Daily Readings – September 2019

Bible Readings and
Prayer Points
(Submitted by The Women’s Bible Study Group)

In our Bible Study we recently studied ‘Acts 19-22: Building a People of Faith’, from the Spring Harvest Bible Studies. We found this study very encouraging. The following Bible Readings were written by the Rev. James Philip, formerly Minister of Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh and are used with permission. They have been taken from the newly-digitised archive found at:

Bible Reading Archive

Sunday 1st September
Acts 19:21-41
This is a long reading, but we cannot well divide the passage up for it is all of a piece, and the lessons we gather from it are general, applying to the whole story. A spiritual movement that led to the burning of sorcerers’ books (19) was bound to cause reaction. As long as religion remains in the cloister, it will be tolerated and even smiled at, but when it comes out into the world and upsets the economics of society, all hell is let loose. Demetrius saw only too clearly the implications of Paul’s continued preaching, and set to with demoniacal hatred to stir up oppositions against him. The history of revivals shows that vested interests have frequently arrayed themselves against the work of the gospel. The drink trade in the nineteenth century, for example, showed itself a bitter opponent of the great mission movement because of the large numbers who through conversion were delivered from the grip of liquor. In this connection one wonders what would be the attitude today of a government that draws so many millions yearly into its exchequer from drink, to a movement of revival such as swept England in the eighteenth century! We may see, then, from this ugly situation, that the demonic – for who could doubt the sinister element in the uproar that ensued? – has a moral root. When the gospel presumes to challenge ‘vested interests’ of whatever kind, either in business or in personal life, trouble always lies ahead.

Prayer Point
Remember in prayer Rev. John Tallach and Rev. Douglas Horne who will be preaching today at both services and give thanks for their willingness and abilities. Give thanks for all who repair, maintain and prepare the church building so that it is welcoming and comfortable.

Monday 2nd September
Acts 19:21-41
There are two lines along which comment and interpretation can be made on the story of the riot, one in relation to the impact the gospel makes on communities, the other the impact on individual lives. We look at the first of these in our Note for today. Consider what is said in 23. The reference here is to ‘the Christian way’, and what is meant is that the impact of the message Paul preached, and the new life and the new way he offered, was so great that it caused an uproar. The word ‘stir’ is entirely inadequate to translate the meaning of Paul’s Greek here. Uproar, confusion, disturbance – these are worthier renderings. It is a word used to describe mental disturbance and confusion, which as we know can sometimes be very violent indeed. The disturbance, then, arose because there was a collision between two diametrically opposed ways of life, and the sinister element is very evident in what developed. It would have needed little to make the mob go berserk and tear the apostles limb from limb. One recalls the vast gatherings in pre-war Germany, when Hitler swayed his people to hysterical frenzy. Here also was a clear case of mobhysteria. Some were crying one thing, some another, but most did not know why they were come together. They were confused. This, then, is the mark of the devil’s work – the spread of confusion. Demonic disturbance is essentially irrational, and this is why it is often so dangerous. The town clerk’s judgment in 40, ‘there being no cause’, underlines this irrationality. It is in fact the utter groundlessness of the charges and objections that is underlined. There was no ground at all, except the one fatal fact – the challenge to their way of life. This should be borne in mind more often than it sometimes is when criticisms of the Church’s work and witness are levelled against our testimony.

Prayer Point
Pray for children settling back in to school and particularly for any who may be struggling with changes at home or in new schools and for those finding it difficult to make and keep friends. Pray that Christian teachers and parents will get opportunities to share the love of Jesus with pupils, colleagues and parents as society grows more hostile to biblical teachings.

Tuesday 3rd September
Acts 19:21-41
The other application of the story of the riot is to individual lives. Often the riot and tumult and disturbance are caused, and take place within a man’s heart and spirit, rather than outwardly. And all that has been said about the riot in Ephesus is valid and true on this level also. We pointed out earlier that Paul’s word ‘stir’ in 23 is one which in its verbal form could be used to describe mental disturbance and confusion. This is a frequent and common condition in people who have been challenged by the gospel. For the gospel cuts right across their long-accepted way of life – it is the collision, as we have said, between two diametrically opposed principles. And the reaction within a man is often very ugly indeed. He is not usually very willing to recognise what it is that is causing the disturbance. He does not say to himself, ‘I am reacting against the gospel and against Christ’. What he says is, ‘I cannot stand that man’s preaching; it is far too personal; he has no right to say such things; religion is something between man and his Maker’. Or, ‘His irritating mannerisms drive to distraction’, or ‘He is too emotional’ or ‘He preaches far too long’ – and so on and so on. Furthermore, the confusion evident in Ephesus is just as evident also on the personal level. Consider, for example, the RSV rendering of Mark 6:20, describing Herod’s reaction to John the Baptist’s preaching: ‘He was much perplexed, yet he heard him gladly’. One commentator translates it, ‘He was at his wit’s end’. This, of very necessity, must be so, and for this reason: we are made in the image of God and so even in our sin we do not cease to be destined for Him, and therefore there is a perpetual conflict between the urge in us to rebel against Him and the desire for His peace. It is hard to resist one’s true destiny.

Prayer Point
Pray for the Girls and Leaders of the Girls’ Brigade starting up again tonight and particularly for any joining for the first time. Pray all will settle in and feel welcome. Give thanks for all involved in helping with this good work which is an encouragement to many.

Wednesday 4th September
Acts 19:21-41
And, like the situation in Ephesus, there is no cause whereby an account can be given of the uproar and furore that arises within a man – no legitimate cause, that is. There is no need for it, and it would not occur but for this one fact, that the gospel hurls a challenge at a man’s way of life, disputes it, and outrightly summons him to a radical change. Let us recall Demetrius’s words, ‘By this craft we have our wealth’ – and the gospel was challenging it, calling it in question. That is the rub. ‘By this … we have our wealth’ – this, whatever it be, our way of life – and now we are summoned to a crucifixion! Here, then, is the explanation of the tension, the confusion, the disturbance, and often the madness, within the human heart. It is love of the gain of ‘self’, that by which men live, and it is this that is seen to be threatened by the gospel. It is the unwillingness to let go of self that is the cause of the trouble. It is always ‘this way’, the Christian way, against ‘our way’, and it is here that the surrender must be made and the capitulation effected. ‘Is there a thing beneath the sun that strives with Thee my heart to share?’ As long as ever this is true, there will be turmoil and disturbance in our hearts in the presence of the gospel.

Prayer Point
Give thanks that we have the opportunity and freedom to gather midweek for worship and prayer and ask blessing also on all unable to attend but join in spirit and thought. Pray for Alex Stephen as he leads today’s meetings.

Thursday 5th September
Acts 19:21-41
Not even when all hell seemed to be let loose was Paul’s spirit daunted. On the contrary he even attempted to enter in to the people (30). We can only marvel at the courage of this intrepid warrior of the faith. We have before quoted the saying that ‘a man is immortal until his work is done’, and this conviction may have lent a fearlessness to him that nothing could shake. We who are conditioned by so many self-regarding considerations might well pray for some of Paul’s spirit in our service for Christ. One last lesson may be elicited from the closing verses of the passage. The disorder was indescribable while it lasted, but the providential intervention of the town clerk caused it to subside, and it seems in fact to have subsided remarkably quickly, as if some invisible hand had clamped down upon it. We think that this is the true explanation, and call to mind Peter’s word about the devil going about like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:9) – ‘whom resist steadfast in the faith’. It is as we adopt an attitude of resistance against him, refusing in the faith of Christ to budge an inch or to be panicked into flight, that the victory of Christ became ours. Paul obviously believed unto victory in the face of this uproar, and the action of the town clerk was God’s answer to his faith. This should encourage us in time of trouble and opposition in Christian service. Storms have a way of subsiding when our attitude to them is one of steady and clear-sighted faith.

Prayer Point
Pray for families who are struggling with difficult issues prevalent in today’s society and pray that we will be aware and alert so we can reach out to them with love and compassion in Jesus name and for His sake. Give thanks for the many agencies providing support to those in situations that are hard to endure.

Friday 6th September
Acts 20:1-4
The period of time covered by these verses may well be considerable, at least a matter of months. The narrative is clearly very condensed, and it would be easy to skip through the brief passage in our desire to get on with the story, without noticing its full significance. For there is more compressed into these verses than most men accomplish in their entire ministry. What a wealth there is in the simple phrases, ‘when he had gone over these parts’ and ‘and had given them much exhortation’. What thoroughness this wise master-builder showed, laying foundations, building gold, silver and precious stones into men’s spiritual lives (cf 1 Corinthians 3). ‘Exhortation’ is more than mere hortatory words; it embraces the fullness of the spirit and indicates a full-orbed ministry. This patient upbuilding of the Word of God is not something that hits the headlines, but it is what lies behind every forward movement in the Church’s life. But there is something even more impressive here, and it is this: on the one hand, 3 records a plot against Paul’s life; on the other, 4 tells of a number of believers who accompanied him to Asia. There is a vital connection between these two seemingly unconnected statements. The statement about the plot is brief and clear. But do we have any conception what this must have meant to the Apostle? ‘In perils by mine own countrymen’ is how he elsewhere describes it. He had already passed through innumerable hazards in his journeyings – one recalls the stress at Corinth, and the Lord’s reassurance to him in midst of it, and also the riot he had just left at Ephesus. What emotional strain that must have put upon him. And now this on top of all, and so soon. Was there to be no respite for him at all, ever? He might have been forgiven for feeling an unutterable weariness descend upon his spirit. It was not that he was afraid to die, but to live in face of such continuing and unremitting pressures is often far harder than to die. There may be an echo of these things in the famous passage in 2 Corinthians 4:8ff, ‘We are troubled on every side … always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus …’ Such is the background here against which the significance of 4 needs to be understood.

Prayer Point
As our church doors open today seek blessing on the sharing of the gospel. Pray that God will richly bless the team on duty with wisdom and compassion as they welcome and share the love of God with the visitors they meet. Give thanks for those who give of their time for this service in our church.

Saturday 7th September
Acts 20:1-4
Here are some words by Dr James Denney which underline the essential nature of the sufferings of God’s people: ‘Suffering, for the Christian, is not an accident: it is a divine appointment, and a divine opportunity. To wear out life in the service of Jesus is to open it to the entrance of Jesus’ life; it is to receive, in all its alleviations, in all its renewals, in all its deliverances, a witness to His resurrection. Perhaps it is only by accepting this service, with the daily dying it demands, that the witness can be given to us; and the “life of Jesus” on His throne may become incomprehensible and unreal in proportion as we decline to bear about in our bodies His dying…. Paul does not say (in 2 Corinthians 4) that he bears about in his body the death of Jesus, but His dying, the process which produces death. The sufferings which come upon him daily in his work for Jesus are gradually killing him; the pains, the perils, the spiritual pressure, the excitement of danger and the excitement of deliverance, are wearing out his strength, and soon he must die…. But that was not all. In spite of the dying, he was not dead. Perpetually in peril, he had a perpetual series of escapes; perpetually at his wits’ end, his way perpetually opened up for him. What was the explanation of that? It was the life of Jesus manifesting itself in his body. The life of Jesus can only mean the life which Jesus lives now at God’s right hand; and these repeated escapes of the Apostle, these restorations of his courage, are manifestations of that life; they are, so to speak, a series of resurrections. Paul’s communion with Jesus is not only in His dying, but in His rising again; he has the evidence of the Resurrection because he has its power, present with him in these constant deliverances and renewals. Nay, the very purpose of his sufferings and perils is to provide occasion for the manifestation of this resurrection life.’

Prayer Point
As new students arrive shortly to study at UHI help us to reach out and encourage them to worship with us. Pray for young folk leaving home and family that they will seek to attend places of worship and not turn and be lead in a direction that takes them away from God. Pray for the Student Christian Union movement and others who encourage students to grow in Christian Grace and Faith when faced with so many alternatives.

Sunday 8th September
Acts 20:1-4
Looked at from one point of view, the experience Denney comments on is all very noble and thrilling and moving; but we must not forget its painful and costly side, or the toll it takes of those who endure it. Remember Elijah and his great distress and despair after Mount Carmel. Was he not down at rock bottom when he cried, ‘I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life. It is enough. Now let me die.‘ Would Paul never have felt like this? He was too human not to; he was no Stoic, but felt things very deeply. But a man who lives like this is never left alone, even on the human level. For he ever produces others likeminded to himself. They are the fruit of his labours and his travail. ‘Out of the presses of pain cometh the soul’s best wine’, says the poet, and how truly he speaks! And so, significantly, there came with Paul into Asia these men, hand-picked fruit, souls for his hire, the harvest of the costly sowing of the seed of the gospel, and now bound to him in a deep personal loyalty. This has greater importance than we might think. We owe this loyalty to those who have been the means of blessing to our lives, and God does not take it lightly when we neglect to honour our obligations in this direction. Some of God’s dearest servants suffer needless distress and hurt – not to say desolation – at the hands of those who forget all too soon the time and travail spent on their spiritual welfare. But to hurt them is to hurt Christ, and experience has shown that it does not go well with the ungrateful and the callous. They sometimes have to learn the grace of thankfulness the hard way (see 2 Timothy 4:14-16).

Prayer Point
Pray for Rev. Trevor Hunt as he leads morning worship, Rev. Norman Maciver leading the Gaelic Service and Rev. Douglas Horne leading the evening service giving thanks for the support given to us in our time of vacancy. Pray for those on Door duty that they will be sensitive to the needs of those who come in.

Monday 9th September
Acts 20:5-12
An apt title for this passage might be ‘Sunday in Troas’, and what a Sunday it proved to be! The story of Eutychus should certainly be taken as miraculous. It is plainly stated that he was taken up dead (9), and Paul’s word, ‘his life is in him’, must be understood as being the result of his embracing the lifeless body. It is very likely that the action of Elijah (1 Kings 17:21) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:34) was in his mind, impelling him to the same procedure with Eutychus. We need not wonder at the miracle; the living power of God had broken in in an especial way in those days, and what Jesus had done with Lazarus, Paul did, in His Name, with Eutychus. The amazing thing is that the believers took this astonishing happening so completely in their stride, and returned to hear the preaching of the word by Paul. This tells us two things: they were used to the supernatural, and could accommodate their minds to its continual operation among them; and, what is even more important, they were able to hold things in their proper perspective and proportion. With them the ‘miraculous’ was regarded as almost incidental to the real purpose of the gospel, which was the proclamation of the Word. This was the admirable thing about the early Church, as it is indeed the hallmark of the mature in every age – a sense of balance, and an ability to keep unessentials in their proper place, and to refuse to allow them to displace the really important matters. The Church would have been saved from many a distorted emphasis if she had been more concerned to encourage this spiritual grace in her members.

Prayer Point
Pray for the lonely, the elderly, the housebound and the sick in our congregation that they will feel valued and loved and pray for compassion, strength and patience for those who care for them. Give thanks for those from the congregation who regularly visit and offer help.

Tuesday 10th September
Acts 20:5-12
Another lesson – and here we must recognise the link and connection with what we have said about the opening verses of the chapter – is that the miracle performed on the young man was a symbol and a sacrament of Paul’s gospel, in the sense that it was a divine vindication of the word that he preached and the kind of life he lived. In Mark 16:20 we read that the disciples ‘went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following’. The incident recorded here is an evidence of these words, and the truth of them. It was the reward of faithfulness for Paul. He believed in a God that raised the dead so utterly and completely that it was no wonder and no surprise to him that God should do so. What is more, it would serve as a sacrament of Paul’s message to the disciples at Troas, in that it would confirm them in their faith that what he was saying to them was no idle chatter but real and living truth. Above all, consider what a superb illustration it gives of the power of the gospel in spiritual life – indeed it was simply the shadow and token of the basic gospel truth of regeneration by the Word and Spirit of God. It was this that these disciples at Troas were aware of, and it was to them so incomparably greater than physical resuscitation that they wanted to hear more about it from the Apostle, and did not allow the Eutychus miracle to distract them!

Prayer Point
Pray for the Women’s Bible Study Group as they meet again after the summer break. Pray that any new members will feel welcome and encouraged as they study the bible and support one another.

Wednesday 11th September
Acts 20:13-21
These verses lead into one of the most noble utterances in the entire New Testament. Paul, in conference with the Ephesian elders summoned to meet him at Miletus, reviews his life, conduct, ministry among the Ephesians during the three years and more that he spent among them, and in so doing gives a deeply moving portrait of a faithful servant of God. As such, it is a telling and challenging message for all who are called to minister the Word, and doubtless one could spend much time in the passage from this point of view. But not all are called to preach, and we cannot confine our study in this way. Those who minister know this passage well and, please God, we allow it to search our hearts and convict our consciences again and again. If people have ministers in their prayers, this is what they should pray that these ministers will be among them, for Christ’s sake. But there are other, more general, lessons here, and it is these that must chiefly occupy our attention. The whole passage is a revelation of the nature of the gospel, and of the heart of God. What is it that strikes one most forcibly, that stands out most graphically, in reading the passage? Is it not the over-mastering concern that Paul shows for the souls of the Ephesians? What is the explanation of this great earnestness of spirit, his tears (19, 31), his faithfulness to the whole counsel of God, as if it were unthinkable that any part of it could be withheld from them (20, 27, 31), the burning out of body and soul in the work, the carelessness of life itself, if only the work be accomplished (24), the overflow of prayer from his heart (36)? Just this: for Paul, salvation was so great a thing, so eternally important, that nothing else mattered – nothing. This is the spirit that permeates the whole passage.

Prayer Point
Pray for Iain MacDonald as he takes the Midweek meeting. Ask that God would draw more people together to pray for the church at home and abroad. Remember, especially, the people in Syria. The world leaders seem to be turning a blind eye to their plight. They desperately need our prayers, asking God to put an end to their suffering and stop this terrible carnage.

Thursday 12th September
Acts 20:13-21
Paul speaks first, in 18-21, of his life and character. We see his consistency and steadfastness in 18 – and this is one of the most impressive of his characteristics. There was a rocklike strength and rugged stability about him that is reflected in all we read of him in the New Testament. A great tenderness of spirit shines through 19 – Paul felt the woes of men as he preached the riches of Christ to them, and a Christ-like compassion filled his heart towards them. Indeed, we could say of him to use a phrase that is perhaps trite on too many lips, although rightly understood a holy fire burns in it – that he had a passion for souls. To him the gospel was so overwhelming in its reality and its implications so tremendous, that he was prepared to go to any lengths to win men to Christ. His faithfulness to the commission he had received is reflected in 20 – he kept back nothing that was profitable. Paul could never have been what we call a popular preacher; he was too painstakingly thorough and radical in proclaiming the message of the cross. He was prepared to antagonise and alienate his hearers through very faithfulness to the highest. He would not lower the cost of discipleship for any man. Many a time he paid dearly for this attitude, in hurt and pain to his sensitive heart. His teaching is summed up in 21 – repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. What challenge these verses throw out, to preacher and witness alike! Do we come anywhere near the standard Paul set himself?

Prayer Point
Pray for all those who contribute to the life of the church as volunteers. The many who serve on duty teams, helping in the crèche, preparing the teas, arranging the flowers and much more. Remember the Praise Band, who give of their time and talent to enhance our worship.

Friday 13th September
Acts 20:22-24
These verses speak of Paul’s sufferings and difficulties in the gospel, and these follow from the previous verses. All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. We see something of the constraint that gripped him in the service of the gospel, as he disregarded the warnings given by the prophets in the various fellowships as to what awaited and could befall him at Jerusalem (23). He was able to face with detachment of spirit the possibility of suffering and even death (24), so great was the overmastering passion and concern in him to finish his course with joy and discharge his commission in the gospel. For him the all-important thing was to finish well, and for this he was willing to spend and be spent in preaching and ministering the Word. It is recorded of Martin Luther, when he was warned not to go to Worms, that he said, ‘I will go thither though there should be devils on every housetop.’ He also was driven by a great passion; for him, as for Paul, life was expendable, if only the cause that lay at his heart could be furthered. A like spirit inspired the intrepid missionaries of our own day to take the gospel to the Auca Indians in Ecuador, at the cost of their lives. One of them wrote: ‘Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of “other things”. Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul – short life? In time there dwells the Spirit of the great Short-lived, Whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him. Make me Thy fuel, flame of God.’ There could be no better commentary on this passage than these words.
Prayer Point
Continue to pray for all those suffering from ill-health. Give thanks for the care that is given by Doctors and Nurses and all those working in the health service.

Saturday 14th September
Acts 20:25-32
Paul’s parting counsel to the Ephesian elders was a warning against ‘grievous wolves’ (29), heretics that would lead believers away from the truth, and it is significant that he proceeds to commend them to God and to the word of His grace, for this is the only real safeguard against heresy. In the history of the Church it has ever been when believers have been ignorant of the Word that they have been misled into error. The tragedy in our day of the increase in activity of sects like Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians is that they are trading on the ignorance of so many worshippers. A generation has arisen in Scotland with only a fragmentary knowledge of the Bible and of the basic truths of the gospel; it is scarcely surprising that they are so completely overpowered by the assured grasp of the Bible shown by the members of these sects. In this respect, the great need is not so much for evangelism but for teaching. Truth is the only effective counteractive to error, and truth is something that must be taught in Scotland today, if we are to prevent a widespread defection from the true faith. An informed and instructive membership in the Churches would prove to be an effective answer to this and many other problems in the religious life of our land.

Prayer Point
Pray for the Deacons of the congregation, as they manage the finances, the fabric and all other practical matters. Pray for the Nominating Committee, that God would give them wisdom in all their decisions. Give thanks for all the preparations that are being made for the new Manse.

Sunday 15th September
Acts 20:33-38
It is a touching testimony that Paul gives in the closing verses of the chapter, and they well express the principle that was the keynote of his whole life – self-giving. On the Damascus Road he gave himself over without reserve to Christ, and from that moment the movement of his life was outward toward God and men. It is impressive to see how this attitude wrought in him a spirit of detachment in his heart. He had attained the true riches in secret fellowship with the Lord, and no others had claim upon him. He had a truly noble heart, which no earthly affection could drag down. To be in a position where he wanted nothing but Christ, meant for him to be at leisure from himself enough to give himself to others. This is a secret worth learning; indeed to learn it truly is to have grasped all that is of final importance in Christian life. It is life indeed. The Apostle quotes, to substantiate his words, a saying not elsewhere recorded in the New Testament, but one which was obviously current in the early Church. It is more blessed to give than to receive because it is more Christ-like. He gave Himself to the uttermost, until there was no more to give. Could there, ultimately, be any other pattern for us who name His Name?

Prayer Point
Pray for Rev. Hector Morrison as he takes both services today. Also remember the fundraising Kilt Walk taking place today in aid of the Bethany Trust. This Trust supports thousands of people every year to prevent and end homelessness, while raising awareness of the need for affordable housing, and support for vulnerable people.

Monday 16th September
Acts 21:1-6
This chapter continues the record of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. An important point arises in 4, but we shall leave this for the moment, and take it up in tomorrow’s note, in conjunction with similar references in later verses. In the meantime we pay particular attention to the significance of the phrase ‘with wives and children’ in 5. This was a memorable, never-to-be-forgotten occasion as the believers of Tyre bade farewell to the great apostle, and to include their children in such an experience would certainly leave an indelible impression on their hearts and minds. This raises a matter of very considerable importance in relation to the training of the young. Modern methods tend towards segregating various age groups because, it is said, children cannot be expected to understand teaching designed for adult minds. This is very plausible, but in fact it has led to a situation in the Church in which it is now quite possible for a child to grow up within the life of a congregation and reach adult life almost without ever being in a regular Church service, the various youth groups having become substitutes for Church in their lives. We take leave on scriptural grounds to disagree with this practice. Being in Church, and sharing in the worship of the congregation, is an essential part of a child’s training. Of course there are many things that children cannot possibly understand but this does not matter. Few of the children in the company that sent Paul on his way could have known what was happening, but think of the impression left on their minds by what they saw and heard! That is the important thing. It is the conditioning of young minds that tells so much for the future. One has only to think, for example, of some who were children at the time of the 1859 revival and witnessed the awe-inspiring working of the Holy Spirit to realise what a lasting influence for good these scenes had upon them. Mackay of Uganda, and Chalmers of New Guinea were boys in 1859, and who shall say how their boyhood experiences shaped and directed their future destiny on the mission-field?

Prayer Point
Pray for the Church of Scotland and all its councils and committees, and ask that God, by his Holy Spirit, would reform the Church in line with Scripture. Give thanks for all the good things that are happening in the Church today.

Tuesday 17th September
Acts 21:7-14
We now take 4 along with 11 and discuss the very real problem raised by these verses. The background of the passage is as follows: Paul, leaving Miletus, made his way by ship to Syria, landing at Tyre. There he and his companions met with some believers who said through the Spirit that he should not go up to Jerusalem. This was the first warning, and it was followed at Caesarea by a second and more dramatic one, through the prophet Agabus, who acted his message and warned Paul in the strongest terms that imprisonment awaited him in Jerusalem. It was the signal for earnest entreaty by the saints that he would change his plans and not go to what seemed a certain fate. His determination to go remained unchanged, however, and the problem that faces us is whether he was right or wrong in his decision. Was Paul being stubbornly determined? Was there a blind spot in him which made him impervious to advice when his mind was made up? And are we to say that his subsequent imprisonment in Jerusalem was an indication and proof that he had taken the wrong step? The chief difficulty for interpretation lies in 4. Obviously if these words are true, the Spirit cannot have been leading Paul to go; and if the Spirit was leading Paul to go, there cannot have been a direct command from the Spirit through these disciples not to go. The Spirit does not contradict Himself. What is said in 4 must therefore have been a conclusion come to by the disciples on the basis of what had been made clear by the Spirit would happen to Paul. We shall continue this thought tomorrow.

Prayer Point
Pray for the Scottish Bible Society. Pray that the distribution of Scriptures would enable many to read and understand God’s Word. Pray for our missionary friends, for their safety and for their effectiveness in reaching out to all the people they come in contact with.

Wednesday 18th September
Acts 21:7-14
The Apostle’s friends could see the consequences of his going to Jerusalem, and wanted him to avoid them; he alone, it seems, was prepared to believe that the suffering could be in the plan and will of God for him, for the furtherance of the gospel. This is what explains the conflict of emotions in 13. They were motivated by love for Paul, he by love for Christ. And from this we may learn that the greatest temptations and often the deepest hurts come not from the low affections but from the high that are not high enough. As Dean Farrar once said, ‘Those whose intentions towards us are best are the most dangerous to us when their intentions are merely human. How often, alas, are a man’s real foes those of his own household. His friends who love him best become, in their worldliness, his worst enemies. They drag him down from the heights of self-sacrifice to the vulgar, the conventional, the comfortable.’ We may gather from the intensity of Paul’s words in 13 how much this attitude tore his heart – and constitutes a temptation to take an easier way. Can we not hear an echo here of our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness – ‘a kingdom without a cross, Jesus’? Their final acquiescence in 14 seems to indicate their recognition that he was right, and this, we believe, was confirmed in 23:11. God was with him, and was in the trial and affliction.

Prayer Point
Pray for those who deliver the Easterly, and who are often the first point of contact for many who are older and on their own. Pray that this ministry will benefit many. Pray for Ian Challinor as he takes the Midweek services today.

Thursday 19th September
Acts 21:7-14
We cannot leave these verses without considering Paul’s wonderful words in 13b. In one sense they breathe the spirit of the great utterance to the Ephesian elders in the previous chapter, which we saw reflected his passion for souls, but they go behind this, and go deeper, in that which explains the passion for souls – the passion for Christ. Can we not hear the ring of pride and joy and love in Paul’s words as he speaks of the name of the Lord Jesus? Here is the heart and secret of everything that was of final importance in Paul’s experience. Well might he call himself the ‘bond-slave of Jesus Christ’, for Christ was everything to him! To understand this fully it is necessary to grasp just how deeply the gospel had touched the Apostle’s life. He had found in it not only the peace and the forgiveness of God – and this was a salvation glorious in its wonder and joy – but he had also learned what it cost God to give him this inestimable gift, and it was surely this that fired his heart with such devotion. That the infinite, eternal and unchangeable God should have come down and become incarnate as a God of unutterable love and, above all, suffering love for our sakes – this is what captured the love and inspiration of his whole being. For he had looked into that suffering Face, and seen love written there, a love vaster, deeper, more inexorable than he could ever have believed existed. Well might the Psalmist say, ‘There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared’, for it is the most fearful and terrible thing on earth to look into the face of the Crucified and let these suffering eyes tell out the nature and the cost of redeeming love. This is what made Paul ready to die for the name of the Lord Jesus at Jerusalem.

Prayer Point
Pray for ‘The Gathering’, meeting in the church hall today, that everyone who comes will enjoy the fellowship and the time of sharing together. Pray that we can encourage willing helpers to join us.

Friday 20th September
Acts 21:15-30
The storm clouds that had been forecast by the prophets were not long in breaking on Paul’s head and, significantly enough, the issue was one which had stirred opposition against him wherever he went – Jewish legalism. It is clear that his arrival in Jerusalem was a source of considerable embarrassment to the leaders of the Church there, for notwithstanding his account of the Lord’s wonderful working among the Gentiles, which was politely brushed aside by them, he was urged to comply with some ceremonial regulations (24) for the sake of peace and to obviate any possible dissension in what was sure to be a delicate situation. The embarrassment of the Church is something that we ought to look at very closely. Consider the extraordinary statement in 20, ‘They glorified the Lord, and said, “Thou seest, brother …”‘ So much for their interest in the exploits of the gospel in Europe and Asia! When one thinks of the story that Paul had to tell, it seems almost incredible that the Church of Pentecost should have taken such an attitude. Paul was too uncomfortable a person to have around. He was too living, too disturbing a factor to be introduced into the comfortable ‘status quo’ of the Church at Jerusalem, and he needed in their eyes to be ‘toned down’. Nothing could underline more graphically than this the failure of the Church. Little wonder that the spiritual initiative passed from Jerusalem to Antioch for the onward march of the gospel.

Prayer Point
Storm clouds are gathering around our heads in 2019. Pray for our nation. Christianity is being pushed aside, but God still rules and listens to our prayers. Pray for the strength to speak out for our faith.

Saturday 21st September
Acts 21:15-30
We are not told what Paul thought of this deplorable attitude of the Jerusalem believers, but he did comply with the request they made to him. But in the event, he might have spared himself the trouble, for the reaction at his appearance was immediate and unmistakeable. We might be tempted to wonder whether he was wise to have allowed himself to be led into doing this, but there is another more important lesson that should occupy our attention. It is this: the Jews reacted violently against Paul because of his radical gospel teaching. Why were they prepared to tolerate James and the others in Jerusalem without molesting them? There can be only one answer. The Church in Jerusalem was in at least some measure compromising her testimony by failing to take a definite stand on the matter of the law. They had been careful not to offend Jewish susceptibilities, and as a result the Jews were prepared to tolerate their continued existence. But there is a price to be paid for spiritual compromise and, as we saw in the previous note, it cost the Church at Jerusalem its leadership in the things of God. The Church that once saw Pentecostal effusion became a spiritual backwater. It is a solemn thought. Compromise is a deadly thing. It was not a good thing that the Jerusalem Christians did not raise a riot among the Jews by their testimony. So far as apostolic practice was concerned, riots and revivals went hand in hand. The upshot here was that Paul stood alone in the hour of danger, when he might have – and should have – had the support and help of the Church. The lesson for us is that it is possible to remove the offence of the cross from one’s testimony and so betray the gospel. We should not be too concerned about treading on people’s toes!

Prayer Point
Pray that we are sensitive to the needs of our fellow Christians. Remembering that while prayer is of primary importance, we should endeavour to support and help one another.

Sunday 22nd September
Acts 21:15-30
The background to this perplexing and distressing situation is that in the early days of the Church, the Faith existed within the context of Judaism. Then, owing to certain factors, it began to widen its influence to include the Gentiles, and it was this that raised the problems and tensions. For then two emphases developed, the Judaistic, which was narrow and exclusive in its views, and withal deeply prejudiced, and the more liberal school as represented by Stephen (Acts 7). This latter became significantly stronger, with Paul as Stephen’s successor, and the tensions came to a head in Acts 15, in the first ‘Council’ meeting at Jerusalem. Now the issue here was not so much whether the Mosaic Law should be observed, as how it should be observed, and in what spirit. This is the crux of the matter, and it is this that explains the passage and also Paul’s and the Jerusalem believers’ attitude. Consider the following Scriptures: Galatians 2:5 (where Paul’s teaching on the believer’s freedom from the law is seen to be a central point in his gospel; to oblige Titus to be circumcised would have made salvation depend on the keeping of the law); 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 (where Paul says ‘To the Jews I became as a Jew ….’, thus seeming to contradict the position he maintains in Galatians 2:5); Romans 14:1-13 (where he advocates tolerance and forbearance with the weak brother). A careful study of the implications of these passages will serve to explain the contradiction which these verses in Acts 21 seem to contain, with Paul appearing to observe the law he teaches elsewhere is superseded. We shall try to indicate the significance of this in tomorrow’s Note.

Prayer Point
Pray for our friend, Rev. Douglas Horne who is leading the service this morning. Pray for the Opening of the Scottish Northern Convention this evening in Dingwall, for the leaders and the people attending, that it will be a blessing to many.

Monday 23rd September
Acts 21:15-30
The outcome of the Church’s deliberations in the ‘Council’ at Jerusalem (Acts 15) was that victory in principle went to the true gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone, with a ‘working’ compromise on the question of meats offered to idols etc. (Acts 15:20, 29) for the weaker brethren’s sake. Now, the Jerusalem Church wanted Paul to ‘keep the law’ because they were legalist at heart, and in bondage to the law that the gospel had in fact superseded. Paul agreed to do so, not because he was legalist, not because he was compromising the situation, but because he was considering the weaker brother (cf Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). Now, even this is not always successful, though sometimes it is, in keeping the peace. But the attempt must be made (cf ‘As much as lieth in you, live at peace with all men’). And Paul made that attempt here, and we need to see the nature of the spirit in which he did so. The guidelines for this he lays down in Romans 15:1-7: ‘Christ pleased not Himself’. This is consecration in action, and the working out of his readiness to ‘die’ at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul really ‘died’ spiritually in this experience: died to his liberty in Christ for the sake of others, and for the love of men. Again it is his passion for souls coming out with great and unmistakeable clarity. He was prepared to be all things to all men, in order to gain some – in this case, his own countrymen.

Prayer Point
Pray for the Christian Institute and all the work it does to support Christians who are being persecuted for standing by their faith. Pray that our own beliefs and values do not get watered down by the constant dripping of the worldly society that we live in today.

Tuesday 24th September
Acts 21:31-40
We should note in what great detail the historian Luke describes Paul’s arrest, imprisonment and trial. It is striking how this parallels the account of our Lord’s arrest, trial and crucifixion in the gospel that bears Luke’s name. One wonders whether there is a conscious comparison between the two. One recalls how Luke begins Acts by referring to his gospel as the record of all Jesus began to do and to teach – the implication being that in Acts the story is continued. And we have seen sufficient in Acts already to realise that the pattern of Christ’s life and death ‘repeats’ itself and is reflected in the experience of those who take up the cross and follow Him. The very words of the multitudes as they pressed for Christ’s crucifixion are echoed in relation to Paul – ‘Away with him’. It can hardly be a coincidence that this should be so. And we may remember that Paul has just said he is willing to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. It is well, then, that we should think of all that happened here in the context of Paul’s sharing of the sufferings of Christ, and as such we need not doubt but that, as he bore in his own body the dying of the Lord Jesus, the life also of Jesus was manifest in him, to the challenge and blessing of others.

Prayer Point
Pray for all the Fellowship Groups and Bible Study Groups that meet regularly, that as they study the scriptures, they are encouraged to share their stories of how Christ has changed their lives. Remember Dr. Donald MacVicar, as he leads the Word at One Service. Pray for all those who attend, and give thanks for all those who help.

Wednesday 25th September
Acts 21:31-40
In the hour of extremity Paul was rescued by the Roman authorities. This was not the only occasion on which he was thus indebted to them, as we have already seen, and it prompts us to reflect on God’s merciful provision of properly constituted law and order. We have almost forgotten to think clearly in this matter, and we are of the opinion that a careful study of the teaching of Scripture on the meaning and function of law would serve to clear up many misunderstandings in the discussion of some notable contemporary problems such as the controversy about capital punishment or that about nuclear disarmament. The law is an expression of the divine will, and those who administer it are instruments of the divine purpose. This has nothing to do with whether they are Christians or not, and belongs to the realm of common, not saving, grace. The chief captain was just as surely a servant of God in the discharge of his duty, as Paul was in the preaching of the gospel in Asia and Europe, and God made use of His own ordinance to save Paul from harm and danger. Since this is so, no Christian need hesitate to have recourse to law for personal protection – it is a false piety which thinks it worldly and unchristian to do so – or to support governments which decide to employ nuclear weapons as deterrents to any possible aggression. The powers that be, as Paul points out in Romans 13:4, bear the sword for God and stand over against the aggressor as a restraint against evil, and no discussion of this grave contemporary problem should omit a full consideration and understanding of the place of law as such. It is all too easy to be one-sided and unbalanced, not to say emotional, in our thinking.

Prayer Point
Pray for all those attending the Midweek Services today. Remember also those praying at home because of frailty or illness. Pray for Bill Flett who is leading the meetings today. Give thanks for everyone who gives their time and talent, in leading all our services in the church. And also for those who use their gifts to enrich our fellowship.

Thursday 26th September
Acts 22:1-21
There is so much in this chapter that we must take some time to study it in some detail. Its subject matter is Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road and this we have already dealt with in 9:1ff. On another occasion he also gave a similar account of this great experience (26:1ff). There is a particular value in comparing the three chapters, for there are marked variations to be seen, and some have wondered at this. But the two later chapters belong to very different sets of circumstances, with different aims in view, and naturally the emphases would not be the same in both cases. Here, Paul’s concern is to show his true orthodoxy as a Jew. The disturbance in the previous chapter was caused by the accusation that he was violating in his teaching the meaning of Jewry. He is intent therefore upon refuting the accusation, hence his speaking in the Hebrew tongue (2), his claim to be a Jew (3), the record of his Jewish training at the feet of Gamaliel (3), his emphasis on the orthodoxy of Ananias (12) and his own worshipping in the Temple after his conversion (17). The point he was concerned to make was that his new experience as a Christian confirmed and fulfilled the real intention of the Hebrew calling and religion. This is a very important point, and the next note will have something further to say about it.

Prayer Point
Pray for the Toddlers Group, meeting this morning. Pray for the little ones, their parents and grandparents, that they may feel surrounded by Christian love. Remember Iona MacDonald and her helpers, all of whom, so willingly, give their time in so many ways. Pray for the Sunday School and all the Teachers who are so committed in their service to our young folk, and give thanks to all their families who bring them along to the church.

Friday 27th September
Acts 22:1-21
‘I am … a Jew’ (3), said Paul. What, then, is the significance of the Jew? We must understand the meaning of the Jews’ calling to appreciate the force of Paul’s argument, and we need to turn back to Genesis 12:3 as our starting point. God chose Abraham and his family and made them His peculiar people, not for themselves, but as an instrument whereby He could finally reveal Himself to the world in love and mercy, through them to the world! This was to be the pattern and intention of God. But Israel as a whole was so completely blind to her real calling that she constantly reacted against the very idea of other nations sharing in the blessings of the covenant which God had made with them. Israel was a renegade people; she misinterpreted her own Scriptures, and summed up all her tortuous history in the crucifixion of her Messiah, through Whom the final revelation of God’s salvation was to come. Paul said, in Romans 2:28, ‘he is not a Jew who is one outwardly’, and this is really his point here. He was a true Jew, for he fulfilled the real purpose of the Jews’ calling by being an instrument of the divine grace and mercy to the world, as the Apostle to the Gentiles. It was he, not they, who could claim to have fulfilled the intention of verses such as Isaiah 42:6 and 49:1-7, which declare so plainly, for those who have eyes to see, the meaning of their election of God. It is against this background that we must understand his testimony before the people at this point.

Prayer Point
Today is Open Doors. Pray for Bob Matheson and his faithful team who regularly turn out to encourage people passing the church, inviting them in for tea and a chat, or to sit in the church to meditate or pray. Pray that, in God’s own time, there will be fruit from this mission.

Saturday 28th September
Acts 22:1-21
There is a very interesting juxtaposition of phrases in 3 and 4 – ‘zealous toward God … and I persecuted’. So this was his zeal for God a harsh, destructive, negative thing. It was intent on breaking down and demolishing. Now, in any work of religion a certain amount of ‘breaking down’ is necessarily involved before spiritual ‘reconstruction’ can begin, but when there is nothing else, no constructive alternative, no ‘more excellent way’, it is a zeal that is sadly and dangerously misdirected. Any common labourer can knock down a building with a cross bar or battering ram, but it needs a wise master-builder to put one up. Some people conceive it as their mission in life to condemn what is wrong in others – but it is a fruitless occupation, which produces nothing but unpleasantness and hurt. It is so easy to criticise. There are those in the Christian life who gain for themselves this reputation, and it is surely an unenviable one. Few lives accomplish less for the gospel than they do. They are barren and bring reproach on the Name they bear. We ought to be more constantly on guard than we often are lest our zeal for God inadvertently becomes a tool for Satan’s willing hands!

Prayer Point
Pray for our congregation that they will encourage and support one another. Pray for Christian unity, that various denominations would work together and pray together.

Sunday 29th September
Acts 22:1-21
When we compare 9 with 9:7 and 26:14, it might seem that there was a contradiction in the account of what happened on the Damascus Road, but the contradiction is surely more apparent than real. The explanation must be that Paul’s companions heard the sound of a voice, but only he knew what was said. The communication was for him alone. An interesting parallel may be seen in John 12:28, 29, when God spoke audibly from heaven to our Lord, and some called it thunder, while others said an angel spoke. It is certainly true – and this is part of the mystery of grace – that in the soul’s encounter with Christ it stands utterly alone. It is an experience which no one can share with another; each man is cut off from the rest of humankind, and in that dread isolation of spirit he may, like Paul, find the fellowship that banishes aloneness for ever from his life. In the notes on chapter 9 we referred to ‘the blindness of grace’ (11). It was the glory of the risen and exalted Christ that shone upon Paul that day, and his eyesight was really affected by the majesty and brightness of it, but this is certainly also parabolic of his subsequent experience, for he no longer had eyes for anything or anyone but Christ. The world and all else was spoiled for him, and that is as it should be. He who has once gazed upon the glory of the Son of God will never see the same again.

Prayer Point
Give thanks for the Harvest service today. Pray for Pastor Kenny Wilson leading our worship, that he will feel at home among us. Thank God for the great sermons that have been preached while our church is in vacancy, and pray that God will reveal his choice of minister for us.

Monday 30th September
Acts 22:1-21
The experience recorded in 1:7-21 is not related elsewhere, and has valuable lessons to teach us. Firstly Paul’s point, in what he said to the Lord, was that the startling nature of his conversion and the fact that he was an ex-persecutor of the Church must surely make his witness and preaching in Jerusalem especially effective. But Christ said, ‘No’. It is not the fact that a man is an ex-persecutor – or, to bring the matter up to date, an ex-gangster, or an ex-operatic singer, or an ex-pugilist – that determines the effectiveness of witness or preaching, and to think that it should be so is to lean on the arm of the flesh. The interest aroused by such an emphasis is generally fleshly and not spiritual. Secondly – and this is something too little appreciated or understood today – this new convert was to be withdrawn from the sphere of service into the quiet obscurity of Arabia (Galatians 1:17) to wait upon God and to learn of Him. Newborn babes in Christ need time to grow up and become established in the Faith. For them to thrust themselves or be thrust by others into the maelstrom of spiritual battle is to do what Jesus was not prepared to allow so far as Paul was concerned. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!

Prayer Point
At the close of another month, pray for all those at home, in nursing homes, or hospital who can no longer join with us, and thank God for their faithful service, and for all those who are still quietly doing so much.