Today the Scottish Government and the Church of Scotland confirmed that churches will be able to reopen this week from Friday 26th March. Therefore, as both Kirk Sessions have elected to do so and as we have been given Presbytery approval,we can open for Palm Sunday on the 28th at our usual times of 10.0am and 11.15am. Restrictions will still of course be in place – good hygiene practise, social distancing, giving contact details, sitting in household groups, wearing of face coverings and no singing. The limit on the number of people being permitted within churches is up to 50, however only if the space allows for social distancing to be maintained – but sadly neither of our churches allow for that to happen. At Bendochy Church the maximum number of people we will be able to allow in will be between 15 – 25 and that is dependent on the number of people within each household group. At the Abbey Church that number is between 30 – 42 people. For those unable to attend I still hope to put an audio recording of the service online, accessed via our website and available from around 2.00pm on Sunday.
‘…Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?…’ (Luke 18:18)
I wonder what kind of response we might get to this question if we were to include it in some kind of quiz? But perhaps the more important question for us to consider today is how we would respond to such a question. If someone came to you, as a Christian, and said, ……what must I do to inherit eternal life? How would you answer?
‘Teach me how to live, O Lord…’ (Psalm 27:11)
In any given week we are bombarded by advertisements, in all forms of media, telling us what we must do in order to live the best life possible. Many of these are of course from companies wishing to entice us to buy their products in order to find that perfect life, many come from health and fitness experts urging us to a healthier way of life and many come from various agencies suggesting new career paths that will bring us greater fulfilment in life.
Some of these ways be of help and some of them, particularly the ones that focus on health, may be essential as we seek to live the best life we possibly can each and every day. Yet for all that, if we truly want to live the best life we possibly can, we need to echo the words of the Psalmist here and come before the Lord. Through the teachings and example of our Saviour, His Word provides us with all the guidance we need and by His Holy Spirit He will help us to change from within that we may begin to walk more in step with our Lord – and that is how we should aim to live day by day.
This past week the Scottish Government has given a further update on when our churches might be able to reopen. If virus case numbers continue to fall then there is the possibility that churches will be able to reopen from Friday 26th of March, which would mean we could possibly be open for Palm Sunday on the 28th. Restrictions will still of course be in place – good hygiene practise, social distancing, sitting in household groups, wearing of face coverings and no singing. However, the limit on the number of people being permitted within the church indicated in the last update has now been changed and up to 50 people will now be allowed, however, only if the space allows for social distancing to be maintained – but sadly neither of our churches allow for that to happen. At Bendochy Church the maximum number of people we will be able to allow in will be between 15 – 25 and that is dependent on the number of people within each household group. At the Abbey Church that number is between 30 – 42 people.
Both Kirk Sessions are meeting this week to discuss this further and we hope to be in a position to reopen soon. However, I have to stress again that all of this is dependent on the virus case numbers continuing to fall and we will not receive any confirmation from the Church until after the Scottish Government update on Tuesday 23rd March. As soon as we hear any further news we will put it here on our website and a further update will be available on Wednesday the 24th – so please check again then.
‘Lord, if You heal me I will be truly healed; if You save me I will be truly saved…’ (Jeremiah 17:14)
As we journey through Lent and examine our relationship with the Lord, perhaps this verse from Jeremiah is one to reflect upon. All too easily, often without at first realising it, we get caught up in thinking what we can do to aid our salvation – we could become a better person, we could spend more time in devotion, we could be kinder to others, we could…….
Only when we give ourselves over to the Lord will we be made whole and saved.
‘I am the vine, you are the branches…’ (John 15:5)
Through the love of God in the giving of His one and only Son, the offer of salvation has been given to each and every one of us and as Christians we have embraced that offer and accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. However, in order to grow and blossom in our faith, in order to enable the fruit of the Holy Spirit to flourish within us, we need to remain at one with our Lord and we need to allow His Word to guide our lives each and every day, and allow His Spirit to transform us from within. Only then will we bear good fruit.
‘…Lord teach us how to pray…’ (Luke 11:1)
Prayer is the most powerful ‘gift’ we have been given by our Lord, yet, sadly. It is perhaps not used as often as it should be or in the way it should be. Prayer is essentially a dialogue between ourselves and God and in these few short verses, Luke 11:1-4, Jesus, in answer to the request of His Disciples, outlines what lies at the heart of any personal prayer we might take before the Lord. An acknowledgement of the holiness and glory of God, an acknowledgement of our dependence upon Him to supply our needs, an acknowledgement of our need for His forgiveness, an acknowledgement of our need to forgive others and an acknowledgement of our need for His strength and guidance to help us through each day.
But of course we can come to the Lord in prayer for many reasons other than personal reasons. Praying for the specific needs of others, praying for those in authority to govern us in accordance with the teachings of God, praying the Church of our Lord that it may flourish and grow, praying for those in areas of the world where there is famine, drought, conflict, poverty and depravation, praying for the homeless and the refugee – and I’m sure there are many more you could add.
No matter what form our prayers take, however, there are a few things we need to remember. First of all we need to believe – we need to believe in our heart and soul, with every ounce of our being, that God will listen and God will answer. However, we need to accept that the answer may not come in the manner or timeframe that we want it to. We also need to remember to allow time in our prayers to listen – to listen for that small voice of God speak gently to us as we speak to Him.
Prayer is not, or should not be, a ‘mechanical ritual’ that we go through. It is an opening of our heart to the Lord that we might commune with Him and draw close to Him – and there is nothing else compares to it when it comes to entering in to a deep and meaningful relationship with our Lord.
‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost…’ (Luke 19:10)
As we continue through Lent and reflect upon our own relationship and our own walk with the Lord, we need to be completely honest about where we are on that journey – about our failings and shortcomings and even those occasions when we have turned away from Him. Such reflection can of course be difficult, even painful, yet this verse surely brings such joy and hope to our hearts. Through His Son, God has come to us – He has come to us – to draw us back to Himself and offer us salvation for all eternity. Amen to that!
‘I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me there is no God…’ (Isaiah 45:5)
In Old Testament times there were many cultures and societies that worship a whole host of different ‘gods’, as there still is today. As Christians we can identify with this verse from Isaiah and say that we believe it to be true within our hearts. Yet still we have to be wary because the reality is that even for those who would make such a profession there are many other ‘gods’ that still seek to entice us away from our Lord today. Wealth, power, status, influence – I could go on. In our world today we are told that the acquisition or attainment of these is all we need. Yet even if we had all of these, and more, in abundance in our life but did not know our Lord, we would have and be nothing.