Ale & Teviot United Church


Monthly Archive for October, 2010

Show Pakistan the love of Jesus

Sunday 26 September 2010 : HARVEST THANKSGIVING

We all enjoy our food – some of us perhaps more than we should! – but I wonder if we ever take time to stop and think where it comes from? Today, let’s stop for a moment to give a round of applause to the agricultural community ; to the people without whom the rest of us simply would not be able to survive. We, the people whose mouths are fed by your labour, salute you and thank you today.

But we remember also that the labours of those who grow and harvest and prepare and package and market our food would be sunk without trace, along with the rest of us, were it not for the God who made heaven and earth, who upholds and sustains the whole of creation – often in spite of the follies of a human race who blithely carry on polluting the atmosphere with reckless disregard for the consequences for generations yet to come. God promised in Genesis 8.22 : As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.

LESSON : Luke 10 : 25-37  [p. 1042]

TALK

The focus of today’s service is on the nation of Pakistan, where, in July of this year, severe flooding killed at least 2,000 people, destroyed over a million homes, left more than 20 million people homeless or injured – more than the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the January 2010 Haiti earthquake put together.

The Word of God teaches us that love for God is to reflect in love for our neighbour, and the person who is our neighbour is the person who, at that moment, needs a good neighbour. Not necessarily someone we like, not necessarily someone who believes and thinks as we do, indeed not necessarily someone we will ever meet this side of heaven, but the person that God wants us to help and equips us to help. There are many ways in which the people of Pakistan need our help. First, they need [hold up item of food].

The floods, which at one time covered one-fifth of the whole land area of Pakistan, have destroyed the fields where food grows. The figures are scary. 17 million acres of Pakistan’s most fertile land waterlogged, 200,000 animals killed, half-a-million tons of wheat destroyed. There is a major concern that farmers will be unable to meet the plant new seeds this autumn, which could mean a massive shortage of food next year.

Another problem is [hold up bottle of water]. At a pinch, you can survive a couple of weeks without food, but only a couple of days without water. In past years, we’ve helped the Water for Life appeal, and we saw then how important fresh clean water is. If you haven’t got that, and drink polluted water, with animal waste or chemicals or sewage in it, you could become very ill or even die. The World Health Organization reported that ten million people in Pakistan were forced to drink unsafe water.

The third area in which the people of Pakistan need our help is [hold up medicine]. One of the worst after-effects of these disasters is that they are often followed by epidemics of nasty diseases, many caused by dirty water and we need to get medicines across to get people well again. A few weeks ago we had a service to help the HIV/AIDS project, and that was excellent, but even without the floods there’s a far bigger killer on the loose, and it’s one that can be cured quite easily – malaria. Again, we can help.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that we should hire a jet aeroplane and take off for Pakistan tomorrow. It’s neither possible nor advisable simply to get up and go out there – we have relief agencies like Samaritan’s Purse, the same organisation who do the Shoe Box appeal, who are there already, doing a tremendous job, but what we can all do today is partner with them. We do that by giving [hold up cheque or cash].


We give the money, they can provide the food, the water, the medicine. That’s what we call partnership, the people out in the field and the people at home providing finance, working together un the love of God to make real difference to people’s lives. And there’s one other thing we mustn’t forget, another need the people of Pakistan had before the floods, and – if we don’t deal with it – will still have many years from now.


Pakistan is largely a Muslim country, and I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but because of all the terrorist stuff that’s been going on the past 10 years or so, many people have become suspicious and wary of Pakistan as a hotbed of militant Islam – a vile and nasty perversion of truth – and a place where Osama Bin Laden and his mob can hide. Because of that, sadly, Christians have been slow to respond to the crisis and so show the people of Pakistan the truth that God loves them, and gave His Son for them.


In our story today from Luke’s gospel we see that the good neighbour to the man who got mugged was someone from a very different background, someone whom the victim of the attack would have preferred nothing to do with. Jews and Samaritans did not get on. Seriously did not get on. And yet the Samaritan in this story binned any bad attitudes and negative feelings and did what was right.

Showing the love of Jesus Christ by our generosity to the people of Pakistan at this very difficult and painful time is the best way we have to lead them toward faith. We are supporting Samaritan’s Purse because they believe in, and act on, the love of Jesus – you probably know that it’s Billy Graham’s son Franklin who is their Chief Executive.

Today I invite us to let the colour-blind love of Jesus lead us to sow a generous seed  and make a Kingdom investment into the lives of the children of Pakistan, that not only may their physical needs be met, but also their spiritual future assured.

What “sin” is and how to smash it

Sunday 10 October 2010 : Matthew 10 : 32-42


We find Jesus today in a no-nonsense mood. In this chapter, He has been sending out the 12 disciples on a mission trip, telling them what He expects of them – and telling them what to expect from the people they go to. It is a strange thing, but not everyone welcomes the Good News of Jesus Christ. Not everyone is grateful for the offer of life in abundance, to the full, till it overflows. Not everyone wants to receive the power of Jesus’ love to bring forgiveness for their sins, and healing of all their diseases.


Jesus warns the disciples, in no uncertain terms, that they are likely to face a hostile reaction from many people, especially the self-righteous and the religious. How sad. Sadder still – just as it was then, so it is now. There are still people, in church as well as outside it, who cannot and will not receive the forgiveness Christ died to give them, because they cannot and will not accept that they are “sinners” needing forgiven.


The story is told of a fur-clad stalwart of a prestigious suburban kirk who stormed up to the eager and earnest new minister with these words : Young man, I’ve been a member of this church for 60 years, and I do not appreciate being told I am a sinner! Part of the problem, I think, is the word “sin” itself. It manages to combine a sense of overbearing Victorian judgementalism with, at the same time, salacious modern media sensationalism – either way, “sin” is linked in most people’s minds with, how can I put it with a degree of understated delicacy, bedroom activities. That’s misleading.


“Sin” is a term that derives from the world of archery, and it means, quite simply, missing the target. I have never handled a bow and arrow, but I have played darts, and if I am looking for a double 1 to win the game, but my dart strays into the 20 instead, that would qualify as sin – missing the target – just as surely as if I took my dart and aimed it straight into the eye of my opponent with malice aforethought.


“Sin” is missing the target, by any distance, for any reason. There is absolute and utter perfection, or there is sin. In God’s eyes, there is no halfway house., no league table of big sins and little sins. James 2.10 : whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. Paul says in Romans 3.23 that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And that’s the good news! Why? Because if we’re covered by Romans 3.23, we’re also covered by Romans 3.22 : righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe : and Romans 3.24 : we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.


Anyone like the promises of Romans 3.22 and 3.24? Here’s how we qualify for them – by recognising that we fit under Romans 3.23. The only qualification required to be eligible for the saving grace of God that comes through Jesus Christ is that we know we need it. I think it’s a shame that so many of us try desperately to weave a web of self-justification round ourselves rather than receive the free gift of righteousness that Jesus died to offer us. I try to do my best, I like to think I’m a decent person, I never do anyone any harm. I’m better than so-and-so who did such-and-such.

Whatever. That’s not the point. Jesus said in John 16.9 that sin, in essence, is not what we do or don’t do. Sin is a refusal to believe in, and trust in, Him. End of! Jesus also says in John 3.3 that unless someone is born again, they cannot enter the Kingdom of God. I know a lot of people don’t like that verse, but it was Jesus Himself who said it, and if you think about it logically, how else can you enter into the joy of new LIFE, in abundance, to the full, till it overflows, other than by new BIRTH, spiritually?


Refusing to put our faith and trust in Jesus keeps us out of God’s best for us, and as sin is, by definition, missing the mark, settling for what we’ve got without Jesus IS sin. God does not want you to settle for second-best. Jesus did not suffer on the cross as He did for you to faff about in mediocrity and frustration all your days and die ahead of time, without fulfilling the purpose God sent you here for. Jesus did not die so you could just muddle through from one crisis to the next, one illness to the next, one stressful situation to the next, one unhappy and unfulfilling relationship to the next.


Can you see why it’s so important to get the true gospel across to our young folks, so that as they find true life in Jesus, with meaning purpose, they will be released from bondage to the world’s system of failure and hopelessness, a system that lies to them that the way to happiness is going with the flow [remember, only dead fish and sewage go with the flow] ; if it feels good, do it ; hey, everybody gets blitzed on Friday night, no harm in that ; no problem if you want to try different partners, it’s a free country ; doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you believe in something..


All that garbage is fed relentlessly to our young folks, by peer pressure, glossy magazines, silly soap operas – and, deep down, they know it’s trash, it’s not working. They still feel empty and insecure, tying themselves in knots, selling themselves short, compromising to be “accepted”. When, all the time, the truth is that Jesus Christ accepts them – and all of us – just as we are, whatever mess we’ve made of our lives. Jesus takes us just as He finds us, He loves us unconditionally, He extends total forgiveness and reconciliation with Father God – and then He gets to work in us.


Today I invite us to have the courage to face facts. I’m going to tell it as I see it, and I am sorry if that offends anybody, but it is the TRUTH of God’s Word that sets us free, not the DECEPTION of a touchy-feely world. So here we go. None of us, off our own bat, is perfect. There’s a revelation, eh? Anyone here perfect? Anyone here married to someone who’s perfect? Anyone here married to someone who thinks they’re perfect?


And because, in and of our human flesh, we’re not perfect ; because we are – to use the technical term – sinners, great! We are eligible to draw on the saving power that Jesus released on the cross. Galatians 3.13f – you know it off by heart by now – Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written – cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to us through Christ Jesus, by faith.


So – if today you make a commitment of faith to Jesus Christ, for the first time or for the 101st time, it’s good news all the way. Life need no longer be an uphill struggle, a white-knuckle ride, a bore or a chore. You are redeemed, liberated, from having to settle for second, third or 43rd best. Because Christ has redeemed you from the curse of the Law, the 10 commandments and all the ancillary rules and regulations tacked on to them, you no longer have to try to keep the Law in every minute detail. So – listen …!


If you are a born-again Christ-follower, according to God’s Word, you need no longer be subject to these curses : famine, inability to have children, financial ruin, failed business, fever, inflammation, mildew, tumours, boils, itches, madness, someone else running off with your spouse, the bank repossessing your house or your car, your children turning away from you, scorn, ridicule, hunger, thirst, insect infestation, every kind of disease and sickness. If you don’t believe me, read Deuteronomy 28.15-68.


If you choose to follow Jesus, you have God’s deliverance from these things. If, on the other hand, you choose to deny that you’re a sinner needing saved, and insist you’re a decent person who tries to do your best – in other words, if you trust self-righteousness instead of Christ-righteousness, you are still subject to all those nasties. Bad idea.


So if, as a believer, you are set free from the curse to enjoy the blessing, what exactly is the blessing? Deuteronomy 28.1-14 : empowered to succeed in business, you and your children prosperous, attacks on your character or activities will fail, you will lend but never borrow, you will be the head and not the tail, always on top and never below – and you’ll find a succinct New Testament commentary on all this in 3 John 2 : you will prosper and enjoy health of spirit, soul and body.


It’s a bit of a no-brainer, really. Choose faith in Jesus and enjoy blessing, choose to ignore Jesus and endure cursing. But here’s a wee bit of a sting in the tail. When you make the decision to follow Jesus, as we said earlier, people won’t exactly queue up to shake your hand on your wise decision. Some people will be most unhappy about your new-found faith, because you won’t want to act like an idiot any more like they do.


They’ll be watching you. They’ll be looking for any slip-up, and if you do – when you do – they’ll tease you about it. They’ll try to tell you this holy-roller stuff is just a wee phase you’re going through, you’ll get over it, you’ll be normal again soon. Here’s the thing. Whose love and friendship and approval really matters to you? These clowns, who clearly don’t have your best interest at heart, or Jesus who gave His life for you?


In this passage, Jesus has some tasty things to say about putting Him first, above anyone and anything else. Don’t try still to be a Saturday night sinner and then put on a Sunday morning saint face. I tried that for years. It nearly killed me. You can’t have the old sinful life and the new blessed one at the same time   Jesus wasn’t ashamed to go to the cross for you. Don’t be ashamed to stand firm for Him, and never mind what anyone else may say to you, or about you. Last time I checked, God hadn’t retired and put your unbelieving friends or colleagues in charge of your destiny. Stick with Jesus.


Jesus is incomplete without you

26 September 2010 : John 10 : 22-42


I must be honest and say that I toyed with the thought of skipping over this passage we read this morning, on the grounds that we had already dealt with much of what’s in it. But the Lord thought otherwise, because there is fresh bread here for us. Let’s begin by noting where we find Jesus in these verses – in the temple, celebrating one of the key festivals of the Jewish people. So what, you might ask?

So far as the leaders of the Temple were concerned, Jesus was bad news, a rebel, a thorn in the flesh, a dangerous and subversive character who threatened to rock the very foundation of the Jewish religion. Yet from the Biblical picture of Jesus, he is in fact a devout, loyal and conscientious Jew. He shows respect and honour to the very people who, as we will see in these verses, are out to get Him. And that’s food for thought.


Let me put it like this. I am not a great fan of the General Assembly, because I happen to think that having 1,000 people cooped up in a stuffy hall, churning through a stuffy tome of reports, complete with obscure counter-motions and amendments, is not a good way to transact the business of the Kingdom, especially after half the commissioners have enjoyed a liquid lunch in Deacon Brodie’s or some similar establishment.


But at least I wouldn’t expect it to be a dangerous occasion, even if I disagreed serially and volubly with every decision taken. I wouldn’t expect the Moderator and Principal Clerk to ambush me in Hunter Square, stab me with a poisoned umbrella and hang me upside-down from the North Bridge. But, for Jesus, turning up at the temple to worship was, in effect, putting his neck on the line. He did not allow the hostility and nastiness of others toward Him to become an excuse for Him not joining in the worship of God.


He did not let their vendetta against Him become an occasion for a bad attitude toward them. He sat under their authority. He paid His tithes. He respected the office of the High Priest, even though the personalities occupying that office were a bit dodgy to say the least. And I find that very challenging – not just in the church, where in recent years I think we’ve made an unfortunate and unwise practice of fence-sitting in the vain hope of avoiding causing offence to people, but in the wider world.


What does the attitude of Jesus toward properly constituted authority have to say to us when few of our political leaders now are men or women of faith in Christ, and indeed a growing number are very definitely anti-Christ in their thinking? How do we hold the very thin line between respecting our leaders because they are our leaders, whilst still expressing clearly and uncompromisingly our Biblical values on a wide range of issues, such as, for example, the Scriptural teaching that God’s gift of marriage is for one man and one woman, not any other combination, biologically or arithmetically.


Jesus is, I believe, calling His church to recover the spirit of Daniel, of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, a prophetic spirit that is prepared to speak God’s truth in love, that will remain respectful and polite, whilst standing totally and uncompromisingly on what God’s Word says, not what the world says.

Jesus is calling us to stand up and be counted for the truth that will set the people free – however unpopular that may make us, whatever nasty stories the media may run about us, whatever turkey names we may get called. Listen. The devil, the father of lies and deception, isn’t about to lie down meekly and let us walk over him. When the church steps up to the plate and tells the inconvenient truth of the Word that the selfish world doesn’t want people to hear, it will get dirty. Are we strong enough to say – bring it on?


All right, let’s move on. If nothing else, you’ve got to admire the cheek of the Pharisees with their plaintive bleat : How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. Now, just what part of John 4.26, John 5.17-23, John 6.32-59 or John 8 – and that’s only in this gospel – were they too thick to understand? By what He said, and by what He did, Jesus had made it abundantly plain who He was.


And if there was even a hint in this question of a genuine desire for enlightenment, we might be able to cut these guys some slack, but that wasn’t it. Their motive is plain for all to see at vs. 31-33. They were just looking for a religious excuse to bump Him off. In a different age, you could picture this as a sting operation, with the Pharisees wired up to record an incriminating statement from Jesus on tape or something. Sad, really.


It wasn’t a lack of information that kept them from recognising Jesus for who He truly was, it was a lack of integrity. Here was their problem. If Jesus truly was the Son of God, as He claimed, as His ministry testified, everything these guys stood for would fall apart like flatpack furniture. Everything they believed in, everything they lived for, everything that conferred upon them status, power and authority, would be ripped away


Make no mistake, that is still the main reason why people don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the World. It’s nothing whatever to do with science, history, philosophy, or any other pseudo-intellectual drivel that gets spewed out by those who profess loud and long to be unbelievers. Atheists are atheists by choice. End of.


They do not want to believe, because they are at least smart enough to recognise that to profess faith in Jesus will turn their comfortable, respectable lives upside down. Things they do now, whether it’s overdoing the booze, cheating on their wives, bucket-mouth language, fiddling the tax return, exploiting and ill-treating work colleagues, they know fine that following Christ would mean big changes in these areas.


And, truth to tell, they don’t really want to change. They’ve reached a point of denial in their minds where they’ve come to terms with all that sort of crazy behaviour, in spite of the sin-consciousness that every human being has. As Paul points out in Romans 1.19, in rather more elegant terms than I’ll paraphrase here, even the biggest unbeliever isn’t so stupid and insensitive that he doesn’t have some realisation of right and wrong.


The tragedy is, of course, that the unbeliever is actually digging his own grave with that mindset of denial. They’d rather eat raw unfilleted sardines – yes, we’re just back from Portugal – than admit it, but trying to maintain the bluff blasé pretence of not caring, whilst internally suppressing a barrowload of guilt, is trashing their lives.

Please believe me, I don’t wish to be gratuitously offensive, but refusal to believe in Jesus is actually stupid. It cuts off the one and only avenue of hope, the one and only way out of the mess of sin and guilt. The ironic thing is that Jesus has very little to say about acts of bad behaviour. You don’t find that much teaching from Jesus against the proverbial sex, drugs and rock & roll. For Jesus, the primary sin is not believing in Him


Have faith in Him, let His grace overflow our lives, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation to God and to others, let His love fill our hearts, and in due time His Spirit within us will renew our minds according to the Word, and when our way of thinking changes, our feelings will change, our choices will change, our actions will change, our habits will change, our character will change. There is a neat balance to mission.


Yes, as I’ve already said, we need to be quite clear what actions are right and wrong, and not be afraid to say so. But, on the other side of the coin, people are not going to be brought into the Kingdom by focusing on their outward actions. These things flow out of their inner heart, and it’s the heart that needs to change. The surgery God’s people are called to carry out on society is not amputation of bad habits, but a heart transplant, and in time, by the grace of Jesus Christ in the born-again heart, the bad habits will be resolved. As Joyce Meyer says, we need to catch the fish before we start cleaning them!


And the bait is grace –a fresh start, a clean sheet, and the promise that once someone truly gives his life to Jesus, that is it. Jesus says in vs.28-30 : I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. Aren’t you glad that, the minute you say YES to Jesus, and really mean it, an everlasting covenant relationship is in place?


I wonder if we fully grasp how radically that covenant relationship changes our lives? It’s very interesting to see here how Jesus winds up the Pharisees by reminding them what the scripture says, in Psalm 82.6, that God called men “gods”. A New Testament believer truly does enjoy, in a very real sense, equality with Jesus. He took our sin and gave us His righteousness. We have been lifted from darkness to light, from death to life, from frustration and hopelessness to mountain-moving authority and raising-from-the-dead power. And none of it because of anything we have done, it’s all by grace.


When the church, the body of Christ, the people commissioned to carry on the ministry of Jesus, in the authority of the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus – everyone say : that’s us! – when we wake up and smell the salvation coffee, knowing who and whose and what we are in Jesus, the devil will have a nervous breakdown.


If we are true believers, we are united with Christ. He is the head of the church, and we are, as Paul writes in Ephesians 1.23 : His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all [for in that body lives the full measure of Him Who makes everything complete, and Who fills everything everywhere with Himself]. You are part of Jesus. Without you, Jesus is incomplete. But when we are united with Him, we can do all things through Christ who is in us, to His glory, and to the good of those around us.

Grace and Faith

Love drives out fear

19 September 2010 : 1 John 4 : 15-19  & Matthew 10 : 1-10

Today we find Jesus marking a whole new phase of His ministry as He commissions His 12 disciples to go out on a mission trip. At risk of stating the obvious, Matthew 10 follows on from the last two verses of Matthew 9, where Jesus spoke to the disciples : The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

That’s what’s happening in this chapter. Up to now, the 12 have been watching – and, hopefully, learning – while Jesus has actually done the job. That was the foundation class, “Discipleship 101”. Now they graduate to the next level of the apprenticeship programme. They get to do the stuff, with Jesus supervising. We recognise this pattern from everyday life. When you reached the stage of learning to drive, you had probably watched a parent, or a friend, behind the wheel of a car. You’d seen what they do, where all the controls were. You knew, in theory, how to drive.

But theory doesn’t get you from A to B. You had to get behind the wheel, turn on the ignition, mirror, signal, manoeuvre. You had to learn by practical experience the feel of the clutch pedals, and when to change gear, and the importance of being aware of other road users, not all of whom – you very soon discovered – were of sound mind!

In the early stages, you had an instructor sitting beside you for a formal lesson, and in between times a family member or friend with nerves of steel and a bottomless pit of cash to put you on their insurance – and if not, I don’t want to know! Learning to drive was a step-by-step process that took you from passenger to driver, and the end-game was clear. It was that joyful day when the examiner’s granite expression momentarily softened to advise you that you had passed, the L-plates got shredded, and for the very first time – at least the first time legally – off you went all on your own-i-o.

Well, the word “disciple” simply means “learner”. At this point, the 12 still had their L-plates on, but the day was fast coming – though the 12 hadn’t a clue just how fast – when Jesus would no longer be sitting beside them, coaching them, cleaning up the mess they made. He would be back home with His Dad in Heaven, and the ball would be in their court, God’s rescue mission for the human race entrusted into their hands.

And there is a very real sense in which our presence here, in this very place, at this very moment, is a continuation of that very same mission. If we say we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that makes us linear descendants, in the worldwide family of faith, from Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John and so on. The same promises they enjoyed, we are to enjoy ; the same responsibility they exercised, we are to exercise.

Now I can see panic starting to appear in the eyes of some at that prospect. Over many centuries we’ve been led to believe that it’s just ministers that minister, and indeed some denominations have concocted a theory known as the apostolic succession.

Which means, basically, that there are two classes of Christian, drivers and passengers, and only those who have been ordained get to do anything beyond filling the pew and filling the plate. That is a very unhelpful and unbiblical notion, which serves only to imprison the vast majority of the church in ineffectiveness. Paul gives us a much more insightful view of ministry in Ephesians 4.11-13, New Living Translation :

These are the gifts Christ gave to the church : the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

In the local church, the job of “the minister” is as a pastor / teacher, to feed the flock with the nourishing spiritual food of God’s Word and so to enable and equip everyone else in the church to minister, and to fulfil our individual potential. As the apostle John affirms in 1 John 4.17 : we are to be like Jesus in this world, not just the next.

What about us, the local church, here in the Scottish Borders, in the 21st century, in a society that is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to the truth of God’s Word, that makes an idol of inclusion and tolerance and spirituality of the vaguest possible nature, that points to our own decency, our own worthy deeds as sufficient grounds to qualify for whatever after-life there might be, that defines right and wrong according to the flavour-of-the-month chat-show and the politically correct fad du jour?

What about us, here and now? Well, quite simply, WE stand in succession to the first disciples, under the same chain of command, with the same authority that Jesus gave to them. But have we the courage and integrity to rise to that challenge and exercise spiritual leadership in a culture that thinks itself so sophisticated … yet just scratch the surface, penetrate the veneer, and you will see the fear, the stress, the insecurity, of a generation who are spiritual orphans. We are to point them back toward their Father.

How do we do that? Do we beat them over the head with a Bible and tell them they’re worthless sinners who are bound for hell? The older I get, the more I’m convinced that turn-or-burn preaching really isn’t a true expression of the Father-heart of God, and that, actually, the vast majority of people are all too sin-conscious, all too aware of their faults and failings. Satan has already kicked lumps out of them with a sense of condemnation and unworthiness, and why would they be attracted to God by a church that simply echoes the judgement and the finger-pointing of the enemy?

As New Testament believers, we surely recognise that the nature of our God is love. That’s what 1 John 4.16 tells us. It’s not just what God does, it’s who God is, and the message we have to share with the people around us must reflect that faithfully. Let’s see what we can learn from the instructions Jesus gave the first disciples : Preach the message – the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

The message Jesus gave the disciples, to speak in words and illustrate in actions, was one that conveyed very powerfully the love of God that changes lives for good. There is a consistency between words of hope and deeds of goodness. Their mission was to be all about taking the genuine, active, love of God out where it was needed – to reach out and restore people broken, down-trodden and down-hearted by years of struggle and hardship without a revelation of that love.

The specific circumstances facing the people of Palestine 2,000 years ago were different from those facing the people of the Scottish Borders now, but the principles were the same. They were desperate to know, for sure, that they were loved and valued and individually precious as they were, for who they were, not just for how they could be used or exploited by others. They longed for a vision of what the whole point of their life actually was, because this daily grind surely couldn’t be as good as it gets.

They needed to know there was a solution to the hurts and the problems in their lives that no so-called expert, and no amount of money, could solve. In short, there was a big hole right in the middle of their life, that only the love of God revealed exclusively in the ministry of Jesus who did only what He saw His Father doing, could solve.

That, I suggest, is exactly where Scotland is today. Behind the stage props of wi-fi and ipods and tom-toms and blackberries and Starbucks, behind the plastic smiles of false bravado, God’s children of this generation are scared stiff of what the future holds, and scared even to admit to being scared. Whether it’s climate change or bird flu or cancer or terrorist attacks or meteorites crashing to earth or whatever irresponsible hysterical nonsense is whipped up in the media or on facebook, it’s all based on fear.

Remember what John wrote? Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love [1 John 4.18]. Perfect love originates in God, who is Love, and is transmitted through the church of Jesus Christ as we do what the first disciples did – speak of the new Kingdom of love and illustrate our message by acts of love. Break the grip of fear as we proclaim the Good News that God loves us all so much that He sent His only Son to break the dead hand of sin and guilt and condemnation and fear and punishment and disease and death.

Live in freedom, speak of freedom, and minister freedom, as we give generously to lift the poor out of poverty ; and we boldly pronounce acceptance and welcome to all who have spent far too long guilt-ridden and burdened by the unreasonable expectations of others ; and faithfully minister healing to the sick – it may not be in our Presbyterian tradition but who gives a rat’s tail about THAT when it IS in our Bible? If you know anyone who is ill, get them along to our healing service tonight, even if you have to offer them dinner as a quid-pro-quo. We have a gospel to proclaim, in word and deed, and Jesus who is our commanding officer will honour our faithfulness with His.

Jesus – He is love – He gives life – let’s welcome Him in our hearts today.




Ale & Teviot Church

Scottish Charity No. SC 016457

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22 The Glebe, Ancrum, Jedburgh, TD8 6UX
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