Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Monday, October 16, 2017

Standing on the Promises


Beginning October 22 here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are beginning a sermon series with the title “Thessalonian Songs” that will relate a Christian song or hymn to a passage from the First letter to the Thessalonians. Last weeks sermon finishing up our series on "Wilderness Wandering" can be found here.

Our first sermon, relates 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 to the hymn “Standing on the Promises” written in 1886 by R. Kelso Carter. What you may not know about R. Kelso Carter is that he was born and bred in Baltimore.

As a boy he was a star athlete and a top student. At the age of fifteen during a prayer meeting at the Pennsylvania Military Academy he made a Christian commitment. He became an athletics coach and instructor at the academy. His history, both personal and theological, passed through some deep and disturbing waters as he searched for balance in his belief.

In 1879 he nearly died from a chronic heart disease that had plagued him for over seven years. His Christian life up to that point had been, like it is for many of us, rather sporadic. In his own words “He lived the up and down experience so familiar to the average church member.” I'll let him tell the story of his deepening commitment.

My heart, resisting the remedies of physicians and refusing to grow better, suddenly broke down so seriously as to bring me to the verge of the grave. I had heard of the 'prayer of faith' for healing, but I felt persuaded it would border on blasphemy to ask God for a strength which I didn't propose to use wholly for Him! Kneeling in my mother's room in Baltimore, I made a consecration that covered everything. All doubtful things were swept aside. I meant every word, and I have never had doubts about it since. A quietness came over me and I found the Bible wonderfully open and marvelously satisfying, as it had never been before.

Though his health was never perfect, he lived for another 49 years and became both a Methodist preacher and a physician. Out of his experience of healing he wrote the hymn “Standing on the Promises of God.” In words that we can well apply to the days we are currently living through he writes: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promises of God.

Paul praises the Thessalonian Church for their ability to stand on God's promises when he writes (1Thessalonians 1:3) “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The challenge for all of us is to embrace a faith that goes beyond simply offering cries for help to God when we think we can't manage on our own... to having the sort of faith that finds its very life and focus in the promises of Scripture and the sustaining power of God's Holy Spirit. Such is the journey Jesus challenges us to make, not as lone rangers, but as communities of faith, seeking to bring the Kingdom of God alive in our communities.

For some music, country singer Alan Jackson gives a live performance of this classic R. Kelso Carter hymn “Standing On The Promises of God.” If you are in the area, join us this Sunday and sing a long!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Faithful Soul

Maria Dyer was born in 1837 on the mission field in China where her parents were missionaries. Both her parents died when Maria was a little girl, and she was sent back to England to be raised by an uncle. The loss of her parents, however, did not deter her young heart from the importance of sharing the gospel. At age sixteen she, along with her sister, returned to China to work in a girl’s school as a missionary herself. Five years later, she married Hudson Taylor, a man well-known for his life of mission, ministry, faith, and sacrifice.

Hudson and Maria’s work was often criticized—mostly by other Christians. At one point Maria wrote, “As to the harsh judgings of the world, or the more painful misunderstandings of Christian brethren, I generally feel that the best plan is to go on with our work and leave God to vindicate our cause.” Of their nine children, only four survived to adulthood. Maria herself died of cholera when she was just forty-three. But she believed the cause was worthy of the sacrifice. On her grave marker these words were inscribed: “For her to live was Christ, and to die was gain.

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we've been following a series of sermons that walk with the Hebrew people through the desert, as they move towards their promised land. This week we are taking a look at one of their ultimate low points. Moses has gone up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. (We talked about the commandments in last weeks sermon “Survival Strategies”.)

In their impatience for his return, the people turn to idolatry and create a golden calf. God is not pleased.When I say “not pleased” it appears God is ready to forget the whole mission and find another group of folk to carry out God's purposes. (You can read the story in Exodus 32:1-14.) Luckily for the Hebrews, they have one champion who is not ready to throw in the towel. His name is Moses. It is Moses who intercedes with God, pleads for the peoples salvation, and becomes their advocate.

The people haven't treated Moses with much respect throughout their whole desert journey. It is due to their impatience with him, that they have quickly turned to idols. They have constantly questioned his leadership and complained about his decisions.

Yet Moses is faithful. He knows that the mercy of God was always greater than God's anger. He knows that God's promises were never made in vain. Because of the faithfulness of Moses, the journey continues and moves forward with new hope and purpose.

In the face of criticism or opposition it is easy to become disheartened and fall into unfaithful actions. That was not the way of Maria Dyer or Hudson Taylor. That was not the way of Moses, or of any great spiritual leaders that have blazed a trail of light and become shining examples of faithfulness for us to follow.

We do well to think upon those who demonstrate sacrificial love. It was God’s love for us that sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins, and it is that kind of self giving love that our world needs so greatly today. Let us continue to let our little light shine. It only takes one candle to remove a whole lot of darkness!

For some music... an unexpectedly uplifting performance of the gospel classic “This Little Light of Mine” on “Britain's Got Talent.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Survival Strategies

I was out of town last week. But two weeks ago, during our service at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, on our journey though the desert with the Hebrew people, we discovered how God provided for the people manna from heaven and quail meat. (sermon "Bread of Heaven" here). This coming week our sermon series, titled “Wilderness Living,” takes us to a pivotal moment in their pilgrimage. The day God gave to them the ten commandments. (Exodus 20:1-20)

The “Big Ten” have formed a bedrock for morality over centuries and a standard against which moral codes in many different cultures have been evaluated. In today's secular age, there are some who take exception to the specifically religious elements, but even the most irreligious of moralists often come up with similar ideas when it comes to getting along with each other in community.

Killing, telling lies, cheating, stealing and having excessive desire for things that do not belong to us (be that property or people) are things that most everybody agrees are not healthy paths to pursue. Likewise, “Faithfulness” is lifted up as an ideal bedrock for relationships, be that with our families or our life partners.

The distinctly religious aspects of the commandments appear in commands one through four. The first speak of responsibility before God. They basically say that we should make our pursuit of the love of God life's highest priority and should never use our religious beliefs in ways that deny God's love. That seems to be the implication in the summary Jesus offered in the gospels, when He answered a question put to Him about which was the most important commandment. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

The fourth commandment has to do with Sabbath observance. Over the centuries this has often been interpreted in a legalistic and repressive way. Jesus did not seem to view things quite the same when He told His critics "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) A more healthy way to view the “Sabbath” commandment is to suggest that we all need “down time” to renew our lives! Any farmer will tell you that the land itself has to be treated with respect or it can no longer produce good things. Taking time out to renew our relationships, with each other, with our world and with our God, is not an optional extra, but a vital component for a healthy life.

The Hebrews were heading towards their promised land. How were they expected to live when they arrived there? On their journey through the desert they showed, time and time again, they certainly needed some guidance. The “Big Ten” offered to them exactly the direction they needed.

As we visit the 10 commandments afresh in our own time, they can continue to be “Survival strategies” for people seeking a healthy and a balanced life. “Keep taking the tablets!”

For some music Kari Jobe sings “The more I seek You.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Give us this day...

We continue a sermon series at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church that follows the Hebrew people in their journey towards the promised land. We were thinking last week about how God led the people through the Red Sea and into the desert. Our sermon “Turn of the Tide” can be found here.

This week we discover that being in the desert presented its own unique set of problems. Not least of them was finding enough to eat and drink. Such was the scarcity of natural resources that some of the people began to complain against Moses that they would have been better off if they had never left Egypt.

In the model prayer that Jesus teaches His disciples, the Lord's Prayer, we find Him using the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread.” Some commentators point out that the intention behind the phrase “daily bread” is that we ask God to sufficiently supply our needs on a daily basis... not ask God to give us so much material blessing that we don't have to really on God to provide for us anymore!

This idea of “sufficiency” is not often stressed within our culture. We want to take care of ourselves and the idea of “dependence” is not one that we easily embrace. Yet when it comes to spiritual growth, the last thing we need to seek is the kind of independence which creates a gulf between our self and God. For spiritual growth we need to totally rely on God, upon the teaching of Jesus Christ, and the direction of the Holy Spirit. We also need to travel in the company of others to learn with them, and from them, how to be a community of faith.

As they traveled through the wilderness together, the faith of the Hebrew people was deeply challenged. Could God really supply what they needed every day of their life to get them through? Even in the desert? We read the story in Exodus 16:2-15 and discover how God provided... on a daily basis... meat and bread in the form of quails and manna.

When we travel through difficult days it can be tempting to complain, or even look for somebody to blame. None of us are immune from having a “fair weather only” faith. The sad reality is that disasters and tragedy are no respecter of persons or places but a troublesome part of the fabric of all of our lives.

When we face such times, so often, all we have left is a prayer to carry us through. When everything else is stripped away only then is our true reliance and dependence on God revealed. All of which is a way of saying... be thankful for the daily bread we have already received and let us pray that God will continue to supply what we need to face tomorrow... whatever tomorrow may bring!

For some music “Guide Me Oh Thy Great Redeemer” sung in English and Welsh to the tune 'Cwm Rhondda' by the choirs and congregation of Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Church, Cardiff. The hymn and tune are often called “Bread of Heaven” due to a line in the hymn. Often used as the informal anthem of Wales, and sung with great fervor at Welsh rugby matches, this was from the B.B.C. program “Songs of Praise” broadcast on 16th September 2012.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Turn of The Tide

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continued our sermon series on “Wilderness Living.” Our sermon took a look at the celebration of Passover. (Fast Food to Go). This week we look at the topic “Turn of The Tide” basing our thoughts upon Exodus 14:19-31.

I grew up in the United Kingdom near a place called Hilbre Island. Hilbre Island (pictured above) is a wonderful tiny island situated in the middle of the River Dee between the Wirral Peninsular and Wales. Though only a tiny strip of land, it is home to many rare visiting seabirds and a colony of seals.

I have a friend that still lives in the area who often posts pictures on her Facebook page of the wildlife there. It is only accessible, from the Wirral side, by walking across the sands from West Kirby... at low tide. It was not unusual to find stories like the following in our local newspaper;

A terrified couple stranded in the Dee Estuary by a fast rising tide were rescued thanks to the quick thinking of an off-duty lifeguard. The two adults, who were trying to get to Hilbre Island, became stranded as water from an exceptionally high tide surged past their waists. They had been attempting to walk across to the nature hotspot but “misjudged” the incoming spring tide, HM Coastguard said.
An off-duty lifeguard from Wirral beach patrol spotted the pair in trouble and raised the alarm. A spokeswoman for the Coastguard today said that the lifeguard’s actions 'saved their lives'.

I remember from my own days living in that area just how quickly the tide used to come in and how easy it was to find yourself in a tricky situation! It can be a deadly mistake not to pay attention to shifting tides.

At a later date my wife worked in the administrative department of the “Department of Coastal and Estuarine Studies” of the University of Wales. One of the many jobs of the department was producing the annual “Tide Tables” - a booklet that gave the precise times of the incoming and outgoing tides all around the coastline. This was information of vital importance to island explorers, navigators and anybody who made their livelihood from the sea.

These are days when we see great shifting tides of opinion and understanding. Things we once thought of as certainties are now questioned. The role of religion is no longer such a guiding force in many peoples lives. Behavior we once considered strange is now acceptable. For sure, change isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some things need to change!

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament offer us a form of “Tide-Table” to help us through. Disciplines of corporate worship and personal prayer can help us interpret God's word to our current situation. The tide turns. Always has. Always will.

We are not called to navigate uncharted waters alone. Through community and fellowship, through the “Love of God, the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit”... many believe we can find the direction we seek. May God help us all find the resources we need for the living of these days!

For some music a song by “The Fray”called “Changing Tides.” Though the song is about a romantic relationship it could equally be applied to our journey of discipleship.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Don't Forget to Chew!

Don’t forget to chew your food. It’s the first part of the digestion process. A digestive enzyme called amylase, which is found in saliva, starts to break down some of the carbohydrates (starches and sugars) in the food even before it leaves the mouth. As you chew, the saliva begins to mix with the food. Saliva not only helps make the food softer and easier to swallow, but it also helps break down the chemicals in the food. It’s a form of chemical digestion.

That may be an unusual way to start this weeks blog. But here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are traveling through a sermon series called “Wilderness Living,” and taking a look at the journey the Hebrew people made out of Egypt. Last week we saw the important role Moses had to play in the process. God certainly gave him a lot to chew on! (Our sermon “Holy Ground” can be found here.)

This week we'll be thinking about the Passover meal. While the Passover meal was designed to be eaten “on the go,” it was certainly NOT fast food. There were significant steps that led to it's preparation and the whole experience was designed to be a memorial for all time. Something to chew on, rather than quickly swallowed down. (See Exodus 12:1-14)

This week is also our Sunday School Rally Day, when we kick off a brand new church educational year for our Sunday School. Weather permitting, this Sunday we hope to have an open air service at our beautiful amphitheater and follow it up with a picnic.

The task of Christian Education reminds us that the Holy Scriptures are not soundbites. That we need to take time to chew on God's Word if it is truly going to be a source of energy for our spiritual lives. 

Such is not a message that is particularly popular in our “I want it all and I want it now” culture. But it seems to me, that the best and most memorable things in life, are those that take time to percolate (and as a lover of coffee I know my percolation!)

So don't forget to chew. In digestive terms, you need to chew in order to properly benefit from your food. In spiritual terms you also need to pace yourself. Growth takes time. Learning takes commitment. We can't expect to know all there is to know about God in a few short sound bites. Discipleship is a lifetime journey.

We need not only a healthy diet of prayer, study and worship but also to take our time to digest all that God is seeking to show us. So don't forget to chew!

For some music to chew on... “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman.

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Wilderness Living

During September and into October, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we are pursuing a series of sermons on the theme “Wilderness Living.” This has nothing to do with Lewis and Clarke exploring the Wild West, but rather the journey that Moses led the Hebrew people on as they began an exodus from Egypt and made their way towards their promised land.

The times in which we are living can sometimes seem to be like a wilderness! We can be unsure whose voice to trust and which is the best advice to take. This was a struggle that those earliest Hebrews also faced. There were many voices that competed for their attention. Yet, always, the One they really needed to hear, was the voice of God that offered direction and promised to lead them to a better place.

Last Sunday we were considering the unusual circumstances of the birth of Moses. (Sermon can be found here.) Around him at the time of his birth, were a group of seemingly insignificant ladies. Two midwives called 'Shiprah' and Puah', a bold elder sister called Miriam and a mother called Jochabed, who didn't give up on hope (even as she watched her baby floating downstream in a basket!) Because of their faithful actions, the destiny of Moses was not be a victim of infanticide, but rather to be raised as a prince in Egypt.

This coming week we'll be looking at the experience Moses had of a burning bush (that didn't really burn.) The story is in Exodus 3:1-15. As Moses stood on holy ground he was confronted with a powerful message that convinced him that his life on this earth had a higher purpose and meaning than he could ever have imagined.

Knowing that God calls each of us by name and has a purpose for each of our lives can help us move through wilderness times we face in our personal journeys. Wilderness times come in many forms. Sickness. Bereavement. Loss. Tragedy. Suffering. Our life circumstances can change in an instant and things we thought would last for ever have a habit of not being eternal after all.

God promises to walk with us through the wilderness times. It can be hard to discern God's voice among all the others, yet we do have the testimony of Scripture to guide us. We have the example of Jesus Christ to inspire us and the power of God's Holy Spirit to empower us. Through prayer and worship of God... we can make it through.

Such are some of the lessons we hope to discover as we travel through our series on “Wilderness Living.” Let's face it... we need all the help we can get for the living of these days!

For some music... a Holy Ground medley!

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.