Since March 2019, I have been regularly blogging rhyming acrostics on WordPress and Twitter. As well as the acrostic, each post often includes a commentary and image. On this page, I have copied the ones that may be worth a second glance. If the sequence sometimes seems out of synch, bear in mind they appear from newest to oldest.
Tongues of Fire
A new acrostic for Pentecost Sunday…
Twelve apostles prayed from an early hour
On Pentecost to await promised holy power
Nine in the morning they began to babble,
Galileans sounding like a drunken rabble.
Utterly amazed, a crowd of bystanders heard
Ecstatic tongues; many thought them absurd
Some, though, understood every word.
Out of the Heavens, as Joel had foretold
Flames of Spirit fired young and old.
“Fellow Jews”, Peter proclaimed, “be assured,
In these last days God’s power will be outpoured”.
Repentant, three thousand were baptised that day
Entering a new life under the Spirit’s sway.
Sometimes we want to give thanks, at times we’re grief-stricken, at times we want to scream out at injustice. Quite often we’re just baffled at the way life is. Why do really bad things happen to decent people? Don’t feel guilty about harbouring troublesome thoughts – the people who wrote the Psalms have been there before us. They don’t give us all the answers, but they do give us helpful words for when we have no words of our own.
Praising, sing out when you’ve blessings to spare;
Sorrowing, cry out from the depths of despair;
Angry, storm Heaven when nothing seems fair;
Life can be carefree, life can be too much to bear;
Mourning or laughing, the psalmist gives voice to your prayer.
Just met up with our good friend Liz Pugh who will be chairing the launch of The Kilfinan Treasure at West Kilbride library on June 13th. Slightly nervous – I know she will ask some incisive questions. Fortunately she enjoyed the book. It brought back memories of one of her favourites: Treasure Island by R L Stevenson. A suitable opportunity to reflect on the meaning of “treasure”.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like
Rare treasure hidden in a field:
Even if it costs everything, you may strike
A vein where pure gold is concealed.
Seek treasure that is safe from moth and rust
Ultimately, it is worth the endeavour.
Riches and wealth will end up as dust
Easter’s ransom holds its value forever.
At last night’s service we looked at the “widow’s mite” (Luke 21:1-4), and the narrative either side of it. Is it a story about generous giving or about inequality and injustice? What did the widow live on for the rest of the week? As we discovered, there is a lot going on in this passage.
Why do we remember her, this solitary figure?
Is it because we see her as part of something bigger?
Destitute and stooped, at the margins of society,
Overshadowing the rich with their fake shows of piety,
Waiting on God, she unburdened her cares,
She had no need of fine robes or long prayers.
Maybe she never heard what Jesus then said –
Injustice angered him, the Father-heart bled.
Time will forget the corrupt and the vain
Examples of selfless faith will ever remain.
A Cord of Three Strands
One of the readings at “last Saturday’s wedding” was Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 –
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
As well as being especially suitable for a wedding, I like this passage because it reflects my own faith. When God seems improbable, Jesus seems close; when Jesus seems distant, the Spirit encourages me; when the Spirit seems vague, God speaks to me through his Word. At least one always seems real and reassuring. Probably this is anecdotal, but when I occasionally meet someone who has lost their faith, they seem to have had an imbalanced view of the three persons – over-emphasising just one of a strident warrior Godhead, ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’, dramatic spiritual giftings, etc etc…. For me, the Christian faith is a cord of three strands, which together are not easily broken.
A friend makes sure you walk together
Comforts you when you tire
Offers shelter from icy weather
Rescues you from the mire
Defends you from the violent thief.
One person alone reaps little reward –
Fellowship strengthens faith and belief.
There are three strands to a trusty cord –
Holy Spirit, first, gives an encouraging word
Rabonni, Jesus, is its second strand
Eternal God the Father, its third
Each one steadying the pilgrim’s hand,
Setting eternity within our sights.
Three persons always there in our need,
Roped together, we scale the heights
Alone we stumble, together succeed.
Never doubt the strength of Three,
Delivered, shielded by the Trinity
Secured and tethered to eternity.
Apologies for the delay in posting a new rhyming acrostic – the household has been preoccupied with wedding matters, and I only have time for a simple four-liner:
Curb your celebrations, for the master looks downcast
Anxiously he sees the wedding flagons dwindle fast,
New wine will soon be ready, with a bouquet unsurpassed –
Attentive servants see that Jesus saves the best till last.
And the reason for recalling Cana? Our older son married his beautiful Spanish bride on the shores of Loch Lomond on Saturday.
New Every Morning
Great day at the spring conference of Scottish Fellowship of Christian Writers yesterday. Our challenge for our autumn gathering is to write something on ‘new’. Here’s my first draft…
Night falls, and sometimes it’s very dark
Evening’s bright stars hunker down behind cloud;
Where lamps once glowed, now there’s barely a spark.
Empty hearts break, black-dog heads are bowed,
Very faintly on the breeze there wafts a prayer,
Echoing, glimmering, flickers a solitary candle –
Risible weapons against a world’s despair
Yet still too hot for Hell’s hordes to handle.
Moonlight still dances behind its shroud
Oceans still yield their eerie luminescence
Rims of silver trim each nimbus cloud –
Nocturnal sentinels of a numinous presence:
In a few short hours the boundless day will dawn
New comforts will inhabit those who mourn
God’s mercies are, with each fresh sun, re-born.
Lamentations 3:22-23: ...the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning...
This Sunday evening our Assistant Minister preached on ‘angels’ – something very rarely done in the Church of Scotland. Well done Betsi!
Announcing glad tidings to God’s chosen heirs
Never ceasing their praises, Heaven’s glories are theirs
Guarding us, ministering, hearing our prayers
Emissaries of God in our worldly affairs
Leading us through life’s darkest thoroughfares
Sometimes we entertain them unawares.
Our church is nearing the end of a series of sermons on Nehemiah, who led the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s walls on return from Babylonian captivity. We can appreciate the importance of having a well-defended city in ancient times, but perhaps nowadays we are called to break down barriers, both physical and metaphorical? Honestly, I’m not being political – I rarely take political sides nowadays – but I think Christians generally should aim to open doors rather than bolt gates.
When Nehemiah’s wall finally made Jerusalem secure
At last Judah could return and set itself apart,
Levites could banish all they deemed impure.
Love outpoured at Calvary now melts our granite heart,
Safe within Christ’s arms, we can tear down walls once more.
One of the most difficult aspects of writing regular acrostics is finding new subject matter. Fortunately, a couple of days ago Angela Umphers Rueger (The Abundant Heart) posted a great WordPress blog about Jesus the Shepherd, which helped me not only spiritually, but also to get over writer’s block
Sheep are wayward creatures, always wandering astray
Humankind is much the same, it’s in our DNA;
Ever envying, ever hankering after greener
Pastures – discontent is part of our demeanour.
Hirelings cannot save us, they’ll quickly run amok
Every time a ravening wolf threatens the flock.
Remember Jesus is The Gate, for both Gentile and Jew:
Didn’t he leave the ninety-nine, just to search for you?
The week after Easter reminds us that “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”
Come all of you who set your trust
On treasures corrupted by moth and rust,
Reckoning your value by what you possess,
Needing ever more stuff as your key to success.
Examine yourself, ask what you are worth,
Riches don’t lie in the mines of the earth.
Sands may shift, but one anchor holds tight –
The lamb of God, the world’s one true light
Our rock of ages, our firm foundation
Name above all names from the dawn of creation
Emmanuel, Logos, hope of each nation.
On 15th April 2019, the cathedral of Notre Dame was devastated by fire. Amidst all the destruction, the world witnessed a cross shining through the tragedy. It may or may not have been miraculous, but was certainly symbolic.
Napoleon was crowned here, beneath this toppled spire,
Occupied France thanked God here for its liberation,
Two presidents, in death, lay here in tricolour attire.
Reduced now to its shell, this symbol of a nation
Emerges scorched and gutted from the wanton fire.
Desecrated by “The Terror”, and now sacked
Again by flames, Paris mourns its loss.
Miraculously, amidst the charred remains, intact
Emerges the enduring witness of a cross.
We were on the Isle of Cumbrae at the weekend and saw an impossible church. The old parish church, built in 1837, was in need of substantial repair and unsuited to modern purposes. The parishioners of this small community wanted a new building but were told it would be impossible. It wouldn’t get approval, they couldn’t raise the money, they wouldn’t be able to recruit a minister. The new church, which we saw for the first time on Saturday, is now led by the Rev Jonathan Fleming and his assistant Gus McKay.
Across the road is the “small but perfectly formed” Cathedral of the Isles, opened in 1851. It was hit by extreme financial crisis towards the end of the 19th century and assured that it would be impossible to continue. Today, as well as being “Britain’s smallest working cathedral” it hosts a renowned music programme and is a flourishing retreat centre.
I was reminded that “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:24-43), and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
In this world, some things cannot possibly be.
Moses couldn’t possibly have parted the Red Sea,
Peter could never have preached with authority
Or walked upon the Lake of Galilee,
Slaves to sin could not possibly be set free,
Sarah couldn’t have experienced maternity,
Israel couldn’t be redeemed from captivity,
Bartimaeus couldn’t possibly ever see,
Love couldn’t have changed the course of history.
Everything, with Jesus, is a possibility.
One of my favourite pastimes is playing classical guitar and one of my favourite pieces is Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV998. In the final bar of the Prelude, Bach marks the last note with a sustaining sign. Bear in mind this was for a plucked instrument (originally a lute), so the note would quickly fade. He then has a dotted (extended) rest followed by a two beat rest, dotted and sustained. In other words, he lets the final note gradually fade away, and then there is intentional silence. Nowadays we are uneasy with silence. We want to fidget, chat or applaud. If we were to listen with 18th century ears we might hear the note fade into infinity; we might detect a whisper of angels’ voices.
We don’t truly know what Selah meant in the Psalms, but we surmise it was a comparable musical instruction. You have been praying and praising. Don’t be too quick to disturb the silence, to rush from God’s presence.
Still yourself: can you hear the beating of God’s heart?
Even Jesus cherished time to be apart;
Learning to press life’s pause button is a vital art,
As when Martha’s sister chose the better part.
Heaven’s symphonies are pianissimo when they start.
Lots of greylag geese feeding around here at the moment.
In the Celtic church the wild goose – An Geadh-Glas – was a synonym for the Holy Spirit. Not only did the wild goose move in ways which (at that time) were a mystery, it also ‘disturbed and disrupted’.
Whither does the Holy Spirit blow?
It listeth wherever God pleases.
Loosen your moorings and let yourself go,
Dare trim your sail to Heaven’s breezes.
Give up control, risk setting a course
Over unknown seas, tracking wild geese –
Or else stay safe in port and gaze in remorse.
Spirit-led lives know both tempest and peace
Ever venturing, ever returning to source.
Body of Christ
Tried once again (see post below) to write acrostics about Gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14) and this time got waylaid by the expression ‘Body of Christ’.
Bones, flesh, lifeblood, sinews combine,
Organs, hormones obey God’s design,
Dispute no more about which part is best.
Young, give freely of ideals and zest
Old, your experience and wisdom share
Feast upon testimonies seasoned with prayer.
Consider you are wonderfully and fearfully made
Healed in the heart now sin’s price has been paid
Rise above doctrine, banish division
Inspire each member to strive for one vision
Suffer together, together rejoice
Tongues of prophecy tell out as one voice.
Most Excellent Way
Lately, I’ve been trying to write acrostics about ‘gifts’ of the Spirit to parallel those I wrote about ‘fruits’, so have been looking into 1 Corinthians 12 & 13. Today, though, I was forestalled by 1 Corinthians 12:31 – “And now I will show you the most excellent way”.
Maturity of faith demands love that is tough
Once I thought as a child, but now that’s not enough,
Sacrificial love must be stripped of its pride;
Too often, good intentions hurt and divide.
Empty words of charity are easily said:
X is a cross where love suffered and bled.
Covenant love always yearns to reconcile
Ever willing to walk the additional mile.
Love keeps no record, it trusts, perseveres,
Lights up the darkness, wipes away tears,
Encourages the broken to prevail and cope.
Now, three virtues remain – faith and hope,
Then, conquering everything, love.
Wrongs are forgotten when we rise above
Anger and envy, and let kindness hold sway.
Yes – there is a most excellent way.
On 15th March 2019, two consecutive terrorist attacks were carried out at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, beginning at the Al Noor Mosque and continuing at the Linwood Islamic Centre.
Christians everywhere cry out “not in my name”,
Hearts are breaking in churches and mosques just the same.
Righteousness will not be silenced, nor will love cease;
Islam is not my chosen path, but I’ll walk with you in peace.
Sisters and brothers, however much we differ in belief
Two religions can now be united in common grief;
Catholic, Protestant, Sunni, Shia, join as one to say
“Hatred, anger and revenge will not prevail today
Under a New Zealand sky, or any sky on earth” –
Religion based on fear and hate has zero worth.
Comfort the bereaved, whose loved ones are no more;
Heaven help the orphans of Linwood and Al Noor.
A fellow WordPress blogger (Samuel D James) recently alerted me to Brett McCracken’s “wisdom pyramid”, something I had never seen before. Basically, the pyramid consists of tiers of wisdom sources, having the bible at its base and social media at the top https://www.brettmccracken.com/blog/2017/8/3/the-wisdom-pyramid
It struck me so much that I shared it with our house group. While we didn’t agree with every detail, we had a lively discussion about how the sources become more fleeting and unreliable as you move up the pyramid. Contemporary culture tends to reverse this hierarchy, exalting the transient and ignoring the cornerstone.
As you’ll have guessed, it sparked a new acrostic:
Worldly hipsters heed the message on the streets
Instant factoids flood from posts and tweets
Solomon counselled, yet failed to walk the talk
Danish princes could tell a handsaw from a hawk
Others trust fake news in mainstream media.
Moments spent with God outweigh years with Wikipedia.
One of our friends is facing a difficult workplace situation which is proving intractable to resolve, and has asked us to pray that patience and equanimity may replace stress and friction. Patience is, of course, a ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22), and there are times when we could all use a little more…
Petulant, peevish people wearing down my resistance
Awkward administrators offering zero assistance
Truculent truck-drivers tailgating me on the road
Incompetent, interfering idiots pushing me to overload
Everyone, everywhere seems to be on my case.
Now I need to soothed by the gentle balm of Grace:
Calm me, Lord, as you calmed the stormy sea,
Enfold me in your place of tranquillity.
Much activity at the bird feeder today. No unusual species, just our regular sparrows, chaffinches, goldfinches, blue tits and great tits.
Jesus said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care….So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”. (Matthew 10:29,31), and “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
Consider the sparrow…
Scratching amongst stubble after the gleaning
Provisioned by God, the sparrow finds grain,
Anxious for nothing, it’s pecking and preening,
Roosting and resting, then fluttering again.
Restless people, when God’s intervening
Open your heart, offload your pain –
Wealthy is the life to which Jesus gives meaning.
The stretch of the Ayrshire Coastal Path between Fairlie and Largs Yacht Haven is notable for its display of anchors from the former NATO base at Fairlie Quay. It is a remarkable collection – I had never imagined there were so many different types of anchor.
This weekend, our church holds it annual Boys’ Brigade service at which we’ll sing their hymn – “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?” It reminds us that “We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll”.
Surely this is worthy of a new acrostic!
Adrift, aimless, without compass or chart,
No balm for the soul, no hope in the heart.
Christ alone guarantees us safe haven,
His Father, alone, has on his hands graven
Our names – a steadfast, firm, secure,
Redemptive love bringing us safe ashore.
Arran is the island just across from where we live. If you look at it from the right direction, it’s supposed to resemble a sleeping warrior. I expected to get a good view of it from the train today, but unfortunately there was a dense mist. A friend of mine once said that Arran was rather like God. Some days it’s crystal clear and looks close enough to touch. Other days you can’t see it at all, but know it’s still there. You get the impression from the following photos – one taken on a snowy day a couple of weeks back and one taken from the train today. It reminded be of Hebrews 11:1 and I had to write an acrostic about it:
At times the island basks in aquamarine
Rising from a waveless, tranquil sea
Recumbent warrior, dormant and serene;
And suddenly a fret descends, and we
Need faith as our evidence of things unseen.