Prayer As Intention

We in Glasgow South ecclesia (church) fully recognise the power of prayer. It is the wonderful way in which we can communicate with our Father.

In our meeting, we pray collectively. One person says the words and we all conclude ‘Amen’, which means ‘let it be so’.

Have you ever prayed? I wonder if you have ever found yourself praying in a moment of desperation, when life felt out of control and you just blurted a prayer or plea for something to work in your favour, or for a loved one to be safe.

I find personal prayer quite difficult. I usually imagine that the inner thoughts I have, that conversation with yourself, is actually me in conversation with God. But I often find that when I am praying for something specific, for example at mealtimes, I tend to stick to the same, generic wording. It becomes a motion to go through. Part of the ritual of the everyday.

A burning candle
A burning candle

Someone mentioned a phrase to me yesterday that has struck a chord. She said that we need to be ‘intentional in our prayer’. It made me think of one of our members who lights a candle when she prays. She uses the candle to focus her thoughts and think intentionally about people she wants to pray for. I really like this idea. I like the idea of intentionally coming before God with a focus. Many of us lead busy lives, so it makes sense that our thoughts might wander or go elsewhere when we sit to pray. Having something like a candle to focus our thoughts is a very useful tool. Just sitting thinking of people, or worries we have, knowing we sit in God’s presence, is a communication God recognises and is eager for.

Having this tool under my belt is something I know will enhance my prayer life. I hope you might find this intentional way of praying helpful too and are able to give it a try.

Taking God’s Name In Vain

The acronym O.M.G. is one which is in common secular use today as an exclamation of shock or surprise. I’m absolutely sure you will hear it all the time. It is, of course, short for the phrase “Oh My God”. Christians can very often have quite strong feelings about hearing phrases such as this used in a flippant way. I’ve certainly been brought up from a young child to not say this sort of thing unless I’m genuinely speaking to God in prayer, and that is something deeply ingrained in me. This attitude, of course, has its roots in the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God for the Israelites to obey. In Exodus 20 v 7 we can read the third commandment:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

Image of the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone

I therefore try not to use the name of God or Jesus in any sort of way that might bring them down to my level. And clearly, this is a good thing to aim for, but in doing this, are Christians actually obeying the Third Commandment in full? What does “taking God’s name in vain” actually mean? Are we just fooling ourselves by assuming that by not saying a particular phrase, we’ve done all that we need to do to obey that particular commandment?

As Christians, we believe that we have taken on the name of Jesus in baptism. And for Jews in the time of Moses, they did something very similar. In the previous chapter we read about how they accepted God’s covenant – they took on the name of God. Right from the first chapter of Genesis too, we learn that all humans are made in the image of God. To first of all accept that we are bearing God’s image, and then to go further in taking on his name, is an immense responsibility, of course. It is so much more than just promising not to say “O.M.G.” or other words and phrases that we might consider as being offensive to fellow believers and to God. It means to show God (and Jesus, of course) in the best possible light to all those with whom we come into contact.

Thinking about things in this way, this particular commandment isn’t merely about not doing something. It’s not something for which we can tick a box and then just tut at people on TV and around us who say words and phrases that we don’t like. That’s only a tiny part of obeying that command. It’s not about what others say and do, it’s about what we say and do. Those of us who follow Jesus Christ need to understand that we are seen by God as ambassadors for His Kingdom, and we therefore need to show ourselves as living a different way of life entirely. This is an immense responsibility, and we will inevitably fail much more than we will succeed, but by the grace of God we have the hope of eternal life.

So how do we obey the third commandment in a positive way? Well, we need to define the opposite meaning of taking God’s name “in vain”. I took a few words from the dozens suggested by an online thesaurus, and from that I would suggest that the commandment requires us to take (and to show) the name of God in a powerful, profitable and most importantly in a fruitful way.

The Fruit of the Spirit written on a pear!

Finally, then, how can we be fruitful? Well, I think this passage sums it up best:

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

(Galatians 5 vv 22-23)

Refuge

After having enjoyed putting together a recording of Hymn 31, from the Christadelphian Hymn Book, during the summer we decided to have a go at another one – this time Hymn 7, which opens with the words: “The Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble“. The music was composed by George James Webb.

These comforting words are taken from Psalm 9, and are a welcome reminder of the Lord’s shelter and righteousness. Psalm 9 begins, in verse 1,

I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart

and in verse 11,

Sing Praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion!

Something we all miss is singing together, in person, but we’re glad that we’ve found a way to sing praise together in some way, even while physically apart.

Recording the singing of Hymn 7

Seedtime and Harvest

One of our favourite walks takes us past some fields outside the village where we live.  During the course of the year we have seen the farmer ploughing the fields, then sowing seeds and eventually a crop of barley ripening in the sunshine.  The barley has all now been harvested, but next year the farmer will be back at work in the fields to grow another crop, perhaps barley again or something different.

Golden barley ready for harvesting
Field of barley

It is amazing to think that every year the farmer can grow a crop because we have the right weather to allow the seed to germinate and the grain to ripen; we have rain and sunshine, and in the summer, long days in which the farmer can work to gather in the harvest.

We, like the farmer, work on the basis that spring follows winter, summer follows spring, autumn follows summer and then winter comes round again.  But will that always be the case?

The Bible tells us what happened when Noah and his family came out of the ark after the flood.  In Genesis 8 v 20-22 we read

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

God has promised that the cycle of the seasons and the ability of the land to produce food will indeed continue.  What a wonderful reassurance!

Restart a heart

Today, Friday 16th October, is International Restart a Heart Day. It’s a way of highlighting the importance of bystander CPR in increasing the odds of those who suffer an out of hospital cardiac arrest.

Heart disease is one of the UK’s biggest killers, with the British Heart Foundation estimating that more than 60,000 cardiac arrests occur outwith the hospital environment every year. The single most effective tool when dealing with a cardiac arrest is CPR. However, there is a huge benefit to having a publicly accessible Defibrillator with the patient. This tool assesses the hearts rhythm to see if there is a shockable rhythm to try and achieve the return of spontaneous circulation and save a life.

Coloured hands giving CPR to a heart-shaped planet earth

Glasgow South ecclesial hall, although only a few blocks from the nearest hospital, is in a heavily built up area with flats surrounding the hall. With this in mind, the ecclesia, our church community, has successfully secured a grant to purchase a defibrillator that will be installed on the outside of our hall and will be available for all to use.

We hope to get it installed really soon. It will be registered with the Scottish Ambulance Service, so please, as you always should, phone 999 in an emergency. You will be given the code to unlock the cabinet whilst the callhandler gives instructions for CPR.

We hope that this will, in some small way, give something back to the community we have been part of for the past 50 odd years.

Learning About Life

Watch with Mother
“Watch with Mother”

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin!” There might still be some of us who remember these words as the introduction to the radio programme “Listen with Mother”, and/or subsequently the TV version “Watch with Mother”; as you might imagine, the general idea of these broadcasts was to enable small children to learn how life works whilst being gently entertained. But we are not always children, and if we are to make the best of our lives, we must endeavour to learn throughout the time which is given us. It has been said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it; the same applies equally in personal experience which, in its extremes, can make or break us.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

You may recognise this as Genesis chapter 1 verse 1 – the very first words of the Bible, the whole of which contains a phenomenal amount of teaching; of learning for us, fit to take with us throughout our lives. Sadly, Adam and Eve failed to learn the life-giving lesson which God gave them, instead becoming aware of the significance and price of sin, which separated them from their intimate relationship with God. That awareness of sin has been with mankind ever since – that means you and me.

Here are some verses from Psalm 51:

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.

Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight —
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice.

These are the words of a prayer made by the Israelite King David, in repentant acknowledgement of a serious sin which he had committed, and the damage it had done. David was known as a man after God’s own heart – yet a sinner, just like each of us, but his heart was in the right place, and God forgave him on account of his repentance, and his trust in God. He believed in God’s love, and in His ability to forgive sin; nevertheless, there was still a personal price to pay. One portion of Scripture which we sometimes come across in life-marking ceremonies is found in the apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians: chapter 13 verses 11-13:

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.  And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

We grow physically – we are also expected to grow spiritually and in understanding. To be fully reconnected with the Love of God, we need to find out why Jesus and his sacrifice are so important. Jesus said to those who were listening to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  In the last book of the Bible, where much is laid open to us, we are told:

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (Revelation 3:5)

The world has changed over the years, and with it our perceptions of how life works. But without an understanding of the Scriptures, there is just so much which we don’t know. The whole story is to be found in the Bible – you may well be astonished to learn the full truth of what is contained in it. Don’t deprive yourself of the chance to find out!

Open Bible

Standards

Not so long ago, I rode fast sports motorcycles on the road and on track. An important part of preparation for a safe ride at high speeds is checking tyre pressures. What concerned me, though, was that no two pressure gauges ever seemed to give the same reading. How could I be sure the tyre pressure shown was correct? I needed a gauge that was calibrated against a reliable standard, but I haven’t come across one yet.

The same goes for many other things we rely on. When you refuel your car, how do you know that the amount shown on the pump is accurate? The answer is that there’s usually a sticker on the pump showing that it has been checked by Trading Standards. These are people who go round making sure that measuring devices such as weighing machines in shops or fuel pumps on the garage forecourt comply with legal standards.

Checking weights and measures isn’t a new idea: it goes back thousands of years. The Law of Moses says in Leviticus chapter 19, verse 35,

Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah [a dry measure] and an honest hin [a liquid measure].

We’re told in Numbers chapter 3, verse 49 that

Moses collected the redemption money … From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel.

We might think of a shekel as being an amount of money, but through most of history, coinage was based on standard weights of gold, silver or other metal. The “sanctuary shekel” was a standard against which the weight of coins or other items could be checked on scales.

The Bible also mentions a standard of length. We’re told in 2 Chronicles 3 verse 3 that

The foundation Solomon laid for building the temple of God was sixty cubits long and twenty cubits wide (using the cubit of the old standard).

Throughout history, each nation, even each village, would have its own standards for length, weight, and quantity, in the form of physical objects against which they could be checked.

Reference standard metre, Palais de Justice, Paris
Reference standard metre, Palais de Justice, Paris

The metre was introduced as the length standard in France after the revolution, and defined by a reference standard, such as the one shown here, set in the wall of the Palais de Justice in Paris.



Nut and bolt made to a standard to ensure they fit together
Nut and bolt

Nowadays we have international standards that apply around the world, so that a bolt manufactured in one country will fit a nut made in another. Modern physical standards are no longer based on arbitrary man-made objects such as the “standard metre”, but on invariant universal quantities such as the speed of light.

But what about standards applied to people, and their behaviour? We live in a world that is corrupt, full of violence and injustice; yet clay tablets and other documents describing everyday life in ancient times show that human behaviour hasn’t really changed. We’re told in Genesis chapter 6 that in the time of Noah,

… the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

Thousands of years later, God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and through Moses gave them “regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good” (Nehemiah 9:13). These laws defined the standards of behaviour that God expected of his people, but they failed to keep them; instead, they “conformed to the standards of the nations around [them]” (Ezekiel chapter 11:12).

Do we conform to the standards of those around us? Are these good standards? Do we ourselves set a good example to others? Do we sometimes feel self-righteous, seeing others’ faults, but failing to see our own?

In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapter 7), Jesus said

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use [NASB, by your standard of measure], it will be measured to you.”

Jesus says that when we appear before him, he will judge us by the same standard, the same yardstick, we have applied to others. Maybe we need to think about how our standards compare with those shown by Jesus?

Missing Peace

We are looming, once more, on the edge of a slippery slope as we navigate the difficult path through this health crisis. I wonder how the situation we find ourselves in is affecting you today? In many ways, I have found it surprising, even heartening, to see how people have adapted to the age we are living in.

It’s still most troubling to see suffering and struggle on so many levels.  Whether it’s people losing their livelihoods, kids having to be in and out of school like yo-yos if they display symptoms, even losing someone you love, we have experienced trouble in so many ways; both as a result of Covid-19 and regardless of it.

A piece of a jigsaw puzzle
The Missing Piece

So, is it any wonder we may struggle to find peace? One of my favourite songs which has been played countless times over the past 6 months is the title of this blog post – Missing Peace. The singer has written about a very personal situation, which affects one particular family. It’s about the search for answers during the times we might ask, “Why is this happening?”

Jesus knew we would face times like this. Not long before he was arrested, tried unlawfully, and brutally put to death, he spoke to his followers, telling them that they would endure hardship and difficulty. Now, whilst these words were not written directly to us, we can, and do, still appreciate them and the comfort I imagine they would have brought those who followed Jesus at that time. He said:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”                             John 16:33

As wonderful as it is to have the kind of peace where we have no worries, when life feels relaxed and carefree, I don’t believe that this is the kind of peace that Jesus was speaking about. Rather, even though the sea is lashing against the boat of our life, even though the wind is imposing itself and leaving devastation in its wake, we can have peace that can bear us through the storms of life. Jesus literally slept through a storm, as recorded in Mark chapter 4. His disciples – experienced fishermen – were in total panic. Jesus had the power to calm the conditions, and he used it to demonstrate his commanding power, even over the seemingly uncontrollable environmental conditions. I also think that he did it to show his love and concern for the men in the boat with him on that day, though the passage doesn’t tell us that.

As Christadelphians, we look to Jesus in order to find peace in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. It’s something we hope you will want to read for yourself, and come to discover what peace Jesus can bring to you, to your life, whatever storms you may live through. The peace it is possible to have in Jesus can get us through things we never imagined. He experienced great difficulties, anxieties and sorrows in his life. In him, it is possible to find that missing peace which calms, soothes and transforms.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”              John 14:27

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