Sunday Reflection

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Sunday Reflection 12th July

Loving God, as we seek to spend some time with You now, we ask that that by Your Spirit You would enable us to draw close to You, wherever we are. Help us, as we listen to and meditate upon Your Word, to discern what You are saying to us today and how we might best serve You at this time, to the glory and honour of Your name…Amen.

Read Matthew 13:1-9

Every day of our lives we speak with other people – at home, at work, in our leisure time. And every day of our lives we hear news stories on our televisions or we read about them in our newspapers. But how many of them make any kind of lasting impression or impact in our lives. How many of them have changed our lives in some way. A headline from a newspaper, perhaps, something said to us by a loved one or someone close to us, a line from a song, book or poem, even some innocuous throw away comment made by someone.

The words we speak or listen to can make a difference in our lives and sometimes help to bring about real change. Think back to the moment you were told that you had passed your driving test, for example, or that your interview for a job had been successful – what impact did those words have in your life at that time. Think back to the first time you told someone you loved them, how did your life change after that. Or when you were told you were expecting your first child. How did your life change then?

A few simple words can change our lives in such a dramatic way – but they can also change us quite fundamentally too. Yet perhaps the words that can impact on our lives most are those that we find contained within the Word of God.

When we hear the voice of God speak to us for the first time – when we are suddenly made aware of His grace and mercy, of His overwhelming love for us – that’s the moment that our lives are changed forever.

However, for this change to come about, we actually need not only to hear the voice of God speaking to us but also to listen to it. What’s the difference between hearing and listening? Hearing is when we are aware of certain sounds, like someone speaking to us. Listening is when we make the conscious effort to understand and pay attention to that sound – in this case to the voice speaking to us. And in many ways our Gospel passage highlights this difference.

Sometimes we might find ourselves in a situation where we simply don’t want to listen to what someone is saying to us. We can hear them, but we don’t want to listen – and that could be for a whole host of reasons. Maybe, we don’t agree with what they are saying, we don’t like what they are saying, what they are saying offends or upsets us, or we are just simply not interested in what is being said.

In this kind of situation, understanding or paying attention is no less difficult than attempting to sow seed on a road or pavement. None of what is being said will ever sink in and will vanish as quickly as the seed being eaten by the birds without any of it ever making any impact on our lives.
And so it is for many with the Gospel message today – they are simply not interested in listening and as a consequence they have no idea what it is to know Jesus in their lives.

Then we have those occasions when after hearing something we do want to listen more attentively and maybe even take some action. What has been said appeals to us, excites us, challenges us in some way and so we endeavour to set out on some new venture or some new course of action.

However, as we proceed we realise that this course of action involves more than we anticipated or expected – in respect of energy, time, commitment or sacrifice and we haven’t made enough preparation or allowances for that. So after a wee while our enthusiasm begins to wane and wither, much like the seed scorched by the sun, until we get to the point where the words we first listened to, no longer have any influence in our lives.

We may have heard and listened to the Word of God, but when we then discover what difference it might make in our lives, we no longer choose to listen or to act upon it.

And finally we have those occasions where we might want to listen, but for some reason seem unable to do so. Theologian Henri Nouwen once confessed to God, ‘ I am so busy with other things that I cannot hear you…’ and maybe this too sometimes applies to us.

Maybe there have been times when someone has been speaking to us, and although we may have been engaged in that conversation we weren’t actually listening to what was being said. Instead we were preoccupied with other things in life – our daily business, our concerns and fears, whatever – the point is that our minds were elsewhere. Now ask yourself, how often has this happened to us when we have been reading or listening to the Word of God.

We may have heard the Word of God, but because our minds and hearts have been on other things we have not been listening and as a consequence it has not taken root and made any lasting impact on our lives.

The lesson for us in all of these examples is clear. Sometimes in life God will speak to us through His Word and we will not listen to that Word as we should. We may hear Him, but we will not listen as we should and consequently not act as we should.

We live in a world today where we are continually bombarded by words telling what we should say and do – how we should live our lives. And the harsh reality is that sometimes we get distracted by them. Voices which call out to us things like, if you want to realise your full potential, do this….If you want to achieve these goals, do that…. If you want to get on in life and be all you can be, listen to us….

And in amongst all of this, suddenly the voice of God is lost to us. Except, of course, it isn’t lost – it is still there, and always will be there……All we need to do is listen – not hear – listen.

Listening for and discerning the Word of God can at times be difficult and if we’re completely honest with ourselves we will all acknowledge those times when we have failed to do so. So it’s important that we set aside time every day – no matter how busy we are – to spend that time in quiet communion with God. Speaking to Him and listening to Him. Only then will we be able to grow and flourish in our own faith.

But more than that, the more we spend time listening to God, speaking to us through His Word, or in a time of devotion, the more we will be able to share that Word with others – and ultimately that is what we are all called to do. To share with others the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Salvation we have through Him. Whether that yield be a hundred-fold, or sixty-fold or even only ten-fold – it doesn’t matter – as long as we share that Word with others.

So as we recall this passage once again, let’s do our best to listen for the Word of God speaking to us, in whatever way that may be. And having listened let’s go and share it with others that they in turn may do likewise. That when the harvest time does come, the yield may be bountiful….Amen

Loving Jesus, You have called us to be Your witnesses, to proclaim Your name and to make Your love known in all that we say and do. Yet we confess that so often whenever we try to respond to that challenge we find it ever so difficult. Sometimes it seems that whenever we speak of You we are met with apathy, indifference and even hostility.

And so in our hearts and souls we sometimes give up, if only for a brief moment, no longer expecting lives to be changed by Your Word. So we ask that You would help us to look beyond what we appear to see and to recognise that, though we may not always see it, the seed we sow may well bear fruit in unexpected ways and places. Help us to put our faith not in our own ability but in your gracious life-giving power, confident that if we play our part, You will play Yours too.

And as we come before You now we pray for those who today have been weighed down the many burdens of life. Those who have been bereaved, those who are ill and suffering in some way, those in most need. Look to them as only You can and lay Your hand upon them. Be with all in our own communities and all within our own families. Draw each one to You and embrace them in Your heart, for we ask all of these things in Jesus name…Amen

The Gospel Of John

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As we look forward to being able to gather for worship once again I hope to be able to continue to post some form of Reflection or Bible Study on a weekly basis – and would like to start with the Gospel of John. Some of this week’s has already been published in an earlier Isla Link article, however, as it is at the beginning of John’s Gospel I thought we could just remind ourselves of it.

Background Information:

John’s Gospel is believed to have been written in Ephesus around 82-95 AD, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD and, like the others, was first circulated anonymously. It wasn’t until later on in the second century, in the fight against heretics, that the Gospels were assigned to authors. So ultimately, no-one knows for sure who wrote John’s Gospel, or indeed any of the others.

Tradition, however, has the author of the fourth Gospel as the disciple John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee. This same tradition has also identified this disciple as the ‘Beloved Disciple’ that we see pop up in the fourth gospel. One of the main reasons for assuming that the disciples John is both the author and the beloved disciple, is the fact that his name is not mentioned in the Gospel itself. If that is the case, then what we have is a first hand witness account of the ministry and mission of Christ

As to why John wrote this Gospel, we see the short answer to that question at John 20:31, ‘…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name…’ However, as we shall discover as we explore this Gospel in more detail, we will see that from the outset it was John’s aim to present to us that Jesus Christ was the living revelation of God Himself and he does so in a way that none of the Synoptic Gospels come close to. The tone, style and content are completely different from the others, leaving some to refer to this as a more ‘spiritual’ gospel than any of the Synoptics.

Differences between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics include the fact that the miracles we read of in Matthew, Mark and Luke are replaced by ‘signs’ in John; in John we don’t have the same ‘short stories’ that the others do, but rather ‘longer discourses’; the timing of events is slightly different and in John we do have a ministry that extended for some three years (we know this from the number of visits to Jerusalem for specific festivals); the fourth Gospel introduces us to characters not mentioned elsewhere (The Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, Lazarus the brother or Mary and Martha, Nathanael and of course the Beloved Disciple); and we will look at some of these in more detail over the coming weeks.

Read John 1:1-18

What are the main three things that this opening prologue to John’s Gospel touches on?

  • It tells us exactly who Jesus is.
  • It tells us of the relationship between Jesus and God.
  • It hints that His mission will not meet with universal success.

What key themes are we introduced to in the verses, themes that will crop up again and again as we read through the Gospel?

  • Eternal life- Instead of talking of the Kingdom of God
  • The ‘World’- used not only when speaking about the created order, but also used in a way to depict those who do not accept the revelation of Christ.
  • Truth – Jesus Himself not only reveals this truth, He is the personification of truth.
  • Glory – Unlike the synoptics, Jesus death is the supreme moment of glorification.
  • Dualism – John’s Gospel is full of dualistic pairs of opposites – belief/unbelief, light/darkness, from below/from above – All ultimately good/evil.

What else can we learn from these opening verses?

  • In a sense they are like a ‘mini-gospel.
    • Verses 1-5 speak to us of the unity of Christ and God, a theme which we see throughout the fourth Gospel.
    • Verses 6-8 introduce us to John the Baptist, sent to prepare the way for Christ.
    • Verses 9-13 speak to us of the coming of Christ into the world, the light of the world that not all would recognise.
    • Verses 14-18 speak to us of the incarnation and salvation, God becoming flesh and the salvation that this would bring those who accepted Him.

John’s Gospel is unlike any of the other Gospels, of that there is no doubt and many believe it to be the most accurate of all. Over the next couple of months we will look at it in more detail and perhaps discover that there is even more to it than we first thought.

 

The Cost Of Discipleship

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Read Luke 14:25-35

Anything we do in life, if we want to do it justice, will involve some kind of commitment and some cost to us, no matter what we do. That may come in financial terms, it may be in the giving of our time and energy, and it may involve putting other things on hold so that we can focus all of these on the mission at hand. But what about the cost of being a Disciple of Jesus Christ.

In the short passage we thought of today the cost outlined seems to be quite steep – or at least that’s how it appears. We are to hate members of our own family, we are to carry our own cross and we are to give up everything we have. Only then can we become Disciples of Jesus….but is that what Jesus is really asking of us here.

Knowing the Gospel message as we do this just doesn’t make sense – and that’s not to show any hesitancy of faith on our part. But maybe we can begin to understand a wee bit more of what Jesus is actually getting at here when we look at the two short stories that go along with this.

In the story of the builder, he made the mistake of not doing his sums and calculating what the full cost of his project would be. As a consequence he wasn’t able to fulfil his task – he ended up looking foolish and being ridiculed by others. Could it be here that Jesus is warning against some kind of half-hearted commitment to our faith? A faith that has no substance to it and subsequently leads to other mocking it.

Then we have the story of the King about to go into battle against an enemy. Before he does so he must weigh up all the odds and determine what the outcome might be before fully committing himself and all his resources. Could it be that here Jesus is challenging us to weigh up all the odds before we follow him because once we follow him there can be no turning back.

If we were to look deep into our hearts and souls, we would know without doubt that accepting Jesus as our Saviour and becoming His Disciple is the best thing we have ever done. And if there was ever any doubt about this, we perhaps only need to look at our lives before we came to faith and see how much they have changed for the better since doing so – or at least that’s how it should be.

As a Disciple of Jesus we have something that nothing at all in this world can take away from us. We have a share in the inheritance of the Kingdom of God, something that will last into all eternity.  And in that faith we have something to turn to when we are sad, when we are weak, when we are tired and when everything else around us seems to make no sense whatsoever. That feeling we have within us of knowing Jesus as our Saviour and our friend and that He will never leave us, no matter where we are or what we are going through.

These are often the kind of things we perhaps think of when we consider what it means to be a believer in Jesus. And I know that over these past few months when so much of our lives have been turned upside down and when we have perhaps known loved ones who have been affected by coronavirus, that so many have leaned upon that faith and found comfort and strength in that.

But there is another side of discipleship that we need to consider and these verses remind us of that so vividly. That as we walk with Jesus we will encounter opposition, there will be battles to be won and there will be sacrifices that need to be made – on many different levels. And I suppose the question is, are we prepared for that.

When Jesus called His first Disciples he told them to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men – and they did. They put Jesus first, before their own families and friends and followed Him.  Indeed they left everything they had, everything they had known, to follow Jesus. They had no idea where they were going or what it might involve – but still they left and followed Him.

In doing this they maybe didn’t hate their families in the way that we might think of that word today – but they certainly put Jesus before them. Can we always say that we are willing to do that today? What’s more by doing all this they denied themselves of everything in their lives that offered them a livelihood, security, peace, love, comfort – the list goes on.

That’s what it means to deny ourselves – to forego all we knew and give ourselves over to Jesus. To live out the Gospel message as He would have us every day in the way that we communicate and interact with others, showing love, compassion and  care to all – even if it involves a sacrifice on our part. Again, can we say that we always do that?

Then we have this idea of carrying our own cross. In his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul said, the Son of God emptied himself taking the form of a bondservant…and being made in the likeness of men and found in the appearance of a man…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…(Phil 2:7-8)

What does this mean for us today? It means all we have already thought of in terms of putting Jesus first in our lives, but it goes beyond that. In the New Testament we find there are two conditions in order to find Salvation.

The first is that our salvation comes to us by the Grace of God – not by anything we can do or achieve or attain – purely by the Grace of God. But in order to fully receive this we must repent and believe. We must humbly acknowledge our need for God’s Grace and accept the price He has paid for us.

For us carrying the cross means carrying Jesus with us every minute of every day, knowing that in His love for us He paid the ultimate sacrifice that we might be saved. And that if we would be His Disciples in the world today we must seek to walk in His footsteps as best we can.

Today, when we pause to consider the cost of discipleship many might ask, why follow? Why did the Disciples leave everything behind and follow Jesus at the sound of his call? Why did the early Christians suffer persecution and death to follow Jesus?

Why, throughout the centuries, have there always been those who have continually accepted the cost of standing up for the upside down ways of God’s Kingdom in an unaccepting world. After all, there are few tangible rewards and there is no promise that life will be smooth. Indeed given all we have thought of today, it would seem quite the opposite.

The fact is that the decision to follow Jesus is not made with hope of any kind of reward, but because of the identity of the One who calls – because there is no greater joy than having a relationship with Jesus Christ. We respond out of love for our Saviour.

The call of Jesus surpasses any other loyalty, any other commitment, any other relationship. The call of Jesus defies logic. But above all, the joy of having a relationship with Jesus surpasses anything else that this life has to offer us – and will continue to do so for all eternity.

Jesus’ disciples answered the call to follow Jesus. And yes, they learned the cost of discipleship – but they also experienced the overwhelming joy of following Him. The question is, are we too going to follow that call…Amen.

Loving God, we thank You again for the wonderful gift of Jesus our Saviour and for the life we now have with Him. We know at times it is difficult to follow Him as we should and we thank You for the gift of Your Spirit to help us to do so. We think today of those whose faith has been tested in these past few weeks, of those who are ill or have loved ones ill in hospital and of those who are suffering emotionally and mentally as a consequence of this pandemic. Lay Your hand upon each and every one we pray and hold each close to You, assuring them of Your continued presence with them. And be with those whom we hold dear to us. Watch over them as only You can and encompass them in Your love and protection. And help us all in the coming days and weeks, in the face of all that we are going through, to continue to hold on to our faith in You – indeed not only to hold on to it but to bear witness to it wherever we go and whatever we do. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen

 

Sunday Evening – Call To Prayer

The following is taken from the Church of Scotland website as once again, with churches throughout the land, we respond in prayer to the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We live in challenging times. In truth, the challenge of these times is one that continues.

“However, the nature of that challenge has changed. In this present moment, we reflect on where we are now and this allows us to begin to try to understand the past months. Equally, we have the opportunity to anticipate what is to come.

“In the Letter to the Romans (6: 1-11), the Apostle Paul reflects on the foundation of the Christian life which is our sharing in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“As a consequence, the life we live now is one shaped by the present reality of sharing in the life of Christ.

“As we journey together in the gradual exit from lockdown, we do so in the sure knowledge that we share in the life of the Risen Christ. We pray:”

We pray:

Faithful God, we thank you
That you are present with us now
As we share in the life of the Risen Christ.
Continue to be present with us we ask.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God who inspires faith, we thank you
That you have been with us
In times of anxiety and uncertainty.
Keep watch over our memories of the past.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Faithful God, we thank you
That you will be with us
In the days that are to come.
Journey with us in the days that lie before us.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God who inspires faith, we thank you
For the life of your Son
Who for our sakes embraced human form.
May his life shape our lives in these present times.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Faithful God, we thank you
For the reassurance that you are merciful and gracious
And that your love abounds.
In your compassion, remember us and those whom we love.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God who inspires faith, we thank you
For the knowledge that you will be with us
In all that we now face.
Go before us and provide for us we ask.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Short Reflection On The Ten Commandments

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You shall not covet your neighbour’s house…’ (Exodus 20:17)

We come to the last of the Ten Commandments and possibly because it is the last one many think it to be the least important and yet it is possibly one of the most important of all ten. Why? If we look at this in the same way as we have looked at others, looking beyond the basic simple instruction, then this commandment could have far reaching implications.

At the heart of this is a desire to have something that doesn’t belong to you. This desire might be born out of jealousy, envy, lust, a thirst for power or status – the list is endless. The problem is that once you have such desires and once they get the better of you it can then lead to something else. Look at what happened in the story of King David and his lustful desires for Bathsheba. This might be a worst case scenario but the fact remains that once we allow our negative desires to get the better of us it leads us down the path of further sin.

Having looked at all Ten Commandments we see that the first four are concerned with our relationship with God and the final six our relationships with others. Jesus Himself took all of these Commandments and essentially grouped them in to two. Love God and Love Your Neighbour. If we can seek to do this with all our hearts, this is how we are able to uphold these Ten Commandments.

Lord, help me to love You as You deserve and to share that love with others. In Jesus name…Amen.

Question Of The Day: To whom did Jesus give the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven?

Short Reflection On The Ten Commandments

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‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour…’ (Exodus 20:16)

Is there such a thing as a little white lie? Are there times when we should refrain from telling someone the truth for fear of causing them more pain? These, and many other questions like them, have been posed and considered by many over the years and no doubt will continue to be discussed for many more to come. Many arguments could be put forward from both sides of the debate and to a neutral listener they all might seem plausible in some degree or another,

Giving false testimony is more commonly known in today’s language as lying and the commandment here is quite clear – we don’t tell lies. There is no such thing as a ‘wee white lie’ and withholding part of a truth from someone for fear of hurting them, even with the best intentions, may well lead to even more pain and hurt once that truth is fully known. But all of this doesn’t just apply to our immediate neighbour but in all situations. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan when the lawyer, when trying to justify himself asked who his neighbour was? In God’s Kingdom we are all children of God and all neighbours of one another.

But there is also another aspect to this commandment we need to consider. Telling a blatant lie is one thing but also just as bad and hurtful is slander, gossip and even idle chit chat, the latter of which is perhaps something that we are all guilty of at some time and to some degree – surely all of these should come into this commandment as well.

Lord, help us to be mindful of the words we say to others at all times and to ensure that they are full of love, care and compassion but also truthful. In Jesus name…Amen.

Question Of The Day: What did Jesus say to the ten lepers who approached Him for healing?

Short Reflection On The Ten Commandments

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‘You shall not steal…’ (Exodus 20:15)

Another commandment that leaves little room for anyone reading it to be uncertain as to what it means and how they should behave – and yet is there something else we should be considering here too. One of the definitions of the verb to steal is to take the property of another wrongfully with the intent of keeping it. In terms of doing such a thing in a shop or in the home of another this is something that the vast majority of us would never contemplate.

But what about ‘borrowing’ and using office supplies from the work place for our own personal business? What about ‘holiday souvenirs’ from hotels that we might stay in? What about pursuing our own interests in our work time? The immediate response to such questions might be to laugh them off and say something like, but that doesn’t really count and doesn’t hurt anyone, and maybe it doesn’t. However, isn’t it yet again another indication of how our thoughts and actions can lead us unwittingly to sin?

Lord, again we simply acknowledge how easily we wander from the path You have set before us. Help us we pray to walk in step with You each and every day. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen.

Question Of The Day: Whom did Jesus heal from a distance in Capernaum?

Bible Study On Luke

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Read Luke 19:1-10

What does the story of Zacchaeus say to us?

  • The Romans used local Jews to collect their taxes and they were among the most hated people in all of Israel – because they were seen to be helping the Romans.
  • However, as long as they were getting their own money, the Romans were happy to turn a blind eye to the tax collectors lining their own pockets at the same time.
  • We are told Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector which probably meant he had a little more status than others – but also probably meant that he was more ruthless in his collecting.
  • It also probably meant that he was more crooked and as a consequence wealthier.
  • Yet despite all this Jesus called on Zacchaeus and invited Himself to dinner at his house – to the anger and dismay of the crowd.
  • Considered a sinner and an outcast by everyone else, still Jesus loved him as he did others.

Can we say that we love all people in the same way – is our love as unconditional as Jesus love was?

  • The moment he met Jesus, Zacchaeus knew his life needed to be sorted out, he knew he had to change – and he did.
  • At once he promised to give to the poor and make restitution for his wrong doing.
  • He didn’t just say he would follow Jesus, by his actions and behavior Zacchaeus demonstrated that he wanted to do so.

Do we demonstrate our faith by our actions? Have we changed our ways since coming to know Jesus? Would that change be obvious to others?

Read Luke 19:11-27

What do we learn from this parable?

  • The people still hoped for a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans but this parable shows that now was not the time for Jesus to establish His Kingdom once and for all,
  • He would first have to leave them and in that time His disciples would have to be faithful and fruitful in their own discipleship.

God has given us all gifts for the building up of His Kingdom here and now, but how do we use them? Do we have enough faith to use them to try to help the Kingdom grow? Or are we too fearful to trust in God to enable us to do so? Which of the servants are we most like?

This concludes our study of Luke’s Gospel but just one final thought. Remember why Luke wrote this book in the first place. That his friend Theophilus might know the full truth about Jesus Christ – The World’s Only Hope!

Short Reflection On The Ten Commandments

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‘You shall not commit adultery…’ (Exodus 20:14)

Again this commandment appears straightforward and leaves no room for discussion, but again in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes it to another level by saying that anyone who even looks at another woman in a lustful manner has already committed adultery in their heart. Suddenly the net is cast further afield!

Yet even at this point our Lord continues to expand on this commandment in a very graphic manner (Matt. 5:27-30) and whilst we might not be expected to literally and surgically do what Jesus is saying here, the meaning behind these words is clear. We are to root out anything which may lead us to impure thoughts and subsequently to sin. If we don’t we will not take our place in His kingdom!

 

Lord, help us to look to You at all times and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We know we are not perfect and will make mistakes so help us to come to You when we do so, acknowledging them and seeking Your forgiveness. In Jesus name…Amen.

 

Question Of The Day: What was Jesus first recorded miracle and where did it take place?

Short Reflection On The Ten Commandments

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You shall not murder…’ (Exodus 20:13)

Life is precious, not just to us as individuals, but also to our Lord – we are all special in His eyes. This commandment states quite clearly that we should never wilfully take the life of another human being. But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus seems to take it to another level.

Whilst confirming this commandment He adds that anyone who is angry towards a brother or sister will also be subject to judgement.

In this Jesus is taking things beyond the physical act of taking a life and looking into those emotions in our heart which may lead us down a path of hurting someone. This may seem somewhat extreme and the jump from one to the other a little much, however, how often have we lashed out at someone in anger – perhaps not physically but verbally – and if we allow such emotions to rule in our hearts we will never be at one with God as we should be.

Lord, help us to be ever mindful of our thoughts and emotions and to focus on You at all times. In Jesus name… Amen. 

Question Of The Day: Who was the son born to Hannah in answer to prayer?

Sunday Reflection

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Loving God in Heaven, as we come to You this morning we do so with hearts full of joy and adoration as we acknowledge You as our God and King. We thank You for each and every blessing You pour upon us and for the comfort and peace we have in simply knowing that You are always with us. And as we come to spend time with You now, help us to lay aside all the busyness and concerns of the week that is past and the week that lies ahead and just be at one with You. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen

Read Romans 5:1-8

I wonder, if you were asked this morning what you hope for today – I wonder how you might answer that question. And would it be the same as the answer you might have given 12 weeks ago.

Twelve weeks ago I was able to meet with you all in fellowship in both our churches, today I hope to be able to do that again soon. Twelve weeks ago I was able to speak to you and ask how you and your families were, today I hope and pray that they are all safe and well. Twelve weeks ago I was able to go and spend quality time with my family, today I hope to be able to do so again soon.

The 18th century English poet, Alexander Pope once said, ‘hope springs eternal…’ but does it. Where do we look to when we feel our hopes have been dashed or suddenly taken away. Is there any hope when the situation we are facing seems impossible and overwhelming. Faced with such thoughts, waiting for tomorrow, for a new day, a new week – for a better time sometime soon – is often the only approach we feel we can take, but surely there has to be something else.

Ancient philosophers used to debate the merits of hope and often thought of it as being a human virtue. But to many a consequence of this was that such a hope would make us wish for better things to happen instead of looking to make them happen ourselves. But is this indeed what hope is all about – and if so, what hope do we actually have. And what then does this mean to us in terms of our faith.

To us as Christians, hope is central to our faith and as such we live with a hope that is secured by no one less then God himself and his Son Jesus Christ. And as to what we hope for, we find that stated in Titus 1:2, ‘A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life…which God, who does not lie… promised before the beginning of time…’

When He ascended to heaven weeks after His resurrection, Jesus made a promise that He would physically and personally return to bring his children home. So we do not place our hope in a our own ideas and efforts, nor do we place them in some whimsical or mystical ideas. No, we place our hope, our sure and certain hope, in a real person – Jesus Christ – who has promised to make our hopes a reality, in person.

And God has promised that those who love Him will live with him for ever. Juts pause for a moment to think about that – to live forever in the presence of God. But more than that, the life we spend with Him will be free from all the things which cause us pain and suffering now.

But of course, as Christians we continue to live in hope here and now. Not just hoping for good things in the future, when God’s Kingdom becomes an eternal reality, but living with hope as an ever present reality in our everyday lives – and Paul tells us how this is possible.

As Christians, Paul tells us that we can, rejoice in the hope of the glory of God…for we have been made right with God, justified through faith.

Our hope in the glory of God, is knowing that God will be faithful to us and that no matter what may happen in the present, God will always be with us and our future is secure in Him. And this security leads us to the second mention of hope in this passage, at the end of verse four, at the end of a chain of events which begins with tribulation and ends in hope.

Indeed because of this hope Paul tells us that we can rejoice in our tribulations, which, to be honest, might be the last thing we would think of at such a time. But we can rejoice, says Paul, because we can trust that God will help us through them, whatever they happen to be.

Suffering doesn’t disappear from our lives when we make a step of faith toward Jesus and I’m sure we can all testify to that, perhaps especially so today. But through faith in God we are given the strength to persevere long after our own ability to endure has come and gone. And as we learn to persevere through this faith, our character is strengthened, and as our character – strengthened not by our own devices but by our faith in God – grows, we are then able to look to the future with more and more hope.

And this hope does not disappoint, says Paul, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us. Our hope is well grounded – because God has already shown us what he can do for us by giving us his Holy Spirit to help and guide us until our ultimate hope is realized. The Holy Spirit in our lives is like a deposit made by God – a guarantee if you like- that one day all He has promised and much, much more will happen.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we find our ultimate hope in Him and as his disciples we must live lives that show this hope to be alive and real, today. That if we are called to task by those who mock and criticise our faith…our hope will leave them not only silent, but wanting – wanting to know that hope for themselves.

So I hope and pray that for all of us this morning, we hold on to this faith and hope. And when we are hit by hard, difficult and painful circumstances, we might realize that no matter how severe they are, that there is nothing that can extinguish the hope that God gives, and that such hope can in turn, lead us even closer to God.

So may the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives lead us to live lives full of hope – hope that steadies our hearts in the present and prepares us for the future…Amen

Loving God, we thank You for that sure and certain hope You have given to us through Your Son and our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and we ask that by Your Spirit You would help us to look to that hope each and every day of our lives. And we think especially today for those who may feel as if they have no hope – because of bereavement, because of illness, because of circumstance, because of situations in their lives that have left them feeling devastated and bereft of any and all hope and we ask that You be with them. We think also of those images we have seen all week on our televisions and we pray for a sense of unity between all Your children and an end to all discrimination. Loving God, with all we are facing at this time we know there may be many who might feel like this so we ask that You would draw each one close to You and hold each one in Your tender loving care, letting them know that You are with them and will remain with them in all they are going through, and that in You there is always hope. And be especially with those in our own families and our own communities, those known and closest to us, and let them know also that we too hold them in our hearts and are thinking of and praying for them at this time. And all these things we ask for in Jesus name…Amen.