Strathaven East Church

Strathaven East Parish Church

Minister's Notes

Tel: 01357 521138.         "Westdene"  Strathaven.    

December, 2012

Dear Friends,

Strathaven's Christmas lights were put up at the end of October. At the time of writing (10th Nov.) they have not yet been switched on save for one, solitary angel near the Common Green traffic lights. No doubt, there is some technical reason why this angel alone shines brightly in the dark but it is, nevertheless, an appropriate herald of the Christmas Season.

After all, angels started it. Gabriel appeared and terrified Mary. Others came and terrified some shepherds. "Fear not!" they said, but it was too late. Mary was already diving for the kitchen cupboard and the shepherds were hiding under the sheep. (Sheepfolds are noticeably lacking in places to hide. If you see a picture of a shepherd with a lamb draped round his shoulders, he is not carrying the lamb securely he is trying to hide from the angels.)

"You shall bear a son!" declared Gabriel to Mary and with a muckle, great angel glaring down at her, Mary probably didn't quite feel up to saying, "Well! Er! I'd rather not, if you don't mind"

She probably didn't feel she had much of a choice. But we do.

We can indulge in all the festivities of the season and give no thought to the Christ whose birth this season celebrates or, in the midst of our festivities, we can give thanks to God for his greatest-ever gift to us.

Christ comes to tell us of God's love and forgiveness. He is with us as our guide and help through life and he is our reassurance of the life to come. It is good news all round and worth celebrating and worth a pause in our celebrations to give thanks for Christ's coming.

A shining angel, at the traffic lights, heralds that coming; for us not a terror but a light of hope and joy.

I hope you all find blessing this Christmas and may God be with you as you begin a new year.

Let us Pray;
                    Lord God our Father, for the coming of Christ, we give you thanks. 

                    For all he means to us, we praise your name. 

                    Grant us grace that not a day will pass, in this holy season, but that in it we have spent some time with Christ; and thus drawing closer to him we may know more fully his blessing and his peace.

                     The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Bill Stewart, Minister.

September, 2012

Dear Friends,

 The Postcard depicted a half-peeled banana wearing sunglasses and a toothy smile. It came from the dentist to remind me that a Check-up is due. My first thought was; why is a banana going to the dentist? My second thought was; why is this banana in particular going to the dentist? Its wide, open mouth was filled with white, even teeth. There was no sign of caries, cavity or filling; no sign of braces, bridgework or crown. This banana does not need a dentist. My third thought was; this is a cheerful, mildly humorous picture designed to allay any fears. It says, "A dental appointment is fun, come and enjoy yourself!"

 Fortunately, I have no fear of the dentist. No! I tell a lie. I dread the bill at the end of the treatment. But I have no fears of the picks, pliers and drills; the standard and rather primitive tools which dentists still use. (Apart from electrifying the drill the tools have changed very little since the Middle Ages.) I dislike the adjusting of the chair which makes me feel seasick before it turns me upside down but that is a minor inconvenience.

 Check-ups (or even checks-up ) are necessary if we wish to preserve what teeth we have. They allow the dentist to intervene before any problems get worse. Nearly everything that goes into our mouth attacks our teeth. Even the healthiest diet, five types of fruit and free-range lettuce, produces acids which attack the teeth, so a checkĀ­up is necessary to maintain dental health.

 Check-ups are also necessary to maintain our spiritual health. We do not need a dentist for this, we can do it ourselves - just answer a few questions: Do we keep in touch with God? Do we let the teaching and example of Christ influence our living and our relationships? Do we keep the promises we made when we joined the church? Is part of our life given to the service of others? Do we remember to pray for the church, its people and its work?

 This list is not exhaustive. It is only a check-up not a complete overhaul. Unlike the dentist, I do not send amusing postcards. This letter will have to do. A Check-up is due.

 Let us Pray: Gracious God, help us not to take our Christianity for granted.
                   Where we have failed, forgive.
                   Where we have failed, give us strength to try again.
                   Where we have been faithful, enable us to continue and may your blessing be ever upon us.

 The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

 Bill Stewart, Minister.

March 2012


Dear Friends,

By now we should be living on bread, water, fruit, fish and maybe chicken, but not eggs (except for creme eggs). All meats, dairy produce, baking and confectionery (except for creme eggs) including alcohol, are off the menu.

This is Lent and all these things must be renounced until Easter Sunday. Lent is the six week period of solemn preparation for Easter and that solem­nity must be reflected in our diet (except for creme eggs).

We can spend weeks preparing for Christmas yet we tend just to trundle up to Easter without much thought. Yet Easter is the most important festival of the Christian year. Without the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ we have no Christianity. Our faith rests on the crucified and risen Christ. Few, today, observe the old, strict dietary laws of Lent but in the run-up to Easter let us at least turn our thoughts to our crucified and risen Lord, to what he means to us and to how best we can respond to him. Thus we will be better prepared to greet Easter with thankfulness and joy.

 On Easter Sunday our glorious self-indulgence can be resumed, which is just as well, for by then we might be sick of creme eggs.

Let us Pray:   

Lord God our Father, grant us grace, in these coming days, to think of the Christ who died and rose again that sin might be forgiven, death's power defeated and your eternal kingdom opened for us; to think of the Christ who gives purpose and direction to our living, whose strength and comfort we have known and to whom be all glory and praise.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Bill Stewart, Minister.

___________________________December 2011

 Dear Friends,

 God was in Heaven, people were on Earth.
"I have to communicate with them," said God.
So God tried signs and wonders and miracles - but not everyone saw these things and those who did just wanted to see more - bigger and better ones. So God tried giving us laws - ten of them - but as everyone knows, laws are made to be broken.
So God spoke directly to us through people we call prophets but most people didn't pay much attention and then one set of prophets contradicted another set and people just got confused.
 God tried communicating through dreams and visions but as soon as someone said, "God spoke to me in a dream," people said, "Aye! Right! Lock him up in a loony bin."
 So God decided to make a personal visit; to become, for a time, human and to communicate with us through his own lifestyle, example and teaching.
To be born human he needed the help of Mary of Nazareth and the compliance of Joseph. This he got. Planned or unplanned, he was born in a stable and shepherds,wise men, innkeepers and King Herod's soldiers all became entangled in this event.
Nativity Plays were the result and Christmas came into being.
Then Christmas became complicated, elaborate and expensive and celebrated by everyone, whether they believed in God or not.
This is a good thing. It helps, even just for a short time, to encourage thought for others, goodwill, generosity and for us in the Christian Faith, it is a cause for celebration.

 We are reminded each Christmas that the God who cares for us decided to join us; to throw in his lot with the human race and to put himself in our hands. And though he knew we would not treat him very well he decided to go through with it so that we could see that no matter how we treated him, his love and forgiveness would still reach out to us. Christmas is a reminder that God still cares. Let us give thanks for Christmas and rejoice in the Christ who came for our sake.

 Let us pray;    
Lord God our Father, we thank you for the love which brought you to us in Jesus Christ.
We thank you that we can still read of his life and teaching and example and learn from him.
We thank you that through him we are assured of your forgiveness and your grace.
Help us to respond to the Christ who comes to us and calls us closer to you.
Help us to live as he would have us do and to your name be glory and praise forever.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ Be with you all.

Bill Stewart,

__________________________________September 2011

Dear Friends,

I get paid for what I do. A small group, organists, cleaners, etc., also get paid for specific jobs. Apart from that the church operates because of volunteers. They don't get paid for turning up at worship, or supporting organisations, or sitting on committees, or helping at fund-raising events, or taking leadership roles, or caring for fabric, or producing a magazine - they just do it. They don't have to do it yet they do.

It is the same with all those who 'keep an eye on' neighbours or other members of the congregation - visiting them at home or in hospital, giving them a lift when needed, doing some ordinary task to help out. They don't have to do this, yet they do. And so, across the country, indeed, across the world, the church thrives because of volunteers.

Some volunteers put in an hour or so, here and there, when it suits them. Others give years of unremitting service. Sometimes an arm might be twisted to persuade someone to take on a particular task, but no one is really forced to do anything. The church thrives because of volunteers.

I find this truly amazing and encouraging. When I think of all the church does, locally and nationally, in terms of worship and social care, in its catering for all age groups in an extremely wide variety of activities, in its special interest groups and through its outreach and mission - a phenomenal amount of work is done and done in the name of Christ and done mainly by volunteers - and I do not forget those, no longer active, whose continuing interest and prayers strengthen the church's work.

At the start of a new session, once again we look to the volunteers to take up the tasks for yet another year - and the volunteers will be there - and the amazing work will go on.

In the name of Jesus Christ, I thank you all and pray his blessing upon you.

Let us Pray:

Lord God our Father, you have called us into your service and we have responded.
Inspire and strengthen us in that service, that we may have joy in our work for Christ, see the fruits of our labours and bring honour to his name. Amen.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all.

Bill Stewart,

________________________________June 2011

Dear Friends,

Deep Fried Potato Skins - this must be one of the biggest culinary cons ever to land on our menus. For hundreds of years potato peelings have been put in the bin or thrown on the compost heap. Now, they are plunged into hot fat, served with a special dip and two types of lettuce and, in a moderate establishment, will cost you anything from £4 - £8.  You could buy five bags of potatoes for that, skins and all.  It seems the rubbish has become the dish of the day.

 The Apostle Peter made the same claim for Jesus Christ: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner." Jesus came first to the Jews, the chosen people, to bring to them new insights to God, yet all, but a minority, rejected him - he was rubbish, fit only for the bin or the compost heap or the cross. However, some folk liked the rubbish and it soon caught on and became quite fashionable and 2000 years later he has top billing with three billion followers.  Not all rejects are rubbish it seems.

 This is also Jesus' message to us. The orthodox Jews of Jesus' day rejected many who did not live up to their rigid standards, who were not counted worthy enough to stand among the people of God, yet, Jesus went to those very people and said, "In God's eyes, not all rejects are rubbish."

 We may think that we are not up to much as Christians; that we err on the side of the half-hearted, that sometimes we don't even try, that we have failed so often that we deserve the sack, yet Jesus comes to us telling us that God's love still reaches out to us, that we are forgiven and that, in God's eyes, we are not rubbish.

 By all means, enjoy your deep fried potato skins and pay the price. The good news of Jesus is free - and that's just for starters.

Let us Pray:  
Lord God our Father, you take us as your own, you count us worthy in your sight.
Not by our own efforts, but by the grace of Christ, your love enfolds us.
Grant us grace to respond with a deeper love of our own and with a greater desire to be of service to the Christ who refuses to reject us; and to your name be all glory and honour and praise.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Bill Stewart, Minister.

_______________________________September 2010

Dear Friends,

£20 to see the Pope at a gig in Bellahouston Park must be the bargain of the decade. Try getting into a gig featuring Kylie Minogue or Robbie Williams or Black Sabbath or the reassembled and geriatric Rolling Stones for £20 and the bouncers will bounce you all the way back home, laughing all the way.

Religious gigs are always cheap. That is why in Strathaven's Gala Week we held "Free in the Park", because no one wants to pay for religious music, unless of course you are a devotee.

We prefer low cost religion. That is why the churches struggle financially. Only a small percent of their members, by their generosity, or just by their more realistic giving, keep the wolf from the door and the doors open. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." People give their money to things that are important to them; and from the financial state of the churches in our land it seems that they are no longer important to people.

But they should be important to church members and that importance should be reflected in our giving.

Yet, poor giving to the church so often does not reflect lack of importance or lack of generosity. It simply reflects a lack of thought. People know how much more it now costs to run a home or even a car and they overlook the fact that the church also faces rising costs. But, unfortunately, it does. You can pay £20 to see the Pope. I can't imaging what folk would pay to see the Moderator of General Assembly - bidding starts at 20p., but the church should have a higher claim on us. God grant us grace.

Let us Pray: Lord God our Father, through Jesus Christ you forgive us, renew us, help us, guide us and assure us of Eternal Life. We praise you for all that you have given out of your love for us. Grant us grace to respond with hearts that love you and lives which seek to serve you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Bill Stewart, Minister.

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