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Living under Empire's dark shadow

URC Daily Devotions - Sun, 03/11/2019 - 18:00
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Daily Devotions from the URC

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Dear <<First Name>>

I hope you've found the reflections from Scotland on The State We're In both interesting and helpful.  I realise they may have been a bit more challenging than you were expecting but we live in difficult times.  Our next series is also rather challenging but, again, I hope you find it useful.

In recent years many theologians have started to look at how the world views of people who live in, and under, Empires have affected how the Bible has been interpreted. 

The Bible was formed, written and edited in imperial ages - the mighty empires of Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome were the background to all the stories, teaching, poetry, hopes and despair of the Biblical writers.  When the Psalmist sat down and wept by the Rivers of Babylon, the Jewish people were formed anew in the crucible of imperial oppression; when Jesus was nailed to the Cross he was executed in the way the Romans dealt with those it held in utter contempt. 

Biblical writers struggled with the advantages of Empire - good roads and communications meaning the Gospel could be spread, and unimaginable oppression.

We still live in empires, but our empires now are harder to see - just as, it is believed, goldfish don’t perceive the water in which they live.  We have world powers who seek to rule as ruthlessly as their imperial forebears, we have economic systems at least as cruel as the ancient institution of slavery and most Daily Devotion readers live in lands which once ruled much of the globe.

The Biblical writers’ experience and critique of Empire has much to each us now.  Over the next 14 days two URC ministers, Peter Cruchley (the Mission Secretary for Mission Development of the Council for World Mission) and Gethin Rhys (Policy Officer for Cytun - Churches Together in Wales) will help us reflect on the interaction between the ancient Biblical witness in the context of Empire and our own contemporary situation.  Their reflections are insightful, challenging, at times controversial but, I hope, rewarding as we look at familiar passages in unfamiliar ways.


I hope you find the Devotions thought provoking.  Remember you can always use the link, above, to forward a Devotion to a friend you may think would like to subscribe.

with every good wish


Andy


The Rev'd Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC
 
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URC Daily Devotion 3rd November 2019

URC Daily Devotions - Sun, 03/11/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 3rd November
Psalm 121

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
Where am I to look for my aid?
2 My help comes to me from the LORD
By whom earth and heaven were made.

3 Your foot he will not leave to slide—
His watch over you he will keep.
4 The LORD over Isr’el keeps watch,
And he will not slumber or sleep.

5 The LORD will keep watch over you—
Your shade from the heat and the light.
6 The sun will not harm you by day;
The moon will not harm you by night.

7 The LORD will protect you from harm—
Your life he will ever defend.
8 He’ll guard every step that you take
Both now and for days without end.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune Solihull here


Reflection

Our work in ‘Praying the Psalms’ is somehow to bring the stylised disciplined speech of the Psalms together with the raw, ragged, mostly formless experience in our lives.”  So writes Walter Brueggeman in his eponymous book. Unless we can do that we are left with a beautiful poem of hope and expectation, an assurance of being surrounded and caught up and held in the love of God whatever may happen which may or may not stand up to the test of raw experience when it hits us between the eyes.  

This Psalm is often chosen for funerals and we can see why. My help will come from the Lord when I journey through the thickly wooded mountains full of predators and unknown horrors is a comfort and encouragement at our times of deepest sorrow and regret.  Pilgrims singing this song on their way to Jerusalem will have found the courage to put one foot in front of the other as we can in our own time. But this is not a charm nor a talisman to guarantee safety or protection and it is not a blithe reassurance that with God all things shall be well - for what happens when things do not turn out as this seems to promise?

Instead it is a confident hope based on hard-won experience over rough terrain and many hidden ravines that when we travel onwards and upwards God will be alongside in the journey and in the destination.  Security does not lie in a location or a person or an institution. Our help comes ultimately from the maker of heaven and earth.

So let us lift our eyes rather than bowing our heads and know that we stand on good firm holy ground. 

Prayer

“As we look towards the mountains we have yet to climb grant us that confidence and hope that keeps us going and assurance that all shall be well for you are with us each step of the way” 

Dr David Livingstone, missionary, abolitionist and explorer, read this prayer on the quayside before he left for Africa.  



 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d  Carole Elphick is a retired Transitional minister worshipping at Muswell Hill in London.  
 
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Sing Psalms! (C) The Psalmody Committee, The Free Church of Scotland
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URC Daily Devotion 2nd November 2019

URC Daily Devotions - Sat, 02/11/2019 - 06:00
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Saturday 2nd November
The State We’re in...Despise not the Small
  
Zechariah 4:6-10

He said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’ Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel. ‘These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.’
 
Reflection
 
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – a question generally aimed at eliciting a child’s vocational aspirations and ambitions – sometimes gets the answer ‘Big’, which was indeed the response of Tom Hanks in the comedy film of that name. Whether we are talking about nations or persons, the attractions of largeness are apparent – status, agency, resources, rewards, power. Bigness can be imagined as beautiful (as President Trump is reported as saying of the Oval Office and his presidential responsibilities), inverting the thinking of a significant 1970s book, Small is Beautiful. Is smallness now to be viewed with disdain?
 
My kindly PhD examiner, the late Canon Donald Allchin, suggested that ‘a small nation is not the same as a large nation’, not least in terms of power (over). Of course, small nations can be petty and mediocre and delusional and sometimes even rogue. Smallness does not inevitably save any from perpetrating wrong (and my nation of Scotland historically has embraced enthusiastically the imperial aspirations of larger neighbours). Yet, in their relative weakness and vulnerability, small nations may (at their best) have an orientation towards creative dynamics, awareness of interdependence, avoidance of a desire for dominance, a sense of community inside and outwith, an alignment with others’ vulnerability, and the seeking a world role rooted in other than economic, political or indeed military power.

To suggest this is neither to be blind where history tells another story, nor to claim some moral high ground. The best instincts of small nations come in part from the realisation that they are denied the possibilities of a large nation. For many in the smaller nations, however, there is perhaps a sense that some talk of recovering greatness feels alien, not least because we are trying to explore what smallness, weakness and vulnerability mean for us in
the world today.
 
Prayer
 
God, your power is exercised in enabling humanity to reflect your love and peace and justice for the world you have made.

Saviour, your power is expressed most fully in the vulnerability of the Cross for the sake of the world to whom you came. 

Holy Spirit, your power is at work when we humbly embrace the potential of the weak in power to challenge and to change how we live together. Amen.
 
 
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Dr Jack Dyce is a retired URC minister, a former Principal of the Scottish United Reformed & Congregational College, and now its Emeritus Professor of Nordic Theology. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 1st November 2019

URC Daily Devotions - Fri, 01/11/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 1st November
The State We're In....The End of Empire

1 Kings 12: 1 - 15
 
Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt.  And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.’  He said to them, ‘Go away for three days, then come again to me.’ So the people went away.
 
Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’  They answered him, ‘If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.’  But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, ‘What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put on us”?’ The young men who had grown up with him said to him, ‘Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us”; thus you should say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.”’
 
So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had said, ‘Come to me again on the third day.’ The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him  and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

Reflection

People all over the country are feeling the strain.  Work is crippling with long hours and low pay. Housing is poor.  Food is scarce for many. People are barely getting by and they are being made to work ever harder by a leader who wants only to increase his own power and influence and the wealth of his followers.  The leader is presented with legitimate demands by representatives of the people to improve their working conditions in return for greater productivity and loyalty and he takes advice from the wise old men who have seen it all before.  They council mercy, but the bullish new leader, keen to show just how tough he is, listens to his younger advisors who are keen to get more as quickly as they can, and at any cost. They even countenance further enslaving their own people as well as the foreigners they have already forced into punishing jobs that the locals don’t want to do.  And they say the Bible has nothing to say about current affairs!

Empire is attractive.  At least for those who are in charge and those who benefit from the exploitation of others.  But what happens when those who are at the sharp end decide that enough is enough?

What happens when a different story about who we are and what is important begins to take hold?  A story that says that everyone belongs, that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. That the resources of the country should be for the benefit of all the people, not just some of them.  It’s no surprise that when two groups of people see themselves in very different ways that separation would be on the agenda.

In Rehoboam’s time that’s exactly what happened.  The Northern and Southern parts of the Kingdom split because people eventually decide that enough is enough.

As Burns wrote: 

O wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as ithers see us! 
It wad frae mony a blunder free us, 
An' foolish notion: 
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us, 
An' ev'n devotion!

Prayer

God of all,
not just me,
not just people like me,
not even of just the people I like,
you have given us the power
to see ourselves as others see us.
 
When we look hard enough
our differences fall away
and we see that we are all made in your image,
precious and loved by you.
 
Open our eyes to each other
and our hearts.
Amen
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Stewart Cutler is minister of St Ninian’s Church in Stonehouse - a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Church of Scotland and the URC. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 31st October 2019

URC Daily Devotions - Thu, 31/10/2019 - 06:00
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Thursday 31st October
The State We're In....Fake News

Genesis 9: 20 - 29
 
Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.  He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent.   And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backwards and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.  When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
 
‘Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’
 
He also said,
 
‘Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem;  and let Canaan be his slave.
May God make space for  Japheth,
    and let him live in the tents of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his slave.’
 
After the flood Noah lived for three hundred and fifty years.  All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.
 
Reflection
 
We live in an era when we can no longer trust the news.  The plurality of TV channels - some owned by other countries - means it’s hard to know what’s accurate; social media intersperses cute images of puppies with political campaigning and messaging (well it does in my Facebook feed!).  During the EU referendum Michael Gove famously decried the input of experts (1) and Mr Trump has made famous the slogan “fake news”. It is hard to know if what we read, or view, is trustworthy. This isn’t new. 
 
Today’s, little known, story from Genesis is ignored these days.   Noah’s curse was against Canaan yet generations of Christians suggested this was the “curse of Ham” who, despite no evidence, was depicted as black.  Ham’s supposed curse became part of a complex Biblical justification of the enslavement of black people. Slavery per se didn’t need much justification as the Bible, generally, condones it.  Some justification was needed, however, as to why pagan Africans could be enslaved but Christian Europeans couldn’t. It took abolitionists several generations to persuade people that this was a misuse of the Bible.  
 
Our nations are weary of Brexit - at the time of writing it’s not clear what Brexit may look like.  Experts are derided, news sources are treated with suspicion and we live in an age where our institutions are distrusted.  Many in Scotland believe the media to be partisan. Many in the Labour party believe the mainstream news is biased against their political vision for the future.  Many in European institutions believe the British press lied in its coverage of European affairs. This distrust, and the reasons for it, harms both our democracy and our civic institutions.  
 
As Christians one thing of value that we can add to the current state we’re in is to be trustworthy ourselves, to check our facts and to be accurate in our words and actions.  We can also play our part in calling out “fake news” and helping folk to, again, respect experts.
 
1.  https://www.ft.com/content/3be49734-29cb-11e6-83e4-abc22d5d108c  


Prayer

O God,

through your Word of truth all things came to be;
we live, move and have our being in your gentle embrace.
Help our words to be true,
our critiques to be fair,
and our politics to be just.
Amen.
 
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Today's writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston ministers with four churches in and around Glasgow.  He is the Editor of the Daily Devotions. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 30th October 2019

URC Daily Devotions - Wed, 30/10/2019 - 06:00
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Wednesday 30th October
The State We’re In...A Blessed Empire?

 2 Samuel 7: 1-2, 18-28
 
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’...Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God; you have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come. May this be instruction for the people, O Lord God!  And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant may know it. Therefore you are great, O Lord God; for there is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. Who is like your people, like Israel? Is there another nation on earth whose God went to redeem it as a people, and to make a name for himself, doing great and awesome things for them, by driving out[g] before his people nations and their gods?  And you established your people Israel for yourself to be your people for ever; and you, O Lord, became their God. And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it for ever; do as you have promised. Thus your name will be magnified for ever in the saying, “The Lord of hosts is God over Israel”; and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, “I will build you a house”; therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you.   And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant; now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue for ever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed for ever.’

Reflection

Writing this in August means that I have no idea what will happen tomorrow; will we leave, or will we stay?  I can be sure that there will be a legacy of our time in the European Union.  

In the passage from Samuel we read of King David settling into his house and, most significantly, enjoying a rest from his enemies and this rest was a gift from God.  David did not claim that he was responsible for his house, for the peace he enjoyed or for anything else. He thanked the Lord for providing it all.

It is 400 years since the first slaves arrived in America which was part of the English (later British) Empire and those slaves worked and died to make many men rich.  The attitude of the slave owners was that some people were inferior and could be used however their masters wished. Has this changed or is modern day trafficking and slavery part of a legacy from those times?  Over the past couple of years, I have spoken to many people who say that they want out of Europe because they don’t want immigrants coming to Britain. Is their attitude another legacy of the time of the British Empire?

We can’t change everyone’s attitude, but we can follow the example of David and thank God for all that we have.  We can lead by example and welcome immigrants and show how much they contribute to the United Kingdom. We can also follow the instruction of Paul in 1 Timothy 2 “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Prayer

Loving God,
I thank you for all that you are.
I ask you to give wisdom and strength to our leaders at this time.
Lead them in a way that will bring peace and unity across this land.
I pray for the all leaders and citizens across Europe 
and the whole of your world that they will work together for peace.
I pray that these leaders, and citizens will work towards a solution to climate chaos that threatens your creation.
Thank you for hearing my prayer
In the name of Jesus your son

Amen
 
 
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Today's writer

John Collings, Lay Preacher, member of Rutherglen URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 29th October 2019

URC Daily Devotions - Tue, 29/10/2019 - 06:00
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Tuesday 29th October
The State We’re In...A Global Britain?

Jonah 3: 1-10, 4: 1-5
 
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying,  ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’  So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.  Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water.  Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’ When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
 
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.  But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.  And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
 
Reflection
 
Jesus talks in the Gospels of ‘the sign of Jonah’, and how the three days in the whale might be compared to the three in the tomb. The other aspect of the ‘sign’ concerns the Ninevans - seemingly oblivious of Jonah’s  intra-cetacean transportation.  For me, the “Sign of Jonah” is, therefore, that Nineveh took notice and embraced change without first having to experience disaster. Indeed, without any need for religious conversion, or a detailed fact-check.
 
Would that my ministry as environmental chaplain could be blessed with such an impact: change, from top to bottom, forestalling disaster. Not excluding animal life!
 
The strong prospect of the elimination of environmental regulations following Brexit has always been sufficient in itself for me to oppose the severing of ties which, perhaps, embarrass those who speak of a ‘global’ Britain, because they involve obligations to neighbours.  Neighbours who might, in the lifetime of my grandparents, have been seen as enemies, or pathetic recipients of aid.
 
The prospect of global climate catastrophe makes a brutal mockery of any, and every, form of isolationism. In Christ, as throughout the Earth in which He has become incarnate, there is neither Scot nor English, Welsh nor French, Irish nor Hungarian. Neither European, nor African, neither American nor Asian…
 
The flip-side of the life-enriching variety of human culture is also, always, the tragedy of providing an excuse to disregard the voice of those thus rendered ‘foreign’.  What is more foreign than the prophetic call for an end to the complacent status quo of endless exploitative growth or an end to our fossil fuel addiction?
 
Compared with the global damage already done, and the harm yet ‘in the pipeline’, the haggling over our relations with European neighbours is a triviality. And yet this smokescreen of identity politics has rendered us more alien to our own interests than were the Ninevites to the contemptuous mystical prophet, as presented with sharply biting humour in this satirically spiritual story.
 
Prayer
 
Dear God!
Dear God!
Help us to love ourselves enough
to love our neighbour that much,
and the Earth we’re both made of
to finally take some notice
of the voice of the Earth
through the signs of our times.
(And your love in the fact of the warning.)
We pray for the sign of Jonah
here, now,
right now
in us
Dear God!
Dear God!
Amen! -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d David Coleman is chaplain to Eco-Congregations, Scotland Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 28th October 2019

URC Daily Devotions - Mon, 28/10/2019 - 06:00
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Monday 28th October
The State We’re In...Imperial Nostalgia

Deuteronomy 7: 1-5
 
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you —  and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire.
 
Reflection

It can be dangerous to step out of the present and go in to the past when looking to the future. The risk is that in doing so we apply the filter of nostalgia, which distorts our remembering and subtlety leads us to a sentimental connection to and longing for all that was good and better but is no more.

Much of the debate prior to the European Referendum applied this filter when concerns about potential adverse implications on trade relations with our European partners were raised. Claims were made that there were other trade opportunities with reference given to the Commonwealth, old colonies and past dominions.

As a filter of imperial nostalgia was applied, the power abuse, destruction, injustice, killing and evil of the past failed to register. Indeed, it was such trade relations that built the grandeur of some of our cities and in particular busy thoroughfares in Glasgow such as Jamaica Street and Virginia Street. Imperial nostalgia is dangerous because is prevents us from seeing Empire for what it is, the costs it brought and the people, groups and organisations involved, including the Church.

Ancient Israel had imperial ambitions and believed they had authority from God to do all it took in order to dominate and control the people and land around them for their own gain. Such passages from Deuteronomy have been used as justification for many horrific experiences at many times and in many places. Yet we know that God always shows a preference for the weak, the poor and the oppressed, even when sadly, God’s people are the oppressors.

Applying a filter of imperial nostalgia carries many dangers as we look from the present to the future, and discern God’s guidance and will.

Prayer

God of all time,
forgive our past actions.
Forgive our past understanding.
Make us learn from what was;
recognise what is;
and discern your will for what is to be.
Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d David Scott is the Minister of Duke Street in Leith and Saughtonhall in Edinburgh. Copyright
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URC Daily Devotion 27th October 2019

URC Daily Devotions - Sun, 27/10/2019 - 06:00
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Sunday 27th October

Psalm 120

1 I call upon the LORD in my distress;
He listens to my prayer and answers me.
2 Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips
And from all tongues that speak deceitfully.

3 What will he do to you, deceitful tongue?
What more besides will be your fitting doom?
4 With warriors’ arrows he will pierce you through,
And punish you with burning coals of broom.

5 What misery to live in Meshech’s land,
In Kedar’s tents, among my enemies!
6 With people loving strife I’ve lived too long;
7 They are for war, but I’m a man of peace.

Reflection
 
My personal spiritual journey is currently taking me on a year-long prayerful stroll through the New Testament.  My focus is on what it teaches us about prayer. As well as the various questions of prayer - the who, what, where, when, why and how from which we can all learn and apply for ourselves -  I’m finding many prompts for prayer, even when the subject of prayer itself isn’t being discussed.
 
In this short Psalm of just seven verses, thought to have been written by Jeremiah, we are given the same opportunity.  It begins with a reminder that whenever we turn to the Lord, He will answer us. This assurance should encourage us to pray.  Verse 2 asks specifically that we be protected from people speaking falsely about us. 
 
A recurring theme in both Scripture and prayer is that of peace, considered here in verses 6 & 7.  It prompts me to think about parts of the world which currently don’t know what peace feels like. It leads me to pray for those who are working hard to bring peace to our troubled world.  Most of all, though, it challenges me to think about what I’m doing to bring about a peaceful world and to pray for God’s guidance in achieving what I can. How might this Psalm lead you in prayer?

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
thank you that we can turn to You in Prayer, 
knowing that You are always being there for us.
As we serve You, may we be protected from those who may speak ill of us and of You.
We pray for peace in our world and for all those working for it.  
Help us to do whatever we can.
In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Amen!
 
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Today's writer

Jeff Newall, Lay Preacher, Christ the Vine Community Church, Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes Copyright
Sing Psalms (C) The Psalmody Committee, the Free Church of Scotland
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The State We're In

URC Daily Devotions - Sat, 26/10/2019 - 07:55
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The State We're In

We hope you enjoyed our journey through the Letter to the Philippians and found it useful in both increasing your understanding of this letter and in inspiring you in your daily discipleship. Our next series, which started this morning, is from Scotland and is a little different but we hope you will find it useful at this time of great uncertainty for our country.  

The United Kingdom finds itself in what might, euphemistically, be called “interesting times”.  For the last three years two governments have tried, so far without success, to both negotiate an agreement to leave the European Union and persuade the House of Commons to legislate to give legal effect to that deal.   We have had extensions to Brexit, threats of leaving without a deal - and much speculation about what leaving that way would mean - promises of General Elections, cases heard in the highest courts of our land, and, as I write we don't know if the EU will grant Parliament's latest request for an extension until 31st January next year or if we're leaving next Thursday.  It's quite a state we're in!

Across the UK there was a narrow majority of 52% to leave the EU but Scotland voted by 62% to remain (and Northern Ireland by 56% to remain) and now finds itself having to leave without its consent.  Believing that our Devotions should inform, and be informed by, our context, various writers who live and work in Scotland have crafted seven Devotions which, we hope,  will stimulate discussion, thought, and prayer in this pivotal week. We want to be able to speak about the State We’re In as our context rapidly changes.  

Our Devotions this week are not partisan but use the backdrop of Brexit to help us reflect on the State We're In.  Craig Jesson, who serves as a minster to three churches in Lanarkshire, reflected on repentance in the Bible and the need for it over our imperial past.  David Scott, who serves two churches in Edinburgh, thinks about how imperial nostalgia influenced both the people of Israel and how we think now.  David Coleman, the Synod of Scotland's Eco-Chaplain ponders the signs of the times in Jonah and the possibility of a change in environmental regulations that protect us.  John Collings, a member of Rutherglen URC and a lay preacher, makes links between slavery in Biblical times, at the time of the Union, and modern day slavery.  I work in four churches in Glasgow, East Renfrewshire and East Ayrshire, and reflect on fake news looking at a passage in Genesis which was misused for generations to justify the enslavement of black people.  Stewart Cutler, minister of St Ninian's Stonehouse, ponders the end of Empire and the division of the Kingdom of Israel. Jack Dyce, the Emeritus Professor of Nordic Theology at the Scottish College, concludes this short series pondering Zechariah's admonition to despise not the small.

We hope these reflections from Scotland help us all to think about our current political debates and dilemmas with a different perspective as we seek to unite our discipleship with our rôle as active citizens.

with every good wish



Andy


Andy Braunston
Co-ordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC
 
 
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URC Daily Devotion 26th October 2019

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Saturday 26th October
The State We’re In - Repentance

St Luke 19: 1 - 10
 
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed a Sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’  Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Reflection
 
At the heart of Brexit is a desire, primarily by the more southerly residents of the United Kingdom, to "take back control" and not to be an equal partner in a family of European nations.  This is fed by the, erroneous, myth of British  exceptionalism and a looking back to the false glory of Empire.  

All parts of Britain gained and profited from the Empire. As a result of a failed overseas project, brought about by Westminster in its desire to persuade Scotland to unite and benefit from joint empire building, the Scottish Lairds and noblemen voted for the Union of the Parliaments in 1707.  In the aftermath of that Union, Scotland and the other countries of the Union profited excessively from the exploitation of other nations and, thence,  the slave trade. A traveller on a journey down the Firth of Clyde today, may visit communities such as Kilcreggan, Cove, Blairmore, Rothesay, Tighnabruaich, or Largs, and marvel at the numerous very large country houses and castles;  many of these were built directly or indirectly by the profits of Scottish Caribbean or American plantations and the capture, trade and exploitation of African people as slave labour.

Other imperial powers have had to repent - Japan and Germany in particular – and, as a result of coming to terms with their past, have flourished.  Britain, like Russia and America hasn't come to terms with our imperial designs - nor, in our case, a loss of Empire.  What might repentance look like in the context of empire given that our Union was an imperialist project?  

For Zacchaeus repentance meant putting things right not just expressing sorrow. Making financial reparations would bankrupt the United Kingdom, but, perhaps, eradicating racism in our country by channelling vast amounts of money into predominantly black or Asian communities for social, educational, medical and mental welfare improvements might be a good start. If we were to improve the quality and availability of social housing, remove the postcode lottery from good NHS healthcare, improve schools and make universities more accessible, then we might begin to make right some of the wrongs that still haunt our own land. 

If we were to clamber up that Sycamore tree to better see Jesus, I wonder…would he walk right past us, or would he see promise in us as he saw in Zacchaeus.

Prayer

Loving God, 
help us to reform our thinking. 
May we seek to become a people of potential, like Zacchaeus. 
May we work together to eradicate individual and community inequality. 
May we become a nation, 
renown for the way we share our wealth 
so that poverty and inequality 
have no place in any of our communities. 
We can do this, gracious God, 
with your help and by your grace. Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev'd Craig Jesson is Minister of Park URC, Airdrie; Coatbridge URC and Cumbernauld URC in Lanarkshire. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 25th October 2019

URC Daily Devotions - Fri, 25/10/2019 - 06:00
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Friday 25th October

Philippians 4: 14 - 23

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once.  Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The friends[i] who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Reflection

Seemingly, Philippi had a reputation from the earliest days for their generation. Their generosity was seen by Paul as a sacrifice to God that Paul describes as “an odour of sweet savour”, a description often used in the Old Testament to describe a sacrifice that was acceptable to God. (Genesis 8 v 21 and Leviticus 1v 9, 13, 17). Paul was pleased with the gift because their generosity was an expression of their love for others. It was not as if Paul either requested their help or even needed it.

It seems that in the 20th Century that the  spirit of generosity had been lost. My wife tells the story of an experience she had as a teenager in the 1950’s. The church she attended at that time had arranged an outing for the children as a reward for regular attendance at Sunday school. The only issue being that the adults organising the event felt the children should pay towards the cost. My wife Beryl, being Beryl, argued that as a reward the children should enjoy the treat free of charge as earlier treats for which a charge had been made had made a profit for the church, but the adults attending might pay a contribution to the costs. Her argument went down like a lead balloon. The attitude was one of protecting the financial status of the church rather than reach out in generosity to encourage the children to  come to learn more about the love of Jesus.

Returning to Philippi, Paul concludes with greetings to members of that congregation. Especially, he greets Christians who were members of “Caesar’s household”, not his family, but members of the civil service. Clearly, Christians had infiltrated the highest authority in the land.

Prayer

Generous God, willing to even sacrifice Your Son at Calvary for the forgiveness of our weaknesses and sin. Help us to be generous to those who are both near and far away. May our actions be a reflection of your generosity to us, even though we don’t deserve it.    Amen. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister, worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 24th October 2019

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Thursday 24th October

Philippians 4: 10 - 13

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.  Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
 
Reflection

We learn in these verses how pleased Paul was to receive the Philippians’ gift and he reassures them that he knew he was in their thoughts and prayers even though they were not able to support him in other ways.  He explains that he has learnt the gift of content in all situations. He no longer has earthly desires, but seeks only to serve God.

These words of Paul reminded me of the introduction to the Spiritual Exercises of the 16th Century Spanish priest and theologian, Ignatius of Loyola. These are a set of meditations and prayers written to help people discern the will of God in their lives. Here Ignatius said that all things in this world are gifts from God, given so that we may know God more and be more able to return the love that God has showered on us.

We know that everything we have comes from God – my tablet computer, my bank account, my job, my friends and family.  So we appreciate and use all these gifts from God as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts becomes the centre of our lives, then we hinder our growth towards our goal of loving God more and more.  We need to sit lightly with worldly gifts, not allowing our desire for them to overwhelm our desire for God.

There are similar thoughts too in the Methodist Covenant service.  All these words – of Paul, Ignatius and John Wesley are about a commitment to being disciples and putting God first in our lives and in everything about our lives – what we do, what we say and who we are. If we have found true love, then we love no matter what happens and always choose the better option for our love to thrive.  It’s all about trusting God who loves us to the uttermost.
 
Prayer

(One version of the Methodist Covenant prayer)

Lord my God, when your love spilled over into creation you thought of me.
I am from love, of love, for love.
Let my heart, O God, always recognise and cherish
and enjoy your goodness in all creation.
Direct all that is in me toward your praise.
Teach me reverence for every person, all things.
Energize me in your service.
May nothing ever distract me from your love,
neither health nor sickness, wealth or poverty,
honour or dishonour, long life or short life.
Give me only your love and your grace – that is enough for me. Amen -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d Sue Henderson, retired URC minister, member of Central Bath URC. Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 23rd October 2019

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Wednesday 23rd October

Philippians 4: 8 - 9

Finally, beloved,  whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
 
Reflection

Paul was writing at a time of great conflict and strife, both for writer and reader. Indeed, Paul begins the letter by talking of his impending sentencing in Rome, and his faith in the face of death. 

The Church in Philippi was not carefree either. It was struggling with the tensions that every church group faces. Yet still, in spite of all of these difficulties, Paul tells his readers to strive after everything that is good. 

In our world, the future may look bleak. As I write, the Brexit negotiations are seemingly at a standstill, the new Prime Minister is facing opposition from many quarters, and the conflict between the President of the United States and some Congresswomen has only just disappeared from the front pages of the newspapers. 

Paul’s message, however, still applies. 

In his book ‘Let me commend’, Dr William Sangster explores how faith and evangelism may be just what the troubled world needs. Although seeking and sharing Jesus’ love with those around us may not seem to make a huge difference to world affairs, or even seem ‘irrelevant’, just imagine what would happen if every Christian in the world brought the message of the Gospel to just one other person. 

Dr Sangster ends a chapter by saying: ‘The Gospel is relevant. However irrelevant it has seemed [to others], it has proved itself in age after age of crisis to be matched to world need. Our business is to proclaim it. The only question is ‘How?’’

We can only proclaim the Gospel to others if we seek and strive after it ourselves. We must, therefore, ‘Keep on doing the things that we have learned and received and heard and seen …, and the God of peace will be with us.’

Prayer:

God’s word, for all their craft and force,
One moment will not linger,
But, spite of hell, shall have its course
’Tis written by His finger. 
And though they take our life, 
Goods, honour, children, wife,
Yet is their profit small;
These things shall vanish all,
The city of God remaineth. 

‘A safe stronghold our God is still, written by Martin Luther, tr. by Thomas Carlyle, Congregational Praise #485’  You can hear a choir sing it here. -->

Today's writer

Michael RJ Topple, Lay Pastoral Asst of Long Melford URC and Lay Preacher, Member of Chappel URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 22nd October 2019

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Tuesday 22nd October

Philippians 4: 1 - 7

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Reflection

The first time I saw Hamlet I was surprised how familiar the text was, even though I’d never read the play; reading Philippians can be a bit like that, as you suddenly find you’re reading a text you’ve frequently sung.  This passage inspired two entries in Rejoice and Sing - 286 (Rejoice in the Lord always)  is probably more familiar, but 516 (We Praise You Lord For All That’s True and Pure) is definitely worth a look.   I am fond of the anthem attributed to John Redford - you can hear the Cambridge Singers’ recording here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQ1cyLvdBc4

It is striking that in the closing section of a letter he might have expected to be his last, Paul’s instruction is to rejoice in the Lord - rather than to regret his imprisonment, repent, or prepare for the end times, for example.  What does that mean for us?  Some of us may be a little hesitant to do too much rejoicing, lest our worship seem triumphalist, insensitive to members of our community who aren’t feeling there is much to celebrate in their lives, or that we suggest the church is a cosy, self-satisfied club.  But it is surely vital to communicate the joy of the Gospel, and not just the responsibilities of service and living a holy life.  After all, as our fore-runners in the faith put it in the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

“What is the chief end of [humanity]?
[Humanity]’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever”

It may feel a tricky balance to strike, but let’s make sure we make space for rejoicing in our lives and the lives of our churches.  Rejoice with parents welcoming a longed-for child; rejoice with those falling in love; rejoice with those succeeding in work or study; rejoice with those making a new commitment to God; Rejoice in the Lord!

Prayer

Lord, we rejoice in the gift of life, and the opportunities of each day;
in the way we live our lives today, may we show we are rejoicing in you.

Open our eyes to the textures of life, the rough and the smooth;
help us recognise our blessings, even at the times we struggle.
And each in our own way, may we rejoice,
and know your peace in our hearts and in our minds.
Amen. -->

Today's writer

Gordon Woods, Elder, St. Columba’s URC, Oxford Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 21st October

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Monday 21st October

Philippians 3: 17 - 21

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.  For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
 
Reflection

Who are our heroes? To whom do we look up and try and copy?  We have so many role models nowadays… footballers, models, pop stars… we try and follow the fashions they wear (although usually the nearest we can get to their style is by wearing something we got from the market that copies their look), the lifestyle they live. We follow their every move and thought on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. We want to be like them. We want to BE them. We do ourselves harm by not eating so that we might look like them. Some people even have cosmetic surgery in order to look more like their heroes.

Of course, none of them, or not many at least, are ‘enemies of Christ’. But they distract us from trying to be more like the one we all profess to follow. We search and yearn for earthly things when we know that these might give short term pleasure and satisfaction at best.

But there ARE worthy role models in our world today. Greta Thunberg is a modern day prophet trying to warn us about how we are in real danger of ruining God’s creation. J K Rowling and Bill Gates are giving away vast portions of their wealth to help make life better for people with fewer opportunities than they have. And there are others – in our churches and communities. And it is their example that we should be following. So why aren’t we?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to nip down to the market…

Prayer

Loving God,
Help us not to be distracted by the glitz and glamour of our world,
by those who seem to have it all but do nothing with it.
Help us to see that, in following your Son more closely,
we can be examples of your love to the people we meet. Amen. -->

Today's writer

Leo Roberts, Children and Youth Development Officer for the North Western Synod of the United Reformed Church
  Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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URC Daily Devotion 20th October 2019

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Sunday 20th October

Psalm 119: 169-176

Let my cry come before you, O LORD;
Give me insight as pledged in your word.
May my pleading gain access to you;
Save my life, as you promised to do.

May my lips overflow with your praise,
For you teach me your statutes always.
May my tongue sing aloud of your word;
Your commandments are righteous, O LORD.

May your hand be stretched out for my aid,
Since by choice your commands I’ve obeyed.
I desire your salvation to see,
And your law is delightful to me.

Let me live and I’ll praise you in song;
May your laws give me help to go on.
Seek your servant who strayed like a sheep,
For your precepts I steadfastly keep.

Reflection

David is reaching the end of this, the longest, Psalm.  He continues to refer to the law of God, he has called it different things, here he uses Word, in Hebrew imrah, and this means anything God has spoken, commanded, or promised.

We can echo these feelings of David, we need insight and it is good to know that God has promised this to us.  We can rejoice that our lives have been saved, not by our pleading but by the gift of Jesus who God sent into this world.

We can praise God for all that we have learned from Him.  We know that God stretched out His hand as we know how He gave us His Son to be sacrificed for us.  David wrote that his lips were overflowing with praise, how much more should we be praising secure in the knowledge that we have the Holy Spirit with us at all times.  We can praise because we do not need to earn our salvation, Jesus earned it for us.

We do not need to struggle on alone as God does stretch out His arm to aid us.  Our salvation has been fully revealed to us. Luke records the words of Simeon who cradled the infant Jesus in his arms and said “my eyes have seen your salvation”.  Luke 2:30. We have the word of God revealed in both the old and new testaments. Like David we can praise God in song and while we know that we have often strayed like a lost sheep we can reply upon Jesus, the shepherd, to protect us and lead us gently back to where we can find peace and security with Him.

Prayer

Loving God,
We thank you that we have your word, both the word as the bible and the living word who is Jesus.
We thank you for all your promises to us and for the life that we enjoy in your presence.
We thank you for the love of Jesus and for your Holy Spirit our comforter.
We ask that we will always remember to turn to you when we need help or support

Amen


You can hear, a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this Psalm to the tune Mulchaich here
 
 
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Today's writer

John Collings.  Lay Preacher, member of Rutherglen URC Copyright
Sing Psalms (C) The Psalmody Committee of the Free Church of Scotland
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URC Daily Devotion 19th October 2019

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Saturday 19th October

Philippians 3: 12-16

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you.  Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Reflection

The theme of today’s text follows on from yesterday’s. The ‘goal’ mentioned by Paul is knowing the the Risen Christ, a life-long relationship which available for everyone. For Paul, he is focused and unswerving – even single-minded – towards his goal.

Wherever there is a goal, there is also a journey towards the goal.

Recently, a friend invited me to join him at his weekly paddle-sport club at a local reservoir, an experience which inspired this reflection.

As I knelt in the canoe, paddle in hand, the instructor recommended that I have a goal in mind, like a point on the opposite bank of the reservoir. It was a lovely summer’s evening with little wind, and as long as I kept my strokes to the left and right even, I made good progress towards my goal.  Occasionally, I had a stronger or weaker stroke to one side which threw me off course. Also, there were slight gusts of wind which affected my course. If I allowed my thoughts to wander, or take my eye of my goal, I was more likely to go off-course.

As individuals, and as church communities, we are “Walking the Way” towards our goal. We have stronger and weaker days which affect our faith journey, like my paddling strokes. There are times when we are affected by external events, like the wind against my canoe; and sometimes, we are temporarily distracted and lose sight of our goal.

I also learnt on the reservoir that regaining control towards my goal needed care – it was easy to overcompensate and end up going off-course in a different direction! The same can so easily be true in our lives and Walk.

Finally, my evening in the canoe reminded me that the journey can be fun, too!

Prayer

Risen Christ,
You met Your Disciples on the shore,
and they began their Journeys.
You calmed the stormy sea,
and they knelt in awe of Your power.
You walked throughout Judea,
and they learnt how to walk Your Way.
You gave Yourself up and yet rose in glory,
and You were theirs all until their last days.
Source, Guide, and Goal of all that is:
be for us, as You were for them. Amen. -->

Today's writer

Walt Johnson, Elder, Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC, Chorlton, Manchester Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion

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Friday 18th October 

Philippians 3: 1 - 11

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice  in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!  For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the Church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,  if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
 
Reflection

He’s not a boring sort, old Paul. This short passage leaps from passionate denunciation of those who were trying to lead Christian folk back into the shackles of the Law - complete with superbly Pauline sarcasm as to his own blamelessness! - into the even more passionate heights of his devotion to Christ. This is Paul’s testimony, the meaning of his life and his one aim and focus, we may remind ourselves, as he faces death from a prison in Rome.

We have it so easy in comparison. Our worst experiences are most likely being mocked or snubbed or someone daring to say they disagree with us. And I wonder are we the poorer - and the more boring - for it? In our mild Western world with its politically correct tolerance of everyone and everything, are we all settling down to a beigey blandness?

You couldn’t ever call Paul bland. I don’t think Jesus comes across as bland either, especially when he confronts  corruption and exploitation. And the God of the Old Testament certainly doesn’t hold back when he speaks his mind - and his judgment - against human wickedness.

There’s plenty for modern-day Christians to speak out about. But are we - unlike Paul - afraid of what we might lose? What would the church look like if we were to take a leaf out of Paul’s book and call all our qualifications and advantages and status, all our traditions and privileges ‘rubbish’ for Christ? 

Prayer

Open our eyes, Lord Jesus,  
to what is real and true and to what is rubbish
in your eternal scheme of things.
Open our hands to let go of the rubbish.
Open our hearts to receive the real and true,
and then light-hearted, unburdened by the rubbish,
send us out to share your love,
happy to be your servants in your world. Amen. -->

Today's writer

Dorothy Courtis, lay preacher and member, Thurso United Reformed Church Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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URC Daily Devotion 17th October 2019

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Thursday 17th October

Philippians 2: 19 - 30

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you.  I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.  I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow-soldier, your messenger  and minister to my need; for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.  I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honour such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.
 
Reflection

Paul’s letter to the church at Phillipi is affectionate in tone, and his warm feelings seem to have been reciprocated.  While under house arrest, awaiting trial in Rome, we learn that Paul has Timothy with him, a singularly trusted companion and fellow traveller. Timothy seems to have met Paul’s exacting standards, so much so that Paul thinks of him as his son in the faith, entrusted, beyond others, with the care of churches Paul is unable to visit.

This passage also reveals that the church at Philippi has sent one of their valued members, Epaphroditus, to care for Paul during his detention. Travelling some 800 miles to be with Paul, he brings with him gifts to ease Paul’s discomfort, including his very self to minister to him. Paul is deeply appreciative, both for the church’s care of him, and Epaphroditus’ presence.

He now has two fellow Christians devoted to his welfare. Both, for him, demonstrate the essence of the Gospel’s message in word and deed. However, Epaphroditus has paid a heavy penalty in his journeying, barely recovering from illness, and is deeply worried about the effect such news might have on his home church. Commending him for his loyalty and help, Paul sends Epaphroditus home, with warm words of encouragement, in case any might think he has failed in his mission of mercy.

This little gem of mutual human care opens a window on Paul’s nature for us; on the Gospel he, and we, proclaim. The care we bear for each other is intrinsic to the gospel. In the Christian drama in which we play our parts, people matter more than things. May we never have recourse to doctrine or dogma to deny this. May our hearts and heads be well married in living out our faith.

Prayer

Gracious God
when we forget that
your Son’s work is in,
with and through people,
recall us to a proper understanding
of your nature in us.
May our care for
neighbour,  
friend,
family,
fellow Christians
reflect our growth in Christ-likeness. -->

Today's writer

The Rev’d John A Young retired minister of the Synod of Scotland and member of Giffnock URC Copyright
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2019 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


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