Monthly Archives: April 2013

What’s in a Name?

I was talking to someone recently about names.  His name was Bill but he signed himself ‘W’ for William, which, he said could lead to some confusion as to who he actually is.

I can sympathise.  I too have a first name that confuses many people.  I was christened ‘Alexander’ but am known as ‘Sandy’ which is a shortened form – or a diminutive, to give it it’s proper description.  ‘Sandy’ always reminds me of third-rate Scottish comedians or collie dugs.

My uncle was also Alexander, but was known as ‘Alec’ and I have a friend who is ‘Alex’ with an ‘x’

I once looked up a dictionary of names and to my horror discovered that another version is ‘Sanders’ – maybe, on hindsight, it is a bit more upmarket that ‘Sandy’ In Gaelic, Alexander becomes ‘Alastair’ or ‘Alasdair’

Once met a Russian lady at university, who told me that in her country, a version of Alexander is ‘Sacha’ – (Sacha Distel – French singer)

There’s a football player who rejoices in  the name of Zander Diamond, as does Alexander Armstong, the comedian, who is also called Zander.  Rather fancy that moniker!

And I’m sure there are many more variations on my particular name – as there are on so many others:

Robert can be Rob, Robbie, Bob or Bobby, Bert or Bertie.   Catherines are sometimes known as Kate, or Katy or even Renee.

Another friend of mine was James, as far as his family was concerned, but Jimmy to myself and his other friends, even after he changed it himself to Jim.  To wind him up we’d sometimes call him ‘Hamish’ which is the Gaelic form of his name

He was the same person, of course, but others saw him differently – James for his parents, brothers and sisters – the name his mother and father had given him, the name which was registered after his birth, the name given at his baptism – his official name.

But Jimmy to his pals who knew another facet of his personality – Jimmy, a familiar, easy-to-relate to kind of name – the name of a pal, a friend, a mate.

Then he himself started calling himself ‘Jim’ – more grown-up perhaps than Jimmy, more formal than Jimmy, but less so than James.  He saw himself as ‘Jim’ whatever the implications of that were.

Some people see us in different ways and call us by different names, as the case of friend Jimmy shows.

Perhaps something of this was reflected in the different names people had for Jesus.

The prophet Isaiah writing about the Messiah called him ‘wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’

The hymn writer, John Newton, once wrote:

‘Jesus my shepherd, brother, friend, my prophet, priest and king, my Lord, my life, my way, my end’

Jesus is different things, has different names, different aspects for different people – depending on their outlook, depending on their needs.

There is a bridge in an old European town where each archway has a carving of Jesus represented in a different way.

As the workmen cross the bridge early in the morning, they can pause for a moment at the figure of Jesus the carpenter.

The farm workers on the other hand can see him depicted as a shepherd.

The elderly and sick can view him as the great healer.

Those who are feeling tired or discouraged are reminded of Jesus the friend.

So all who cross that bridge can find the picture of Christ which suits their particular need.

And he fills all our needs.

He said of himself ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ and in him we find our direction, and our integrity, and our very being.

He said of himself ‘I am the Door’ and he opens up for us the way to a new kind of life.

He described himself as ‘The Good Shepherd’ and we know that he will protect us, direct us and guide us lovingly through life to the security of the fold.

And he said ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’ – in this life and the next, we have nothing to fear.  He is our Redeemer, our Saviour, and our Friend.

And let us remember this – the Bible tells us that ‘God has engraved our name on the palm of his hand’…in other words, we are as near to God as our hands are to us.  God knows us through and through, every last detail about us (why, even the hairs of our head are all numbered).

God knows us; Christ loves us – whoever we are, wherever we come from, whatever our name! 

Leave a comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

Banquet of Life

Just over a hundred years ago, a poor family from middle Europe decided to seek a better life abroad.

A couple, with their teenage son and four little daughters decided to emigrate from their poverty-stricken little village to America and all its promise.

A week before their ship sailed, the family’s relatives and friends threw a ‘going away’ party for them, at which gifts were presented – practical things: several loaves of bread and some blocks of cheese.

A week later, the family boarded an Italian ship, sailing to New York.  Since they had never been out of their village, and since few on board spoke their language, they didn’t mix with the other passengers or crew, preferring their own company.

They had been assigned a third-class cabin below deck, and that’s where they decided to remain for the duration of the voyage, especially since the weather was so wintry.

And it was there that they ate their bread and cheese – sparingly – to make it last the entire journey.

On the last day of their voyage, the weather cleared up a bit, and the teenage son asked his father for permission to go above and explore the ship.

When the lad didn’t return within the hour, his father went to look for him, and eventually found him in a big dining room, sitting at a table, eating from a plate overflowing with meat and vegetables.

The father’s heart skipped several beats.  How were they going to pay for all this food that his son had ordered and was now devouring?

He had visions of spending his first months in America in prison, or even being refused entry into the country altogether.

When the boy saw how frightened his father looked, he said, ‘Don’t worry, Papa, it’s free!’

And he went on to explain that while the family had been eking out their meagre rations of bread and cheese below decks, all the other passengers had been feasting on meals like the one he was now enjoying.

Such feasts were included in the price of the ticket.

The world is full of people like that family, insofar as they are journeying through life, totally unaware of the incredible ‘Banquet of Life’ that God spreads out for them.  And it’s included in the ticket of life.

Jesus says:

      I am the living bread that came down from heaven.    If anyone eats this bread, he  

    will live forever.  The bread that I will give him is my flesh, which I give so that the

   world may live.           (John 6, v.51)

Existence – no, Life! 

Not just everyday existence which depends on plain ordinary bread – but more, much more – life in all its abundance: a veritable feast of life with companionship, care and love, hopes and dreams, memories, and the sustenance that only Christ, who is the Bread of Life, can offer.

It’s all included in the believer’s ticket of life!

Leave a comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

The Sabbath 4 – Pope Francis 1

The Sabbath 4 - Pope Francis 1

Leave a comment

April 30, 2013 · 11:44

Isolation (Beth Britton’s Blog)

Beth Britton

Freelance writer and blogger, campaigner and consultant

Isolation – The Greatest Barrier to Health and Happiness?
Posted: 29/04/2013 0

 When we think about our wellbeing, we think of avoiding major diseases, being financially comfortable, enjoying our daily lives and achieving our goals. Often we never stop to consider those invisible yet vital qualities of support, understanding and love that are provided by the people we keep close to us.

You cannot measure the contribution those individuals make to our lives, but without them the impact can be the greatest unseen risk to our long-term health and happiness. Isolation is no respecter of age or status, nor does it come without side-effects. Changes in our lives, or even just the passage of time, can result in losing that feeling of being needed, wanted and valued, and if you develop a physical or mental health problem, mobility issues or a fear of social interaction, isolation can set in even faster.

In a society that offers more than it has ever offered its citizens, it is a shame on us all that so many people feel cut off from their communities and networks, frequently as a result of becoming very vulnerable through no fault of their own. Neighbours, colleagues and even family and friends can abandon someone who is labelled as having problems that are too difficult to understand or support, just because it’s easier to ignore them than to become involved.

We turn the other cheek and expect someone else to help. Often, however, there is no one else. Many family carers are left to look after their loved one in isolation, without even a shoulder to cry on. For single people of all ages with health conditions that confine them to their homes, paid carers may be the only people that they see in a day, week, month or even a year. Yet those carers may not always arrive, and when they do they are unlikely to have time to chat.

If you are living with a condition like dementia, the stigma alone can see you shunned by those who you thought you could rely on, at the very time when being isolated is likely to make your symptoms worse and your future very bleak. For many people who are isolated, depression and lack of self-worth can see them give up on the basic elements required to get through each day. Without quality of life, purpose and passion, it is easy to see why people who are isolated can lose the will to live, and in the case of many older people with numerous health problems, that is exactly what does happen.

I found it incredibly sad to learn that some residents in one of my dad’s care homes had a social worker or solicitor as their next of kin. So basically not a soul in the world who would want to be notified if they fell ill in the night, or would come to hold their hand and comfort them. Just someone to be notified when they had died so that their affairs could be finalised. Yet at least these people were within the warm and supportive environment of a care home where they were loved by staff, residents and visitors. Imagine the isolation for someone in those circumstances living alone.

These days of course we don’t need to leave our homes to feel solidarity and support in our lives – access to social media can bring friendship and understanding, regardless of how difficult your circumstances are. Like most methods of combatting isolation, however, people need to seek it for themselves, and often those who are the most seriously isolated don’t have the means or the ability to do that.

Isolation is something that can creep up on you very easily, and yet it is incredibly difficult – and in some cases impossible – to escape from. Us humans are wonderful at segregating our fellow citizens, putting them into a particular demographic and leaving them there. Yet extending a welcome, showing an interest in someone’s life and being kind cost nothing except our time. After all, one day we might just need that ourselves.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic




Telemachus was a monk who lived in Asia Minor about the year 400 AD. During his life, the gladiatorial games were very popular.  The gladiators were usually slaves or political prisoners who were condemned to fight each other unto death for the amusement of the spectators.  People were fascinated by the sight of blood and gore upon the arena floor.

Western Roman Emperor Honorius, depicted on th...

Western Roman Emperor Honorius, depicted on the consular diptych of Probus (406, Aosta, CIL 1, 6836) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Telemachus was very much disturbed that the Emperor Honorius, who was a Christian, sponsored the games and that so many people who called themselves Christian went to see them.  What, he wondered, could be further from the Spirit of Christ than the horrible cruelty of the gladiatorial games?  The bishops and priests spoke against them, but most people were deaf to their message.

Telemachus realised that talking about this evil was not enough.  It was time to do something.  But what could he actually accomplish – one lone monk against the whole Roman Empire?   He had no power.  And the games had been part of Roman life for centuries.   Nothing that he could possibly do would ever make a difference.

For a long time, Telemachus agonised about the problem.  Finally, he could not live with himself any longer.  For the sake of his own soul he decided he had to obey the voice of Christ within him – regardless of the consequences.   He set out for Rome.

When Telemachus entered the city, the people he met had gone mad with excitement.  “To the Coliseum!”, they cried out.  “The games are about to start.!”

Telemachus followed the crowd.  Soon he was seated among all the other people.  Far away in a special place he saw the emperor.

The gladiators came out into the centre of the arena.  Everybody was tense.  Everybody was silent as the two men faced each other.   The men drew their swords.   The fight was about to be on!   One of them would probably die within a few minutes.  Who would it be?

At that moment Telemachus rose from his seat and ran down onto the arena floor.   He held high the cross of Christ that he carried and threw himself into a position between the two gladiators.

“In the name of our Master,”, he cried, “Stop fighting!”

The two men hesitated.  Nothing like this had ever happened before.  They did not know what to do.  They put up their swords for a moment.

The spectators were furious.  Telemachus had robbed them of their entertainment.  They yelled wildly and stampeded toward the centre of the arena.  They became a mob.  With sticks and stones they beat Telemachus to death.

Far down in the arena lay the battered body of the monk.  Suddenly the mob and the spectators who had remained in their seats grew quiet.  A feeling of revulsion at what had been done swept over them.  Emperor Honorius rose and left the Coliseum.  The people followed him.  Abruptly the games were over.

Emperor Honorius sensed the mood of the crowd that day.  His ears were opened by the death of Telemachus.

His tongue was loosened as well.  He issued an edict forbidding all future gladiatorial games.  And so it was, that in about the year 404 AD, because one individual, filled with the love of Christ, dared to say, “No!”, all gladiatorial games ceased.

To hear we require a functioning organ of corti inside the ear.  defective corti will not produce sound that is audible

A similar thing might be said about the sense of sight. To see properly we require not only a well formed and clear lens, we require an optic nerve that is undamaged, one that is able to translate the complete signal from the eye to the brain.

Jesus is able to heal all these things when they are damaged  – indeed the gospels tell us of so many of his miraculous acts of healing

And as it is for the physical senses of sight and hearing, so it is for the spiritual senses of sight and hearing.  He can make us look at those in need with the eyes of compassion; he can unstop our ears so that we hear the cries for help from the unloved and the unfulfilled.  He touches our spiritual senses that we might act in love with mercy and justice in our hearts.

He can open our ears and our eyes and make the sensory signals that come to us from every direction get through to our spiritual centre, to that place where they can be translated from meaningless words and visions to the words and deeds of a living faith.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

The Meenister says “Where on earth did I leave my trousers?”

Leave a comment

April 30, 2013 · 07:55

The Tramp and The Lord’s Prayer

One afternoon,  a tramp – called at rural manse, asking to see the minister.

I’ve been a country minister on two occasions, and was regularly visited by such gentlemen of the road, who either wanted ‘money for food’ (usually of the liquid variety with an alcohol content of 8% & better known as a ‘Carly Special’) or food itself.

This particular minister was surprised, however, when his visitor said that he wanted ‘spiritual support’

The minister was delighted and ushered the man into his study – at last here was someone apparently not on the scrounge…..someone, instead, seeking spiritual support.

‘Do you know the Lord’s Prayer’?’ he asked the tramp.

A bit of a blank look.

‘It begins ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..’

The tramp interrupted, ‘Excuse me, Minister, but did you say ‘OUR’ father?’

‘Yes, indeed’

‘OUR….does that mean YOUR Father & MY Father are the same…you, know, if it’s OUR Father?’

‘Well, certainly’

‘Then if it’s OUR Father, we share a Father, so therefore we are brothers?’

The Minister replied, ‘of course, we are’

So the Tramp then said: ‘Well, you would not want your brother to be getting about wearing dreadful old boots like these!’

As a result of that interchange, the Minister sent the Tramp off to the local village cobbler to get his boots repaired.

A week later, the Minister happened to be in the village and was passing the shoemakers workshop.

The cobbler shook his head when he saw him.  ‘That was a daft thing to do!’ he said to his friend, the Minister.  ‘It’s going to cost you £10’

The Minister thought for a moment.  Then he asked the cobbler, ‘Do you know the Lord’s Prayer?’

‘Yes, of course I do, I’m in the Kirk every Sunday; Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…’

‘OUR Father’ you said just now?’

Yes, OUR Father which art…’

The Minister cut him off again. ‘OUR?  So that means that YOUR Father and MY Father are the same?’


‘And OUR Father is also that Tramp’s Father?’

‘Yes, I suppose so’

”Then, if YOUR Father is the same as MY Father who is the same as the Tramp’s Father…that makes us all brothers?’

I suppose so’ came the reply.

The Minister then opened his wallet, took out a note and said:

‘Here’s £5….you pay the other half of your brother’s footwear bill!’

1 Comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

The Sin of Not Noticing

Притча о Лазаре. 1886

Притча о Лазаре. 1886 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lazarus and the rich man, 1620

Lazarus and the rich man, 1620 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rila Monastery, Rilakloster, Kloster Rila, Рил...

Rila Monastery, Rilakloster, Kloster Rila, Рилски манастир, Bulgaria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazar...

English: The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, painting by Bartholomeus van Bassen, ca. 1620-30 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you visit our larger towns and cities, one thing that strikes you is the number of people begging on the streets.

I used to live near Edinburgh, and walking along Princes Street, I’d lose count of the number of homeless people sitting on the pavement during the day & huddled in shop doorways in the evening looking for handouts.

And one other thing would always strike me – to most of the pedestrians, these folk were invisible!

People going or coming to work, or shopping or having an evening out, didn’t seem to register their existence.

They were just part of the scenery.

I remember one particular Christmas Eve .  It would be about four thirty in the afternoon, dark and bitterly cold.  The window displays in the big shops in Princes Street were bright and filled with expensive yet tempting gifts.  Last minute Christmas shoppers were rushing from this store to that trying to track down that elusive present for Uncle Jimmy or Auntie Mary or whomever.

The shoppers were weighed down with carrier bags and gift wrapped parcels.  The sound of Christmas carols could be heard through the opening and closing doors of the busy shops.

It was a time for celebration and generosity and giving.  It was Christmas time.

And lying on the pavement with his back to the wall of Jenners department store was a bundle of rags.  On closer inspection, a down and out.

And these Christmas shoppers in their rush and in their busyness to celebrate the season of giving, walked round him – in fact, I’m sure I saw some of them actually step over him in their hurry.

It would appear that nowadays many are blinkered to the sight of the needy, the wretched, the poor and the outcast.  They become, as it were, part of the scenery. We cease to notice them.

That was the sin of the rich man in the story which Jesus told.

The rich man didn’t even take in the existence of the poor man, whose name was Lazarus.  He was just part of the scenery.

The rich man had not asked for Lazarus to moved from his gate forcibly or otherwise (some city councillors – and, I’m thinking of Edinburgh again – have been known to have the down and outs rounded up and moved from their usual patches, especially at Festival time.  That way they don’t offend the tourists.  The same happened before one of the Olympic games was staged – I think in Mexico City)

No, the rich man didn’t get his servants to move the man away because he was an eyesore.

Nor was he deliberately cruel to him.  He didn’t kick him every time he passed.  (we may not use physical assault either, but sometimes our words or comments toward those less fortunate than ourselves can hurt and wound “get a job, you lazy scrounger!” or simply, to quote an old saying “the poor will be always with us” and it’s God’s will…..

There’s a verse from ‘All things bright and beautiful’  It’s a verse we don’t sing anymore:

“The Rich man in his castle,

  The poor man at his gate,

  God made them, high or lowly,

  And ordered their estate.”

No, the rich man was not deliberately cruel to Lazarus.

His sin was that he never noticed Lazarus, that he accepted him as part of the landscape, that he thought it perfectly natural and inevitable that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger, while he wallowed in luxury.

The sin of the rich man was that he could look on the world’s suffering and need, and feel not a twinge of grief or pity.

Christ’s parable confronts and threatens all comfortable and indifferent Christians.  Whatever we gain, we have by the grace of God.

As we see the world around us, it is possible – even as we profess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – to go on living selfishly in a manner that God ultimately condemns.

How shall we live?  According to our own wishes, attending to our every desire?  Or according to God’s revealed and stated will?

How shall we decide?  Well, perhaps the chilling tale of the rich man and Lazarus may just help concentrate our thoughts and help us in our choice!  And so too the words of Christ himself:  ‘As you did unto one of these, the least of my brethren, you did unto me.’

Scripture Reference (The Rich Man and Lazarus):  Luke 16, verses 19 – 31


1 Comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

Sermon preached at Glasgow University Chapel – “Medical Sunday” 3/12/2000

  • Psalm 27, v. 1, vv 7 – 11, v. 13
  • Mark 4, vv 35-41


Richard Trench was the Archbishop of Dublin at the end of the 19th Century.  In the last two years of his life he fought with great courage a progressive illness that left him increasingly paralysed.

As a guest of honour at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London, he was seen to be growing increasingly disquieted until someone asked if he felt well enough to continue.  ‘It has come at last’ he sighed, ‘complete paralysis of my lower left-hand side. I have been pinching my leg and cannot feel a thing.  And yet with Christ as my companion, I shall endure it with courage’

At this point, the lady sitting next to him leaned across and said ‘Your Grace, would it help you to know that it has been my leg you have been pinching for the last quarter of an hour?’

Many people have been helped by the prayer of serenity:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference

But many people who find themselves in hospital are less philosophical.

For many, illness is a corrosive wretched traumatic time of inner turmoil and confusion.

On a summer’s day sometime in the past, I fist came across Jenny, though that’s not her real name.  In the Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries there are beautifully kept grounds – lawns and flowerbeds with shrubs, plants, and flowers which are a delight to the eye.

Standing in the veranda of a particular ward I was talking to someone who had come to visit a relative who had been admitted there.  He mentioned the grounds and how attractive they were, and I responded by saying something along the lines of how the planners had designed them to be therapeutic.  They are calm and tranquil, and were created to have a beneficial effect upon patients.

Behind me there was a mocking voice – Jenny’s.  Jenny who I learned later was far from home, her child taken from her, her family only occasional visitors.  She was a troubled, confused, anxious, frustrated and unhappy young woman.

‘What the **** would you know about it?’,  she shouted.  ‘What’s the point of peaceful lawns, when you’re feel like this, when you’re not peaceful inside.’

And with that, got up and went back into the ward, slamming the door to the veranda.

So many people are not, to use her words, ‘peaceful inside’

It doesn’t have to be those who are in the mental health care sector.

‘I’ve just had bad news’ the elderly man in the striped pyjamas in the medical ward told me one morning.  He wouldn’t articulate what the bad news was, and even as subtly as I could I could get him to talk in specifics.  He was probably too frightened even to mention the words ‘tumour’ or ‘carcinoma’, though I guessed that was what we were talking, or rather trying desperately hard not to talk about.

And he was frightened, worried, anxious and more than a bit confused.  He was thinking not just of himself, but also of his frail wife – how would she take it, how would she cope?  He looked after her, he was the breadwinner – what a mess.  What a terrible and terrifying situation.

Let me take you to one of the surgical wards in Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary.  Here is a middle-aged patient, a woman, lying in bed the late afternoon before her operation.  She was admitted at ten in the morning, has had umpteen tests, has been talked to – perhaps talked AT would be more appropriate – by nursing staff and clinicians, and has basically had a whole day to get even more anxious and worked up about her surgery.

‘How are you feeling?’ I ask.  ‘Terrible’  ‘In what way?,  ‘I don’t know – just terrible’

We talked through it – we talked about her fear which was a reflection of her need, her powerlessness, her very identity.

This was a lady suffering not just physically, but emotionally, and spiritually.  Hers was a spiritual pain.

And lastly, come with me to the Alexandra Unit in the infirmary where I work.  This is our palliative care ward.  And here is Joe who up until a few weeks before had a good job and a wide circle of friends.  Joe was very much the social animal.  He was popular and carefree – although there had been some kind of fall-out with one of his grown-up sons a year or so ago.

Here is Joe who has now apparently lost everything and has abandoned hope.  All the old signposts have gone.  He is disorientated and directionless.  His feeling of wholeness, of personhood has been fractured.  He has become isolated from his known worlds – from his past which he will never regain; from his present (he has little or no control over his bodily functions; he has lost his power and control, his security, his dignity, his identity, his purpose).  His yet-to be-created future lies threateningly before him.  On top of all this – probably because of all this, he starts thinking about his estrangement from his son.  And it pains him.  It pains him even more because he feels nobody cares.  It pains him because his perception is that nobody will really take the time to listen.

Patients are, if you will, captives.  Prisoners of their illness, prisoners of their fears and anxieties.

Someone once said that being ill is like being in a state of chaos.  In a maelstrom of emotions.

The Gospel story from Mark which we listened to earlier tells of a storm at sea.  It’s perhaps interesting to note that the author or editor has placed this story of an actual literal storm immediately before three other events which involve people in chaos and confusion: the stories of a demon-possessed man, a young girl who is terminally ill, and a confused and despairing woman who has been haemorrhaging for some twelve years without relief.

In the boat the disciples were panic stricken, confused, frightened men who were at the mercy of elements beyond their control.  They were being tossed hither and thither on a turbulent sea, facing an uncertain future.  And no one seemed to care.  Christ was even asleep in the stern of the boat.

Yet Jesus was with them in the storm – he was with them in the same boat, as the strong winds buffeted the sail and the waves were crashing over the side. And he is with us in the storms of life.  He never abandons us.  He cares about us and our situation whatever that may be.

He enters into the chaos.  He is present with us in the chaos.  He journeys with us through the maelstrom.

As should the spiritual caregiver.  He or she involves himself, herself in the patient’s predicament, accepting them for what they are, with all their resentments, anxieties, anger, self-pity, unspoken needs.  Our aim is to instil faith for fear and hope for despair, demonstrating in the process God’s love and interest in his children, and responding always to the fundamental human need to be heard and understood.

We think of doubt and unbelief keeping people from faith.  Perhaps, more often than we realise, it is fear.

The fear of the disciples in the storm was an unbelieving fear – Jesus didn’t care about us, they thought

When St. Paul was being taken prisoner to Rome, he was caught in a violent storm which was so bad that Luke recorded ‘We finally gave up all hope of being saved’ (Acts 27, v. 20b)

Then one bleak morning Paul came out and said, “Take heart!  Not one of you will lose your life; only the ship will be lost.  For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship came to me and said ‘Do not be afraid, Paul!  You must stand before the Emperor.  And God in his goodness to you has spared the lives of all those who are sailing with you’ So take heart, men!  For I trust in God that it will be just as I was told”  (vv. 22-25)

Paul was trusting in ‘the God to whom I belong and whom I worship’ All of us can take heart – all of us will be safe.

But we too have to have the courage of our convictions.

A family was on holiday in a remote cottage.  There was no electricity and no running water.  The only gas was from a camping stove.

At bedtime, the young daughter was extremely brave about going upstairs with her mother by the light of a candle.

But a puff of wind blew the candle out, leaving them in total darkness.  The little girl was afraid.

“I’ll go back downstairs to get the matches” said her Mum, “but don’t be afraid, Jesus is here with you” “But Mum” replied the daughter, “Can’t you stay here and we’ll send Jesus for the matches?”

It doesn’t quite work like that!

We are called to live by faith and not by fear.  Living by faith means that, while we may not know the details of life, we can be sure of the outcome.

We can live by faith – for we know that God has promised to be with us.  His grace is going to be sufficient for us.  His Word will guide us.  His Spirit will be within us with enabling power.

‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear.  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid…..Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord’

1 Comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

Why Men Have Stopped Singing In Church (from the blog – “Church for Men”)

  • Worship band in the dark

    It happened again yesterday. I attended one of those hip, contemporary churches — and almost no one sang. Worshippers stood obediently as the band rocked out, the smoke machine belched and lights flashed. Lyrics were projected on the screen, but almost no one sang them. A few women were trying, but I saw only one male (other than the worship leader) making the attempt.

    Last month I blogged, “Have Christians Stopped Singing?” I did some research, and learned that congregational singing has ebbed and flowed over the centuries. It reached a high tide when I was a young man – but that tide may be going out again. And that could be bad news for men.

    First, a very quick history of congregational singing.

    Before the Reformation, laypersons were not allowed to sing in church. Sacred music was performed by professionals (priests and cantors), played on complex instruments (pipe organs), and sung in an obscure language (Latin).

    Reformers gave worship back to the people, in the form of congregational singing. They composed simple tunes with lyrics that people could easily memorize. Some of the tunes came out of local taverns.

    A technological advance – the printing press – led to an explosion of congregational singing. The first hymnal was printed in 1532, and soon a few dozen hymns became standards across Christendom. Hymnals slowly grew over the next four centuries. By the mid 20th century every Protestant church had a hymnal of about 1000 songs, 250 of which were regularly sung. In the church of my youth, everyone picked up a hymnal and sang every verse of every song.

    About a decade ago, a new technological advance – the computer controlled projection screen – entered America’s sanctuaries. Suddenly churches could project song lyrics for all to see. Hymnals became obsolete. No longer were Christians limited to 1,000 songs handed down by our elders.

    At first, churches simply projected the songs everyone knew – hymns and a few simple praise songs that had come out of the Jesus Movement. People sang robustly.

    But that began to change about three years ago. Worship leaders brought in new songs each week. They drew from the radio, the Internet, and Worship conferences. Some began composing their own songs, performing them during worship, and selling them on CD after church.

    Years ago, worship leaders used to prepare their flocks when introducing a new song. “We’re going to do a new song for you now. We’ll go through it twice, and then we invite you to join in.”

    That kind of coaching is rare today. Songs get switched out so frequently today that it’s impossible to learn them. People can’t sing songs they’ve never heard. And with no musical notes to follow, how is a person supposed to pick up the tune?

    And so the church has returned to the 14th century. Worshippers stand mute as professional-caliber musicians play complex instruments, and sing in an obscure language. Martin Luther is turning over in his grave.

    What does this mean for men? On the positive side, men no longer feel pressure to sing in church. Men who are poor readers or poor singers no longer have to fumble through hymnals, sing archaic lyrics or read a musical staff.

    But the negatives are huge. Men are doers, and singing was one of the things we used to do together in church. It was a chance to participate. Now, with congregational singing going away, and communion no longer a weekly ordinance, there’s only one avenue left for men to participate in the service – the offering. Is this really the message we want to send to men? Sit there, be quiet, and enjoy the show. And don’t forget to give us money.

    There’s nothing wrong with professionalism and quality in church music.The problem isn’t the rock band, or the lights, or the smoke machine. The key here is familiarity. When that super-hip band performed a hymn, the crowd responded. People sang. Even the men.


Murrow also blogs:

When I was a kid growing up in church, we sang hymns. Songs about God. From a book. Never more than three in a row. There was little emotion attached to this experience. Nobody dimmed the lights.

  • And we all sang. Loudly. Or at least we mouthed the words.

    Today, worship is not something you do – it’s something you feel. We no longer sing about God, we sing to him. There might be seven songs in a row without a break. We are expected to feel something. The lights are low.

    And we’re not singing any more.

    As I visit churches around the country, I’ve frequently observed that the majority of attendees do not sing. They stand motionless, looking at the words on the jumbo screen. It’s particularly noticeable in so called seeker-friendly congregations. I’d guess that only a quarter of the men sing.

    According to LifeWay Worship Director Mike Harland, the modern stage-driven worship atmosphere gives people an excuse to be spectators instead of participators.

    Lillian Kwon writes in the Christian Post, “While the congregation is left in the dark under dim lights, stage lights place the focus on the gifted worship leader — who has in-ear monitors and who sings songs in a key that best fits him or her. The worship leader can’t hear the congregation or see the congregation and ‘they don’t even know that the congregation is not even singing,’ Harland said.


Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic