For 1 / 2 July, see Newsletter on ‘NEWS’ page
25 June 2021 [The Manse, Lonmore]
This week we’re a bit earlier, rather than late, as I’m indebted to Donald Mackenzie for the final step of mailing out to the list of folk – you – who have shown an interest in church things since the period I was off work. And Donald needs a chance to be free of these things from time to time – as we all might, every so often. Thank you, Donald, with other folk in the congregation, for your contributions in various forms, as each week goes by.
At our Bible Study on Tuesday afternoon, we found Jesus warning us to be careful of ferocious wolves masquerading as sheep (see Matthew 7.15) – just around the time when the shearing gets underway hereabouts. It brought the message home to us quite sharply! It would be dreadful wouldn’t it, if the shearers get to work on a normal-looking woolly creature, only to uncover such a dangerous beast under that anonymous looking fleece.
And that slips us neatly into the next stage of Jesus’ comparison of himself against the religious leaders of his day, as recounted in John’s gospel (chapter 10). From a different setting, but more substantially, he used similar imagery – but with the clear claim to be the good shepherd himself (e.g. v11). Last time I detoured to notice Paul’s confidence in God’s word as the helmet of salvation (Eph 6.17); now we’re led to notice the imagery of vulnerability – sheep that may be stolen; or flee from a stranger’s call; they may be killed by a thief; or abandoned by a hired hand; and attacked by the wolf.
Both Paul and Jesus were very ‘realistic’ in their ministries: there are very significant threats to human well-being, which they never glossed over. And any who rest their faith in Jesus will still face similar threats, as well as any opposition to Jesus. Although they are among his sheep, and therefore know his voice, they are still vulnerable to threat, danger and opposition – possibly even more of a target. Trust in him has never meant a trouble-free existence – that will come finally, but not until then.
However, among all that trouble, all who are the Lord’s sheep have his voice calling them – to gather (10.16); to lead them (10.4); to reassure them, and ultimately to explain how he lays down his life for the sheep (10.11). In every aspect he speaks of here, he is reassuring to us, because there are ‘dark’ pieces in contrast to the light or relief that he brings. Why might he give us reassuring words unless we face threats (those thieves, wolves, etc); or live in a state of fear? Recognising the reality of danger is crucial too, for escaping from it. Jesus said all this about his sheep, in John 10, because of the resistance to the gospel that was all around him (eg. Chapter 9). The way of life he came to bring to mankind was vigorously opposed by strangers, whether snarling, snide, or subtle.
It’s important to realise that the sheep Jesus has in mind are involved in a life-and-death struggle. Read the first part of John 10 (1-18) slowly, and the efforts are quite formidable, that will be made to undermine his good work, and his gracious care of the weak. He’s not just talking of an idyllic pastoral scene, but it’s a conflict zone. All the while though, he does convey the promise of eventual rest, through his constant care of all who will hear his voice and follow him.
All this must lead us to (i) be well aware of spiritual hazards that could steal us away; but (ii) even more aware, and confident in, the great shepherd of the sheep – that is, to hear his voice, receiving both his daily leadership, and his ultimate objective. Since he is absolutely certain of the destination, so also should you and I be – we may be only sheep but look at who our shepherd is!
May the words of the Lord find recognition with each of you, to lead and assure you in his grace.
18 June 2021 [The Manse, Lonmore]
Hello everyone, trusting you are well, with help in every need arising with you and yours.
In the last wee while, one strand of Bible-reading I’ve been following has been Paul’s imagery of the ancient armour, in Ephesians 6. There’s a brief commentary on one of the items, that I appreciated to the extent of thinking you might be helped by it too. In verse 17, Paul urges us to take the helmet of salvation. The comment began by piling on the different sports that use helmets these days, remarking that “athletes put a premium on protesting their brains from injury”, and then continues:
And soldiers protect their heads as well. No surprise, then, that Paul included “the helmet of salvation” in his list of the Christian’s spiritual armour. Paul draws much of his armour imagery from Isaiah where God is pictured wearing spiritual “armour” (Isaiah 59.17). Why the helmet of salvation? In short, because of the emphasis in Scripture on the mind. We have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2.16). We are to renew our mind (Romans 12.2). The main battleground of spiritual warfare is the mind, the thought life (2 Corinthians 10.4-5). If Satan can cause us to have thoughts of doubt concerning our salvation, the battle tilts in his favour. We protect our mind with God’s promises concerning salvation.
When you have doubts or insecurities, go to the Word! Renew your mind; protect your thought life. Meditate on what is true (Philippians 4.8).
Turning Points, David Jeremiah
That mention of Satan persuading us to have doubts over our salvation ‘got its hook into’ me: it’s a recurring problem, and clearly not just in Scottish highland church circles – those notes came from North America!
When we pause there a moment, what do we see? I suggest we note the three voices: Satan’s, my own, and God’s – just as it was in Eden, with Eve (& Adam), the serpent, and God. I put them (us) in that order deliberately. It’s as if we’re pottering along quietly minding our own business, which is just as Satan likes us, so then he gets his piece in ‘first’. We kind of find ourselves on the defensive then, and find it hard to respond well. Only then do we remember that God said something about that – and it all seems too late. It isn’t though – let’s reverse the order of voices. When it seems like we’ve ‘blown it again’, start again, only this time with God’s word first; always God’s word – I can’t stress that enough: it’s an astonishing gift we have to hand for every situation of life.
Yes, ‘yet another stumble and sin’ is discouraging, but watch the soldier. A film will have the camp caught napping – so the soldiers jump about, with gunfire and bombs creating a racket and chaos all around, and they grab for their weapons…and their helmets. The word of God, always.
So, when we stumble as we go, every time the Lord’s promise (his word) is (1 John 1.9):
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Of the three – me, Satan, and God – whose word is ‘more’ true? Whose promise can I implicitly rely on? And so, whose word does it make sense to use to direct my approach to life – my thoughts, my confidences – on the occasions when I become aware of my sin (again)? And a clue: it’s not my word!
I have in mind to go on soon to reflect on John 10 – of I am the good shepherd fame (v11) (I want to say more in due course). What’s the big point there? In verses 3 & 16, Jesus says, the sheep listen to (my) voice. His is the good voice, the caring voice, the calling voice. When you feel burdened over your ‘failings’ and sin, stop in the middle of those voices and inner turbulence, and hear his steady voice of kindness – the one voice that speaks only truth, both to guide and to comfort.
May the words of the Lord bear fruit in your minds to keep and bless you in every need.
11 June 2021 [The Manse, Lonmore]
Where has the week gone?! I don’t imagine I’m alone ‘just keeping up’, as we sometimes put it. But while that may be our initial feeling, I’ve found it important to remember that all our days and hours are ordained by God. That’s real, not just imagined, and needs to be a major factor in our minds, reactions, and hearts. If we feel overwhelmed at any thought that we’ve not done enough in the week, maybe we do have to admit we’ve frittered time away unwisely and unprofitably. On the other hand, it’s possible that other business arises that we don’t anticipate ‘at launch’ of a week (or month, etc.). If we have at least been diligent, and offered of our best, while truly looking and praying to know and do God’s good pleasure, it’s wise to commit everything to him, and be at peace.
One of the biggest difficulties is, of course, that we are so often ruled in life by the expectations and demands others place on us – other than God, who is ultimately our one true master. That has two problems: one on our own side, when we submit to man’s rule and not the Lord’s. I know, there definitely are situations in life, where other people do have authority over us and we must follow – as given by the Lord in the first place. But this is about many other cases where we must answer to God directly, for how we live, work, and think. The other problem is how others may place demands and expectations on us; or we do towards them. That’s where we pass judgement on them, such as Jesus warned against (e.g. Matthew 7.1-5).
That’s been an ever-present problem we all share, with so little caution. We too easily condemn and complain, with little effort towards understanding of the other person’s – usually very different – situation in life, or their capabilities: there are issues that people face in life which we may never know about, at just the time we complain about them coming up short in some way or another, by our reckoning. There’s a strong element of that spirit in the Pharisees who made life a misery for the man born blind then healed by Jesus – see last week’s letter (John 9). They just would not let up on him! All sorts of false directions in their approach to him!
But it was just as Jesus had said (Matt 7.3): “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Of course, for those Pharisees, these specks and planks were mainly about religious observance; but it applies in any setting where we go thinking about someone else, ‘He should’ve…’ ‘She could…’, and the like.
‘Comparisons are odious’ we’re told, but this man and his parents showed some courage in their retorts to the investigators, well aware of the implied accusations from their questioners. And that is what it takes many times – both to keep to the path appointed for us by God, each one being at least a bit different from everyone else’s; and to waken us out of our lazy thinking. The Pharisees had shown no inclination to modify their ideas to the evidence right before their eyes. ‘Our’ man was a much better example, setting out the obvious conclusion (vv32-33):
32 “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
All the evidence in the world will not satisfy someone who has no wish or intention to see, or to reason things through objectively. I think that’s one of the most impressive things about the accounts of the resurrected Lord Jesus. The witnesses were the least prepared to receive the news – see how distraught the disciples were; utterly convinced the cross was the end of their dreams. Paul was another one later on. Those accounts can only be accounted for as truth. The once-blind man realised there was only one explanation; the ones who chose not to accept that remained responsible for their choice – (their) guilt remains (9.41). On the other hand: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matt 5.7)
The Lord grant you his mercies, and may we have the grace to pass them on to each other.