Monday, March 29, 2010

The Unspeakable Privilege of Preaching

I am tired - really tired. My limbs ache, and my voice is shot to pieces, but yet I have a huge sense of gratitude and joy, because this is all due to preaching - that is to say Bible-teaching. Over the last week or so I have spoken more intensively than ever before (eight messages in eight days!), but it hasn't just been a challenge - it has been the most wonderful thing to have been able to do! Last night, as I drove back down the A9 after a trip to visit good friends in Fort William I was stirred in my spirit with a sense not just of gratitude to God for the opportunity to lead two services, preach twice and do a children's message - but also with a profound sense of the sheer privilege it is to stand in front of a congregation and open the Bible and to preach it.

That is not to say that all of these messages were any good! In fact they were a bit of a mixed bag - some went well, some not so well. What's more, it's really important that they didn't all go well - otherwise it would be all too easy to fall into the awful trap of egotism; after all - I have spent hours being listened to! What's more, when people appreciate what you have said they tell you; but when its not been so good they don't - and so how painfully easy it is to overestimate your own significance.

But yet - what a privilege it remains to have time to wrestle with a text, to pore over a commentary or two and gather a wealth of material until that wonderful moment when a coherent structure begins to emerge from all the notes. It remains an immense challenge to pray until able to please God, and not seek primarily to impress people - something I perhaps rarely achieve. What a deeply significant and wonderful thing it then is, when you can sense God moving as His word is delivered, when His strength comes and there is a sense of freedom in the delivery; when people say they have learned new truths from the word; or have been moved again by truths they have known for many years.

It's a really wonderful thing to be able to take part in! I just sometimes can't quite believe that God wants me to be involved!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Harmony of the Events of Holy Week

If anyone is interested in reading through the events of Holy Week as they unfold in the four gospels, there are a few harmonies of the accounts online. This one is especially helpful I think, and you can click on the links to explore the texts too.

The Parable of the Two Angels

I was invited to a lunch for retired people yesterday at one of the churches in Perth. Little 'Doris' came with me, and behaved beautifully - although in typical fashion found the attention of people she didn't know too scary and hid behind her colouring book for most of the time! The highlight of the occasion though was a story that one of the older men told me after we had eaten - it was called The Parable of the Two Angels; it's simplicity contains a truth that is easier said than truly grasped.

One one occasion God saw that some work needed to be done on earth and decided to dispatch two angels to complete the tasks. Both angels He selected for the jobs were middle-ranking angels who had been close friends if not for ever, then at least since before the beginning. Both angels were thrilled to be given an assignment by God, packed for the trip and collected the envelopes containing their instructions. The first angel arrived on earth, and with a glad heart opened his envelope. He was surprised to discover that he was going to preach that day to two-thousand people, with remarkable results. He went and got on with the work - delighted to have a chance to serve. The second angel arrived on earth shortly after him, and with a glad heart opened the envelope containing his instructions. He was surprised to discover that he was to sweep the streets of the town and collect all the litter. He went and got on with the work - delighted to have a chance to serve. When the work was completed they met together and travelled back to heaven, eager to see God again. On the journey home, they talked about their day and what they had encountered. The second angel fought back slight feelings of disappointment that his friend had been entrusted with so much responsibility while his tasks had been somewhat mundane. The first angel fought back the feelings of smug superiority he sensed in himself as they spoke together. The greatest surprise of the day occurred however when they came before God to offer Him the worship of their completed service. "Well done, my good and faithful servants!" declared God to the old friends as they bowed before Him. And he handed them both an identical reward. The second angel looked stunned and was about to query why his friend hadn't received more than him, given the relative importance of the tasks they had performed - when he stopped himself, realising that there's never really an appropriate moment to query God's judgement. "I know what you are thinking" though said God, "why should I reward you both equally for what you consider to be unequal tasks? The fact is you both worked with equal love for me, in obedience to my will. I could have given either task to either of you and equipped you for it, but you both served me with equal love and faithfulness. The value of a work to be done, is not found in the applause it gains from people, but in the love it demonstrates for the one who instructed it."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The View from The Knock

An enjoyable day out today with friends from Tayside Christian Fellowship, including a trip to Crieff, a wander up The Knock, and ice creams at Crieff Hydro!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Monday, March 01, 2010

Winter Perth

Mortality and Microwaves

The photo is of our broken microwave oven waiting by the front door, ready to be taken to the dump to be unceremoniously er,... dumped. This is the only microwave we've ever owned, and was given to us as a wedding present almost fourteen years ago. I'm actually slightly shocked just writing that down, fourteen years!

That microwave worked faithfully in our first little flat in Dundee, heating our dodgy student-food in a tiny kitchen high above the Lochee Road. It survived the move to Perth to a run-down (but scandalously-cheap) flat owned by my wife's then employer. It came with us, when we upgraded to a two-bedroomed flat (same owner, same condition) after 'Boris' was born in 1999. It moved with us on again to the first little house we bought - and then with far too many children in tow, to the place we are now in. It has warmed hundreds of bottles of baby formula, heated a thousand plates before meals, grilled many a slice of cheese-on-toast, warmed the milk for countless cups of coffee - and generally been with us as long as we have been, 'us'. In fact, I would only be exaggerating slightly if I were to say that I can't imagine our kitchen without it - and had always unthinkingly sort of assumed that it would always be there.

If the strange passing of our microwave oven (with grill) is provoking a ludicrously sentimental response - the real reason behind it, actually lies in none of the above. The microwave that conked out this week was actually a wedding present from my late-grandparents. Much as the microwave has been a fixed and unchanging fixture in our kitchen, so my little Grandma had been a fixed and unchanging point of reference throughout the first three-and-a-half decades of my life. It's still odd not having a microwave - and I sometimes forget that its not there and go to use it. Absence is unusual, odd, peculiar, awkward and not right.

I had recently mused upon the irony that the Sharp "950W Microwave Oven and Quartz dual-Grill" they bought in 1996 lasted so much longer than they did. Yet, also thought how nice it was to still have a functioning reminder of them in daily use. The death of the oven was then an odd but nevertheless stark reminder of mortality; as not only have they gone, but the footprints they left in this world have already begun to be kicked over. A philosopher many thousands of years ago, known only to us as Quoheleth mourned that the final tragedy of death is that no-one remembers them.(1) Indeed, it won't be long until no-one here does: them or me, or us, or you.

In reality of course, two things temper my morbid mood as I take this redundant tool to its final resting place. The first is that it is only a part of the physical world that Jesus warned his followers, would always be subject to rot, rust, decay or theft.(2) The second (and more important) factor though is that, the people who I miss were not people who had dedicated their lives to the temporary, passing and material concerns of life; but were people with faith in Christ who had spent a lifetime accumulating treasure in heaven(3). A time will come when no-one living remembers my Grandparents - nor anything about their lives. Yet nothing, not one detail, escapes the infinite capacity of the mind of God (4). The assurance though is that they are not merely remembered by God distantly, but treasured by Him in His immediate presence. (5)

This is the crunch: things need to be replaced, but people need to be resurrected! Resurrection for us is possible because of the resurrection of Christ, his conquest of sin and death, and our reconciliation with God. What Christ achieved in the tomb on the first Easter Sunday, smashes through the categories of life and death, mortality and immortality; creating a doorway into everlasting communion with God; which we can enter by faith in him.

Memory and association can tie the most important things to the most mundane of objects.

1. Ecclesiastes 9:5
2. Matthew 6:19
3. Matthew 6:20
4. Luke 12:7
5. 1 Cor 13:12