How Great Is Our God!
This song, written by Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves and Ed Cash, has become one of the most popular songs over the last few years, featuring prominently in major Worship Songs lists. While its popularity may be due in some measure to the musical accompaniment (though for many in Sandyford the chorus sung a cappella has been particularly moving) the words most aptly sum up the year that has passed, and which we have been reviewing this week at our Stated Annual Meeting. It is right and proper that we thank the many both within the congregation and from outside who have made a significant contribution, but I am sure that all would join me in saying that the honour and glory should be attributed to our God.
In what ways has God shown his greatness in the last year? Any selection in a letter will inevitably omit to mention particular activities, but members and friends may read about these in the annual reports.
Ministry. The focus on the character of God in the Sunday sermons and in the Bible studies on Wednesdays has been sustained by a wonderful cohort of visiting preachers and members. Particularly encouraging on Wednesdays has been the opportunity to hear some of the younger people who are training for full-time service. We are all the more grateful as we have sometimes been asking preachers to address passages of the Bible on which they have never preached before. In 2013, the Preaching Schedule on Sundays has included series on:
The Lord’s Prayer, Philemon, Habakkuk, The God of Elijah and The God of Elisha (I & 2 Kings), and the ongoing series in John’s Gospel and Isaiah 40 ff
The Wednesday Bible Studies have included:
2 Corinthians, Exodus, Colossians, Numbers
Prayer. We have experienced something of the greatness of our God in our worship and in our intercession. However, God has challenged us repeatedly with regard to the necessity of prayer. The disciples found that they could not help a boy in desperate need because they had not learned the lessons of dedicated prayer (Mark 9: 29). (And if the disciples asked for instruction, how much more should we!) It was moving to hear how one of those joining last Sunday by profession of faith found that the major encouragement to seek God came when she proved, in what seemed to be an impossible situation, that the Christian God, of whose existence she was unaware when she first came to Glasgow, answered prayer. (While God guarantees to hear the prayers of his children based on the special relationship He has with them (Luke 18: 1-8), his mercy knows no bounds, even to the extent of hearing the raven’s cry.)
Worship. We are so grateful to all involved in our worship, from those leading the services to those leading the praise. All of the leaders spend much time preparing their contribution. For all of us, however, being in the spirit on the Lord’s day is of vital importance, as we seek to respond to the invitation to ascribe to God his true worth. One of the tendencies is a natural preoccupation with what we get out of worship. However, the more we focus on what God gets out of our praise on a Sunday the more we shall enjoy the privilege he grants us of bringing glory to Him.
Unity. ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!’ (Psalm 133: 1-2) One of the very many things for which we have to thank God is the unity that we have enjoyed during the vacancy, not least during a year which has proved very difficult for so many congregations in Scotland. Following the debate in the General Assembly in May 2013, the Kirk Session drew up a response which was discussed at a very well attended open meeting of the congregation after a service one Sunday in June. Nobody at that meeting dissented from the statement. One of the most grievous things in Scotland at the moment is the way that Christians have become so critical of other Christians with whom they had previously had fellowship. Our position remains as stated, but we continue to pray for and to seek to encourage both those staying in and those leaving the Kirk.
Outreach. The greatness of God in salvation has been proved again as we have seen people touched by the gospel through the many ways in which the Bible has been opened. While we would recognise our particular indebtedness to our full-time student workers and to all who have ministered, so many others have played a part: that gracious invitation in the street outside the church, the welcome from the duty team, the conversation in the Fellowship Area, the hospitality, the practical acts of kindness, the prayers. In some cases, we have reaped where others have sown. But we give thanks to God for giving the increase (I Cor 3: 7-10).
Missionaries. How privileged we are to have partnership in the gospel with those working overseas. It has also been good to have some of our missionaries with us: Jan and Bob in 2013, and Marian, Bill and Margaret are now with us in Glasgow, and Dave and Fi will be with us soon.
Membership. While stats are not important (except for the annual statistical return to the Church of Scotland!) and our major concern is that the names of the new members (and ours) are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, it is encouraging to have had 23 people from all backgrounds and ages joining us in full membership in 2013. And more folk professing faith in March 2014 (see p. 9), and, more still will do so in April. We continue to depend on God for the renewal in this area and to give him the glory.
Material Provision. How grateful to God we are for all that He has given. We were glad to be able to give more to our missionaries and to support two major areas of need overseas in a substantial Christmas offering.
Spiritual Legacy. However, we would not look solely at the material provision but also at the spiritual legacy from three of those who have been ‘promoted to glory’: Jessie Easton, Margaret Wylie and Vivien Samuels. Without minimising the loss which so many still feel, we can thank God for a contribution which transcends their passing. Though they were perhaps not rich in terms of this world’s goods, their prayers, sometimes for ‘generations yet unborn’, will yield fruit in the years to come.
Trials. The year 2013 was a really testing time for some in the church. Quite a few have suffered chronic or acute illnesses. (At our Stated Annual Meeting we recorded with thanks all that our much loved elder Alan Bonham and his wife Mary had done in the church and re-affirmed our support for them in regard to Alan’s protracted hospitalisation.) It might be difficult to see the greatness of God in suffering. Yet so many have found comfort from the promises with regard to God’s suffering with us in all our afflictions, in their participating in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1: 24), and from the knowledge that the glory of Jesus was greatest at the moment of his deepest humiliation, his dying on the cross. The mini-series on Job beginning in late May (if we are still in vacancy) will seek to answer some of the questions we can all ask in times of such difficulties.
There is, however, one major discordant note in the symphony of praise: the attacks from the devil and his minions on the work of God in Sandyford. How does Satan get in? He is not a keyholder! And when our Clerk to the Board was re-issuing keys Satan was not on the distribution list. He does not have an In/Out sign on the noticeboard. In fact, he never signs in to let us know he is there. Yet he arrives at each of our meetings and services. How does he get in? We let him in! Inadvertently, as he frequently comes to the back door of our minds, planting ideas which demoralise some or feed egos in others, or cause friction within. He undermines the appreciation of God’s greatness with numerous strategies which permeate all the aspects of the work cited above. He then comes round to the front door and accuses us of all the harm and wrong we have done, or thought!
The devil also has variants for all the hymns and songs we sing, not least the one given at the title of the letter. For he changes one word, the last one, which inverts the praise we sing.
a) The devil’s first variant, ‘How great is our Sandyford’. Now I would hope that everyone who comes to our church goes away thinking very highly of it. But we have to be very careful, particularly when God is blessing, lest we forget the author of that blessing. It is the God of Sandyford who has been the constant in our vacancy. How sobering are some of Christ’s words to the churches in the book of Revelation, which had a name – and sadly do not exist any more! Towards the end of the 19th century, Andrew Bonar was preaching to over 3000 in the church across the road from us. This church ceased to be a place of worship many years ago.
b) The second variant, ‘How great is our minister’. This does not apply at the moment but the Nominating Committee is making very good progress. One danger is that we have unrealistic expectations of a minister, looking for a superman who is going to solve everything. As Paul reminds us, we can forget that, ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us’ (2 Corinthians 4: 7). We would hope that everyone will say that our next minister, whoever that may be, fulfils (or indeed exceeds!) expectations. But one of the things we are learning is to look beyond the human treasure to the God of that treasure for the continued blessing.
c) The third variant, ‘How great is our contribution’. God will not share his glory with another. The disciples had to learn this. How many have lost their power and authority when believing that the work of God depended on them. The future of our congregation is inextricably linked to that culture of dependency on God, and to the words which have prefaced so many of our meetings: ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15: 5)
We may say that we would never give expression to such variants. But does therein not lie another of the devil’s delusions? Let us watch and pray, so that we give the glory and honour where it is due. And if we do, we will have even more people coming to ask us about the greatness of our God.
How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God and all will see
How great, how great is our God
With very best wishes
Noël Peacock (Session Clerk)View All Letters