Spot the BOND titles…

Reflection: Hero-Worship

 

Within this reflection is a small challenge issued to everyone who cares to accept it.  Dotted throughout it are the titles of Bond movies and you are invited to spot as many as you can.  So for example in the course of this you might hear me say Octopussy and mentally or with a pen mark it off.  There are about 19 titles. 

In the course of planning this service I have heard so much about James Bond that I thought it might be worthwhile exploring this theme.  Is Jesus the ultimate secret agent?  He might not come with guns and explosions but he has certainly left his mark. 

Jesus came not from Russia with love but from heaven in love.  God had a plan ever since the dark angel fell and tried to take the earth for himself.  It wasn’t so much on her majesty’s secret service as a plan made public through the prophets like Isaiah or Micah, in the writings of the psalmists and there to be decoded throughout the Old Testament.   God has never gambled in the Casino Royale with our future.  He has always been in control and despite his somewhat mean reputation as Dr No he simply wants to provide us with a quantam of solace.

Yet Jesus’ time on earth wasn’t easy. He was born in a stable, then a refugee and in his early 30s sent out on his mission.  He came almost as a secret agent because despite being open about who he was the ministers, the Pharisees, the lawyers – those who should have known him didn’t recognise him.  When Jesus spoke with the children he was at his most visible for he was for their eyes only.  Only those with the faith of a child could truly see him for who he is. Thankfully though Jesus wasn’t put off his mission and kept going, taking the disciples on an adventure that at times scared the living daylights out of them. 

The religious authorities were in a sense the bad guys – the characters in the Bond films that we are wary off and want James Bond to beat.  They had a view to a kill because Jesus was dangerous. He threatened their very existence, or so they thought.  Judas, the spy who loved Jesus was the one to break his heart when he betrayed Jesus in the garden.  And the disciples disappeared for they knew that they had to live and let die if that is what it took.  Of course they didn’t want to and they hoped and prayed that Jesus had an escape plan.  We always hope that the good guy has an escape plan – and that is usually when the gadgets from Q come in handy.

But for Jesus – he went in alone.  He faced trial and met the one who had a licence to kill – Pilate himself.  All seemed lost.  Our secret agent would surely die and there was nothing that could be done.  It appeared that even God had forsaken him as he hung upon the cross.

How was this mission to be fulfilled now?  The dramatic music reaches a climax and silence falls.  Has it all ended like in die another day? Or is there a twist in the tale?  All good stories have a twist – something that keeps us on our toes, perhaps even a bad guy who finds love and forgiveness like Jaws in Moonraker.

Jesus had said that the temple would be destroyed and in 3 days it would rise again.  Turns out that God really had thrown a thunderball.  Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death and allowing all of us to meet God personally and without fear.  God’s greatest desire is for us to live with him, for him and in him.  Through Jesus Christ he made it possible for us to believe that tomorrow never dies – we have life eternal through Jesus. 

The challenge for us though is that we have to say that the world is not enough.  We get so caught up in the mundane of life that we forget that we are not of this world.  It is understandable of course.  But what happens when the sky falls and we are left to stand before Jesus and tell him what we have done for him.  Do we tell him that we got good jobs, built nice homes and led comfortable lives?  Or do we tell him that we lived our lives knowing that we would only live twice – once in this broken world and once in his beautiful perfected one? Do we put more value in earthly goods for as we all know diamonds are forever?

And as we have listened what have we heard more of – film titles or the good news of the Gospel?  Let’s listen as hard for God’s word to us as we have listened out for film titles. 

If we truly want to be secret agents we need to read our bibles, pray, worship, and live lives of adventure.

What is the point of putting on armour if we are not going to fight?

It is not an easy fight but then if James Bond had it easy would we really want to watch the films.  And just as James gets his rewards we know that we too will receive ours, especially if we don’t quit. 

Just as James Bond was once a child so was Jesus.

Just as James Bond had a mission so did Jesus.

Just as James Bond had to save the world, so did Jesus.

The difference is that James Bond is a fictional character, made up by Ian Fleming.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He is real and he has called you and me to carry on his work until the day he returns and there are no excuses.  You are never too old or young to fulfil his mission – so never say never again and be God’s agent today.  

Imitation – easier than you might think? 

Recently I reminded my congregation that Christian means “little Christ” and that we are called to be like Christ. We don’t like many other major religions have a distinctive item of clothing or jewellery that marks us out as Christians. Yes I know we have crosses but they are worn by lots of people for non religious reasons. Yet when people meet us they should know we are Christians by our attitudes and demeanour.  But we are human and it isn’t always easy to know what Jesus would do.  However the more we get to know Jesus the easier it becomes. At first we start out by simply copying him until we reach a point where we can take the initiative. Watching Jess and Teagan play made me think about  what it means to imitate Christ. The two girls hadn’t met before. Teagan was about 6 yrs old and Jess is 3. For the first 15 mins the children said nothing. First of all they watched each other and worked out whether they were compatible. Then Jess as the younger one copied the older one.  Wherever Teagan went, Jess went too. Teagan taped a pole, so did Jess.  Teagan danced over the bridge so did Jess. Jess did not dance as well as Teagan but she tried her best. And it was good enough for Teagan.

Eventually the girls spoke and started to work together to achieve common goals. They took it in turns and though Teagan allowed Jess to contribute Teagan remained the leader. 

It struck me that imitation doesn’t require language, nor accuracy, simply copying and a recognition that we won’t be as good as the original to start with. Given long enough Jess would be able to dance as fluently as the one she was copying.

When it comes to copying Christ do we give up too easily? Or if the steps are too difficult do we sit the dance out? Do we think we have to know it all first? Perhaps we simply need to start copying, enjoying the dance and know that the longer we spend with Jesus the easier it will be to become like him.  Immerse yourself in the Gospels, and what you see Jesus do, you do, maybe not perfectly at first but he will welcome the attempt and encourage you.

God bless

Love Sarah

Passion of God

Reading: Hosea 11:1-11

When you think about God do you think about the passion with which he loves you?  What I love about so much about the Old Testament is the passion of God.  It is a fine line to describe God as passionate because our understanding of emotions are so limited.  The British stoic personality perhaps loses for us the strength of emotion.  When you hear this passage do you feel the passion of God?

God deeply loves his people Israel – with a love that is equal to a mother and her unborn child, to a parent and their child, the first throws of passionate love in the early stages of a relationship where a couple can’t get enough of each.  God is a lover – he loves his people and that is why he gets so frustrated with them.  They can’t commit to him and he is a jealous God.  He hates the fact that they go looking elsewhere for the love he has so much to give. It makes him angry.

Think of any soap opera – the main story lines are to do with people and relationships, and the breakdown of them.  The Old Testament is the soap opera of Israel and God.

Do you believe that God loves his people as passionately today?  Do you know his deep love for you, the kind that makes butterflies in your tummy when you spend time focussed on him – like a date?  Do you know his love for you like a friend who listens when the world around you is crazy?  Do you know his love for you like a shining knight who races into battle to defend your honour? 

Does your love for him make you want to spend more and more time with him?  Or are you like the Israelites looking for love in all the wrong places?  I never realised how much God loves until recently when I started to explore the concept of love and passion.  I read this passage and I feel love. 

The thing about love is that it strengthens us and makes us confident.  It can also cause us to wonder what we ever did to deserve it.  Love that takes our breath away and catches us unawares excites us and scares us almost simultaneously.  And when God is our lover so it should because he is the most high holy God.  He has the whole of creation at his fingertips, can shower us in gifts and also has the singular right to reign us in.  God’s love is so abounding that he gave us Jesus Christ as our example, he gave us the Holy Spirit to connect us eternally with him.  Why do we doubt his love? 

Let us come before God with fear and trembling, yet confident in his love for us that we will always be made welcome.  

God bless

Love Sarah

 

The Glass Jar of Life

Today’s theme in church was time and how God achieves all things in his time and not ours.  We are not always that good at letting him work in his time or acknowledging that he sees the bigger picture.  What do you fill your time with?  Worry or Joy?  Do responsibilities crush you or lift you?  Remember this wee story –

When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favourite passions–and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else–the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first–the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.

It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

Ah but where is God in this wee story?  God is not another thing to do or a responsibility.  God is the jar holding everything together.  And if you don’t recognise that the jar will crack and everything from the small to the large will come flooding out. 

Jesus said:  I have come that you might have life, life in all its fullness.  John 10. 

May your time this week be richly blessed especially in this holiday season (and not too wet!).

God bless

Love Sarah

 

Prayer of Re-orientation

With my posse we discussed the Lord’s Prayer.  It is a prayer that we use every Sunday but I wonder how often we actually think about it.  The Lord’s Prayer is not a mantra but a model of prayer.  Rather like ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication) the Lord’s Prayer is meant more as a teaching prayer than a prayer to be recited week in, week out.  However not only does the model of the Lord’s Prayer contain adoration, confession, supplication but it is also a prayer of re-orientation.  When we become selfish in our faith thinking that it is something private and personal the Lord’s prayer reminds us that we are part of something much much bigger.

Our Father – not My Father, but our Father.  We cannot selfishly hold onto God for he belongs to us all.  When we pray Our Father we remind ourselves that we are part of a family, and God is the Parent, the one we rely on.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done – We are pointed back to God’s kingdom and not our own kingdom.  All of us are guilty at some level or another of kingdom building whether at home or work or even in the community.   We put our family, our work, our life first and save for a rainy day, rather than work for God’s kingdom.  Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He prayed not my will but yours be done.  Sometimes God’s will is far more challenging than we imagine.

On earth as it is in heaven – The angels and archangels are already doing God’s will.  We pray that we would be willing to submit to God’s will as well.  And it is important that we do it now, not just when we get to heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread – Do we trust God to provide for us or do you find yourself worrying about what you will eat or wear?  When comes to working for God do we trust him enough or are we waiting for the day when we have everything?  Our daily bread, our manna from heaven cannot be stored up but is enough for the day in hand.  Don’t worry about tomorrow for it will have enough troubles of its own.  And God will provide the courage, strength, peace, grace, mercy, love, patience, and whatever else we might need.  Just remember you might be the answer to another’s daily bread provision!

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors – Did Jesus know the poison that bitterness and anger brings?  I am sure he witnessed it and the most powerful words said were his – Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Forgiveness is a necessity for healing and letting go of all that will hold us back in God’s mission fields.  We cannot preach a forgiving welcoming God and then be miserable with the burdens we carry.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil – The world is messed up but we have to play by its rules (wise as serpents and gentle as doves).  With God all things are possible but as Paul says in Ephesians 6:12 there are more things than we can imagine in the spiritual realms.  We pray that as we engage in spiritual warfare we won’t be distracted from our calling even when it costs us much.

For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever Amen – We work not for ourselves but for God.  And as we finish our prayer we are reminded of his power, glory, eternalness and purpose.

It is not God’s job to make us feel important.  We are his subjects and we worship him.  However God is so loving that he allows us to call him Father – a personal term of love and relationship.  This is a powerful prayer and we dare not take it lightly.  It is a prayer of surrender, commitment and acknowledgement that God is in all things and through all things, and we are his.  Jesus lived his earthly life in constant submission to God his Father and we are called to follow his example (read John’s Gospel).  This prayer demands it.  Are you ready for everything this prayer will bring about?

God bless you and your journey with him. Comments and reflections welcome.

Love Sarah

Pondering Jesus

Some musings below from my recent readings and ponderings.

We live in what the experts call a change of era as opposed to an era of change.  We stand upon a precipice that is as dramatic as the change of era that wiped out dinosaurs,that brought about the agricultural age, the industrial era and the enlightenment.  We live in a post modern, post Christendom era that has new markers and needs new language, methods and leadership. These change of eras are happening more frequently and for some these changes have occurred within your own life span.  What once took hundreds of years is now taking decades.  The advance of technology, the rise of the tower of Babel as globalisation takes hold, the increasing search for nirvana whether through spirituality or addictions, and our own increased sense of ego give rise to this change of era.

The change of era challenges us and the church to question how we engage with the people God sent us to love.   Some would say “why reinvent the wheel?” or fix something that isn’t broke.  Folks we are tricking ourselves if we think that we can continue as we have done for the last 17 centuries (since Constantine formalised the Christian religion).  We cannot assume that everyone is naturally Christian or that they will know the basics of our faith.  We cannot assume that our role is to convert the Muslims or the Hindus or the Jews like missionaries sent into foreign lands. Our mission field is our community, the one on our doorsteps and we are being sent out like missionaries of old into this field.  When Jesus said the harvest fields were many and the workers few it wasn’t an excuse but a challenge.  Once we are harvested for God we become the workers.

God wants us to pull together and work for him in the harvest field he has given us.  And what a harvest field we have.  But we have issues of credibility to deal with. How far have we drifted from the Gospel? How caught up have we become with the institution of church that we no longer have the courage to challenge it? Are we modern day Pharisees? And yes I know that’s a tough question and it is one I have to answer too.

If Jesus came and lived out the Gospel in Forth or your village what would that look like? Take a moment to reflect on that question – be inspired! Write down your answers and then look at what we his body are actually doing.  Challenging isn’t it? And if it isn’t what are you missing? Seriously stop now and write down a few thoughts.

We are not reinventing the wheel – we are mending it.  The wheel of the Gospel needs to be reclaimed by the Church, by you and me and then put to work.  The wheel of the Gospel will bring about the following in our community:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18, 19 NIV)

because we are Christ’s body in this place.

If we are truly to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ we have much to learn and much to seek forgiveness for.  The amazing thing is that just as Jesus engaged with the fallen when he walked this earth he still engages with us today. Discipleship is about more than building up the lives of the faithful, but about journeying with God.  Remember we only plant the seed, it is up to God how he makes it grow.  Nor can we judge others from what we see for only God knows our hearts.

Too often we ask the question – how do we improve the church? How do we make the church more welcoming? We focus on buildings and technology and music and the right programmes (and yes these have a role to play) but perhaps if we put Christ back at the centre we would be welcoming far more into God’s kingdom.  Jesus said that he had nowhere to lay his head yet he touched the lives of thousands. Peter was terrified of the authorities yet when the Spirit came he preached the Good News without fear.  And history since then abounds with tales of the miraculous. I do believe that all things are possible with God.

But in order to receive we must ask, in order to find we must search and in order to move forward we must signal our willingness by knocking on the door.

We readily quote the verse Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever as if st means nothing has changed. Jesus hasn’t, but have we?

Christianity minus Christ equals religion! Especially now when we enter the post Easter/Ascension/Pentecost time of the year, let’s make an effort to put Christ at the centre of all we do, are and be.

God bless

Love Sarah

Affirming and Affirmation

What a wonderful faith family we reside in.  From last week’s General Assembly where worship was simple, contemporarised tradition to worshipping with anglican charismatics who really know how to let go this week.  If I am truly honest I felt a little out of water but in the midst of it all God spoke to me with affirmation.  As many of you know women in ministry is still a problem for the major denominations including the church of England and the church of Scotland (even if we don’t want to admit it). New Wine, the charismatic movement (known as CLAN within our borders)totally affirmed women in leadership, giving us our place in the body of Christ. The affirmation is a real boost because we often feel marginalised, pushed out in favour of male colleagues or patriarchal language.

However the most powerful affirmation in all of today’s material was listening to Alan Hirsch remind us gently and not so gently about the place of Jesus in our faith. How often have we used him to the fringes of our faith, marginalising him and hiding him in nice gospel stories? Or make him so sacred we cannot draw close to him?  What would we do if Jesus came to our church? Run him out of town? Kill him again? 

This was followed by a session that reminded us that we need to rest in God. How do we put God back at the centre of all we do and more importantly are?

So often we get caught up in the mundane or the paperwork or the business of our lives that we miss God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit working in the people around us, and touching us in the process.

Let us affirm each other, male or female, young or older, traditional or contemporary, contemplative or charismatic, valuing each other in our differences. But most importantly let us affirm once again the real Jesus Christ, the one who make God known to all.

I am the vine. You are the branches. John 15

God bless

Love Sarah

Practical considerations

The last day of the General Assembly considered mainly its practical issues. How on earth we afford the insurance on some of these glorious yet often impractical buildings? How do we look after our buildings from halls to manses and of course sanctuaries? And how do we look after the staff in the infamous building of 121 (a building we are keeping for the foreseeable future)? Media stories from the weekend told the world that moral is low in 121. Probably no wonder when 121 is often a dirty word and covers a multitude of people, councils and committees.  I resisted suggesting in my question re the nomination committee that people are afraid of becoming a 121 person.  I did ask the nomination committee to include in their reflections and statistics the number of people who move from committee to panel to council. I voiced a question that others think but didn’t ask but most of all I am impressed I got the courage to ask and challenge.  I was saddened at overhearing conversations at coffee about how we could be done in 3 days if we simply banned personal comments etc yet the beauty of the assembly is recognising that we are family united in common purpose and each person brings something important to the body of Christ.

I must admit to feeling very low last night about all things Presbyterian! And rather like the cold wet fog of this morning I couldn’t see very clearly. Yet when the love of God burns through like the sun, the fog clears and spirits rise.  I am glad the assembly has finished and for all it was a gentle stroll through all things Presbyterian I am glad to be returning to my first love – my parish.  Developing this wonderful group of people in my congregation, exploring apostolic vision, embracing risks for and with God, building up the disciples He has given me and seeking to be missional – I am grateful for the freedom within the Presbyterian system to do this.  I just hope one day there is a real flavour of these issues in the General Assembly from start to finish.  

The most practical thing we can do is let God have his way.  His church is living, vibrant and beautiful today, and the foundations of tomorrow.  God has his mission and he has called his church to participate in it.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog series. Comments and questions welcome.

God bless,

Love Sarah

Distractions and Worries

When our Moderator spoke so movingly and passionately today about the worries, stresses and fears we face I didn’t realise his word would be so timeous. As he got slightly carried away with himself regarding the lack of support and appreciation, or even affirmation that ministers receive there was a quiet consensus that he was right.  He did ask when was the last time the congregation bought the minister a Christmas present, much to the amusement of some.  Not that I am hinting…

However a moving and supportive report from the chaplains to the armed forces many moved through for coffee (sorry to the pension folk!). The military report, questions and comments was well worth listening too and they are indeed worthy of our prayers.  It would seem tht I have still a number of years before I am too old for them!

There was I landed with a ticking timebomb which may or may not explode in my presence. Suddenly the 3am moment which I haven’t had for awhile is back.  But as Albert reminded us from Romans 8 there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Yet I was struck at the tenure report that said ministers were called by congregations to be pastors and teachers.  Sometimes, (and thankfully only sometimes) I wish I could turn round and say no to all the other things I am asked to be by the General Assembly and Presbytery!  But then I would not be Presbyterian! 

So now I am off to enjoy the sunshine after an early finish and pray! For first and foremost we are all children of God. A week buried in motions, amendments, reports and deliverances becomes a bubble you want to pop. But God appears in the most wonderful ways and bless Albert for without knowing it he prepared the path I had to walk today. 

Tomorrow is the last day of the General Assembly. After that I am on study leave for a fortnight and I am hoping to blog on my study leave journey.

God bless

Love Sarah

Imagination at the General Assembly

Another day, another dollar! I had hoped that the theme of today might be imagination. And I am sure it was there but perhaps not how I imagined it! 😉

Our Moderator Albert is perhaps the minister who bounces the most! His energy and enthusiasm is infectious and at his heart lies a desire to unite us despite our differences. Do you know who the evangelicals are because they mention Jesus Christ at some point in their speeches? Do you know the cynical because they sit arms folded? Body language sometimes says more than speech and one thing you can’t deny about Albert is his passion for the Gospel and people.  I think if it weren’t for him this Assembly would not be so enjoyable and I have to say that I barely know him except by reputation.

As we pondered how to engage with those who don’t know we want to engage with them, there were good ideas and desperate ideas. The report on parish ministers was basic, general and worthy of discussion but just too vague for my liking. how do we get more young ministers in the church? To me it seems obvious – by investing in the young!

As a young minister of the Church of Scotland (55 out of 906 are under 39 years old) I cant help but wonder at where the priorities of the church have been over the years.  And  yes I know lots of wonderful reports and work has been done but I want to ask why we keep talking about the church of tomorrow when it is the church of today that needs to change? My mother always said “tomorrow never comes” and for the church to move forward it needs to stop looking for the church of tomorrow and engage more fully with the church of today.  The imagination we need is here now – let us embrace the Holy Spirit, discern Gods will and move with Him rather than wait for the magic plan to arrive in the blue book.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

I finish this reflection caught in a vibrant thunderstorm with the rain lashing down, unable to get to my car without getting soaked. As the the thunder cracks, the wind blows though and the rain falls, I imagine the people of God being invigorated by his voice, being soaked with the Spirit, refreshed by the breath of God and becoming his church today for the people of today. If we want a church tomorrow we need to be Gods people today.

God bless

Love Sarah