As we journey through these uncertain times, each day Sean will to seek post a thought or reflection, a Bible verse or a prayer.
Wednesday 29th April 2020
Into your presence we come,
God of Grace and Peace,
who was, and is and ever shall be
the eternal One.
Into fellowship we come,
bound together in the love
that died and rose again for us,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
This morning I come across an advert on Facebook for so called ‘Academic Degrees.’ They are being provided by a theological college in America (where else?). For a mere $500.00 you can qualify for a DD or Doctor of Divinity. A Masters’ Degree comes a wee bit cheaper – a mere $300.00! Of course in the UK these so called qualifications are not recognised. To pass yourself off as a graduate or highly qualified professional with a piece of worthless of paper is to commit fraud.
One has to wonder how many Christian leaders and pastors around the world as passing themselves off as experienced and qualified? Whether the so called college exists in reality is another matter. $500.00 seems an awful lot of money to pay for a fancy certificate that is probably made up on a computer. I was also surprised at how quick Facebook were to remove the advert when it was reported.
Whilst there is a lot of falsehood going on here, there is another issue. Taking short cuts, avoiding appropriate and supervised training means there is an absence of spiritual formation. There are many gifted people in and around the church, many of whom have never sat in a college classroom or gone through a supervised placement.
Some of these folk are doing great service in God’s Kingdom. But how much more effective could they be with exposing their thoughts and beliefs and practice of ministry to the rigour of study and reflection? God is worthy of our very best efforts. One of the key expressions of Christian discipleship is to seek the renewal of our minds. And regretfully even in Scotland there are sloppy shepherds!
The absence of spiritual formation is not just an issue for church leaders. It equally applies to all Christians and right across the church. Whilst the symptoms are varied the root cause is always the same. The symptoms include: fundamentalism, unthinking adherence to church traditions and intellectual arrogance – assuming we know it all or thinking we have nothing to learn from other people. The root cause is a failure to engage with a balanced reading of the Bible, sloppy preaching and teaching or a lazy and an undisciplined faith.
Matthew 22: 34-40
The Greatest Commandment
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
A Living Sacrifice
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
We are often separate our feelings from our thoughts, yet our heart and mind are interconnected. So it is with faith – our belief and devotion to God is not only how feel. It is also our thoughts and our thinking.
What do you think it means to love God with ‘all your mind’ and to be ‘transformed by the renewal of your mind?’
How might your local church help you grow in faith?
One final point – don’t forget the process of inner-renewal and spiritual formation lasts a life-time. God is never in a hurry!
Rev Sean Swindells
Cruden Parish Church
Points for prayer:
Those feeling isolated and deprived of human contact due to the lockdown.
Those facing the future with fear and anxiety.
Those wrestling with grief and loss and were denied the opportunity to say goodbye.
That God will bless our nation and those who lead it, that the pandemic would end and community life restored.
The renewal of the church and the revival of faith in our land.
O Holy One, hear our prayers, confessing all that lies uneasily in our hearts….
(time for silent prayer)
O Holy One, help us to admit that we are broken, broken by fear and hate, by apathy and greed, broken by sorrow and anxiety.
Mend the broken places, and make them stronger.
O Holy One, we miss the people that used to be a part of our lives – we grieve the death of our beloveds, the dying of our friends, the estrangement from family, relationships lost because of time and distance.
Help us to put aside the past hurts, to reach out, to reconnect, to reconcile; help us to the life lies beyond death.
O Holy One, we are lost and cannot find our way home – the path we’re on seems unfamiliar and frightening; we have wandered from our true self; we cannot see where you are leading us, if you are leading us.
Come and find us; rescue us from the frightening places.
O Holy One, there is just too much, and we are so anxious about it all – about war; about fire and flooding and earthquake; about politics and division; about scarcity; about loneliness
Infuse peace and serenity in our hearts.
O Holy One, we are so proud of our accomplishments that we are blind to the victories of others, and blithely ignore you as the source of all gifts – we think we can do it all on our own and our egos are so puffed up. Everything seems a competition, and winner takes all.
Open our eyes to the wonders of our brothers and sisters, and remind us that you empower all of us.
O Holy One, we are locked up in cells of our own making, and in the prisons our culture creates – we are bound by correctness and tradition, by habit and niceness, by norms whose usefulness expired decades ago.
Free us, liberate us, release us from the bondage that limits our full expression of love and faith and humanity.
O Holy One, our fasts only make us think about what we miss and do not point us to you – we give up sugar or screens or alcohol and we feel not humble but self-righteous. And we know this is not the fast you choose.
Lavish us with grace so that we may accept all your bounty in humility and gratitude.
O Holy One, there is so much that is not right – too many live in poverty and fear; too many live without love; too many live enraged.
Remind us that you have claimed the world, and us, as your own, good and beloved and redeemed.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. You will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.
May God's Word be in your heart.
May God's Word be on your lips.
May God's Word be in your touch.
May God's Word direct your feet.
On this day and all your days to come
May God's Word be the life you live.