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Andy Graham

Sunday Reflection

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Lord, be with us now as we come together in Your name. Help us to lay aside all that has happened in this past week and allow Your Spirit to draw us close to You. And all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen…

Read Jonah 1:1-17

At some time in our lives we have all perhaps felt God’s call upon us to do something or to go somewhere but have declined the invitation, so to speak. Often we might do so because of the sacrifice we would have to make or because of the hardships we envisage we might have to face…

But that’s not quite the case with Jonah in our passage this morning. You see, Jonah wasn’t running away from any sacrifice or hardship that this mission entailed. At least not in the way that we might think of that. Jonah was running away to save his life.

You see, the prophetic word that God gave to Jonah to take to the people of Ninevah meant that he might in fact be putting his life on the line.

On the one hand, should Ninevah refuse Jonah’s message, there was a good chance that he would be taken captive and then put to death. But if they listened to him, Jonah would have to go back to his own people and effectively say…Good news, the people who conquered us are now God’s friends – and their king is under God’s blessing…

To us today that might understandably seem like a no-win situation. And given the options that potentially faced him, we might sympathise with Jonah for looking for excuses not to answer God’s call. And who knows, faced with the same options, we too might have behaved as Jonah did.

But here’ the thing, was Jonah simply making excuses or was there something else going on here. And where do we stand on this – what are we like when it comes to making excuses to avoid doing as God calls on us to do.

It’s possibly fair to say than many do think that Jonah was indeed simply making excuses here. He didn’t want to do as God asked, he didn’t want to speak, to preach or to be some kind of missionary. But there was much more to it than this.

Jonah didn’t want to go because he hated everything about the people to whom God was sending him. He didn’t want to go because they weren’t his people. He didn’t want to go because he didn’t actually believe that these people deserved God’s mercy. I suspect all of these thoughts were in Jonah’s head.

But ultimately what all this boiled down to was this. Jonah didn’t want to go because he believed he knew better that God Himself did. And so he set off in the opposite direction altogether. He runs away from his responsibility and instead of heading East, Jonah heads West.

Whenever I think of the story of Jonah I think of Psalm 139…Where can I flee from your presence……..And at the heart of the story of Jonah is the simple truth that we cannot outrun or hide from God. And God’s plan for reaching the world with his message of love is to use his people – us, each and every one of us. And there is no plan b…

So, what can we learn from Jonah…..

One of the most common questions asked at times such as this, is…how do I know for sure when it is God who is calling me. There once was a missionary who served among the lowest caste people of India and did so for many years. He said that a calling from God isn’t always a passion which arises from one specific event or experience – although it could be.

But more often than not a calling from God is a persistent, nagging sense that you feel you cannot do anything else but that which you believe God is leading you too. And that persistent voice of God doesn’t leave you when the emotion of the day is over but rather continues to lead you forward. Until you eventually find yourself at that place God wanted you to be at. As to who God does call?

People – ordinary, everyday people, even those who might want to refuse to go. People like you and I. We are all God’s people. We are all God’s voice for this world today. We are all part of God’s plan for this world today. Yet, like Jonah we so often feel ill-equipped and ill-prepared and so our initial reaction invariably might be…God can’t possibly use me…

But here’s the thing. God loves those who know they lack the adequacy to serve Him. Because when we do answer the call, we have only one on whom to rely.

During the first half of the twentieth century many missionaries went from different churches here in the UK to different parts of the world. Often to the most inhospitable places imaginable and to people who hadn’t asked them to come and who at first did not care for their message. Why did they go? To places such as this, for a life of danger and hardship, not even sure that their mission would make one bit of difference.

The only reason I can imagine that anyone would do something such as this was because God called them and they answered – they could not say no…..

Today we are called to serve God in this way, to be his missionaries, if you like – but perhaps not to go to such distant shores. Because the sad reality is that there are so many here in our own land, in our own communities, who still know little of the love of God. Yet God’s love for the world has not changed – but nor has His desire for you and I to answer his call to serve Him in this way.

Today it is you and I that God calls upon to be His hands and feet and to be His voice. To share with others the Good News of the Gospel message and to let them know of the difference that knowing Jesus can and will make in their lives. And more than ever, with all that we have been going through, it is important that we do so. Yes there will be times when we will find that daunting and feel out of our depth. Yes there will be times when we will have questions and doubts.

Jonah’s story is one of hills and valleys, of webbing and flowing waters, of waxing and waning moons. He says no to God and then he says yes. He praises God in times of great calamity, yet curses Him in times of great mercy. As an individual he certainly had his doubts and his concerns, and other issues too. So much so that we might then ask, what kind of Disciple of God was he.

Indeed, we might then think that he is not the kind of Disciple whose example we might like to follow at all. We would rather be like one of the twelve that Jesus called when he began His mission and ministry here on earth. But remember, they too were not without their faults. James and John arguing who might be the best Disciple, Thomas with all his doubts – and even Peter, the one on whom Jesus would build His Church.

Following Jesus as His Disciple never has been and never will be the easy option and the path we take on that journey will never be the same for any two of us. As it was with Jonah it’s a journey that will contain many high points and many low points and a journey that will have moments of sadness as well as moments of sheer joy.

However the one, sure and steadfast rock that we all have in our own respective journeys, no matter where they lead us, is that our Saviour will be with us, every step of the way. And we know that he is more than up to the task of leading us and supporting us on our journey, for it is a journey that he Himself has already made.

He will never compromise on His message and ideals. He will never fail to stand up for what is good and righteousness. And most importantly for us, He will never weary of being by our side as He calls on us to follow in His footsteps.

The only question is, how will we respond? Will we be like Jonah and run a mile? Or will we learn from Jonah and come to accept that there is no where we can hide from God….Let’s Pray…


Almighty God in Heaven, we bless You for the assurance that You are now here with us, our God, waiting to bless us Your people and to bring to our living such a sense of joy, and peace, and purpose that nothing or no-one else can give. Yours is a faithfulness that does not change, or diminish with the passing of the ages and we thank You for Your continued presence with us each and every day.

In Jesus Christ all things become new, the promise of the Spirit’s enabling power is ours and we can thus face life with gladness, offering You our grateful hearts and our willingness to work for Your Kingdom. Yet still we are conscious of so much need in this world today and we would ask for your intervention in those situations where it is needed most. Look to all who are suffering and in pain and give to them that healing that only You can. Grant peace and comfort to those who are ill at ease and be with all who are worn down by heavy burdens, assuring them that You are there by their side. And we think especially of our own land, our own communities, our own families and ask that they would know Your hand upon them.

So be with us in the week that lies ahead. Help us to walk with You as You have called us, to bear witness to Your love at all times, that through this witness others too may come to know Your Son. And all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen.

Looking Forward To Re-opening Our Churches

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Both Churches are at different stages in progressing with the requirements of the Covid Risk Assessment which needs to be completed before we can re-open, and more details on that can be found on the page Updates From The Minister. However, both churches are hoping to re-open around the first or second week in October. Please keep an eye here on the website where we will give a definitive date as soon as we can.

The Gospel Of John

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The Discourses Of John – Background Information:

In the Synoptic Gospels we tend to see that when Jesus speaks, he does so in short memorable sayings. Even the parables are not too long and are often broken down into more than one part. In John’s Gospel, however, we find that he teaches using long drawn out discourses and often we find that these discourses either follow one of the signs that we have already thought of in this Gospel, or take place on the occasion of one of the Jewish feasts. The discourse which accompany a sign are intended to help compliment the meaning of that sign and the discourses that accompany a Jewish feast are linked to the theme of Jesus as the replacement of these feasts and rituals. The discourses themselves are all quite different and tonight we will begin by looking at Jesus encounter with Nicodemus.

Read John 3:1-21

What is the first thing that strikes us about this meeting?

  • Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, why do you think that was?
    • He didn’t want to be associated with Jesus.
    • He was afraid that the Pharisees would punish him if the knew of this meeting.

Are there times in our lives when we are either afraid or don’t want to be associated with Jesus?

What is interesting about the way in which Nicodemus begins to speak?

  • He begins by using the word, ‘we’. But who are, ‘we’?
    • Does he represent a group within the Pharisees who might believe in Jesus? We know of Joseph of Arimathaea, but were there others? If so, why don’t we hear more of them within the Gospels.

Why did Nicodemus want to meet with Jesus anyway?

  • Perhaps he wanted to ‘examine’ Jesus for himself. To find out what was true and what was false about all he may have heard of him. To satisfy any questions or doubts.
  • What about us today – why do we want to meet with Jesus ?
  • And even now as Christians, do we still have questions and doubts in the way that Nicodemus possibly did?

Do we need to examine Jesus for ourselves?

Jesus then begins to speak of the Kingdom of God and how one can enter it. What might Nicodemus have believed about the Kingdom of God.

  • That it would be ruled by God, it would be restored on earth and it would incorporate God’s people – i.e. the Jews.

What about us today, what do we believe we are talking about when we speak of God’s Kingdom?

We then come on to that well know phrase, ‘born again’, but what does that actually mean?

  • In the original Greek, the word used here for ‘again’ could either mean ‘again’, or ‘from above’.
  • Maybe a combination of both are required to understand this. Maybe we need to be ‘born again, from above’ i.e. by the spirit. In other words, only when we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our lives are we made new in Christ.
  • But what else might this allude to? Baptism?

What does the response of Nicodemus teach us about our faith?

  • Knowledge of Jesus, whilst it is important, is not enough; it will not win us salvation. Only understanding of who He was and why He came.
  • And as if to amplify that, we are told in verses 14 and 15 that only by looking up to Christ believing that He will save us, will win us that salvation.

Verse 16 is possibly the most famous verse in the entire Bible, the entire Gospel focuses on this verse and it is here that we learn that God gave His Son for everyone who would believe.

The question is, however, what does it mean to us personally?

In the last few verses we go back to the theme of Jesus as the light of the world, the light that darkness can never extinguish, and we are reminded once again of the brutal reality of the message of Christ.

Believe it and walk in His light.

Reject it and suffer condemnation.

We hear more of Nicodemus in chapter 7:50-52 where he speaks up for Jesus in the Council, although even here he still offers no outright support for Jesus, and of course in chapter 19:39-40 he is there with Joseph of Arimathaea at the burial of Jesus. We have to believe that this encounter with Jesus changed his life for ever and that he did eventually come to fully believe in Christ, but we do not know that for certain.

How many people do we know of that might be in a similar position today?


Sunday Reflection

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Read Matthew 18:21-35

Most theologians would possibly suggest that our duty as Disciples of Jesus is not to tell people what we know but rather to bear witness to whom we know – God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In theological terms the fundamental discourse on Christian theology is not about what universally has to be but what historically has been.

And essentially, in everyday terms for you and I, that effectively means that we are called to be witnesses to a story – the story of God’s love and redemptive intervention into this world. For example, the Exodus story was told again and again to the people of Israel. It was passed down through the generations and formed a common vein throughout the history of the people – and of course is still told even today. Here in Scotland we might not have quite the same history as the people of Israel. But we do have our national history and we all know stories of that has unfolded over the centuries…….But what about stories of our faith…

Many of us will do doubt have favourite Bible stories and passages that we return to again and again. Ones where we find encouragement, support and inspiration – stories which just seem to uplift us when we need it most. And we also use these Bible stories to support our Christian discipleship – resourcing us, inspiring us, comforting us and assuring us that our experience is not unique……That there is some deep companionship of faith that extends across time…

And sharing these stories with other people matters. Because then we are all perhaps able to learn something different from different stories – or even the same story. Because there is always something in a story that we have perhaps not fully appreciated, but someone else has…..And maybe we see that in our Gospel passage today…

Usually when we look at this passage we tend to focus on Peter’s question and we think of the deeper understanding it has to offer us on the power of forgiveness. Where Jesus, in choosing to answer Peter’s question by means of this story, seeks to move Peter, and the others, to a new attitude on what forgiveness is really all about. And it’s good that we do think about that.

But as this story unfolds, for me perhaps one of the most interesting and challenging aspects of it, is why this man, on receiving the cancelling of his own debt, goes on to demand money he is due from someone else……Why would he do that….Most of us might simply say that it was out of greed and now that his own debt had now been cancelled he could get all the more for himself. But is it that simple…

Because when we look at this story it’s almost as if he is continuing to behave as if his debt had not been cancelled. As if he is still on some kind of automatic pilot, so to speak and has not fully heard or understood the greatness of the gift he has been given. So in essence, although he has been forgiven, he has not received this forgiveness. Thus he has not fully accepted the chance to begin again…

He has continued to hold his identity in the old pattern of being a debtor, with the attendant need and obligation to make restitution. So he has closed his mind in some way…he has not felt the wonder of what he is given…and thus not allowed himself to become a new creation……
But here’s the thing – is Jesus perhaps saying that in fact, we are all like this man…

If we are completely honest with ourselves, we have all received far more than we are aware of or acknowledge. From the abundance of the earth around us, family love and care, appreciation that we do not see from family, neighbours and work colleagues, and above all else, in love from God…. Yet perhaps the question is, do we truly open ourselves to all this unconditional love available to us.

It seems to me that not only is Jesus answering that question, He is also expanding the question and the concept of forgiveness. Throughout this story Jesus presents forgiveness, less as some form of restitution to clean our faults, but and more as a continual flow of love from God to us. And when this flow of forgiveness is experienced, then it should naturally flow on, which is what the fellow slaves understand in the story. So when it doesn’t they take action.

In this story, Jesus is drawing attention to forgiveness that is always present and the only thing that can stop that flow is our reaction to it…our closing off from what is always there for us…..When we act without receiving the flow of this unconditional love from God, then we experience ourselves as the first man in the story did, as imprisoned….However there is something else to consider here….

Another key in the story is that the man himself does not perceive what he is doing. It is those around him who could bring awareness, which is a good reminder of another of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew 7:3…… Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Is this something that we are guilty of from time to time, I wonder…too busy focussing on the mistakes, faults and sins of others…Whilst failing to acknowledge just how far off the mark we are…Is this something that we might need to reflect upon more often?….

When we look through the Gospel narratives we see that Jesus modelled this kind of reflection with the Disciples, reviewing events with them afterwards. Indeed this practice could be seen as part of Jesus’ healing ministry. And it is important because such reflection enables changes of behaviour. And in the case of Jesus Disciples it helped to change them and their perception of themselves and the world about them…..So maybe this is something we should be doing…

This short story shows us that not only can forgiveness be difficult for some people to offer in some cases, it can also be difficult for some people to receive. And it is vitally important that we acknowledge that, because forgiveness is a cycle that needs to be completed.
Others can forgive us when we do wrong and Jesus offer of forgiveness is for every one of us. But unless we receive this forgiveness, like the man in our story we will continue in the same old way.

And how do we receive this forgiveness. We have to begin by asking ourselves some serious questions. Do we fully understand the real power of forgiveness? Do we understand how we receive this forgiveness? Do we understand why we receive this forgiveness?

Do we truly accept and acknowledge in our hearts that we need this forgiveness, whether that be from another individual or our Saviour Himself? And most importantly, are we willing to embrace Jesus as our Saviour, repent of our sinful ways and know His forgiveness in our hearts?

Forgiveness isn’t simply about saying sorry. Forgiveness is a healing process, a healing process that only God can bring about – for both the person offering the forgiveness and the person receiving the forgiveness. So it’s a process about letting God’s Spirit work within us, changing us from within to transform what our personal limitations might be.

And if we can do this then we learn to live, not by our own definitions of good and bad or of what is right and wrong. But rather we can begin to allow ourselves to become vehicles of God’s love…..

And surely this is what our faith is all about…….

Almighty and loving God, You are always patient and forgiving, reaching out to us in eternal welcome and holding us all in You tender loving care. And we thank You for this love towards us, which continues to reach out to us, even when we turn away. Forgive us when we love ourselves and not You, and when we pursue our own goals and not Your way. Help us at all times to look to Your Son and whatever we face any situation to ask ourselves what He would have us do, and as best we can to do so.

We remember today those in our community who need you most at this time, especially those closest to us – our own circle of family, friends and neighbours – and pray that Your hand would be upon them. And as we look beyond our own community we pray for all Your children everywhere who are facing challenging and difficult days. Draw each one close to You we pray and minister to them as only You can, thinking especially of those who are ill or recently bereaved. And be with Your Church Lord as it seeks to bear witness to Your name at this time. Enable all who profess Your name to share Your love in all we say and do. And all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen.

Update From Both Churches

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Both our churches remain closed at this time, however, work at the Abbey Church is on-going in respect of completing the Covid Risk Assessment we need to do before we can re-open and hopefully we will be able to submit that paperwork for Presbytery approval very soon. Bendochy Kirk Session will meet re-convene their virtual meeting next Wednesday at which time a formal decision will be taken as to the way forward. Once we have more information we will post here on the website and on the Minister’s Letter Page.

The Gospel Of John

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Read John 9:1-12

What can we learn from these opening verses?

  • In Jesus time there was a belief that calamity or suffering like this was the result of some great sin. But Jesus used this man’s condition to glorify God.
  • We live in a fallen world where seemingly innocent people will suffer, whilst those who are perceived to be wicked might go unpunished.
  • If God removed all pain and suffering, we would follow him for comfort and convenience, and not necessarily out of love.
  • Questions such as, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ and ‘Why is this happening to me?’ are common in times of suffering.

But what should we be asking God for to help us through those bad times?

Read John 9:13-34

Looking at the role of the Pharisees in these verses, what do we discover?

  • People were being healed and lives were being changed, but they were too busy looking for ways to discredit Jesus.
  • They were more interested in the letter of the law than the practicalities of it. But what about us today, how would we react in a similar situation?

What about the role of the parents of the blind man in these verses?

  • They believed in what they saw, but were afraid to acknowledge this. How often are we afraid to acknowledge our beliefs, for whatever reasons?

Then we come to the man himself, what can we learn from him?

  • He knew he had been healed, although unsure of exactly how this had happened. Yet he was no afraid to tell the truth when questioned by the authorities.
  • Even when they press hard on him, still the man is defiant in the truth. What about us today, how faithful to the truth are we when we are sorely tested in this way?

Who are we more like here, the Pharisees or the blind man?

Read John 9:35-41

What do these final verses teach us?

  • This man was physically healed of his blindness, but great as that was, it was nothing to the healing of his spiritual blindness
  • The longer this man experienced his new life in Christ, the stronger and more confident he became in the one who healed him. Today the same applies to us, the longer and closer we walk with Christ, the stronger our faith and belief in Him will become.
  • The spiritual blindness that Jesus is speaking of comes about as a result of selfishness, complacency and self-centeredness and we need to keep asking ourselves if any of these are beginning to creep into our lives, because once they do, it is then that we lose sight of Jesus.

In this passage we are introduced to four groups of people who react in different ways to what they witness:

  • The man’s neighbours revealed surprise and scepticism, and didn’t commit themselves.
  • The Pharisee’s showed disbelief and prejudice, and rejected the claims of Jesus.
  • The man’s parents believed, but kept quiet through fear.
  • The man himself believed and showed consistent growing faith in Jesus as a result of what He did for him.

The question is, where do we fit into this?

Sunday Reflection

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Loving God as we meet with You here today from our different homes and different circumstances, we ask that by Your Spirit You would unite us all together now as one. Help us to set aside all the busyness of the world around us and to be at one with You and with one another, that as individuals and as a community we may know the power of Your Spirit among us and may know You calling for us in the days and week ahead. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen.

Read Matthew 16:21-2

We’ve all no doubt heard the story of the young child at Sunday School, sitting quietly drawing a picture. When asked what she was drawing, back came the answer – a picture of God. And when it was suggested that no-one knew what God looked like, the response was almost immediate – well, they will now after I’m finished my picture!

Whether we perhaps think too much about it or not, the fact is that most of us have some picture, or some image, or some idea of who or what God is – and it’s a picture we carry with us as we walk with Him in faith. For the most part they are unvoiced and remain somewhere in our own sub-consciousness. But they are there and they help to shape our faith in terms of our actions and expectations.

And in a sense we begin to see this take place in our Gospel passage as we continue from where we left off last week. Because although last week we saw that Peter acknowledged Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God and that this revelation was given to Peter by God Himself. We now begin to see that maybe Peter didn’t fully understand just what that actually meant.

Maybe deep down Peter too was looking for Jesus to be another King David, another warrior, champion for the people. Someone who would not only stand up to the authorities, but possibly lead some form of rebellion against the occupying Roman forces and reclaim Israel for the people. I say maybe because the fact if that we don’t know for sure.

Yet in this exchange today what we do see is that the one thing that Peter didn’t expect Jesus to be was a weak and fragile Messiah who would ultimately be killed by the authorities. Indeed so upset was Peter by this that he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. And just pause for a moment to consider that. Peter rebuking His Saviour!!

However, maybe we can’t blame Peter too much for thinking as he did. Because let’s be honest with ourselves, have there not been times where all we want is a mighty and powerful God to make things right for us at that moment in time. And not just for us in our own lives, but for all we see wrong that is happening around us. Thankfully, however, neither Peter or we get the God that we want.

Instead what we do get is the God we need – not the God we want – the God we need.

We don’t get a God who will remain in heaven, distant and aloof from all of our pain, heartache and suffering. Instead we get a God who will abandon all pretext of glory and majesty, a God who came to us in grace and humility in order to take on our lot and our life.

Because the reality is that our God favours mercy over strength, forgiveness over judgment, and grace and vulnerability over power and glory. Our God not only understands us but also loves us. And, lest we forget, this God also is raised on the third day, promising that at the end of our struggles is peace.

But still the question many may ask, is what does that mean for us here and now, and how should we respond to this.

Well perhaps the first thing we can take from our passage today is that if we wish to be Disciples of Jesus, seeking to follow and to serve him as we live out the gospel message in his name, we need to be in it for the long haul. Being a Disciple of Jesus is not something that we can start and stop whenever we choose to do so or whenever the fancy takes us. It is a way of life. Indeed, it’s the only way of life…

Everyone and everything else around us may be living in a different way altogether but we have to learn to imitate Jesus as best we can at all times and in every situation. The Christian faith and the discipleship it entails is a constant following of our Saviour and a constant obedience in thought, word and action to Him. Walking in his footsteps, wherever He may lead us and whatever the cost may be to us.

There are no shortcuts at all if we are to be a Disciple of Jesus. Nor can we pick and choose where and how we want to follow Him and where and when we would choose not to. It’s all or nothing – a total commitment to Him for the rest of our lives here on earth. That’s what Jesus was speaking about when he tells His Disciples they must lose their own lives and take up their cross and follow Him.

However, there is more to it than this because this passage also serves to remind us of the sacrifice of discipleship.

Just as being a Christian Disciple means being in it for the duration as we seek to follow and serve our Lord and Saviour, so it also means having to be prepared to make sacrifices to do so – sacrifices that may come in all shapes and sizes. Yet ultimately what it means is losing our own life in order to give our lives to Jesus. Not in the final, physical sense but in the lives that we lead each and every day.

In essence we are to abandon our own self as the dominant principle in our life in order to make God that dominant principle.

In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul tells us that we must be transformed by God for that to happen. We are no longer to conform to the ways of the world we live in but instead allow God to transform us from within. Love, kindness, compassion – these are all the kind of virtues that should dictate how we live our lives. Focussing not so much on self and our own selfish aims and desires, but on other people looking to the needs of others before ourselves.

And we should not aim to behave in this way out of any sense of duty or obligation. Nor should we do so in expectation of any gratitude or admiration from others. Instead we should be happy and willing to live this way in joyful hope because by doing so we know that we are living as best we can in the way that God would have us.

And with all that is happening in our communities today how important is it that we do seek to live in this kind of way and to continue to pray for those most affected by this virus at this time.
Of course we may say that we do – and as I said last week, throughout these past 5 months I have seen and heard of many examples of this. Yet, still we should not be complacent because living in this way isn’t always easy, especially when we have so many things impacting on our own lives and especially when we see and hear of things that test our own faith.

And yet Jesus makes it quite clear here how He expects us to live. However, not only did He tell us how we should live – He showed us how we should live. He led by example and He now calls on us to follow in His footsteps.

The way of Jesus may be tough and arduous. It may involve sacrifice and putting others before ourselves. And there may be times when we will come up short and when we stumble and fall. Taking up our cross and following after Jesus never has been and never will be the easiest thing for any of us to do. Yet it is the life we are called to if we would be a Disciple of Jesus. Indeed William Barclay once said that Christian witness is not one moment’s profession of our faith, however brave that moment may be…Christian witness is a whole-time job every day.

The only question we perhaps have to consider is this – is it a job that we are prepared to take on?

Eternal and loving God as we reflect on this passage and what it means to be Your Disciple, we have to confess how often we fall so far short of Your standards and expectations. Yet even as we do so, we remember that You have called us in all of our weakness and failing, not to live as You would have us by our own strength and merit, but by the power and guidance of Your Spirit. So help us we pray to look to Your Spirit each and every day and allow it to inspire, encourage, empower and equip us in Your name that we may indeed live our faith as the Disciples You have called us to be.

We continue to remember all in our own community who have fallen ill to Covid 19 and ask that You would be with them and all their loved ones, that You would lay Your healing hand upon them and keep them safe in Your love and tender care. We think of the impact this has had on the wider community and remember those who now feel that wee bit more vulnerable and anxious and we ask that You would embrace them too in You tender loving care. And as we look throughout our land we think of all whose lives have been affected by this virus, especially those who have lost loved ones to it and those who are still seriously ill and we ask that they would know that peace and comfort that only You can give.

And we remember those whose livelihoods, work and businesses have been so affected over these past months, those for whom the future seems so insecure and so uncertain, and we lift them before You too. As we do all our school children, students, teachers and staff who are now back in classrooms and about to head back to colleges. Watch over them we pray and be especially today with all in those schools where some have contracted this virus and let them know that we are thinking of them at this time.

So go with us now, Lord, and be with us and all of our loved ones in the week ahead. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen

The Gospel Of John

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As we discussed briefly previously there are seven ‘signs’ recorded in John’s Gospel, intended to reveal to those who witnessed them that Jesus was the living revelation of God Himself and that only through Him could they find salvation. Today we will look in more detail at the third of these signs, the curing of the paralysed man.

Read John 5:1-17

What do we make of the first few verses of this passage, in particular this idea of the ‘healing angel’?

  • Whether this was some kind of myth or superstition or whether those sick people who stepped into the pool at the right time were cured, we do not know for certain. However, the fact that so many gathered by the pool – they obviously believed this.
  • Would God send an angel in this way?

What does this remind us of today – and what are our views on Angels?

What do we think of verses 5 and 6, why are they so important and why does Jesus ask him if he wants to be made well?

  • After 38 years the man’s illness had effectively become a way of life for him.
  • All this time he had never been able to work but survived by begging. If he was healed his begging days would be over and he would have to work to get by. Would he want to?
  • Maybe he felt his situation was now hopeless and that no-one would be able to help him.
  • Yet still he goes to this pool, why? Surely this indicates that he still has hope of recovery.

How does our faith and hope hold out in terms of adversity and hardship?

What can we learn from verses 7 and 8?

  • No matter how trapped or helpless we might feel, no matter how hopeless the future might look, if we truly believe in Christ, God can minister to our deepest needs.
  • It may not always involve a physical cure as it did with this man, but a sense of peace and reconciliation within our hearts, that God can and will still use us in His service.

Do we truly believe all of this in our own hearts?

What do the remaining verses of this passage teach us?

  • According to the Pharisees, carrying your mat, i.e. your bed, on the Sabbath day was work, therefore it was unlawful.
  • It did not break any specific laws within the Torah, but the Pharisees interpretation of, ‘remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy’, was what made it unlawful.

Was this really unlawful? And what does this say to us today about our own interpretation of God’s commandments? Are we sometimes as guilty as the Pharisees – Are our guidelines for the way we live truly God made, or have we added to or taken bits from them?

  • This curing of the paralysed man was a great miracle, but whilst he could now walk, this man need an even greater miracle, he needed spiritual healing and to have his sins forgiven. Hence Jesus words to him in verse 14.
  • God’s gift of forgiveness through Christ is the greatest gift that any of us can receive, but we have to accept this gracious gift by seeking to turn from our sins.
  • Despite what they witnessed here, as far as the Pharisees were concerned, the only issue at hand was the breaking of their rules.

The Pharisees shut their eyes and their hearts to the work of God. But perhaps we need to ask ourselves, are we ever guilty of doing likewise today?

Sunday Reflection

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Loving God, as we come before You today, help us to look to Your Son and as best we can follow His example. Help us to serve You without fear and to bear witness to You in all we think, say and do. And all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen.

Reading Matthew 16:13-20

For about three years now Jesus Disciples had spent most of their time with Him. They followed Him through all the towns and villages, listening to everything he said, watching all that He did. They spent time with Him in their own small group, listening to His teaching and spending time with Him in quiet devotion. And in all that He said and did, Jesus was making it clear, without actually saying so, just who He was.

But it wasn’t only those Disciples who witnessed all of this. Everyone in those towns and villages that Jesus visited also saw and heard all that Jesus was doing. They heard His Sermon on the Mount, they witnessed Him feeding the multitudes and healing the sick. They saw Him raise the dead to new life. And everything that Jesus did, Jesus was clearly showing that He was their long awaited Messiah. But did the people know this?

Who do people say the Son of Man is? Jesus asked His Disciples.

Now at this point that’s not too difficult a question for the Disciples to answer, because they have heard what others have said. John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah – all good answers indeed. But this is where it now gets difficult for those Disciples, because Jesus now turns His attention to them. But what about you, who do you say that I am?

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re engaged in conversation with other people and suddenly you’re asked for your opinion on a specific topic and you don’t really know what to say. Either because you don’t have any real opinion to offer, through lack of any real knowledge or understanding of the topic in question. Or maybe because, although you do have an opinion, you’re a bit afraid to express it because you’re not quite sure how it will be received by those engaged in the conversation.

And I sometimes wonder if that’s perhaps how it was with the majority of those Disciples during this exchange with Jesus. Were they still uncertain, were they fearful of saying what they believed. Or did they perhaps think that it was something of an unfair question, taking all things into consideration.

After all, hadn’t they all shown by giving up all they had and all they had known to follow Jesus, exactly what they believed about Him. So why then is Jesus now pressing them on this question?

To know who Jesus really is – is vital. Like those of whom they spoke of comparing Jesus to John the Baptist and Elijah, the Disciples had no doubt that He was indeed someone who had come from God and that He was special and very important.

Someone who had been sent by God and who was clearly there to do the will of God.

They believed in His teaching and His preaching. They had witnessed how the multitudes had come to listen to Him and had been affected so much by what He said. And they believed in His power and authority. They believed in the evidence of his miracles – miracles that they themselves had taken part in on some occasions.

And yet for all that, still it would seem that in their hearts they had not come to know him as the Son of God – all of course, except Peter. And when peter declares… ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God…’ he is making a confession that all must make if we would indeed truly know who Jesus is and what we have through Him.

Jesus is the key to the relationship we have with God…And unless we know Him – unless we really know Him here in our very hearts and souls, we can never be at one with God. And we see how pivotal this is in the response of Jesus to Peter. Because it is on the basis of this confession – and only on this, that Peter will become the rock on which the Church will be built.

Of course when we consider the many weaknesses and failings of Peter that we read of in the Gospel passages, it might seem odd to some that Peter should be chosen as the foundation of the Church of Christ. Some might point to others among the chosen twelve who would have been a more suitable or adequate foundation for this Church. Someone who was perhaps more stable or more consistent in their behaviour.

And yes, there may well have been others who might have been more plausible candidates for such an honoured position. Disciples like John, or perhaps Andrew, the brother of Peter. However Peter’s confession of Jesus showed that in Jesus, Peter clearly recognised, not just the work of someone who had been sent from God, but the work of God Himself…

But for all that, perhaps the real question that we need to consider is how we would answer that question – do we really know who Jesus is? Do we know Him here in our hearts and souls, with every ounce of our being? And why is it so important that we do know Jesus.

It’s only when we truly know Jesus and know Him to be the living Son of God that He is that we can begin to understand that He is with us at all times. Wherever we go and whatever we face, through His Son and by His Spirit, God will be with us. And that’s important for us to remember.

As I come to record this time of reflection, this has been a difficult and anxious week for many. The news of Covid 19 being in our community has shaken us all and our first thoughts are of course with all who have been affected most by this. And as we await more news and developments in the coming days, our anxieties and concerns may be heightened and people may yet have difficult decisions to make if certain limitations are imposed upon us once again.

It’s at times like this when a good community spirit is important and that as friends and neighbours we all do what we can to help and support one another. And during the period of lockdown that was certainly self-evident.

Yet even when we have that good community spirit, even when we know that we can depend upon the love and support of family and those closest to us, still we might feel as if there is still something else that we need to help us through each day.

And that something – that someone is the living Son of God.

Knowing that through His Son God is always with us makes all the difference. To know that He is within us as we face difficult and anxious days, gives us a sense of inner peace that no-one or nothing else can. However, not only does Jesus fill that gap in our lives that no-one or nothing else can fill. The love that He pours upon us and surrounds us with holds all of those other things that are so important to us together.

We can only love because God first loved us. And we can only show those acts of love – kindness, compassion, concern, care – because of the love that God has demonstrated to us through His Son in the same way. Yes, within every one of us there is a part of us that seeks to do just this – because we were all created in the image of God. But when we truly know Jesus in our lives and know the fullness of His love for us, all of a sudden a new dimension is added to this as we know His Spirit working within us.

Yes we may still be anxious, concerned, even fearful. But if we know the love of Jesus in our lives and know that through Him God is always with us, not only will it give us renewed courage and faith each day. It will enable us to share that love through acts of kindness, generosity and compassion towards others. And at times like this, surely that’s what we all need.

So over the coming days let’s consider and reflect upon this question that Jesus asks His Disciples…What about you, who do you say I am…And let’s ask for the faith and boldness to respond as Peter did, and then share that with others in all we say and do…..Amen.

Loving and Gracious God, we thank You for Your loving kindness towards us. For Your many gifts and blessings, and for the love of family and friends to share these blessings with. But we especially thank You for the love You have shown to us through Your Son and for the life we now have through that love. In joy and thankfulness we acknowledge that the whole of life is bound up in the mystery of faith and ask that as Your Disciples here and now, You would enable us to witness to that faith in all we say and do. Give to us a new desire, a new passion and a new energy to serve You as You have called us – to share the Good News of Your Son wherever we are and in whatever we do.

We remember today those whose faith has been tested in recent weeks through situations and circumstances they have encountered and experienced in their lives and we ask for Your hand to be upon them. We think of our young ones, now back at school, and pray that you would be with them and all the teachers and staff at our schools and that You would watch over them. And we especially think at this time of our own community here and all who have contracted this awful illness.

We pray for them and their loved ones and ask that You would keep them safe and close to You. And we think of the wider community and the impact this may have and again ask that You be with everyone within our community, especially those who are now a little more anxious or concerned because of this.

So as we look to the coming week, we ask that You would be with us and that You would watch over us and all our loved ones in all we do. And all this we would ask in Jesus name. Amen.

The Gospel Of John

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Some Background Information:

As we know, John doesn’t use the term miracle in his Gospel, but rather refers to these displays of Jesus divine power and authority as signs. In all there are seven such signs recorded, although it is plain from chapter 20, verses 30-31, that he witnessed many others that are not recorded within his Gospel. The seven signs that are recorded are as follows:

  • The wedding at Cana (2:1-11)
  • The royal official’s son (4:46-54)
  • The curing of the paralysed man (5:1-15)
  • The feeding of the multitude (6:1-15)
  • Walking on water (6:16-21)
  • The curing of the blind man (9)
  • The raising of Lazarus (11)

For John these signs, in turn, are intended to reveal the true nature of Christ, that He is the revelation of God Himself and our only hope of salvation. They are all entirely connected with faith and the only correct way for us to respond to them is through faith. The fact that John records only seven, as there would have been others, is possibly to do with the fact that this was the number of perfection in the ancient world.

However, having said all of this, although almost all theologians and commentators agree that there are seven signs recorded in John’s Gospel, some believe that 4 and 5 i.e. the feeding of the multitude and the walking on water should be tied together, and that the seventh sign is in fact the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Himself – the ultimate revelation of Jesus as the Son of God. Nevertheless, the general consensus seems to be that the signs are as listed above and that another reason for there being seven, is that they in themselves all point to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the perfect Son of God.

(Something else worth noting is that all of the above effectively happen in the first half of the Gospel and it is only after these that the Beloved Disciple is mentioned. But we will come to that at a later date.)

Three of the signs appear in the Synoptics as miracles; the offical’s son, the feeding the multitude and the walking on water. Three more are of a general healing type also found in the Synoptics, the curing of a paralytic, the healing of the blind man and the raising of a person from the dead (although no one in the Synoptics has been dead as long as Lazarus). The only sign that has no direct or indirect comparison anywhere in the Synoptics is this first one, The wedding at Cana.

Read John 2:1-11

What are our initial thoughts on reading this passage? What appears to be the overall theme?

  • A new start: The New Covenant in Jesus replacing the Old Covenant within Judaism (Symbolised in the wedding itself and in the purification jars – of which there were six.)

What is the significance of Mary, the Mother of Jesus in this passage?

  • She is present at the beginning of the Ministry of Jesus (She will also be there at the end)
  • She shows faith in Jesus even before witnessing any of these signs.

What do we make of this idea that Jesus ‘Hour’ had not yet come?

  • Probably a term used to denote the time of Jesus passion, death and resurrection.
  • John uses these signs to point forward to Jesus ‘Hour of Glory’.
  • And we see at the end of the passage that this sign was to reveal the glory of Jesus and that from then on, his disciples believed in Him.

Ultimately, then, this passage is all about the dawn of a new beginning in Christ and, for John at least, marks the beginning of Jesus ministry – a ministry in which He would ultimately reveal Himself to us as the living revelation of God. But what does this passage mean to us?

Do we believe that we can have a new beginning, a new and fresh start in Jesus?

Can we demonstrate the same faith as Mary and ‘stay the course’ as she did?

Have we come to believe in the same way as those who witnessed those events that day did?

Something for us to reflect and ponder upon!