Ale & Teviot United Church


Monthly Archive for November, 2010

Stalked in the cornfield – liberty triumphs over legalism

21 November 2010 : Matthew 12 : 1-14

A recurrent theme of the gospels is the ever-increasing tension between Jesus, and the Pharisees and their cronies – the Temple establishment, if you like. It simmers and festers all through Jesus’ ministry before erupting in such an ugly and violent fashion at Easter. This morning we find an almost comical encounter in a cornfield.

The first question we must ask is – what on earth were these respectable religious men doing in a cornfield on the Sabbath anyway? What a sight they must have presented, in their flowing robes and their big fancy hats [which always make me think, irreverently of 1960’s lampshades] up to their knees in cereal, batting off the corn lice, faces as sour as fortnight-old milk, mustering about as much dignity as a BMW in a ditch.

Had they not somewhere else they needed to be, something else they needed to do, on a Sabbath day? Was this the most productive use of their valuable time, stalking Jesus … stalking? Cornfield? Get it? Well, it’s the best you’re going to get today!

Here we find these august gentlemen, hopping up and down with excitement like so many train-spotters who’ve just seen a new engine for the first time – wonder how I know about that? Look! Look! Gotcha, Jesus! Your disciples have broken the Sabbath! Out with the blackberry, press a few buttons, scroll down the appropriate paragraph and sub-section of the Torah, jab the screen with their index fingers in agitation, take a few shots with the digital camera as incriminating evidence for the Sanhedrin.

All right, slight anachronism, but hey, you get the idea. I suspect Jesus was having real difficulty keeping his face straight during this little contretemps. Cast your mind back to the verses we read two weeks ago at the end of Matthew 11. Jesus has just spoken of the unresponsiveness of the people of Galilee. He has proclaimed that glorious and unique intimacy He enjoys with the Father, which He is longing to extend to anyone who is just willing to forget all their pathetic little hang-ups and receive from Him.

You remember how The Message translation brought to life those closing verses of Matthew 11 : This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen. Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.

I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Wonderful, liberating, life-giving words. A tremendous opportunity to cast off the shackles of dead empty past-its-sell-by-date tradition and ritual, and enjoy the reality of faith, of a personal relationship with the author of all life and Saviour of all nations.
But what was the principled spiritual response from these pillars of Hebrew society? Ill-natured narrow-minded nitpicking. And I have a nasty suspicion they were actually quite proud of themselves for doing it. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be hilarious.

How did Jesus deal with this crass behaviour? Let me say, if it had been me, and I had the power Jesus had, I think I would have turned the lot of them into frogs on the spot! That’s why I’m so glad He’s Lord and Saviour and I’m not! What Jesus did was the same He always did in the face of opposition. He didn’t abuse them. He didn’t get into an argument. He turned to the Word of God to expose their – er – misunderstanding.

Just the same way as He dealt with the devil in the desert, so He dealt with the devil’s mouthpieces in the cornfield. He refers to 1 Samuel 21:1-6, where the young David is on the run from King Saul, who has gone totally off his trolley. David turns up before Ahimelelch the priest to ask for food. The priest points out there’s nothing in the larder except some consecrated bread. David says : that will do nicely, and off he goes with it

Then Jesus reminds his critics of Numbers 28.9-10, which specifically authorises the priests at the temple to override the Sabbath legislation to fulfil God’s command. Now these 2 scriptures should have been, and probably were, well-known to the Pharisees, as was the clincher. Matthew 12.7 : I desire mercy, not sacrifice is a straight lift from Hosea 6.6. Again, The Message offers an arresting translation of these verses.

There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—’I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’—you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.

And this is the real point at stake. The Old Testament law was a type and shadow of what was to come. You will see this when we come to look at the Transfiguration, in Matthew 17, at some point in the future, if the Rapture hasn’t happened first! The Old Testament was only a temporary measure till the New Testament came. The Law was never meant as an end in itself. It was but a shadow. Jesus is the substance, the reality, of God’s unfolding plan of salvation, not just for Israel but for the whole world.

Here’s the ironic thing. The Sabbath was given for man’s benefit, time off from the hard grind of working for a living just to relax, draw breath, and enjoy God’s presence. But these characters had turned it into a chore. They had lists of things you could not do on the Sabbath, a list long enough to wallpaper a decent-sized room. Believe it or not, in some ultra-zealous groups, going to the loo was breaking the Sabbath.

And you could be stoned to death for it! Breaking the Sabbath was a capital offence! How perverse can you get? A gift from God, to be enjoyed by His children, turned into a stick to beat people over the head with! Jesus, who came to release people from the curse of the Law, was having none of it. What a ludicrous situation that the teachers of the Law dared try to stand in judgement over the giver of the Law. Bad move.

Incidentally, since we are no longer under Law but grace [Romans 6.14], Christians are under no obligation whatsoever to observe the Sabbath. As a matter of fact, we don’t anyway. The Sabbath is the last day of the Jewish week, running from nightfall on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. The practice adopted by the early Christian church was to honour God with the first day of the week, what we call Sunday, but for them it was a normal working day. They attended worship early in the morning before work.

Listen. It is good stewardship of the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, that God gave us, to ensure that we take time out for re-creation, to worship God, to spend quality time with family and friends, to enjoy leisure pursuits. It is foolish to be a workaholic, and a person who does not take time off is liable to reap the nasty harvest of that decision. Also, it is even more foolish not to spend time in the presence of God to give Him the honour He is due and to receive the blessings He longs to pour out.

But I wonder how many people were put off God for life by some of the repressive traditions that – with no New Testament justification whatsoever – became attached to the old-fashioned Scottish Presbyterian Sunday? Because of which, I think the baby of Bethlehem may well have been thrown out with the religious bathwater as far as many people of my generation are concerned, which cascades to the following generations.

That’s the problem when limiting legalism gets in the way of liberating grace, when the petrified practices of past generations interfere with the fresh revelation of God’s love for today, when the traditions of men make the Word of God ineffective [Mark 7.13]. You end up with what Paul calls a form of religion with no power [2 Timothy 3.5], an empty shell, incapable of drawing others to Jesus the way we’re supposed to.

The Church of Scotland is presently having to ask itself some searching questions as to its future, but I believe we would help ourselves considerably if we would all agree to take a firm stand on the things that are clearly taught in God’s Word, and be very easygoing about what is purely a matter of personal preference. For example, styles of worship can be an emotive issue. The older I get, the more comfortable I am with our middle-of-the road Radio 2 style here, rather than a Radio 1 or a Radio 3 format.

In other words, if I were to walk into a church where the worship was gangsta rap style led by someone in a back-to-front baseball cap, my carnal flesh would be screaming : I’m a Presbyterian, get me out of here. Likewise, if it was very high church, all bells, smells and fancy robes, not my cup of tea either. I might be inclined to genuflect my way quietly to the exit! I’m reminded of the wee boy from the tenements of Glasgow whose parents took him to a cathedral one Sunday for a wee dose of culyur!

As the clergy were processing in all the finery, incense burner swinging solemnly, a lone treble voice piped up : Haw Missus, your handbag’s on fire! Moving swiftly on! Who am I to take the hump at these outward things? High church, low church, happy-clappy church, doesn’t matter 2p so long as the true gospel is being preached of God’s free and unconditional grace, ministered through Christ alone, received by faith alone.
We need to be passionate about ensuring that the true Word of grace and mercy and forgiveness and fullness of life with health and prosperity is being taught faithfully, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of Jesus Christ, but at the same time be very relaxed about different forms of church government, different styles of praise, and so on. The Bible has nothing to say about any of that, so let us not be dogmatic about it.

If God’s not that bothered, why should we be? There’s more than enough for us to get our teeth into as we seek to fulfil the Great Commission, proclaiming Jesus as the one and only Lord and Saviour who brings life in all its glorious fullness forever, teaching Scotland to trust in Jesus and do the things He did in the same spirit of love as He did.

Our attitude needs to be like Jesus in this passage. Given a hard time by the Pharisees, He didn’t argue, He just quoted Scripture and got on with the job – as Acts 10.38 says, and as we see illustrated in vs.9-13 : He went about doing good and healing the sick. Jesus did not let Himself be distracted by the opposition of people who, ignorantly or wilfully, took it upon themselves to judge, criticise or condemn Him.

Make no mistake, as long as the church is content to do its own thing behind closed doors among consenting adults, keeping the show on the road at all costs, scurrying to move the scriptural goalposts so as not to offend or exclude anyone, even those whose way of thinking and way of living is way off-message, we won’t encounter much opposition because we won’t be treading on the devil’s toes.

But faithful, joyful, radical, Bible-based, Spirit-filled obedience to Jesus is a whole new ball game. It will put us on the devil’s radar. It will bring attacks from people, even church members, who feel threatened by the new life they see in us, and are secretly envious of, but who don’t want to pay the price of total submission to Jesus that we have had to pay to get there – the price of putting our selfish flesh in its place.

To be effective witnesses for Jesus may be costly and painful for us. No surprise there. It was costly and painful for Him. But the rewards are out of this world. If you and I want to hear : Well done, my good and faithful servant – let’s focus all our attention on what Jesus says and what Jesus wants, and be prepared to sit very lightly to all our man-made rules and regulations, rituals and traditions, personal opinions and tastes.

Those are the things the Pharisees used to get hot and bothered about. As Jesus noted, with delicious irony, they would hyper-ventilate over a procedural gnat whilst gulping down a scriptural camel without noticing. The day of the Pharisee, a day of legalistic bondage and frustration, is over, praise God. Now is the time for the glorious liberty of the children and heirs of God – through Jesus, that’s us. Let’s enjoy it, and as we step out in that freedom, we’ll encourage others to experience the fullness of Christ as well.

Familiarity may breed unbelief

7 November 2010 : Matthew 11 : 20-30

The Jesus we meet today is not chuffed at the reception He has had around Galilee, and He is not backward in coming forward as to what He thinks about it. What exactly has been going on? Basically, the people Jesus has poured out His heart to, the people in whose midst He has taught so faithfully the life-changing gospel message, and has so freely healed the sick and performed signs and wonders, don’t want to know.

It’s as if there’s a great big sign round their necks – DO NOT DISTURB. The mindset of the people of Galilee, Jesus’ own home turf, was : I’m comfortable just how I am. Don’t ask me to change. I’m content with what I believe. Don’t ask me to think.

They would insist, with some indignation, that of course they believed in God. After all they were members of the synagogue. They went, they paid their tithes, they did their religious bit. But that religious observance never really went beyond a superficial level. They weren’t truly open to revelation. Their minds were as closed as a railway that Beeching got his hands on, their hearts as hard as last month’s Gregg’s pie.

How do we know this? Because the Son of God was right there in amongst them, living in their midst, walking up and down their streets, fulfilling the prophecies set out in the scriptures they read so solemnly every Sabbath day, and doing so out in the open for all to see and hear. There was nothing Jesus ever said or did that could not be traced back to an Old Testament promise. All Jesus did was to bring to pass what God had said would happen, and the evidence was there in the scrolls read at worship.

Despite all that, despite the miracles happening to people they knew, on the streets of their own community, they did not believe. More precisely, they would not believe. The more Jesus proved who He was, by what He said and what He did, the more angry and resentful they became at Jesus for challenging their smug complacent attitude.

How ironic. These silly religious folks would beat themselves up and tie themselves in knots trying to do things and tick legalistic boxes in the vain hope of earning God’s approval by their own efforts – and all the time there was One right there, breathing the same air, shopping in the same market, walking down the same dusty street ; One whose name and family background they knew [or at least thought they did] ; One whose face and voice they recognised instantly ; One who, if they but accepted Him, would gladly, freely and unconditionally give them more than they ever dreamed of.

It must have broken the loving heart of Jesus to say what He said in this morning’s lesson about these communities He knew so well, about these people whose homes He as a self-employed builder and general craftsman, had worked in, whose furniture He had built with His own hands, the same hands that made the universe. Jesus never came to condemn or judge anyone. John 3.17 tells us : God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.
I want to you to note carefully two very important things I’m about to say. One. God never excludes anyone from the circle of His love and His saving power. 2 Peter 3.9 says : God is patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives.1 John 2.2 : Jesus died in our place to take away our sins, and not only our sins but the sins of all people. 2 Corinthians 5.19 : God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

Hebrews 9.12 : Christ entered the Most Holy Place once and for all. His sacrifice was his own blood, and by it he set us free from sin forever. Is anyone here in any doubt whatsoever, even from just those four scriptures, that the declared and unmistakable will and purpose of God is to reach out to and embrace with His forgiving, reconciling healing life-giving love every single human being who has ever drawn breath? That is the plain and simple message of the Word of God and you’d need the spin-doctor from hell to get you to misunderstand it. Point one, God never rejects anyone.

But – point two. Many people reject God. Jesus Himself acknowledged this to be the case, even as He prepared to make the sacrifice for all sin for all people for all time. Jesus remarks on this with bitter disappointment in Matthew 7 : You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to destruction is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. Only a few people find that road.

Here’s the situation. God wants everyone to enjoy a wonderful life, a life without end, a life spent in fellowship with Himself, secure in the knowledge that we enjoy His love and blessing. Not only does God want it, but God has paid the price to make that new life freely and universally available, through Jesus dying on the cross to pay for our stupidity and selfishness and to break the curses attached to human disobedience.

Sounds good. Sounds brilliant. But, sad to say, most people in Galilee and Jerusalem 2,000 years ago – and, I dare to suggest, most people in the Scottish Borders now – seem to have chosen not to take up that option. Why? One word – pride. You see, life as God intends for us, life as Jesus has purchased for us, comes only one way, and that is total submission to the Lordship of Jesus. And that is the choker for many of us.

At a certain age, we became church members. It was what you did at that age, a rite of passage. Maybe we were told that we had to join the club to get married in the church, to have our children christened in the church, to gain our get-out-of-hell-free card.

Maybe we were told that it was the done thing to turn up regularly enough to keep our names on the church roll, stick some money in the plate often enough to make sure the place was still here when the time came for us to check out of this earthly life. Maybe we were given the idea that signing on the dotted line and paying our subscription now and again as fire insurance was all that was expected of us. Or maybe we did dip our toe at least a little deeper into the water. But not too far.
Maybe, if truth be told, we quite the enjoy the experience of coming to church on a fairly regular basis, meeting up with people we are comfortable with, going through an order of service we are comfortable with, belting out hymns we are familiar with, and in all this familiar comfort zone finding a sort of oasis from what can seem at times a pretty hostile and threatening outside world.

And if that’s where, in all honesty, some of us are at, all I would say – and I say it in genuine love and concern for you – is that God has so much more for you than you’re presently experiencing, that God wants you to enjoy the journey of life so much more, and experience so much more joy and peace, and exercise so much more power and authority, and make so much more of an impact for the Kingdom on those around you.

What God wants to pour out in you and through you really is all good, and I would encourage you today to raise your level of expectation. Jesus didn’t go through all He went through just so you could white-knuckle it till He comes for you, bounced around like a cork in an ocean storm, just as fear-filled and fatalistic in the face of economic recession, health problems or family issues as the atheist next door.

If you are not walking in total health and prosperity of spirit, soul and body ; if you are beset by anxiety or stress ; if you are renting space in your head to bitterness, anger, resentment, insecurity or inadequacy – you’re missing God’s best for you, which is a shame because the price of your deliverance was paid in full on the cross. But it will take regime change. Decide to ditch the mediocre struggling life you now have under your own steam, a mere existence you know isn’t really working. Bin it. Kill it off.

Then choose to enter into new life with Jesus in charge, Jesus who loves you so much that He gave His life for you, Jesus who is with you always and who will never let you go or let you down. That’s what Jesus called being “born again” – some people don’t like that phrase but it was Jesus who said it – then determine to grow up and mature.

Get into the Word of God on a regular basis and allow what God says to renew your mind. Lay aside, once and for all, any and all opinions that don’t completely agree with what God’s Word teaches ; any and all beliefs that don’t completely agree with what God’s Word teaches ; any and all emotions that don’t completely agree with what God’s Word teaches ; any and all attitudes toward other people or toward yourself that don’t completely agree with what God’s Word teaches.

Once you find yourself submitted to, and agreeing with, what God says about you in the New Testament, and for the true born-again believer it really is all good. Jesus has promised He will never lay unreasonable burdens upon you. Yes, He will encourage you to aim high, but He will also equip you to do it. He will call you to be generous and forgiving, but in His grace and strength. He will give you opportunities to witness to family, friends, neighbours and colleagues, but He will give you the words to say. Be smarter than the folks in Galilee. Don’t waste your life trying to exist by your own limited human ingenuity. Invest your life in Jesus, and you will blossom and bear fr

Guild dedication – grace and works doesn’t!

Sunday 31 October 2010 : Guild Dedication :
Galatians 3 : 6-14 & Matthew 11 : 11-19

Today’s message may turn everything you believe upside-down. I would go far as to say that, if you hear it correctly, you’ll either storm out of church mortally offended, or you’ll dance out of church, liberated for life. This next 15 minutes, then, should be interesting, one way or another.

We’re picking up where we left off a couple of weeks ago, with Jesus speaking about John the Baptist. Here Jesus pays tribute to him, that there has never been, throughout history, up to this moment, anyone greater than John. Really? What, his hearers must have thought, about Abraham, Moses, King David, Isaiah? How come this guy with the camel coat, the leather belt and the attitude, standing up to his knees in water, with dried honey and locust legs matted in his beard, qualified as greater than them?

Well, partly because men like Isaiah prophesied that he would come, and a prophet always points to someone greater than himself. Isaiah 40.3 looks forward to : A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. This certainly fits the bill for John’s ministry, as The One sent on to prepare the people for the coming of the long-promised Christ.

But also because, unlike all these great figures of Old Testament history, John would see with his own eyes, and hear with his own ears, the fulfilment of all that the Old Testament pointed to. Everything from Genesis to Malachi, in a sense, looks forward to Jesus, if only by showing, in some of the bloodier parts of Kings and Chronicles and things, how bereft of true revelation the people were before Jesus came.

Truly John was blessed, truly John was esteemed in the courts of heaven – but … and this is the bit that may very well fry your brain totally … however great John was, his standing is less than yours or mine, if we are born again. That IS what v.11 is saying! According to the lips of Jesus Himself, if you have given your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, you have a righteousness and an empowering that men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, etc, could scarcely dream of.

Even John the Baptist did not have that anointing in fullest measure because it could only be released by the finished work of Jesus at Easter and Pentecost, first His death in our place on the cross to cancel the entire massive debt of human disobedience ; to endure the curse of being hung on a tree to redeem us from the curse of the law ; to forgive our every sin and to heal our every disease, and to reconcile us to Father God.

Then His resurrection from the dead, the first fruits of the resurrection of all humanity – which, for those who put our faith and trust in Him as Saviour and Lord means the resurrection to everlasting life of a whole new quality, starting now, to be enjoyed in abundance, to the full, till it overflows, as we make the choice to love God with all we have and all we are, and express that practically by loving our neighbour with the same measure of love we apply to ourselves – and that includes a decision, made not by feelings but by faith, to love our enemies. What a stand for Jesus THAT is!
Finally, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the church at Pentecost, without which discipleship would be but a pipe-dream. The Holy Spirit, the real personal presence of God in us, transforming our inner being from self-centred to God-centred, enabling us to walk daily in love by faith, whether we feel like it or not. Whether in the flesh we feel as happy as a dog let loose in a butcher’s shop, or as irritable as a wasp with a hangover, the Holy Spirit enables us to over-rule our flesh, and force it to shape up.

The Holy Spirit, the parting gift of Jesus to believers as He went home to His Dad in Heaven, brings God’s Word to life in our minds and hearts ; creates conviction within us as to who we truly are, God’s precious and much-loved kids ; takes root in our spirit and starts to bear fruit in our character – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control ; and – now we get controversial …

The Holy Spirit empowers us with charismatic gifts to get the job done – speaking in tongues, prophecy, supernatural knowledge, wisdom and discernment of good and evil, healing, miracles etc – in other words, since we are the body of Christ, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians, both in the collective sense as the church and as individual members of the church, with a Great Commission to fulfil, by doing the things Jesus used to do, we are also given the power to do those things. Now I know that teaching may put noses in a sling, but it’s what God’s Word teaches, so take it up with Him.

And here’s the thing. John the Baptist did not experience all these outpourings of the grace of God, because He died before Jesus did. In that sense, even the most humble born-again believer has – according to scripture – greater anointing, responsibility, authority and power than even John the Baptist had. And I believe it’s about time the church started to rejoice in the fullness of that grace, and stopped arguing about it. Listen. If we don’t have it, it’s not because God didn’t give it, it’s because we didn’t receive it, and that’s a very special category of not-very-bright!

And since we’re on a roll this morning, now is perhaps the time to emphasise what this bit of teaching from Jesus should make very clear. The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament isn’t just a blank page between Malachi and Matthew, it’s a whole radical new way in which God relates to His people. I am fed up hearing well-meaning but ill-advised comments about needing to go back to the 10 Commandments. That is absolutely and utterly 110% wrong and an insult to Jesus.

The 10 Commandments were an interim measure put in place in the hope that God’s people might see for themselves that, in and of themselves, they were incapable of pleasing God and earning God’s favour by their own efforts. Even just 10 rules were too many for human beings to obey under their own steam, as it proved over and over again ; even when consequences were set out for breaking the rules. We looked last time, did we not, at the curses section of Deuteronomy 28?

Trust me, ladies and gentlemen, you do not want your destiny to depend on obeying the 10 commandments or relating to God by legalism. Ah but that’s not what I meant. We believe in Jesus but we should obey the commandments as well.
Well, let’s see what that one-time arch-legalist and Pharisee of Pharisees, Paul, had to say about that. Romans 11.5-6, Amplified Bible : At the present time there is a remnant (a small believing minority), selected (chosen) by grace (by God’s unmerited favor and graciousness). But if it is by grace (His unmerited favor and graciousness), it is no longer conditioned on works or anything men have done. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace [it would be meaningless].

You can’t have grace and works together. That’s what Paul teaches in Romans 11, and again in Galatians 3.13f, where Paul describes the whole Old Testament mindset of obeying the 10 commandments, or else, as a curse, as well as all the stuff that came with the inevitable failure to obey the Law. We base our relationship with God either on the free and unmerited grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died to set us free from bondage to the 10 commandments and all the other works of the law, and receive all the wonderful benefits we outlined earlier as a free gift.

Or we act as if Jesus had never turned up ; as if Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were just dates when the Post Office isn’t open ; and in foolish pride we try to please God by our own efforts. A covenant of grace sealed in the blood of Christ, offering eternal life of the highest order, or a covenant of works ignoring Christ, offering frustration, judgement and death. Folks, it really is as simple as that. Christ-righteousness, or self-righteousness. Grace, or law. Faith, or works. Life, or death. You choose.

I am not arguing for tearing the Old Testament out of your Bible, not at all. In there, you find many wonderful promises, which Jesus came and fulfilled by the hundred. The Old Testament is the background against which Jesus ministered. Without that historical context we’d find it difficult to make sense of some of the things He said and did. But we must always read it in the light of the New Testament, and remember that it’s Jesus, not our goody-goody works, who is the Amen to the promises there.

Far too many people in today’s church still haven’t realised that Jesus alone is the key to unlock all God’s gracious and supernatural provision for His people. They think everything depends on their limited human ability. They speak piously of the need to be very humble in the face of all the problems in the world, and recognise that God moves in mysterious ways. That’s like the behaviour of the characters Jesus refers to in vs. 16-18 : clinging to empty, meaningless shadows of religious observance that can never bring life, instead of letting go of all that dead stuff and embracing Jesus, the one and only source of true life and health and peace and fulfilment.

It’s not humility, it’s plain unbelief. Humility is recognising that God is always right. There’s nothing mysterious about His New Testament ways as they unfold in Jesus. And so it is time for the Kingdom to advance forcefully, to serve an eviction notice upon the devil and all his works, to tackle head-on and boot out the lingering curses of poverty, disease, stress, fear, depression, broken homes and relationships, and to do so in the power that Jesus Himself released, the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be that New Testament Kingdom people. Let’s rise to the challenge. Now.

John the Baptist’s message from jail

Sunday 17 October 2010 : Matthew 11 : 1-12

Today we find one of the odder encounters in the gospels, where the followers of John the Baptist come to Jesus to ask, effectively, look, are you the real deal or not?

What’s all this about? Let’s check out the background to the story. John the Baptist is the man who, in some ways, paved the way for Jesus. He is a remarkable and colourful character of whom we read in Luke 1.41 that he did a wee praise dance in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when she heard from her cousin Mary the news of the Saviour’s impending birth. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born!

Tradition has it that John spent some time with the Essenes, an ultra-zealous sect of the Jewish faith who lived out by the Dead Sea and had nothing to do with mainstream religion. John was an “outsider” but when he began his ministry of strong turn-or-burn preaching, and water baptism in the Jordan, he certainly attracted the crowds. He was no diplomat, memorably blasting the religious leaders as a “brood of vipers” bound for hell, and later having a run-in with King Herod over the regal domestic arrangements.

It was this contretemps with the royal household that led to him being thrown in jail to await the chop, and it was while he was on Death Row that he sent some of his people for this chat with Jesus. We may wonder why. After all, John had seen the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove. He had heard the voice of God speak from Heaven about Jesus : This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased. Listen to Him.

But now the sands of time were fast running out for John. He had devoted his entire life to Jesus, his whole ministry pointed toward Jesus. Faith in Jesus had never been an issue for John – and if this was a momentary wobble, it was for one reason only, just to make 110% sure that his life’s work had been well-spent, one final confirmation that he had got it right. You don’t want to be about to breathe your last, only to find out that your entire life has been built on a mistake or a misunderstanding.

There’s a saying : don’t spend your life trying to climb the ladder of success, only to find it’s leaning on the wrong wall. What wall is our ladder leaning on? Is the house of our life built on the solid rock, or on the shifting sand? As we take stock of where we’ve been so far, and where we’re heading – and most of us, it’s fair to say, probably have more years on earth behind us than we have before us – what’s it all about?

Has it been about making a living, getting promotion at work, securing the big desk with the thick carpet and the good view out of the window, the nice house, the nice car, the nice lifestyle? Listen. There’s nothing wrong with these things in themselves, it is no part of God’s will for you to be in poverty, but if they are an end in themselves, you may very well end up resenting it all. Ask King Solomon, who was notoriously loaded, but who still could find no satisfaction in life – all, he said on a very bad day, is vanity. One of the first sermons I ever heard was on Colossians 3.23 – Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.
That approach to everyday living is the antidote for drudgery and resentment, a right attitude, a servant-heart. Remember also that the love of money – not money itself, which is morally neutral and, in the hands of a born-again Spirit-filled believer is a real tool for good – love of money is the root of all evil. There are many scriptural warnings about being selfishly and greedily rich, but God’s Father-heart is that you prosper in the material realm to the extent that the maturity of your soul allows.

One day Jesus will return in glory – and if He were to do so today, are we confident that He would say to us : Well done, my good and faithful servant? Some of us have practised the art of dipping a toe in the water of Christian life, but without ever giving ourselves fully, spirit, soul and body, to Jesus. We’ve kept Him at arm’s length, not daring to draw too close in case His Holy Spirit asks awkward questions about how we think, what we feel, what attitudes we have toward other people, what our priorities are in terms of time, abilities and resources. We’ve never really known Him personally

And if that’s where you’re at today, I’ve got good news for you. Jesus is here, and He is patiently waiting for you to invite Him to come in and take charge of your life. Jesus said : I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with Him and He with me. Those words were addressed by the Risen Lord to the church at Laodicea just after He had warned them what He would do to lukewarm Christians, who had never made a real commitment – He’d spit ‘em out.

Let’s not take the risk of ending up in the divine spittoon. Let’s stop trying to paddle our own canoe, let’s give Jesus all that we are and all that we have, and let Him make us into what He wants us to be – let’s be honest, it’s likely to be an improvement!

All right, let’s see how Jesus responded to John the Baptist’s last request. If you take a look at Luke 7.21, the parallel story there, you’ll see that at that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind, then He told John’s disciples to go home and tell their boss what they’d seen – as we see in v.5 : the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor.

How true indeed what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4.20 that the Kingdom of God isn’t just talk, but action. Jesus does the business, and that is the evidence these men were to take back to John the Baptist to set his mind at rest. John, being a man steeped in God’s Word, would recognise that Jesus was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy here.

Isaiah 61 : The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. Isaiah 35 : Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. It was the Word becoming flesh that John would recognise and be assured by.
One symptom of the lukewarm attitude to Jesus that He warns against in Revelation 3 is a lukewarm attitude to the Word of God. Well, I know what the Bible says, but the church really does need to come up to date. In some respects, I agree. The way we expressed our faith in the buttoned-up stern-faced Scotland of the Victorian era is not appropriate today – but be aware that the actual content of God’s Word hasn’t changed and is not up for negotiation. What Jesus said 2,000 years ago is still bang up-to-date.

Everything is negotiable except God’s Word. The words and deeds of Jesus, fulfilling the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, and the commentary on Jesus of the New Testament writers such as Paul, must be the absolute bedrock of our faith and our life. It’s when we wander away from the Word of God, when we compromise on the Word to tie in with what our secular pluralist politically-correct society preaches, when we allow the traditions of men to make God’s Word ineffective, that the church loses the plot and God’s people end up settling for a pale shadow of true life in Christ.

The last word Jesus speaks to John’s disciples as they head for the bus stop has a wee sting in the tail : Oh, and blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me. The Amplified Bible translates Matthew 11.6 : Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is he who takes no offense at Me and finds no cause for stumbling in or through Me and is not hindered from seeing the Truth.

There are people who are offended at Jesus. I believe, indeed, there may be people here today who are offended at Jesus. Offended, perhaps, because they didn’t get a prayer answered – maybe someone wasn’t healed when you asked and, because we’ve been told for centuries that God is sovereign and omnipotent, therefore it’s God’s fault the prayer didn’t work, and layer upon layer of festering resentment bubbles and stews within them against this Jesus in whose name you prayed but he didn’t deliver.

I would say to anyone who thinks that way, I’m glad you’re here, because the offence in your heart is almost certainly based on wrong teaching you have received, and I am privileged to be able to offer a corrective. The Bible teaches that when Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, forgiveness was released for every sin, healing for every disease, every curse was broken.- and all these things entirely by God’s grace, now available freely and unconditionally to anyone who truly believes and receives.

If a prayer was not answered, the problem is not at God’s end. That is far too big and complex a topic to cover in two minutes this morning, but keep coming, and over the next weeks and months we will unpack various roadblocks to answered prayer.

Another reason people may be offended at Jesus is that our human opinions don’t tie in with what He says in His Word. We may like to believe there are many paths to Heaven, and my spending time out on the hills, or the football park, or the golf course, or whatever, is as good as going to church. That may sound attractive, but there’s a problem with it. Jesus said, in John 14.6 : I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except by me. Only Jesus has paid for our ticket to eternal life.
Or there is someone that, not to put too fine a point on it, we just can’t stand, and we console ourselves by thinking God couldn’t possibly expect us to forgive that person after they hurt us so badly. Again, that view will get a lot of support and sympathy from other people, but not from Jesus. He says – look, if you don’t forgive others, you block your own forgiveness. And that comes right after He teaches the Lord’s Prayer.

With our human thinking, we convince ourselves one way. Then Jesus comes along and flat out contradicts it, so we end up with our nose in a sling, in the cream puff with the One who gave His life to save us. Anyone spot something wrong with that picture?
I’ll give you a clue. Proverbs 14.12, and again in 16.25 : There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. All right, final word for today.
.
If the Saviour if the whole world says one thing, but I say something different, only one of us can be right. No prizes for guessing which. So let’s pick up our lip, get over it, agree with the only One who has power to save us, and get on with enjoying His gift of abundant life His way – because guess what? There is no other way. Jesus is always right, because Jesus never says or does anything but what God says or does, and how blessed are those who don’t take a petted lip because of His faithfulness.

Raising Lazarus : part 1

Sunday 24 October 2010 : John 11: 1-6

Today we move into what, even for Jesus, is radical territory. John 11 tells of Lazarus being raised from the dead. That’s not something we see every day of the week. Church notice boards do not proclaim : Service on Sundays at 10.30, raising from the dead on Wednesdays at 7.45. Even Jesus Himself practised this ministry sparingly.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It will take a few bites for us to digest this chapter fully, and I want this morning mainly to set the scene. First, who is Lazarus? He is a personal friend of Jesus and the disciples. When they’re in town, they stay with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha in the village of Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem.

There is a strong bond between Jesus and this family. Lazarus and his sisters have seen, first-hand, the life-changing ministry of Jesus. V.5 states plainly : Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. And, if for no other reason than that, you might have imagined that when Jesus heard the news that Lazarus was “gey hard-up”, he would have high-tailed it back to Bethany to lay on healing hands pronto. But v.6 reads : Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Very odd. So what’s going on in the mind of Jesus here? The clue lies in v.4 : Jesus said, This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it. Let me first of all tell you what this does NOT mean. It does NOT mean that the illness of Lazarus, in and of itself, was for God’s glory.

Some people, who should know better, have stood in pulpits over the years and stated that God is glorified by human suffering. Rubbish. That is not what the Bible teaches, and those who have talked such tripe should know perfectly well that’s not what the Bible teaches. Do you want to know what the Bible says about illness? If you want me to tell you, you’d better fasten your seat-belt, because this stiff dose of Scripture will blast all sorts of religious demons out of your head once and for all … if you let it!

Right. Here goes. Question – how does the Bible describe disease? Answer – it is a curse, the consequence of human disobedience. In Deuteronomy 28, there is a long and blood-curdling list of curses specifically including : fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses ; all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded ; every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed.

Those curses are said to fall upon those who disobey the Law given to Moses. That’s in the Old Testament. But what does the New Testament say, after Jesus? Galatians 3.13 : 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. In other words, if you are a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, those curses do not apply to you. How does that work? 1 Peter 2.24 : Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed.
Let’s just stop right there for a moment, and hammer this point home, because this is very, very important, so listen carefully to your Uncle Frank this morning, OK? If you get your head around what I’m sharing with you from the Word of God, your whole life can change forever. When Adam and Eve blew it in the Garden of Eden, they opened the door for the devil to march into the life of every human being, stick his muddy feet up on our sofa, and unpack his suitcase of horrors, including illness.

That was never God’s best will for His people, but it was part of the sin-package that His people have repeatedly and foolishly chosen ever since. If you haven’t made the conscious decision to put Jesus Christ at the centre of your life, you are giving the devil free rein to trash your life with disease of every sort. But the minute you do make the conscious decision to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, everything changes.

At the cross Jesus paid the price to set you free. He released, historically, 2,000 years ago, forgiveness for all sin for all people for all time, and healing for all disease and all disability, for all people for all time. That is what the Bible teaches. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross makes freely available to you, by the grace of God, total forgiveness and total healing and a complete new life. How do you appropriate that? By faith.

You make the decision today to give your life 100% to Jesus, what we call being born again, and that glorious new life, in abundance, to the full, till it overflows, for eternity – no longer subject to guilt or condemnation, sickness or disease – is available to you. You will be able to sing, with the Psalmist : Let all that I am praise the Lord. With my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord. May I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sin and heals all my diseases.

Now that’s a better song to sing than anything Simon Cowell or Cheryl Cole are trying to push on X-Factor. That’s a song that will lift your heart and give you hope even in the most difficult situations. God’s will for your life, according to Isaiah 54.17, is that no weapon forged against you will prevail – anyone agree that disease is a weapon forged against you? If you belong to Christ, it will not prevail.

That verse from Isaiah goes on to say that : you will refute every tongue that accuses you. When people speak their negative, fear-filled, scripturally-illiterate garbage over your life, such as : what’s for you won’t go past you ; if your name’s on it, you’ll get it ; you’ve just got to put up with it ; God must be giving you this illness for a reason ; you need to stand up and speak out boldly and refuse to accept that demon-inspired dross.

You need to declare the promise of Scripture over your life : You’re a liar, devil. Scripture says that the Lord is my healer, and by the wounds of Jesus I have been healed. Disease is a curse for unbelievers, but I belong to Christ and He has cancelled the curse, so I refuse illness and I, as a born-again believer, receive and walk in the promise of 3 John 2 that God’s will is for me to prosper and be in good health, even as my soul prospers. I believe it, I receive it, I live by it. Symptoms GO, in Jesus’ name!

You need to do that. No-one else can make that confession of faith for you. You need to accept your God-given responsibility and declare what Jesus has done for you at the cross as the foundation of all that you are, all that you have, and all that you live by. Furthermore, you don’t need to wait till the first aches, pains and sniffles before you take your stand. You can deliver a pre-emptive strike against illness every single day.

You can declare the promises of Psalm 91 over your life : I live under the protection of God Most High and stay in the shadow of God All-Powerful. Then I will say to the LORD : “You are my fortress, my place of safety ; you are my God, and I trust you.” The Lord will keep me safe from secret traps and deadly diseases. He will spread his wings over me and keep me secure. His faithfulness, the fact that He always keeps His Word, is like a shield or a city wall. I won’t need to worry about dangers at night or arrows during the day. And I won’t fear diseases that strike in the dark or sudden disaster at noon. I will not be harmed, though thousands fall all around me.

So far as the devil and his dirty tricks department is concerned, you get your retaliation in first! If you put your faith and trust in Jesus, the devil is under your feet, as it says in Romans 16.20, so you don’t need to be afraid of him, or let him mess with your head. Just write the message : Get lost, loser : on the sole of your shoe and stand on him.

When Jesus says that what was happening to Lazarus was for God’s glory, He certainly wasn’t referring to the illness itself. He was talking about the awesome miracle that was about to take place – but that’s for next time. Meanwhile, I encourage you – if you have never made a commitment of faith in Jesus – do yourself a favour and make one now. And please do pick up, if you don’t already have it, the wee booklet about the healing ministry of the church – there’s copies on the table at the door, and it’s free!!

Armistice Service 2010

Report on Presbytery Visit to Congregation

5 YEARLY VISITATION TO ALE & TEVIOT UNITED

Having visited the united charge of Ale and Teviot United, the visiting committee is delighted to bring this report to Presbytery. The relationships and working practice of office bearers in the church is of a high calibre, and the church is very keen to carry out the missional work that it has been tasked with.

The visitation committee comprised Rev Lisa-Jane Rankin (convenor), Mrs Janet Combe, Rev Jenny Earl, and Rev John Shields. The committee have visited the Kirk Session on several occasions, and the convenor met the Reverend and Mrs Frank Campbell on a separate occasion at their Manse. Mrs Combe attended the Sunday School at Ancrum and Lilliesleaf and the Guild at Ancrum, and Mr Shields attended worship at Ancrum.

The report will work through the various stages on the handout supplied to the five yearly visitation teams, under the headings provided.

WORSHIP

Members can choose from quite a variety of service times at the different places of worship in the Union. Every Sunday Ancrum meets at 10am, and Lilliesleaf at 11:30am. There is pulpit supply twice a month which enables Crailing to have services at 10:30am. There is also, from April to October, a monthly evening Songs of Praise service. There are no midweek services.

Several different types of worship have been introduced over the years, including an evening Healing Service with Communion, which have been supported by Presbytery members but not so much by the congregation.

A Kirk Session committee recommended, as a means of outreach, holding of services out-with the church buildings. These have met with mixed success. There were occasional services in the Cross Keys Pub in Ancrum, which were poorly supported and were discontinued. An outdoor service in Lilliesleaf school playground in August has suffered from the vagaries of the Scottish summer and is to be reviewed. On the other hand, a joint service with a visiting Boys Brigade company from Dundee at the Ancrum football field, where the BB camp was located, has been very popular.

There is a yearly Carol Service at Eckford which is organised by the Community.

Midweek activities have usually been held in the manse, but with the redevelopment of Ancrum Church to provide a meeting room, it is intended that these activities take place in the meeting room in 2010/11. There is a fortnightly Bible Study, led by an elder, John Marshall. There is the Tuesday Girls group, run by Alexis Campbell, which is a fun informal way of getting to know Jesus better. A Ministry Hour for healing etc is to be introduced on Sunday evenings when there are no formal services.

The congregation has been open to trying different styles of worship in the past and will continue to do so in the future. One of the members of the committee participated in worship in Ancrum one Sunday, and whilst it was not what they were used to, found worship a very moving experience and truly appreciated the minister’s style and content.
The committee is delighted that leading worship is not the sole-domain of the minister. As well as the pulpit supply, elders lead an outdoor act of Remembrance, as well as participating in the normal diet of worship. The organisations in the church, including the Guild, have organised services. The congregation is also involved in worship, particularly Lessons & Carols and Easter Sunday.

Different types of music are used in the churches, including CH4 and hymns sheets. There are two good organists who are willing to try new songs and hymns. New Spring Harvest songs are tried out, some to good effect as witnessed by the Convenor’s participation in a Healing Service. Easter Sunday evening saw the participation of the Town Band who played a mix of traditional and modern songs.

Children and young people also participate in worship. The Ale Group (teenagers) have taken a service, including a Palm Sunday Last Supper biblical enactment. This group has now been discontinued as most of its members were moving out of the area to study, with one taking a gap year teaching in Chile, but primarily because the couple who had led the group with such inspiration have moved out of the parish.

The Sunday School children are participants in Communion. The ‘Kick Team’ has been twice to the area under the leadership of Youth for Christ. This event offered football training in the morning, also in the schools, and in the evenings there’s sport plus the team speaking about their faith. They have participated in worship too.

Different traditions have now evolved with frequency of Communion. Ancrum celebrates Communion 3 times a year, including one evening Healing Service, where the congregation stand round the Table. Lilliesleaf is similar, as is Crailing, with one service being in the village hall in Eckford.

Interestingly, the attendance at Communion is no bigger than a normal Sunday. It would appear that this is no bad thing, as Communion whilst still important to the congregation, is seen as part of the normal diet of worship., as opposed to for ‘high days and holidays.’

There are no problems with the administration of Baptism.

USE & DEVELOPMENT OF OFFICE BEARERS

When people are called to be elders, the initial resources used to help them become good elders are varied, and include the DVD and materials of ‘Why Me?’ produced by the Kirk. Recruitment is done on an informal basis. As part of their ongoing commitment to training, the Session has previously used Beatrice Kyle, the former Presbytery Elder Trainer, but now encourage participation in Presbytery-wide events.

Some have also participated in the ‘Leading Worship’ course, and some have accessed the elder training offered over the last few years by the Presbytery. Elders are representative of the congregational age balance, and the Session believes there are sufficient elders to spread their work fairly. They think their constitution is democratic, and there is an informal use of committees, especially within the 3 worshipping communities. The Session keeps up-to-date with the wider work of the Kirk through reading ‘Life and Work,’ and many have computers to help them access different websites. There have been several members of Ale and Teviot United on the Church and Nations’ Committee of the Presbytery, and it probably helps that the minister is the Presbytery Clerk!
The Session feel they have a good relationship to the Presbytery and an excellent relationship with each other, as well as having the ability to work well together. Both minister and office-bearers feel they are on very good terms. Several members of the Committee have attended Session meetings, and were impressed by the way the Session interacted with each other. Relations appear to be very good, and work was done with the feeling of openness and interaction, but also a pleasing informality. There was actually laughter and fun during the meeting!

The organisations within the church comprise the Guild, the Tuesday Girls, Bible Study, Ale Group (teenage) – now discontinued, but hope that a new Bible Class can be established in its place, Ancrum Junior Church, Lilliesleaf Sunday School and the Ancrum Choir. For many years there was a drop-in centre for Ancrum youth at the Bowling club, this closed due to the huge commitment of time.

Membership is in the region of 470. The Session feel they’re short on ages 10 to 40 (the same as most churches), but they have quite a few in the 41 to 50 age group. The gender split is approximately 70% female 30% male, again typical of many congregations.

There are two paid members of staff, the two organists.

CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

The Kirk Session complies with the Church of Scotland Code of Good Practice for the Protection of Children and Young People in the Church. There is a Safeguarding Officer, a Safeguarding Committee, and the Session minutes record the people who are on the Church’s register.

Letters are sent out each year to all of the families in the Parish who have had children baptised, inviting them to join either of the two Sunday Schools.

CDs of the worship services are to be provided for the housebound, and there is always a theological input into the Church magazine which is sent to every household in the Parish. There are also between forty to ninety ‘hits’ a week on the website. All of these are good ways to promote the church to a wider demographic. An Alpha course was trialled, but didn’t really work in the church’s context. For those who wish to join an Alpha course, they are encouraged to join at Jedburgh Old and Trinity. It is hoped that the Re-commitment and Gift Day will encourage members to come back to worship.

Ale & Teviot also believes in doing good for others, and has had many successful fundraisers for different charities. The Tsunami Coffee Evening raised thousands of pounds, as did the church project which raised money for Water for Life. They yearly send off filled shoe boxes for the Blysthwood Christmas Appeal. The whole parish is generous to Christian Aid, and the door-to-door collection usually raises £3000.

One member has spent a gap year abroad as a teacher, and funds have been sent to the Ghanaian village where she has an ongoing connection, as well as having donated money for an operation for a child. The church is to be commended for their support of these charities and helping those who are on the margins of society.

MISSION

The minister works very much with an emphasis of Ephesians Chapter One when it comes to mission work within the parish; that idea of the spirit of wisdom and revelation which will lead to the breakthrough of people seeing how good God is. The church is very much a part of the parish, and tries hard to respond to its needs. There are forty nine new houses being built in Ancrum, which will provide new mission opportunities for the congregation.

The church works with other Kirk congregations through the following:
pulpit exchange with Selkirk; quiz night with Jedburgh Old & Trinity; Jedburgh Old & Trinity Guild is invited to the Guild Christmas Party. They also work with the Salvation Army, Baptists, Burnfoot Parish Church and Jedburgh Old & Trinity through the Clan Gathering. There are no other denominations in the parish.

The minister is chaplain to two primary schools, both of which have a new management team, so it will take time to get to know the new team. He is also part of a chaplaincy team at Jedburgh Grammar, which is again going through a change, and new work is being done in Selkirk High School under a new Headteacher.

The church has also appointed annual projects, most recently (2009/10) Borders Additional Needs Group, and Help for Heroes.

Members often offer themselves in sharing the wider work of the Church, as well as being encouraged through the newsletter. The congregation, like most others, would like to have more young people participating in the church.

MINISTRY SUPPORT

The minister is happy with his finances, as well as being aware of what the Kirk offers in terms of pension and housing, and pastoral advice.

Frank’s ministry is complemented by his wife’s contribution to the life of the church. They both feel a call to the Healing Ministry. In terms of ministry development, they both feel it is important to be fed themselves in order to fulfil ministerial duties. This is done with the aid of American ministries material, as well as going to hear a wide range of speakers at Christian events.

The minister believes that everything ‘hangs’ on Biblical teaching, and in developing this thinking with others. And although he doesn’t have any plans to use the Study Leave scheme, he may use it in future to continue his work with American ministries material.

The Kirk Session is satisfied that adequate administrative support is given to the minister, particularly to help with the supply of the newsletter. The Session do appear to fully support their minister in all his endeavours. The Session make sure that there is a ready pulpit supply, and there is leadership coming through for the Bible Study. They do take a healthy interest in the Manse family, and Frank and Alexis feel supported by the Session, and indeed the church as a whole.

FINANCE

The finances of the church are in good order. If the Session feels it needs money for the church, the minister will preach on Stewardship, and there is always a good response. The church has had an annual Re-dedication service for a few years, but this year’s Gift Aid appeal to run alongside the service is a first. There was a stewardship campaign run in Lilliesleaf about seven years ago, but it was felt that the people who participated in running the campaign benefited more. It would appear that what the church is doing is already more than adequate.

FABRIC

The buildings under the care of the Session have been adequately maintained over the years, and under the expert care and attention of the fabric convenor, has just undergone major refurbishment work on the three centres of worship at a cost of £150,000, all met out of funds held by the trustees.

The minister is very satisfied by the maintenance of the Manse.

The churches have been made available to other local buildings in the past, although there is now less need because of the completed renovation of the village hall in Ancrum. The Community Council has used the building, as well as MP and MSP surgeries, and after-school French. Ancrum took away part of the back of the church to build a meeting room which has benefited the church very much. The Junior Church meets there, and tea and coffee is served (with the aid of a food preparation area) at the end of each service, and Session meetings take place there. The Presbytery Business Committee meets there too. It is a comfortable area, and conducive for meetings, both formal and informal. There is also a new toilet and other additional rooms at the front of the church.

With the exception of Eckford, which has been dealt with in the Presbytery Plan, there are no plans to get rid of other church buildings at the present time. The Presbytery Property Survey appears to have been complied with.

CONCLUSION

The committee is happy that God’s Word is being preached and lived in the congregation. It should be held up as an example of good practice in the church. The committee were made to feel very welcome by minister, Mrs Campbell, the Session and congregation alike. It should be commended for its stewardship as well as the money it brings in for other charities and causes. It was a pleasure to attend Session meetings because of the way each elder listens to others, and there is an excellent spirit of cooperation in the room, led by the minister himself. Although the work was done, and in a short time, there was a good relaxed atmosphere.

DELIVERANCES

Presbytery:

1. Receives the report.

2. Commends the Kirk Session for its hard work and diligence.

3. Commends the congregation for its good stewardship and giving of its time and talents to both church and other charities.

4. Commends the new use of space in Ancrum church and commends the Fabric Convenor for his project management of the refurbishment of churches and manse.

5. Encourages the church, the minister and Mrs Campbell in their ministry.

6. Encourages the church to find new ways of engaging with young people.

7. Encourages the church to look at new practices for stewardship.

8. Encourages continuing dialogue with colleagues and other denominations in the wider work of the church.

9. Commends the minister, Kirk Session and congregation to the gracious care of Almighty God.

THAT Assembly debate … Special Commission on Same-Sex Relationships & Ministry

Same-sex Relationships and Ministry : can we find a Biblical perspective?

As has been widely publicised, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will consider today [23 May 2011] the difficult and divisive issue of whether or not people in active same-sex relationships are entitled to minister within the Kirk.

A Special Commission was set up to receive submissions from Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions and to present a report. There are many who have taken up entrenched positions at either end of the spectrum, but we hope you will agree that this submission from your Kirk Session is positive, balanced, and Biblical.

In our ordination vows, we affirmed our commitment to acknowledge the Word of God as contained in the Scriptures to be the supreme rule of faith and life. It is, therefore, a matter of integrity to let the objective authority of Scripture, not the shifting sands of culture, shape our thoughts on this matter.

The blunt truth is that Scripture nowhere authorises same-sex practices. Every reference to it is negative, and It is simply untrue to suggest that prohibitions on same-sex relationships are only “Old Testament”, and so of no importance to a New Testament people – note, for example, the uncompromising statements of Paul in Romans 1.27 and 1 Corinthians 6.9.

The logical conclusion is that same-sex practice falls under the definition of “sin” – that is, anything that falls short of Father God’s best plan for His children – and that any attempt to redefine same-sex practice as “not sinful” because it is now “socially acceptable” has no claim to Scriptural authority.

We need not doubt that those who seek to “move the goalposts” on this issue in the interests of being “inclusive” are well-intentioned. They are, however, sadly misguided. The world may change, the Word does not ; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” [Hebrews 13.8].

We should also recognise that same-sex practice is not, by any means, the only “sin” identified by the Bible. It is listed in 1 Corinthians 6.9f along with adultery, idolatry, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander and financial dishonesty. We believe that it is neither Scriptural nor logical to focus on one “sin” to the exclusion of all other. Indeed, “whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles at just one point of it is guilty of breaking all of it” [James 2.10].

The uncomfortable truth is that, so far as the Bible is concerned, the person who drives at 31 mph in a built-up area is as much of a sinner as Adolf Hitler or Peter Sutcliffe! Sin is sin is sin. There is perfection, or there is sin – there is no safe middle ground. “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God … [Romans 3.23]

But the Good News of the Christian gospel is that the unconditional love of God, the fullness of forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ, and all the promises of His word, are open to ALL, including child abusers, drug dealers, serial killers, and parkers-on-double-yellow-lines.

ALL sin finds its comprehensive solution in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The text we noted above must be read in the context of the following verse “… and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”. [Romans 3.24]

Redemption is a much more powerful truth than most of the church recognises. Because of what Jesus did for us at Easter, not only sin, but also its parasitical fellow-travellers such as disease of body or soul – indeed, all the unpleasant consequences of human disobedience catalogued in Deuteronomy 28 : 15-68 – have been totally defeated at the cross.

“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 the Gentiles through Christ Jesus”. [Galatians 3.13f].

All the blessings that God in Christ has freely provided by His grace, such as those set out in Deuteronomy 28 : 1-14, we are invited by Our Father to appropriate by means of our faith : “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith”. [Ephesians 2.8]

Faith in Jesus makes available to the believer great power – the same power, claims Paul, that raised Jesus from the dead. [Ephesians 1.20] Therefore, it is our belief that a more robust appreciation of the redeeming power released by Jesus Christ at Easter, and freely available by faith to ALL people throughout ALL time, offers a positive way forward.

The cancellation of the curse and the release of the blessing through Jesus is a categorical assurance that all those who receive His redeeming grace by faith HAVE power and authority to experience freedom from sexual persuasions at variance with what the Bible teaches.

This authority structure is shown in Ephesians 1.22f : God placed all things under Jesus’ feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

The power in the name of Jesus is established in Philippians 2.10f : at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
All things, including sexual identity issues, are under the believer’s feet. Homosexuality is a name, and it must bow before the name of Jesus. However, this does requires a person in a same-sex relationship to recognise that this is NOT God’s best will for their lives ; that just because it may FEEL right, it does not mean it IS right. Subjective human emotion is no substitute for the objective truth of God’s Word, for only the truth can set us free [John 8.32].

To agree with God that something is not His best and will have to change is the true meaning of “confessing sin”. At this point, God has promised that His grace and power will intervene.

“If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins — make a clean breast of them — he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God — make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God”. [1 John 1.8ff, The Message]

As confession – agreeing with God – releases forgiving grace, it will also release healing power. “Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so we would stop living for sin and start living for what is right. And you are healed because of his wounds”. [1 Peter 2.24].

We submit that this Biblically-based approach is faithful to how Jesus dealt with a woman caught in the proverbial act [John 8]. He neither condemned the sinner nor condoned the sin. He freely offered forgiveness and a clean slate, and called her to go forth boldly into new life.

We see Jesus identify with us by coming in the flesh at Christmas ; endure temptation in all points as we are tempted during Lent ; make the final sacrifice to kill the power of sin on Good Friday ; burst forth from the dead, the first fruits of the harvest of new and abundant life on Easter Day ; and release power to believers to fulfil His call on our lives at Pentecost.

The finished work of Jesus is more than sufficient to release ANYONE – including ministers and candidates for ministry – from ANY bondage, including any form of sexual immorality – if they confess their sin [as above], and receive by faith what He has done by grace.

Wilfully choosing instead to live in denial of what Scripture teaches may indicate unwillingness to trust the Lord in the realities of life, and we suggest that this might be a less than totally satisfactory basis for exercising fruitful ministry – the thirsty cannot be fed from a dry well.

Please pray for the General Assembly as it wrestles with this issue.




Ale & Teviot Church

Scottish Charity No. SC 016457

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22 The Glebe, Ancrum, Jedburgh, TD8 6UX
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