needed as Jesus’ finished his teaching:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

That was exactly the young man’s question:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17b)

Jesus explained it earlier that eternal life is a gift, it can not be earned, or bought, one can only receive it with faith. The young man just had to hold out his hands and accept Jesus’ gift. But one cannot do this in a hurry, squeezed in by-the-way among their busy schedule, high level business engagements, or after all else is done. Eternal life is either important to you, and then you make it a priority, or you will hear about it from others because you are late.

Our life is getting busier and busier, even in this coronavirus lockdown. More and more duties are burdening us, the demands on our time and attention are growing, and we are unable to fulfil many important things. The urgencies often squeeze out what is important! Make sure you will not be late like the virgins who arrived late to the wedding banquet in Jesus’ parable, and the door was shut in front of them (Matthew 25:10-12)!

Slow down, quieten your heart beat, reconsider what is important in your life, and restructure your priorities, care for your soul and spirit too! Spend time with the Lord, and others, while you still got time! Don’t be late!

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Winifred [healing]

This carries a gory health warning but all turns out well in the end.

Winifred (‘healing’) was born in the early 600s, the daughter of Tyfid ap Eiludd, a Welsh nobleman in South Wales. From early years, she sought a monastic life but being of noble blood (and, by accounts, beautiful), she was sought after as a bride. She favoured holy orders, but one spurned suitor, Caradog, attacked her after she rejected him. Some legends are that he actually beheaded her and she was brought back to life; other accounts are that he slit her throat causing a serious but not fatal injury with lasting scars. But certainly, for the medical standards of the day, her healing was considered miraculous.

Perhaps this healing triggered her godly calling; perhaps it was always her godly gift, but Winifred was healed and then became associated with the healing of others.

There was more to her, but there was always the healing. Winifred became known for her wise counsel and administration … and her healing abilities. In North Wales, north of Wrexham and west of the Wirral peninsula, she founded a dual monastery and convent. It was known first as Winifred’s Well and then as Holywell. As its name suggests, it was famous for its healing spring. Winifred is one of the few Celtic saints to have been venerated throughout medieval times and into the present day, and the Holywell shrine is still frequented by pilgrims.

After seven years at Holywell (note the Biblical number for completion), Winifred was guided to Gwytherin in Denbighshire, North Wales where she founded and led another convent.

Over the years, only the legends survived and her life story was doubted. However, in 1991, some pieces of a reliquary (a container for relics in a shrine) from the early 8th century were discovered and, from earlier drawings, the pieces were identified as belonging to Winifred, providing evidence of her historicity.

She is often represented with images representing her wisdom and leadership – usually a crozier (bishop’s staff of office) and the wimple of an abbess (not just the ‘ordinary’ wimple of a nun). But the images often also depict the tell-tale scarring at her throat, and the stories told of her always touch on the healing that others experienced.

She died around AD650 at her convent in Gwytherin and was buried there. She was much revered and, in fact, was the patron saint of Wales until her relics were moved to Shrewsbury Abbey in 1138 whereupon the Welsh turned to David, not wanting a saint who was buried in England!

Henry V walked the 50 miles from Shrewsbury to Holywell to give thanks for his victory at Agincourt and to pray for healing – physical, emotional and economic – after the fighting.

It is important to remember that for Winifred, it was not a conveyor belt of physical healing and moving on. The healing was often emotional or spiritual as well. We should acknowledge those who have medical training and godly gifts of healing and at the same time we should ourselves step forward and act, for we help each other by caring for each other’s soul needs:

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. (3 John 1:2)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Trust and Obey (1887)

This Lent we are journeying with the Lord towards Easter, so it seemed fitting to learn a bit about this wonderful praise: Trust and Obey (aka. When we walk with the Lord).

Daniel B. Towner, who wrote the melody to this praise, inherited his gift for and love of music from his father, Professor J. G. Towner, an accomplished vocalist and music teacher. Daniel studied with some of the finest musicians and began his career as worship leader in a Methodist church in Binghamton, New York. In 1885 the evangelist D. L. Moody asked Daniel to join him on his evangelistic missions, so Daniel travelled with him, singing and doing personal work for several years.

He once explained how this praise came to be written.

Mr Moody was conducting a series of meetings in Brockton, Massachusetts, and one night a young man rose in a testimony meeting and said, “I am not quite sure – but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.” I just jotted the sentence down, and sent it with the little story to Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister.

Sammis wrote a poem based on the phrase “trust and obey,” and sent it back to Towner, who went to work on the music. Apparently, while working on the music, Daniel Towner grew discouraged. He crumpled up the paper and threw the manuscript into the bin. Next morning as his wife was cleaning his office found the manuscript and sang over the words and melody to herself. She left it on the organ and encouragd her husband to work on it some more, telling him, “I feel the melody you have written is just what is needed to carry the message.”

In 1893, Dr. Towner became head of the Music Department of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago where he trained hundreds of young people to lead worship and minister to the Lord in music. He continued to write the melodies to some much loved praises, compiled fourteen hymn books and wrote several text books.

At the age of 70, while leading singing at a revival meeting, he suffered a seizure and died in the service of the Lord.

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The Bridge

Excitement was in the air. The circus was coming to town. William set off for the river on that Friday afternoon, talking excitedly to his friends. It was early May and a chilly wind, coming in off the sea, swirled around them but William did not seem to mind. It was a welcome change from the cramped conditions of Ferry Boat Row where he lived with his parents, brother and twin sisters. Unlike most of the other children who walked bare-footed, William wore a fine pair of leather shoes; his father was a cobbler in town. When they reached the river, there was already a large raucous crowd assembling along its banks, laughing and shouting, glad to escape, at the end of the day, from the humdrum of their everyday lives. William pointed to some gaps on the bridge above and quickened his pace, his friends following closely behind, to get the best vantage point of the procession which was about to begin. He peered over the parapet and could hardly believe his eyes. Appearing round the bend of the murky river, a clown, sitting in a bathtub was being towed by three geese. William jumped with glee. He had never seen such a wondrous sight. The cheering crowd behind him surged forward to get a better glimpse of the spectacle below. There was an ominous sound above them as first one chain and then a second snapped. Joy and delight turned in an instant into horror and chaos as the bridge plunged into the icy waters of the River Bure below. 79 people, mostly children, were killed in the Great Yarmouth suspension bridge disaster on 2nd May 1845. A plaque at the side of the river commemorates the names of all those who died. My great great granduncle, William Hindle was among them. He was just ten years old.

A subsequent investigation revealed that this was very much a man-made tragedy. The bridge design, the materials and the welding techniques were all found to be at fault. Tragic though the circumstances were, good did come out of it. New measures introduced, ensured that bridges the world over would become much safer as a consequence. So where was God in all of this? Why did He allow such untold suffering to happen? In Deuteronomy 31:6 we learn that God never leaves us or forsakes us and in Psalm 46:1 we read that He is our refuge and our strength, a help in time of trouble. Psalm 23 tells us that God is our Shepherd, guiding us, providing for us and protecting us. So how do we reconcile the truth of God’s divine protection on the one hand and the fact that our fellow Christians can die in unexpected and tragic ways? When the Tower of Siloam collapsed, killing a group of people, as recounted in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus makes the point that death comes to us all and that we must lead a Kingdom-focused life while we are here on earth. Our time on earth is a merely a fleeting passage to our true reward and our eternal home in Heaven, united with Christ. We do not always understand why God does what He does; why some live and others do not, and it is not our place to question why. In 1 Peter 4:12-17, Peter tells us that we should not think it strange when we suffer tragedy and difficulty in our lives but rather it is something we should expect. The pain, suffering and tragedy that we see in the world around us is a direct result of Satan’s influence and the people of God are not immune from it. However, in Revelation 21, we have the wonderful guarantee that Jesus Christ will return, and the Kingdom of God will be established. At that time, Satan will be banished for eternity and there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears and no more death. What a glorious reassurance and encouragement for us all.  Jesus is the bridge by which we reach God and enter the Kingdom of Heaven, a bridge which is robust, dependable and will never fall down.

[from Michael Chittleburgh]

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Book Review: God and the Pandemic

God and the Pandemic by Tom Wright. A Christian reflection on the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath. 

ISBN 978-0-281-08511-8, ebook ISBN 978-0-281-08512-5 RRP £7.99, ebook £3.99

I haven’t written a book review since before I left school (and that was a very long time ago) but after reading this short(ish), biblical yet very accessible and hopeful book, I thought others might be interested to learn about it. So here goes!

Tom Wright, as many will know, is a New Testament Professor at St Andrew’s and Oxford as well as an erstwhile Bishop of Durham. He has authored over 80 books, many academic but many are “for everyone” as one of his New Testament series is entitled. 

I was keen to read this as I had not found any written material that biblically addressed the pandemic that has defined, disrupted and in some cases, destroyed our lives for the past 12 months.  The book was both biblical and practical; it did not disappoint but it did challenge me to rethink some things and, more importantly, act. 

The book describes how we can view the pandemic through the Old and New Testament and specifically focuses on Jesus’ life, teachings and resurrection. Using the thread of events in the whole of the bible he squarely rejects the notion that the pandemic is just a sign for the church to call everyone to repent or or to blindly accept that as God is in control there is nothing we can do. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus (not the current pandemic) are the call to repentance  and that is what we should always focus on. What he does argue is that the Church is called to lament, pray and serve others wherever the need is and to hold the authorities accountable for any injustice – just as Jesus did and as Christians have done throughout history, citing education, health and care for the poor as particular examples. 

There is a fascinating extract of a letter from Martin Luther about responding practically and faithfully to the plagues in his lifetime that shows “there is nothing new under the sun”. His words written in 1527 could have been spoken by a Christian in 2020!

I read this book in an afternoon but will be re-reading, highlighting, scribbling in the margins, reflecting and acting on its message for a long time to come. I hope others find it helpful and hopeful too.

[from Elspeth Pitt]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Aiden [neighbourliness]

Aiden’s life journey was not just about the travelling, but how he travelled. He evangelised as he went with a message of more than just what he did and said, but of who he was in Christ. Aiden was about sharing with people: property, time and relationship with God – about being a good neighbour.

A bit of context for Aiden, who was born about AD590: the Welsh and Mercians invaded Northumbria and killed King Edwin, his household fleeing. Prince Oswald was sent to Iona for his education. Eventually he secured the throne and eagerly brought Córman as a missionary with him to Northumbria. Córman’s strict ways were rejected by the Northumbrians and he returned to Iona in despondency. At the ‘post mortem’ debate, an Irish monk called Aiden said, “Brother, it seems to me you were too severe on your ignorant healers. You should have followed the practice of the Apostles, and begun by giving them the milk of simpler teaching, and gradually nourished them with the word of God.” Inevitably, the one who speaks out is the one who gets the job: Aiden was duly consecrated as a bishop and despatched to Northumbria. He met up with King Oswald at Bamburgh and established his missional base 6 miles north at what would become one of Britain’s most famous Christian sites: Lindisfarne.

Aiden brought with him much of what he had learned from Iona – each monk had a soul friend, they read and transcribed the Bible, spent time in contemplation and developed a centre for education. Drawing further inspiration from Columba, he encouraged praying the Psalms not just as Scripture but as personal prayers.

The Abbot and the King were close, but Aiden demonstrated another neighbourly quality: he visited Oswald when invited and ate frugally. Rarely would he arrive unless asked:

Seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house—
    too much of you, and they will hate you. (Proverbs 25:17)

Oswald (and after his early death in battle, his successor Oswin) travelled throughout Northumbria with Aiden. These could be long journeys, for Aiden would walk everywhere (unless absolutely necessary to go by horse). He would stop and talk to all he met – if they were heathen, he would evangelise and urge them to be baptised; if they were Christian, he would encourage them in their faith. He shared his possessions with those in need, whether food, money or even his horse: material wealth was not a concern for him. Aiden quite literally talked to people where they were, just as he found them, taking an active interest in their lives and communities.

Irish origins; Scottish influence; English ministry: Aiden has been proposed as a possible patron saint of the United Kingdom (apologies to the Welsh).

Aiden also founded an abbey at Melrose. Perhaps the most famous monk to have emerged from there was Cuthbert who himself went on to become prior of Lindisfarne.

In demonstrating these neighbourly qualities, Aiden showed not only an understanding but an acting out of the answer provided by the expert of the law to Jesus:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:27-28)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – SUMMARY

Prayer – Fellowship – People – Mission – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching –  Buildings

Seven themes for perfection and completion. Of course, we don’t all have to do all of them … the body is made up of many parts. But we all need to be doing something. How are you placed?

Prayer – this is the foundation of our approach to God. If we don’t talk to God (and listen to Him) then how can we have relationship and really know Him?

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people (1 Timothy 2:1)

Fellowship – The Old Testament almost invariably refers to a ‘fellowship offering.’ So offer your fellowship to your neighbour. Make a connection and share with each other on a godly path:

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

People – Let us enjoy our friendships and family ties with each other – pray regularly for each other and uplift each other:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Mission – Listen to God and hear what He calls us all to do. Then do it. He will equip us. Our mission field is the young, the old and everyone in between. Individual missions have endings, rest and friendships:

When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. (Acts 12:25)

Discipleship – If we know Jesus and know His teaching, then it is our privilege and our duty to share that teaching and to point others to Jesus, for He said we would be His witnesses, and:

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. (Matthew 21:6)

Worship & Teaching –  We were designed and created to worship God. It is worship simply to share our knowledge of God and our relationship with Him:

With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord;
    in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him. (Psalm 109:30)

Buildings – May we be good stewards, like Onesiphorus in our actings towards others, our household and our house; this great House of Hope, Peace, Devotion, Silence, Serenity, Grace and Calm:

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. (2 Timothy 1:16)

Together, these seven themes don’t just make up a way to live. They make up a Way of Life; a rule to set the rhythm of our seasons, so we can navigate the four corners of our life: Heart – Home – Church – World. We need to believe; we need to act. And how do we get to that perfection completion? We can ask Jesus:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Whose Footsteps?

Over recent weeks we have been reminded by other contributors that we owe much to those who have gone before – the early missionaries in Scotland that Tim has been describing and those folks who were part of our fellowship here at SSCB whom Joan remembered recently. Through them we can trace our history back to a cross and a resurrection in Jerusalem. 

Sue and I have recently been reading through Isaiah’s prophecy, full of familiar words of encouragement and prophetic vision of a new order and rest for God’s people. But if you read the whole book it is set against a much darker background – a people who had lost their way. A stark reminder that God’s ways are not our ways. It is too easy to compromise our trust in God when the world shouts alternatives.

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

If we are to follow the footsteps of those who have gone before we must learn from them. We must be distinct, discerning and deliberate in our interactions with this world. But we must also expect God to act to establish his kingdom and to keep his people in ways which we don’t imagine – Assyria conquered and Persia restored the people of God.  They were heathens! Kentigern was born to a single mum, those we remember from our own past have surprising legacies.

So, what do we need to change this week so we follow God’s way, not our own? Remember the church in Laodicea (listen carefully on Sunday!)!  The saints of old we noted earlier were not lukewarm! Are we taken in by the false prophets of consumerism, or are we prepared to be different, to stand against those who look first to ‘modern thinking’ and to heathen allies in seeking to take forward God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

[from John Baggaley]

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Coming Soon: ‘The Road to Jerusalem’

Lent has just begun. Traditionally this is a spiritual journey to Easter, filled with penitence, sacrifice (giving up something for Lent), Bible study and prayer. But all sacrifice and penitence and Bible study and prayer are in vain if your Lent is not filled with the Lord Jesus Christ!

Following Jesus is never easy! The Lord Himself told us that whoever wants to go after Him, must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23-26). This means that our Christian life in this world is a constant journey to the place of crucifixion! It is a journey to ‘Jerusalem’! A pilgrim’s progress.

This Lent on Sundays we are going to accompany our Saviour on His journey to Jerusalem. My hope and prayer is that the services will inspire and motivate you to examine your walk with Jesus and you will ask for His cleansing and empowering Spirit to strengthen you in denying yourself and picking up your cross daily as you follow Him – a Lent and a journey well spent!

The sermons are:

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Columba [relational]

Columba was born in Ireland around AD521 and in his early forties he founded the monastery at Iona, and became its first abbot. He died there in AD597, the year that Augustine arrived in England bringing the way of the Church of Rome. We know much of Columba from the ‘Life of Columba’ written by his cousin Adomnán, a later abbot at Iona. Writings such as the Annals of Ulster and the Amra Choluimb Chille corroborate or add to Adomnán’s ‘Life’.

Columba was implicated in the battle of Cúl Drebene against the High King and further pressure for having made an unauthorised copy of Finian’s manuscript Scripture forced him to flee. As we saw, he came to Arran but, Ireland still in sight, continued on – most likely to visit his kinsman, Connall, King of Dalriada, who granted Columba the island of Iona in May AD563.

Columba had arrived with 12 other monks, and he led them in maintaining and extending two specific sacraments: Baptism whereby they welcomed new converts into the family of God and Holy Communion or Eucharist (from the Greek for thanksgiving) which continued that family link, that fellowship.

The Iona monastery grew and soon Britons, English, Celts, Irish and even a Pict were under holy orders there. They appear to have loved and respected him, and their number included a wider circle who had not taken holy orders but nevertheless chose the austere life, providing craftsmanship and labour in return for learning and fellowship. Columba travelled – we have seen reports of him at Inchcolm Island (the ‘Iona of the East’), and he twice visited Inverness. He is recorded as having met Kentigern at Kilmacolm (it means ‘church of my Columba’) another base for his missional work. 

Work was hard, both the austere lifestyle and the volume of tasks, from farming and herding to building as well as the important pursuits of praying, Bible study and copying Scripture for circulation. Columba was with them all, going round each one, interacting with them as they worked, seeing and helping them where they were and receiving and counselling visitors to the island.

He was also devoted to study of the Psalms, and spent long hours contemplating and transcribing, then discussing with the other monks.

As we have seen, Iona was a centre-point of the Kingdom of Dalriada, a Thin Place and a seat of learning and theological study. Astride all was the character of Columba, tying the strands together, reaching out to others; much loved. He forged links and kept them: Pictish kings and common folk came to Jesus through Columba’s friendship. A colossus in life, he led by serving God; relating to people.

As his life drew to an end, he had a foretelling of when he would die, and spent his last day transcribing from the Psalms which he so loved. Presently he wrote out:

“But those who seek the LORD lack no good thing,” (Psalm 34:10)

There he ceased, declaring that it would be left, fittingly, to his successor as the leader on Iona to pick up again at:

“Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psalm 34:11)

He went into the monastery itself, lay at the altar and there he died as Adomnán wrote, “with a countenance full of wonderful joy and gladness.”

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – BUILDINGS

Prayer – Fellowship – People – Mission – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching – BUILDINGS

Our buildings serve a number of purposes. The Church of Scotland requires that we provide a home for the minister and his wife, much though we try to persuade them of the biblical examples of Jacob and his stone pillow; David and his dark cave. Our church provides a focal point (alongside computer screens) to worship God together. It provides a signpost for the wider community – church is not God, but if someone comes in, we can make the introductions! Our church has been highlighted by Edinburgh Presbytery as a flagship building, given its location on an access route into the city.

Our church building in particular (but also the manse) is a link to those who have gone before. This building was their vision. They built and stewarded it and it is now ours to use and steward. Therefore we must do so in context and empathy for that early vision; but not being bound and limited by it.

We know that church is the people not the building, but with regard to the building, what does it represent – what should it signify?

We want it to be seen as place of Hope, Peace, Devotion, Silence, Serenity, Grace and Calm. Do you remember the “Lavender” articles in earlier editions of the E-pistle? They came out of this TKC prayer initiative, and we looked long and hard at what a church – building and people – might be if we follow those themes. Pause and consider anew each of them – does our church represent them to you?

We want our church to be a welcoming place where people encounter Jesus. Do you feel welcomed? Do you encounter Jesus here? When people do so, then they will feel both free and drawn to express themselves in worship.

What needs to change? We need to be adaptable – in empathy with the early vision. Some changes have been made over the years and some significant updating and refurbishment is in process now. Please pray and be on the journey as this unfolds. Some changes will be immediate and dramatic (new toilets at last!) whilst others will be more subtle and nuanced. But it should simply reflect and enable our worship of God: Jesus was dramatic, subtle and nuanced, all with the purpose of pointing us to God the Father.

We need more funds to complete the 20/20 Vision Refurbishment. The response has been so generous and positive to date, and further funds will speed the refurbishment to completion, enabling us to do all that we dream and hand on a relevant building. Our building will be more flexible and incorporate more technology – this will make it attractive as a community hub and perhaps an after-school drop-in centre – a safe place to be and to meet Jesus.

We could just sell the building, rent a hall at Broughton HS and disperse the money – not an entirely facetious remark – but we believe we have heard through prayer that we are to build this house of prayer into many things: Hope, Peace, Devotion, Silence, Serenity, Grace and Calm.

That requires support from all: finance, love, care, prayers and attention. Please spare some of that for the buildings and contact: office@comelybankchurch.com.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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What Happened on the Day of Prayer?

Twenty-nine people from SSCB spent time with the Lord in prayer in simple ½ hour sessions. Our foundation arose from the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative, but our focus was on listening to what God was laying on our hearts and then interceding. May we all be blessed by what is shared, and inspired to pray onwards and take action.

Prayer: We came to the Lord in prayer, contemplating, singing and listening. We heard God – sometimes a gentle whisper and sometimes just realising that we ‘know it in our know-er.’ The Lord gives us hope for the future. He is in control and will never leave us. Amidst all the fear, anxiety and worry about the future that is going on around us, there is a rock, a solid foundation, a calmness, a peace, a Hope: a Saviour.

Fellowship: We are blessed by fellowship with each other; with so many people, past and present, shining examples of witness to God’s love and instruction. We are enhanced by the lessons learned from others, through their deep faith and quiet wisdom. In fellowship we care for each other and the community we serve. In fellowship we contact members of the Church Family through telephone, post or just a knock on the door (subject to COVID-19 restrictions), with ongoing prayer and E-pistle Newsletter delivery. Nobody is forgotten; everybody is included.

People: Remember those who find their way to our ‘Church on the Corner’. Pray for the seekers and for those who found Open Church and returned to join with us on a Sunday, finding a welcome. Pray for those who paused with us while passing through on their way to other countries. Can you identify and reach out to people in the Church Family and our wider community? We need more people to join home groups, to expand Wednesday morning prayer time and perhaps more of us could help with the initiatives such as Foodbank, Fair Trade and Street Pastors.

Mission: At SSCB we are called to be a light in the darkness; a safe space for those who need it. God is strong enough to overcome our failings and our doubts. We are not strong enough alone but if God is with us, we can achieve whatever he desires for us. Remain humble and focused on the Lord. Be Christ centred. What would Jesus do is both a personal prayer and a church one; a question to the fore of our thoughts, prayers, and actions. Take a step back and think how Jesus would handle a situation. If God is calling us to reach out to our community and those with young families as well as working with youth and older people, then how can we do this?

Discipleship: We want to build more one-to-one connection in the church. Can we aim at specific outreach focused at tackling loneliness? In particular, perhaps we can look at some kind of friendship group for men in the church. And we must remember single people. We can expand on the ‘drop-in’ and existing friendship elements in the church but can also try new things – maybe a men’s community/activity group or groups at weekends, reaching those who work full-time. We want to build friendship ties and godly ways in the Church Family and wider community, at a deeper one-to-one level. 

Worship & Teaching: There is an absolute need for continued Biblical teaching and our own vital response to this. We seek a practical application to the teaching; it is not just a set of theoretical principles. We must encourage each other to respond; it is not just a series of nice stories on a Sunday morning. We must seek greater knowledge and understanding of the Bible not because we have to but because we choose to. The Word of God fulfils us, helps us align with God’s will and is an outworking of our love for Him.

Buildings: Can we expand Open Church on Wednesday mornings to become a drop-in for coffee, like our Saturday Café? How can we become more visible in our community, perhaps distributing information throughout the local area with details of church events and other activities at the church (Dean patchwork, badminton, Guides, Scouts, Rock Solid etc.)? Some prayed at home, others went on prayer walks during their sessions – from cold and rain to sudden sunshine and birdsong. Look after our buildings, yes, but remember always we have the voice of God within us because He dwells within us. We are never alone.

We are a small church but what we do, individually and collectively, in serving God in the community is heroic and seen in heaven. What would Jesus do … what will you do?

[from Timothy Pitt]

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A Thought for Valentine’s Day

The young engaged couple, Adam and Eve, visited their old minister to discuss their wedding service. He looked at them lovingly for a long time, then he said:

“My son, do you want to be happy?”

“Yes, of course I do! Very much so!”

“What about you, my daughter? Do you want to be happy too?”

“Certainly, I do!”

“In that case, do not get married…” said the old pastor.

They were shocked as they looked at him. Then the old pastor continued:

“Only if both of you want to make each other happy! Only that way will you be happy. For there are no marriages that are always happy. But marriages in which they seek each other’s happiness do exist – and those are the happiest marriages. I pray and wish for you to have such a marriage. A married life in which – to give you an example – husband and wife are competing who should have the first reconciling word and not the last stabbing reposte.”

[from Hungarian, after Rev. Endre Gyökössy] 

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The Blessing of Fellowship

We had a Day of Prayer on the 30th of January. Some folks shared their Day of Prayer experience. Here are the reflections of Joan Brown about FELLOWSHIP.

As I near my three score years and 10, I realise that I have spent almost half my life as a member of the St Stephen’s family. Over these years I have had the privilege to know and share fellowship with so many devout people who were/are shining examples of witnesses to God’s love and instruction.

Last year saw nine people die from within our congregation. I will not see them on this earth again, but my life and so many others’ were enhanced by the lessons we learned from them.

The latest death was that of Jean Brown. Our names were so similar, so I often received calls from people thinking we were one and the same person. If only I could be like her!

I think of May Fischbacker whose deep faith never wavered despite the loss of her sight in her later years. May enhanced our Home Group discussions with her quiet wisdom and well-chosen quotes.

“Each of us is gifted differently, and each of us is gifted perfectly. The Holy Spirit in His divine wisdom has given to each of us the precise gift, or gifts that will enable us to function most effectively in the body of Christ.”

This is a quote from the ‘You are Gifted by God’ material that Jacqueline shared with us. It spoke to me. Without Fellowship how else could we function and care for each other and the community we serve?

I had booked two prayer slots which was fortunate because as I considered the fellowship, I personally have experienced I started to recall so many people and events that I ran out of time, but it was a wonderful trip down memory lane. I prayed prayers of gratitude. Thank you, Father, for the people you have placed in my life.

In my second prayer slot I prayed for individuals within our congregation who are unable to join in with Zoom on Sundays. EW, 87 just the other Sunday, and so many others whose names are on our ‘Pastoral List’. These people are contacted by telephone, post or just by a knock on the door (difficult during COVID-19 restrictions). Our fellowship is in our ongoing prayers and Newsletter delivery. Currently we cannot join in worship in our church building, share coffee, news, and precious time together after the service. They are not forgotten, and we can pray for God to bless them.

We also remember that we share Fellowship with people who find their way to our ‘Church on the Corner’. I prayed for AS who had been homeless for so long. He knew he was and is still welcome at St. Stephen’s.  Some of the people who came in to ‘Open Church returned to join with us on a Sunday and found a welcome. We had people who were passing through on their way to other countries, but they joined with us for as long as they could. Thank you, God, that we were able to share Fellowship with them. There will be no strangers in St. Stephen’s, everyone is welcome.

Over the years people came and went but our ‘family’ is strong. New talents emerge as technology advances, services and worship have moved with the times but all of us, those in the past and those still with us all have one thing in common.

We want to go to Heaven, why? Because we want to be with Jesus.

[from Joan Brown]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Kentigern [preaching]

Kentigern lived about 528 – 603, born in Culross in Fife, where his mother, Teneu, princess of Lothian, had fled. (Lothian was named after her grandfather Lleuddun.) Some tell of her love affair with Urien of Cumbria; others that he had attacked her. Either way, unmarried, she fell pregnant and her father sought her death at Traprain Law. Her executioners were to stone her, but instead tied her to a cart and pushed it down the steep hill. Somehow she survived and escaped (some stories speak of help from her would-be executioners who were unnerved by her survival). From the shore of the Forth, she fled in a coracle across the water and was eventually found by Serf at Culross.

Kentigern was born and Serf cared for them both at his monastic school in Culross. He  taught Kentigern and trained him as a priest. Kentigern was Serf’s favourite pupil, and he gave him the pet name Mungo (‘dear friend’). However as he entered adulthood, Kentigern alienated himself from the others at the school and eventually left. He came to what is now Stirlingshire, stumbling upon the dìseart of a dying monk named Fergus. Kentigern stayed, praying with Fergus, who asked that Kentigern arrange his funeral. When the old man died, Kentigern put the body on a cart strapped to two oxen and asked God to show him an appropriate place. The oxen walked on, finally stopping in some open green fields where Kentigern buried Fergus and then decided to stay, calling the area the ‘dear green place” – ‘Glas Gui’ or ‘Glasgow.’

Kentigern built a chapel and cell, becoming known for his austere lifestyle and his great preaching, and securing many converts. However, a strong anti-Christian movement in these Welsh-lands of Strathclyde forced Kentigern to leave for Wales itself. Time passed and peace came to the Old North of Britain under a new King, Rhydderch Hael (much written about in the histories of Wales and the Celtic peoples) who invited Kentigern to return. Kentigern developed his old chapel into a monastery (now the site of Glasgow Cathedral) taking in the burial site of old Fergus. A community grew around his monastery as people settled there, drawn once more by his preaching. To this day, Glasgow’s full motto is, ‘Lord let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of thy word and praising thy name.’

Kentigern and Columba are said to have met at Kilmalcolm, exchanging staffs. Certainly Columba visited much of the Scottish mainland, and indeed Inchcolm Island in the Forth.

Perhaps wary of his mother’s exile, Kentigern never ventured to Lothian and it was St Baldred (‘travelling’) who earned the title ‘Apostle of the Lothians.’ His mother was, however, commemorated in Glasgui, becoming a saint in her own right. Over the years, ‘Saint Teneu’ became corrupted to ‘Saint Eneu’ then ‘Saint Enoch.’ She now has a Glasgow underground station named after her, even if most people think St Enoch was male!

Kentigern worked hard, lived an austere life and was an example to others. He drew others to Jesus through the sheer force of his preaching and comes alive in Paul’s words:

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – WORSHIP & TEACHING

Prayer – Fellowship – People – Mission – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching – Buildings

Those involved in the TKC day of prayer had a variety of senses, pictures and themes centred on worship and teaching. First of all, it is good to worship the Lord!! It may sound trite, but it bears expressing (and repeatedly so): we should be thankful to God for His love for us, and in our response, we must seek anointing by the Holy Spirit – do that which is godly.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness. (Psalm 29:2)

We should give thanks for sound and godly teaching that comes to us in a number of ways, not just from the pulpit. Pausing first at the pulpit (well, the lectern … or currently the computer screen), give thanks that our Minister not only has sound doctrine and bible knowledge but a clear personal relationship with Jesus, which comes across strongly in his preaching. We do not come under this preaching just to be told charming stories of love and happiness. We come to be challenged; to be shown biblical themes that are relevant and important to us today; and to be directed closer to God. Pray for our Minister and all who preach, for their protection and their own walk with God, and for the preaching always to be Bible-based.

Our default is fellowship in church as we worship together, but give thanks that we have learned, developed and adapted to life online. We retain a sense of togetherness as we worship. Indeed, one success of this pandemic has been the number of church plants; we are not just church in the building, but we can now ‘be’ church to family and neighbours who may not otherwise attend. Truly, church is not the building but the people.

And so we can use online technology to enhance our worship together, not be limited by it.  Pray for guidance about what this might look like after the pandemic – perhaps not “either or” both “both and” for online and in church? How can we reach new people and look after each other both online and in person?

Our Sunday worship time is a busy time (whether in church or online), and again we should pray and give thanks for those involved in Children’s and Youth Work as well as the Praise and Worship Sunday evenings from which we have benefited so much.

We can worship God and benefit from teaching in our Home Groups with fellowship and mutual support. It is godly to be in a Home Group: the first ever small Home Group was Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Give thanks for many uplifting articles in the E-pistle: 5th March is edition 50. Perhaps this can develop into more of a conversation – anyone should feel free to submit a short article.

But the point is that we have a wide range of resources which help us to worship God and to gain from teaching about Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we know about God then we can know Him better and knowing Him brings us naturally to worship Him.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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‘Hope, The Possibility and The Promise’

Philip Anderson, our Youth Worker has written a new poem about hope. He is sharing it with us both in written form and recited by himself.

In a world and in circumstances when we are so hungry for hope, it is a blessing when someone shares their hope with us.

I found hope…
It began to seep into my normality,
the everyday joys are lifted by helium hope
and daily drudgeries are diluted by this deep
definitive knowledge of the possibility and the promise.
 
Hope is getting hold of me,
hope I see, hope I taste,
hope my life won't go to waste.
Hope has said to the sceptical parts of me,
Come along taste and see his promise to me,
and dream with him about the possibility!
 
Pause and pray as I remember the perfect person.
May my life be centred on Jesus, God's Son.
 
I remember I was made by you, made for this connection.
He has lavished his affection and I am under his zealous protection.
As I pause and pray, hope clarifies my day, with the revelation of the possibility and the promise.
In praying I'm letting the stressing senesce inside of my soul move on from recession, move up from depression
breathe and hope again as fuel amid hard pressing.
 
Here in the presence of the Prince of Peace
pieces of my person are purged of passivity,
You see the best in me, you perceive possibility,
and you awaken my true humanity.
Here I will unravel all of me.
You listen as I speak openly,
and in this fathering I'm set free,
as I rest and run amid the promise and the possibility.
 
All powerful,
ever present, 
love was personified,
then love was crucified,
and as he fully died and heaven cried,
sin was swept aside
as he paid the great price for his bride.
Providing a paradise promise to me,
providing a life in step with the Almighty.
Where I once was merely the sum of me,
I now know hope - a promise and a possibility:
Yes hope - the possibility and the promise.
 
You give me your word that sin is gone -
this covenant of oneness,
this certainty, amid stress, that God, has got this.
This promise, these unshakable truths that have won me.
Your love is my lifetime warranty,
Your covenant has covered me,
all that would have compromised me has been made null and void.
 
Wait and see! Watch as he sets me free.
Your kingdom come in me, such a promise and so great a possibility.
 
And it's more than a proverb 
it's more than psalm,
God himself has reached out a palm,
the Kingdom at hand so close we can know it now.
Listen and learn, hope and grow.
Hope is here, with faith and love it casts out my fear.
I found hope, because a dead man rose.
The possibility of Jesus in every situation
and the promise of Jesus at the close.

-by Philip Anderson-
 

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Serf [teaching]

Serf, short for ‘Servanus’, lived from about 485 to 550. He appears to have come from Canaan and travelled to Rome where some records note him as having been elected Pope and serving for 7 years. At this time popes did not necessarily serve until death (an option recently revived). His term of office coincided with an upturn in theological study and teaching.

After demitting office, Serf can be traced as travelling through Europe before arriving in what was to become Scotland. We encountered him previously when looking at the Celtic Christians who were led to seek a place of seclusion where, free of distraction, they could be at peace with God. They modelled this on the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the Scetes Desert, and thus a hermitage became known in Gaelic as  a dìseart from the Latin ‘desertum’ for desert or deserted place. Serf it was who came to the Fife coast and had a holy retreat at what is now the town of Dysart.

Eventually Serf moved on and founded a monastic establishment on an island (now known as St Serf’s Inch) in Loch Leven, from where he evangelised and taught the surrounding Picts, taking forward some of Ninian’s earlier missional work. Serf stayed there for a while and it is interesting that he seems to have had a rhythm, again reaching 7 years, the Biblical number of completion, before moving on. The establishment had long-since disappeared when David I founded an Augustinian priory on St Serf’s Inch in 1150. After Serf left the island, he came to Culross where he established a place of holy education: part monastery, part school.

Serf was leader of this community at Culross when, in 528, a coracle came ashore having started its journey on the Edinburgh side of the Forth and carrying only one person – the fleeing, and heavily pregnant, Princess Teneu. After landing at Culross, Teneu gave birth to a boy. St Serf took in both mother and son and then oversaw the boy’s upbringing and education. We will meet the boy, and discover the importance of his mother, Teneu, next time. 

Taking this knowledge – both self-taught and gleaned from his fruitful time in Rome – Serf could have stepped straight out of 2 Timothy, for it was of great significance that he was led to show to compassion to Teneu when she was washed ashore, and then to teach her son:

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1: 13-14)

Not much else is known about Serf. He is said to have died at Dunning with his body then being taken back to be buried at Culross. But he learned about God; he knew God. He studied, contemplated and walked with God – and he taught what he knew, not keeping it as ‘secret knowledge’ but seeing his very relationship with God as something to teach, to show and thus to inspire others.

You do not need a classroom setting or a church pulpit to teach like this; you just need a willingness to walk with God, find His joy and be vulnerable enough to share it with others.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – DISCIPLESHIP

Prayer – Fellowship – People – Mission – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching – Buildings

From TKC, we gained a sense of the need for discipleship. What exactly does it mean? It simply means to follow Jesus. But that answer prompts consequences. To follow Jesus, we need to know Jesus; which means being able to recognise Him; which means being shown His ways, who He is, how He works, how others learn and walk with Him. That way we will know Jesus and know that we are truly following Him.

Why do we need others in this exercise? On our own, we can continue unchecked and find ourselves highlighting practices or ideologies that Jesus is not concerned about or, worse, that Jesus does not want us to follow.

It’s all part of Jesus being the vine and us being branches that are grafted on. If we do not remain in the vine then we are just a cut branch, dead and dying. In his analogy, Jesus did not just end with “be a good branch and stick with me.” He talked about what happens as a result:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8)

OK, asks the cynic. What’s in it for me? Apart from the small matter of glory to God and eternal life for us, if we are discipled correctly then there are one or two immediate perks:

And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52)

Loving Jesus is not a stand-still thing. If we are not actively growing in our faith, then our faith is receding and shrinking. To help grow our own faith, we can share it. We share with and encourage each other because we are not just church members, but we are church family, created to worship God with others who are on this journey of a lifetime. This is not the evangelising bit, this is the “OK, I’m on the path – where’s the map? What if I need some refreshment?” bit. Can we squeeze in more Scripture here:

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

What can all this sharing and encouraging – this discipleship – look like?

One of our strengths is our teaching and we want to expand on this – to coordinate further and connect more; to be able to choose accountability with others. We want to focus on Homegroups and similar connections (e.g. the mutual support, learning and growth enjoyed by the Praise Band). More coordination does not mean less individuality; it means more sign-posts as we journey.

We certainly want to look at how we give our time, our skills and our money. As you know, giving has been down through the period of Lockdown, and any resumption or increase in giving levels would be welcome, but perhaps you have a skill (electrician, will-writing, tutoring etc?) that could help others through the week? We want to be a church family for whom it is all more than just a Sunday.

What skill or talent do you have to offer? What do you need from others? Please contact the church office – office@comelybankchurch.com with your input.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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A Candle for the Thousands

(A poem to remember the 100,000 people in the UK* who have died from COVID and for all of us who still live in the darkness of its shadow)

‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5)

Light a candle for the thousands,
One hundred thousand* now who've died,
A number we know is still growing,
Lord, Lord, we need you by our side. 
And so we light this little candle,
Small, wavering, fragile in this long dark night,
For we must not, cannot, will not,
Let the darkness win this fight: 
 
The fight for those who have lost loved ones 
to COVID's merciless rampage,
Their fight for peace and strength and comfort, 
some betterness for grief's pain and rage,
For them we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper,
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 
 
The fight for those now sick or dying,
And those who can only stand and stare,
Counting as gold each time of sharing,
Aching in those times they can’t be there. 
For them we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 
 
The fight against the separation
That drains our spirit, numbs our soul,
That steals from us life's bare essentials:
A hug, a kiss, a hand to hold.
And so we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

Fight for those who are tired and trauchled,
Too many extra things to do,
Tasks beyond them, the plates are crashing,
Comfort zones out of the window, too.
For them we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

Fight for the rest - the worried, frightened, lonely, 
Those not knowing how or if the bills will be paid
Those whose future’s written only in questions
Life changed forever, and what can be said? 
For them we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

The fight for wisdom, understanding,
Progress in science, medicine, care,
Craft for us, Lord, the best of weapons,
For a victory the whole world can share.
And so we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

There are some fights we don't need, Lord,
Fights for profit, fame, privilege, advantage, power,
Fights between, among each other,
The time to stop all that - is now. 
So we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

Fight for the fighters, the light-bearers, 
Help-bringers, laugh-makers, and those who pray,
Encouragers, phoners, zoomers, facebookers,
Virtual shoulders to cry on or brighten the day 
For them, too, we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light.

So, Lord, we light this little candle,
Fluttering, fragile, but lit in earnest prayer,
My child, I have heard you, keep on trusting, fighting, praying,
For, no matter the darkness, My Light will be there.
 

 * The UK death toll from the Coronavirus officially passed 100,000, on 26 January, 2021
 
 Helen Cuthbert © 2021 [published with permission of author]

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Resources for Lent

Lent begins on the 17th of February and runs until Saturday before Easter, 3rd of April. These six weeks are traditionally the period of preparation for Easter, and inner spiritual journey to the cross, a time for prayer, penance, repentance, and self denial. How will you prepare for Easter?

For some it is good to complete ‘this journey’ together with others. Maybe in a Home Group, if you are not part of one, this might be a good time to join one. Just email us at office@comelybankchurch.com and we will be able to help you.

Others prefer to do it in solitude, just themselves together with the Lord every day, maybe with the help of a suitable devotional book. Or you might just want to do both!

We would like to suggest a couple of resources for this Lenten period.

Prayer Course II – Teaser

Unanswered Prayer – The Prayer Course II

This resource is designed more for Home Groups but individuals can use it too.

It was developed by Pete Greig (24/7 Prayer). It is a five-week follow-up series to The Prayer Course, designed to provoke honest conversation around the hardest and most personal questions we ask about prayer. It is a free video based course and it is launched on 17th February. So you need to be a bit patient until then.


Devotional Book for Lent

‘To Seek and to Save’ is a daily devotional book for Lent by Sinclair Ferguson. He is following Jesus’ journey to the cross as the Gospel of Luke gives account of it. This will be an excellent supplement to our sermon series during Lent (well, for most of it). In our sermons we will also journey together with Jesus to Jerusalem. Our series will be called: ‘The Road to Jerusalem’. It will be based on the accounts of the Lord’s journey as it was recorded by various gospel writers. The book is available online both in printed format and as an e-book at The Good Book Company.

Sinclair Ferguson: To Seek and To Save

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Be the Light in the Darkness

The date when I’m writing this is the 27th of January, Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). The theme of HMD this year is Be the light in the darkness.

Jesus said that He is the Light of the World (John 8:12). When we look around in the world, or look back into history we can see how dense the darkness can be. Dark powers motivate deeds, dark purposes hide behind seemingly innocent endeavours. People, even nations and countries can be kept in the dark. And if we are honest we must confess to the darkness in our own lives, hearts and minds too! We need The Light!

The Bible says about Jesus that in Him the true light came into the world and He is able to give light to everyone (John 1:9)! He is the light that uncovers and reveals dark deeds, and thoughts. The light that guides us, and give us hope. Most importantly Jesus did not say that He has got the light, but He IS the light. What we need to get out of the darkness and to get darkness out of ourselves is Him, Jesus, the Light to shine in us.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also said that those who believe in Him are the light of the world too (Matthew 5:14). This is both an affirmation of the identity of believers and a call for particular action and living. When you consider the darkness in the world you are called to shine into it to unmask it and to bring hope to those who were enveloped by it! If we walk with Jesus we are in the light and can give light to others. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing,so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

Do not curse the darkness, but let your light shine!

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Praise of the Week: His Eye is on the Sparrow

Sometimes we find life challenging and we get despondent, discouraged, and bitter. The last ten months or so of Coronavirus have not been easy at all! Beyond lockdown and restrictions of our usual free movement, people lost their lives, their jobs, it affected the education and future of our young people, for many front line workers it has been an extremely stressful time, it affected many people mentally too. So it is not surprising to hear complaints and expressions of frustration.

But when I came across the story of the hymn: ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’, I felt God was reprimanding me and us for our complaints. Maybe you will be convicted too!

Civilla Durfee Martin was born in 1869, in Nova Scotia, she became a school and music teacher and married an evangelist, Dr. Walter Martin and joined him on his travels to assist in his meetings. This is her account of the story of the hymn she authored:

“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle – true saints of God. Mrs Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn ‘His Eye is on the parrow’ was the outcome of that experience.”

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Ita [thirst]

Ita, born around 480 in Ireland, was baptised Deirdre. She sought a life under Holy Orders gaining the name Ita which indicated the thirst she displayed throughout her life. This was her thirst for the Lord’s love, not a general thirst – although Brigid, whom we met earlier, was a noted brewer!

Ita moved to Cluain Credhail (some anecdotes tell of her being guided by lights in the hills), establishing a monastic site there. The site became known as Cill Ide (Cell or Church of Ita), eventually becoming Killeedy. Her thirst for the Lord was a simple trust – she recognised that the love of Jesus is not a ‘reward’ paid out at the end of life according to how much we love Him, but that He is alive and with us throughout. She saw that she needed Him walking alongside her and that this was as much about her awareness of Him in her life and her lifestyle.

She attracted many to her monastic life and her simple thirst, including her younger sister. She set up a school as well as the convent and monastery, and Killeedy prospered – highly regarded for learning and spiritual development. A Celtic Christian known as Brendan the Navigator (it seems he already has his ‘one word’ characteristic!) was one of many pupils under her care and once asked what she thought God most loved. She replied, “To seek faith with a pure heart, simplicity in spiritual life and to be charitable out of love.” She added that the opposite applied as well, namely not to have a hatred of others, a resentful heart or an excessive love of things.

The more she thirsted for God’s love, the more that other people were drawn to her. She became Anam Cara (soul friend) to more than one. She formed a close bond with Brendan the Navigator and throughout his adult life, and amidst his extensive wanderings, he would return to Killeedy to speak with her and pray with her. Despite her own lack of travelling, she did not just withdraw into seclusion, but was an effective manager, much involved with the people and issues of her local area.

As with all Celtic Christians, Ita appears to have had a strong, reverent and yet familiar knowledge of the Holy Trinity, loving and worshiping God the Father, Jesus the Son and also the Holy Spirit. However, her chasing of the Wild Goose does not seem to have caused the Spirit to take to the wing, for when she died in her 90s in about 570, she was still there at Killeedy. People still came just to see her, to see what was it about her, that elusive, attractive quality; that was the Holy Spirit in her.

Of course, you have to be very careful about just picking and splicing bits from Scripture to suit your narrative, but Psalm 107 is somewhat appropriate for a lady who was led to a place where she built up an establishment, attracting others through her own qualities of thirsting after the Lord:

He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things. (Psalm 107: 7–9)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – MISSION

Prayer – Fellowship – People – MISSION – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching – Building

What do we do as a church that involves reaching out to the community? God stuff; fun stuff? We identified some missional themes during the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ day of prayer.

We are all called to share the Good News; to be contagious Christians, known by our love; equipped to be neighbours. So who are we and what skills and resources do we have? Who are our neighbours and what skills and resources do they need?

Three groups emerged from TKC, overlapping and interlinking:

Youth – important in our church family and in the schools around us, especially Broughton High School. Successive Youth Workers (and volunteers) have developed our offering, providing answers to the need. Our current Youth Worker’s valued relational mentoring cannot be overstated and we can look to enhance this in the next appointment. Is God calling us to a bigger mission that includes Families? Much of modern society is broken and empty – families lacking in godly example or simply too exhausted by the busyness of life and lacking in hope. Is there a calling to serve our community with a Youth Worker and a Families Worker? Is there a place for the young to be involved with the old, sharing knowledge and experience?

Older members of our church and community have long been valued and themselves provided value. Can we build on the ways we express that and provide mutual support? One aspect which emerged from TKC was feeding the lonely. Can we grow the Lunch Club? Those who are part of it have gained the food and lost the loneliness, finding fellowship and the love of Jesus, not just hot food and calories. The restrictions have paused much of this, but it is a key area of our mission in the wider community. Can you be part of the team preparing for the end of restrictions and the re-start of food and fellowship?

Everyone in community is important. We must identify their needs, what we can provide and what God calls us to do in mission. The CAP Debt Centre was transformational, reaching others and being drawn closer as clients became debt free and, importantly, came to faith. We ended it with a sense of a season completed; of time to lay it down. What will God lead us into next? How are we equipped to answer the busyness and isolation of families in our local community providing security and direction? Can we establish a CAP Money Budgeting course? Can we produce Couples, Parenting and Family courses? Can we partner with other churches for Alpha Courses delivered partly online? When the restrictions end, can we expand our use of the technology – use it to enhance, not just maintain?

In the church refurbishment, can we develop a safe after-school drop-in centre? Can we promote courses, learning, fellowship and skills with the church as a gathering point for the wider community, with the one constant being the love of Jesus?

From TKC we emerged with prayer points such as: dream big – what can we do – how can we deliver – what resources can we offer – how can we be active in our community?

So, go on then: start dreaming! What could you help host / do / teach for the community, reflecting the light of Jesus? What idea could we develop and roll out? Please contact the church office – office@comelybankchurch.com with your input.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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In Memory of Robert Burns

Robert Burns was a colourful and in some ways contraversial character of Scottish literature. For many he was an agnostic who had not much good to say about Christians, Christianity or church.

The truth is that he was brought up in the Christian faith, and the knowledge of the Bible. He had a very good understanding of Scripture and was readily able to quote it, or indeed misquote it. In his time the church in Scotland went through one of its turbulent disruptions. The behaviour of some on either side did not do much good for the church and the Christian faith in general. So Burns had an adamant hostility towards hypocrisy in people and the church, especially when they considered themselves holier than thou.

Whatever the case might be about Burns’ faith or the lack of it, he was an extremely gifted word-smith with a sharp observation of life and people, a quick wit and great sense of humour, and a perception for justice. So let stand here one of his poems in memory of Scotland’s national bard.

The First Six Verses Of The Ninetieth Psalm Versified (1781)

O Thou, the first, the greatest friend 
Of all the human race! 
Whose strong right hand has ever been 
Their stay and dwelling place!

Before the mountains heav’d their heads 
Beneath Thy forming hand, 
Before this ponderous globe itself 
Arose at Thy command;

That Pow’r which rais’d and still upholds 
This universal frame, 
From countless, unbeginning time 
Was ever still the same.

Those mighty periods of years 
Which seem to us so vast, 
Appear no more before Thy sight 
Than yesterday that’s past.

Thou giv’st the word: Thy creature, man, 
Is to existence brought; 
Again Thou say’st, “Ye sons of men, 
Return ye into nought!”

Thou layest them, with all their cares, 
In everlasting sleep; 
As with a flood Thou tak’st them off 
With overwhelming sweep.

They flourish like the morning flow’r, 
In beauty’s pride array’d; 
But long ere night cut down it lies 
All wither’d and decay’d.

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Book Review: The Lost Letters of Pergamum

Bruce W. Longenecker: The Lost Letters of Pergamum

I just finished reading this historical fiction covering the early years of Christianity. The book presents a collection of fictional correspondence between Antipas, Christ’s faithful witness and martyr in Pergamum (Revelation 2:13) and doctor Luke, author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts.

Antipas, a wealthy Roman, worshipping the Roman gods, loves intellectual pursuits and wants to make his name great. He gets interested on an intellectual level in the writings of Luke and compares Luke’s testimony of the “disturbing man” Jesus with the superiority of Roman life, as he sees it. His approach is purely academic, but reading more and more of Luke’s account (it is recommended to read Luke’s Gospel in parallel while reading this book!), and experiencing the practical life of Christians in Pergamum he begins to question his own assumptions of life and priorities.

The author is a renowned scholar of New Testament and his novel is well researched. Through the clever idea of correspondence style he offers a thought-provoking insight into pagan Roman thought, and the life of early Christians in that hostile society that misunderstood them.

The author includes both a preface and a postscript in which he carefully explains what is fiction and what is historically provable fact.

The novel is an entertaining read and a very reliable and valuable source to learn much about the social, political, intellectual world of early Christians at the end of the first century AD in Asia Minor. The book is a great supplement to anyone who wants to study and undersand the Book of Revelation, or to know more about early Christianity.

I found it very helpful and a very enjoyable easy read. I can highly recommend it.

The book is available online from known book sellers and vending sites. I would encourage you try getting it from a Christian book seller or site.

[from GV]

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‘Thy Kingdom Come’ – Day of Prayer 1/2021

We invite you to join many others of and beyond the church family of SSCB in praying for each other and for current needs and the ongoing ministry of our church.

We ask you to set apart 30 minutes of Saturday, 30th January and commit it to praying. Just book a 30 minutes slot anytime from 10:00 to 22:00 and pray.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, how long or short you have been in the church family, if you are a seasoned praying person, or you never tried it before, we’d love you to join in. There are different ways to do it. Here are a few suggestions to encourage you.

Prayer Topics

We have a number of prayer topics that will help you focus on what to pray for. These topics emerged at the last day of prayer in 2020. Choose as many topics to pray for as you want. Here is the link to the topics.

30 Minutes Prayer Time

Half an hour prayer seems a lot. In fact it isn’t. But if you never prayed for that long it is good to have a structured plan for it.

  1. Start with a short prayer, like: Lord I want to set this time apart to be in your presence, pray to you, listen to you. Focus my mind, heart and soul on Jesus, my Saviour. Guide my thoughts, give me the words to worship and praise your holy Name as I pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 
  2. Read a passage from the Bible, a Psalm, or a Gospel passage to focus your thoughts and to inspire your prayer.
  3. Offer your praise to God. Take your hymn book and choose a hymn, your favourite one. Sing it to God or read it as a prayer. Or listen to worship music.
  4. Begin to pray:
    1. Ask God to tell you which prayer topic He wants you to pray for. Spend time praying through that topic. Let God lead you as you pray. You might want to write down some of the things God tells you regarding that topic.
    2. Alternatively use the headings of the prayer topics to pray:
  • Prayer – Lord teach me to pray; pray the Lord’s Prayer;
  • Fellowship – pray for the church family, people you know, or who would normally sit close to you in church, or who were in the same breakout room at the last Zoom Service as you were, recall what you talked about and pray for them.
  • People – Pray for people that are close to you: family, friends, neighbours, those who are ill, or bereaved, front line workers, etc.
  • Mission – Pray for the ministry of SSCB, the staff at the church: Youth Worker (present and future), Operations Coordinator, cleaner, minister. Pray for the volunteers: Sunday Club, Youth Fellowship, Welcome Team, Hospitality Team, Lunch Club Team, Church Lunch Team, Praise Band, AV Team, Home Groups, Kirk Session. Pray for members of church family who serve in various organisations outside the church: Foodbank, Care Van, Bethany, EMMS, etc.
  • Discipleship – Ask the Lord to speak to you and to all of us through His Word and Holy Spirit that we may all grow together in faith, love and grace to be a mature body of Christ. Ask the Lord to show you how to share the gospel with your family, friends, neighbours, how to teach your children and grandchildren in the faith.
  • Worship & Teaching – Give thanks for God’s Word and that we can proclaim it and worship Him in freedom. Pray for faithful preaching and teaching of the Word of God in our church family, in service, Sunday Club, Youth Fellowship, etc., and in the church in Scotland.
  • Buildings – Give thanks for the amazing buildings we inherited to worship and have fellowship in them. Pray for wisdom to use the premisses well for God’s glory. Pray for Vision2020 building project that it will begin soon and will be successfully accomplished. Pray for the needed funds for the project.
How to Pray?
  • Pray wherever you are, in whatever position you are most comfortable. Pray sitting or standing.
  • Go for a prayer walk!
  • Pray aloud or silently.
  • Pray alone, or with prayer friends on zoom.

The only thing we ask you to do is that you will pray for 30 minutes on 30th January.

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints – St Brigid [kindness]

Brigid lived from 451 to 525. It is commonly held that her mother was a Christian Pictish slave named Brocseach and her father, Dubhthach, was a Celtic chieftain in Leinster, about 60 miles due east of Dublin.. Dubthach’s wife insisted that he sell Brigid’s mother when she became pregnant and so Brigid was born into slavery. 

When she was about ten, her father bought her back and she became a household servant, where her habit of charity led her to donate his belongings to anyone who asked. It is recorded that her father was so annoyed with her that he took her to sell her to the King of Leinster. While Dubthach was talking to the king, Brigid gave away his jewelled sword to a beggar to barter it for food to feed his family. The king recognised her holiness and convinced Dubthach to grant his daughter her freedom.

She grew and Dubthach tried to marry her off but Brigid refused and insisted on becoming a nun. She was stubborn, and her father yielded to her decision.

We have already seen some of the best known concepts of Celtic Christianity – indeed, Ninian displayed mission as a key characteristic. Brigid did not withdraw into seclusion but sought to be with others. She it was who, referring to Anam Cara – the concept of a soul friend – said that, “Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head.” 

Brigid was someone for whom one word or characteristic was inadequate. She was a leader and founded the monastic community of Kildare 33 miles south west of Dublin where she was abbess. In her leadership, she displayed an organisational ability and, basically, common sense. She provided education not just for those under holy orders in Kildare, but for the ‘common worker.’ She worked energetically but took the time to be with people – she was known for her ability to console and counsel people from many walks of life.

We have already seen that Celtic women enjoyed a different status than in other cultures and were regarded as equals, not just with the right to own property after marriage, but with the opportunity to be elected leader of their tribe. This was continued into the Celtic Christian tradition, and indeed a Bishop Mel recorded an incident when a group of women were being accepted into holy orders. A fiery pillar was seen rising from Brigid’s head to the roof of the church and Mel, understanding the significance, ordained her as a Bishop. Another bishop, Maccaille of Croghan, was present and he demurred saying a woman could not be a bishop. Mel replied that neither of them had a say in the matter of anointing her a bishop for, “That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigid.”

Brigid was a complex character – leader, counsellor, charitable, educational. If, out of that, we could find one characteristic to define her; one that would tie together all the others, it would be ‘kindness.’ She showed compassion for others, was loved by others and, in fact, was straight out of Colossians:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:23)

Through her qualities, the way she led her life and in her actions, she can be a model to us today.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – PEOPLE

Prayer – Fellowship – People – Mission – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching – Buildings

And so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:14)

We consider the people involved in our church, their roles and service. We can pray the people and volunteer for some of the roles.

Congregation: you, me, us; together in person and by Zoom. We need each other because we are one body. We all celebrate a new birth at SSCB; we all rejoice in a coming to faith at SSCB. Why? Because we are family. Look out for each other; look after each other.

Visitors: We are blessed by visitors via ‘digital church’ including Zoom services and website and in the church itself restrictions permitting. We don’t want to look inwards, but to extend outwards, and so we acknowledge and bless ‘them’ as part of ‘us’ for we are all God’s family.

Cleaner: One of the subtle strengths of our cleaner is, I think, that she quite enjoys being taken for granted! You see you never really notice the cleanliness of our church for one simple reason: it is never dirty for you to have a comparison. This takes professionalism and thoroughness.

Stewards: When we meet in Church we never just walk in, ignored. We have a welcome and reassurance from our stewards. Currently, they have enhanced duties recording track and trace data and ensuring physically distanced seating. Their task is always undertaken with love – love for each person who comes into church. (We can always do with more stewards…)

AV Team: We have a small crew of volunteers who set up, operate and maintain. Usually one runs the Zoom link, one runs visuals including recorded music inserts and one runs sound (an important job is muting the minister when there’s any singing!). Helping regularly makes it straightforward – can you help?

Praise Band: Now, more than ever, we need to show them we care and to pray for them. It’s difficult for us not singing in church, but the Praise Band are denied their godly musical giftings to support our sung worship. So let’s uphold them, both while they cannot play and also once we are back. Maybe you are musical and could join? (No, the minister is still not allowed to sing.)

Operations Coordinator: Our recent appointment seems an age ago because our Coordinator has not only assumed the role but is already developing and growing it. But she is the Coordinator, not the ‘person who does.’ We all have an obligation to support her in tasks and activities. She provides logistics, direction and systems, and we must provide bodies (and prayer) so that she can … well … coordinate.

Youth Worker: As we look for a new Youth Worker, it’s not just our youth who we have learned from and been inspired by our current Youth Worker. Now, instead of job advert boxes to tick, we are holding conversations to understand who our new Youth Worker might be, what their vision is and how we can encourage them. Our Youth Worker has led a team serving and upholding the youth. So please pray for our current and future Youth Worker.

The Kirk Session: The Elders on Kirk Session manage the spiritual life of the church family and the physical life of the infrastructure. One of the elders – the Teaching Elder – is better known as the Minister, and supported by your prayers we serve and lead. Prayer together is developing a close band into a tight bond. We are providing training for others to explore a calling to serve as Elder. Pray for all.

Our church is not the building – it’s the people. And together we can unite under God, working on the mission which He has for us.

Each person is important. YOU are that important person. Together we are not just people but family. Please help look after your family – office@comelybankchurch.com for more details.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – FELLOWSHIP

Prayer – Fellowship – People – Mission – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching – Buildings

‘Consider yourself … at home.

Consider yourself … one of the family.’

Before even the musical ‘Oliver!’ the Bible showed that fellowship is a godly quality and a godly activity; just one of our responses to the gift of eternal life with God, won by Jesus:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

Let’s be honest – some of our fellowship initiatives are hugely successful. We have regular comments on our warm welcome for visitors, many of whom have become regular, joining our church family. We are renowned for our Lunch Club – because we seek fellowship, not the renown. (And because we have a team who prepare, serve and host brilliantly). We have grown the monthly Church Family Lunch into a much anticipated, regular event – all about the fellowship. Lockdowns, physical distancing and meeting restrictions have paused events, but the bond continues because the fellowship has been established.

So how else, especially during restrictions, can we have fellowship?

This is where we get a bit Revelation-y … “Yet, I hold this against you …” Do we really look to connect with each other? Have we all tried a Home Group or a course … not just for the learning, but for the fellowship? How good are we at actually encouraging each other? One of the best ways to encourage someone is to listen to them. I am surprised, when I listen to my SSCB family, at how much we have in common. I can draw inspiration from their life story and can help them even with just a phone call. Sadly, I am also not surprised at how often I find an excuse not to engage in fellowship – I’m a busy person, you know; I don’t know X well, but they probably don’t need anything and certainly not 5 minutes chatting with me…

While we remain under restrictions, how about contacting someone in SSCB during the week – just a quick call or email to show that ‘we were asked to think of someone and contact them, and I am thinking of YOU.’

We are looking at refreshing our SSCB connections, highlighting Home Groups, where we can know each other better, understand each other more and stand closer with each other. Could you try to be connected into a Home Group; even just to say “I tried”? Could you lead a Home Group?

We do well in our Fellowship, but we can do well-er!

Fellowship is important. YOU are important. Without fellowship, we are more of a group of individuals than a family of people. Please ask (office@comelybankchurch.com) for more details.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Relishing Repentance

[notes from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker, on the page margin of the sermon: Ephesus – Repentance (Rev. 2:1-7)]

I love to talk about the unlimited adventure of a born again, spirit filled life of faith and freedom!  However, I am aware in my own life that I often need to repent to get to the place of freedom. Repentance. The way that we are saved, the way that we are changed, transformed into better people. Repentance. Turning around, changing my mind, changing my actions. Changing my focus. Sometimes it’s hard to bend my own will to repentance. It’s not something I can make others do. However, it is something God can lead us into.

Just as my earthly father would encourage me to get out of bed and give me stern word when I was way out of line, God is disciplining me. Not just addressing my outward behaviour but my thoughts motivations and attitudes.

Repentance starts with God pointing out an area he wants to work in. Unlike people’s criticisms, know that conviction from Jesus is always for your good. I love the Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24. It gives an opportunity for God to shine a light on anything that he wants to change:

“Search me O God and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-34; KJV)

Are you brave enough to ask God about what he is calling you to repent of?

In the Old Testament God sends prophets to proclaim his word and challenge wrong ways of living, asking people to repent. Are you giving God opportunity to speak through his Word? Are there opportunities for other Christians to challenge you? Maybe you could revisit some of the SSCB sermons and other online teaching? Maybe you could ask someone from church to ask you hard questions about your lifestyle? In the Old Testament they often repented in physical ways, not just in prayer. They tore their clothes, shaved their heads, sat in ashes. Is there a way we could physically mark our repentance? One thing I like doing is scratching my sin onto a slate before dipping the slate in the river and seeing that what was written is no longer readable. This action helps me cement my repentance and helps me see how completely Jesus has forgiven me!

Repentance can be a hard thing to do, conviction of the Holy Spirit is uncomfortable. But repentance is a good thing. I want to relish repentance more. To embrace repentance knowing that it is my loving Father working his power and goodness into my life. Every time I repent and believe, Jesus takes ground in my life. He wins more of my affection. My sinful nature loses, and God gets the Glory he deserves! Repentance is about saying YES to God, it’s worship. Repentance is not about regret and shame -I have been stuck in those feelings before- but repentance moves past these negative feelings into the victory Jesus won for us and the experience of being a new creation! 

I hope this article may encourage you to seek repentance because you know it is good for you. It is good to live in step with Jesus. Repentance keeps us firmly on the path. I leave you with a reminder from Paul that God is kind. He doesn’t condemn you, he frees you from shame by giving forgiveness without asking for anything in return.

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you?…. Do you not realise that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) – [the citation is a combination of NLT and NTE translations]

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Can you learn this?

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”” (John 3:6-7)

Generations grow up with the notion “You can be whatever you want to be.” Parents tell them, teachers encourage them: “Just put your mind to it, work hard.” And at the beginning of a new year many try to be someone different, someone new. As if one could learn to be whatever they want to be. Can you learn to be a Christian?

Some learn the religious lingo and behaviour, but that’s not enough. They might be able to mix in the ‘right crowd,’ but soon it is revealed they do not have the Spirit in themselves, they got only a Christian mask. Just because I put on a football strip that says Messi on its back I will not become a famous football player, I will not have the necessary skills!

Others try with sincere resolve to be a follower of Christ. They practice self-control, they curb their instincts, passions and emotions, refine their speech, do good deeds but their true nature comes through at unexpected moments. So they find it far too hard to be a Christian and give up, or try to cover up and pretend and become hypocrites.

And there are those who were born again by the Spirit of God. They received a new character. True, the old nature is still there, but it is not the dominant one anymore. The aim is that the new character, the Christ who lives in them, will become stronger, and the old self will receive less and less space, by letting Christ, His word, His Spirit guide and refashion their minds, hearts, souls and deeds.

You can not learn this! You can only be born again for this by God’s grace. In this new year when so many try to ‘recreate’ or ‘reinvent’ themselves by New Year’s resolutions, why not allow Christ to shape you? Jesus said that we need to be born again. His word carries the Good News, it is possible to be born again! Through the living and enduring word of God we can be born again! (1 Peter 1:23)

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints – St Ninian

St Ninian – missional

Ninian’s mission was to take the gospel to the southern Picts. Born c360, he began his mission in 397, based in Whithorn, at the southern point of Galloway. Basically, find Wigtown then head south, stopping before your feet get wet. Ninian was a Briton who followed Celtic Christianity and apparently studied in Rome – an attractive proposition for the Roman Christians after the Synod of Whitby and they made much of his great missional example.

Whithorn is known as the Cradle of Christianity in Scotland. Here, the oldest surviving Christian memorial in Scotland can be found – the 5th century Latinus Stone. Its Latin inscription reads “We praise you, Lord” and declares that it was erected ‘by Latinus aged 35 and his daughter aged 4.’ There are traces of the chi-rho symbol of Christ, carved in the early Constantinian style indicative of its age and its links to Rome.

Ninian wanted firm foundations and a beacon of hope for his missional calling and at Whithorn he established a church of whitewashed stone, called the Candida Casa, or ‘White House’ (hence Whit … Horn). From there, he travelled widely, sharing the good news of Jesus and converting the southern Picts.

He achieved results, but later many Picts and Celts fell back into paganism. Patrick, writing some 50 – 75 years afterwards, referred to the ‘Apostate Picts.’ (The northern Picts, whom Columba and others would convert, were not yet Christian and so could not be called ‘apostate.’) Ninian was a pioneering missional who knew the risks:

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’  When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

The success of pioneering mission may be precisely that it is pioneering; it is first where before was nothing; growth comes later. But there was still encouragement even amongst those who lapsed:

Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.

Though I sit in darkness
the Lord will be my light. (Micah 7:8)

And all the while, Ninian pursued his mission, answering his calling to walk amongst the southern Picts and work amongst them. Early maps were shown on their side, not necessarily north-south, and Ninian’s mission essentially took him across the land and up the East Coast. A missional trail can reasonably be plotted by noting the dedications to St Ninian around the country. They are found throughout the Pictish lands south of the line of the Firths of Clyde and Forth, and around Stirling, Perth, Fife, Dundee and Forfar. But there is a noticeable lack of dedications in the Highlands and Isles.

Ninian died and was buried at Whithorn which became a place of pilgrimage. Robert the Bruce, knowing he was dying, travelled there to pray and later James IV walked 8 days on pilgrimage to Ninian’s tomb.

So discern your mission, as directed by God. The success of your endeavours may be felt, in gratitude, many years later. God prepares you; then God invites you to act.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty (1680)

This hymn was written by Joachim Neander, born in 1650. The name Neander is the Greek form of the German family name Neumann, both of which mean “new man.” Joachim’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, even his great-great-grandfather were called Joachim and they all were preachers of the gospel. Impressive that may be, still as a student, Joachim was wild and rebellious. At age 20 he joined a group of students who descended on St Martin’s Church in Bremen to ridicule and mock the worshippers. However the sermon preached that day arrested him and led to his conversion, making him truly a new man! God, having a good sense of humour, sent him back to the same church as assistant minister a few years later.

Joachim often took long walks near his home in Hochdal, Germany. They were worship and prayer walks. He frequently composed hymns as he strolled, singing them to the Lord. He is regarded as the first Calvinist hymn writer! When he was 30 -the year he died- he wrote this hymn while battling tuberculosis:

Praise Ye the Lord, th Almighty, the King of Creation,
O my soul praise Him, for He is Your health and Salvation.

One of Joachim’s favourite walking spots was a beautiful valley a few miles from Dusseldorf. The Dussel river cut through it, and Joachim Neander was so much associtated with the place that eventually it was named after him: Neander Valley. The Old German word for “valley’ is “thal”, so in German it is called Neanderthal.

In 1856, as miners were digging for limestone in the valley, discovered a caves with human bones in them. The bones were examined by a local science teacher who speculated that they might originate form the time of the Flood.

When William King, and Irish professor of anatomy saw the bones, he claimed they were the proof of evolution’s famous”missing link”. Some more Neanderthal fossils were found and for many years they were used to ‘prove’ Darwin’s theory of evolution.

However Joachim Neander’s life is the proof that someone will not develop into a ‘new human’ by evolution, but becomes a new creation by grace! I am grateful to the Lord that by His grace I also am a Neander (new man).

“if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17; NIVUK)

So just “ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with His love He befriend you!”

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Lord, Save Us!

As we started out in this New Year we knew it is not going to be a plain sailing. We, together with the rest of the world, already were in a difficult and complex situation. Still, with hope we got into the metaphorical ‘boat’ to take us to the other side. Various vaccines were tested and rolled out, which gave us encouragement and hope that COVID will be over. But now we find ourselves in a second lockdown, and the journey through 2021 does not seem to be so certain, the other side seems to be out of sight.

Matthew 8:23-27 tells the story of a crossing over the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep at the back of the boat. Unexpectedly a furious storm broke out and threatened their safety. The disciples, some of them fishermen, woke Jesus, saying: “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25).

Our life is similar to that boat journey crossing over to the other side. We start out in a boat shaped crib and arrive in a boat shaped coffin, and on the way we are tested by numerous storms.

We must be careful and know that the elements are stronger than we are. Our knowledge, science and technology, amazing as they might be, are unable to answer all the questions, solve all the problems, or save us in every storm.

We can be saved only by a Saviour who is with us in our boat! We will still get into storms and danger but we have someone to whom we can turn: “Lord, save us!” Jesus alone has power over every kind of hostile and adverse power. He does not save us from storms, but keeps us safe in every storm, making sure we will reach the other side.

Make sure Jesus is with you in your life (‘boat’) as you sail through 2021.

In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints – An Introduction

What word or godly characteristic would you use to describe yourself? Celtic Christians often summarised their saints in this way to remember the individual, learn from them and promote aspects of the Christian faith to which all should aspire. Remember, a Celtic Christian ‘saint’ was simply a wise or inspiring individual from whom all can learn, not necessarily as consecrated by Rome. 

In describing yourself in a short phrase or word, you will necessarily exclude so much of your personality. If I highlight my humour then what about my relational side? My leadership abilities? (What, unfortunately, about my selfish streak and ego? But then the object is highlighting godly characteristics, not fallen ones.) The Celtic Christians handed down stories orally, setting out the historicity as well as the spiritual side of their hagiography.

In the next few articles, we will examine the lives and characteristics of some Celtic Christian saints to see if we can still learn from and be inspired by them in how we conduct our lives today. Some may be familiar and favourite; many must sadly be excluded or only glimpsed from afar as we cover the passing years.

David (500-589) (Heart) was a teacher and preacher who founded many monasteries and churches. He did not just move on, but remained at the heart of what he did. Whilst his influence spread, he remained pretty much where he was in Menevia (now called St David’s), closely involved with his beloved St David’s Cathedral which he founded). He had a heart for others, inspiring many monks to evangelise across Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany. He taught that we should all be “doing the little things in God’s presence with conscientiousness and devotion.” Little things – big heart.

David’s mother Non (born c475) (Carer) raised David at Aberaeron and then founded a convent nearby, now called Llanon (Llan is ‘church,’ so ‘church of Non’). She seems to have founded a series of churches forming a pathway to care for pilgrims journeying through Wales, Devon and Cornwall and on to Brittany, where she retired, settling at Dirinon in Finistère to be near her sister.

Adomnán (624-704) (Protector) was a relative of Columba, becoming Abbot of Iona himself in 679. He sought to protect the memory of Columba, writing ‘The Life of Saint Columba.’ He sought to protect the lives of others, writing and promoting the ‘Law of Adomnán’ (also known as the ‘Law of the Innocents’) designed to guarantee the safety of non-combatants in warfare; an early Geneva Convention. He it was who finally persuaded Iona to accept the Roman timing of Easter some years after the Whitby Synod.

St. Abigail (c6th Century) (Pastoral), also known as Deborah, was born in County Clare, Ireland. She travelled extensively, settling first in the Aran Islands then further inland before spend the rest of her life in County Cork, dedicating herself to pastoral service and Christian charitable work.

Have a heart. Care for others and protect them. Display a pastoral attitude in actions as well as words. Care for others where they are, whether you travel far or stay at home, for thus we carry Christ’s love and play our part in God’s family into which we are adopted and made whole. These characteristics are godly and relevant. They are of Celtic Christians and they are for us today.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – PRAYER

Prayer – Fellowship – People – Mission – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching – Buildings

We want to encourage a commitment to prayer and provide opportunities to pray together.

As a church family, we have agreed that prayer is the foundation for our relationship with God in our individual life and church life. It is not just occasional prayer – a whispered “Lord, give me strength” or a polite “Thank you and bless you” – but being saturated in prayer. It is not just a shopping list or a thank you card, but a conversation with God.

Perhaps you are uncomfortable praying out loud. God hears your heart so we do not have to pray out loud, whether alone or with others.

There are many opportunities to pray and a church’s strength is the strength of its prayer life. There are everyday opportunities: as you go about your daily life. Consider everything you see, do or say and offer it up to God. Tell Him about it. He knows everything about us, but He chooses also to walk in our time, moment by moment. There are church family opportunities: events and fellowship. Some are well attended and others are, sadly, just a core few. 

Can you join one or more of the prayer initiatives, at least one and at least once, just to see?

  • Sunday before worship;
  • Thanksgiving and Intercession (Zoom or in Church; at the lectern or with the microphone brought to you);
  • Open Church for Quiet Reflection (Wednesdays at 1000 hrs if no Lockdown);
  • Church Monthly Prayer (first Wednesday of each month);
  • Prayer events (for example, ‘Pray Across The Pond’ with La Jolla Christian Fellowship in San Diego, praying with a sister church and its people);
  • SSCB Day of Prayer (perhaps taking a short prayer slot and feeding in what you gain from it as with the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative); and
  • Become part of the church family Prayer Team (a group of folks who commit time daily to pray for others and their prayer requests – see the Prayer Team page on this website).

And what could we pray about?

  • Pray for our Young People – our Youth Worker provides a note of prayer topics;
  • Pray for our church family – prayer points in each edition of the e-Pistle;
  • Pray for wider city, country and world events and people.

Prayer matters. You matter. Without prayer, without taking the time to talk with God, we lose so much of our fellowship with Him and our strength with each other. Please contact the Church office (office@comelybankchurch.com) for the Zoom link / more details.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Hallelujah Chorus (1741)

    “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let them say among the nations,

1 Chronicles 16:31

His father tried to discourage his musical interests, preferring that he enter the legal profession. But it was the organ, harpsichord, and violin that captured the heart of young George Frideric Handel. Once, accompanying his father to the court of Duke Johann Adolf, young George wandered into the chapel, found the organ, and started improvising. The startled Duke exclaimed: “Who is this remarkable child?”

This “remarkable child” soon began composing operas, first in Italy then in London. By his 20’s, he was the talk of England and the best paid composer on earth. He opened the Royal Academy of Music. Londoners fought for seats at his every performance, and his fame soared around the world.

But the glory passed. Audiences dwindled. His music became outdated, and he was thought of as an old fuddy-duddy. Newer artists eclipsed the ageing composer. One project after another failed, and Handel, now bankrupt, grew depressed. The stress brought on a case of paralysis that crippled some of his fingers. “Handel’s great days are over,” wrote Frederick the Great, “his inspiration is exhausted.”

But his troubles also matured him, softened his sharp tongue, his temper mellowed, and his music became more heartfelt. One morning he received a manuscript form Charles Jennens. It was a word for word collection of various Biblical texts about Christ. The opening words from Isaiah 40 moved Handel: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…”

On the 22nd of August 1741 he shut the door of his home and started composing music for the words. Twenty-three days later The Messiah was born! “Wether I was in the body or out of the body when I wrote it, I know not,” Handel later said. The Messiah opened in London to enormous crowds on 23rd of March 1743, with Handel leading from his harpsichord. King George II surprised everyone leaping to his feet during the Hallelujah Chorus. The audience followed suit. Nobody knows why his majesty jumped to his feet. Some believe the king, being hard of hearing, might have thought it was the national anthem.

Whatever the case, from that day on audiences everywhere have stood in reverence during the words: “Hallelujah! For He shall reign forever and ever.”

Handel’s fame was rekindled, and even after he lost his eyesight, he continued playing the organ for performances of his oratorios until his death, 14th April 1759.

It is interesting and good to remind ourselves when Jesus will return to take his throne and “reign forever and ever” no knee will stand, whether they belong to a king or not, but every knee shall bow before the King of kings, and Lord of lords!

Hallelujah Chorus Flash Mob

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When Jesus Comes to Church

‘When Jesus Comes to Church’ is the title of our new sermon series we begin in the New Year. It is based on Revelation 1-3.

Now some of you might be alarmed by this announcement. “No, not Revelation! The book is like a nightmare, it hardly makes any sense, what does it mean?” – some might say or ask.

Yet it is in Scripture. God saw it fit and important for us to include it in His Word. Yes, it contains symbolism, it is filled with terrifying present/future events, mythical type creatures, but it is filled with the Lord Himself.

Map of the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 1-3) – click to enlarge
(Map taken from ‘New Bible Dictionary’ IIVP 2000)

And I believe that is the key when you read Revelation. Most people are hung up on the symbolism, the mythical creatures, and the events. So much so that they don’t see the woods for the trees and miss the central character of the book: the living and reigning Lord Jesus Christ! It is His revelation (Revelation 1:1)! It is about Him, He is present in it on every page.

The book in fact is not a nightmare vision, it is a letter from the Lord Jesus to seven churches in Asia Minor. It was meant as an encouragement to real churches who faced real issues and challenges in faith, and life. The letter is affirming that the Lord is real too in all His might, power and glory. He is alive, He reigns, He is victorious, and He is eternal. The letter is not meant to frighten them but to give them hope and confidence in Jesus. It is my prayer that you will be excited and not terrified, but encouraged and built up as we explore, study and pray through the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation together.

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Where Shall We Look in 2021?

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:4-5)

It is an interesting thing of our human psychology that whatever we look to that has an impression on us. It is a bit like with the old fashioned photo-cameras, the image that the lens is open to makes an imprint on the film. So it is with our mind, and soul. Who looks only at their problems, they will always have reason to complain and feel sorry for themselves. The one who look at their enemies will be afraid. Who look at themselves, will either become overconfident, or will lose heart.

What about those who look to the Lord? They will be radiant.

Looking to the Lord means we count with God and we count on Him. Looking at the Lord continuously we will get to know His great deeds, we learn that He does not change, He is faithful, compassionate and gracious. Looking at the Lord means we ask for help, salvation and forgiveness from Him and expect it only from Him. We accept all that He gives us, blessings and trials too. We trust in Him with all our heart.

Looking at Jesus means we know what He did for us: “He loved me and gave himself for me” said Paul (Galatians 2:20). Jesus promised “I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), that means in every age, in our present time and in the years ahead!

Whoever looks to the Lord will remain in His presence, they will be in His sphere of power and love, and not under the power of fear. The ‘imprint’ of His cross is on their hearts, minds and souls! They know they are not alone, their life is before the caring eyes of Almighty God and of His Christ!

So, where or to who will you look in 2021?

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If God Should Come to Earth

Christmas Meditation Poem by one of our elders, Donald Bruce
If God should come to earth,
    how should he come?
If the divine, the transcendent would
    transcend the laws of physics he wrote,
      fuse the dimensions of body and spirit,
        pierce the canopy ‘tween earth and heaven
      and break through upon earth.
How would it be?
 
 Should we want such a coming:
    in divine power, as would create worlds out of nothing
      in majesty, beyond monarchies of man’s making
        in beauty, that turns all else dowdy
          in might, that none could withstand
    and in justice, that sears the heart of human corruption?
Aye, for there’s the rub
    For we should be judged by such a one
      and found wanting.
 Should we want such a coming,
    if he were too holy for us?

Such irrefutable evidences as these
    would beguile
        but not convert.
Unless we were willing to do more 
    than merely spectate,
      if God should appear.

It would be better if God came quietly
    like one of us, 
    as one of us.
In a place so obscure, mere onlookers wouldn’t notice
    where only those prepared to be changed would see.
 
God would send a one-night-only gala concert of angels
    to folk so low in status they would receive it, simply
      and, for joy, run out and share such good news!
God would move seekers of truth from afar, so dedicated
    they would travel to earth’s ends,
      to give treasures to a baby in a feeding trough.
 
God seeks not unmoved observation
    but commitment.
The jeweler who would sell all for that One jewel,
The searcher who finds treasure in a field and for joy sells all to buy it.
The devout girl who would risk all, in trusting obedience to God
 
 Such rash faith
    that would travel across aeons of space and time
      to save humanity from its petty illusion of mastery,
    not in pomp and power
      but in the helplessness of a baby
         and the cross of a dying saviour.
 Such rash faith calls from each, who would be changed, 
    the rashness to believe:
      This is the Saviour. 
      This is God come to earth.
 

 by Donald Bruce
 24-26 December 2020

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Thy Kingdom Come

A while ago we held a day of prayer: “Thy Kingdom Come.” Members of the SSCB Church Family booked a slot, prayed at home and fed forwards (by email, phone and Zoom) what they had heard, sensed or simply become aware of. Some themes emerged and the Kirk Session spent time praying, discussing and taking action.

We want to come to you for accountability, support and wisdom. We want you to take action, as you discern God’s calling on you.

The seven headings are the general groupings we identified from that day. This was exciting because seven is a Biblical number often referring to completion and perfection. (So clearly if we can just do these seven things, our lives will be complete and we will be perfect!) For example, on the seventh day, God rested. Later, Jesus would speak seven times from the Cross as He came to the completion of His earthly rescue mission.

It was also exciting because these seven themes reflected what the Kirk Session had, separately, begun to sense during a time of prayer and seeking God’s vision.

So we are calling on everyone in the Church Family to help.

We want all of SSCB (people and buildings) to be saturated in prayer, and that means asking you to pray. We will look at Prayer as one of the groupings later in this series, but we need you to pray, seeking God’s wisdom that we are not acting out our own plans, but are discerning God’s plans for us.

We want to be active in mission, and that may mean laying down other things first. We have already seen that the season of a CAP Debt Centre here has drawn to a close, but how else can we show God’s love to others? How can we take our hope in Jesus out of the building and into the community?

This is refreshing and uplifting, not least the sense of togetherness we felt on that day of prayer and the “Lavender” series of E-pistle articles which came out of it. This is also challenging because although we keep hold of our faith, we can easily leave our deeds until the next Sunday. Maybe you, too, will look at the topics and see a large neon sign saying, “This includes YOU!” Happily, Scripture encourages and does not accuse:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

So, please, be enthused. And be prepared. We will walk through these topics and invite each other to lift them up – to lift each other up – as God calls us.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Join us for prayer or worship during Christmas. Our church will be open at the following times:

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Home Groups on Zoom

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Three Home Groups continue to meet on Zoom at various times in the evenings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you would like to join one, please email us at office@comelybankchurch.com…

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Home Groups on Zoom

Online Zoom

Three Home Groups continue to meet on Zoom at various times in the evenings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you would like to join one, please email us at office@comelybankchurch.com…

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Ladies’ home group

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Ladies' home group is currently meeting on Zoom only. For more information please contact office@comelybankchurch.com