Friday, 16 October 2009

A fine line!

I had the curious experience last week of a title for a sermon that confused people! For the evening service I gave my sermon the title "Just relax! It's fine!" I did it deliberately. I wanted to find something that summed up Amos 6, but that also made people think! It was quoted back to me before the morning service as apiece of advice when I was feeling nervous, being taken at face value. Someone else came along wondering what it was all about, intrigued by the title.

"Just relax. It's fine!" On the face of it, this is an expression of peace and confidence. "Everything will turn out well; God is in His heaven and all's well with the world. Don't worry!" How good it is to have that kind of confidence in God, to be able to trust Him implicitly with every aspect of life and faith, to trust Him to be at work in His Church and for Him to have His people in His hands for our safety and well-being. I know lots of people for whom that kind of confidence is a pipe-dream, but were they to find it, what peace it would bring to their lives!

In fact, that's not what Amos 6 is about; so that's not what the sermon was about. Amos 6 is all about complacency; it is about a people who were relaxed and living a life of luxury for themselves while the poor are being down-trodden; their worship is a cause of sin; their attitudes are full of injustice; God has sent His prophet to call them to repentance and they are ignoring him, because everything is fine! Just relax; there's no need to repent! That's quite a different attitude. This is no longer a trusting confidence in God, but a blind ignoring of God and His Word.

How fine is the line between these two very different attitudes. There is not a million miles between these two contrasting views of life and faith; yet in reality they are poles apart.

When I came to Juniper Green some nine years ago, lots of people told me how great this congregation is. Despite all the history of conflict, there were people who recognised that the congregation had achieved a lot and had an enormous amount going for it. Last week , at the Kirk Session meeting, the elders heard from a number of groups doing children's work and other kids of service and they were all saying the same thing - we need more people to help with our work, new people who are willing to take on new responsibilities. There is a fine line between celebrating good things with glad confidence and then finding ourselves in a pickle of bother.

As a church, we can't sit back and bask in past glories; we have to keep pressing on for the future, so that the light of Christ continues to burn. I met someone at a wedding recently who is an elder in a Church in the city whose minister has just retired. She felt this was the death knell for their church because they would never find another minister in the current climate. She's not altogether right, but for the first time, she and her fellow-elders in a big, prosperous, comfortable Church had been shaken out of, perhaps, a sense of complacency.

"One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13,14)

Apply that to your life; apply that to your Church.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Be kinder than necessary!

The title of today's blog comes from Scripture Union's Word Live website; I use this website for my daily Bible reading at the moment; there are some written pieces, as you might expect, but also some pictures and audio clips, as well as worship songs to help us reflect on the bible passage that we've read. (

Over the last three weeks, the main UK political parties have held their party conferences, all of them aware that before the next one there will be a General Election. (The SNP conference will be held in the next two weeks, I would imagine!) So, if you've been paying attention, you might have formed an opinion, or judgement, on the relative merits of each party leader, the three main candidates for the job of Prime Minister; they are all hoping that you and I will be kind to them and vote for their party when the General Election comes around. They expect that people will make judgements about them and that they will even feature on the front pages of the newspapers and the editorial columns; indeed there are some politicians, you feel, would be disappointed not to be on the front pages.

We also make similar judgements about other people, one another. I'm constantly amazed at how scathing Christians can be of one another and how disbelieving. We form judgements of one another without really knowing all of the facts. So this quote: "Be kinder than necessary" and it goes on "for everyone is fighting some kind of battle!"

We can be very critical of people who don't come to Church as often as they once did, but do we know the struggles of their lives? Or of people who drift away from the faith and blame them for their backsliding, but do we ever stop to try to find out the reason for their drift? What struggles are they facing? You might take time to look at the comments on my last blog and see one reaction to what I said then; it might be sad and depressing to think that Christians behave in that way, but it is surely true. The General Assembly of 2008 commended a huge report on Conflict in the Church; some scoffed and said surely that's not real; but it is all too real, I'm sad to say.

The natural human instinct in our relationships with other people is the Old Testament version: "an eye for an eye" - getting our own back! Again the Word Live website: "an eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind!"

"Be kinder than necessary" is not the way any bible text expresses our relationships with other people, but it surely captures the essence of the command to "love your neighbour as yourself". We're very good doing what is just necessary and no more.

So next time you are about to be critical of someone:
  • a politician, a city councillor, a member of the proposed new community council - an ordinary person like you trying to do their job to the best of their ability.
  • a leader of the Church, minister or elder - an ordinary person, whom God has called to be your leader and who is trying be what God wants him or her to be, to the best of his or her ability.
  • a Church court (Kirk Session, presbytery, General Assembly) - made up of ordinary people like you and me, wrestling with big issues, trying to decide to the best of their ability.

Then "be kinder than necessary for everyone is fighting some kind of battle" of which you probably know nothing!