How can you say that? Why did you say that?

I don’t know if you have found time to do what I suggested yesterday? I suggested you read 2nd. Timothy. Whether you have or have not, whether you want to do that or don’t get round to it in the near future,  it is a couple of phrases from there that are running through my mind today. One makes me say, “How can you say that Paul?” The other makes me say, “Did you really need to say that Paul?”

The “how can you say that” phrase is this: “I thank God, whom I serve…with a clear conscience.”  (2 Timothy Chapter 1 verse 3.) Think of Paul’s history; the unjust and cruel maltreatment and imprisonment  of Christians. Probably that involved separating distraught parents from  terrified, sobbing and screaming children. Paul has already described himself in his first  letter to Timothy as one who had been a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, and yet he says here in this second letter that he has a clear conscience! Was he lying? Was he making light of his past sins? I don’t believe either of these explanations  to be the case.  Rather, this is the power of the blood of Christ shed for us. It not only cleanses us from the guilty verdict our sins merit, but can actually bring us inner peace of conscience too that some people, even those closest to us in our circle of family and friends, would perhaps tell us we should never be allowed to find.

One of the commonest ploys of the enemy of our souls is to bring accusation against us. Martin Luther, one of the leading figures of the Reformation had a dream in which Satan came to him with a list of his sins. Luther asked Satan if that was all his sins only to be confronted with yet another list, and another , and another, until eventually Satan said that this was indeed the complete record of Luther’s sins to date.  Clearly all of this was an attempt to put him off the purpose for which he had been raised up by God, to bear witness to the glorious truth of Salvation by grace through faith, rather than by works, including any religious works that we do or others say they need to do for us…at a price of course. However, Luther said to the enemy in his dream, “You can take a pen and write over every page, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses from all sin.’ ”

Do some of you need to face your fierce accuser today with confidence in the cross of Christ and what the Word of God declares about the power of what happened there to set us free?  Here is yet another hymn that I simply love, love, love! It was written by John Newton who also had done such degrading things to other human beings and indeed had degrading things done to him though his involvement in the salve trade that some would say meant he should never have been allowed to find rest of soul. Read his hymn; it may help some of you today.

Approach my soul the mercy seat
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place,
That, sheltered by Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious Name.

“Poor tempest-tossèd soul, be still;
My promised grace receive”;
’Tis Jesus speaks—I must, I will,
I can, I do believe.”

Well, moving on: the “did you really need to say that Paul” phrase is this: “Remember Jesus Christ…” (2 Timothy 1 verse 8.) Could it really be necessary to say such a thing to a Christian, even more so to a young and emerging Christian leader like Timothy? Yes!  After all, as I said a few blogs ago, in the 3rd. Chapter of Revelation we are presented with the picture of a church where everything seemed to be going well.. and yet Jesus is pictured standing outside its door knocking and saying, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears me and opens the door I will come in…” It is possible to lose sight of Jesus  when things are going well. In Timothy the context seems to be to “Remember Jesus Christ” in times of impending suffering and trial. It is possible in times of trial to get so filled with fear or anxiety or nervousness that we need to hear this simple strengthening word, “Remember Jesus Christ.”

I guess I don’t really need to unpack that. Is the Holy Spirit through this blog wanting to comfort or to challenge some of us  with this simple phrase? “Remember Jesus Christ.” Nothing could be finer or better for your soul than to do that when you stop reading.

God bless you

Kenny

Ian Nouwen MacDonald….

My time in Wester Hailes has been inspirational to me. I have come to see that often some of the best Kingdom of God work is happening in what we tend to call Priority Area situations in Scotland. From time to time there are gatherings at which ministers and members from these types of parishes meet together for mutual encouragement, and mutual encouragement happens every time these gatherings happen. There is no jealousy or insecurity which one can often experience when minsters gather together but a genuine rejoicing with one another in every encouraging story shared as well as a sharing  in some of the pain and challenges and disappointments of ministering in such places. The stories are wonderful and are told warts and all without charismatic or  “evangelastic” exaggeration  or a liberal peppering of facts with the overuse of the word “Awesome!!” Yet many of the stories truly deserve that word to be attached to them. It is truly inspirational to hear of what extraordinary ordinary people can do for the blessing of others in their community in far from enviable situations when others might just sit back and do nothing.

Well, if Wester Hailes has been inspirational for me, this blogging thing is becoming so. You have amazed me with some of your responses and stories which confirm what I am learning myself that there are truths about God that are best learned in situations which are far from enviable. I find an absence of self pity and a gratefulness toward God that moves me in responses you have sent to me. Some of you have written to me from a background of emotional pain or turmoil, some from a place of physical suffering and disability, some from situations of being more or less housebound. When you do, I feel a bit overawed, and I want you to know that as I read what you share I feel as though I am standing on some of the holiest ground I have ever stood upon in 34 years of ordained ministry.

When I think of my own life of Christian learning, I see it has been constructed a bit like the letters of Paul. He tends to put most of his doctrine into the first half of his letters and then along comes the application in the second half. It makes sense. Well, it is not that doctrines have ceased to matter to me, far from it, nor am I saying I did not live out what I was learning in the earlier decades of my Christian life, but somehow in a place of not being as strong as I would like to be, I have really needed help in applying the old truths to new situations. I think that is why I appreciate the writings of people that I often mention in my blog like Henri Nouwen (by the way his name is pronounced as it is written, he was not French!)  and Jean Vanier (whose name is pronounced in French, preferably with a delicious  French accent!). Through leaving very successful careers  (H.N. as a lecturer of legendary fame and popularity in the finest universities, J.V. as a naval officer from a privileged diplomatic background) to live with people facing immense challenges physically and mentally, they have helped me in discoveries they made to apply familiar truths of Jesus Christ to my current situation. To put it more accurately they have shown me truths I have known but with a depth of compassion and tenderness in their telling and application that I had neither seen nor touched before. In the past I threw their books aside with frustration because they were not heavy or precise enough in doctrine for my liking not zealous enough for the things I was zealous about. They have become invaluable to me now and I actually see that if I had stayed zealous in my former way only, my ministry and life would have been less fruitful.

When I was younger, doctrine and expository preaching was enough to transport me to heaven. I thrived on it. That was the be all and end all of ministry in my thinking. I still love to hear it when someone is gifted in that way. However in my earlier church background I  had never really encountered or faced need other than spiritual need. To preach biblical error was a sure sign to me in these days that a person was not even a Christian and should really not be read or listened to; they were false prophets – actually in those days I thought all prophets were false prophets – and false teachers, full-stop, end of story! Now  however, I can see where someone may indeed be wrong biblically about some things and though I do feel sorrow and regret about clear errors in doctrine and know such things can be dangerous spiritually,  I know that their hearts might well be more for the Lord  and for people than is mine. Indeed there is a very good chance that is so. I once was younger, stronger, more able than I am now.  Unless you are a Moses or a Smith Wiggelsworth you know the same is true of you: believe it or not there was a weird teaching  going around in some circles about ten years ago that as believers we should get younger looking as we get older! It was a teaching espoused by the same people who told us everything would crash in the year 2K and how we had better buy in bulk quantities of rice etc.  Incidentally, Y2K was not a disaster and they themselves are looking older apart from the mega-rich who can get regular face lifts and a few other lifts as well, but they have never apologised for getting it wrong! From where I am living now, well it will confirm the suspicions of some about me when I say this: doctrine is not enough for me now. I need the help of God and insightful believers to help me apply the truth as I walk a path I did not need to walk before.

I am learning much and simply want to end with what I am learning or relearning continually in this phase of life more than any other precious truth. Though it might seem an odd collection, expository preachers of various hues,  the Toronto blessing, Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier, as well as you my fellow bloggers are helping me to know this in ever increasing certainty; as a believer, security in the love of God is the only place from which life can be lived well. Ian MacDonald, the wonderful associate pastor at Holy Trinity Wester Hailes said something in the morning service yesterday which I found quite profound, in fact that was a typical Kenny/Scottish use of the word “quite” as by “quite” profound I really mean “very”profound! I put it right up there with lessons learned form H.N and J.V. et al! He said that as believers, as God’s children, we are not always guaranteed safety in life but we are guaranteed security. To continue in a non Scottish way, “Wow” and “Awesome!”

I needed to hear that. None of us really know what lies ahead: even those who are among the most prophetically accurate people I know sometimes don’t see things coming . As a now old  fashioned more modern hymn puts it, “I do not know what lies ahead, the way I cannot see,”  but “I know who holds the future.” My life is secure in a love from which I can never be separated by anything seen or unseen, past present or to come. Paul was sure of that. He didn’t always have complete clarity even on whether he would live or die, or whether he would or would not be able to reach ministry destinations that he carried in his heart, but he could say, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him until that day.” You can check these words out in 2nd. Timothy. I won’t give you chapter and verse; read the whole thing when you get the time; it won’t take you long. In the midst of everything, including chains and suffering mentioned in the opening chapter, in the midst of desertion by erstwhile friends,  betrayal and injustice and  feeling cold mentioned in the closing chapter, Paul was secure in a grace that had been there since before time itself, which he had discovered in the course of his life here on earth and which would still be there long after the earth has been rolled up like a worn out coat to give way to a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness and peace kiss one another.

So thank you Ian Nouwen MacDonald or Ian Vanier Macdonald – that one comment  yesterday puts you right up there  in my estimation, though actually you have aways been right up there as far as I am concerned. I have always greatly appreciated your preaching  and Ollie’s preaching and others who preach from time to time in Holy Trinity and those who minister in other ways too. I hold you all in tremendously high regard.

For some of us, the idea that we are not guaranteed safety but we are guaranteed security may seem a bit scary. I hope you come to the point of experiencing that the bible is thankfully, realistic: security in the love of God is a greater treasure to discover for living as more than a conqueror in a world such as this world is  or may yet become. One day you will be grateful for Ian’s insight as well.

God bless

Kenny

Good Afternoon!

Just a short “checking in with you all blog” today. I made it to Holy Trinity in Wester Hailes today and loved every minute of being there! I loved the love, the humour, the acceptance and the welcome. The worship was also wonderful and the preaching superb. Of course I now feel tired, no use for anything very much, but that is OK. In fact it is more than OK. That too has blessed me this day. It has helped me this afternoon to lay hold of Christ and sense His nearness as truly as I sensed Him in His people and in His Word  and in worship this morning. What do I mean? Well, I think I am capable of no more wonderful thought in the universe of truth than this: Jesus, when He “took on flesh” as we sang this morning, took upon Himself something that was able to feel tiredness, weakness and pain, hunger, suffering etc. Whatever His future plans may hold for me in terms of healing, I know I don’t need to be well or strong to be understood and honoured with His presence. He is not ashamed to associate Himself with me when I feel weak and useful for nothing.

Sometimes I have heard preaching over the years, or read ideas in books that makes it almost sound as though Christians are the new Aryan race with which God wants to populate the earth – strong, capable, excelling in every field. Indeed some people’s idea of mission seems to be to have top people in top places of every field of human activity and endeavour, eventually taking over everything – not much different from Davros and the Daleks. I have preached in some settings over the years that seemed to reinforce the suggestion; you would have to look quite hard to find anyone who was old or feeble in body or mind or who was anything other than incredibly successful with a very enviable lifestyle.

When I  was growing up as a young believer and moving from Secondary school to University somewhere in the background the dominant hope was that if we influenced graduates who would go on and lead in their fields, well this was the way to change the nation. It doesn’t work that way, yet that is still seen as being a valid thought by a largely middle class evangelical church.  At the start it was different so much so that one of the greatest champions of the faith, Paul, had to say to his nervous son in the faith Timothy, not to be ashamed of  the prison chains and suffering that he, Paul, bore and not to be ashamed of the Lord.  In a world that valued physical prowess  and obeying the law, a God who bled and died on a tree as someone cursed, and who allowed His ambassador who served Him faithfully to be chained up was not an appealing idea. It is not an appealing idea to modern man either. In fact it was the fact that Jesus was not an idea that was the greatest problem for those respected as the wise of the earth. At the centre of our faith is incredible weakness: someBODY who was a baby; someBODY tired and sitting at a well; someBODY dying on a cross.

Let any bodily weakness you feel this day or any day help you also to sense the nearness of the true Jesus Christ and  all that He became when He became flesh for you and me. Especially at those moments when you feel useless for anything, may you sense you are precious, priceless, in His sight.

God bless

Kenny

Ah…Rod Laver…

I really am getting old. How do I know? Well, I used to be glued to the TV for the whole of Wimbledon, but that’s not so much the case now. All the players that were my heroes are long since gone out of the grand slam tournament circuit. The great days for me was the era of  Rod Laver and John Newcombe, Stan Smith and Ilie Nastase, Billie Jean King and Margaret Court and Anne Jones  and Virginia Wade! Watching Murray were some of these great champions from the past. This was pointed out to him by the interviewer, but he looked singularly unimpressed!

Perhaps it is just Andy’s personality, perhaps it is pride, but just perhaps it was right for him to look like that. The fact is that none of those great names of the past  at their age now could do what Murray did today or may yet do in his astonishing tennis career. They had their place and day, but this day belongs to Murray and his contemporaries. Their day will pass too and when it does it will be difficult for fans to accept it. Things move on. My old headmaster said that when he was asked by former pupils how the school was getting on, he would say, “It is twice as good as ever and half as good as when you were there!” Diplomacy! It is always possible to make an idol of the past.

I am remembering today ministers who I still stand in awe of because of their pastoral or preaching ability. They taught me much and gave me a direction in which to grow and as I did discover what ministry looked like for me. Some of them are still ministering, some are dead and gone or undeniably in the latter stages of their lives. However I am still here with an opportunity to minister through this blog. All our days are passing days. It is simple fact.

I am thinking of a verse that I have mentioned before in my blog: “As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!”  (Ecclesiastes 9:4)I hope if you are preaching this weekend that you realise the full privilege of being alive and able so to do. You have the potential this very weekend to bring God glory now and be the means of lives being changed. Don’t be so awed by the lions of preaching or teaching or pastoring in your story that you  have been blessed by that you devalue your own call and significance… but let the memory of them keep you suitably grateful and humble! I hope  on the other hand that if you are listening to preaching or teaching, that though you may be thankful for the good old days and long for Mr. or Mrs. “Whoever they were”  to be your minister still, you will try not to repeatedly mention that person’s blessed name to your current pastor! According to my bible the minister/pastor/teacher you have now is Christ’s gift to the church, including you and your church. Please receive with  gratefulness Christ’s gift to you even if you have to bring an honest prayer to God, “Lord, why on earth or in heaven did you think we needed this gift?” Pray that, and you and/or the congregation you are part of may get a humbling surprise as He shows you.

God bless you and the congregation you are part of!

Kenny

Another of the same…

In the old hymn books there used to be two versions of the same hymn now and then. They were both printed and the second went under the title, “Another of the same.”

Well, here is “Another of the same” version of  my previous blog, “Sometimes He just smiles…” It is in simple poem form. It came to me in five minutes, which probably shows the influence of steroids  and a better sleep last night as much as the Spirit of God or any artistic ability,  but it brought hope to me and I hope it may bring the same to some of you who might not be managing to be quite where you want to be in terms of your devotional life. By the way, take out my name and put in yours. It is a sort of gospel “Whosoever” poem for any believer who at this moment may be aware of your own weakness but not quite so aware yet, save by trembling faith, that God’s strength is made perfect in that same weakness. He will get you there…don’t worry.

By the way if you haven’t read “Sometimes He just smiles…” maybe it would be good to read that before this! May one or other or both blogs bless you.

Kenny

A meeting in the cellar

I Am is there when I am and when I am not
The Artist in Residence, warm in thought.
His smile says “Welcome,
Wellness will come.
Please don’t worry,
There is no hurry,
Sit with me if you are able,
I know things are not quite so stable.
When thoughts stop jumping
And steroids stop pumping,
Know I am waiting,
Lovingly creating
A work that speaks of grace,
However slow or fast the pace.
I will complete what I have begun,
The whole story is being spun
On eternal looms of perfect love,
Kenny my fair one, Kenny my dove.”

Copyright K.S. Borthwick

Sometimes, He just smiles….

I think if I could preach some themes from my sermons over again I would change them a bit. I don’t think there is truth I would alter but some of the advice I gave to “help” people probably didn’t! You see, I have never been unwell before this illness. So for example, when I gave any advice on devotional life I gave it on the basis of people feeling as well and able in body, mind and spirit as I happened to be at that point of my life. Well, that was a bit thoughtless to be honest. I see that now, from the place of not being so well. Thinking back to the advice I have heard others, especially visiting speakers or conference speakers give on spiritual life or devotional discipline over the years I can see the same fault as was mine.  At times it was as though we, as those listening, were being set an impossible standard, as impossible as Pharaoh’s command that the Israelites should  make bricks without being provided with any help in the process. It was as though the speaker’s personality type or levels of energy and well-being and even their life story that made them the way they were,  were  all being imposed on us, not just the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps just in passing you need to ask yourself if in your thinking God is like Pharaoh, or a seemingly “got it all sussed out” conference speaker, or even like that minister that you have been striving for years to become like?

Let me tell you how my devotional life is now thanks to illness and even more so to steroids. I cannot always go into a secret and quiet place with the Lord as and when I plan or want to. Steroids make me all speeded up, and stop me sleeping so make me tired at the same time. My body and mind rarely seem to be moving at the same pace. There was one glorious moment much earlier on in my treatment when I had to take a plane journey. For a couple of  moments I had the wonderful sensation as the plane roared along the runway and took off that everything was at last moving at the same speed: body, mind, emotions! Morag noticed how relaxed I had gone. It was a moment of harmony and bliss! Heavenly relief!

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that sometimes when I try and come before the Lord, I can’t. Either my body or my mind won’t let me. I have to seize  moments when quietness and stillness seem within reach. I decided just today to stop beating myself up about that. To those who love discipline I guess that sounds undisciplined. I am just incredibly grateful,to share a thought from Hernri Nouwen from memory, that when my inner life seems like a banana tree full of monkeys jumping up and down, there are moments of calm and settling.

In these  moments I have a spiritual imagination picture that comes to mind which I think the Lord gave me to help me. I see Jesus waiting for me in a cellar below the surface house of my life. I guess a cellar because there are some pretty foundational shifts going on in my long established thinking about ministry, call, worth, future etc. Does Jesus actually look like He looks like in my spiritual imagination? I have no idea, but just as a throwaway awareness, He looks incredibly ordinary… the sort of person you would pass by in the street and they would hardly register in your attention or thinking.

He calls me to come and sit before him as He sits. At times I cannot settle despite feeling I would  have been able to. At such moments He bends forward and touches my face, sometimes pulling my cheek with great warmth and affection and even humour. Everything about Him says, “Don’t worry. It will work another time. Be of good cheer, Kenny!” He does not blame me, but encourages me with the thought that I tried and can try again.

At those times I do manage to settle, He sometimes just smiles at me and I smile at Him, when eventually all the rubbish thoughts that make it difficult for me to hold His gaze of grace and love are dealt with.  It is as though we don’t really feel the need to say anything to one another. At other times He leads me to a stack of paintings like in an Art Shop or Gallery. Before I have any time to make it up, He selects one of His paintings that He has been working on,  to help me understand something of His purpose in the midst of all that makes up my life at this moment. Today it was a picture of green shoots  He showed me, which was so encouraging as the last few weeks have had more than a usual share of tired days and sleepless nights and all the thoughts that attend these realities. When He shows me a painting He then puts it on the wall of the cellar of my inner life. There are only two or three pictures there thus far, but I sometimes go into the cellar to look at them and find comfort, strength and encouragement when I do.

I don’t want to fall into the same mistake over the years of imposing what I do upon you. I hope however that  several thoughts might strengthen you from what I have shared, especially if your body and mind don’t always seem to do what you wish they would when you wish they would do it!

Jesus is waiting to meet with you:
He knows there will be times when you can manage to meet with Him and times you cannot settle:
He does not look at you with frustration but as His work of Art that He delights in creating:
Sometimes all He wants to do is smile at you, and if you can manage it, for you to smile at Him.

One of the greatest discoveries of being not so well, is that Jesus is far kinder, far more compassionate, far lovelier, far more “for me”  than I had dared to imagine.

May God help you to come into His presence and settle, but don’t worry when you can’t. The time will come… and Jesus is still smiling, not scowling at you.

God bless

Kenny