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URC Daily Devotions 1st February

URC Devotions - Thu, 01/02/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotions 1st February Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Micah 2:1 - 11 

Alas for those who devise wickedness
  and evil deeds on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
  because it is in their power.
They covet fields, and seize them;
  houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
  people and their inheritance.
Therefore, thus says the Lord:
Now, I am devising against this family an evil
  from which you cannot remove your necks;
and you shall not walk haughtily,
  for it will be an evil time.
On that day they shall take up a taunt-song against you,
  and wail with bitter lamentation,
and say, ‘We are utterly ruined;
  the Lord alters the inheritance of my people;
how he removes it from me!
  Among our captors he parcels out our fields.’
Therefore you will have no one to cast the line by lot
  in the assembly of the Lord.
‘Do not preach’—thus they preach—
  ‘one should not preach of such things;
  disgrace will not overtake us.’
Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
  Is the Lord’s patience exhausted?
  Are these his doings?
Do not my words do good
  to one who walks uprightly?
But you rise up against my people as an enemy;
  you strip the robe from the peaceful,
from those who pass by trustingly
  with no thought of war.
The women of my people you drive out
  from their pleasant houses;
from their young children you take away
  my glory for ever.
Arise and go;
  for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
  with a grievous destruction.
If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods,
  saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink’,
  such a one would be the preacher for this people!
Reflection “For man proposes, but God disposes” (Thomas à Kempis) begins one commentary on this portion of Micah’s prophecies. The back and forward play in these verses between the the deeds of those who have power and use it against those who are weak, and the future response of God, indeed suggests some good old-fashioned preaching opportunities: “the wicked may seem to prosper, but God’s justice awaits!”

Of course, in such bouts of righteous loquacity, it would be tempting to draw parallels with the social situation in Britain today. For there are plenty. As I write this reflection, we are beginning to understand more and more of the implications of the roll-out of Universal Credit on the vulnerable, with the rocketing extent of rent arrears as one effect. We see a sharp upward trend in those being referred to Foodbanks. There has been a recent flood of reports revealing the huge extent of tax “planning” by the wealthy, apparently designed, in part, to allow them to avert their obligations to those who go without the necessities of life. We are experiencing an avalanche of allegations of improper sexual behaviour by “celebrities” and politicians.

However, are such targets too easy?

“‘Do not preach’– thus they preach – ‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’ If someone were to go about … saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink’, such a one would be the preacher for this people!”

Are we sometimes guilty of preaching what the people want to hear; are comfortable to hear; rather than being challenged about what it means to “live a holy life” as Ministers of the URC are challenged at their ordination?

Radio 4’s Thought for the Day has recently been accused of being trite. Pray God that our teaching and preaching never become trite.
 

Prayer

God, your prophets called the people to return to the ways of your law.
Jesus, you called the people to return to the ways of God’s life.
Spirit, you provide us with all that we need to live a holy life.

May the wine and strong drink we preach
be not befuddling, but sustaining
for the holy life
you call us to preach
and to live.

Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon. He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotions 31st January

URC Devotions - Wed, 31/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotions 31st January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Micah 1:8 - 16

For this I will lament and wail;
I will go barefoot and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
and mourning like the ostriches.
For her wound is incurable.
It has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
to Jerusalem.
Tell it not in Gath,
weep not at all;
in Beth-leaphrah
roll yourselves in the dust.
Pass on your way,
inhabitants of Shaphir,
in nakedness and shame;
the inhabitants of Zaanan
do not come forth;
Beth-ezel is wailing
and shall remove its support from you.
For the inhabitants of Maroth
wait anxiously for good,
yet disaster has come down from the LORD
to the gate of Jerusalem.
Harness the steed to the chariots,
inhabitants of Lachish;
it was the beginning of sin
to daughter Zion,
for in you were found
the transgressions of Israel.
Therefore you shall give parting gifts
to Moresheth-gath;
the houses of Achzib shall be a deception
to the kings of Israel.
I will again bring a conqueror upon you,
inhabitants of Mareshah;
the glory of Israel
shall come to Adullam.
Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair
for your pampered children;
make yourselves as bald as the eagle
for they have gone from you into exile.
Reflection For all of us there are times when we need to try to understand or accept hard things and find a way to express overwhelming feelings. Some people find wisdom in painting or music or meditation or a walk in a quiet place; all are ways to pray. For others, poetry (either reading or writing it) is the way to find meaning in events. Working with words, grasping them, wrestling with them, shaping them, can finally lead to understanding and release.

Micah is a poet. His oracle of judgement on the cities of Samaria and Jerusalem is written in a poetic form; it is a powerful and emotive lament. He expresses his grief in graphic terms, and we hear howling anguish (lamentation like the jackals) when he reflects on the destruction of Samaria.

The poet pictures the advancing Assyrian army travelling from the southwest towards Jerusalem, razing the towns and villages on their route. He lists the communities that will be destroyed, and warns each one of what is to come. These are Micah's own people: he has known these places all his life. He came from Moresheth-Gath. Perhaps his own family would eventually join the groups of homeless travellers who fled to Jerusalem, where they might find refuge for a time, if they got there before the Assyrians laid siege to the city ...

Micah believes that disaster has come down from the LORD to the gate of Jerusalem as punishment for the sins of the cities: their corruption, their failure to uphold justice for the poor. He makes this very plain. In the 21st Century we still have corruption and injustice, blatant and unrepentant, creating conflict and forced migration. Are we as forthright as Micah in pointing to this inevitable link in every way we can? We can find in music or meditation, in painting or poetry, praying and preaching, in living and loving, ways to see and share the truth. It will make us free.
 

Prayer

Straggling lines of refugees
carrying their lives in a bundle,
nowhere safe to go;
Rich folk needing bonuses
to supplement their tax breaks,
fund the second home:
Lord have mercy.
Frightened, hungry, silenced child
on a cold unwelcoming shore
finding no warm embrace;
Innocent children pestering,
Will Santa bring an i-Pad?
They've all got one but me …
Christ have mercy.
Everyday clichés of injustice:
God of love and justice, peace and joy,
Give us wisdom to understand
and courage to speak and vision to act.
    Lord have mercy on us all. Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Heather Pencavel is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 30th January

URC Devotions - Tue, 30/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 30th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Micah 1:1 - 7

The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
Hear, you peoples, all of you;
  listen, O earth, and all that is in it;
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
  the Lord from his holy temple.
For lo, the Lord is coming out of his place,
  and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
Then the mountains will melt under him
  and the valleys will burst open,
like wax near the fire,
  like waters poured down a steep place.
All this is for the transgression of Jacob
  and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
  Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
  Is it not Jerusalem?
Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
  a place for planting vineyards.
I will pour down her stones into the valley,
  and uncover her foundations.
All her images shall be beaten to pieces,
  all her wages shall be burned with fire,
  and all her idols I will lay waste;
for as the wages of a prostitute she gathered them,
  and as the wages of a prostitute they shall again be used.
Reflection The opening words are all we have to place Micah in the wider story. We know nothing about his family background, and we are given no account of his call to be a prophet – if he even regards himself as a prophet at all. Yet it seems that something has forced him to leave the comparative quiet and comfort of a small country town, to see for himself the excesses of city life in Samaria, and even Jerusalem.

And he doesn’t hold back from comment on what he has seen.  For many of us, preaching hellfire and damnation belongs to a different age, or at least to a different kind of church, from our own.  If the transgressions of Jacob and the sins of Israel have to do with religious rites and convictions, as seems most likely, we would have preferred open conversation over the issues rather than the condemnation that Micah chooses. And if, as the man up from the country, he is also burdened with social and political resentments towards the ruling classes, surely these could be expressed in more restrained and constructive terms?

Yet at some point after Micah uttered these corrosive words a follower of his must have felt the need to write them down. And somewhere further along the line, an editor gathered his oracles together, and headed the collection with the opening sentence we have here – which tells us so frustratingly little about Micah the man, but makes the extraordinary claim that his words are now to be read and reflected on and somehow understood as “The word of the Lord.”

Could anything that you and I have ever said, whether carefully prepared or just off the top of the head,  ever make our hearers think that God might be speaking to them?
 

Prayer

Speak to me, Lord
and help me to listen carefully.
Speak through me, Lord
and help  me to be
both sensitive and courageous
so that your grace and your truth
revealed in Jesus
are seen among us today.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d John Durell is a retired minister living in Durham.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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The Book of Micah

URC Devotions - Mon, 29/01/2018 - 18:00
96 The Book of Micah View this email in your browser

The Book of Micah

Dear <<First Name>>

The Daily Devotions between now and Ash Wednesday will focus on the short Book of Micah.  Just as Amos ministered in the northern Kingdom of Israel when it was threatened by the Assyrian Empire, Micah ministered in the southern Jewish Kingdom of Judah. Like Michah, he ministered in the 8th Century BC facing the ever present threat of Assyria - the superpower of the age.

Micah's prophecies of gloom are balanced with hope.  He reproached unjust leaders, defended the rights of the poor against the rich and powerful and looked forward to a world at peace centred on Zion under the leadership of a new Davidic monarch. 

I hope you find the book interesting and inspiring as you continue to follow Jesus day after day.

with every good wish


Andy

Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project

 

  

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URC Daily Devotion 29th January

URC Devotions - Mon, 29/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 29th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 9: 11-15

On that day I will raise up
  the booth of David that is fallen,
and repair its breaches,
  and raise up its ruins,
  and rebuild it as in the days of old;
in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom
  and all the nations who are called by my name,
  says the Lord who does this.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
  when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps,
  and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
  and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
  and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
  and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them upon their land,
  and they shall never again be plucked up
  out of the land that I have given them,
says the Lord your God.
Reflection One phrase that I have come across several times over the years is, ‘you (or one) can (or should) never go back’.

Not never go back in terms of never visiting somewhere that has been important to us in the past - I received an invitation to visit my old school some time ago and look forward to finding the opportunity when I’m in the area sometime to go for a nose and to reminisce - but that once one has e.g. left a former employer, one should avoid going to work for the same company or person again. The reason being that some of those who have taken such a step have later regretted it making the comment either, ‘it wasn’t the same’, or ‘it was exactly the same’ perhaps remembering why they had decided to leave first time around.

So I find myself brought up short when I read passages like this one, often from a prophet of the Hebrew Bible, that speak and yearn for restoration. The Israelite/Jewish people found that life back in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile even once the Temple had been rebuilt was very different to how life had been beforehand. Times had changed and the experience of history meant the people were not exactly the same as they were before either.

Sometimes when I hear Christians of all denominations speak of their dreams for their church it sounds rather like a yearning for how they remember their fellowship used to be. When there were pews and the first however many rows were filled with children and young people on a Sunday morning. The young people would go to their groups leaving older members comfortably sat at the back of the chapel - another reason perhaps why it is so hard to persuade our congregations to sit at the front!

But while it would of course be lovely to have more people, of more ages, worshipping in our churches on a Sunday morning, I realise now that this is not what I yearn for or want above anything else for our churches.

I dream of a Church where people are growing as Christian disciples. Becoming more like Jesus. Becoming more confident at sharing their faith with the people they encounter: family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances alike. A Church within a society that lives out the belief that God is for All.
 

Prayer

God for all,
you reached out to the world
in your Son Jesus Christ.
Help us to reach out
in faith and love and witness to all.
God for all,
you send your Holy Spirit
to empower and gift your Church.
By your Spirit help us
grow in unity
grow as followers of Jesus Christ
and grow your kingdom in Cumbria
and in this world. Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev'd Sarah Moore currently serves in a special category ministry as President of the URC in Cumbria.

Cumbria is an ecumenical county where the URC is in
covenant with the Church of England, Methodist Church and The Salvation Army.

The current focus of our work together is grounded in God for All, a vision and strategy that is exactly what it says on the tin!

The prayer is the God for All prayer, used regularly by people across the county of Cumbria. Feel free to substitute the name of a locality that is significant to you for Cumbria if that is helpful to you.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotions 28th January

URC Devotions - Sun, 28/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotions 28th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Psalm 32

How blessed the one who has received
forgiveness for his sin!
Whose sins are covered from God’s face,
Whose debt is cancelled in God’s grace;
there’s no deceit in him.

When I kept silent, all my bones
with groaning were worn out.
Beneath your hand I felt entrapped
Both day and night; my strength was sapped
as in a summer drought.

Then I laid bare my sin to you,
the guilt that lay within.
I said, “O LORD, I have transgressed”—
And you forgave when I confessed;
you pardoned all my sin.

So let the godly pray to you
while you are to be found.
Surely when waves are sweeping past
And mighty waters rising fast,
you’ll keep them safe and sound.

You are my hiding-place, O LORD,
my true security.
You keep me safe in troubled days;
You circle me with joyful praise
when you have set me free.

I will instruct you by my word
and guide you in my way.
My counsel I will give to you;
My eye will keep your path in view
and watch you day by day.

Do not be like the horse or mule
which cannot understand;
They must be curbed and kept in check
As bit and bridle turn their neck,
to go where you command.

The wicked’s woes will much increase;
but those who trust the LORD
His cov’nant mercy will surround.
You righteous, let your joy abound
and praise the LORD your God.


You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Orlington here (from the fifth Stanza) Reflection Relief – what a relief to receive words of reassurance after the dire messages from Amos, as yet relieved by very little hope. Yes, this is a penitential Psalm but one that speaks with assurance of God’s forgiveness and pardon graciously given to those who admit where they have gone wrong, confess their sin.
          
But how ready are we to be honest with ourselves, and so honest with God, about where we have failed to be the people we could and should have been? Some years ago I read that George Macleod, the Founder of the Iona Community, when Moderator of the Kirk’s General Assembly led a Prayer of Confession which, in effect, said, “Lord, we confess our sins, and we confess that we are so self-satisfied and blind to our sins that we cannot think of anything to confess.” But we are not like that …
          
Of course, there are those who are so aware of where they have gone wrong, hurting others and failing God, that they feel they can never be forgiven no matter how earnestly they confess their sins. But we are not like that …
          
We want to identify with the Psalmist who in this very personal meditation is not complaining about external enemies but addressing his own issues and rejoicing that the Lord is our true security, circling us with joyful praise. In the sixth stanza (“I will instruct you by my word…”) we hear God’s reassurance and promise of guidance.
          
So, whether we find it difficult to acknowledge where we have gone wrong, or are so conscious of our sins that we cannot forgive ourselves, this Psalm offers us confident assurance that as Jesus told disciples, “the truth will set you free.”
 

Prayer

Most gracious God,
you know us better
than we know ourselves,
and still love us.
Help us to be honest with you
and with ourselves
so that we may receive your forgiveness
and know the joy
of your acceptance and guidance,
trusting you in good times and bad.
In the power of him who sets us free, Jesus Christ, our Saviour: Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev'd Julian Macro, Retired Minister, Member of Verwood URC, Dorset.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 27th January

URC Devotions - Sat, 27/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 27th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 9: 1 - 10

I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said:

Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake,
  and shatter them on the heads of all the people;
and those who are left I will kill with the sword;
  not one of them shall flee away,
  not one of them shall escape.

Though they dig into Sheol,
  from there shall my hand take them;
though they climb up to heaven,
  from there I will bring them down.

Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
  from there I will search out and take them;
and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
  there I will command the sea-serpent, and it shall bite them.

And though they go into captivity in front of their enemies,
  there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them;
and I will fix my eyes on them
  for harm and not for good.

The Lord, God of hosts,
he who touches the earth and it melts,
  and all who live in it mourn,
and all of it rises like the Nile,
  and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt;
who builds his upper chambers in the heavens,
  and founds his vault upon the earth;
who calls for the waters of the sea,
  and pours them out upon the surface of the earth—
the Lord is his name.

Are you not like the Ethiopians to me,
  O people of Israel? says the Lord.
Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt,
  and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?

The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
  and I will destroy it from the face of the earth
  —except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,
says the Lord.

For lo, I will command,
  and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
  but no pebble shall fall to the ground.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
  who say, ‘Evil shall not overtake or meet us.’
Reflection As I write this in October, part of the Christian world is marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In these devotions, we are now reaching the end of our series on Amos, and for many of us, we may have found the book far from ‘easy’: Amos’ message is unrelenting.

In today’s reading, we reach the climax: even though Amos’ words speak of God’s complete and utter destruction – “not one of them shall escape” (v1) – it is balanced with some hope: “I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob” (v8).

Amos’ spoke out against the wrong-doing of the nations of the then-known world and against the religious practices in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, where the poor were ruined and the needy were trampled (8:4). Not dissimilarly, some 2,200 years later, Martin Luther challenged the religious practices that exploited the poor through indulgences and kept God’s simple grace hidden.

As uncomfortable as it may feel to ask: in what ways do we who call ourselves part of God’s church fail to recognise the barriers others perceive in us, our services and our buildings which keep folk from welcoming God’s love?

Today, 27 January, is also Holocaust Memorial Day, when we pause to remember the millions murdered by brutal regimes. The theme for HMD 2018 is ‘The Power of Words’. On one level, having Amos 9 as a set text today may seem an outrageous, even perverse juxtaposition.

Primo Levi, a Jewish Italian author, chemist and survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, writing about the Holocaust, wrote: “It happened, therefore, it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.” Post 1945, he devoted his life to speaking out.

Amos, an unlearned Jewish shepherd, left his homeland (Judah) to follow God’s call to speak out against the corrupt regime of Jeroboam II and the abandonment of God’s ways.

Following in the footsteps of Amos, Luther and Levi, how is God calling us to speak out today?
 

Prayer


O God, Who is full of compassion,
Who dwells on high,
grant perfect rest in Your Divine Presence
to all the souls of our holy and pure
sisters and brothers whose blood was spilt.
For whose souls we now pray.
May the Master of Mercy
shelter them
in the shadow of His wings for eternity;
and may they repose in peace
in their resting places. Amen.

[Adapted from a Jewish Prayer: El Male Rachamim (God full of compassion)]

Today's Writer

Walt Johnson, Elder, Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC (Chorlton, Manchester)

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 26th January

URC Devotions - Fri, 26/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 26th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 8: 4- 14

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
   and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, “When will the new moon be over
   so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
   so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
   and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
   and the needy for a pair of sandals,
   and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
   and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
   and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord God,
   I will make the sun go down at noon,
   and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning,
   and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
   and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
   and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
   when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
   but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
   and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
   but they shall not find it.
In that day the beautiful young women and the young men
   shall faint for thirst.
Those who swear by Ashimah of Samaria,
   and say, “As your god lives, O Dan,”
and, “As the way of Beer-sheba lives”—
   they shall fall, and never rise again.
Reflection I always thought that the Old Testament had nothing in it for me except as a book of stories. That was in my pre-TLS days of innocence. During my studies I discovered  the prophets and was staggered to find out how little has changed -  that the things that concerned them concerned me. I had become part of the Jubilee Debt Campaign and the Make Poverty History movement and discovered a spokesman - Amos - along with the other prophets.
           
In our passage Amos is speaking about all the businessmen whose lives are concerned with making money, no matter how crooked their methods. The religious festivals were inconveniences to making money. During the festival of the new moon, no business could be done - what a waste of opportunity to make money.  The Sabbath - another day lost. Moreover, they used dishonest methods:  fixing the weights to be too light or too heavy, whichever method was in their favour. The people who suffered were the poor, some of whom would be in slavery to earn money to live, and the wheat would be just the husks on the floor.
           
It wasn’t that Amos was against business - he was a small businessman himself - a sheep owner with a fig ripening business so he obviously believed in buying and selling - but fairly.  Clearly he believed in plain speaking.
           
Usually, when the passage is taken as a text to preach on, it ends here. However, Amos goes on to ask what will happen if people don’t change their ways - he is a prophet after all! This warning is worse than usual; something terrible will happen. God has warned about famine or drought before but now Amos threatens something far worse - a shortage of God himself. There will be no more words from God, just silence. No matter where the people search, they will not find God. What could be worse?
           
In our talk today of Brexit and Trade Deals, perhaps we should remember the words of the prophets and take heed.
 

Prayer

O Lord of the market place
and the balances,
help us to be fair in our dealings
Make us consider people not profit
and look for balance not gain.
Make the poor and needy our priority
and not give them our leftovers.
God of justice and mercy,
may we reflect you in our lives,
Amen

Today's Writer

Chris Eddowes, lay preacher and elder at St George’s URC, Hartlepool

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 25th January

URC Devotions - Thu, 25/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 25th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 8: 1-3

This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you
see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me,
“The end has come upon my people Israel;
   I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”
says the Lord God;
“the dead bodies shall be many,
   cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Reflection Like other passages found in Amos we once again see an example of the prophet’s oratory with clever use of wordplay and imagery.  Amos has been presented with a basket of summer fruit - representing desire, celebration and enjoyment, which at a time of peace and prosperity for Israel in 8th Century BC, would be familiar and welcome. However, what is key to the image is that it contains summer fruit.

The use of the word summer indicates the fruit is ripe - ready to be eaten. Action is required now before the fruit is wasted. It is on this point that the comforting vision takes a twist and turn as it is replaced with an image of destruction and upset. In a few lines Amos has caused shock and fear by use of contrast going from a pleasant basket of summer fruit to many dead bodies.

A similar technique is used by the television and film industries. As I write there is a short trailer being regularly shown for a popular Scottish drama on BBC 1. A bride and groom stand at a church doorway, smiling and looking into each other’s eyes as they kiss. All appears happy and well. However, as the bride withdraws her hand from the groom her expression changes. The camera pans down to show the bride’s hand and the groom’s shirt covered in blood. Not what the viewer was expecting; but an attempt to capture attention and generate interest in the story.

Amos uses a pleasant image against a violent threat to emphasise that, as far as his audience was concerned, God saw that action was required now. For the chosen people of Israel the time was up so why should God delay exercising judgment?

Amos is giving a warning. All may appear well but is it actually as well as we make it out to be? How often do we only see what we want to and fail to act with urgency in the present?
 

Prayer

God of action,
Make me alert to the realities of my life.
Show me what I need to do,
equip me with all I need to act,
grant me the courage I lack,
and hold me in your love.
Amen

Today's Writer

David Scott is an ordinand at the Scottish United Reformed Church and Congregational College.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 24th January

URC Devotions - Wed, 24/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 24th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 7:10-17

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,
“Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
   and Israel must go into exile
   away from his land.”’

And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’

Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees,  and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

‘Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.
You say, “Do not prophesy against Israel,
   and do not preach against the house of Isaac.”
Therefore, thus says the Lord:
“Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
   and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
   and your land shall be parcelled out by line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
   and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.”’
Reflection Into the words of the prophet in the previous sections we have this narrative interlude. The professional priests have been getting upset by what Amos is saying so they try a two-pronged attack. Firstly, Amaziah, the chief of the priests accuses Amos of treason sending word to the King, and then he seeks out Amos to speak face-to-face. Two tactics of intimidation. Amos is not deflected, scarred off or cowered; indeed he goes further in his rhetoric against the nation of Israel. It is not pleasant reading, the language is meant to shock and is very clear. Amaziah could be in no doubt that if Amos is a prophet what the message is that he brings. But that is the problem: either Amaziah thinks he can dismiss him because Amos has not got the right credentials, or that he suspects Amos of speaking a truth and he is trying to suppress it. I suspect the former reason. Amos happily acknowledges that he does not come from a prophetic line. He has no background, other than a man who has heard the call of God and has responded to it.

That is the challenge in this passage. How do we respond to people who tell us uncomfortable truths? Do we dismiss them because they don’t come with a certain authority behind them, or we can say they don’t really understand the situation, or that they are just trying to stir up trouble?  Or conversely have we held back from speaking up for justice because we don’t think we have the correct background to do that? Either way it can feel very uncomfortable. Yet we must also be aware of those who would speak out or cause trouble for their own reasons and agenda. We need to discern what God is saying to us. Amaziah is too preoccupied with his status to come before God in humility to ask for guidance, perhaps if he had Israel may have been spared.
 

Prayer

Gracious God,
We encounter difficult people in our lives
People who say things, claim things and make life uncomfortable.
We ask that you will give us the discernment to know when we hear a prophet and when we are right to be cautious.

May we be open to hear what you would have us hear about our time and our situation.
May we also have the courage to speak out about the injustice we encounter in the lives of those we meet in our daily living.
In the name of Jesus Christ and for the sake of your Kingdom.
Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Hilary Collinson is a minister in the Tees and Swale Pastorate.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 23rd January

URC Devotions - Tue, 23/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 23rd January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 7: 1 - 9 

This is what the Lord GOD showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter
growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings).  When
they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,
“O Lord GOD, forgive, I beg you!
   How can Jacob stand?
   He is so small!”
The LORD relented concerning this;
   “It shall not be,” said the LORD.
This is what the Lord GOD showed me: the Lord GOD was calling for a shower of
fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said,
“O Lord GOD, cease, I beg you!
   How can Jacob stand?
   He is so small!”
The LORD relented concerning this;
   “This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.
This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb
line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you
see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line
   in the midst of my people Israel;
   I will never again pass them by;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
   and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
   and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
Reflection As with Jesus’ Parables in the Gospels, God’s message here was conveyed using everyday images which people could relate to: locusts, fire and a plumb line. I’m certainly no builder but I do know that a plumb line is used to ensure that a wall is straight and that a wall which isn’t will eventually collapse, perhaps sooner than we think!. Poor builders give the industry a bad name but, I wonder, are we as good as we can be when it comes to serving God?

God provides us with a composite plumb line, made up of His Word (our Bibles) and the gift of prayer. Two ways of checking that our wall isn’t going to collapse any time soon. Scripture provides Commandments and guidance for daily living, whilst prayer provides a permanent line of communication which allows us to seek God’s help and strength and to listen for His voice. As with a builder and their wall, we need to keep checking our wall with God’s plumb line.
 

Prayer

Almighty God,
Through Scripture
and the gift of prayer,
you have given us so much
to ensure that our ‘wall is straight’.
Help us, as we read Your Word
and seek Your voice through prayer,
to remain true to you.
In Jesus’ name.
Amen!

Today's Writer

Jeff Newall, Lay Preacher, Christ the Vine Community Church (part of Woughton LEP in Milton Keynes)

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 22nd January 

URC Devotions - Mon, 22/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 22nd January  Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 6:1 - 14

Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
   and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
the notables of the first of the nations,
   to whom the house of Israel resorts!
Cross over to Calneh, and see;
   from there go to Hamath the great;
   then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
   Or is your territory greater than their territory,
O you that put far away the evil day,
   and bring near a reign of violence?
Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
   and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
   and calves from the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
   and like David improvise on instruments of music;
who drink wine from bowls,
   and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
   but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
   and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.
The Lord God has sworn by himself
(says the Lord, the God of hosts):
I abhor the pride of Jacob
   and hate his strongholds;
   and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.
If ten people remain in one house, they shall die.  And if a relative, one who burns the dead, shall take up the body to bring it out of the house, and shall say to someone in the innermost parts of the house, “Is anyone else with you?” the answer will come, “No.” Then the relative shall say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord.”
See, the Lord commands,
   and the great house shall be shattered to bits,
   and the little house to pieces.
Do horses run on rocks?
   Does one plow the sea with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
   and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood—
you who rejoice in Lo-debar,
   who say, “Have we not by our own strength
   taken Karnaim for ourselves?”
Indeed, I am raising up against you a nation,
   O house of Israel, says the Lord, the God of hosts,
and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath
   to the Wadi Arabah.
Reflection We often hear politicians and leaders telling us they want to make their country great again, but what makes a nation great? Amos is warning God’s people that they have become complacent. They seem to think they are somehow better than the nations around them and have become caught up in excesses of power, comfort and pride. Does this all sound very familiar? The very nations which should stand and fight for the rights of the poor and the downtrodden, are now seen by God as absurd as someone trying trying to 
run a horse on rocky ground or getting oxen to plough the sea
. They have got it horribly wrong by neglecting those they should have cared for.

What makes a great nation? It seems, from God’s point of view, not to be about what our position is in the world but how we treat the world. A great nation lifts up the poor, welcomes the alien and fights for a world of justice and righteousness. A great nation is one that is prepared to use its influence and power not for self-promotion but for the sake of those who have nothing.  In the words of Nelson Mandela, ““It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”     How do we make a great nation? By being the people who by prayer and action prophetically lead the way in pointing our leaders, politicians, decision makers and ourselves towards these Godly aims.  
 

Prayer

God of justice,
We pray for our nation,
Forgive our desire for power,
greed and position.
May our nation be a place of hope,
love and welcome
May our nation be renown
for showing compassion to all
May our nation be built not on gain
but on giving
Help us, your Church,
be the prophets who hold to account
those in our nation with power and influence.
For a nation and world
which reflects your Kingdom we pray.
Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Stuart Nixon, SCM Pioneer Minister, MediaCityUK Church, Salford

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 21st January

URC Devotions - Sun, 21/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 21st January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Psalm 31

In you I’ve taken refuge, LORD;
You are my shelter in distress.
O let me never be ashamed,
But save me in your righteousness.

LORD, turn your ear to hear my cry;
Come quickly to deliver me,
And be my rock and firm defence,
My stronghold and security.

You are my fortress and my rock;
For your name’s sake be my sure guide.
Preserve me from the trap that’s set;
You are the refuge where I hide.

Redeem me, LORD, O God of truth;
My spirit I commit to you.
I hate all those who trust false gods;
I trust the LORD, for he is true.

I will rejoice and take delight
In all the love that you have shown,
For my affliction you have seen;
To you my soul’s distress is known.

You have not left me to my foe
Or given me into his hand;
But you have set my feet within
A spacious place where I may stand.

Be merciful to me, O LORD,
For my distress knows no relief;
My eyes grow weak with sorrow’s tears,
My soul and body with my grief.

My life in anguish is consumed;
My years pass by with many groans.
Through misery my strength has failed,
And greatly weakened are my bones.

Because of all my enemies
My neighbours treat me scornfully;
I’m viewed with dread by all my friends—
They see me coming and they flee.

I am forgotten as though dead,
Not even spared a passing thought;
I’m like a jar that’s cast away,
A useless, broken, shattered pot.

I hear the slander many spread,
And terror stalks me all the way.
Against me enemies conspire;
They plot to take my life away.

But as for me, I trust you, LORD;
I say, “You are my God alone.”
My times are ever in your hands;
Save me from foes who hunt me down.

Upon your servant shine your face;
Save me in your unfailing love.
LORD, let me not be put to shame,
For I have cried to God above.

But let the wicked suffer shame
And silent in the grave abide.
Suppress the lying lips which speak
Against the just with haughty pride.

Your goodness, LORD, is very great—
Prepared for those who fear your name.
You show your goodness openly
To all who your protection claim.

Your presence hides and shelters them
From those who plot to take their life,
And in your tent you keep them safe
From evil tongues that stir up strife.

The LORD be praised because he showed
The wonder of his love to me,
When in a city I was trapped,
Surrounded by the enemy.

In my alarm I rashly said
That I was hidden from your eyes;
But when I called to you for help,
In grace you listened to my cries.

O love the LORD, all you his saints!
The faithful will be kept by God,
But he will give the proud their due.
Be strong, take heart; hope in the LORD.


You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Herongate here. Reflection A recurring theme of the Old Testament prophets is the idea that in God alone should His people put their trust.  The people, however, seemed to prefer to put their trust in foreign policy, alliances with other countries, and kings.  Time and time again the prophets warned the people this was folly but even after the disaster of the Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the people didn’t listen.

The opening stanzas of today’s Psalm resonate with this theme of putting our trust in God.  For the Psalmist has taken refuge in the Lord who is a shelter in times of distress.  God is a rock, firm defence and security.  

Despite the American motto “In God we trust” printed on every banknote, any government that decided to put their trust in the Lord and not in the force of arms or foreign policy would be laughed out of office.  Yet the Brexit negotiations our government have entered into haven’t (at the time of writing in December 2017) seemed to result in much of benefit for either ourselves or our European partners.  Parties, and movements within them, which advocate abandoning our nuclear arsenal are seen as dangerous and extreme and we tend to see trusting in God as a personal not a political thing.

What, I wonder would trusting in God mean for our nations if our leaders took the injunction seriously?  Would it mean we give more of our nation’s wealth away - just as individuals we’re called to give a proportion of our own wealth away to stop ourselves being poisoned by the toxicity of money.  Would it mean we treat refugees and asylum seekers with dignity remembering that the Holy Family fled to Egypt for safety?  Would it mean we, like Costa Rica, abandon our armed services and plough the money saved into health and education?  What would putting our trust in the Lord mean for our nation, our church and us as individuals?
 

Prayer

In you, O Lord,
I put my trust.
In you, O Lord,
I take refuge.
In you, O Lord,
I find my security.
Help me, O Lord,
to trust you more.
Amen.

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston is minister of Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs in the Synod of Scotland's Southside Cluster.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 20th January

URC Devotions - Sat, 20/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 20th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 5:18 - 27

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
   Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
    as if someone fled from a lion,
   and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
   and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
   and gloom with no brightness in it?
I hate, I despise your festivals,
   and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
   I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
   I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
   I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves;  therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus, says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.
Reflection As a shepherd, Amos would have known what life was like on the lower rungs of the social ladder.  Amos saw the worship on offer by the wealthy and found it lacking any sense of God.
Amos seems to be saying, “Look, mate, how you live day to day should reflect the God you worship.  And from the way you lot are living, your god’s nowt like the real God!”  Amos 5:24 is arguably Amos’ main prayer for his people.

Let justice roll – Hebrew word transliterated as mishpat from shapat – a legal term – think judge, claim, case, court, verdict.

Let righteousness flow – tsedaqah from tsedeq – just actions – think honesty, right deeds, vindication, actions that reflect God’s image in us.

To Amos, the wealthy trusted in the festivals and used them as an opportunity to display their wealth (not God’s faithfulness).  They bragged and boasted (Amos 4:4).  They built personal empires on the backs of the poor (Amos 5:11).  They took bribes (Amos 5:12).  When these people worshipped, God’s goodness and faithfulness was not being remembered by them.

Can we see evidence of this type of worship today?

What would God’s justice rolling today look like?

Where’s the life-giving righteous stream?
 

Prayer

God,
Show us when our actions
don’t match up with who You are.
Help our lives to be lived as worship, reflecting your character.  
By Your Spirit,
help us to make ‘right actions’
and to understand your ways of judging.  
We ask that Your Spirit
may flow through us,
bringing Your justice
and Your righteousness
to our lives
and the lives of those
you would have us serve.
We remember to You now
those who need justice and righteousness.
God, let the river flow on.
In Jesus’ name
Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev'd  Angela Rigby is minister of St Johns HillURC in Sevenoaks and Christ Church URC in Tonbridge.
 

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotions 19th January

URC Devotions - Fri, 19/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotions 19th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 5:10 - 17 

They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
   and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
Therefore, because you trample on the poor
   and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
   but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
   but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
   and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
   and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
   for it is an evil time.
Seek good and not evil,
   that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
   just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
   and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
   will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:
In all the squares there shall be wailing;
   and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! alas!’
They shall call the farmers to mourning,
   and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing;
in all the vineyards there shall be wailing,
   for I will pass through the midst of you,
says the Lord.
Reflection Like many passages we have been reading from Amos, this one can give us fresh energy for writing to our MP or joining a Joint Public Issues Team campaign against economic injustice. There might not be much sign of the rich being thrown out of their houses (v 11) but God’s timing is not always ours.

Or perhaps the passage is about us. Most of us assume the rich are those who can afford a bit more than we can. Yet if we watched television last night and are about to get into our car for today’s jobs then to many in today’s world - and to every one of Amos’ shepherd friends - we are fabulously rich and pampered. So is God just waiting for the right moment to throw us out of our homes?  

Another reading might be that the passage is giving a warning that modern research confirms: we expect a larger house, a better wine cellar or a second car will make us happier but are soon disappointed after we achieve them. We soon take them for granted and are no more satisfied with life than before.

The pivot of the reading is verse 14. Put the Lord, the God of hosts first. Seek good and not evil. You might still live in the same house, but you will see it as a tool for doing good. When Rowan Williams, now the Chair of Christian Aid, was Archbishop of Canterbury, he used to like to ask Christians a neat question: “For whom is your money good news?”  
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus
Whatever my credit card statement says, all my greatest debts are owed to you
and your love.
I offer you all that I call mine.
I offer you my car,
my house,
my bank balance.
Show me how I can use them
to be good news to someone today.  
Amen

Today's Writer

John Ellis, Immediate Past Moderator of the General Assembly and Church Secretary, Tudeley and Five Oak Green LEP

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
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URC Daily Devotion 18th January

URC Devotions - Thu, 18/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 18th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 5:1 - 9

Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel:

Fallen, no more to rise,
   is maiden Israel;
forsaken on her land,
   with no one to raise her up.
For thus says the Lord GOD:
The city that marched out a thousand
   shall have a hundred left,
and that which marched out a hundred
   shall have ten left.
For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
Seek me and live;
     but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
   or cross over to Beer-sheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
   and Bethel shall come to nothing.
 Seek the LORD and live,
   or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
   and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
   and bring righteousness to the ground!
 The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
   and turns deep darkness into the morning,
   and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea,
   and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the LORD is his name,
 who makes destruction flash out against the strong,
   so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

  Reflection

Amos was fed up. While most of the prophets peppered redemption and restoration in their prophecies, Amos devoted only his final five verses for such consolation. He directed his criticism against privileged people, who  had no love for neighbour, took advantage of others, and only looked out for their own concerns.

More than almost any other book of Scripture, Amos holds God’s people accountable for their dreadful treatment of others. He repeatedly points out their failure to embrace God’s idea of justice. They were selling off needy people for goods, taking advantage of the helpless, oppressing the poor, and the men were using women immorally. Drunk on their own economic success and intent on strengthening their financial position, the people had lost the concept of caring for one another; Amos rebuked them because he saw in that lifestyle, evidence that Israel had forgotten God.

Rather than seeking out opportunities to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, they embraced their arrogance, idolatry, self-righteousness, and materialism. Later in the chapter, Amos demonstrates utter contempt for the hypocritical lives of the people (add). His prophecy concludes with only a brief glimpse of restoration, and even that is directed to Judah.

Injustice is rife in our world today, yet as Christians we often turn a blind eye to the suffering of others for “more important” work like praying, preaching, and teaching. I’m guessing that the same is true for all of us at times — putting prayer over service?

Amos’ prophecy ought to simplify the choices in our lives. Instead of choosing between prayer and service, Amos teaches us that both are essential. God has called us not only to be in relationship with Him but also to be in relationship with others. For those who have been too focused on the invisible God rather than on His visible creation, Amos pulls us back toward the centre where both the physical and the spiritual needs of people matter in God’s scheme of justice.

 

Prayer

Father,
you have given all peoples
one common origin.
It is your will
that we be gathered together
as one family in yourself.
Fill the hearts of humanity
with the fire of your love
and with the desire
to ensure justice for all.
By sharing the good things you give us,
may we work for equality
for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
May there be an end to division,
strife and war.
May there be a dawning
of a truly human society
built on love and peace.
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
our Lord. Amen

Today's Writer

Ann Barton is Facilities Manager at Church House.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 17th January

URC Devotions - Wed, 17/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 17th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 4: 4 - 13

Come to Bethel—and transgress;
    to Gilgal—and multiply transgression;
bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three days;
bring a thank offering of leavened bread,
    and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
    for so you love to do, O people of Israel!
says the Lord God.
Israel Rejects Correction
I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
    and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.
And I also withheld the rain from you
    when there were still three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
    and send no rain on another city;
one field would be rained upon,
    and the field on which it did not rain withered;
so two or three towns wandered to one town
    to drink water, and were not satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.
I struck you with blight and mildew;
    I laid waste[a] your gardens and your vineyards;
    the locust devoured your fig trees and your olive trees;
yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.
I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
    I killed your young men with the sword;
I carried away your horses;[b]
    and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.
I overthrew some of you,
    as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
    and you were like a brand snatched from the fire;
yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.
Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
    because I will do this to you,
    prepare to meet your God, O Israel!
For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind,
    reveals his thoughts to mortals,
makes the morning darkness,
    and treads on the heights of the earth—
    the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!
Reflection You do not understand, says the prophet. You have lived in the worst of times, and yet you have not turned to God. Your money is worth less now than it was, but you do not think money has to do with God. There was violence across the world and in the cities that you make your homes, but you did not turn to God in prayer. Disasters have broken your hearts and exposed the cracks in society but you do not do as I would do and fill the Temple to overflowing.

The prophet is heartbroken by the fall of the world around him, the end of days he knows is just around the corner. Curiously, he draws strange comfort from the belief that this is the work of God, for if God is behind the violence then faithful petition can stop the violence. If God enacts calamity because people deserve calamity, then we can work our way out of calamity again.

The prophet hopes his perverse images of love and jealous rage will turn the hearts of others in the way his own heart is turned. He believes his own heart is turned to goodness. He is constantly surprised, in the thousands of years which follow, that his words do not bring peace or repentance or reconciliation among those who read them. He is stunned when they begin to work in another way, as evidence against the goodness of God in which he trusts above all. What do our prayers inspire in others? Hopefulness? Solidarity? Fear? Disdain?
 

Prayer

Holy one,
we pray for our world.
May your kingdom come,
your will be done,
in us,
around us,
and through us.
And may we turn to you
for strength, courage,
and renewed love even on dark days. Amen.

Today's Writer

The Revd Dr ’frin Lewis-Smith is minister to the URCs in Darwen and Tockholes.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 16th January

URC Devotions - Tue, 16/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 16th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 4:1 - 3  

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
   who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
   who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!”
The Lord God has sworn by his holiness:
   The time is surely coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
   even the last of you with fishhooks.
Through breaches in the wall you shall leave,
   each one straight ahead;
   and you shall be flung out into Harmon,
says the Lord.
Reflection If Amos were alive today, he would surely be a newspaper cartoonist. He has the ability that the best cartoonists have of linking grotesque imagery with scathing social comment. Just like modern cartoonists, Amos teeters on the edge of going too far - moving from humorous to downright offensive. He surely knows that he is painting some very memorable images.

This picture is of drunken, fat women, lolling on their couches, calling for more drink from their husbands. The obscene partying is depicted as being on Mount Samaria; at the foot of the mountain are the poor and needy, oppressed and crushed down by the weight of the opulence of their social ‘betters’.

Just out of sight of the women and their husbands, however, is God doing some fishing. With his fishhook - or perhaps his whaling harpoon - he is ready to catch these gross creatures and haul them in through a hole in the wall (this is a cartoon, remember) - from whence they will be flung back out, perhaps into that outer darkness where Matthew’s Gospel says there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It’s a grotesque picture; like the best political cartoons it tells the truth. 25% of our population today is obese - and a further 37% are overweight.  At the same time, Foodbanks, run by our churches, are serving more and more malnourished adults and children, especially during holidays when free school lunches stop. The Welsh Government is now using part of its education budget to fund ‘Food and Fun’ clubs in the holidays to try to stem the tide.

We may laugh at Amos’s cartoon. But the joke's on us. Some of us reading and writing these Daily Devotions are today’s ‘cows of Bashan’, lolling about in overindulgent luxury while the poor are oppressed (because we pay such low taxes) and the needy are crushed (by having to seek handouts to survive). We followers of Jesus, who should be part of the solution, are too often part of the problem.
 

Prayer

Lord, I like the odd touch of luxury
and the occasional glass of wine -
don’t I deserve it after a long day?
Ok, Lord,
sometimes I do overindulge just a little,
But it doesn’t do any harm does it?
Lord, I do try to give a packet or two
to the Foodbank,
And help out there on alternate Tuesdays.
The stories I hear are so sad,
And it’s the hungry children
that worry me most.
Jesus said,
“Come, follow me,
and I will make you fish for people.”
Amos didn’t really mean
that you were fishing for me, did he?
Did he?
Lord?

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is National Assembly Policy Officer for Cytun.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 15th January

URC Devotions - Mon, 15/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 15th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Amos 3: 9 - 15

Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod,
   and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt,
and say, “Assemble yourselves on Mount Samaria,
   and see what great tumults are within it,
   and what oppressions are in its midst.”
They do not know how to do right, says the Lord,
   those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.
Therefore thus says the Lord God:
An adversary shall surround the land,
   and strip you of your defense;
   and your strongholds shall be plundered.
Thus says the Lord: As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who live in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed.

Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,
   says the Lord God, the God of hosts:
On the day I punish Israel for its transgressions,
   I will punish the altars of Bethel,
and the horns of the altar shall be cut off
   and fall to the ground.
I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house;
   and the houses of ivory shall perish,
and the great houses shall come to an end,
says the Lord.
Reflection On what many now refer to as Blue Monday, it is hard to find comfort, hope or good cheer in this passage. On a day when we could do with a reminder of how much God loves us, Amos reminds us of a side of God we’d rather not think about: judgement. A God who seems to be on the side of the enemies.

For it is Israel’s hated, ancestral enemies, Ashdod (or Assyria, as some think) and Egypt who are called to witness Israel’s wrongdoing and to see its punishment. God’s judgement is terrifying: total destruction. Not a remnant will be left - even if the mention of rescue seems to suggest some may survive. The rescuing of a part of the bed or the corner of the couch is just proof that the people of Samaria will be gone, just as the shepherd had to prove that an animal had truly been killed by retrieving some of it from the mouth of the predator. Otherwise he would have to pay for it (Ex. 22:12).

So, what is Israel’s sin? Disorder and unjust social practices, robbery and storing up violence. The Lord’s requirement to live in the land with genuine justice seems to have been forgotten. Ironically, Israel had evolved into the kind of oppressive nation from which God had delivered them.

And where the people do not know how to do right, says Amos, God’s judgement will be fierce. There will be no protection in great houses, ivory towers nor religious centres. If you do not heed God’s command to look after the widow, the orphan or the stranger in your midst (Lev. 19), no house will stand.

We would do well to heed these words, as we walk the way. Doing justice is core to our obedience to God – who wills not judgement, but wholeness and fulness of life for all. If you want to reach for heaven, no less than reaching for earth’s vulnerable children will do.
 

Prayer

God of heaven and earth,
Teach us to know how to do right -
to do justice,
love kindness
and walk humbly with you.
Amen

Today's Writer

Francis Brienen is the Deputy General Secretary (Mission) and a member of Muswell Hill URC.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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URC Daily Devotion 14th January

URC Devotions - Sun, 14/01/2018 - 06:00
96 URC Daily Devotion 14th January Today's Daily Devotion from the United Reformed Church View this email in your browser Share Tweet Forward

Psalm 30

O LORD, I will exalt your name
for you have rescued me;
You did not let my foes rejoice
and gloat triumphantly.

LORD God, in need I cried to you
and you restored my health.
O LORD, you brought me from the grave
and saved my soul from death.

You holy ones, sing to the LORD;
sing out with joyful voice.
When you recall his holy name,
then praise him and rejoice.

His anger but a moment lasts;
life-long his favour stays.
Though tears may last throughout the night,
joy comes with morning’s rays.

“I never shall be moved,” I said
in my prosperity.
You made my mountain firm and strong
when you, LORD, favoured me.

But when you hid your face from me
my heart was terrified.
To you, O LORD, I called aloud;
for mercy, Lord, I cried.

What gain will my destruction bring
if I descend to death?
Will dust proclaim your faithfulness
or praise you with its breath?

Hear as I cry, O LORD my God,
and listen to my plea.
Come to my aid in my distress;
have mercy, LORD, on me.

You turned my wailing into dance;
no longer was I sad.
My sackcloth gone, you gave me clothes
of joy, and I was glad.

Therefore my heart will sing to you
and never cease to praise;
To your great name, O LORD my God,
I will give thanks always.


You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune St Andrew here. Reflection The middle of January is rarely the most positive time of the year, with short days and dark evenings, post-Christmas credit card bills looming and New Year resolutions left behind.  Yet the Psalm today calls us to give thanks to the God whose loving favour is ‘life-long.’

For the Psalmist the cause of thanks is God’s rescue from a grave life threatening illness.  Death has been defied, the grave robbed, health restored and the Psalmist extols the Lord God who turns wailing into dancing.

The Psalm begins and ends with praise but at its centre is a powerful description of what Brueggemann describes as the experience of disorientation.  All had been well, life was good and the Psalmist congratulates himself on his prosperity and sense of security.  Just when he feels himself immovable the grounds falls from under him.  Suddenly everything is threatened.   Human mortality and fragility is exposed:  ‘You hid your face from me, my heart was terrified.’  The darkness draws close – a darkness not only of death but the absence of God and the denial of faithfulness and love.

We may not experience such a dramatic fall or recovery but this Psalm helps in the struggles of life and faith; those moments when we are shaken to the core with what has happened to us or to those we love.   It helps us to respond to those times when God ‘hides his face’.  First it reminds us that we are not God – we are not the mountain strong and firm, God is.  Then it encourages us to hold onto God’s faithfulness and graciousness – the God who is there as our helper and Lord.  More than that, it helps us know that, in God’s time, mourning will be turned into dancing, God will clothe us with joy.  Finally we must not be silenced by life, but give and make space for thanks and praise to our God, come what may.
 

Prayer

God of tender mercy and gracious joy,
hold in your loving care
those who face death today,
those who feel
that your face is hidden from them
and those in the midst
of disease and distress.
Bring them hope
in the midst of their pain,
peace in the midst of conflict
hope in the midst of despair.
God, our God, lead us to that point
and place of grateful praise,
where our hearts may sing
of the life you give us
and the new life you open to us
in Jesus Christ. Amen

Today's Writer

The Rev’d Terry Hinks, minister of Trinity, High Wycombe and Cores End Churches.

Bible Version

 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.


 
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