Yet will I rejoice

It’s always good to set aside time to spend with God, and one of my favourite places these days is the manse greenhouse. There I can sit and read and pray, and also watch the vine grow.

There has been a grape vine growing in the greenhouse for most of our time here at Liberton, but not all have lasted. The first one we inherited from my predecessor, John Cameron, and its rich black grapes were often used to decorate the harvest table. Sadly, it didn’t survive being dug up and relocated (we had discovered its roots growing up through our neighbour’s floorboards).

It was followed by one donated by another neighbour, who had taken a cutting from their own vine. It grew well for a few years, also producing fruit for the harvest table, until it developed grey mould. Vine number three was inherited from a church member, and was very fruitful until our greenhouse fell down around it. Our fourth vine – a gift from one of our members – flourished until the spring drought of a couple of years ago.

Our current vine (number five) was a gift from the same long-suffering church member. We planted it last year, and of all the vines it has received the most tender loving care.  It shot up in its first year, and is growing well as I write, but it takes a couple of years before a vine will produce fruit, and there are still no signs of grapes.

Does that mean I no longer care for it? Of course not!

All of which reminds me of a famous passage in the Old Testament book of the prophet Habakkuk…

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. (3.17-18)

Just as I am looking forward to the day when our vine produces its first grapes, so I am looking forward to the day when our church will burst into fullness of life again. But in the meantime, let us continue to rejoice in the Lord who tends us and cares for us. Let us be joyful in God our Saviour, just as he continues to be joyful in us.

Time Will Tell

Have you noticed that, after several years of scepticism and accusations of ‘fake news’, we have more recently seen the return of the ‘Expert’? I sit and write this having just watched the Prime minister, flanked by the Government’s Chief Science Adviser and the Chief Medical Officer, give a detailed press briefing on what to expect from the corovnavirus, and what steps to take in order to reduce its impact.

We were told bluntly to expect to lose loved ones, and of the need to delay the period of maximum impact and reduce its spike so as to enable the Health Service to cope. By the time you read this, we will have a much better idea how accurate their predictions and how good their advice will have been.

Here at Liberton, our approach throughout the crisis has been to listen well to what we have been advised to do, and exercise as much care as we can to avoid those who are elderly or vulnerable being put at any additional risk. Again, by the time you read this we will all have a better idea of how well we are managing to do this.

Throughout these weeks of uncertainty, however, a couple of principles still remain unchanged. The most expert advice of all is advice that has stood the test of time, and in this case it has stood for more than a couple of thousand years…

…an expert in the law, tested Jesus with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22.35-38)

Virus or no virus, as followers of Jesus we are called to put God’s love first and the needs of others before those of our own. Even within government guidelines, there will always be scope for us to continue to look after our vulnerable and isolated neighbours, whether by helping them out with their shopping, or simply phoning to reassure them they are not forgotten and are in our prayers. I hope that, by the time you read this, we will all know what it means to be a part of a community with God’s love at its heart.

Much love, John

A time for silence and a time for speaking

I’m always fascinated by the way that names can stick. When my eldest Grandchild, Holly, was learning to speak, she couldn’t quite manage all the consonants in the term ‘Grandpa’, so, instead she made do, as an approximation, with ‘Papa’. Ever since then  the name ‘Papa’ has stuck.

One of my favourite memories of Holly was when we were once wandering round a supermarket together. I was trying to think of all the things I had to buy, and she was busy chattering away to me about all she could see. I thought I was doing a rather good job of pretending to be attentive until suddenly I felt her little hand tugging at my sleeve, and I heard her stern young voice say, “Papa, I’m TALKING to you!”

We live in a noisy world, full of competing demands on our attention, and sometimes we too have difficulty having our voices heard. I’ve been slowly working my way through Eugene Peterson’s ‘Reversed Thunder’ – a highly illuminating exploration of the book of Revelation. In it he comments on the degree of noise in the world around us, and the fact that the variety and volume of noise seems to be on the increase. Let’s take a moment to listen to what he has to say…*

“The world is a mob in which everyone is talking at once and no one is able or willing to listen. But God listens….

…It is rare to find anyone who listens carefully and thoroughly. It is rare to find our stammering understood, our clumsy speech deciphered, our garbled syntax unravelled, sorted out and heard – every syllable attended to, every nuance comprehended. Our minds are taken seriously, our feelings are taken seriously. When it happens we know that what we say and feel are immensely important. We acquire dignity…”

Stirring though these thoughts may be, Peterson saves the best to the end, finishing with…

“We never know how well we think or speak until we find someone who listens to us”

By the time you read these words, the season of Lent will have begun – a time to spend time with the God who listens to us. The world may well be noisy, but there are still places of silence if you look for them, and those are the best places for prayer. I wish you God’s blessing in your search.

The difference 10 years can make

On January 1st of this year we entered a new decade, and, as I watched the Hogmanay Party fireworks lighting up the Edinburgh skyline, I wondered what changes the next few years would bring.

Our world is changing more and more rapidly. 10 years ago, for example, people didn’t take ‘selfies’ on mobile phones, they used digital cameras. 10 years ago there were no ipads, people watched DVDs rather than Netflicks, very few people used their phone to book an Uber, and Airbnb hadn’t been dreamt of.

10 years ago climate change was something other people were concerned about, and most people didn’t worry all that much about how to dispose of their plastic packaging. 10 years ago I hadn’t heard of electric bikes, and had no idea what a difference one would make to my life.

One of the biggest changes so far this year, however, will already have occurred by the time you read this. Because, at the end of January 2020, we will already have left the European Union. Whether we wanted this to happen or not, it will have an impact on our way of life. Some of the changes will be fairly immediate, while others will happen a lot more gradually. Whatever happens, I wonder what things will look like in 10 years time?

In the midst of rapid change it’s easy to lose our bearings. Who can we really believe, what can we put our trust in, and how do we know the right thing to do? When faced with these questions I always fall back on a verse from the Bible which reminds me that in a rapidly changing world there are certain things that will always remain constant. It’s from Hebrews 13.8 and it says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

Here’s a verse from a song* we’ve been singing a lot at LK recently. If ever you find yourself worrying about what the future holds, it might be worth remembering these words…

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before, O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name”

(*”10,000 reasons”, by Matt Redmond)