Starting out at Fullarton, I remember mature ministers talk about their embarrassment at their earlier sermons. Smug and Self-righteous in my evangelical zeal, I thought that would never be me. How wrong I was! I think I’m even more passionate in my preaching, but the more I get to know God and wonder at His amazing Grace towards us in Jesus Christ, the more of a ‘beginner’ I feel. The more I know of God the more I realise I’ve still to learn.
Knocking on the door of ‘60’ (the new ‘40’, when life begins?), one starts to consider retirement, which, God Willing, leaves about 8 years to finish strong in Irvine. On reflection the greatest change in me over the 32 years of service in Irvine is ‘God’s consistent humbling’, driving me to himself when I flop and drawing me to himself when I fly. I’ve learnt that ‘Humility’ is not humiliation or squirming in your smallness, rather the ability to joyfully stand tall in the awesome presence of the immense, almighty, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and realise how preciously small we are to this God.
Jesus gives us the best example of humility, which St Paul directs us to in Philippians 2:5-11 (Street Bible) – “Don’t just look after No.1 but also look out for each other. Get attitude – as long as it’s the same attitude the Liberator had. He was God, right through to the marrow, but he didn’t use his clout to put himself about heaven. He took off all the royal bits, cut up his heavenly credit cards, Chucked his global contacts list, walked off without his bodyguards. He unplugged his airwave connection, left his precious star collection. He gave it all up. (x2) And took up a new role – a role well below him: He became flesh and blood, skin and bone. And stepped down from his heavenly throne to his new earth – home as a normal guy. And more – he allowed himself to die; And more – he allowed himself to be nailed up high and executed on a cross. So God brought him back, celebrated him, elevated him to the top spot. Letters behind his name? he got the lot! So, everyone will show Jesus ultimate respect, everyone will stand for inspection ‘All present and correct’, and every mouth will say, ’He’s the Boss, this Liberator, Jesus – Boss.’ And God’s reputation, his credibility will soar, as his enemies weep and his fans roar.”
In the wake of Covid, all our lives and institutions are being churned and turned upside down. God is in the business of humbling, not humiliation, and he is surely humbling us afresh, teaching us to turn to Him and look to Him for Grace, Guarding & Guiding. The Church of Scotland across the land and here in Irvine is in the middle of meteoric change and readjustment as we face up to the reality of reduced resources of ordained ministers and money. I hope and pray that, as 2 Chronicles 7 verse 14 puts it, ‘if we humble ourselves and pray, turn from our selfish, half-hearted compromised ways, and seek God with all our heart, then we will hear from Heaven “Forgive and Heal Their Land!”’ I look forward to and long for the day when God’s Spirit will not just make ‘some things’ new, but ‘all things’ new (Revelation 21:5), meantime (under God) my personal mission statement continues to protect and prompt me, ‘To share the love of Jesus, make disciples and help people take steps closer to Jesus’. Keep it simple Neily!