As we journey through these uncertain times, each day Sean will seek to post a thought or reflection, a Bible verse or a prayer.
Wednesday 15th July 2020
‘The first date’
Yesterday I spoke of a recent saunter along the banks of the River Dee downstream of Banchory. It was a hugely enjoyable walk on a fine summers day. There was not a cloud in the sky. Even the midges were absent. There is one point on the walk, in which you can view two famous local landmarks. There was Clachnaben, which at 579 metres high is one of Aberdeenshire’s finest lower hills. Located in Glen Dye, its instantly recognisable granite tor offers incredible views. The second landmark was Scolty hill, with its tower built to honour General William Burnett who fought with Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars. At only 299 metres high, it is not as impressive as Clachnaben, but offers superb views from Aberdeen and the coast, up to the eastern edge of the cairngorms and Morven and Mount Keen.
At the point in which both these hills become visible, somebody has thoughtfully installed a bench which I made good use of. On the bench was a small plaque. Instead of the usual memorial plaque, the wording was different. It read:
Alison & Gordon
Whilst I enjoyed the comfort and setting of the bench, I have absolutely no knowledge who Alison & Gordon are. All I can surmise is their first date on the banks of the River Dee was of special significance. Could it be the place where a deep and insatiable love took root? And what happened next? How did their love change their lives? Did it lead to marriage and a family? Who knows, but I am sure it would make for a very good story!
Acts 9: 1-9
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
The word most often used to describe Saul’s experience on the Damascus Road is conversion. In our modern world where we are expected to be accepting and tolerant and respectful of each other’s views, the phrase ‘conversion’ has more than a whiff of coercion about it. Yet this is what happened. The person who hurriedly set out on the 150-mile journey from Jerusalem was not the same person who arrived in Damascus. Saul the zealous Pharisee became Paul the passionate Apostle. The angry man implicated in the stoning of the first Christian martyr Stephen, became the person who wrote 1 Corinthians 13 – arguably the most famous poem about love in the whole world.
The word conversion can be translated in many different ways, such as a change of beliefs or attitude. Within the Christian faith it describes the process of inward spiritual change – from unbelief to belief or from sinfulness to righteousness. And it does involve coercion. That coercion is love. It is when the human heart is strangely warmed by God’s love and we have our spiritual eyes opened to discover the reality of God. For the Apostle Paul, it was of all of these things and more.
A couple of final thoughts. True authentic religious conversion is a work of God. It is not the result of human manipulation or control. That kind of faith is regretfully far too common.
Saul’s/Paul’s conversion happened within a very short period of time and the results were dramatic. Whilst ‘instant’ conversions do happen, they are fairly uncommon. Most of us have an ‘ongoing conversion experience’ that takes place over an extended period. Genuine and authentic faith does take root, but not always in an instant.
Remember, God is a master at His craft. He is never in a hurry!
Rev Sean Swindells
Cruden Parish Church
In times of weakness and hour of need,
yours is the strength by which we carry on,
the shoulder we rest our head upon.
When our load is heavy and too much to bear,
yours are the arms stretched out to help us
the grace that we depend on.
In times of weakness and hour of need,
your voice is heard,
‘Come… find rest.’
This is grace divine,
the path we tread to wholeness
of body and spirit,
the path that leads to you,
and for which we offer our offering of praise
In our prayers today, let us remember…
The people we love, especially those going through difficult times.
The people we do not know, whose suffering is silent and unknown.
The church - as we begin prepare and plan to reopen that it will not be a return to buisness as usual, but more attuned to God.
Ourselves – for a closer walk with Jesus
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
you will be done,
on earth as 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.
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and forever.
So now we leave this space of worship
And while so much of the road ahead is uncertain,
the path constantly changing,
we know some things that are as solid and sure
as the ground beneath our feet,
and the sky above our heads.
We know God is love.
We know Christ’s light endures.
We know the Holy Spirit this there,
found in the space between all things,
closer to us than our next breath,
binding us to each other,
until we meet we again,
Go in peace.