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THOUGHTS ON THE GOSPEL
‘Until the day break and the shadows flee away,’ Solomon’s Song Ch4 v 6
The Enduring Word of God
Very early on a stormy morning, as I stood in the darkness on the cliff tops near my home, I listened to unseen waves ravaging the seashore far below me. As I did so, I marvelled at the fact that the cliffs on which I stood had, despite turbulent seas, been there for thousands of years.
Reminded that Jesus is ‘the same yesterday, and today and for ever,’ Hebrews 13 v 8, I considered that, like the ancient cliffs upon which I stood, His word will however, endure for ever. It ‘is quick and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword...’ Hebrews 4 v 12.
And I remembered that whatever stormy trial may engulf the church or us personally that for those who have faith in Jesus, blessings will follow for ‘all things work together for good to them that love God..’ Romans 8 v 28.
Trials can bring us into such a state of despair that our heart ‘is full of troubles,’ Psalm 88 v1,2.
But, friends, like the awesome beauty of the sea, for the moment hidden by the night, there is often beauty hidden in trials that will only be evident in future days or even years and we will realise our affliction was used by God to bring gladness to our hearts (Psalm 90 v 15.)
As day broke, I could clearly see the majestic and powerful waves relentlessly advancing upon the seashore below, and I recalled that in ancient times God had ‘caused the sea to go back,’ Exodus 14 v 21.
And so, when affliction, loss or despair relentlessly advance upon us, like wave after wave rolling in upon the shore, may we gain strength from the thought that the same God who turned back the sea, is still in control.
The Church's Future
In the revealing light of daybreak I wondered what effect the many stormy ‘sufferings of this present time,’ Romans 8 v 18, will have on the Christian Church? Will it ‘be able to withstand in the evil day...’ Ephesians 6 v 13?
The churches troubles have been, throughout the centuries, such, that at times it was at a very low ebb, and indeed Jesus said that in this life we ‘shall have tribulation,’ John 16 v 33. Can we predict what the future will bring?
No one can foretell exactly what is yet to happen on earth. It may be that the darkness that hinders the church will deepen still further and the shadows that cripple it will be multiplied. But rather than dwell on these possibilities we should be strengthened by the fact that, as the disciples stood watching Jesus ascending to heaven, two angels appeared and said ‘men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner, as ye have seen Him go into heaven,’ Acts 1 v 11.
And so, whatever His plan for the future we can be assured that not only will Jesus come again but all who have trusted in Him will one day join Him in a ‘new heaven and a new earth,’ Revelation 21 v 1.
That day may possibly be nearer than we think. It is certainly nearer now than it was two thousand years ago and getting nearer every day that passes. But whenever the Lord returns, all the shadows of doubt, unbelief, fear and sin, that trouble His church, shall disappear.
For then all that was hidden will, like all that was revealed on the clifftop by the breaking of a new day, be revealed as the dawn truly breaks, the shadows flee away and the redeemed ‘inherit all things,’ Revelation 21 v 7.
May this encourage us to look beyond the present day to the day when the great Shepherd shall gather in His flock from ‘every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation,’ Revelation 4 v 9, and their conflicts will be for ever over.
The Ebbing Tide
Later that day, as I looked at the sea, the tide had ebbed, the wind had died down, and the storm had ended, reminding me that ‘to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose ..’ Ecclesiastes 3 v 1.
Friends, troubles come and go and the seasons of life are ever changing. We will have our good days and our bad days but God has a purpose and time for everything.
Yes, life will bring us trials and disappointments, but as the ebbing tide brought peace to the seashore, so does God often, after tribulation, bring peace into our hearts.
May we be strengthened by the thought that the God, who has been good to us in the past, near to us in the present and given us hope for the future will never, ever leave us or forsake us.
The Retiring Moderator, Rev Donald MacAskill (pictured above), preached his sermon from Acts 15: 41 and on church revitalisation; "And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches." Link below.
Scottish Presbytery Report 2016
The year began under the chairmanship of the new Moderator, Rev Donald Macaskill. There has been much to challenge us but also encourage us as we go forward as a Presbytery. As the years go by we are grateful to the Lord for all who have given of their time and talents to the work of the APC. Some over long years of service. At the beginning of the year that was highlighted to us when two of our ministers intimated their intention to retire by the end of May 2016; the Rev Donald Macaskill and Rev Archie McPhail. We have been blessed as a denomination with decades of gospel ministry from these men alone and the congregations for whom they served so faithfully will no doubt be sad to see them go. We wish them the Lord’s blessing as they move forward to new spheres of influence and ministry. At that time we were also made aware of the Rev Gordon Murray’s departure and we are thankful for the contribution that he made whilst he was in our midst.
Change is inevitable in the Church and the APC is certainly no exception. We are a small denomination with congregations spread out over a vast geographical area and serving some of the remotest parts of Scotland. Such complexities are compounded when man power and resources are stretched and it is felt acutely by our ministers. Presbytery meetings in such times as these are not just a gathering together to do the business of the church but are an encouragement to us as we meet with one another. It was also good for us to come together last autumn when the Presbytery organized a retreat for its members in Aviemore. This proved to be a useful time of gathering to think, pray, discuss and enjoy fellowship with each other.
Change can present difficulties but it can also come with the Lord’s blessing. The gospel continues to be preached in our pulpits. We rejoice that we have a new minister in Dundee. The Rev John Davidson and his family are well established now and we trust that he will build on the previous ministry. We also are pleased to have Mr Carl Peet working in Lairg, Kinlochbervie and Rogart as resident supply. The folk there have been encouraged and appreciate his ministry amongst them. In addition we have had preachers serving our vacant pulpits from different places and denominations some who have come and led our services while enjoying a holiday time in the manse. And we are blessed to have so many who come to us to do pulpit supply and we are thankful to the Lord for so many who are committed to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The annual APC Youth Camp is always such a highlight for the young people in our congregations and also for some who come from other churches. There is a lot of organisation in running the camp and there are so many involved and we are grateful for the dedicated team. These times have been blessed to many young lives and we hope and pray that the 2016 camp will be no different.
The committees of the Presbytery continue to serve the Lord’s people in our congregations and to work for the interests of the Church along with all our office bearers and treasurers. We are indebted to our conveners and to the members of the committees who give of their time in such a way. Particular mention needs to be made of Mr Laurence MacKenzie who does so much for us in the Business Committee and as General Treasurer. We are thankful for his input and for the time that he invests at both a local and Presbytery level. Laurence has forecast a deficit for this coming year and has encouraged us to think about our giving to the Church as we go forward with faith in Christ who is Lord of all.
There has also been the work of the ‘Church Relations Committee’. They have over the years encouraged talks with other denominations and through the Committee’s initiative of the Scottish Reformed Churches Forum. As a consequence of the Forum we have had discussion with the Free Church more recently about the possibility of union and these are ongoing. There is a biblical mandate for such discussions whatever comes from them. We must continue to work for the advancement of the gospel and to take the role that the Lord has given us in Scotland seriously. There are still large areas of Scotland without gospel ministry.
The APC News and Website Committee is responsible for the publications of the denomination and for the APC News which has been going since 1989. There have been various editors over the years who have all brought their own gifts and focus to the magazine. Our most recent editor is Catherine MacKenzie who has taken on the role since the beginning of the 2016. The publication has a new title and it is now called ‘The Door’. We are thankful that Catherine has agreed to do this work and hope that she will know the Lord’s blessing as she does it.
There are changes and challenges as we go forward but we do so looking to the Lord who has been most faithful ~ The Lord of us hath mindful been and he will bless us still (Psalm 115:12).
Rev J. R. Ross Macaskill - Presbytery Clerk – May 2016
Canadian Presbytery Report 2016 - Vancouver Congregation
The past year has had its challenges, and will continue so through 2016. We also see that throughout the church in the western world. The words of Jeremiah (chp14 v19) seem to speak to us today as they did of old: Have you utterly rejected Judah? Has your soul loathed Zion? we looked for peace, and there is no good; and for the time of healing and behold trouble! But we understand the cause as did Jeremiah; “for we have sinned against thee.” The church in the UK and Canada can pray as Jeremiah prayed, “Do not abhor us, for thy name’s sake; do not disgrace the throne of thy glory; remember, break not thy covenant with us.” God’s covenant blessings, covenant mercies and the glory of his name, is the reason Jeremiah pleaded for the restoration of Zion. Judgment was to come and then salvation, God’s covenant promises may take decades to fulfill, but he is faithful to his covenant, and the glory of his name.
Regular worship services continue at Cityview Baptist Church at 2pm and 4:00pm each Lord’s Day and a meeting for prayer and Bible study on Wednesday at 7pm. Rev. Matandika has continued his ministry to the congregation, with weekly preaching, teaching, and witnessing in the community from January through to the mid- summer when he went to Malawi. The youth group met at two week intervals and Miss Carmel Epp, is also meeting with the young women in the congregation on a fortnightly basis. Over the summer months, when Rev. Matandika was in Malawi we had Rev. Stephen Roberts his wife and young children with us. Steven is an energetic pastor and diligent evangelist. Following his time with us he moved to Wisconsin as an assistant pastor.
At the beginning of September Rev. Matandika took a leave of absence from the congregation. In January, 2016 Rev. Matandika informed the Presbytery that he wished to resign from the pastoral duties of the Vancouver congregation. The Presbytery accepted the resignation with regret; please remember the Matandika family as the Lord opens new opportunities for his ministry. The congregation is currently looking for a new minister.
In December we were saddened to hear of the illness and passing away of the Rev. T. Atkinson. He has had a connection with the congregation and denomination for decades. His faithful independent ministry in Italy and Greece influenced many young people from the 1960’s into the 21st century. His visits to Vancouver were always appreciated.
The work in Malawi continues unabated, with church growth continuing in Dzuwa and in a village about 5 km away from Dzuwa. JJ Matandika, Elliot Kembo and the elders minister to the folks in the congregation. JJ is currently visiting churches in the USA to raise funds for continued expansion of the work in Dzuwa. He is planning to pursue ministerial studies at Westminster Seminary and Lord willing will arrive in the US in the early summer. The school continues to expand and there is desire to set up a maternity ward. More information can be found at the Joy to the World website: http://www.joytotheworldministries.org.
We would ask that you continue to pray for the folks and God’s work in Vancouver and the work in Malawi. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. To God only wise, be glory, through Jesus Christ, forever. We send our love to you all in the Lord.
Mr Hugh Fraser – Presbytery Clerk – 2016
March 2016 No 230
‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,’ Philippians Ch 4 v 7
One morning, I stood by the seashore and watched the sun slowly rising from behind the horizon. The sea was calm, disturbed only by the sound of little wavelets rippling on to the shingle beach and disturbing sleeping pebbles that grumbled softly as the sea awoke them from their peaceful slumber. A sense of peace came over me and I sat down on a large rock to enjoy it.
Then, suddenly, as day broke, the calmness of the dawn was violently shaken as large flocks of geese and swans, terrified by hunter’s guns, took to the air from the fields where they had settled for the night.
Soon an armada of birds was flying overhead, their strident calls and beating wings resounding across the peaceful skies above me.
My sense of peace disturbed by the background orchestra of sound, I rose from my peaceful seat and set off for a walk across the fields. Before long I found myself reflecting on how our peace, as believers in Jesus, can like that of the swans and geese, be unexpectedly shattered.
Trouble at Times of Peace
It was during a period of peace’ when God had provided food for each day, that the widow from Zarephath’s son became ill; and ‘his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him,’ 1 Kings 17 v 17.
When David the Psalmist ‘tarried still at Jerusalem,’ 2 Samuel 11 v 1, he appeared to have been enjoying a time of peace for we are told it was in the evening ‘David arose from off his bed,’ 2 Samuel 11v2.
But, it was then that he fell into the sin which resulted in him being told by God ‘the sword shall never depart from thine house,’ 2 Samuel 12 v 10.
Scripture is full of pointers to remind us that, when we feel at our strongest or things are going well, we should be most on our guard.
A Sleeping Heron
Still accompanied by the turmoil and noise, my steps took me past a small pond where a heron, partly concealed by long grass, was asleep on a little island.
I found my thoughts focussed on the fact that the heron seemed to be at peace despite all that was going on around it and I marvelled at its peaceful demeanour.
And I wished I could be as peaceful whenever my life, like that of the sleeping bird, is disturbed by intruding situations!
A Storm at Sea
My mind drifted to the Bible’s account of the time when Jesus was sleeping peacefully on a little ship during such a great storm ‘that the ship was covered by the waves,’ Matthew 8 v 24. His disciples, however, were terrified, even although Jesus was with them.
Should they have been afraid? Would we have been?
Peace from Past Experience
The heron seemed oblivious of my presence but as I drew nearer it slowly roused itself. Moments later it rose into the air and flew gracefully away towards the shelter of some distant trees.
As I compared the frantic flight of the fleeing swans to the peaceful demeanour of the heron I wondered why the heron was able to remain at peace despite the banging of the hunter’s guns and the noise from the fleeing birds. Could it be that it knew from past experience that the hunting party would not trouble it?
Have we learned from our past experiences and from those of others that we can and should enjoy peace if we are unreservedly trusting in the Lord Jesus?
Safety and Peace
The heron may have felt secure on its island in the
pond, because it was partially hidden by the long grass around it. But friends, the safety we obtain through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not partial but complete!
The widow woman from Zarephath had her son restored to her and was able to say to Elijah ‘...I know... that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth,’ 1 Kings 17 v 24. May this be our confession regarding God’s Word!
David, the sweet psalmist of Israel was, despite his troubled life, able to say that ‘I will both lay me down in peace and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety,’ Psalm 4 v 8.
And the terrified disciples who found the raging storm turned into ’a great calm,’ Matthew 8 v 26, marvelled at Jesus’ power saying ‘What manner of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him,’ Matthew 8 v 27.
The Peace of God
May we, by total trust in God, fortified by the knowledge of the experiences of those in past days, be so assured of the Lord’s ability to provide peace and safety, that we can always say regarding Him ‘Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee,’ Isaiah 26 v3.’
Let us then learn to share all our troubles with the Lord so that, whether at peace or in turmoil, we enjoy the calming and reassuring effect of ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding’ Philippians 4 v 7.
Thoughts on the Gospel
February 2016 No.229
‘My grace is sufficient for thee,’ ...2 Corinthians Ch 12 v 9
Grace and Strength for Every Season
As I write this the trees are bare; and despite a beautiful sunrise the ground is white with frost. The wintry season reminds me of the differing seasons in our lives and that ‘time and chance happeneth,’ Ecclesiastes 9 v 11, to us all; and of how different things that happen to us are often used by God as ‘a word spoken in due season,’ Proverbs 15 v 23.
A Word in Season
Some time ago I watched a spider weaving a web which over the course of a few days grew into a large and intricate work of art.
As I watched, I found myself wishing I had the spider’s energy and strength to help me cope with life’s different seasons, with its problems and difficulties; and its commitment to its task to help me serve God better. Then later that day, I found this message on my lap top.
God did not promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain.
But he did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears and light for the way. God’s Grace is Sufficient
Later still, I found myself looking once more at the spider’s web which seemed to have grown in the short time since I last saw it. As I considered the tiny size of the spider and the comparative vastness of its web my own problems began to shrink in size and difficulty.
Then, remembering the message on my laptop, it was impressed upon me that there is no problem so great that God cannot give us strength to cope for His grace is sufficient for us, (2 Corinthians 12 v 9.)
As I mused on this, and the thought that God is able to ‘shake the heavens, and the earth and the sea and the dry land,’ Haggai 2 v 6, I realised that in comparison our problems are insignificant.
And yet, we can allow feelings of helplessness to cloud our minds so that we have only a hazy view of the ability of God to overcome our difficulties.
A Hazy View
I remember walking round a loch on a day when the air was calm and the water in the loch was like glass.
I marvelled at the way that nature had painted a silver birch tree onto the mirror like surface of the water. Far off mountains, too, were clearly reflected, every rock, every crag and gulley crystal clear.
And yet as I gazed towards the distant mountains a slight haze obscured their majesty but strangely their reflection in the water appeared clearer.
Friends, it at times becomes apparent that God’s presence was with us during a time of need only because it is, like the mountains clearly reflected in the loch, evident by the end result of a matter.
In this life we see God ‘through a glass darkly,’ 1 Corinthians 13 v 12. He may bless us with glimpses of His glory but they are mere reflections of the ‘glory which shall be revealed,’ Romans 8 v 18. This is so beyond our comprehension that the Bible tells us ‘Eye hath not seen nor ear heard neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,’ 1 Corinthians 2 v 8.
But although we may not always be able to discern Gods presence as clearly as we might want, we have His promise that ‘’l am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,’ Matthew 28 v 20, to encourage and strengthen us in every season.
If we have faith in Jesus Christ; believing that ‘He died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again,’ 1 Corinthians 15 v 3,4; then like the immoveable mountains He will be with us in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
Nevertheless, the fact that He has been there and has been helping us, as I have said, is only at times clearly apparent in the eventual outcome of times of trial.
Why? Because it may be His way of building up our faith by causing us to reach out to him more as we await a clearer sense of His guiding presence: or He may be driving us to root out problems that have caused us to neglect prayer and communion with Him so that He is no longer foremost in our lives.
Committed and Strengthened
As winter turns into spring and summer and autumn and winter lie ahead, may we find that in life’s changing seasons God’s grace enables us to be as fully committed to serving and pleasing Him, as the spider was to weaving its web.
And when confronted by seasons of trial that cause our view of God and the awareness of His presence to become hazy, may we be aware that greater by far than every difficulty, is the strength that He can give us to overcome even what appears to us to be insurmountable mountains.