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Time Stand Still 

This weekend finds us in midsummer once again. Today (Saturday 20th June) is known as the longest day when we enjoy more daylight than at any other time of the year. It is a time that many of us have looked forward to, and try to make the most of these few weeks of summer. The weather has indeed been glorious lately, but from now on the days will get shorter and the nights will grow inexorably longer. As we contemplate the thought of a long Harris winter – it be might be a welcome thought for the Sun to stand still for a while – quite a while!

I was reminded of that curious and certainly unique story in Joshua 10 when Joshua the commander of Israel, actually asked God to make the Sun stand still for a time ; 

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,

and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. ”

So the Sun stood still,

and the moon stopped,

till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, ( Joshua 10:12-13) 

Any weather forecaster will tell you this is impossible. But our God is the God of the impossible. What we see in this passage is God intervention at a crucial moment to give his people victory over their enemies. Some see that in this passage, the day was lengthened to make Israel’s rout of the enemy more complete, and give them longer daylight hours to achieve victory. Some others are of the view that Joshua asked that the Sun become cooler during the day time to make it easier for Joshua’s tired army to achieve victory without the relentless middle eastern Sun beating down on them. How this happened, we do not know. What we know for sure is that God intervened in the ordinary course of nature at exactly the right moment to give the Israelites victory over their enemies. As the writer of Joshua points out, the greatest marvel lies not in the occurrence of the miracle itself but that “the LORD heeded the voice of a man” (Josh. 10:14).

Let us not think as so many do of God as a god to be manipulated and controlled. This passage shows that God had a purpose in what he was doing. Joshua 10: 12-15 is depicting one of the greatest battles in history – when God deliberately intervened on behalf of his people.

What does this remarkable passage show us? – Well, it shows us, I would say that only the things the Lord accomplishes for us are our real victories in life. The actual achievements to be thankful for are the things we can’t do ourselves. It is at our times of greatest weakness and need that God very often intervenes to help. These instances when we can say like Samuel, that “..hitherto hath the Lord helped us” ( 1 Samuel 7:12) These last weeks have been such a time for us when we have to be thankful for God’s grace and mercy to us as a community during this challenging season.

 A5 15 march landscape

The screen-shot above is the front page of our intimation sheet on 15th March 2020. We have not met since then in the church for worship due to the closure of church buildings due to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

I have been in the church a few times since then, and have always been struck by the fact that time seems to have stood still in the building. The wall clock in the main sanctuary is an hour slow, as it has not been changed to British Summer Time at the end of March. Other than Government posters and the hand sanitiser at the door things seem very much the way they were since early spring. What strikes me immediately though is the pile of intimation sheets at the church and hall doors dated 15th March 2020. Does nothing much seem to have happened since then? 

 

Well, the fact is that plenty has happened since then. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we have had to do things differently, and by all accounts will have to continue to do things differently for some time to come. In this time, we have had to adapt to a whole new way of ministry and doing church. Zoom has become part of the weekly vocabulary of many people in Harris as well as elsewhere. We are thrilled to see how many are joining in with the services on Zoom each week. Thus far, the services have been relatively basic, but hopefully, that will change in the time to come. I have had to get used to recording and editing video sermons and uploading to our own new Youtube channel, as well as embedding the video on our website. Daily Bible readings, have gone up on the website for a time and may return in another form in the future. Although a number of the fabric related jobs we hoped to proceed within 2020 have had to be shelved, I am glad to say that the church and grounds are in great shape. A very big thank you to Campbell and Karen for spending hours, indeed days of hard work on the Church grounds, the undercroft and the exterior lighting. 

There is, however, still some time before we can meet in the way we used to. Although we are now in phase two of the Scottish Government’s route map for returning to worship, it looks as if it will still be some months before we will be able to return to any semblance of normality in worship.  

Tomorrow though we will meet together on Zoom as usual. There will be no video recorded sermon going out tomorrow, as in the morning we will have a virtual family service to mark the end of the Sunday school year. The theme for the Service is “ How Great is Our God ! ”. if ever there was a time when we have to be reminded of and give thanks for the fact that our God is greater than any of the challenges we face it is now. This will be reflected in our Bible readings, singing and the three short talks which are entitled : 

 ‘Our God is a Great Big God’ 

‘There’s no one like our God.’

‘All Things are Possible’ 

We look forward to welcoming all ages to the Service tomorrow and are very happy a good cross-section of young people will be taking part in the Service. We look forward to seeing you there.  

If you are not on our mailing list for the Zoom meetings, please drop us a line HERE to be sent a link. 

Congregational Letter June 2020

Dear Friends, 

I hope that this letter finds you and yours well during these strange days in which we find ourselves. This year is one that no-one living through it will forget, and will most likely be spoken of and taught in future history classes. These are unprecedented and challenging times for all of us.  

My purpose in writing this letter is two-fold. In the first place, I write in a pastoral capacity, but secondly concerning practical matters in the congregation. The lockdown has taken a toll on every aspect of life irrespective of whether we live in the big city or here in Harris. Despite the challenges that the lockdown has brought, we have at the same time, many reasons to be thankful. We have as yet not had any positive cases of COVID-19 in Harris. That is largely due to the rapid and rigorous lockdown. The pandemic has, of course, had a negative impact on the economy of Harris, and our thoughts and prayers are very much with those whose livelihood has been adversely affected by the pandemic. 


I am acutely aware of how difficult this time is for many of us, and that issues of mental, physical and spiritual health related to anxiety, stress and depression can be more prevalent and intense than before. Life was tough before COVID-19, and indeed, the current situation has not made life much easier. Yet God is still God, and in His Sovereign will and mercy, He is undoubtedly speaking to our world. As the world lurches from one crisis to another, that Governments seem unable to contain, the Word of God continues to strive with our world. Never has our world seemed to be in such a mess, never have we appeared so divided by politics, race, class, religion and many other factors. Psalm 46 immediately springs to my mind when thinking of the ferment that the world is in right now.

‘ Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.’ 

How should we respond? The obvious answer is to seek God more in prayer. That is the obvious answer that alone brings peace. However, it is so hard sometimes to do. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have had to switch off the news many times recently. Does your social media and newsfeeds make you feel happier or feeling more depressed? Answer honestly! In my experience, I find it necessary to switch off the news and for my sanity limit my engagement with the Main Stream Media and Social. Networks. None of these things is a substitute for getting into God’s word and being in fellowship (albeit virtually) with God’s people. 

During the lockdown, normal congregational life has been affected greatly by the Coronavirus Pandemic, and sadly this has affected bereaved families as we have not been able to have funeral services in the church building. This has been an added source of pain and grief to mourning families. In this congregation, we were saddened at the passing of Alick Morrison Meavaig North and Sammy Macleod Ardhasaig as well as George MacDiarmid from the congregation of Manish Scarista, during the lockdown. Due to social distancing restrictions, the funeral services have had to take place at the graveside. We should like to assure the grieving families of our on-going prayerful remembrance of them at this time. In addition, we will offer if families feel it appropriate, an opportunity to hold a memorial service at a later date once restrictions have eased.  As some of you may know, my mother Chrissie passed away at the end of May, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their condolences, support and sympathy during this time. It is much appreciated. Thank you too to everyone who remembered us in prayer, privately and at various prayer meetings. It is truly appreciated. Her passing is a time of sadness for us as a family, but also it is an occasion of thankfulness and gratitude for knowing her and believing that she has entered into the fullness of God’s presence.

 The future During these past few weeks, it has been necessary for us as a congregation, in common with other churches to do Church differently. Due to the restrictions that have been put in place throughout the Spring, most of what we do as a congregation now has had to be done online. The church Website hosts most of our content of online sermons and Bible studies but also gives information as to what we are doing and what is happening. The Scottish Government are expected to make an announcement on 18th June with regard to entering Phase 2 of the route map out of this crisis, detailing the possible lifting restrictions as far as places of worship are concerned. These are still likely to be minor adjustments with only private prayer (i.e. one person and at most two ) permitted in church buildings and also small weddings to take place. Again the numbers permitted would be so small as to make weddings impractical. If all goes according to plan, Phase 3 of the route map will be announced on 9th July. To quote the Scottish Government Guidelines, “Places of worship can open to extended groups subject to physical distancing and hygiene safeguards. We will relax restrictions on funeral attendance, marriages, civil partnership and other services to beyond close family.” This will feel more like normal, but will still be far from what we would wish as a church. Dates for Phase 4 and 5 have yet to be announced by the Scottish Government. 

Online Donations  The Congregational Website has an online donations page which can be accessed by clicking on the donations tab on the home page and clicking on the DONATE button to make a donation via PAYPAL – also accepting most cards. 

It is also possible to make online payments to the work of the congregation directly through the Church of Scotland Website. By clicking on this link https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/donate  and by clicking on the donate button. All donations made to an individual congregation will be returned to that congregation, thus enabling members and adherents to continue to make their regular offering or to make a special donation to enable the Church’s work to continue at this difficult time.

Standing Orders Both the General Treasurer’s department at ‘121’ and we as a Kirk Session encourage those who can to take out a standing order to make regular payments to the congregation. This is the simplest way to make regular contributions to the congregation. The Congregation’s Bank details are as follows 

Tarbert church of Scotland Sort Code 80-09-83 Account No. 00187201. Forms of Mandate can be obtained from the Congregation’s Treasurer Angus Macsween or by clicking here

Freewill Offering Envelopes As a Kirk Session we are aware that for many the preferred way of donating will continue to be by the Weekly Freewill Offering Envelopes. As Church Services have not been taking place, it has not been possible for WFO envelopes to be taken to the Church as before. As a solution to this, we are very thankful that Mrs Christine Macaskill at Tarbert Post Office has agreed to take in and hold onto any offering envelopes you may have until the Lockdown restrictions are lifted. Alternatively, you may if you wish to retain the envelopes yourselves until that time. 

GIFT AID As some of you will know offerings that were made to the congregation under the Gift Aid Small Donation Scheme were not to exceed £30 to qualify for this scheme. In many cases where the donation is under £30, HMRC has now advised that if donations are made in a single envelope (i.e. a few weeks offerings together). These offerings will still be considered as separate small donations if marked as such on the envelope (i.e. with Dates). In that case, they will still be eligible for the Gift Aid Small Donation scheme. 

ZOOM Meetings In the meantime, we continue to worship together on Sunday mornings using Zoom Video conferencing technology. This has proved to be a blessing to us as it allows us to meet and worship in our own homes. If anyone would like to join these meetings, please let us know, all that is needed is an email address, and we’ll add to you the distribution list. Two recent developments with our Zoom services are worth mentioning just now. 

Zoom phone It is now possible for those who do not have the internet to connect to the meetings from their phones. The instructions for joining a meeting by phone can be sent out to anyone who requests it so please just let us know. 

Breakout Rooms Recently, we started a feature called Breakout rooms where those at a Zoom meeting can stay behind for some time of informal fellowship after the meeting. We are currently using four  or five breakout rooms, so  if there is anyone in particular you would like to be put into a breakout room with ( ie friends , family , neighbours)  please speak to myself or one of the co-hosts ( Kenny, Campbell & Karen) and we’ll try and move you into that particular room. No Guarantees – but we’ll try !  We are currently exploring how we can  as a church facilitate a meet and chat event via Zoom during the week to connect people. This has proved to be very popular, and we hope it will encourage others to take part. Fellowship has never been more important than now when we are not able to see each other in other ways.

With every good wish and God’s blessings to you all 

Ian Murdo Macdonald

 

” Friends in High Places” ( part 2)

 Day 40 – “YOU ARE NOT ALONE”  

‘And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. ‘ 2 Kings 6:17 

This series of daily Bible notes ends for a time after the biblical fortieth day, in looking once again at the ‘Friends in High Places’ who protected Elisha and his servant. We have seen over these forty days how Elijah and Elisha, two unique individuals had a purpose in God’s plan. They showed character in the times of crisis in which they found themselves, and as such, they leave us with much to think about and follow in our own time of crisis today. 

I believe that what we are shown in these verses should be a great comfort, as we are shown that no matter our circumstances, no matter even how we might feel; we are not alone. If we can take to heart Elisha’s rapid faith-filled prayer, we are shown that God’s help is indeed only a prayer away. 

I read a story some time ago about a teacher who decided to travel across the USA to see the places that she had taught her classes about for many years. She set off in a 4×4 with a caravan in tow, when in rush hour traffic near Sacramento, disaster struck and the water pump blew. She began to panic, and being a Christian she prayed “Lord, please send me an angel, and preferably one with mechanical experience ! “. Within four minutes a Harley Davidson motorcycle roared up beside her, ridden by a large hairy man covered in tattoos. She froze when she saw the words on his leather jacket “Hell’s Angels – California”. Without looking at her, he flagged down a passing lorry to tow the truck and caravan off the freeway and started to work on repairing the water pump. He quickly finished the job, and as she stammered a quick thank you, he looked at her with piercing eyes and growled “Don’t judge a book by its cover. You may not know who you’re talking to.” With that, he smiled, closed the hood of the truck, and straddled his Harley. With a wave, he was gone as fast as he had appeared. Was this an Angel? Have there been times when we ourselves have not been helped and kept by these ministering spirits of God? 

One of the Old Testament names for God is Jehovah Sabaoth or the Lord of Hosts. The Message Bible renders this name as ‘ God of the angel armies”. I think this is the right perspective to understand that God is greater than anything we face. That was certainly what Elisha’s servant discovered that morning! We must also remember that not only are we not alone but that the odds are actually in our favour. 

‘What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? ‘ Romans 8:31 

The message that God brings through Elisha is the message that God still has to the frightened, the discouraged,  the rejected,  the tempted and the confused today. You are not alone! What comfort there is in remembering this,  in these challenging days as God has promised us 

 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” ( Deut 31:6) 

‘Friends in High Places ‘ 

Day 39 “OPEN YOUR EYES” 

“So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 2 Kings 6:16

Tomorrow Tuesday 5th May will be the fortieth day of these Bible notes. I will be drawing this current series of short Bible notes and devotions to a close on the Biblical fortieth day, to focus on other things. These notes will conclude for now anyway with a two-part devotional from 2 kings 6 called “Friends in High Places”

 I wonder how many of us believe that Angels are real? I am not thinking of the plethora of creepy, new age and unbiblical views that are out there today about contacting and channelling your guardian angel. Steer well clear! 

What I am referring to is what the Bible calls’ ministering spirits’, powerful beings that we cannot ordinarily see, but who exist to do God’s will, and to help God’s people. 

Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:14

 These Verses in 2 Kings 6 bring home the reality of these ‘friends in high places’ to Elisha’s servant. It is only when his eyes are opened that He sees what he hadn’t before. He can discern God’s firewall around him, ( vs 17) He sees what Elisha could see, he sees what God wanted him to see, and also what the devil didn’t want him to see! The prophet’s servant is shown the reality of Angelic presence, of a spiritual dimension of which we are often unaware. But before this – things were different! 

This incident takes place at a time approximately 2850 – 3000 years ago) when Aramea (or Syria) a powerful kingdom to the North of Israel – was at war ( vs 8) with Israel. Little seems to have changed over the millennia! Israel – then as now was acutely conscious of its smallness & vulnerability. Into the equation comes Elisha -to whom God reveals things( read vs 9- 10). The spirit of prophecy on Elisha helped Israel avoid ambush and battle with the much more powerful Syrian army. Irritated by this the Syrians send out a snatch squad to pick up Elisha ( vs 13-14) In a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood movie, Elisha and his servant wake up to find themselves surrounded by the Syrian army. 

his servant is understandably panicked by this, ( vs 15). But Elisha can discern the hoast of heaven surrounding them in these wonderful words 

“So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” ( 2 Kings 6:16) 

The servant had to have his eyes opened to spiritual realities that he had not seen or known before. Like Mary Magdalene ( John 20) and the two on the road to Emmaus ( Luke 24), this man was kept from perceiving the spiritual realities all around him. Like them, his eyes were “holden” as the King James Bible puts it, to prevent him from seeing what Elisha could see. 

We too are so often blind to spiritual and eternal realities. The difference between the angelic host Elisha and his servant saw, from the Guardian angels of the new age is as different as night and day. The angels that surrounded the two of them were God’s ministering spirits. We should never forget that nearer than we can ever imagine. Paul puts it like as he debated with the philosophers of Athens ‘so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; ‘ Acts 17:27 

Let us not forget either the very similar confession made by Hezekiah king of Judah in 2 Chronicles 32. words which are so appropriate for us in our day. 

“Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.

Naaman – Counsel and Confession 

Character in a time of crisis Day 38

 “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” ( 2 Kings 5:15)

If Naaman was outraged by what Elisha had said to him, his servants were wiser, had cooler heads, and possibly more faith too. ( read vs 13) They rightly suggested that if Elisha had asked him to do something difficult, he would have done it without question, so why not something easy? 

The counsel of the servants and Naaman’s acquiescence with their advice shows us two things briefly before we move on. Firstly how essential it is to listen to the good advice of others. ( Prov 12:15 “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” and again. ( Prov 13:10 ) “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice”. To listen to good advice sometimes means doing what Naaman does and swallowing our pride.

 The second point that verse 13 shows us is that just because something sounds too easy, or seems too good to be true doesn’t mean that isn’t the right course of action to take. Naaman is told to wash seven times in Jordan. His servants are suggesting if he was asked to do something much more difficult, he would do it without a moment’s hesitation. Maybe that is true also of saving faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot earn this by our good works, or by our position, status, ability heritage or celebrity. 

Is simple faith a stumbling block? Is it just too easy? Maybe if faith and salvation came with a financial price tag, and hoops to jump through and hurdles to cross, many more would claim to be Christians. But faith only requires us to believe. Remember Paul’s words to the Jailer in Acts 16:31 “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Is it too good to be true? Is it what an ex- Professor of mine used to describe as ‘Pie in the sky when you die’. Or do we believe as Paul puts it in Romans 10:9

that if you confess with your mouth, the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Naaman’s Confession in 2 Kings 5:15 does in some senses read like other similar confessions in the Bible. “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.”

This is a statement of Naaman’s Faith, but we must notice it is a fledgeling faith. It is an immature faith ( vs 17). He is so impressed by this God who is able to heal, as no other could that he determines that he will worship this God, ( read vs 17) Two mule loads of earth seem to show Naaman’s ignorance of this God. He knows this God, but very little. He seems to have a mixed Polytheistic view that this God is like other gods, who would prefer the earth of his own land, believing that God could only be worshipped on his native soil. His God is small, and his knowledge of him imperfect. 

Spiritually we can’t expect to run before we can walk, and a budding faith is going to be weak, and incomplete at best as Naaman’s was, but still, it is a faith. Paul puts it like this 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! ( 2 Corinthians 5:17

Naaman – The condition and the cure 

Character in a time of crisis (Day 37)

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, but he had leprosy. 2 Kings 5:1

Naaman, the Syrian general, was well thought of and held high office, and would almost certainly have been close to the king. But that didn’t change the fact that he was still a Leper. He would never get better, and eventually, he would die of this painful and debilitating condition. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law Murdo and Rachel Macdonald worked in Anadaban leprosy hospital in Nepal a few years ago. I remember Murdo giving a talk on how difficult everyday life is for leprosy patients. He used the illustration of attempting to open bottles and jars while wearing boxing gloves to show the damage caused by leprosy can make the simplest everyday tasks very difficult. 

 I can give a quick summary of the verses at the beginning of 2 Kings 5. As a result of the imploring of the slave girl ( vs 3), Naaman goes with his king’s approval to Israel ( vs 4-6) to ask for the help. This is much to the consternation of King Joram of Israel, who feels as if a gun is being pointed to his head ( vs 7) 

Elisha, however, sees things differently from the king, he discerns things spiritually. Elisha, as I said yesterday, may not seem to figure much in these verses But the faith that is greater than circumstances is very apparent once again in Elisha. (vs 8) The reason for this happening is for God to be glorified (vs 8b). If we took the time to get to know the will of God more, I believe we see how even the most awkward and unpromising of circumstances can be God’s doing. Elisha is in tune with what God is saying to him and gives Naaman a prescription he has to follow. 

Yet it becomes apparent that leprosy was not Naaman’s only problem! His pride surfaces very quickly with a couple of outbursts. Naaman came with pomp with chariots and horses (vs 9), but Elisha didn’t bother going to see him! We can imagine the wounded pride of Naaman “why didn’t he come to see me? Does he not know who I am ?” Maybe the pride goes with the territory of being a high-ranking general. However, God’s word warns repeatedly against this sin, which has destroyed the life and testimony of so many; 

“Though the LORD is on high Yet He regards the lowly;

But the proud He knows from afar. Psalms 138:6

 Naaman’s temper isn’t helped by Elisha, suggesting he wash seven times in the River Jordan (vs 12). Naaman knows the rivers of Damascus ( Abana & Pharpar are cleaner ). The rivers of Damascus ran clear from snow-covered mountains, the Jordan although much longer, meandered slowly through Palestine & was much cloudier. Maybe his pride is personal, institutional or even geographical! But as is often the case pride has to be swallowed. 

Yet Naaman should be thankful for the wise counsel of his servants. They are sensible and wise when their master is not, and they give him this prudent advice

 “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash and be clean’?” ( vs 13) 

Thankfully for Naaman, he heeded their advice and was healed of his leprosy 

So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 2 Kings 5:14

 The account of Naaman shows that on more than once occasion, he is dependant of the faith and counsel of others, even his slaves and servants. Our world would be a better and safer place today if some of the world’s political leaders would take heed of the wise counsel of others. Paul puts it like this;

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 1 Timothy 6:17

A Faith Greater Than Circumstances

Character in a time of Crisis Day 36

‘She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”2 Kings 5:3

These Bible notes have been character studies of Elijah and Elisha. However, we should remember that these passages also reveal others who display great faith in difficult circumstances. Today’s study certainly shows this.

2 Kings 5 is a chapter focusing on the Syrian General Namaan. Like all successful military leaders, he was held in esteem by his king and country (vs 1). The magnificent tombs of Nelson and Wellington in St Paul’s cathedral, show the admiration in which our own nation holds victorious generals. Namaan is described as a great man and a valiant soldier. He undoubtedly was, but he had leprosy ( vs1). Despite his success and fame, and the awe and respect he enjoyed, Namaan suffered from this incurable and at that time greatly feared illness. He is labelled as the leper, in the same way as Bartimaeus is always labelled as the blind man (Mark 10:46). The passage is about the healing of Namaan. Yet this passage is also the account of a faith that is greater than circumstances. We read in vs 2-3 of an unnamed slave girl in Namaan’s household  She may be un-named and with only a minor role, but she is the key to the whole passage. There are two points we can think of today.

Firstly we should not dismiss or forget those who we may consider having minor roles in the scriptures, as often they are those who show, as she does, faith that is greater than circumstances. Think for instance of the faith, courage and obedience of Ananias ( Acts 9), who was instrumental in the healing of Saul of Tarsus. Think of the role of Mordecai in protecting and inspiring Esther “ For such a time as this” ( Esther 4:4). The gospels would be very different without the input of Simon of Cyrene (Luke 23:26), Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus ( John 20:38-42). or as we saw way back on day 5 of these notes, Obadiah who  ‘ feared the Lord greatly’ ( 1 Kings 18:3) and rendered valuable assistance to Elijah.

Secondly, this young person had the faith to believe in the ministry of Elisha (vs 3) and that her master Namaan would be healed not by Elisha, but by Elisha’s God.  There are several accounts in the Bible of how captives, actually help their captors Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream (Gen 38), Daniel interprets dreams for Babylonian kings (Daniel 4). Psychologists today speak of Stockholm syndrome where captives, will rather than hate their captors, empathise with them, get to know & like them, even defend them, and become dependant upon them. I don’t think this is what we see in this case, but what we do see is a young girl moved by compassion and strong faith to seek the best for her master.  These may be her only recorded words in the Bible, but they speak volumes about her! 

We sometimes wonder how anything good can come from a bad situation, but God’s will and way are greater than ours, and God knows what He is doing. If she hadn’t been there, Naaman would never have gone to Elisha for help, and would not have been healed.In reflecting on the difficult and challenging times, can  we say like Joseph that God meant it for good” “ ( Gen 50:20) I hope we can take comfort from the testimony of scripture,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

The Shunammite’s son  Part 3  The Prayer

Character in a time of crisis (Day 35)

So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD.2 Kings 4:33

The second miracle that is shown in the account of Elisha and the Shunammite’s son, is the better known of the two in this passage. The raising of this young man to life once again. It is important that remember that the narrative in this passage takes place over the span of several years, and there is a gap of several years between verse 17 and verse 18

In 2 Kings 4 verse 18, we read that the boy grew, but then tragedy struck. One day in the fields, he is taken seriously ill. his mother’s first thought is to go to the man of God. To Elisha, she may have thought, ‘he was the one who had promised his birth, surely only Elisha can help me now ?’.  Elisha asked his servant Gehazi to run to the boy. Gehazi does as he is asked but mechanically and without faith ( vs 31). In contrast Elisha takes it to the Lord in prayer first ( vs 33). Notice the order of priority in Elisha’s actions, Before there is the physical, there is the spiritual.  Before He ever stretches out on on the boy, gives warmth and resuscitation, He has sought the help of God.

I believe that the way God works in the case of the Shunammite’s son is a pattern of how personal God’s care is of hurting people. And also a model for the church to follow in its caring for hurting, grieving people too. There is genuine concern for the woman and her son, in Elisha’s actions. Shutting the door, closing out all distractions, Elisha takes it to the Lord in prayer, in the room the woman had set aside for him. Praying to God seeking the help of the God whom he served, and physically touching the child, giving him the kiss of life.  Elisha isn’t acting in ignorance, or with apathy, but with determined purpose, that the woman whom he had given the promise to before would not have her hopes cruelly dashed again. 

The words of James 5:16  seem so appropriate for this passage “ The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much”.   I cannot speak for anyone else, but Elisha’s persistence and faith in prayer put me to shame. There is something very challenging and convicting in looking at a character study of someone like Elisha. Someone like him called to the Kingdom for such a time as this and making God the priority in everything.

The Shunammite’s Son ( part 2 The Promise) 

Character in a time of Crisis Day 34

And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 2 Kings 4:16

I wonder if you have ever had a promise, a word, a revelation that you know is not of human origin, and that could only be a promise from God? The account of Elisha and the Shunammite’s son shows us such a promise being given. As I said yesterday, this is the story of two miracles. Today I’d like us to think of the first of these miracles, the promise (in vs 16) that the Shunammite would have a son. 

The Shunammite and her husband have been hospitable and kind to Elisha and his servant. They Provided lodging for them whenever they were nearby (vs 8-10). Elisha considers what can be best done for her, and learns she has no son ( vs14). At this time, this was more than merely a disappointment, as it meant that without a son, the family name would die out, and the land and possessions would then pass to others. Additionally, in time she would face the threat of widowhood as her husband was old (vs 14) and would not have the security of a son to provide for her. 

In faith, Elisha gives the Shunammite a promise (vs 16) that she would become the mother of a son this time. There is nothing vague or trite about the promise that Elisha gives. He isn’t just saying, ‘don’t worry you’ll be OK’  like so many well-meaning people do, or even you will probably have a child. But about this time next year, you will hold a SON. That specific. Like the episode recorded in Genesis 18 When in an angelic revelation, God appears to another well to do couple who are up in years. And say “Then the Lord said, I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah, your wife, will have a son’. Gen 18: 10 

We should not blame the poor Shunammite for expressing what might appear to be doubt or unbelief. Maybe she doesn’t want to get her hopes up to have them dashed again. Perhaps this sounds just too good to be true. But we read in vs 17 that Elisha’s promise to her was fulfilled. 

New life is the greatest human miracle and the most wonderful blessing that we can know. We should never underestimate how miraculous the birth of a child is, and especially in such circumstances as is often portrayed in the scriptures. In the births, of, for example, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, Samuel, John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus, we see the miraculous intervention of God. The anguished cry of the heart is heard by God, and the answer is given through a baby being born. Although the promises given are to a mother or a couple, the full impact of the pledge is very often to the whole nation. Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the promise of the birth of the Messiah in these wonderful words of Isaiah;

Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Elisha and the Shunammite’s Son  ( Part 1) 

Character in a time of Crisis ( Day 34)

The life of Elisha was full of the miracles and the supernatural power of God. We have already seen the first two. God gave water in the desert to provide for an army, (2 Ki 3) and copious olive oil to provide for a widow and her family (2 Ki 4:1-7). However, in 2 Kings 4: 8-36, we see an even greater miracle, the raising to life of the Shunammite’s son, which I’d like to look at over the next two days as well. 

  Elisha’s help is more urgently needed once again, but this time, we are not thinking about food or water, but life and death. Here Elisha is confronted with the reality of death in the experience of a family. Death seems so final and is naturally described by Paul as the” last enemy”, but we must remember that this is the enemy that Jesus has defeated once and for all (1 Cor 15:25-26).  

 There are comparatively few examples of people being raised to life again in the Bible. I could only find ten instances of people bring raised to life. The first is the raising of the widow of Zarephath’s son by Elijah ( 1 Ki 17), the Shunammite’s son. The raising of the man in Elisha’s grave ( 2 Ki 13); the widow of Nain’s son by Jesus ( Luke 7); Jairus’ daughter by Jesus ( Luke 8) Lazarus by Jesus ( John 11)Matthew 27 records that many saints who had fallen asleep were raised to life. Tabitha ( or Dorcas) was raised to life in Acts 9, and Eutychus was raised in Acts 20.  

Yet there is not one miracle in this passage but two! Elisha promises that the Shunammite will have a son, and years later raises that son to life. And again miraculous pregnancies feature prominently in the Bible Isaac born to Sarah, Jacob born to Rebekah, Joseph born to Rachel, Samson born to Manoah’s wife, Samuel born to Hannah, John born to Elizabeth, Jesus born to Mary. 

 This passage here is like much of the Bible, full of the supernatural work and power of God. Yet our world mostly associates the supernatural to evil and the dark side of humanity. The common perception seems to be that spiritual power if such a thing exists, is found eastern religions, mysticism and the occult. Christianity, on the other hand, is seen as being weird and passé at best. Yet the Bible relates many supernatural encounters between a Holy God and humanity. The same God in the person of the Holy Spirit is still working supernaturally in innumerable ways throughout the world.

The greatest resurrection of all was the one I did not mention earlier, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. His death and resurrection are the focal point of Scripture and the most important events in the history of the world. The resurrection of Jesus is different from the Bible’s other resurrections in a very notable way: Jesus’ resurrection is the first “permanent” resurrection; all the other resurrections in the Bible were “temporary” in that those raised to life died again.  Living in the power of an endless life ( (Hebrews 7:16) 

Days of Elijah

Character in time of Crisis – Month 2 Day 1

Today marks the beginning of the second month of these notes. I thought it would be good to mark this by showing this amazing video of United States marines singing along heartily to Robin Mark’s Days of Elijah.

Elijah and Elisha both showed exceptional character in times of crisis.  Likewise, these brave marines have shown character and courage on many occasions when faced with crisis after crisis. I think there is something very reassuring about hearing these Marines sing this well-known worship song so lustily  –  OORAH!

 

These are the days of Elijah,
Declaring the word of the Lord
And these are the days of Your servant Moses,
Righteousness being restored.
And though these are days of great trial,
Of famine and darkness and sword,
Still, we are the voice in the desert crying
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”

Behold He comes riding on the clouds,
Shining like the sun at the trumpet call,
Lift your voice, it’s the year of jubilee,
And out of Zion’s hill salvation comes

Treasure in Jars of Clay   

Character in a time of Crisis (Day 31) 

The widow’s oil ( part 3) Treasure in Jars of Clay                               

    The Story of Elisha and the widow’s oil is not only one of the best known of this prophet’s miracles. It is also an account which has parallels with the earlier passage of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath ( 1 Kings 17:7 ff) – She is along with her son dying of hunger – they have only a little flour and some oil. Which they are going to eat, and then wait to die of hunger. But Elijah asks for a cake. Can we imagine the widow’s thoughts? ‘ We are dying of hunger, and this wild-eyed freak wants a cake!’ No, the widow does as Elijah asks( 1 Kings 17:15) and is blessed. And so here also (in 2 Kings 4:1-7) there is the test of faith. 

 She is told “Go and get empty jars for oil” (vs 3). “Go next door and to all the neighbours and ask for all their bowls, basins, Tupperware, all their pyrex, everything”. Would she do this? Would she believe the words of Elisha? Well, yes, she did. Her faith had been tested enough as it was. But like her late husband ( vs 1) she believed the promise of God. She kept pouring out of the little she had, probably a small pot or flask of olive oil, and the oil kept coming . And the oil only stopped pouring when the jars stopped coming. 

The only limit was the number of vessels that were available for filling. If there had been more jars, there would be more oil. The oil only stopped when there were no more jars. I believe that this shows us a couple of points about this test of faith that can be applied today. 

The test of faith is not limited to would she do in response to Elisha’s instruction. But would she keep on doing it? Would she keep on looking for more vessels, and muster more borrowed pots and pans? It is not enough to trust in the Lord for a little. We need to keep on trusting Him. 

To persevere in prayer is never easy, but we are commanded to pray without ceasing ( 1 Thes 5:17). I remember hearing the late rev George Philip use the illustration of prayer as being like trying to open a big old door. It requires effort, and it requires persistence. 

Secondly, we need to be ready to receive God’s filling. The jars that Elisha wanted the widow to source had to be empty ( naturally I suppose!). If we would receive what God desires for us, we too need to be emptied of self and sin and everything and anything else to be filled and keep on being re-filled by God. 

 The apostle Paul puts it like this speaks in, ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us ‘ 2 Corinthians 4:7. He describes the Christian as being like earthenware vessels, old clay pots that can be filled and re-filled with His oil, the oil of the Holy Spirit, the Oil of joy. Remember that the steady flow of the Holy Spirit, which gives power, victory, joy and fruitfulness, will stop flowing when we fail to provide an empty vessel. 

I believe this applies privately but also collectively. if a group of people take God’s word to heart and resolve to become empty and available so as to be useful to the master, the miracles can happen!. I am reminded of the words of Chris Bowater’s hymn ‘Here I am, wholly available’

here I am, wholly available

As for me, I will serve the Lord
Here I am, wholly available
As for me, I will serve the Lord
The fields are white unto harvest
But O, the labourers are so few
So Lord, I give myself to help the reaping
To gather precious souls unto You
The time is right in the nation
For works of power and authority
God’s looking for a people who are willing
To be counted in His glorious victory
As salt are we ready to savour?
In darkness are we ready to be light?
God’s seeking out a very special people
To manifest His truth and His might

A Little goes a long way! 

Character in time of Crisis ( Day 30)

The Widows oil ( Part 2)

Elisha’s answer to the widow is positive and practical. “How can I help?” He is positive in his response; he’s also practical in what he does. The main issue is getting the debt paid. 

All she has is a little oil, probably olive oil in a jar. A little oil was all that God needed. It is fascinating how God works in miraculous ways, in the little things. There are many examples of a little becoming much in scripture. We have the case from the book of Judges of Gideon’s army reduced to a mere handful ( Judges 7) There is the story of David versus Goliath in 1 Samuel 17); we have the account from the life of Elijah, which is so similar to this one ( 1 Kings 17). The flour and Jug of oil of the widow. In the New Testament, there is the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. This the same kind of miracle. God is taking the little things we have, and in His hands, they become not only much but also a means of great blessing. Think of it this way; God doesn’t even need our efforts or offerings. He provided food and water for the people when they had nothing ( Exodus 16), and water from the rock ( Exodus 17) to supply His people’s need. Something small innocuous insignificant, like the grain of mustard seed ( Mark 4:30), becomes mighty in the sovereign will of God.

 In all these occasions and others, God chooses to work to prove that He is God. Gideon and his small band of brothers knew they hadn’t defeated the Midianites, but God did. Indeed even their enemy knew this ( Judges 7:14-15). David knew he hadn’t defeated Goliath; he knew the battle was the Lord’s ( 1 Samuel 17:47). Hezekiah knew it was God who defeated the Assyrians ( Isaiah 37:36). The widow of Zarephath knew it was the God of Elijah who raised her son to life ( 1 Kings 17:24), and similarly, this widow knew that the God of Elisha had provided the miraculous flow of oil to save her sons from slavery. 

The application of this passage to today’s ( very different) Godless culture seems very obvious to me. Human weakness, limitations and the desire for God’s help often invite the miraculous help of heaven. 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ( 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV) 

The Widow’s Oil

( Part 1- The Cry for help)

Character in a Time of Crisis ( Day 29)  2 Kings 4:1-7

We so often are reminded in the Bible that our ways and our thoughts are not the same as Gods ( Isaiah 55:9). We are often shown as well that with God, all things are possible( Matthew 19:26). We saw that with Elisha’s comment in 2 Kings 3 ‘This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord”.

In 2 Kings 4, we encounter one of the best-known miracles in Elisha’s ministry. The widow’s oil.

 We are confronted in the Bible with a God of supernatural miracles, and miracles are indeed a big part of Elisha’s ministry.  There is the temptation to dismiss this account from 2 Kings 4:1-7 as some would as being simply a Saga, a Novella, or a folklorist motif a part of oral tradition associated with ancient times. That is how some see this passage. Indeed if we go along with some scholars, this didn’t happen. To go with some Bible critics is to hold that Elisha didn’t exist except in the imagination and the stories around the campfire of the Hebrew people.  

My own view is that we disbelieve God’s word at our peril. If we discount the supernatural power of God, then we have emptied the gospel of its power. In the story before us, we see God working yet another miracle for a practical purpose. And in so doing, He is I believe showing us, that God doesn’t need anything except our faith in Him.  

 The only thing that was limiting things in this account is the widow’s faith. We learn she is newly widowed, and her late husband’s creditors have called in his debts (2 Ki 4:1). As there are no other means of paying the debt, it looks as if her two sons will be taken as indentured servants to work for the creditor.

 All she had was all she could use to pay off her debts. And all she had was not exactly much. So what could she do? Well, in the first place, she has her priorities right. In her extremity, she cries out to God (verse 1). And God answers her through the prophet Elisha. We saw last time how God had spoken through Elisha to three kings (2 Ki 3: 16-20) that this was “An easy thing in the eyes of the Lord’

This time it is not to the great and the good but an ordinary person, a mother in great distress that Elisha speaks. But let’s notice that it is the little that is given that is used to pay off the debt. It is the little that she has, that is given in faith, that is the means of her salvation.                              

Let’s also notice, before there is any miracle in her life before there is an answer, there needs to be a cry for help. Verse 1 is her arrow prayer. It is the cry of her heart for God’s help. Maybe today, in the face of isolation, and distancing from others, we feel equally far from God. It is good to know though that prayers don’t need to be long and wordy. It is good to know that God hears and answers prayers. It is good to know as the widow that 

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

‘The Word of the Lord was with him’

Character in time of Crisis notes (Day 28)

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” 2 Kings 3:11

In yesterday’s notes, we saw, how the three allied armies found themselves in a potentially disastrous situation due to lack of water ( 2 Ki 3:9-10). I find the reaction of the kings to the situation as being so prophetic for our day. Joram, the son of Ahab, is sure that they are doomed and that this is the Lord’s doing ( vs 10,13b). Jehosaphat king of Judah gives a very different response. 

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” 2 Kings 3:11  

Is this a prophetic voice for today as well?  Think of the parallels, the nation’s club together to ally against a common enemy, they try to form a strategy to defeat this common enemy, but they struggle to even meet the challenge of this common enemy. Until someone asks “What about God? What is God saying in all this ?” What I see in these days of Coronavirus is a nation, and nations running about in blind panic without reference to God. We are falling and failing as we are addressing this issue without reference to God.  What is God saying to our nation? What is God saying to the Church? Is God even speaking to or through the Church anymore? 

 What is God saying to our nation? What is God saying to the Church? Is God even speaking to or through the Church anymore? 

What was needed then, what is needed now is a Word from God. So notice what Jehosphat’s assessment of Elisha is “The word of the Lord is with him “ ( vs 12). The same assessment is given of the prophet Samuel that the word of the Lord was with him ( 1 Samuel 3:20-21). It was the authenticating sign of the prophet. Think of Samuel, in the first place as a young man, the Lord was with him. Even in a day when the word of the Lord was rare (1 Sam 3:1), God was preparing His man to declare His word for such a day and time.

So that by the end of 1 Samuel chapter 3 – we read;

‘The Lord was with Sam… And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognised that Sam was attested as a prophet of the Lord ‘( 1 Sam 3: 19-20). 

So with Elisha, he is attested as a prophet of God. When he struck the river with Elijah’s cloak in faith, the waters parted ( 2 Ki 2:14). But notice something else with me too ( 2 Ki 3: 14 “As surely as the Lord Almighty lives whom I serve …’ Now flick back to to the beginning of Elijah’s ministry ( 1 Ki 17:1) ‘AS the Lord the God of Israel lives, whom I serve …‘. 

 As Elijah served God, so does Elisha. And as the word of the Lord was on the lips of Elijah so on the lips of Elisha. How that prophetic voice is needed today for such a time as this.

‘An Easy thing in the eyes of the Lord ‘

Character in a time of crisis ( Day 27)

“This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord; he will also deliver Moab into your hands.” 2 Kings 3:18

We can at times find ourselves facing situations which are so overwhelming, so difficult, that we think God Himself couldn’t turn things around. We find ourselves just now as a world in entirely uncharted waters. Nothing has prepared us adequately for coping with life during a global pandemic. However, thankfully God has a different perspective from ours. Where we see only impossibilities and problems, these things are an easy or a light thing ( ESV) in the eyes of the Lord.
What we see in this story in 1 Kings 3 is God showing our mountains to be His molehills! Or if we think of it from a human perspective the thing that might trouble a young child, will not most of the time trouble that child’s parents. The big thing that is proving so difficult for an older person is easy for a young fit, mobile person.

To cut a very long story short, in this account the neighbouring nation of Moab has rebelled against Israel. Moab were distant relatives of Israel through Abraham’s nephew Lot ( see Genesis 19:37). Relations were however poor through the generations between the two peoples. See Numbers 22-25, Judges 3, Judges 11, 2 Samuel 8, 1 Kings 11. It was because of the Moabites defeat by King David that they were now subject to Israel. Yet they rebelled during the reign of Joram, the son of King Ahab. To meet this challenge Israel allied with the neighbouring kingdoms of Edom and Judah lead by the godly king Jehoshaphat. After assembling an expeditionary force to meet the challenge of the Moabites, they found after seven days that there was no water for the army or horses ( verse 9).
Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have stated that an army marches on its stomach. Without provisions and supply lines, an army is in danger. Without water, an army is dead! We will think tomorrow more of the response of these three kings to this crisis. But what about Elisha?
We have to notice ( in verse 18) that in the first place, Elisha doesn’t say that it is an easy thing for him. He is just the messenger. Elisha is admitting as Joseph and Daniel did before him that what might be impossible for people is possible for God. The word of the Lord through Elisha is that” This is an easy thing in my eyes. “Our mountains are God’s molehills.
God says ( verses 16 -17)

” You won’t see wind or rain, but you’ll have plenty of water, for you, your cattle It is just trivial matter for me, and I will hand Moab over to you too.

It does take faith to recognise that nothing is too hard for the Lord.
It takes faith to believe that God is true to His word and that God won’t go back on His word

Mal 3:10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out such a blessing that you will not have room for it’.

Zech 4:6-7 “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.
‘Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel, you shall become a plain!

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

A Tale of Two Cities – (Part 2)  Bethel 

Character in a time of crisis ( Day 26)

23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” (2 Kings 2:23 NIV)

The verses at the end of 2 Kings 2 are curious to many readers. Elijah is going up from the Jordan river area of Jericho to Bethel. While he is there he is accosted and jeered at by a group of youths. They mocked and derided him with the words “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead! (2 Kings 2:23 ESV). Elisha responds by calling down a curse upon them in the name of the Lord ( verse 24) and immediately two, she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two boys.

These verses are instructive in seeming to suggest that Elisha was follically challenged as many men are today. It is interpreted in jest by some as saying that one should be careful before teasing bald people! Unfortunately, that is not the teaching of this passage! It has also been criticised and disbelieved on the basis that Elisha overreacted harshly in calling a curse down on the boys.

A closer look at the text though does show us why this took place. This incident happened at Bethel, which in Hebrew means the House of God. It was Jacob who gave the place its name ( Genesis 28: 17-19)

‘He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28:17 (NIV)

Bethel was a place of great promises and blessing to Jacob. Later on, though things changed. The House of God became a Place of Rebellion against God. During the time of the kings, after Solomon was dead (but before the time of Elijah & Elisha), the ten tribes of the North rebelled against Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. Under the leadership of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat. In a bid to stop his people travelling far south to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, Jeroboam erected two golden calves as idols, which the people of Israel worshipped. He set up one in Dan in the far North, and one was set up in Bethel. 1 Kings 12: 32 shows how he also offered sacrifices to the golden calves and had pagan priests serve there.

Elisha‘s reaction to this rebellious spirit might seem to us extreme. But his action, and the ensuing result were biblical. Elisha pronounces a Covenant curse . We find this in Leviticus 26:21-22

“Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

A spirit of rebellion and idolatry had taken hold in the House of God. Sadly nothing much has changed; there is still much idolatry in the House of God. Much is made of man and his merits, or man and his methods. Much less is made of Christ & His Cross. So much of what takes place under the guise of worship is man worship or worship of self. As someone has said, ” The most popular form of church is Me-Church- where it is all about me!”

As someone has said, ” The most popular form of church is Me-Church- where it is all about me!”

I see the danger of this as a genuine threat to the church in the current crisis in which we find ourselves, where ” Me Church” is very much to the fore. We pick and choose how and when we worship. We pick and choose who we worship with!  It is easy to forget the command of Hebrews 10: 24-25 in these current days.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24

What is this showing? Firstly  I believe in our immediate context it shows how important church discipline is, and the importance of recognising this as one of the true marks of the Church of Christ. Secondly and more significantly it is showing I believe that we should be careful about giving anywhere undue respect or reverence because of reputation. Beth-el was the house of God, but it had become over time, due to sinful human influence, a place that opposed the work of God. Could it not be true that nowadays, churches that purport to be places of worship, and have the reputation of being famous Houses of God have actually become temples of Satan? The solemn fact is that what was true of Bethel can be true of anywhere regardless of reputation, name or status.

A tale of two cities – part one – Jericho

Character in a time of Crisis ( Day 25)

22 So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke. (2 Kings 2:22 ESV)

  Two very well known Biblical cities are mentioned in 2 Kings 2- Jericho and Bethel. Both in their own way are very well known throughout scripture, but both were in Elisha’s day spiritually dead and far from God. Tomorrow we’ll look at Bethel; today I’d like to look briefly at Jericho.  

Finding himself at the river Jordan, Elisha is at the ancient city of Jericho, but it is plain from what the people have to say that things are not good there. ‘Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” (2 Kings 2:19 ESV) Jericho is ‘the city of Palms’ and situated in a pleasant oasis on the Jordan River. It is 800 feet below sea level and enjoys almost perpetual sunshine, excellent fertile ground from the alluvial deposits of the Jordan and a continually flowing spring Ein es-Sultan ( mentioned in verse 21) that irrigates the land. 

Yet in Elisha’s time, something is badly wrong in Jericho. The water is bad and soil unfruitful, and Elisha sees immediately what is wrong, Jericho has been cursed.

To find out the reason for this, we have to go back further in scripture. In the book of Joshua 6, the city of Jericho had fallen to the victorious Israelites in the famous battle of Jericho. At that time Joshua pronounced a curse on Jericho in this way’ Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho (Joshua 6:26 ESV). Centuries later and shortly before the beginning of the story of Elijah, we read this in 1 Kings 16:34‘ In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua, the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34 ESV)

The word of God spells out the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience. (See Deuteronomy 28 for example)

Interestingly, Elisha offers salt to purify the water and land. On one level, it might seem as if this is using the well known purifying properties of salt in a symbolic way to bring about the healing of the land. What Elisha was doing was more than this though. He was renewing the covenant between God and this place and people, by means of a covenant of salt. In Numbers 18: 19 we read 

“All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you (Numbers 18:19 ESV)

 5 Ought you not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt? (2 Chronicles 13:5 ESV)

Elisha sets about reversing the curse by asking for a new and unused bowl, one undefiled by human use and taking salt and throwing the salt in the spring. Elisha’s words show that it was God who healed the water, and who had reversed the Covenant curse on Jericho., not Elisha this was not magic “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it (2 Kings 2:21 ESV). But it is what was done by Elisha that was interesting. 

He demanded a clean, new and unused vessel to contain the salt. In other words, a vessel that was not polluted, contaminated or compromised in any way. Surely this has something to say to the church of day and indeed to all those who would minister in God’s name? What a challenging and convicting thought this is? It was not the prophetic school long-established at Jericho that was used to bring God’s word and blessing but a newly ordained prophet, offering a clean and holy vessel to the Lord. This whole episode shows us how the New Covenant or relationship with God was so necessary. It was not a case of patching up and repairing the Old. A sinless, spotless offering was all that God would accept,

 “but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”. (1 Peter 1:19 ESV)

A Double Portion

Character in a time of Crisis ( Day 24)

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” 2 Kings 2:9

If Elijah is remembered for his chariot of fire, then Elisha is remembered for asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Even Elijah acknowledges that he has asked for a difficult thing ( 2 Kings 2:10). Yet Elisha did not ask for fame, fortune, success. He asked to be considered as Elijah’s (spiritual) son. The double portion is associated in Scripture with the eldest son. For example, Isaac’s blessing on Jacob ( Gen 27), Jacob’s blessing on Joseph ( Gen 48). In Deuteronomy 21:17 we read,

“he shall acknowledge the firstborn … by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his”. 

He asked for a double portion of his spirit (verse 9 & 10). And as the narrative shows that Elisha was able to see Elijah being taken from him (verse 12), Elijah’s promise to Elisha is fulfilled.

It does seem as if a double portion of Elijah’s spirit did indeed rest upon Elijah, and throughout his life, he lived in a very different way from Elijah. While Elijah’s life was solitary, Elisha’s life was spent much more among people, and what is more twice as many miracles were performed by Elisha as by Elijah. Elijah (like John the Baptist himself) lived apart from people, and he emphasised the law, judgment, and the need for repentance from the people. But Elisha, like Jesus, lived among the people and emphasised grace, life, and hope (see for example the following passages in 2 Kings 4:8–37; 2 Ki 6:14–23; 2 Ki 8:7–15)   Elisha was going to make his mark, and what is more fulfil the plans that God had revealed to Elijah a while before (1 Kings 19: 16).

Elisha was going to fulfil the plan that God had revealed to Elijah on Mount Horeb, but not as a clone of Elijah, but as a unique person in his own right.  The comparisons or expectations of others should not hamper us from fulfilling our God-given purpose in life. Over the years, I have seen too many in my calling as a minister imitating someone else. I have heard too many ministers and others, adopting the holy voice, mannerisms and sometimes even gestures of revered mentors. God loves us as we are, not as clones of someone else. Elisha’s double portion was not so he could be a suped-up version of Elijah. It was so God’s plan and promise to Elijah would be fulfilled. (1 Kings 16-21) 

Passing the baton ( part 2)

Character in time of crisis ( day 23)

The first thing that Elisha does after the dramatic way in which God takes his master and mentor Elijah away from him is to pick up the mantle that had fallen from Elijah and strike the water of the river Jordan with it (2 Kings 2:13-14). The mantle is Elijah’s badge of office as a prophet. As Moses had his staff, with which he struck the Red Sea, so Elijah strikes the River Jordan with his cloak. And Elisha does the same. Like Father – like son. What he is doing is on one level, simple and basic. Putting into practice what he has seen his mentor do, like a son imitating his father. Elisha’s first action though witnesses to the fact that “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” (2 Kings 2:15 ESV). He picks up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen and in faith strikes the river.

‘ Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.(2 Kings 2:14 ESV)

The mantle was all that Elisha had as a tangible reminder of his great mentor, but as that mantle fell, and in picking it up, the baton so to speak was passed to him. Elisha had asked for a double portion of the spirit of Elijah ( verse 9-10). Even Elijah admitted that this was a hard thing, but it was what Elisha needed and received. Even to have a fraction of the faith that Elijah had would be wonderful, but to ask for a double portion and what is more to receive it, was the greatest blessing Elisha could have.

He is picking up the baton just like an athlete in a relay race, and that image is one that seems so appropriate here and in other places in scripture. It is the Biblical way of mentoring that we see, for example, in Joshua taking over from Moses ( Joshua 1), or Timothy taking over to a degree from Paul (2 Timothy ). Joshua, for instance, begins as a soldier, but he is very quickly identified as Moses servant, understudy and appointed leader. 

“So the Lord said to Moses, Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him… “

. The baton is passed to Joshua. We read at the end of Deut 34:9

‘Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid hands on him’

But what about us? Whose mantle has fallen upon us? Who do we have to follow in the faith Who are we to follow in earnestly contending for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 1:3 KJV) Those of us who are second or third generation Christians, do we know how blessed we are? Those who have or who had Christian parents, who had something passed on to us from a former generation. Or who had a Christian example in the home, in school, in Sunday School or in the community? Do you know how blessed you are?

But the question also has to be asked, what is it we are passing on to the next generation? What do we leave as a legacy for those coming after us ?. Who is picking up your mantle? Is it our kids, other family, school friends, Facebook friends, neighbours? Who is watching us, waiting to follow us? What is it they see in us that is worth imitating? Is your Christian life worth emulating as far as they concerned? Or does it turn them away from the faith? Is it merely a dry and dusty heritage and ossified traditions, is it a cold love and a divided church or community, or is it a living, vital faith in the Living God?

Passing the baton ( part 1) 

Character in a time of Crisis Day 22

‘Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over ‘.2 Kings 2:14 

Many of the phrases that are in common usage today in the English language have come to us from the King James Version of the Bible. Phrases such as ‘By the Skin of your teeth’, ‘feet of clay’, ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’, ‘a thorn in the flesh ‘, ‘by the sweat of your brow’ are just a small selection of many phrases that have enriched the English language from the King James Bible. Another good example is found at 2 Kings 2:14). The mantle of Elijah has fallen on Elisha. The origin of that phrase usually refers to an older person who on retiring passes on responsibility to someone else ( usually a younger person). That person proceeds to continue the work that was started by the older person.

In an earlier chapter, we saw God revealing His purposes to Elijah in these terms “Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place(1 Kings 19:16 NKJV) 

What was the very first thing that Elijah did in response to this? He went to find Elisha who was ploughing with eleven others at the time and throw his mantle around him (1 Kings 19:19). We can easily miss the impact this had not only on Elisha but also his friends and family who may have witnessed this. They would have trembled in seeing Elijah come in the same way as the elders of Bethlehem trembled to see Samuel (1 Samuel 16:4). They saw the man they all recognised as Elijah the Tishbite come to Abel Meholah, they saw his wild appearance, the coarse garment of hair, and the prophet’s mantle or cloak, and they would wonder why he had come? Then Elijah cast his mantle upon Elisha and Elisha’s life could never be the same again, (something Elijah readily admits in 1 Kings 19:20).

How often have lives been changed beyond all measure by having to step up to the plate as we might say today to follow someone else? I think of how a reluctant Bob Paisley was asked to take over as manager of Liverpool to replace the legendary Bill Shankley. The rest is history!  I think of how a young welsh assistant pastor was asked to take over Westminister Chapel after the retirement of the famous G Campbell Morgan. The assistant was called D Martyn Lloyd Jones! Elisha was called by God, as he was someone who like Esther and like Elijah before him had to come to this ‘ position for such a time as this’.

It is comforting to know that no matter how enormous the challenges we may see ahead. No matter how unqualified or inadequate we might feel. God has a purpose and plan for all of us, and even for such a time as this, is working out His sovereign will in and through His people.

Chariots of Fire

Character in a time of crisis Day 21

‘And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.’ (2 Kings 2:11 ESV)

 If there is one thing that Elijah is well known for it is the Chariots of fire. His last few moments on this earth seem to sum up his life and seal his testimony as the greatest of all Israel’s prophets. He is always known as the prophet of fire, the one whom God answered with fire upon the altar. In the end, Elijah is remembered for the chariots of fire that were to sweep him up to heaven. It is appropriate that this great man who has single-handedly raised up the altar of the Lord in Israel once again and championed the cause of his God, is taken up to heaven in such a glorious way.

The very expression ‘Chariots of Fire’ has entered into the common consciousness in our times in no small part due to Hugh Hudson’s oscar-winning masterpiece ‘Chariots of Fire’, as well as William Blake’s rather strange poem Jerusalem which includes the lines quoted at the very end of the film ;

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:

Bring me my arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

 

However, the Chariot of Fire was exclusively for Elijah, no-one else. Here in these great verses, we see Elijah being translated, taken away from this life and world without experiencing death as Enoch was in Genesis 5.

 What these verses show us is Elijah as a type of Christ in his being taken up to heaven in this way. This world was not his home, he might have been from Tishbe in Gilead, but in these chapters, we do not read of him spending much time there. Like the Lord Jesus, Elijah had no home, nowhere to rest his head. There was nothing tame or domestic about Elijah. Instead, he pressed onward as Paul puts it “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 NIV)

 Like the apostle, Paul Elijah could say

 ” I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV)

I think it is well worth our noting that it is after they have crossed through the Jordan, and safely reached the other side ( verse 9) that Elijah is taken away. After Elisha is permitted to ask for one thing from Elijah before he is taken away from him ( verse 9-10), it is on the other side and not in Israel itself that Elijah was taken up to glory. Israel was thanks to kings like Omri, Ahab and Ahijah a dark, backslidden, polluted nation. The Jordan symbolises death, but it also symbolises separation from the corruption of the world. It was there on the other side that the Chariot came for Elijah, and we read that wonderful verse

 ‘Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.’ (2 Kings 2:11 NKJV)

In a time when almost all had turned their backs on God, the last moments of Elijah show us that there is a reward for living a life God’s way. There is a reward that was Elijah’s that no-one else would have. It may seem to us at times as if it is the wicked who prosper, and that graft, deceit, hypocrisy and many other evils thrive, yet it is only for a moment and fleeting. But the blessing that God’s children know is far greater and of eternal value.

As Elijah leaves the scene, he leaves a blessing behind him as we shall see tomorrow. His life still inspires those who would seek to follow the Lord, and in his death, he inspires us still. His end shows us that there is eternal hope for God’s children through the one who has conquered death itself. Matthew Henry puts it like this 

“When God will take up his faithful ones to heaven, death is the Jordan which they must pass through, and they find a way through it. The death of Christ has divided those waters, that the ransomed of the Lord may pass over. O death, where is thy sting, thy hurt, thy terror.’ 

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV

The Jordan is waiting

Character in a time of crisis ( day 20)

‘Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.’ (2 Kings 2:6 ESV)

The American Songwriter Rich Mullins in his song entitled ‘Elijah’ wrote these words

 ‘The Jordan is waiting for me to cross through

 My heart is ageing I can tell

 So Lord, I’m begging for one last favour from You

 Here’s my heart take it where You will.’

For the Christian, the Jordan is often symbolic of death and of crossing over into the promise of eternal life beyond. As the Jordan was to the children of Israel the last physical barrier that separated them from the promised land of their inheritance, so death is that last barrier, that last enemy we must all face before we leave this life. The Jordan was waiting for Elijah, as it does for you and me as well, and one day we will have to cross through to the other side. Oh to face the end with the same spirit and assurance of faith as Elijah did?

 During the days of Elijah and Elisha, companies of prophets were located at Bethel, Jericho and Gilgal. Elijah journeyed at God’s command to Gilgal (verse 1), Bethel (verse 2) and Jericho (verse 4) for a last meeting with each of these companies. Yet Elisha is not with any of these schools of theology, Elisha is solely and exclusively with Elijah, learning from him, and being prepared by God to take over from him.

There is a real heart-wrenching poignancy about these last few verses in the life of Elijah Israel’s greatest prophet. His young understudy Elisha knows the dread day is coming but does not want to talk about it (verse 3 & 5). In a last great miraculous act, Elijah took off his mantle and struck the waters of the Jordan which parted for the two of them to cross over on the dry ground, and yet another parallel with Moses is made ( Exodus 14:16)

How did Elijah feel in these last few moments of his earthly life? He was probably elated. He was going home, and he knew that the God He had lived for was going to receive him into glory. What about Elisha? He is downcast, knowing that he will be deprived of the companionship, counsel and support of this great man of God. Elisha is depressed and sad, but through his great mentor, he has glimpsed the eternal reality of living in God’s presence. And I believe that at this point Elisha wanted to go too. Who wouldn’t? Have we ever been homesick for heaven? Have we ever envied loved ones who have gone before us? I know I have. I know that I have longed for that which the word of God reminds us of that to be with Christ, which is far better (Philippians 1:23 NKJV). 

Elisha is facing the wrenching pain that any of us about to lose a loved one face. But the thing is, Elijah’s work was over, Elisha’s was just beginning. For you and I, there is a reason why we are still here. There is work for us to do. It is not for us to wonder as to why God does things, or what He may ask of us to do. It is for us to be faithful in that which He asks of us. Some Christians seem to be so Elijah like, and their lives are a short and spectacular flame-like his. I think of preachers like George Whitfield, Robert Murray McCheyne, William Chalmers Burns, who all died young or Christian singers like Keith Green and Rich Mullins himself. Only a few years after writing his song ‘Elijah’ that I referred to above Rich Mullins was killed in a car crash. The words of the chorus seem so prophetic now. 

But when I leave, I want to go out like Elijah. 

  With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire 

  And when I look back on the stars 

  Well, It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park 

  And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye

For most of us, though, like Elisha, we have work still to do.

The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom

Character in a time of crisis Day 19

” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7 ESV)

The motto of the University of Aberdeen is in Latin Initium, Sapientiae Timor Domini literally meaning Wisdom’s beginning is God’s fear.  Words found in Psalm 111:12 and at Proverbs 1:7 & 9:10. The motto itself demonstrates the Christian principles that were enshrined in the founding ethos of the University of Aberdeen since its founding in 1495. When I was in Aberdeen, a colourful character in the department of Divinity, Morton Gauld took these words so literally that he would not step on the University crest and the Latin motto on the floor of the visitor centre!

It is debatable whether these words are as evident in the life of many Scottish universities today, but these words are nevertheless still right. Real Wisdom in the human heart has its beginning in fear of the Lord. To love God and to live for Him is also to fear Him.

The Book of 1 Kings ends with the ignominious death of Ahab king of Israel. An endnote is supplied to show that his son Ahaziah became king in his stead. Sadly it was a case of like father like son, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord because he followed in the ways of his father ( Ahab) and mother ( Jezebel) and of Jeroboam, son of Nebat ( see 1 Kings 13 & especially verse 33-34).

2 Kings 1 records that one of the first actions of Ahaziah was to ask emissaries to consult the demonic idol Baal Zebub the god of Ekron to see if he would recover from an injury (2 Kings 1:2). Baal Zebub was the chief God of the Canaanites and Philistines, a name that came to be understood as the Lord of the flies and is thought by many to represent satan himself.

So a king of Israel takes counsel from demonic forces! This was not the first or last time this happened, but it was to be disastrous for Ahaziah. Elijah comes to the fore again with the words;

‘But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite,”Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal- Zebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus says the Lord, You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” So Elijah went. (2 Kings 1:3-4 ESV)

As we can imagine, this did not go down to well, and so Ahaziah sent a detachment of fifty soldiers to capture or kill this meddlesome prophet. The company of soldiers and their captain are consumed by fire from heaven at Elijah’s command ( verses 9-10). In an almost comical scene in verses 11-12, this is repeated again, and another fifty soldiers and their officer are incinerated, as fire from heaven fell upon them.
And so another detachment of troops are despatched by the king, but this time the officer in charge no doubt aware of the fate that befell those before him has a different attitude altogether. He falls on his knees before Elijah declaring

“O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight.14 Behold, fire came down from heaven and consumed the two former captains of fifty men with their fifties, but now let my life be precious in your sight.” (2 Kings 1:13-14 ESV)

His attitude almost certainly saved his life and that of his men. Perhaps this captain does not explicitly confess to a fear of God. Still, in addressing Elijah as O man of God, and with a very different attitude of heart from those before him, we see in this soldier indeed the beginnings of godly Wisdom. It is the heartfelt desire of God that His people would have a heart attitude towards Him that would cause them to fear Him – not forget Him. The fear of the Lord is truly the beginning of Wisdom. Deuteronomy 5: 29  puts it like this

“Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always so that it might go well with them and their children forever! “

Ahab’s Doom

Character in Time of Crisis Day 18

 “From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Ye damned whale.” (Captain Ahab in Moby Dick by Herman Melville)

 So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried him there.(1 Kings 22:37 NIV)

In all the passages we have looked at and indeed in all of the story of Elijah thus far, this is undoubtedly the most difficult if not even troubling passage. Many Christians over the years have had difficulty accepting some of what we read in 1 Kings 22:13 and following. Could it possibly be the case that God would send forth a lying spirit as verse 22 seems to suggest? Could God approve of such lies?
This passage shows us Judah and Israel for once in an alliance, and the two kings Jehosaphat and Ahab, allying together against the Arameans. Jehoshaphat is keen that Ahab seeks God’s will on this matter ( verse 5)
Four hundred prophets are brought forward who unanimously declare that Ahab will be victorious. Jehoshaphat is discerning enough to ask if no prophet of the Lord can be consulted, and the previously unknown prophet called Micaiah comes to the fore. I wonder if Micaiah was one of those 7000 that the Lord mentioned to Elijah earlier? Those who had not bowed the knee to Baal and had not kissed his image? (1 Kings 19:18)  Micaiah is under pressure to agree with the rest of the prophets (verse 13), and initially brings the same bland encouraging message as they do (verse 15).
The fact that Ahab himself saw through what Micaiah had said seems to suggest that he is taking to heart what Elijah had said before and the judgement God had pronounced (1 Kings 21:19). Perhaps Ahab even expected to receive bad news someday. Micaiah’s message from the Lord was very different when it comes. Then Micaiah answered,

“I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’” (1 Kings 22:17 NIV)

The reason Ahab hated Micaiah as he makes clear was that he only prophesied bad against him. (verses 8 & 18) Perhaps Ahab had surrounded himself with yes-men who would flatter to deceive and say what he wanted to hear,  to the extent that he set himself up to be deceived.
Micaiah went to tell of impending disaster (verse 23) which was instigated by a lying spirit in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets. God sanctioned this, as Ahab’s time had come and his own prophets would seal his doom by telling him lies. Ahab and his prophets seem to fulfil the warning Paul gives in (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 NIV)

“For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness’.

In His sovereign mercy though God also sent Ahab a means of hearing the truth from Micaiah. But like Herman Melville’s fearsome fictional character Captain Ahab, the king of Israel is blinded as to what lies ahead. Captain Ahab was determined above all else to destroy the white whale Moby Dick even if it cost him and his crew their lives. King Ahab was determined not to listen to or obey Jehovah God of Israel. Despite hearing the word of God through Micaiah he still ignores it and goes to battle at Ramoth Gilead where he is killed.

So Ahab king of Israel dies and as Elijah had said the dogs licked up his blood in Samaria. So died Elijah’s great enemy the man that scripture records in this way  ( There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. (1 Kings 21:25 ESV).

Ahab died, and God’s judgement is enacted upon him. The solemn thought in this whole affair is that Ahab had heard both the truth and the lies, but for some reason, preferred the lie. How many in this world are similarly deceived and deceiving themselves in this way?

Vengeance is mine!

Character in a time of crisis day 17

18 “ Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession.’ (1 Kings 21:18 ESV)    

The plain of Jezreel is one of the most fertile places in the whole of the middle east. It is a great plain where in many places swampland has been drained, and the reclaimed ground watered by sophisticated irrigation schemes from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river, bring abundant crops for food and export. The Hebrew name Yizre’el, meaning “God soweth” gives an indication of the sheer fertility of the place. Today it is known as the breadbasket of the state of Israel and along with the plain of Sharon further north is the main area of farmland in the country.

Centred in the valley is the old city of Jezreel itself where our story today is centred. This is undoubtedly one of the most unpleasant accounts in the whole of the story of Elijah and shows human nature at its very worst. In this account we read of greed, avarice, malicious cunning, forgery, shameless lies, deceit, and murder . What is more this passage shows how cheap life was held to be by both Ahab and Jezebel.  Naboth might not be the best-known character in scripture, but it was his demise at the hands of the king and queen that was to seal the fate of an entire Royal household.

The story in 1 Kings 21: 1-16 is thoroughly unpleasant. I can try and summarise it as follows. Naboth had a vineyard in the city of Jezreel. it was close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab wanted it. Naboth said no you can’t have it -I am not going to sell my inheritance (verse 3). So Ahab sulked – he stuck out his bottom lip & sulked like a petulant child (verses 4-5). But as Ahab sulked – his wife schemed. As Ahab sulked Jezebel plotted as to how she could get Naboth’s vineyard for her husband. She sent letters to town elders of Jezreel in her husband’s name to proclaim a day of fasting and to have Naboth seated in a prominent place (verse 9). But also to seat two ‘scoundrels’ ( NIV translation)  or ‘worthless men’  (ESV translation)  opposite him & have them accuse him that he has cursed God and the king. then take him out & stone him ( verse 10).

We can only but imagine the oscillating emotions that poor Naboth would have experienced, one moment a guest of honour at a royal banquet, the next the accused in a ‘Kangaroo court’ that would lead to his death. The initial elation would have quickly given way to the confusion and then horror which such an occasion would have brought.
So that happened, false witnesses brought their false accusations and an innocent man is stoned to death. As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth was dead – she arranged for Ahab to take possession of the vineyard, which had ostensibly now become crown property.

What does this passage show us? Well on one level it shows us the extent to which people are prepared to sell themselves to evil to get their way, even to the extent of lying, cheating, preparing false statements and having murder committed in their name. Before we get too hasty to condemn Ahab alone for this, we must remember the first and greatest of Israel’s kings David committed a similar foul deed to Uriah the Hittite ( see 2 Samuel 11).  In both cases though it is clear that the wages of sin is death ( Roman’s 6:23) , David’s son born to Bathsheba dies (2 Samuel 12:15 ff), and Ahab and Jezebel and everyone related to them were similarly going to die, because of Naboth’s vineyard.
The death sentence on the king and queen of Israel is proclaimed by no other than Elijah himself, in devastating terms. This was a devastating response with Elijah prophesying that Ahab’s household would be utterly annihilated and that dogs would lick up the blood of Ahab and that Jezebel herself would be eaten by dogs.

The comfort we can take from this is that revenge and justice are the Lord’s and He will repay, evil people will not get off with it, and they will all ultimately pay the price as Ahab did for selling themselves to do evil in the Lord’s sight. Nothing is hidden from our God, and although it might seem to some as if justice sleeps, that is not the case.  The utter destruction that God was to visit upon the house of Ahab, may have as in other cases too taken years to transpire but as the poet  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  in his poem “Retribution” puts it in  his translation of an earlier work 

Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceeding small;

Though with patience He stands waiting With exactness grinds He all.

There are things that we have to leave with the Lord.  God is the Sovereign judge

‘Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. ‘ Romans 12:19

I know the plans I have for you

Character in a time of crisis day 16

‘The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. (1 Kings 19:15 NIV)

It is a great comfort to know that God is in complete control even when we are not! The latter part of 1 Kings 19 shows us that God had a purpose and a plan in everything that had happened and that He was working His purposes out using Elijah to do so. Perhaps Elijah had other ideas, perhaps he thought that after the triumph on Mount Carmel that there would be a national repentance and revival. Maybe he hoped that from king Ahab down the people of Israel would forsake the worship of the idol Baal and come back to the God of Israel once again.

This did not happen, however, in the way that Elijah had hoped. Jezebel had pulled the rug from under his feet, and he had ended up running for his life. Elijah’s complaint to God from the darkness of his cave (verse 10) shows that he feels that his hopes and plans have been shattered, the people have rejected God and His covenant, they had killed all of God’s prophets, and his life was also in mortal danger. Elijah had no plan B,  but neither did God! God’s plan all along was to do what He was about to reveal to Elijah. The problem was Elijah didn’t at the time know God’s plan for him.

How often do we too struggle and find ourselves at a loss about what is happening in our lives and in our world? How often are we left wondering where God in all this is? We have to understand that God has a perfect plan and purpose, but as He says through Isaiah :

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)

God’s ways are indeed higher than ours, and Elijah is about to find that out for himself. God’s plans are more radical than Elijah can ever have imagined. He reveals to Elijah has nothing to say about Ahab or his household. His evil ways had sealed his doom as we will see later in these notes. Another man would take his place. God is revealing that a thorough purge will take place, with a ‘regime change’ in Israel and in neighbouring Aram ( Syria) ( in verses 15-16), and what is more a successor is to take his place called Elisha ( verse 16).
How comforting it was for Elijah to know that the work would go on, as God does nothing in an abortive or incomplete way. Elisha would complete the work that Elijah had started. And what is more, Elijah was not alone, God had reserves which Elijah was unaware of;

“ Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18 NIV).

It is comforting to know that God has His people in place -as he had Obadiah in the palace of Ahab, God will not leave Himself without a witness to His name.

However, for Elijah, it meant that before anything else, there was something he had to do. He had to retrace his steps! ( verse 15) ‘ Go back the way you came..’. The first thing Elijah was to do was to retrace his steps to the place where he had started out to the far north and even further, to anoint a king over the Syrians. The point as I see it is that there are times when God makes us go back the way we came, to retrace our steps over past failures, defeats and regrets, to know victory in His way and not in our own strength. It is good to know that even in our own sinfulness and disappointment that God has a purpose and plan in everything. Would that we could trust Him with His plans for us!

God gave Jeremiah the prophet a word for those who were to end up as exiles in Babylon that He would bless them and take care of them. How comforting these words have been to millions since then who have seen that the God of Elijah, the God of Jeremiah  is the one who still says  in His Word;

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart “.Jeremiah 29:11

‘ A Still Small Voice ‘

Character in a Time of Crisis (Day 15) 

‘.. and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire and after the fire a still small voice ‘(1 Kings 19:12 NKJV)

Mount Sinai and Mount Horeb are believed by many to be the same place and are linked in scripture to both Moses and Elijah. Mount Horeb is described as ‘the Mount of God ‘ (verse 8), and it becomes obvious in the narrative that it is to this special holy place that Elijah is running. He has spent forty panic-stricken days and nights running towards Mount Horeb,  to get as far away from Jezebel as he could get, and to get in his own way of it as close to God as he thought he could get. Mount Horeb / Sinai had a special place to Israel, it was here that the people had seen the mountain smoke and thunder with the awesome presence of God (Exodus 19). It was here that God had given the ten commandments to Moses (Exodus 20).

Elijah was there as we saw yesterday because of a fear that had gripped his heart as a result of Jezebel’s threat. Lest we are too quick to criticise Elijah, let us remember that we too can very easily and very quickly fall prey to the same emotions as he did. All it takes is a comment, a phone call, a taunt, a threat to have us running, and indeed running away from God. There is only one antidote and that is the Word of God.

We read that Elijah spent a night in a cave, until the Word of God came to him again (verse 9), as at previous times but this time to ask him what He was doing there. Elijah pours out his complaints to the Lord (verse 10), but the only seeming reply he gets is to be told to leave his cave and stand on the mountain before the Lord (verse 11). In a very dramatic verse, we read how Elijah observes a strong wind, an earthquake and a fire. All things symbolic of God’s presence before, and especially here at Mount Horeb. It was in the thunder and the smoke on the mountain that the Children of Israel realised that God had drawn near to them. But we read in verse 12  each time that the Lord was not in these things. Then came “a still small voice”, and Elijah knew that God had drawn near.

The still small voice had a question for Elijah  “What are you doing here Elijah ? ” the same question. We mustn’t think God will change the question, just because we avoid answering it the first time! This was the voice of God calling Elijah back, not maybe as he expected, but is it not often the case, that  God does speak to us in unexpected ways? This voice was like the Regimental Sergeant Major calling a soldier who has gone AWOL back to attention again, but more much more than that, it is the voice of a loving Father calling out to a son of his once again.

The only remedy for our ills is the Word of God, and God’s word in the power of the Holy Spirit will do more in an instance than anything else ever could. It can do more than words which can destroy or spoil, it can bring life to the dead, healing to the sick, hope to the despairing, clarity in confusion. It is the Word alone that will silence the enemy.
It is the Word of God which is the name that Jesus had from the beginning – until the end. Only the voice of God could have lifted up Elijah’s head for a reason, so he would see as we will tomorrow that God has a purpose and plan in everything.

The Power of Words or the Power of the Word

Character in a Time of Crisis (Day 14) 

1 Kings 19:3 ‘Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there’.

Words are incredibly powerful things. Words can be used to express the whole range of human emotion, from love to hate to everything in between. The use of words in speeches have led to some of the most memorable moments in human history. Every day we use words in one form or other. We use words to express our inmost feelings, and words have a great power to bring healing, restoration and reconciliation. But words also have the power to destroy. Jezebel’s words to Elijah via a messenger were laced with venomous poison. (1 Kings 19:2)

“So may the gods do to me and more also if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”

This was a threat that the evil Queen was capable of carrying out. Her threat was one which any sane person who knew her would have taken seriously, and what was Elijah’s reaction?

Fear ‘Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life..’. It is easy to miss the extent to which blind fear had taken a hold of Elijah’s heart. He ran from Jezreel (1 Kings 18:46) to Beersheba in Judah. Beersheba in the very far south of the territory of Judah was over one hundred miles away. It was also at this time deep in enemy territory in the kingdom of Judah. The contrast between the end of chapter 18 and the beginning of chapter nineteen is immense. Elijah in his moment of victory is propelled by the hand of the Lord to Jezreel, leaving Ahab’s fine chariot horses trailing in his wake (1 Kings 18:45-46). The next moment we see a very different Elijah, in headlong flight from Jezebel, but no mention made of the hand of the Lord. Very quickly after the triumph of Mount Carmel, Elijah finds himself in the grip of despair, and in reality in the clutches of depression ( see verse 4).

All because of a witch’s words. Jezebel had brought a cold curse to bear on him, a threat which caused even a mighty man of God to run. Her witchcraft had the same effect as a snake’s venom, in the first instance it paralyses, then it goes on to kill its victim. These verses show Elijah’s human frailty more than any other passage in his story. He shows fear a very real human emotion, and maybe explains what the letter of James in the New Testament meant in saying that Elijah was “ a man just like us..” ( Jas 5: 17) . Nor did Elijah stop there, we read that after leaving his servant at Beersheba, he was to take a  journey of a further forty days, sustained miraculously by an angel ( verse 5) and kept going south to Horeb the mount of God far south in the Sinai peninsula.

It can be the case that to the outside world we look as if we are on top of things, in command, in control. We look as if we are on top of the Mountain when in reality we are in the deep valley of despair.  It is very easy for anyone of us to be like this today. On the surface everything looks fine, but deep down things are different, and although to others our lives may look sunny and sweet, the reality is different.

What is the answer? There was only one solution for Elijah, and for you and I there is also only one solution. The Word of God. The Word of God is the antidote to every poison and the great remedy for all our ills. The word of God has more power than we can imagine

‘ For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV)

Tomorrow God-willing we will see how God in His mercy brings the balm of His love and healing to Elijah through His word, through ‘ a Still Small Voice’ from Heaven.

Let it rain! 

Character in a time of Crisis Day 13

41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.”
(1 Kings 18:41 NIV)

Rain is not something we go looking for in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. We seem to get more than our fair share of it, and this summer has been no exception! However in the time of Elijah and especially after three years of drought, the rain was more than welcome, it was needed for life itself. The Western seaboard of modern Israel looks very different from what it would have in Elijah’s day. Nowadays there are flourishing coastal cities like Tel Aviv, Netanya, Caesarea, and Haifa which did not really exist then. Haifa especially is related to the story of Elijah with its location on the slopes of Mount Carmel. We can imagine the prophet sitting down with his servant gazing out to the Mediterranean sea, looking for the coming rain and looking in faith not doubting that God would supply it.

After the contest on Mount Carmel, the people had been the first witnesses to the supernatural intervention of God in raising fire onto the altar of Elijah. They were soon to become witnesses to God supplying water to them. So Elijah said 41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” (1 Kings 18:41 NIV)
The Story of Elijah is the story of God’s hand upon a man, who no matter the odds, was to declare the truth of God’s word in a day of lawlessness and to live for righteousness in a time of wickedness. Elijah from his birth was a slap in the face of the spirit that sought to control Israel from king down. Elijah had in the name of the Lord opposed and proved triumphant over the false god Baal. And now much to the consternation of Ahab and the fury of his wife Jezebel, just as Elijah had promised in (1 Kings 17:1 NIV)  he was proclaiming the end of the drought in a spectacular way.

“As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

We mustn’t miss this point that the rain of God followed the fire of God.  In this passage we see God answer Elijah’s prayer in two ways, firstly with the fire and then with the rain. It was no coincidence that through the very elements of nature (that the idolatrous god Baal was supposed to control) God answers His servant’s prayer. But we notice the rain followed the fire. The fire fell and consumed the offering, the sacrifice and burned up every trace of anything man-made in that area. What did John the  Baptist ( who came in the spirit & power of Elijah) (Luke 1:17) say of the Lord Jesus “ he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire” (Matt 3:11) It seems to show us that the rain of God’s Blessing will follow the fire of God’s Presence.

This was was no ordinary rain, and does not follow the pattern of rainfall in middle East. Though rainfall is rare at times in the Holy Land, there is a pattern to the rainfall. The Bible speaks of the former and latter rains. The former rains are in Autumn with the first soft showers, then the much heavier latter rains in our spring-time that soften the ground to enable ploughing to take place. A different Hebrew word is used to describe this rain though as being a sudden violent downpour. Maybe unexpected, maybe unannounced, but certainly supernatural. Surely this shows us that when God comes, it will not be in ways we expect or can control. He certainly didn’t in Elijah’s day, He didn’t come on the day of Pentecost in tame or domestic ways, but to pour out of His Spirit upon dry and thirsty land. How we must pray that the sound of such reviving showers of His Spirit would be heard and felt once again in our land.

‘ Send the Fire today’

Character in a time of crisis Day – Day 12

38 ‘Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench’. (1 Kings 18:38 ESV)

Whilst I was a student at Aberdeen University, one of our favourite hymns at our times of fellowship in our flat was an updated version of William Booth’s ’ O God of burning cleansing flame ’.

O God of burning cleansing flame
Send the fire
Your blood-bought gift today we claim
Send the fire today

This was certainly the plea of Elijah in 1 Kings 18.

On the twelfth day of these notes, we look today at what is the climax so far to the story of the life and ministry of Elijah. There are times where we may recall exactly what we were doing and where we were when we heard some news or witnessed a great historic event. I recall where I was on hearing the news of the 9/11 attacks in New York. I was in a rubbish dump! Clearing out stuff for my mother.

Such is the event we are thinking about here in 1 Kings 18:38. The people had been summoned to witness the contest on Mount Carmel, and most who could have been there. Whatever they expected, they would never forget the moment the fire of God fell’. Perhaps many decades later, elderly Israelites would tell their wide-eyed grandchildren how they as little children themselves, had seen the fire of God fall from heaven? Perhaps they would remember how their shocked mothers had snatched them close when they saw the fire consume the offering in answer to Elijah’s prayer? What is sure is that this would be a day that would never be forgotten, as Elijah called a backslidden people back to their God. A day that was to vindicate the Lord and His prophet.

What we read is that Elijah prayed for God to answer him, and answer him God did. The people had their answer, they had seen the hand of Jehovah God of Israel, and the people fell on their knees to declare ‘ The Lord He is God, the Lord, he is God’ (verse 39). The whole offering had been made as we saw yesterday, but what is more, Elijah’s sacrifice had been drenched with twelve jars of water (verses 33-34). The altar was soaked through and the trench filled with water, so in theory, it would be far harder for Elijah’s sacrifice to the Lord to ignite than the prophets of Baal before him. Then Elijah did something else, he waited. He waited until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice (verse 36). The time when three hours before sunset at approximately 3 PM, the evening sacrifice would be offered in the temple in Jerusalem. Elijah was again showing that he was in fellowship with the worshippers in Jerusalem, and following the commandment of the law.

Surely this has something to say to us as well? How many an exiled Hearach and Leodhasach, has wistfully looked at the clock at the hour of worship or prayer meeting, to remember to pray for and to be in fellowship with those in the old country in their worship of God.
There is more though in what Elijah does and how he does it. The prophets of Baal had started to rant and rave about midday, and had carried on until almost the ninth hour of the day. At this exact moment Elijah took over ‘at the time of offering of the evening sacrifice’ ( verse 36 NKJV).

Exodus 29:38 ff details the daily service that was required in the temple. a spotless lamb of the first year would be offered as a morning and as an evening sacrifice. This was a perpetual obligation on Israel and had to be done each day. At just that moment, in connection with God’s people and in obedience to God’s law, the sacrifice is offered by Elijah. God heard his prayer and accepted his offering. This offering though would be but a forerunner to the offering of a greater evening sacrifice, when many years later Jesus the lamb of God was to take away the sin of the world. The gospels show us that at the ninth hour the sacrifice of all sacrifices was made when Jesus breathed his last ( see Luke 23:44-46) Elijah’s sacrifice points forward to the Cross, and to the atonement that Jesus was to make there on behalf of His people. When we think of Elijah on Mount Carmel, let us also think of the Cross, and say like the people of Elijah’s day ‘ The Lord He is God, the Lord He is God’.

The heart cry of the people of God today should be no different from that of Elijah. We are in a dark day, when only God can save our world. That we had the passion and the desired to echo in our day the words of William Booth.

God of Elijah hear our cry
Send the fire
And make us fit to live or die
Send the fire today
To burn up every trace of sin
To bring the light and glory in
The revolution now begin
Send the fire today
Send the fire today

Complete Sacrifice

Character in a time of crisis Day 11

After the prophet’s of Baal had tried and failed to rouse their god from slumber, and answer their prayers for fire on the altar, it was now Elijah’s turn.  It is interesting how Elijah begins this task. The first thing he does is to ask the people to come near to him (verse 30), they would be witnesses to all that would happen; there would no trickery or smoke and mirrors. Then Elijah begins to repair the altar that had been thrown down ( verse 30). Before he even got round to cutting up the bull or before he had started to lay the wood in order or dig the trench, there was something else he knew he had to do; he repaired the neglected altar of Jehovah God of Israel. Verse 31 makes it very clear that Elijah built an altar in the name of the Lord. He didn’t use the pagan altar that the prophets of Baal had used. Instead, Elijah did something remarkable, something which would have spoken volumes to those who witnessed it that day.

Elijah took twelve stones “ according to the number of the tribes of Jacob “. We can imagine him carefully and deliberately placing them, and naming them to himself, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali, Gad, Dan, Asher, Joseph. Ten stones for the tribes of the north, but then something we might easily miss, eleven Judah, Twelve Benjamin.  At this time Judah and Benjamin were a separate and hated kingdom in the South. Judah was a different kingdom with a different king, Jehoshaphat was king of Judah ruling from Jerusalem, as Ahab ruled from his ivory palace in Samaria.  What Elijah did though would have spoken volumes to all those watching.   The word of the Lord had come to Jacob and his sons saying  ‘ Israel shall be your name’. How could they be Israel if two tribes were missing? Elijah was deliberately ignoring politics and local sensitivities in favour of the word of God, which said that Israel would be one.

Elijah is highlighting the need for unity among God’s people starkly. Never has this truth been more necessary. We have to recognise schism and division in the church as the sin that it is in God’s eyes. God hates division among his people, and much as we would like it otherwise does not recognise our petty divisions and denominations.  He desires His people to be one, as God Himself is one.  In John 17:11  we read in the words of Jesus’

“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

We are familiar with the words of the psalmist in Psalm 133, the blessing of dwelling together in unity life that shall never end. 

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

Elijah offers a complete sacrifice on a whole altar. He offers the bull ( and it would not be lost on people that what Elijah was doing was offering a sacrifice for himself as a priest would. Exodus 29/ Leviticus 1 show)  not, particularly for the people. It is as if saying “ Whatever else Lord,  I want to be right with you’. He arranges it carefully; it is to be a whole burnt offering, offered on a complete altar before the Lord.

The application of this verse is every bit as challenging as it was in the day of Elijah. It is challenging, but it is also apparent, everything has to be laid on the altar before God if we would have an answer from Him. The question is do we do that? Or is just too hard to do so? Offering a complete sacrifice is costly, it means that something has to die, and a price has to be paid. Years before King David had learned that, he was not prepared to build an altar that cost him nothing ( 2 Sam 24:24). There is a price in making this sacrifice; there is cost, there is a Cross to be carried if we are to follow Jesus.

Character in a time of Crisis (Day 10)

No answer!

“but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention
(1 Kings 18:29 ESV)

The Mount Carmel mentioned in the story of Elijah, is actually part of a high ridge reaching to the Mediterranean sea, not far from Haifa which is today Israel’s third-largest city. The effects of the drought that God had instigated through Elijah would be less apparent here than most other places. For a drought to affect Carmel was really a disaster, in the book of Amos 1:2 we read

“The Lord roars from Zion
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
and the top of Carmel withers.”

The setting is deliberate, the people can see that Carmel has indeed withered, but in a coastal area such as this, this was the place surely where the power of Baal to provide nurturing rain would be strongest too.

The contest on Mount Carmel began with the prophets of Baal taking their bull, and offering it to their god, in their manner and custom. The telling statement in the passage is though “but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention”
(1 Kings 18:29 ESV)

The narrative shows us how they were crying out to a god who could not hear them! So they danced and raved, and even cut themselves in their desire to be heard by their god, to rouse him to action, and rain fire upon their altar. Baal’s prophets must have thought they held all the aces with an overwhelming advantage in numbers as we saw yesterday of  450 -1.  What is more, Baal was a nature and fertility god who was thought to control the elements of nature, such as wind, water, fire.  The problem was Baal could do nothing, and in a very public and embarrassing way is shown to be a sham.  Indeed Elijah doesn’t spare the Baal prophet’s blushes, even so far as to suggest ( in some versions) that their god is in the toilet at the moment and cannot hear the frenzied cries of his disciples! ( verse 27) 

This sequence must have come as a shock and an embarrassment for the king and the people who had invested in the idolatry of Baal over the years. They could see now that it was all for nothing, there was no answer to the prophets, so why then were we taken in? Why then were their children offered as sacrifices on his altar? Maybe we can sense the mood of the crowd begin to change.  Two things spring to mind immediately in looking at this passage.

The first thing to say is obvious. The sheer folly of idolatry is never clearer than in this passage. The people had served a god who is deaf, dumb, blind and powerless. How many in the world today still follow such a god as the prophet Habakkuk describes so witheringly;

18 “What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
when he makes speechless idols!
19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it.
20 But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him
(Habakkuk 2:18-20 ESV)

The second point is just as important, even maybe more so. We read of how the prophet’s of Baal, tried to implore their god to hear them by offering their own blood to him in devotion. We read that they ‘ cut themselves with their swords and lances as was their custom to do ( verse 28)
How different is our God who does not require from us our blood? How different is our God who gave His only Son as the once and for all sacrifice for our sin? This is the consistent teaching of the gospel, and what we call the atonement made for us through the death of Jesus. The writer to the Hebrew’s sums it all up well in Hebrews 9

’13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God’.(Hebrews 9:13-14 ESV)

CHARACTER IN A TIME OF CRISIS  

Day 9  Against all Odds

22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. (1 Kings 18:22 ESV

On Sunday morning, God willing we will be looking at Psalm 27. This psalm could have been written for Elijah and especially for the contest on Mount Carmel. In the beautiful metrical version of this psalm, we read in verses 1- 3

1The Lord’s my light and saving health, who shall make me dismay’d? My life’s strength is the Lord, of whom then shall I be afraid? 2When as mine enemies and foes, most wicked persons all, To eat my flesh against me rose, they stumbled and did fall. 3Against me though an host encamp, my heart yet fearless is: Though war against me rise, I will be confident in this.

This was High Noon for Elijah, the showdown on Mount Carmel was about to begin. The people might have had nothing to say by way of response to Elijah’s comment that they were halting between two opinions ( verse 21), but I am sure they were thinking plenty! It must have seemed to everyone watching that the odds were uneven and that Elijah was on a hiding to nothing. He is on his own, however, the prophet’s of Baal are 450 strong. By any account, this is long odds against Elijah. He tells the people ( verse 24) that if God is proved to be God, then they must follow him, and on the other hand if Baal, then they should follow him.

When has it ever been a fair fight for the Christian? On a human and purely physical level, the odds are stacked against the Christian believer in many ways today. The people of God have over the years found themselves facing the superpowers of firstly Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Rome, with no means of defence except God. In scripture we see the people of God constantly outnumbered against the Midianites and Amalekites ( Judges 7:110. Hezekiah and Jerusalem were besieged by Sennacherib of Assyria’s huge army ( Isaiah 37). And in 2 Chronicles 20, a vast coalition of Moabites, Ammonites and the tribes of Mount Seir come to destroy Jehoshaphat and the little kingdom of Judah. Jehoshaphat’s prayer is so appropriate in our day too.

 “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12 NIV)

There are two basic points we can think of from this statement of Elijah in verse 22.

 1. In the first place, Elijah might have been physically alone, but that did not mean that he was without spiritual support. It was to be the unseen hand of God that would secure victory for Elijah, and let’s remember for you and me as well. In every instance quoted above, when the people of God have found themselves up against overwhelming odds, the result has been victory with God’s intervention. Elijah’s successor Elisha was able to show his servant

 “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16 NKJV) 

The lives of both Elijah and Elisha show the reality of the spiritual conflict around us. Their lives also show God intervening to bring victory to his people and the glory of his name. 

2. It is also worth remembering that a while later Elijah was to be shown how wrong he was to make this statement, he was not the only prophet of the Lord left ( 1 Kings 19:18 ) which is interestingly referred to by the apostle Paul in Romans 11:14). There were others God had kept in reserve unbeknownst to Elijah. God never leaves Himself without a witness, that is a comforting thought to you today if you are in any way feeling, isolated, alone or discouraged. Although we go through seasons when we feel most alone, God is never idle and is working out His purpose and plan through His people.

 The words of another psalm echo the prayers of Gideon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and many others who looked to God for help;

 “Oh, grant us help against the foe,for vain is the salvation of man!

With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes” (Psalms 60:11-12 ESV)

Character at a time of Crisis ( Day 8) 

No Answer is still an Answer

1Ki 18:21 Day Eight” And the people did not answer him a word’

The Contest on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-39) was to be the ultimate test of Elijah’s faith in God. All that happened thus far in his life was preparation for the time when he as a lone voice would call an entire nation to faith in God. The testing of his faith at the brook Cherith and in the widow’s home in Zarephath were all leading up to this. Elijah has called on Israel to gather together as witnesses and see for themselves who is God in Israel. It is interesting as we saw yesterday that in response to Elijah’s command, Ahab gives a summons which the people will obey, and they all gather on Mount Carmel.

 The terms were simple, the God who could make fire fall from heaven would be proved in the eyes of all to be God. In theory, this would favour the prophets of Baal who numbered four hundred and fifty, and what is more, Baal the Canaanite God they served as a deity, was said to control elements of nature such as fire and rain. The four hundred prophets of Asherah queen Jezebel’s personal priests hadn’t even bothered to turn up. Perhaps they were overconfident of victory, or maybe more they refused even the king’s summons, knowing that their powerful queen would support them. The people were to be the witness and judge as to which Deity would win. 

The shocking thing about this whole incident is that it was necessary in the first place! The God of Israel had made his presence known to the children of Israel on many occasions in the past, and yet they again needed to be reminded of who God is. When Elijah challenges them with the words’ how long do you waver between two opinions ‘. The response is most telling. ‘But the people said nothing’ ( 1 Ki 18: 21)

Is that not also indicative of how the modern mind responds to God? So often our response is ambivalent silence? The challenge of Elijah is one though that will not go away.

 ‘but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,’ (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

So often the response of the people is silence, they don’t know what to say. Hence Elijah’s words to Israel could be a word in season for Scotland today as well. So often there is not an open rejection of God in society, but there is frequently an awkward and ambivalent silence concerning who God is and our need of Him.

 ‘And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:21 ESV)

The word halting or limping can actually be rendered as hesitating at a forked branch or crossroads, and not knowing which way to go. This image is as right for our 21st Century world as it was in Elijah’s day, a people hobbling or wavering along not sure whether to follow God or another. In our day as in Elijah’s, it is more important than ever that we know our God.

 “… but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.(Daniel 11:32 NKJV)

Character in a time of crisis Day 7.

ENEMY OF THE STATE ( 1 Kings 18:17) 

For Ahab to describe Elijah as “you Troubler of Israel” ( 1 Kings 18:17) was in effect to pronounce a death sentence on the prophet. The word of the king was law and would, in ancient times, lead to a quick and summary execution. Especially if the king was accusing a subject of treason, as Ahab seems to be doing. 

But who in this passage is the ‘ Enemy of the State’? The real clue is found in what scripture has to say of King Ahab himself. 1 Kings 16 gives us a potted history/ biography of several kings of Israel, and unsurprisingly Ahab is deemed to be the worst of them. Ahab was the son of Omri, an able but evil king, who fortified Samaria and made it his impressive capital city. ( 1 Kings 16:24) The record of Omri is that although admired by even other nations, ‘he did evil in the sight of the Lord’ ( 1 Kings 16:25). However, he was as nothing compared to his son, as Ahab did more evil than all who were before him’ ( 1 Kings 16:30) The book of second kings describes Ahab in these terms;

( There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. 26 He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel. (1 Kings 21:25-26 ESV)

So Ahab is ‘the troubler of Israel’, not Elijah, and Elijah is not slow in pointing out this fact to the king, again an act of great courage.  (1 Kings 18:18)

 It is now let’s remember the third year of drought and famine ( 18:1), and Ahab has asked his servant, Obadiah, to go and look for pasture for his horses and mules, as the severe drought would have had a significant effect on grassland. At the heart of Ahab’s kingdom was the valley of Jezreel which in modern-day Israel is a green oasis of very fertile farmland, but without irrigation would turn into dust. Ahab is getting desperate, he needs water, as he needs horses for his military. There is no mention of the people; right now, horses were more important to Ahab. Elijah confronts the king as he has said he would and strange as it may seem the king pays heed to his instructions. The stage is being set for the great confrontation which lay ahead on Mount Carmel.

But who is the troubler of Israel? Ahab’s comment to Elijah is somewhat typical of how the world views Christians. In the Scottish Context, the historian Tom Nairn once famously said:

“Scotland will never be free until the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.” ( A well known Scottish Sunday newspaper).

This might be an extreme view, but it is one that I am sure many of us will have come across that the reason for society’s ills is god bothering Christians, on the wrong side of history. Yet far from being enemies of the state we are called to pray for the nation and those who lead us; 

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. ( 1 Timothy 2:1-2)

More than any other faith, the Christian faith is often dismissed in our society, as a merely a crude superstition that is stifling progress and even a threat to social cohesion, or simply bigoted, hypocritical and intolerant. Do we expect things to change anytime soon? Well, not unless God does the changing! We are now two weeks into a lockdown caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Can we imagine this going for three years? Three years of famine in Israel and the king lays the blame for it at the feet of the man of God Elijah. 

Elijah is not the troubler of Israel. The Christian who is walking in God’s light and obedience to His will is never the source of trouble and strife. There may be times when this attends our days, simply because of our lifestyle and faith, but the Christian is never the troubler of Israel. Instead “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. ” (Romans 12:18)

Character in a time of Crisis

Day 6 Led by the Spirit 

 1 Kings 18:12 “And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where.”

The story of Elijah’s life could accurately be summed up as Duncan Campbell puts it as “ God’s hand upon a man”. God is intimately involved in every encounter we read of in his life, and Elijah’s every move and word seem to be directed by God’s direct revelation to him. The work of God through Elijah leads others to confess as the widow of Zarephath

“Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (1 Kings 17:24 ESV).

Elijah’s life shows the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit in so many ways. God speaks through His Spirit to Elijah in several places (1 Kings 17:1- 17:8/ 18:1, 19:9, 21:17) Elijah speaks as the Spirit enables him, 17:1, 17:14,18:15 for example. And Obadiah’s confession here seems to be but an acknowledgement of the fact that supernaturally God is animating and empowering His prophet for His service. The theologian Gordon Fee describes the Holy Spirit as ‘God’s empowering presence ‘ in his well-known book of that name.

It is certainly the case that the Holy Spirit is as active in the Old Testament as in the New, and Elijah’s life bears witness to this from beginning to end. Obadiah confesses that the Spirit of the Lord will carry Elijah, and he knows not where. We see more than a little exasperation as well as fear in Obadiah, he seems to say he doesn’t know where Elijah will pop up next! But as the Spirit leads Him so Elijah goes, we read of the hand of the Lord upon Elijah in verse 46 of this chapter, and the Spirit empowers him to overtake the king’s fine chariot and horses and reach Jezebel before Ahab.

The on-going story of Elijah shows us that although Elijah was as human as we are ( James 5:17), and as prone to human failing and doubt as any of us ( 1 Kings 19), his life shows us how God the Holy Spirit can equip and empower weak human vessels to God’s glory. The authentic leading of God’s Holy Spirit may not catch us up as in the case of Elijah or Philip’s experience at Azotus ( Acts 8:39-40), although God is still the God of miracles. God’s Spirit may lead you and me to simply obey His command and be an instrument of grace and blessing to others. In this difficult season that we find ourselves in, maybe God is simply leading you to pick up the phone and speak to someone else and become of encouragement and God’s love.

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

Character in a time of crisis Day 5

” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom”

‘Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly’ ( 1 Kings 18:3)

The story of Elijah’s encounter with Obadiah is interesting. Obadiah ( not to be confused with the Old Testament prophet of the same name) is a servant of King Ahab, and described as being over the king’s household, and therefore a man of some influence. He is further described immediately afterwards though (in verse 3) as a God-fearing man. He fears God more than Ahab and uses his position and influence to shelter and provide for the prophets of God during Jezebel’s persecution. Like Joseph in Pharaoh’s court or Daniel in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, Obadiah is a beacon of light in the darkness of Ahab and Jezebel’s reign. During this time he risked his own life to hide and provide for some of God’s prophet’s in a cave to keep them safe from the malicious anger of Ahab and Jezebel.

The priority of the Christian’s calling is to be faithful wherever God has placed us. It is not to be successful, to get noticed or to cultivate a following, but simply to be faithful where God has placed us. It might not always be easy to be a devoted follower of Jesus in certain circumstances. The pressure might sometimes be intense to conform, but God gives the grace to keep us as He did to Obadiah. There are two good reasons why we must be thankful for such’ secret disciples’ as Obadiah. In the first place, God has a goal and purpose in this situation. Obadiah can influence things for good in a better way than most others could. Queen Esther herself was uniquely positioned ” for such a time as this ‘ to plead on behalf of the Jews ( Esther 4:14).

‘ The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!’ Psalm 111:10 (ESV)

There are many Christians today who are in the same situation, Many who are able to witness for Christ and to support His cause for good. The secret disciple can often be useful to the master, in subtle but significant ways.
The second reason is that God gives grace in such situations. The secret disciple is never alone. It is remarkable how God uses the weak things of this world to confound the wise ( and indeed the powerful). Let us also remember the excellent service that two of the New Testament’s great secret disciples undertook.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus two secret followers of Jesus showed that they feared God more than the Sanhedrin, Pilate or even Caesar, The names of these two will ever be remembered for their brave servanthood in asking for and burying the body of the Lord Jesus. The day comes for Obadiah, Daniel, Joseph, Nicodemus and perhaps someone reading these notes, when they must come out into the open as witnesses for Jesus.

CHARACTER IN A TIME OF CRISIS

Day 4 – Take it to the Lord in Prayer

1 Kings 17: 22 ‘and the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah’

How many times have you prayed or heard others pray that God is ‘a hearer and answerer of Prayer ‘? How many of us believe this to be the case, though? If we were to put ourselves in the situation that Elijah faced in 1 Kings 17: 17-24 would we trust God?

The widow of Zarephath has just lost her son. What a seemingly cruel twist for the boy to survive the famine but to die subsequently? Who got the blame? Elijah did. It is often the case and all too easy to lash out in distress and pain to those nearest to us. It is also easy to lash out at those who like Elijah stand before the Lord as his servants too!

Interestingly, the widow thinks that there is a connection between her son’s death and her sin (verse 18). This view is not the case, but it is a common lie and condemnation of the devil, who is the father of lies. The accuser comes with such twisted thinking when we are at a low point to compound grief with guilt. When parents do wrong on earth, their children share in the effects of it, but God does not judge children for their parent’s sins. We read in Ezekiel 18:20 ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him’.
What is Elijah’s solution to all this? He takes it to the Lord in prayer. He prays in faith, not doubting that God would restore the boy’s life. Elijah, as a man of faith, trusts to God to honour His promises but also believes that this supernatural God can hear his prayers too. The remarkable thing about Elijah’s prayer is how short it is! Barely two sentences in English (1 Kings 17:20-21 ). The Shorter Catechism asks the question What is prayer? To which the answer is given;

‘Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will in the name of Christ with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.

Elijah’s prayer is a short and faith-filled “offering up unto God of the prophets desires and in respect of things agreeable to the will of God.
We read in that beautiful verse 22 “And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” (1 Kings 17:22 ESV) . The widow now knows that only the involvement of a supernatural and holy God has given her son back, and she makes glad and fulsome confession of this God in verse 24. For a pagan Sidonian to say this is wonderful. God does hear and answer prayer, and in the life and story of Elijah, we will see further instances of it yet.

That we had the faith to pray for great things, and what is more believe the words of Jesus to be true. If ever there was a time tor us to exercise faith and take all things to the Lord in prayer it is now.

“With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”
(Matthew 19:26 NIV)

For Such a Time as This (Day 3) 29th March 2020

Character in a time of crisis 

1 Kings 8- 15 ‘Faith in a place of testing.’ 

 “ Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”(1 Kings 17:9 ESV)

The first thing Elijah does is to declare the word of the Lord to King Ahab and proclaim a drought, which will only come to an end when God decrees ( 1 Kings 17:1) Elijah in complete obedience to the word of God goes first to hide at a brook where ravens feed him. He is then sent to Zarephath on the coast in what is Lebanon today.
What can we say about this? Zarephath means ‘the smelting place’, a place where iron ore would be smelted and refined. It was to be a place of refining for Elijah too.

‘The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.’ Proverbs 17:3

In the first place, would he trust in God for safety? Zarephath was an enemy territory in the land of Ahab’s evil queen Jezebel. It would be as dangerous to him as modern-day Baghdad would be for us.
In the second place, would he obey God in terms of morals? He as a single man sent to lodge with a widow, far from prying eyes and gossiping tongues.

Elijah was to be tested in both his obedience to the express will of God and in his obedience to God’s moral law through His written word. This then was the test, would he believe, would he trust and would he obey God in a new, strange and challenging environment? As far as Elijah was concerned though, this was merely preparation for harder testing to come. Later on, Elijah was to be tested in his faith in God not only to provide for himself and the widow with the miraculous supply of flour and oil (verses 14-16). He was to be tested far more in his faith that God would answer his prayers for the widow’s son. ( verses 17-24).  There were further and sterner rests ahead at Carmel and Horeb as we shall see.

The sobering lesson for us from this is that before God can trust us with greater work or service, he will test us in smaller things too. It is not easy going through the refiner’s fire, but we must remember it is for a reason. If Elijah had proved untrustworthy, or unable to obey God, in all probability, he would have died, as would the widow and her son. Elijah’s faith in God in a place of testing proved he could be trusted. Our times of testing may be different, but we should take encouragement from the letter of James when these times come.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:2). 

For Such a Time as This – (Day 2) “The Lord is my Provider” 

28th March 2020

Character in a time of crisis

1 Kings 17:4 ” You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

One of the great names of God in Old Testament Scripture is Jehovah Jireh meaning ‘the Lord Provides’. This comes from the stirring incident on Mount Moriah recorded in Genesis 22 when Abraham in obedience offers Isaac his son as a sacrifice to God. God stops Abraham from doing so and shows Abraham and Isaac, a ram caught in a thicket, which was truly God’s provision for them.
In these opening verses of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1-7, we see God providing for His servant Elijah in equally remarkable ways. In the earlier part of the passage, Elijah, in obedience to God, presents himself to Ahab, to declare to him the word of the Lord. “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word. (1 Kings 17:1 ESV) He stands before God as one in His service and comes to declare God’s will to this king who had rejected the God of Israel.

Elijah declares a drought, which will continue until God says otherwise through him. This was a direct challenge to Ahab and his queen Jezebel, who was a worshipper of Baal, the Canaanite god who was supposed to control the elements of nature such as fire and rain. The effect of this was as Jeff Lucas puts it like” a Spiritual stun grenade going off in the palace of Samaria “.
Elijah leaves, and in response to the word of God is lead East of the Jordan river. There He is fed morning and evening at God’s command by Ravens. This is strange and miraculous in many ways. Ravens themselves were not to be eaten (Lev 11:15; Dt 14:14) and the meat they usually ate was also forbidden food (Lev 7:24; Dt 14:21; Eze 4:14) . Ravens would normally eat any such food rather than carry it to someone else. This shows at the very beginning of his ministry how God supernaturally undertakes for Elijah.
Elijah is provided for whilst residing in a strange and unfamiliar place, and brought food
Have we ever thought about the myriad of different ways in which God is to each of us our Jehovah Jireh the God who provides? Each day whether we appreciate this or not, we experience the Lord as our Provider, no matter where we might find ourselves the beneficiaries of God’s benevolent care. He is truly our Good Shepherd who provides for His flock, with health, food, clothing, shelter, family, community, warmth, peace and so many more examples too.

 nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17 ESVST)

The most exceptional example of God providing for His people is seen in Jesus the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ ( John 1:29)

“FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS ” (Day 1) 27th March 2020

Character in a time of Crisis 

Today We start a new series of short devotional notes entitled ‘For such a time as this’. 

These words were famously used by Mordecai in the book of Esther to describe Esther’s crucial calling during a terrible time of crisis for the Jewish people. 
Today we are as a world, most certainly faced with an extraordinary time of upheaval. With this in mind, we’ll look in these daily notes at some of those in scripture who have shown character in times of crisis—beginning with the life and times of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The two prophets have much to teach us, and much that applies to all our lives. It is my hope and prayer that these notes, part expositional part devotional will not only whet an appetite in us all to read these scriptures but also to follow and live for God as they did.

 Day One 1 Kings 17: 1 ff ‘My God is the Lord’  

 Elijah, the prophet, is one of the most fascinating figures in the Bible, let alone the Old Testament. At a time of general disobedience and turning away from God, Elijah seems to appear out of nowhere, to proclaim the word of the Lord to a king and a nation. Elijah is held in awe by the people of Israel and rightly so. He is mentioned 29 times in the New Testament alone. John the Baptist is likened to Elijah ( John 1:21), Elijah with Moses is seen with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration ( Matt 17:3), the crowd thought that Elijah would come and save Jesus from the Cross ( Matt 27:47-49). The letter of James in the New Testament describes Elijah as a person with a nature just like ours ( James 5:17) , and thus subject to all that we are subject to too. But the first thing to notice about Elijah was his name. The name Elijah means ‘My God is the Lord’. 

What does this tell us? Well, it tells us more about his parents than anything. It shows that in a day when a succession of evil kings had ruled and ruined Israel, and the worship of God is forgotten about and the name of God trampled underfoot, a brave couple had called their baby boy Eli – Jah ‘My God is the Lord’. In taking this step, they were bravely witnessing for God by not going with the flow of national apostasy. As in so many cases in the Bible as indeed in human history, a work of God begins with a little baby being born. Think of Isaac, of Joseph, of Samuel, John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Himself. Often a child being born heralds the beginning of a great work of God.

This little boy called Elijah was to grow into a mighty man of God whose name would strike fear into the enemies of Jehovah, and give the reminder to king and nation that there is a God in Israel.

The work of God sometimes has small and even imperceptible beginnings but isn’t it comforting to know that the God who became one of us, in Jesus, continues to use frail, sinful, inadequate people like us, in His sovereign will.

A Pastoral Letter from the minister

Dear Friends,                                                                                20th March 2020

In this last week, much that we have known has been turned upside down by the Coronavirus outbreak. This unseen but potentially deadly virus is threatening our way of life in many different ways. As a society, Coronavirus (or COVID-19) presents an unprecedented challenge to us all. The impact on the nation as well as our community has already been profound.

As many reading these words will be aware, the Church of Scotland’s COVID-19 Task Group gave an instruction, on Tuesday afternoon 17th March, that all worship services should cease from now until further notice. This action is an attempt to minimise the spread of the virus. Most churches in the country are taking similar steps.

As a consequence of this, all worship services and other meetings in Tarbert Church of Scotland have stopped until further notice. This news comes as a shock to us all but I am sure that people will understand that this is part of a national campaign against the further spread of this virus.

So what is our response to this? In the first place, we must never forget that God is Sovereign in all His ways. God is bigger than the Coronavirus! We might not always grasp that fact from listening to the news and daily briefings. Maybe this Pandemic is teaching us something that we should take to heart, that what is impossible for man is possible for God. Perhaps it may make us reevaluate our priorities, our appetites, our habits, and who and what we worship. In this Pandemic, we see the powerlessness of a society that has sidelined God. Perhaps this may make us understand how futile and empty the cult of celebrity, sport, music, and fashion is.  When faced with such an overwhelming challenge, the rich, famous and influential have no answer and most certainly are not the answer. God alone is the answer and in these difficult and challenging days, we have to pray for God’s help, mercy and guidance.

There has never been a more critical time for us to pray. National church leaders have called for a day of prayer on Sunday 22nd March. I would invite everyone to join us in praying together in our own homes at 10 am tomorrow morning.  We hope that a short video sermon will be on the website tomorrow morning, and in the days ahead.

THE TIME OF PRAYER THAT WAS PROPOSED FOR TOMORROW IN THE CHURCH WILL NOT NOW TAKE PLACE.

 The Kirk Session wishes to make known to the congregation our on-going commitment and prayerful support for all associated with the congregation and the wider community at this time. We encourage people to try to keep in touch with each other as much as possible. Although it is difficult from now on to meet face to face, we hope that by telephone, email and other ways to be able to keep in touch with each other. We must remember that isolation need not be isolating. Loneliness and fear are two of Satan’s chief strategies against us, and so we must resist this by maintaining fellowship with God in prayer and with each other as best we can.  If you need help in collecting shopping, medication or in any other way, please do not hesitate to get in touch.   Please phone the manse on 502231 or 07879 273946 or any of the following from our A.C.T.S group who will be very glad to help

Agnes on 502262 or 07787 587681

Christine 50 2522 & 07917464543                 

Joan 50 2495 & 07799166010

The Prime Minister has described the need for the country to be on practically a war footing to meet the challenge of this dangerous enemy virus. It is so important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that God has not changed and the God who brought us as a nation and community through two world wars will bring us through this crisis too.

May we all take this to God, and make Him our shelter and place of refuge. In this grave time, may we all take comfort in words in Psalm 57  that have been a great blessing to me.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,

for in you my soul takes refuge;

in the shadow of your wings, I will take refuge,

till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry out to God Most High,

to God, who fulfils his purpose for me.

May we all find refuge in God in these difficult days.

In Christ

Ian Murdo Macdonald

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) An initial Response from the Kirk Session

Covid-19 Coronavirus. As we are all no doubt aware, the Coronavirus Pandemic is currently at the forefront of everyone’s thinking. Given the threat posed by Coronavirus or COVID-19, the Kirk Session has decided that for the time being the following measures will be taken to limit the risks to worshippers at Tarbert Church of Scotland.

  • The minister and office bearers will not be shaking hands at the door either before or after Sunday
  • We encourage worshippers not to shake hands with others if possible.
  • The A.C.T.S welcome group at the door will not be meeting and greeting worshippers going into the church in the meantime.
  • Hand sanitisers will be provided at the door of the church.
  • For the time being, we will not be issuing hymnbooks by hand at the door, and all praise will be projected as before on the church screens. Intimation sheets for the service will be available at the door for collection before the service, but will not be handed out.
  • After-church tea and coffee will not take place for the present.
  • Residential and care homes are now limiting access by visitors. The office-bearers of the church will, therefore, no longer be taking worship at Harris House until after it is deemed safe to do so.

The Kirk Session do not take these measures lightly. It is not our wish to curtail the activities of the congregation or limit our precious times of fellowship on the Lord’s day or at other times. However, we feel that given the gravity of the situation facing us as a nation due to the Coronavirus outbreak. We would be failing in our duty as spiritual leaders of the congregation if we did not take proactive measures to keep the congregation and all associated with it safe.

We will update the website, when we can, to keep people informed. Further and more detailed information can be found at the Church of Scotland website by clicking here.

More information from the NHS can be found here  

Spring Communion Services 2020

Rev Donald A MacLennan

It was with a profound sense of shock and sadness that we learned on Monday 17 February of the death of the Reverend Donald Angus Maclennan. The lines that follow are not an official tribute, or obituary as others more qualified will supply those. These lines are simply the expression of love and condolence from Donald Angus and Rachael’s many friends in Harris.

Donald Angus and his dear wife Rachael were good friends of the congregation of Tarbert and are remembered with great love and affection by all of us here.  This sadness is shared in our neighbouring congregation of Manish Scarista, where Donald also served as a tireless and popular locum.  DA and Rachael were due to return to his native south Harris in June to the manse in Scarista for a month, and so this news was met with great sadness by our friends in South Harris.

Many of us in Tarbert remember with fondness, the deep impression that Donald and Rachael made during the time they spent here in the vacancy. During a difficult time for the congregation, D A and Rachael helped us, encouraged us, and kept us together. They inspired us, consoled us and made us laugh. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Donald Angus Maclennan adorned the pulpit wherever he ministered, and in a long and faithful ministry served his Lord until the very end. His ministry took him first of all to the hills and bays of Uig Isle of Lewis in his first charge in 1975 in the Free Presbyterian church.  From there he was called to the sprawling rural parish of Strath and Sleat Church of Scotland in the Isle of Skye. He ended his ministry with a long and blessed ministry in Kinloch Church of Scotland Isle of Lewis. Since retiring to Inverness DA and Rachael helped many vacant congregations in the Highlands and Islands.  Anyone who ever met DA will remember well his great sense of humour, and unique chuckle. His dry and incisive wit often infused with apt scripture references lightened many a meeting of Presbytery as well as less formal occasions.

His life was devoted to and lived in the service of his Lord, and will surely receive the master’s commendation ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; …… enter thou into the joy of thy Lord’ (Matt 25:23)

In her sorrow, we prayerfully remember Rachael in the passing of her dear husband, and that she may continue to know the strength and support of the God they served so faithfully in these days.

We thank God for the many memories that remain with us of Donald Angus Maclennan.  Never truer were the words of the Psalmist in Gaelic’ Gu dearbh cha tig aon ni am feasd len gluasair e gu mor: Ach cuimhne is iomradh math a-chaoidh bidh air an fhirean choir’ (Psalm 112:6).

The Funeral Service takes place on Thursday 27 February 2020 at 12.30pm in Dalneigh & Bona Parish Church, St Mary’s Avenue, Inverness, IV3 5AD with interment at Kilvean Cemetery.

Sermon Series “Blessed

Last Sunday morning, we began a new sermon series entitled “Blessed,” looking at the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5. The Beatitudes is the name commonly given to the first part of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. I hope to set the scene for this new sermon series and Bible study at our midweek prayer meeting tonight by looking more closely at what the Sermon on the Mount in general and the Beatitudes specifically are about and what they have to say to us today.

I have always believed the prayer meeting should be a meeting of those who wish to pray. In the year ahead we hope that others will come and join us, as we have many reasons to pray and many to pray for in the time ahead. I have also felt that a preacher-led Bible Study lecture should not dominate the prayer meeting, but that our priority should be corporate and private prayer. That will certainly not change, and in the year ahead, we hope that more will join us to pray, and a cordial invitation is given to all to join us on Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm

Over time we have looked at several books, passages, topics, and themes in scripture in the prayer meeting that addresses various issues in Christian life. These have included for example;
the need for prayer, repentance and to seek the Lord, the need for obedience, the need for holiness, the need for grace, the need for humility, the need for forgiveness, the need for tears even. But in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ combines this heavenly inspired teaching with challenging practical application of these truths to all listeners and readers then and now. The Sermon on the Mount calls us to a radical lifestyle that is shaped by God’s Word and guided by God, the Holy Spirit. What we might say to be the rule and reign of God in the hearts & lives of His people.

As we read Matthew chapters 5-7, we see what real Christian character is. In essence, what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It isn’t just another supplementary law code or rule book. This Sermon takes us beyond Old Testament Law and our good works. It is a thoroughgoing examination of what it means to be a Christian. In carefully rereading these chapters, we have to confess that none of us is ever able to say that we have reached the summit of this Mount!

My prayer is that as we look at Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount, that we will let God the Holy Spirit challenge us and change us to His glory.

 

Ministers New Year Letter 2020

Dear Friends

Bliadhna Math Ùr dhuibh Uile,

A happy New Year to you all.

I take this opportunity to write my customary  New Year letter which goes out on the first Sunday of the New year. I simply want to wish you all God’s richest blessings for the year that lies ahead of us. I hope and pray that everyone had a happy and blessed Christmas time and that it might be in faith and confidence in God that we look forward to a new decade beginning in 2020. This year I am happy to be writing in similar terms to the congregation of Manish Scarista of which I am Interim Moderator during their period of vacancy.

Although New Year is now past, we are still very much in the grip of winter. It is the darkest, coldest and bleakest time of the year. No wonder then that many of us look forward with anticipation to longer days and the approach of spring. If we struggle with the cold and long hours of darkness here in Harris then spare a thought for the poor people of the town of Utqiaġvik (formerly known as the city of Barrow) in Alaska. Utqiaġvik lies on the North coast of Alaska. It is over two hours flight from Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city, and is actually situated inside the Artic circle. Due to its location this small town of less than 5000 people saw the sun set on 18th November 2019 and will not see the sun rise over the horizon again until 23rd January 2020. Over two months of perpetual darkness makes even winter days in Harris seem bearable in comparison. The turn of the year often brings a  renewed sense of optimism as the days get longer and indeed, since Christmas, there is  even now a discernible difference in the length of the day.

One of the best known  promises given by God through the prophet Isaiah, is found in  the familiar words of Isaiah 9:2 “ The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone”.

We often make reference to this great passage regarding the promise of the coming Christ at Christmas time but it is, I believe, a passage and a promise that is appropriate all year. As the people of Utqiaġvik living in the Polar night of Alaska look forward with anticipation to the return of the sun over the horizon , so the people of God looked forward to the   fulfilment of Isaiah’s promise in Jesus our Saviour.

The New Year is a time for us all to start again with God and with each  other,  and embrace the truly God given opportunities that he will give us in 2020. Speaking personally I believe it is an opportunity that must not be squandered. Despite the challenges this may bring, the good news is that God is always there to help!

Scott Hubbard editor at Desiring God expresses it so well “ As we sit on the edge of a new year, we are hemmed in by the faithfulness of God. Behind us are his wondrous deeds. Before us are his merciful plans. Both of them are marvellous and more than can be told. With such a God behind us and before us, we need not allow the past to swallow us, nor the future to   worry us. The past and the future belong to him — and most importantly, so do we.” These are truly wise and encouraging words. We do not know what lies ahead of us in this coming year yet, in faith, we can trust in the God who holds the future in His hand. I know that for many reading these words the past year may have brought bereavement, sadness, disappointment or pain. Yet none of these things diminish God’s love for us and  my prayer is that, in this coming year, God may give to each of His struggling children precious tokens of His love.

The year ahead may be challenging for us personally and as a Congregation and Community in any number of different ways, but we must never leave God out of the picture. The dark times should not beguile us into thinking that God is indifferent or uncaring towards His children.  In every circumstance our God is able to keep us and enable us to prevail. At this time may we all know throughout this year the truth of the words of Jesus Christ

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

In this New Year may we all walk in the Light of God’s love and Grace.

With every good wish for the New Year, and the blessings of Christ to you all,

Ian Murdo Macdonald

Sunday School Family Service 2019

The theme for all the Advent services has been ‘the coming King’, and today once again we looked at the Christmas message as told in the Bible, and especially the joy and hope that the birth of the Lord Jesus brought to our world. We were glad to have the Sunday school taking part in the service by leading the prayers and doing the readings at the service, and it was a real blessing for us to have them and the creche join us for this special service.

Christmas Cards for the Housebound

The Sunday school and creche have been busy once again making Christmas cards . These unique cards have been specially made to bless the housebound and elderly of the congregation and will be delivered with the gift bags that will be made up by the ACTS group. A very special thanks from all of us to Karen Macdonald for all her help and generosity once again this year. Karen’s craft skills have helped make some amazing cards , so thanks Karen once again.

Welcome to Kenny MacLeod to the Kirk Session.

The Kirk Session and Congregation of Tarbert Church of Scotland were delighted to welcome a new elder to join the Kirk Session this morning. It was with a real sense of gratitude to God that the ordination of Kenneth Morrison Macleod ( Coinneach Noraidh) to the office of elder took place during this morning’s service. Kenny hails from Scalpay and brings to the Kirk Session a wealth of Christian, professional and community experience, insight and wisdom. We give thanks to God for him, and warmly welcome him to the Session and pray that it will an enriching experience and blessing to him in the years ahead.

Visit from Suresh & Roja of  2nd June 2019

We were blessed to have Suresh and Roja with us once again. They have inspired and challenged us once again, and we give thanks to God for the work of IVM. Here Roja is being presented with some letters from some of the Sunday school. The Sunday school sponsor a young girl called Meghana, and we were glad that they were able to learn of how she and her friends live in the IVM orphanage . The Sunday school each wrote short letters to Meghana that Suresh & Roja will bring back with them.

Stated Annual Meeting Wednesday 27th February 7.30pm in the Macrae Centre

The Stated Annual Meeting of the congregation will be held on Wednesday 27th February at 7.30pm in the MacRae Centre.
This is an opportunity for us to give thanks for God’s provision for us in the past year, and to acknowledge and give thanks for the hard work and devoted giving of many in the congregation over the past year.

At this meeting the accounts for 2018 will be presented by the Congregation’s Trustees for approval. In addition there will also be two or three other reports given of the work undertaken in various aspects of church life.

A cordial invitation is given to all members and adherents to attend this meeting

Youth Club Ice Skating

Our Youth Club enjoyed an ice skating trip to the Scaladale on Friday 1st February. The Centres indoor ice rink is great fun and a good time was had by all. Thanks to Kate at the Centre for her help and to Joan and Alex for accompanying our young folk. Youth Club meets on Fridays in the Macrae Centre (Church hall) from 7pm – 9.30pm for fun, activities and a time to meet up in a relaxed atmosphere. All teenagers are very welcome to come along. (Please note that there will be no Youth Club this coming weekend (8th) due to the school holidays, we will meet next on Friday 15th February)

The Manse

Tarbert 

30th December 2018

Dear friends , 

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr dhuibh uile  nuair a thig i !  A happy New year to you all when it comes. I take  this opportunity to write my customary  New Year’s Day letter going out on the last Sunday of the old year, simply to wish you all God’s richest blessings for the New Year.  I hope and pray that everyone had a happy and blessed Christmas time, and that it might be in faith and confidence in God that we look forward to 2019.

I admit that New Year is not my favourite time of the year. Admittedly there is opportunity for reflection and correction, and there is time for resolutions, but there is also the uncertainty of what the future holds. It is a time when many struggle, with loneliness, isolation, addiction and past regrets, and so I feel it is very important, more important than ever, that we look out for each other, and realise how much we need each other in such strange and uncertain times.

The coming year will certainly bring many challenges to us as a community as well as a nation, and so I believe it is imperative that we keep our perspective on God in all the coming storms and  uncertainties of 2019. Brexit looms large in 2019 , as we as a nation meander chaotically towards leaving the European union on 29th March . However I take encouragement from the fact that God is  still in control.

The year that has past has brought great change to our congregation and community, and it is only right that we acknowledge this. Several of you reading this letter  have sad memories of bereavement and loss in your families over this year. My prayer for each and all of you is that God the Holy Spirit will bring great consolation  to assuage the grief and fill the empty place in heart and home, and that 2019 will be a year of great comfort and blessing to you all.

In our islands at least, the end of this year has been dominated in many ways by thoughts of the centenary of the loss of HMY Iolaire on 1st January 1919. As we know 201 lives were lost on that dark night in our island’s history. It would be superfluous for me to add too much more to what has been  said by many others in the past year. Numerous poignant and imaginative commemorations and tributes have been composed in music, song, sculpture, film and literature this year and have given expression to the often unspoken grief that emotionally paralysed the islands for decades.

Sheoil an Iolaire memorial on South Beach Stornoway

And so it is with solemn remembrance we will meet at the war memorial on Main Street at 1.45 am on New Year’s Day to  pay tribute to those from Harris and other places who perished  on that terrible night. A warm invitation is given to all who can to attend this service, which will include the tolling of the church bell, and local pipers playing laments as well as the laying of wreaths .

Our customary new Year’s day service will also reflect upon the tragic loss of the Iolaire. One of the psalms we will sing on New Year’s day contains  words from Psalm 77

“Do cheuman tha san doimhneachd mhòir, do shlighe tha sa chuan: Ach luirg do chas chan aithnich sinn, tha siud am falach uainn.” – Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, And Your footsteps were not known. “  ( Psalm 77:19) 

These words are engraved on the Iolaire memorial at Holm, and seem to capture well the helplessness  of humanity in the face of the hostile  elements, but also the immutable, sovereignty of the God for whom the raging seas holds no fear.  Psalm 77 is a psalm of consolation , and a testimony to the redemption of the God who walks on the waters( John 6:16).

Despite the harrowing years that followed, with many other challenges and disasters, our islands have survived, and through it all I believe that we should see the unseen hand of God in providence caring for our island in good times and in bad. It is only when we look back upon the times that have past that we can really see how God has been ‘ our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble” ( psalm 46:1).  It is my prayer that we should all look to the future in faith, walking by faith and not by sight and trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and not leaning upon our own understanding.

With every good wish for the New Year, and the blessings of Christ to you all,

Ian Murdo Macdonald

Christmas Praise Night

Sunday school Christmas Family Service 

Our Christmas family service is to be held tomorrow Sunday 16th December at 11 AM, and a warm  welcome is extended to  you all to join us. The Sunday school will be taking part in the service this morning with the playing and singing of music as well as the reading of Bible stories. Our theme through  the season of Advent is ‘Glimpses of Glory’, and this morning  we will be looking at three places in the Old Testament where God gives His people wonderful prophetic glimpses of the coming Saviour.

Hope of the Coming King. 

Our first talk looks at the heralding of the coming King in the words of Malachi 

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts..” 

Malachi 3:1 

The wonderful words of Malachi practically at the end of the Old Testament, give notice that the coming of the Christ will be heralded by a messenger preparing the way for him, and in doing so reaffirming what Isaiah the prophet had announced many years before;
‘ A voice cries: make straight in the desert a highway for our God. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;  Isaiah 40:3

A voice cries: make straight in the desert a highway for our God. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;

Isaiah 40:3

These words were initially fulfilled in the powerful ministry of  John the Baptist the forerunner of the Lord Jesus. Malachi’s words were to be ultimately fulfilled  when least expected when  Jesus was presented at the temple by His parents. After a lifetime of watching and waiting  old Simeon finally saw the fulfilment of God’s promise to him;

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation

that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and for glory to your people Israel.”

Luke 2:29-32

Hope in the city

Our second Talk is based on the familiar verse from Micah 5:2 that foretells that the coming King will come from Bethlehem. 

” But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me

one who is to be ruler in Israel,

whose coming forth is from of old,

from ancient days. “

Micah 5:2

Bethlehem will always be inextricably linked with the Saviour’s birth. The familiar words of the traditional Carol “ O little town of Bethlehem’, are an annual reminder to us whenever we sing these words of the fulfilment of Micah’s words.

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

A place that could only be thought to be small, insignificant and of only passing interest had been given a wonderful accolade. From Bethlehem would come the great ruler who would rule God’s people , “ whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. “ .  The staggering fact is that Jesus the Eternal Word , came to this earth and was born as the prophets had foretold in the Little town of Bethlehem.

Hope of the Nations 

Our third talk is called Hope of the Nations 

Our final talk asks the question, what or who is the hope of the nations of this world.  History itself bears eloquent testimony to the fact that  nation states, rulers, potentates, presidents, prime ministers  and the powerful have come , gone and singularly failed to give hope and direction to the world.

Similarly many others who are looked up to, admired or even worshipped in the worlds of entertainment, media, politics and sport have similarly failed  to live up to the expectation that so many have of them.   700 years before Jesus was born, the words of Isaiah chapter 9 gave God’s people much encouragement, and hope that the promised Messiah was coming. These words still encourage and inspire today, reminding us  that those who walk in darkness have seen a great light.

The culmination of this hope is found only in a person, in a child.   ” .. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; “

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

on them has light shone.

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:2/ 6-7

Glimpses of Glory Advent Series 

In the church culture of the islands  we are sometimes unfamiliar with much of what is known as the church year , and for many of us there may be confusion as to what exactly is meant by Advent. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which is a translation of the Greek word parousia.  In English this could be understood as arrival or coming

The season of Advent is a good way for the church to  focus on and anticipate the  birth of Jesus Christ in the season leading up to Christmas.  This year we are going to focus for the next three Sundays on the theme of “ Glimpses of Glory “, looking at some of the wonderful glimpses of God’s  coming glory seen in the Old Testament .

On Sunday 9th December  We look at two very different passages and people in Scripture, In the morning we focus on Balaam the pagan soothsayer who was hired to curse Israel by Balak the king of Moab. Balaam discovered  that he could not curse those God has not cursed ( Num 23:8)

How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced? Numbers 23:8 NIV

Balaam is forced to acknowledge that God will bless His people Israel, and no cursing or incantation of his would prevent this happening. The fourth and most dramatic of Balaam’s messages gives even this pagan “ medium” or  “ channeler”  pause for thought as he is compelled to utter this wonderful prophecy of the coming king of Israel.

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17 (NIV)

In the  evening we look at a great passage from  the book of the prophet Isaiah , that  seems to encapsulate the hope, rejoicing and thanksgiving that will characterise the coming of the Messiah.  The whole passage is one of  one of restoration, renewal and peace .   God is going to restore the fortunes of  His people so that they will know deliverance and release from their captivity .

During Advent,  the church looks back with thanksgiving to the Lord’s Jesus Christ’s coming into this world,  whilst at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when He returns.

  How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7 ( NIV) 

Community Fellowship

Hope for the Suffering Church Praise Night

Lest we Forget

iolaire Poppy.jpeg

ARMISTICE DAY SERVICE

The Harris Community Armistice day service will be held at the Church on Saturday 10th November at 10.40 am. The Congregation are asked to please try and be seated in the church by 10.30 am. In this act of remembrance the community of Harris remember with solemn pride and gratitude those who fell in the service of King and Country in the two world wars.  The war memorial on Main Street Tarbert lists the almost 200 names of those men from Harris who fell in these terrible conflicts, which scarred our community for most of the twentieth century.  This year there is an added solemn poignancy to the occasion as we mark not only the centenary of the end of hostilities in Europe with the signing of the armistice on 11th November 1918, but also the tragic sinking of HMY Iolaire within sight of Stornoway harbour on New Year’s Day 1919. As a community we know that after remembrance has been forgotten for another year in other places, Lewis and Harris will still remember the sad tragedy that befell the island  and claimed the lives of over 200 men on that darkest dawn of New Year’s Day 1919, 7 of whom were from Harris. IMG_1248.jpeg At 11am on Saturday we will observe two minutes silence in the church to commemorate the end of hostilities. Additionally, with this year being the centenary of the end of World War 1, the Church bells will peal for a further two minutes. This is in line with a nationwide government request for church bells to be rung in remembrance of the Armistice. After the service  we will process to the War Memorial on main street  for the wreath laying by many community, service, school and youth organisations from Harris. On Sunday 11th November at 6am a short commemoration service will be held at the War Memorial on Main Street to mark the signing of the armistice at 06.00 hrs on 11th November 1918. A warm invitation is extended to all early birds to join us for this solemn act of remembrance. On Tuesday 1st January 2019  at 01.45 hrs A short commemorative service will be held at the Harris War Memorial  for those lost in HMY Iolaire 1st January 1919.

Praise Night Poster Oct 2018

 

 

September Communions Services

SKM_C284e18090716200_0001

Visit of Korean Christians

We were blessed at our midweek prayer meeting to have Pastor Sangin Lee and seven young adults from the new church in Seoul South Korea sharing in worship and prayer with us.

The short clip  above shows a small part of the time of prayer , led by Sangin and his translator Paul . Isaiah 56:7 (NIV) “7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
 and give them joy in my house of prayer.
 Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
 will be accepted on my altar;
 for my house will be called
 a house of prayer for all nations. ” Our Prayer meeting this week was different in many ways. We met this evening on a Thursday night for the visit of our friends from Korea. They cooked delicious hot noodles for some of the young people and some of the rest of us too!  Later on in the evening  the meeting began with a time of worship in which the band led us in a short medley of songs  “ The Lords my Shepherd“ ( Stuart Townend)  “ Amazing Grace”   “ My heart is filled with thankfulness “  “ In Christ alone “  Psalm 40 “ I waited for the Lord my God.  The final song we sang together was  this  traditional Scottish psalm  which was very appropriate for the evening  as  we came together to wait upon the Lord. Sangin shared from his heart about the work of the Holy Spirit and encouraging us to keep on praying for our church, our community, our nation and each other.  He spoke movingly about the work of God not only in Korea, but also how God has blessed his ministry through the Holy Spirit through some real times of testing and trial. The short clip  above shows a small part of the time of prayer , led by Sangin and his translator Paul . Although Sangin has good degree level English learned in Scotland, he spoke largely in Korean,  ( which Paul translated for our benefit) as the service was being filmed and being streamed live to the church in Seoul, where others were watching and praying. The prayer time was conducted Korean style with all our friends from Seoul shouting out to the Lord simultaneously  in spontaneous  exuberant prayer.  We are very thankful to God for those who have come from so far away and from so very different a culture and language to minister to us here in Harris.  We were richly blessed by the presence of God so powerfully throughout the meeting , as well as the infectious joy and enthusiasm that the Koreans bring to their worship and prayer. They left us with many happy memories to journey on to Aberdeen.  We are gateful to God for them all, and epsecially for coming so far to bless us here in Scotland. We are also most grateful to all those who who helped out with the hospitality , the praise and worship, the screens and the electronics and rearranging of the premises for the meeting. God bless you all.

Hitherto Hath the Lord helped us..

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”1 Samuel 7:12 (NIV)

Today is the last Sunday that Wilf and Pat Urquhart are going to be with us. As a congregation we have been blessed by their ministry in many different ways over the past few weeks, and they leave us with many good memories.  During the summer months the congregation  has been well served by the pulpit ministry and  faithful pastoral endeavours of two exemplary ministry couples, the Rev Donald Angus and Mrs Rachel Maclennan and Mr Wilf and Mrs Pat Urquhart. We thank them warmly for all that they have done whilst with us here in Tarbert, and  we pray that being in Harris during the summer will have been a blessing to themselves as well. Over the course of the last year, I am sure that I am not the only one who has seen the Sovereign hand of God in so much of what has happened in the Congregation. When I was first made aware of the fact that I would require major surgery at the end of last year, one of the most pressing challenges faced by the Kirk Session was how pulpit and pastoral cover would be undertaken. One of the concerns that  both the Session and I had was to seek to avoid piecemeal and ad hoc preaching ministry during my absence, and so we took the decision early on for the good of the congregation, that locum cover would be much preferable to having different pulpit supply at each service. We felt that there was no substitute for having consistent pulpit supply and pastoral cover during these weeks, and so we were delighted to have been able to obtain the services of three excellent locum preachers during this lengthy absence. The term locum actually means “ holding the place”, and so I should like to also personally thank John Murdo, Donald Angus and Wilf who have so admirably taken my place during my times in hospital and  recovery. In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel raised an Ebenezer or Stone of Help, as a constant reminder to the children of Israel of the goodness of God towards them by way of provision and protection amongst other things.  And certainly we have seen along the course of the past year several Ebenezer’s or significant markers that have shown that hitherto the Lord has helped us. Truly we as a congregation can do the same, and we give our thanks to the God who has provided for us all so wonderfully over the past year.  In the first instance God undertook for us last autumn in providing the Rev John Murdo Nicolson as locum in the congregation over the winter  months.  When John Murdo’s commitment here came to an end at the beginning of March,  I was partly recovered from the first operation, and able to undertake a phased return. By the time the second procedure came on the horizon, in God’s wonderful timing both Mr Maclennan and Mr Urquhart were free to undertake cover over the last seven weeks of the summer.   The Congregation have not only appreciated, but also  greatly benefitted from having consistent preaching and ministry from both these highly experienced  and popular men of God. I should also like to record my own gratitude to you as a congregation for your practical resolve to keep things as normal as possible during this time. To that end I should like to thank all those who sought to ensure that as far as possible the work and witness of the congregation  continued as before. I should like to thank especially the Rev Donald John who has once again borne the burden and heat of the day as Session Clerk in making the administrative arrangements for the locums to come and liaising with the central and local church agencies in this regard. In addition I should like to thank all the elders and Management Committee  for keeping the congregation running smoothly. I’d like to thank Campbell for running the prayer course over the Summer months, and we pray that this will bear fruit in the lives of those who came along. We continue to be indebted to all who work so hard at making the praise nights such a wonderful blessing to all who come.   We are  as a congregation particularly indebted to Pam and David for giving their home “ An Caladh” for the use of the locums during the summer., For this we are truly thankful to God, and pray that  Pam and David would be richly blessed for their sacrificial generosity to the congregation. I continue to be  humbled by your prayers and good wishes, but also humbled by the sheer grace of the God who does all things well. My time in hospital and recovery from surgery has shown me the wonderful asset we have in this nation in the NHS, and I am so thankful to God for all that has been done for me in both Inverness and Stornoway.  As I said at the beginning of this journey I was going into the unknown in a way, as I had never been sick or in hospital in my life before. I didn’t even feel sick the day I walked into Raigmore hospital last November! However I have hopefully come out of hospital with a new awareness and appreciation of hospitals and the vital work they do.  This year has also  made me aware of the reality of being in hospital and hope that this experience will help me be more empathetic towards the sick whether in hospital or at home. Occupying a hospital bed  for the first time was an insightful experience, and gives one a clearer picture than anything that could be taught in college or through pastoral experience of what it means to be sick or suffering. During the last few months I have thought much about the time ahead, and so in God’s will, purpose and timing I hope to come back into the work with hopefully a new impetus and appetite for the ministry and also with an  awareness of the urgency for the word of God to be preached and lived not only here in Tarbert but throughout the nation. Ian Murdo Macdonald

Praise Night Poster August 2018

Our young folk ahead of them taking the lead in our Summer Family Service.Kids Family Service June 2018

Year of Young People and Sunday School Summer Family ServiceDSCN1993This year has been designated by both the Scottish Government and the Church of Scotland as The Year of Young People. To celebrate this we are delighted that many of our young people will be involved in leading and participating in this morning’s service.

The Year of Young People gives the church an opportunity to give thanks to God for the gifts, talents and presence of young people in all our services. We are very happy to see  some of our young people lead and take part in all aspects of our worship at Sunday morning’s service 24th June. The service starts at 11 am, and there will be a time of prayer before the service in the Macrae centre ( Church hall), for those who can come. Today marks the end of the Sunday school session, and so we thank everyone involved in the Sunday school for their hard work and commitment over the course of the year. Summer Sunday school will start next Sunday morning 1st July , and will run during the morning services. This year the children will be watching DVDs about heroes of the faith like Eric Liddell and Corrie ten Boom. All school age young people are very welcome) IMG_0714 thumbnail_20171215_155212

 

Praise Night 17th June 2018

Rev DA MacRae Archive Launch

We at Tarbert Church of Scotland are delighted to announce the online launch of the Rev Donald A Macrae archive. An archive of sermons of our esteemed former minister who served Harris faithfully for 32 years. We sincerely hope and pray that these sermons will be a delight and blessing to all who listen to them, as they assuredly were to all who heard them preached by Mr MacRae from the pulpit all these years ago. The archive can be found on this site by clicking on the tab “Rev Donald A MacRae” or following this link Rev Donald A MacRae Archive

Praise Night 20th May 2018

Rend Collective Trip

A great time was had by all this week as the Youth Club travelled to Inverness to hear Christian Folk band Rend Collective. It was an early (4am) start on Thursday morning for us as we made our way to Stornoway to catch the first ferry to Ullapool.  It was a beautiful day as we made our way across the Minch and we arrived in Inverness just in time for an afternoon of shopping. The doors opened in the Ironworks venue at 6:30pm and we got ourselves a great spot right up at the front near the stage. The band were supported by Guvna B, an urban contemporary gospel rap artist who got the crowd on their feet. The Rend Collective then took to the stage and certainly did not disappoint singing songs from their new album “Good News” as well as many of their earlier hits. The Band put in a great performance with lots of energy, light, dry ice and even a bubble machine. It was lovely to see some familiar faces from other churches across the Highlands & Islands too. After the event we made our way to our accommodation at the Inverness Youth Hostel for some snacks and then bed. It was another early start on Friday morning and after a quick costa coffee run we were on our way back to Ullapool. A few snoozes were had on the ferry after a full CalMac breakfast and we made it back to Tarbert safe and sound at around 2:30pm. Thanks to all who made this trip possible for our youth club, the congregations, the ACTS Group the Kirk Session, CalMac Ferries, The Scalpay Minibus Committee and the leaders who went along on the trip. Below are a few pictures from our trip.

 

Rend Collective Concert  Inverness

On Thursday evening 17th May the Youth Club will be going to see and hear the well known Christian band Rend Collective at the Ironworks Inverness as part of the Collective’s nationwide ” Good news”  tour. DcvwGlKXUAECRxu.jpg-large The youth club and the leaders have been looking forward to this for some time, and  we hope and pray that it will be a great night, and will be enjoyed by all.  Our timetable is roughly as follows;

  • Thursday 17th May minibus will leave the TI car park at 5am for 7.30am ferry from Stornoway
  • Thursday night will be spent at the Youth Hostel in Inverness and the young people will be accompanied to the Rend Collective concert in the Ironworks .
  • Friday 18th May Return via Stornoway on the lunchtime ferry and young people should be collected from TI carpark at approximately 2pm

Rend-collective-rend-collective-experiment-band-39007499-961-247.jpgRend Collective originate from Bangor Northern Ireland, and specialise in a blend of Christian folk rock music. Their song ‘ My Lighthouse’  is one of the enduringly popular songs at our praise nights.

Praise Night 22nd April 18

A REFLECTION FOR EASTER

 I have long admired the writing style of Bill Lawson, the Northton based genealogist. Bill along with his late wife Chrissie have done much valuable genealogical research for island families, but also produced several detailed croft, village and island  histories from the Seallam! visitor centre in Northton. One of the traits of Bill’s style in some of his writing is to imaginatively bestow certain human qualities to inanimate objects such as historical sites and buildings. Thus ancient historical sites are given ‘life, personality’ and ‘senses’ in order to  bear witness to the unfolding events of sometimes turbulent passing centuries.  Ancient places like the  Carloway broch, and island churches  such as those at Rodel and Aiginis are given a life of their own and are able to see and perceive the sometimes mundane, sometimes momentous, sometimes tragic life of these islands.  These old stones witnessed the  rise and fall of various clans and families, times of wars and rumours of wars, reformation, emigration, famine and terrible disease. If these old stones could speak what stories they would have to tell. The same would surely be true of our own church here in Tarbert. What stories these stones could tell  of glorious past days, of generations of the people of Harris  coming from all points of the compass  to worship and praise God together as one united people. To tell of the anointed preaching of Christ with fervency and power. To tell of days of revival, of  days of the Holy Spirit falling upon large gatherings here in Tarbert and other parts of Harris. If stones could speak what stories they would have to tell? What if still older stones could speak to tell of the events  that unfolded at Passover in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago? What stories the ancient stones of the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives could tell?  What stories the garden of Gethsemane could tell?  That ancient rock known as the Rock of Agony  where Jesus the Son of God knelt in prayer saying; “ My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”( Mathew 26:39). What stories the ancient stone pavement  in the old city known in Aramaic as Gabbatha (John 19:13) would have to tell of when the Governor Pontius Pilate sat down to pronounce judgement on a prisoner called Jesus of Nazareth brought before him. These old walls would have witnessed all that happened there that morning, and echoed to Pilate finally say the words for which he is remembered still today “ ECCE HOMO”  “ Behold the Man “ ( John 19:5). What stories the winding streets of the old city would have to tell of how  this man Jesus “ went out , bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha” (John 19:17 ESV). These buildings witnessed the solemn procession from Pilate’s residence the Praetorium to the place of a Skull – Calvary. Whenever I read or sing the great words of Stuart Townend and Keith Getty’s hymn the Power of the Cross, I try to imagine what it would have been like to have been there and to witness “ Christ on the road to Calvary”. To witness what is surely for the Christian the key moment of all  human history, when Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews carried His Cross to Calvary, to die in the place of you and me. The hymn paints for us the picture of what was happening not only physically but spiritually as Jesus went to the Cross, and died for us there. The gospels spare us much of the detail, and give really only a very edited censored picture of what happened that day, all the gospel writer’s say is “ And they crucified Him”. The apostle Paul describes that moment in this way “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NKJV)  In the same passage Paul goes on to say “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.“ 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) What story would the stone that sealed the Tomb have to say? That unique stone that was witness to the power of God over death and the grave. In Wesley’s words that we’ll sing on Easter morning;  “Vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Christ has burst the gates of hell. Death in vain forbids His rise; Christ has opened Paradise”  The Angel acted as herald to those disciples who came on that Easter morning to declare “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay”. Matthew 28:5-6 Years before Jesus had prophesied that the great stones of the temple in Jerusalem would be thrown down (Mark 13:2). It is believed that Herod’s great temple had only been finally complete for four or five years when it was torn down by the Romans, stone by stone in AD 70. All that is left now is the crumbling foundation, known as the Western wall the holiest place in Judaism. It is only stone, it cannot speak, it cannot hear, it cannot save. A greater than the temple had come. Jesus Himself had prophetically spoken of this greater temple before “ Jesus answered them, “ Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” … he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. ( John 2:19-22 ESV) If these stones could tell us their stories, what stories they would have to tell? But the fact is stones cannot speak ! Only people can tell of the great works of God.  And if we don’t then Jesus warns what will happen  “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) If we would keep quiet the very creation will “ sing the praise of him who died, of him who died upon the cross”. Buildings, despite their associations and history and the esteem and affection in which they are held, are just buildings. They are not going to last forever. They are buildings in which people have worshipped the One who no building could every contain.  They cannot speak or see, they cannot save. So on this Easter morning we come instead to Jesus, the risen and exalted Saviour, who lives in the power of an endless life, and who alone can save. We come to  the one the apostle Peter describes as “the Chief corner stone” ; 4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” 7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offence.” (1 Peter 2:4-8) A happy and blessed Easter to you all Ian Murdo Macdonald

March 2018 Communion Services

Stated Annual Meeting

Letter issued to the Congregation on Sunday 4th March 2018

Dear friends As I write this, much of the rest of the country is shivering and struggling to cope with ‘the Beast from the East’ as the polar vortex weather system which has hit the country hard this week has been called. Although it hasn’t been exactly warm here either, we have been spared the worst of this artic weather. At this time of year the trees may still be dormant and without leaf, but already there are signs of spring all around us, signs of the days getting longer, if not warmer and bulbs and daffodils appearing in the gardens. Spring brings signs of new life stirring. There continues to be signs of new life stirring in this congregation, and this week’s Stated Annual Meeting was an opportunity for us to take stock not only of the financial health of the congregation but to hopefully appreciate how much work is going on at many levels within the congregation. The Stated Annual Meeting saw the trustees of the Congregation present the accounts for 2017 to the congregation last Wednesday 28th February. Despite the challenging bitterly cold night, it was heartening as always to see a good number coming along to the S.A.M, and heartening too to see how well the congregation’s finances are. Despite the challenges and pressures that everyone is facing, and despite the reality of a depressed island economy, the giving of the congregation is more than commendable. As Angus Macsween our treasurer ably took us through last year’s accounts it surely became obvious how much we have to be thankful for as a Congregation. Our income for the year 2017 of £83,606 is very pleasing to the trustees, and compares favourably with that of many congregations of a similar (or even larger) size and circumstances. Despite the fact that we had a deficit of £14,537, with an expenditure of £98,143 for the year, as Angus explained that was largely due to the extensive works being undertaken in the past year on necessary projects such as the roof repairs and rendering of the church. I should like to take this opportunity on behalf of us all as a congregation to thank Angus most sincerely for his hard work and professionalism in looking after our finances so well throughout the year. This year the treasurer’s address was followed by three more addresses with regard to different aspects of the congregation’s work. Campbell Macrae on behalf of the Management Committee gave an overview of the extensive work that was being done by the Management committee with a special focus on the Fabric sub committee. The Fabric group have had a busy and productive year, with much work being undertaken both inside and outside the church. Campbell explained how with the advice and help of the General Trustees (who ultimately own the buildings) several other projects will be progressed over the next two years. The trustees who visited Tarbert, Roger Dodd and Brian Waller were both very impressed with the condition of the fabric of the church and manse and gave us valuable advice and support. The Trustees have offered us retrospective and future financial assistance for these works, and have given valuable advice on necessary work to do with Health and Safety such as installing a gallery rail, other projects such as renewing the heating system and painting the exterior of the church, manse and precincts with high quality weather proof paint. Bobby Macleod spoke on behalf of the Worship Group to keep us up to speed on the progress with the band project. Much of the finances for the worship band project are now in place, and many thanks are due to all who contributed and have supported this venture. Much of the equipment has been purchased, and will hopefully enhance the worship of the church in various ways in the time ahead. Part of the project’s intentions is to improve the sound quality in the church, and in this respect new microphones , sound system and sound desk will be installed in the church in the next while. Karen Macrae then took us through an overview of the congregational website , highlighting how well used it has been , and the possibilities there are for the future development of the site. The proposals for further development may include, a history page outlining the history of not only the church but those associated with it, a giving page, where on-line visitors can give to the work of the congregation and a special project seeking to digitise and put on-line the sermons our late minister the Rev DA Macrae. It would not be possible for me, to mention individually the great contributions that so many have made to the life and work of the congregation over the past year. Last year, as always a great deal of dedicated hard work has been carried out by office-bearers, members and adherents of the congregation. Many of you have selflessly given of your time, talents and resources to the work of this congregation, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank you all most sincerely for all you have and continue to do. The remarkable thing is that this is done exclusively on a voluntary basis and so I think it is incumbent on myself and indeed all of us to really consider this and give due appreciation and thanks for all that continues to be done by so many in the congregation. It is amazing to see how much has been achieved over the past few years and it brings to mind the words of Nehemiah regarding the enthusiastic and dedicated Israelites re-building the wall of Jerusalem. ‘So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.’ Nehemiah 4:6) My recovery from major surgery has gone very well, and all the glory must go to God for this. I have constantly said that I could see God’s hand and purposes in this, and I certainly do. So I should like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support of us as a family and for your expressions of good wishes and offers of practical help, which have been a source of great comfort and strength to us. We are also very grateful for your prayers for me and for us as a family during this time. I am currently on a phased return to duties, but will have to go back to hospital some time in the future for a routine procedure. As previously, the Kirk Session and I will endeavour to ensure that there will be as little disruption as possible to to the life of the congregation, during this time. All this shows us how thankful we should be in everything. We thank God for His wonderful provision for us in the Rev John Murdo Nicolson, who gave outstanding service as locum minister in my absence, over these past few months. We continue to pray that John Murdo, Debbie and Sam will be truly blessed in their new ministry in the Presbytery of Lewis and in Martin’s memorial . I should also like to thank our interim moderator, the Rev Murdo Smith a faithful friend of the congregation who made long journeys from Shader to Tarbert to chair various meetings with customary efficiency and grace. We also thank as always the Rev Donald John and members of the Kirk Session for giving leadership and guidance during this time. A week today we will be meeting together at the Lord’s table, during our Communion services. As this is the last opportunity I will have before then, I would like to exhort anyone who is thinking of professing faith for the first time to do so. You will be warmly welcomed by all of us in the Kirk Session, and we will be delighted to see new faces sitting with us at the table. I have spoken about the service rendered by so many over the past year, but we have to remember that the greatest service we can render is to profess Jesus as our Lord and saviour . The words of the psalmist in psalm 116 which are traditionally sung at Communion sum up this service very well. What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, 14 I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. With grateful thanks and every good wish to you all In Christ Ian Murdo Macdonald

Farewell to John Murdo

It was with a real mixture of emotions that we gathered as a congregation in the Macrae centre after the Sunday morning service today, to express our thanks to John Murdo for his great service to us as a congregation over the past four months. John Murdo started working here with us at the beginning of November last year, and truly we can say that from the beginning of this time, we have seen God’s hand in everything that has taken place. When it became clear to us as a Session in October that I was going to be hospitalised, it was agreed that in the interim it would be preferable for a locum minister be appointed. The first person I thought of was John Murdo.  I met with John Murdo on the 6th October, and put this proposal to him. To our delight he agreed to come. John Murdo very quickly endeared himself to everyone here, as a preacher and as a man, and we will miss his cheerful, personable style of ministry very much. I have known John Murdo for over twenty years. We both trained at Aberdeen university in the nineties with John Murdo just coming to the end of his course as I was starting. As I alluded to this morning, many of the island boys seemed to cause no end of confusion in the university and the presbytery due to our very similar island names, with   two John Murdos, two Ian (Iain) Murdos and three other plain Murdos.  So we were known by the Students convenor of the Presbytery of Aberdeen simply as “the Murdos”!  I was also very fortunate to spend a summer with John Murdo in the busy congregation of Strath and Sleat in South Skye twenty years ago this year, and I still recall that time with real fondness.  It was a real privilege and blessing to renew that fellowship now, not only with John Murdo, but also with Debbie and Samuel. Over the course of the last few months John Murdo has faithfully ministered God’s word in this parish and has bravely negotiated the Clisham road from Stornoway every week in the depths of a Harris winter. However having just got back from Lethbridge Alberta, I suppose that Western Isles winter weather is a piece of cake in comparison. We are greatly indebted to John Murdo for answering the Macedonian call to “come over to Harris and help us” , and can truly say that the past few months have been a joy and blessing to us all. The large number who somehow managed to cram into the Macrae centre for the presentation, bears testimony to the love and regard that so many have here for John Murdo’s most acceptable ministry as locum in Tarbert, and he leaves us with many happy memories and our sincere best wishes for the future. We can give thanks to God also for John Murdo’s good news today, with the announcement of his appointment as both Missions adviser to the Presbytery of Lewis, and assistant minister at Martin’s memorial church. We look forward to hearing how things are going for John Murdo, Debbie and Sam in this new and exciting season of ministry just beginning, and assure them of the on-going prayers of the people of Tarbert Church of Scotland.  “A‑nis gun tugadh Tighearna na sìthe e fhèin sìth dhuibhse a‑ghnàth air gach aon chor. Gu robh an Tighearna maille ribh uile.” 2 Tesalònianaich 3:16  (“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.” 2 Thessalonians 3:16 NLT) Ian Murdo Macdonald – 25th February 2018

Christmas Gift for Sneha in India

The Sunday School children continue to sponsor a young girl in India, through India Village Ministries. Sneha is 9 years old and we were delighted to have a video recording of her wishing everyone a Happy Christmas, at our recent Christmas Carol service. We also sent a small Christmas gift to Sneha, along with one of our handmade cards. Pastor Suresh very kindly sent the photos below, one showing Sneha receiving her wrapped Christmas gift and the other wearing her new top.

New Year Letter from the Minister 2017

New Year Letter to the Congregation 2017

Christmas Gifts Bag Special Delivery

After school yesterday the children from our Sunday school delivered Christmas gift bags to members of our congregation who perhaps don’t get out often or see many people. The cards in the bags were made by the children themselves and were very gratefully received by all. Thanks to Karen MacDonald for her help with these.

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Christmas Carol Service 2017

Christmas Carol 17-1

Christmas Meals 2017

The menus for our Ladies and Men’s Christmas meals this year, organised by the A.C.T.S group, are now available. The Ladies’ meal will take place on Thursday the 7th December and the Men’s meal on Tuesday 12th December. We would encourage as many as can to come along. Please feel free to invite friends, neighbours and workmates to come. The meals will be at the Harris Hotel and the cost will be £29. Menus should be returned to the church or to Alison by Sunday 26th November. If you need help with transport, please speak to Karen Macrae or indicate this on your menu when you return it. The menu can downloaded by clicking in this following link. Christmas Menu 2017

Christmas Dinner Menu A4 -1

 

Praise Night 12th November 17

Praise Night Poster 1

Pam’s Farewell

At our Prayer Meeting last night we took the opportunity to wish our dear friend Pam Sinclair well as she leaves us later this week to marry her fiancé David in Inverness. Pam is a much loved member of our Church family and a faithful attendee. Both her and her late Husband the Rev Tom Sinclair contributed greatly to the congregation over the years. Pam has promised to keep in touch and come back to visit us now and again and we wish both herself and David God’s richest blessing for the future.

Korean Visit

We were so blessed to host a group of Korean Christians who dropped in to see us last night in Tarbert. IMG_4646 The photo  above shows the group of eight who had travelled up from Glasgow yesterday as well as those from the congregation who were there to welcome and feed them. Many thanks indeed to the ladies of the A.C.T.S group for the delicious  soup and baking which was much appreciated by our visitors.  The group is led by Dr Sang In Lee who pastors  a church with a vision for mission and outreach in Seoul South Korea.   Sang In studied at Aberdeen University at the same time as our minister, where he was awarded a doctorate in New Testament studies. IMG_4643 We thank God for our brothers and sisters from Korea who like many Korean Christians carry a huge burden for the land of Scotland  and the work of God in this place. It is humbling  to know that in love and obedience to God’s command they have come so far to pray for the work of not only the congregation but the work of God throughout the nation. For more photos from the minister’s own blog please click here. 29th August 2017 IMG_4645

Praise Group Practice Cancelled

In view of the visit this evening of a group of Christians from Korea , the Praise group practice due to be held this evening has now been cancelled. We look forward to meeting our friends from Korea and having fellowship with them. The management Committee meeting will go ahead as planned at 7 PM. 29th August 2017

The Week Ahead

The beginning of this week looks busy for us here in Tarbert.

Tomorrow the Sacrament of Baptism will be administered at our morning service as Febin and Maggie Christopher take  solemn vows on behalf of their little daughter  Evelyn Lucy. The Congregation rejoice with Febin, Maggie and  Evelyn’s grandparents Alasdair and Katie MacLeod Meavaig (South) and Febin’s parents Joseph and Lucy in Kerala India, and assure them of our prayerful support at all times. The sacrament of Baptism is always a special occasion not only for the families and friends involved but for all the congregation.  We will  all stand for the vows and the sacrament as there is responsibility upon all of God’s people to pray for and support all parents and their children as they take their vows.   Additionally the Sunday school will come back into the church at the end of the service in order to see Evelyn being baptised. Tomorrow morning we will be looking in Genesis 22 at Abraham as  a wonderful example of a praying parent. Abraham prayed fervently for his son Isaac, and God answered his prayer on behalf of his son and himself. Abraham is a vital person to us  in our understanding of Baptism as  a sign of God’s on-going relationship with His people. God  made a promise of lasting covenant relationship with Abraham in Genesis 15 and confirmed  this later in Genesis 17 with the sign of circumcision. In the Presbyterian tradition we  believe that the sacrament of baptism is a sign and a seal of that continuing covenant relationship  between God and His people. Tomorrow morning the crèche is once again available  in the vestry for pre-schoolers. If anyone has suitable toys or books for the crèche please speak to Fiona Macleod or if anyone is able to help out on the rota please speak to Agnes Morrison. IMG_4625 In tomorrow evening’s service we will look at the story of Isaac and Rebecca and especially the searching question  in Genesis 24:58 (NKJV)

  “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.”

On Tuesday evening  29th August there are three meetings in the church. The Praise and Worship group will meet in the vestry between 7  and 9 , and The First Fruits Fellowship meet in the Macrae Meeting room at 7.30 PM.  The Management Committee will meet in the Macrae centre on Tuesday evening at  the slightly earlier time of 7 PM. The main reason for this is that a group of Korean Christians will briefly visit the church shortly after arriving on the evening ferry .  They are coming specifically to pray for the work of God in this congregation, and will be journeying to Stornoway to similarly pray for the congregation of Martin’s Memorial.  The group are led by Dr Sang In Lee from South Korea who  studied with our minister at Aberdeen University where he received a doctorate in New Testament studies. Sang In was an assistant in one of the largest churches in Seol, and he now pastors a church  in Seol with a vision for mission and outreach. The prayer meeting  will be held in the Macrae centre on Wednesday evening  at 7.30 PM as usual . 26th August 2017

ACTS Group Castle

The ACTS Group are running a café in the Tarbert Community Centre today from 10 AM to  4 PM, as a fund raiser for the worship band project. Soups, bacon rolls toasties, sandwiches and lovely home baking …hope to see you there. 4th August 2017

ACTS Group and Fabric Committee Update June 2017

As there are a number of sub groups working within the church it is important that everyone is kept up to date with the progress of various projects and so below is an update from the Church’s ACTS Group and Fabric Committee. ACTS report June 2017 Fabric committee June 2017

Worship Band Project

We have recently embarked on a new project in the Church. The aim of our “Worship” project is to facilitate the development of our worship experience by providing the means for everyone to participate, enhance and enjoy all forms of worship in our church. Our objectives are to

 

  •  Form and develop a Worship Band
  •  Develop our Praise Nights and make them more regular
  •  Offer musical tuition as an option for the youth club
  •  Improve the quality of the audio output in Church
  •  Develop our website by having our worship events available online
  •  Use worship as a means to reach out and proclaim God’s Word in Harris

The project has been costed at £6000 and after a generous donation last week our total now stands at £2200 which is approx. 36% of our total. Fundraising efforts will continue throughout the summer months and we will keep you up to date with our progress.

ACTS Group Meeting Change of Date

As everyone knows this is a very busy time of the year, both in the church and in the school and community. We have therefore decided to move the date of the next ACTS meeting to a week tomorrow Thursday 15th June at 7.30 PM in the Macrae Centre.

Summer Family Service

On Sunday morning  we meet together with the Sunday school to mark the end of this year’s Sunday school session with a special family service.  The  theme for the service will be ‘GREATER’ in which we will look  in three short all-age talks at how the Bible teaches that Jesus is simply Greater in every respect than anything or anyone else. Talk 1 GREATER IN POWER Talk 2 GREATER IN LOVE Talk 3 GREATER THAN THE WORLD A warm invitation is given to everyone to join us  at 11 am for this celebration of the work of the Sunday school. Please remember that during the Summer holidays we will be running a Summer Sunday club during the morning service for primary age young people. This year we will be using Scripture Union’s  PYRAMID ROCK material,  which is based on the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. After the young people’s talk each Sunday morning, the Summer Sunday club will meet in the Macrae centre to watch a DVD clip of the Joseph story and fill in the work book for the week. All young people including visitors very welcome each week. Gaidhlig Service  Please note that as has been intimated over the past two weeks we will be going back into the church on Sunday evening 25th June  for the Gaidhlig service at 6PM. It is in a way a good problem that the church hall is not big enough for the Gaidhlig service, especially when so many other areas  are experiencing  very small numbers at Gaidhlig services. Everyone is encouraged to try and sit together in the front centre section of the church sanctuary. Other areas downstairs of the church will be roped off during the evening Gaidhlig service from now on. Praise Night We will meet after the evening Gaidhlig service tomorrow night Sunday 25th June for a short and informal time of praise and worship in the Macrae centre at about 7.30 pm.  Everyone is welcome to join us for some music and singing of praise songs old and new, traditional and contemporary.

PowerPoint  Operators and Summer Sunday Club Meetings tonight.

Just a reminder to the PowerPoint operators that there is a meeting at 6 PM tonight in the church for the new PowerPoint operators to see how our system and screens work and to get a run down of the HymnQuest  and SongProsoftware. Meeting is at 6 PM and will be led by Karen. At 8 PM there is a meeting in the Macrae Centre to discuss  this year’s Summer Sunday club. This year we hope to run a Summer Sunday club during the morning service, we will basing this around Scripture Union’s Pyramid Rock material.  We hope to make up a rota for the summer months  tonight, so if you can’t make it please let Alison know. additionally if you would like to help out at Summer Sunday club, then please just speak to Alison .

Prayer for Barra

Last night’s prayer meeting was different in many ways. Most times at the midweek prayer meeting, there is a short Bible study/ exposition as well as three or four public audible prayers.  Last night it was more important  for people to pray both publically and privately for the  many situations confronting us at this present time. There were five public prayers last night in both Gaelic and English, praying earnestly and with passion about the General Assembly and especially the theological forum debate later today, the forthcoming Faith Mission tent mission in North Harris, as well as the elderly and the sick in the Congregation. However the main focus of our prayer meeting last night was the terrible tragedy at Manchester Arena and especially the dreadful impact this has had on our own island community with the news now confirmed that Eilidh Macleod from Barra was among the dead and her friend Laura Macintyre seriously injured. We hear of tragedies and they often seem so far away, too often we think we are remote from them here in the Western Isles. However when it comes close to home then it really does affect us. Several years ago now I found myself at the funeral in Ness of a man I had never met. His name was Gavin Cushny and he was working in the World Trade centre with Cantor Fitzgerald as a computer consultant on September 11th 2001 when the planes struck . His parents Rev Donald and Sybil Eales-White  lived in South Dell Ness. Gavin was one of almost 3000 people killed by terrorists on 9/11, and attending his funeral on Habost machair Ness certainly brought home the awful reality of this notorious day in American history. In the same way the events of Monday night 22nd May will live on in the hearts and minds of the people of Manchester  and Barra forever. In their heartache and pain  we offer our deep condolences and heartfelt prayers to the parents of Laura Macintyre and Eilidh Macleod and all those others devastated by this iniquitous attack on innocent young people. We feel this pain in Harris and throughout the islands too as we know that it could so easily be our young people who were at that concert. We will continue to pray for our neighbours  and friends in Barra and further afield that the God of all comfort may bring healing and blessing to hearts minds and families so cruelly torn apart . Nuair a shiùbhlas tu tro na h‑uisgeachan bidh mise maille riut; agus tro na h‑aibhnichean cha tig iad tharad; nuair a dh’imicheas tu tron teine, cha loisgear thu, agus cha dèan an lasair greim ort. Oir is mise an Tighearna do Dhia, Tì naomh Israeil, d’fhear-saoraidh: thug mi an Eiphit ann ad èirig; Etiopia agus Sèba air do shon. ( Isaiah 43: 2-3)

Lucky2BeHere Defibrillator training night

At our Spring Communion services, a retiring collection was taken in aid of the Scottish Charity  Lucky2BeHere. The main activity of Lucky2BHere is to place defibrillators and deliver emergency life support training to communities throughout Scotland.  More information on Lucky2BeHere can be found here.   Following our collection for Lucky2BeHere earlier in the year we are going to receive a defibrillator shortly to be mounted on the exterior of the church building. Before the equipment is put in place we will be holding a training session tonight Thursday 25th May in the MacRae Centre from 7pm to which all are encouraged to com

Notes on the General Assembly

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland began this morning Saturday 20th May. Earlier in the week I brought a report to the prayer meeting to seek to explain what is happening and what is discussed at this year’s Assembly. The following notes are heavily edited from what was shared at the prayer meeting but the purpose behind this post remains broadly the same. My reason I suppose is threefold; To try and explain what happens at the General Assembly each year What will be happening and when this year And most importantly who and what to pray for in the week ahead In writing this I am conscious like many other people in the congregation and also throughout the Gaidhealtachd the first inkling people will have about what is happening or has been decided at the General Assembly will be through the headlines on Radio nan Gaidheal as well as in newspapers. Like many of us, I am fed up of hearing unceasing propaganda and negative headlines regarding the church, headlines which often do not tell the whole story of the matter. I thought I would produce these notes so that we can at least be informed as to what is coming up at Assembly, and when these things are being considered and more importantly than anything how and who to pray for in the week ahead. General Assembly The Church of Scotland like all other Presbyterian Churches is organised as a series of church courts, with the General Assembly being the most senior court of the church, below which are Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions. The General Assembly is composed of Commissioners drawn from the 46 or so Presbyteries of the church , and meet each year to consider reports, cases and appeals and decide law and policy as brought to them by the various councils of the church. Much of what takes place is dry and turgid procedure, which never makes the headlines, but without which the church would cease to function. For example I doubt if any news media will cover the report of the General Trustees or the Housing and Loan fund on Friday morning of Assembly, yet they are very important parts of the week’s business. The media’s attention is always drawn to the controversial and salacious aspects of business. I am conscious that this post does not give much detail with regards to the various Councils and their reports, so I have highlighted the most important councils and the main talking points in what follows, More information can be found here on the week at the assembly . Saturday The Assembly opened this morning with the usual pomp and pageantry, with the installing of the new moderator, and the arrival of the Lord High Commissioner. It is worth noting at this point that the Lord High Commissioner is ‘commissioned ‘ by the Queen to act on her behalf for the week of the General Assembly. This Commission is read to the Assembly and recorded in the Assembly’s minutes for the opening day. This year the Lord High Commissioner is Princess Anne, and for that reason there will be more security for all those going along to the Assembly. After the formal pomp and ceremony business commences with some aspects of housekeeping, reports on the hearing of appeals, overtures, cases etc, and the presentation of a Bible to the Moderator by the Scottish Bible society. The meaty reports being presented today are from the Legal Questions Committee re a disciplinary code for ministers etc , and the Council of Assembly (the most powerful council of the church) and others . Sunday On Sunday the General Assembly service takes place in St Giles’ Cathedral where by custom the new Moderator preaches the sermon. After the morning service, the moderator by custom attends the Assembly Gaelic service in Greyfriars Tollbooth and Highland Kirk. On Sunday afternoon there is a large gathering in Princes Street Gardens called “Heart and Soul 2017”. This is more like a big party to ‘celebrate the life of the church’. Monday Monday morning starts with Communion. This is for many a high point in the week and is noted for the powerful unaccompanied rendition of Psalm 24:7-10 ” Ye Gates lift up your heads..” to the stirring tune St George’s Edinburgh. After communion and the usual housekeeping the World Mission Council present their report. Also reporting today are The Social Care Council. The social care council are traditionally one of the more conservative councils of the church, and do a great deal of good work throughout the country through ‘Cross-reach’ . The Panel on Review and Reform also report today. As the name suggests this panel seeks to explore ways in which both the church and ministry can change to adapt to changing times. Tuesday The report of The Church and Society Council dominates most of Tuesday. Church and Society are an influential council and have a huge report this year focusing on such things as Brexit, Asylum seekers, gender justice, climate change , and equality. Wednesday The largest report of Wednesday will be The Ministries Council. As the name suggests The Ministries Council is charged with providing ministers and ministries throughout the country. As can be imagined this is a very challenging role and this year the Ministries Council report will discuss the Tomorrow’s Calling recruitment drive, ‘Hub’ style ministries, the 20/20 vision for ministries etc. Thursday On Thursday morning the Chaplains to her Majesty’s forces report and all the Kirk’s military Chaplains present themselves to be received by the Assembly. After which the last of the major councils the report of The Mission and Discipleship Council is heard. In the afternoon the National Youth Assembly report to Assembly. Tucked away at the very end of the day is the most controversial report of the whole week the report of the Theological Forum. In a very opaque report the theological forum will be bringing amongst other things a deliverance to begin the process to allow ministers to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies, and to issue a formal apology to homosexual people to individually and corporately apologise for historic discrimination, and ’to seek to do better’. This is without question the most controversial report of the whole week and will be the focus of the media on Thursday night. Friday The General Trustees housing and loan fund and other non- controversial committees such as the Church hymnary trustees, and the Chalmer’s lectureship trust report on Friday morning and the Assembly closes with a speech from Princess Anne the Lord High Commissioner. Please pray that God’s will would be done at the Assembly and that his name and His word may be given the pre-eminence in everything that is said and decided. Please remember the Commissioners from the islands , the Gaidhealtachd and others who will stand for the truth. It can be difficult, lonely and very discouraging to be a commissioner and so they do need our ongoing prayer support Please pray that those who speak will be given the words to speak, please also pray that those who shouldn’t speak don’t ! ( That is just as important ) . The first deliverance of the Council of Assembly report on the opening day is really worth noting. We can only pray that this may be acted upon and that this may happen in our dear land once again . “Issue a call to the Church of Scotland to pray that God will do a fresh work amongst us as God’s people and instruct presbyteries and Kirk sessions to consider how best to respond to this call’.  Council of Assembly deliverance 2 20th May 2017. Ian Murdo Macdonald 20th May 2017

Covenant Fellowship Scotland General Assembly 2017

Covenant Fellowship Scotland have published as a resource to the church a range of material relating to the forthcoming General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which begins next week.  This includes a response to the report of the Theological Forum which is due to be discussed at the Assembly on Thursday 25th May. You can find the Covenant Fellowship General Assembly 2017 page here , including an executive summary of the response to the Theological Forum.  Covenant Fellowship’s  full response to the report of the Theological Forum can be found here . Covenant Fellowship Scotland are a group of ministers, elders, members and adherents of the Church of Scotland committed to the reformation and renewal of the Church of Scotland.