Saturday, 26 April 2014


Jesus’ disciples often listened to Him.   A disciple by definition is one who listens.  People often came to Jesus for healing but equally they came to listen (Luke 19: 47-48).  They didn’t always hear him, of course, in the sense that they embraced and acted upon everything He said.   But Jesus always emphasised the importance of listening.  He once said: ‘Consider carefully how you listen’  (Luke 8: 18).  It was Jesus aim that the hearing of His message would make a difference.  A disciple was not just one who listened but one who listened with the intention of putting into practise what he/she heard.  So the sting in the tail of one of his most revered stories, the Good Samaritan, is not just that we ‘get it’ but that we ‘go and do likewise’ (Luke 10: 37). 

All of this comes to mind in the aftermath of ministry of Rev Willie Black during Holy Week in Milngavie.  It’s not often that I get the opportunity to take in so much ‘live’ preaching, not to mention preaching so closely connected to the Written Word and delivered with such conviction and personal warmth.  It might be possible to leave it at that, to have it as an inspiring memory to return to from time to time.  But the quality of listening that Jesus required from His disciples must leave me with the question: ‘What now?’  Is this a shallow planting?  Joyfully received but short lived?  Is this a planting amid the weeds of my personal priorities amongst which the Word has no chance?  Or will the seed grow to produce an abundant crop?  Will there be a going to do likewise? 

The years have not taken away my conviction that growth in Christian faith and character is inextricably bound up with our connection to the living Word.  Not long after my Induction to my first charge a senior colleague wrote to me and made this point.  He told me that he had seen so many men’s ministries and lives being ‘evacuated of any message because they had become levered away from the Word.’  

I am always struck by the fact that in the days following His resurrection Jesus continued to teach His disciples (Acts 1: 3).   May His presence be with us to guide us whenever we open the Word as individuals or as a community of faith.  

Friday, 18 April 2014


Someone remarked to me the other day that the daffodils are particularly splendid this year.

One of my abiding memories of daffodils is from the time when I regularly preached at the Holy Week services in Croftfoot Parish Church.  I was making my way there when I had to stop at the traffic lights close to the Victorian Infirmary.  Among the people waiting to cross was a young man holding the hand of a wee girl who must have been about four years of age.  She had a mass of brown curls and  her free hand was holding a huge bunch of blazing yellow daffodils.  I wondered who would be getting them.  Mum?  Granny?  An artist friend of mine once told me that yellow is a ‘brave’ colour.  Even now I find myself hoping that this gift made a difference. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A Fresh Start

The writer Jasper Rees was driving one day and listening to the radio.  On came a piece of music that he knew very well but hadn’t heard for some time.  It featured the french horn which he used to play but hadn’t touched for many years.  Something happened while he listened.  As often happens with music he was moved in a deep place and later he wiped the dust off his french horn and began playing again.  Like many people before him he learned that it is never to late to start again.  

This time of year is often seen as nature making a fresh start.  Spring is traditionally thought of as a time when the earth comes to life again with more colour, more warmth and more light.  The poets have seen in this signs of hope for the world.  If nature can make a fresh start then perhaps people can too.  Mistakes are made, faults persist, but perhaps this can be put behind us and a new beginning made.  

It was the promise of this which drew many people to Jesus.  It didn’t matter where people stood in the eyes of the world, he gave them hope that things could change.  Whatever people had done, whatever their inner darkness, Jesus made them feel they mattered, that God’s love was going out to them, and that motivated them towards change.  

This work of renewal was such a big part of Jesus’ ministry that even on the cross it persisted.  One of the men who was crucified with with him wanted an assurance that there was hope even for him beyond death.  Jesus gave him that: ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’  Even when Jesus himself was suffering his heart was going out to someone in need and even if that man would not enjoy a fresh start in this life there was still paradise. 

This hope is at the heart of the Easter message and it is my privilege to have seen it making an impact on people’s lives.  In my association with the Preshal Trust in Govan I have met so many people whose lives were coming apart through addiction to drugs or alcohol.  The promises of Jesus has given them the strength to make a fresh start and to go into the future with new values, new priorities and new expectations.  

The Easter message assures us that that the Christ who made a difference two thousand years ago is present still to open up the possibility of a fresh start to the whole of humankind.  

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


This is the new video from Sanctuary First.  Set in a future where gatherings are strictly limited and seeking to influence people towards belief in God is forbidden, we hear of Josh Emmanuel who not only speaks about God but in a mysterious way seems to reveal God.  As a result he has attracted a small but faithful following.  

The result of this is his arrest and subsequent execution.  Three days later the cabinet in the prison morgue is opened and his body has disappeared.  An urgent investigation is set into motion with an unexpected ending.  

Throughout the video we never actually see Josh Emmanuel.  Christ figures have dominated art for generations but there has always been a problem about depicting Christ in films.  Directors either go for the ethereal as with Max von Sydow or the down to earth bruiser like Willem Dafoe but very few get it right.  Probably still the best is Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew with Enrique Irazoqui, an unknown Spanish student, taking on the role.  His rather fragile appearance belied an inner strength which dominates the film. 

The problem is we do not know how Jesus looked.  I was led to think about this recently by a comment made by Donald Macleod in his excellent new book Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement.  Speaking of the worldly and spiritual pressures acting on Jesus throughout his ministry the Professor says: ‘they clearly took their toll, even of his physical appearance: so much so that he could be taken for a fifty-year old (John 8: 57) when he was scarcely thirty.’  The Scripture reference is to the religious establishment’s reaction to Jesus’ claim to have a unique relationship with the Heavenly Father and that Abraham ‘rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’  They respond: ‘You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham.’  

It is a verse I have often read and but have never take it to mean what the Professor suggests.  I am still not convinced but when you think of Jesus’ earthly life, especially as it is summarised in Understanding The Atonement (pp. 17-18) it makes some kind of sense.  

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