Archive for March, 2011

March 28, 2011

iPad 0.1 (an early prototype)

iPad 0.1The Not New ‘iPad’ 0.1

  • Thin, light and fast (well as fast as you can write or draw).
  • Instant on (no time lag between when you take it out of its case and being able to use this incredible multi-functional tablet device).
  • It just works (no software glitches or bugs, no online or telephone registration, no forms to fill out, no expensive contract, you’re ready to go, straight out of the box).
  • Everlasting battery life (even after years of use, the battery indicator will not even show).
  • No cameras (so no embarrassing pictures).
  • Incredible games (Noughts and Crosses / Tic Tac Toe and Hangman come as standard).
  • A very smart cover (look it even folds over).
  • All natural and 100% recyclable and environmentally friendly materials (natural wood, natural slate, natural wool cover and a natural graphite ‘stylus’)

iPad 0.1 Wow your friends and work colleagues…

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March 27, 2011

Living Water

Rushing Wave

Sermon for Today, (Lent 3, Year A)
Text John 4:5-42 Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Whenever we hear the name ‘Samaritan’ today, we think of “The Samaritans”, that wonderful organisation that has helped countless numbers of people simply by being a listening ear on the other end of the telephone line. It wasn’t always that way though, for the Jews living in the first century, Samaritans were outcasts; they had their own temple separate from the one in Jerusalem and they had their own peculiar style of worship. The Jews hated the Samaritans and this feeling was mutual.

I don’t know what parallels we might draw today from this, I suppose wherever you go in the world you will find equivalents; communities that will not speak to each other, the enmity often going so far back in history that no one can really remember when it all started. Each of us probably have our own Samaritans and (believe it or not) we are most likely Samaritans to other groups who think differently from us…

Into this racial, ethnic and moral mess comes Jesus, let’s see how He deals with it. Jesus and the disciples were travelling from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north and the most direct route was through Samaria (though many Jews took the longer route in order to avoid coming into contact with any Samaritans). Jesus comes to a town called ‘Sycar’, where the famous ‘Jacob’s well’ was (and still is). It is midday and Jesus is tired from the journey, the disciples had gone to buy food and so the Lord is on his own as he goes over to the well to sit down. A woman comes over to draw some water and the Lord asks if he may have a drink.

The woman is surprised by this, (remember, Jews and Samaritans were not on speaking terms), and so she says:

‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (v.9)

But if she is surprised that this Jewish rabbi is even speaking to her, that’s nothing compared to what happens next.

Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ (v.10)

Now it all starts to get a bit strange, what does Jesus mean? The woman asks Jesus how he is able to get water without a bucket, especially as it is a very deep well. ‘Living water’ can be translated running or flowing water which would have been a lot fresher and nicer to drink than the still, stagnant water deep below in the well. But Jesus means more than this, as we shall see. He says to her:

‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ (v.13b, 14)

Clearly He is no longer talking about ordinary water, He is actually talking about the Holy Spirit. If we drink water it satisfies our thirst for a time and then we will be thirsty again. In life we try to satisfy the spiritual thirst we all have with the things of this world and wonder why we can never get enough of the things of this world, we are never satisfied and always want more. In Jesus though we have the opportunity to drink the living water that gushes up to eternal life and if we do so will never be spiritually thirsty again.

It’s a big concept to grasp, so we can have a bit of sympathy with the Samaritan woman, as she doesn’t yet get what Jesus is talking about by the fact that she replies by saying:

‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

The woman is intrigued by what Jesus is saying and wants to find out more and she is about to learn something of vital importance. When we invite Jesus into our lives He is more than glad to come, but He will start to clean up the mess he finds once he does come. This is true for all of us and so we are not in any position to look down upon this woman or anyone else for that matter ‘for all have sinned and fall short if the glory of God’. For this woman it was her married life or rather unmarried life that needed sorting out. So the Lord says to her:

‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. (v.16b-19)

Jesus, as always sees to the heart of the problem, this woman’s life has been one emotional upheaval after another. We don’t know how much of all this was her fault, but the result was that her life was in a mess and it must have been strangely comforting for her to know that Jesus knew. But perhaps it was not that comforting as she tries to change the subject by talking about the differences between Jews and Samaritans. We of course all do this (not talk about the differences between Jews and Samaritans but rather try to change the subject when it gets a bit close). How many times talking to our spouse or good friend have they gently challenged us on some aspect of our behaviour only for us to change the subject when it gets a bit uncomfortable? And we even do it to God – we are reading a Bible passage that deeply challenges us or we sense the Holy Spirit confronting us about something and all of a sudden we decide we want a cup of tea or lunch, in fact anything to avoid being confronted about our sin!

But of course, in trying to steer Jesus away from His deep insight into her life, she only ends up drawing Him closer, she says:

‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’

Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’ (v.26)

And so there we have it, Jesus reveals who He is to a woman at a well in Samaria. Fairly ordinary we might think, but in case we haven’t already realised just how extraordinary this is yet, the return of the disciples gives us another hint. We are told that they are astonished that he is talking with a woman. It was just not the custom for men to talk to women they did not know and even more so a Samaritan woman. Think also about this, she had come to draw water from the well in the middle and hottest part of the day. All the other women of the town would have come to draw water in the cooler parts of the day, the early morning and evening. This woman though was an outcast, she either was not allowed to go to the well when the others did or she simply could not stand the gossip and the looks she got from the others. This woman was disadvantaged in many ways, some through her own making and some by accident of birth. But that didn’t matter to Jesus, He met with her and her life was never the same again.

Would we not love to meet with Jesus in this way? Would we not just love to sit down with Him and have a conversation, even though we know that it might be a bit uncomfortable because to drink the living water, we have to let Him get rid of all the stagnant and stale water first?

Well (if you’ll excuse the pun), the good news is this. You, me, anyone can sit down with Jesus any time. We can talk to Him and we can allow Him to come into our hearts and lives and fill us with His Living Water that gushes up to eternal life. We can allow Him to change us, to wash us, to cleanse us from the inside out. There is no need for us to be an outcast with God, He wants us to become part of His family, He wants to be our Father and for us to be His child. No matter who you are, even if your lifestyle is as bad or worse than the Samaritan woman in today’s reading it does not stop Jesus, He comes to us regardless of who we are and of what we’ve done and He wants you to sit down with Him and He offers you a drink, Living Water. Will you take it?

—————————————————
(Some ideas and concepts explored here were found in Tom Wright’s magnificent book “John for Everyone”, SPCK, 2002)

March 22, 2011

The age-old battle

St. Michael v the devil

For everyone (and the Christian in particular) it seems that the devil is never too far away, an almost constant and most unwelcome visitor.

My mind was in a melee of thoughts: the earthquake and nuclear crisis in Japan, the people of Libya and not least my wife’s mystery illness that has seen her in hospital three times over the last few weeks (but God-willing she will be home tomorrow).  This was all going through my mind whilst I was walking along an upper corridor of the Bon Secours hospital in Cork and as I approached the top of the stairs I looked up and saw the statue that you see in the above picture (not a very good photo as I only had my mobile phone to take the picture with).

If I remember correctly, it is St. Michael the Archangel who is doing the damage.  Although it is obviously stylised I like it for it portrays in a very vivid fashion that age-old battle.  The reality of course would be altogether more spectacular; the overwhelming brilliance of God’s light against the deep darkness of the devil, purity against evil, love against hate, selflessness against selfishness (and many other polar-opposites besides).

I have to say it brought a little cheer to my day because even though the otherworldliness of this statue looks the stuff of fantasy, it is of course portraying something very real indeed.  Very real too is God’s victory, won through what the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross all those years ago…

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20)

 

March 13, 2011

Defeating temptation

Temptation!

The ‘Apple’ logo on my computer often makes me think of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden!

Sermon for Today, First Sunday in Lent Year A. Text Matthew 4:1-11

Temptation is a horrible thing!  Even as I was trying to write this sermon the temptation to do just about anything else, such as having a walk around the garden in the sunshine, or to go and make a cup of tea or find a piece of cake or to check the cricket score just didn’t stop!  It was so difficult to concentrate and so difficult to write, but with God’s help I got there in the end.  And that is the key to dealing with temptation ‘with God’s help’.  We all know that we are simply not strong enough to deal with temptation on our own, we need help, specifically God’s help, otherwise we will never be successful.

As we look at the reading for today from Matthew’s gospel, we learn a few very important lessons from the Lord Jesus, as we look at how He dealt with temptation.  The Lord never asks of his followers anything that He has not already gone through Himself.  He has been tempted, as we are often tempted so therefore, He is able to help us. Listen to this verse from Hebrews chapter 2:

“Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Heb.2:18)

So how did the Lord do it?  First of all we read about how the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert in order to meet the trial ahead.  The Lord fasts for forty days and forty nights and it is only after this time of preparation that the devil comes to him.  As we read this text we might realise just how mysterious it all is; the boundaries of time and space don’t seem to matter very much – but taking all that on board we must not be tempted ourselves to think of this as some kind of parable or allegory.  This is a real event, it’s not some kind of metaphor – these were real temptations by the chief devil, Satan himself.  (Concerning the devil, good advice is given to us by C.S. Lewis, who wrote):

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.  One is to disbelieve in their existence.  The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive interest in them.  They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…” (‘The Screwtape L.etters’ p.9)

Of course we need to be aware that when we are tempted by whom it is we are being tempted, it is not our imagination, it is from a very real and a very powerful enemy.  Thankfully we have an infinity greater Lord and Saviour, but don’t let any of us ever think that we can conquer temptation without God’s help.

So then, the devil comes to the Lord Jesus and says:

‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’4But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’ (v. 3b, 4)

In the paragraph before today’s reading, we have the account of Jesus’ baptism and it is at His baptism that God the Father says in a voice from heaven:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt.3:17)

So the devil is picking up on this as he says, “If you are the Son of God,” and tries to get the Lord to use his divine power to satisfy his natural desire for food.  Of course there is nothing wrong with food and eating, God gives us many wonderful foods to enjoy and to share, but in this instance the timing was wrong.  The Lord was in the desert to fast, not to eat and because he had come to live as a man on the earth he had willingly limited his divine power so that He might experience human frailty – he wouldn’t use his power to change stones into bread.  We too may be tempted to satisfy perfectly good and God-given desires in the wrong way or at the wrong time, such as indulging in sex before marriage or in stealing food to eat.  Many of our natural desires are good, but God wants us to satisfy them in the right way and at the right time.

How does the Lord silence the tempter?  By quoting from the Bible, which is a very powerful and potent weapon against the enemy.  Ephesians 6:17 tells us that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God.  We need to read our Bibles, we need to memorise verses of Scripture so that when we are tempted, we will be able to stand against the enemy.

For the second temptation, the devil comes to Jesus and leads Him to Jerusalem up to the very pinnacle of the temple and says:

‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”,    and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’ (v.6)

Again, the devil uses the “if you are the Son of God” line, trying to put a seed of doubt into the Lord’s mind.  First time around the devil tries to get Jesus to abuse His divine power, now similarly the devil tries to get Jesus to put on a spectacular and impressive display by throwing himself down from the top of the temple and letting an army of angels come dramatically to His rescue.

The Lord responds by quoting Scripture once More:

‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ (Deut. 6:16)

God is not some magician in the sky ready to perform tricks and God does not need to prove Himself to the devil!

Twice the devil tries to tempt the Lord to abuse His Divine power and twice he fails, so now he tries a different tack, in effect saying, “forget your heavenly Father.  Just worship me and I’ll give you power and greatness like no one else ever had.” (phrase from Tom Wright, ‘Matthew for Everyone” Part 1, p.25).  We read:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ (v. 8,9)

Of course the devil did not have the kingdoms of the world to give, but that did not stop him offering them!  Likewise the devil will try to tempt us with materialism and power and he offers us so much without any intention of giving it to us.  The Lord’s response to this ridiculous temptation was swift and decisive:

‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God,  and serve only him.” ’ (v. 10)

Then we are told that the devil leaves and angels come to the Lord and wait on Him.  So again, the Lord quotes Scripture to defeat the enemy.  When we are tempted we need to resist those temptations in the same way that Jesus did, by wielding the sharp, double-edged sword that is the word of God.  Perhaps it would be a good exercise in Lent to memorise some scriptures specifically to do with temptation?

I’ll finish with what author Brian Larson writes on the subject of temptation[1]:

Temptation is always seductive, and so we can hardly have too many reminders of Satan’s purpose in it.

Last week I had a simple reminder. I was at a party over lunch with a dozen of my fellow workers. It was a warm day in early September, and we had the windows open wide. Soon a bee found its way in, and after buzzing near me it landed on some food on the table. One of my colleagues a few chairs away took hold of an empty bottle of sparkling grape juice and put the mouth of the bottle near the bee. When she did that, I expected the bee to be startled and fly away for its own safety, as a butterfly might do. Instead, without a moment’s hesitation, the bee flew to the mouth of the bottle as if it had done this a hundred times before and climbed inside the narrow opening. Immediately my colleague put the cap on the bottle and screwed it shut. The bee spent the rest of our party drinking at the bottom of the bottle. As far as I know, the bee was never released.

What was my colleague’s purpose in luring the bee into the bottle? Was she concerned about the bee, wanting it to enjoy our hospitality and have plenty to drink? No, she dislikes bees. Her purpose was capture and control. The bee had flown into a trap.

When Satan incites us to indulge in the pleasures of the world in a manner that oversteps God’s commands, what is his purpose? Is he concerned that we might miss out on the good things of God? No, he despises humans. His purpose is capture and control. We must never forget that when we follow Satan, we walk into a trap.

When the Tempter comes around, it is better to have the instincts of a butterfly than a bee.

Let us pray… Amen

March 9, 2011

Lent, a time for new beginnings and growth.

Blarney Crocuses

Photo: Crocuses at Blarney Castle (February 2011)

Sermon for Ash Wednesday.  Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Mentioning ‘Lent’ to people will provoke differing reactions. For some, it is the chance to give something up, such as chocolate, smoking, alcohol, (or churchgoing)!  For others it is the chance to start doing something good and positive, going for a brisk walk every morning, reading Deuteronomy and Leviticus before breakfast or giving some time or money to a charity.  For others still, even mentioning ‘Lent’ will result in arms being folded and statements of defiance such as ‘Well, I’m giving up Lent for Lent!”

I have to say that over the years I’ve tried various things with limited success, so I was pleased about the appointed reading for today because it is one that I have for years found in equal measure comforting, encouraging and challenging.  This reading gives us help with some of the great themes of Lent that have been practised by Christians down through the centuries, these are: Giving to the needy, Prayer, Fasting, and the way we view possessions.

The Lord Jesus begins by teaching about giving to the needy.  Even just mentioning this may make us squirm!  It used to be that the needy were people who you lived amongst, orphans and widows and beggars on the streets were near where you lived and may have been known to you personally.  Now to a large degree, the needy are much more remote from us, they live in far away places, we are distanced from them in language, culture and creed.  As such, it is easy to forget about them and as it were to pass by on the other side of the road.  If we have a conscience however, the needy will never be so far away from us that we are unable to help.  Not only does the Lord Jesus want us to give to the needy, He wants us to do it in secret.  He says:

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you…” (v.1-4)

The Lord does not want us to be hypocrites, where we only do things for outward appearance – ‘Look at me aren’t I great for giving all this money away!’  Haven’t we all felt that temptation, when we have done something good or given something away, we want people to know about it? Of course, if people can find out about our giving and it looks like we were trying to keep it a secret all the better – ‘O how holy I am!’  I love the phrase ‘do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’, our motive for giving must be pure; we must genuinely not even secretly want some kind of reward in return.  We give because of God’s love, God’s love for us and for the joy of being used by God to bless others in return.

The next great theme of Lent is that of Prayer, the Lord says:

5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (v.5-6)

Again, we are not to be hypocrites, putting on prayers for show to be seen and heard by others.  I learnt my lesson about this at the Christian Union meeting I used to attend in my student days.  For some reason I got it into my head that God was impressed with long complicated prayers and so when we used to have prayer times I would set off on these really extended ridiculous prayers with what I thought were long and impressive words and rich metaphors – it was all very ridiculous and I am ashamed as I remember it.  Nobody said anything to me about it but one day, in mid prayer it suddenly dawned on me what I was doing – I was trying to impress God, and I was trying to impress my fellow students and I was a big eejit!  I felt so stupid and it was many months before I could pray out loud again – normally and honestly and without hypocrisy.  Of course this is even more important in our personal and private prayer; like our giving of money, our personal prayer times should be in secret, behind a closed door out of sight and hearing of anyone else as much as possible.

Have you ever tried to fast?  If you want some way to make yourself as grumpy and as irritable as possible I highly recommend it!  No seriously, fasting is something that is a very good habit indeed, though one that seems (for many) to have fallen by the wayside a bit in recent times.  There are lots of different ways of doing it but here is what I would suggest for someone who would like to give it a go:  A simple way to do it is to fast for 24 hours, so when you wake up in the morning don’t have breakfast, just a couple of glasses of water and the time that you normally would have spent preparing and eating your breakfast spend in prayer and Bible reading.  Then for your elevenses the same, a glass or two of water and the time you would have normally taken with your coffee and ‘Kit Kat’ spend with God in the place of prayer, same for lunch, same for dinner and the same before bed.  The next morning, have your breakfast, but just have a small bowl of cereal or slice of toast, if you go for the ‘full Irish’ you will probably be sick!  Fasting has a strange effect; you will find yourself getting grumpy as you get hungry but this will go because of the extra time spent in prayer and in that prayer you will find all sorts of things that need dealing with coming to the surface.  Talk to God about all the stuff that comes up, tell him what you are feeling, just let it all out and tell him.  People who fast often find it invaluable and actually look forward to it as a time of blessing and fellowship with God.  Again, the Lord Jesus wants our fasting to be done in secret – we don’t make a fuss about it so we plan the fasting for a quiet day when we would be at home rather than a day when we were invited to City Hall for a banquet!

The fourth great theme of Lent that the Lord teaches us about is our attitude towards money and possessions.  It’s a bit of a cliché (but one that we have no doubt witnessed), that the more money people have the more tightly they try and hold on to it.  So often people who are very wealthy are also very unhappy.  Conversely, people who are not at all wealthy are often much more happy.  I have also seen how often it is the poorest people who are the most generous in their giving of both money and resources; they have learned a lesson of which the rest of us can only be  in awe of, that true happiness is in giving away what God blesses us with, that we might in turn bless others.

As we look at these things, the giving of money, praying in secret, fasting and our attitude to money and possessions it can be overwhelming.  We can despair at our weakness:  We try to give money away but we can’t even afford to pay our bills first, ‘I want to be able to pray but I don’t think God would listen, he’s too busy and how could he love me after what I’ve done anyway; fasting, I’m a million miles away from that, it’s just for monks and people who have loads of spare time on their hands; money how can I worry about money, I don’t have any to hoard in the first place!’  I know, I know.  Look, just begin with small steps, like a child learning to walk, holding his Father’s big hands and looking into his Father’s kind and loving eyes.  Just take one step at a time…

I’ll finish with this amazing true story that I came across recently:

A man called Craig had been an alcoholic for more than a dozen years. He’d lost everything he had, including his wife and son, due to his selfishness and addiction. Things began to change after he gave his life to Christ, but he still fell regularly into his old habits. It didn’t help that he’d lost his well-paying job and was working at a local grocery shop that was well stocked with alcohol. After a few years of going back and forth between Christ and the bottle, he finally cut the ties, and, out of obedience to Christ, quit his job.

With no income and hope only in Christ, he was in desperate condition. After an interview with a sheet metal company down the street from his new church, he cried out to God. “God, if you give me this job I will give you my first pay check.” Surprisingly, he got the job.

He clearly remembers the day when he got his first pay check. Stacks of bills needed to be paid. Penniless but determined, he wrote his name on the back of the check and endorsed it over to the church and walked it to the church office without waiting for the Sunday offering. That was the moment, he says, that changed his life because now he understood what it meant to trust God.

As of today, Craig has been sober for 25 years, he’s a manager at that sheet metal company, and he serves as an elder at his local church.[1]

With God’s help, all things are possible, even for me and even for you.  Amen.

March 6, 2011

Mountaintop experience

Carrantuohill, Co. Kerry, Ireland

Film Scan of a photo from November 2003 – Ireland’s Highest Mountain, Carrantuohill, Co. Kerry

Today’s Sermon, Text Matthew 17:1-9.  The Sunday Before Lent (Year A)

Years ago, when Sonja and I were living in Sligo, we climbed a mountain with a group from the Summer Camp we were helping out with.  We had climbed it many times before and although it was not Mount Everest, it was a decent enough climb and the view was always spectacular – the lakes, valleys and mountains going into Co. Leitrim to the East, up into Donegal Northwards, and South and West looking over Sligo town and far out into the Atlantic Ocean.  On this occasion, as we set out it was cloudy and as we were climbing up the side of the mountain we soon found ourselves  in the midst of the cloud, but it was a well-worn path, so we were able to continue without any difficulty.  When we got to the top we found that we were above the cloud, as if we were on an island with other mountaintops poking out as islands in the distance, it was spectacular.  We sat down to have a rest and to cook some food.  A little later the Sun began to set, the sky turned wonderful hues of orange and red and lit up the clouds beneath us, the blanket of cloud looked like a sea of red hot lava!  It was a special moment and a spectacular sight and one that I will always remember – a real ‘mountaintop’ experience.

Of course ‘mountaintop’ experiences don’t just have to take place on a mountain!  In our lives as followers of the Lord Jesus, we often refer to those times of great religious or spiritual experience, times when we know and encounter God’s love and presence in a special and unique way as ‘mountaintop experiences’.  When they happen we don’t want them to come to an end – we want to stay there because it is such a wonderful place to be.

In today’s gospel reading Peter, James and John have what might be described as a very dramatic mountaintop experience!  The Lord takes them on a journey, up a high mountain.  The heat of the sun, the dust from the path, the hardness of the rocks and their out-of-breath lungs would have left them in no doubt that this was real, they were not dreaming, but nevertheless the things that were about to happen, what they were to hear and see, were something well beyond the realm of normal experience and were to give them a glimpse behind the curtain of eternity – to see Jesus glorified and to see those who had long been dead as very much alive.

Matthew writes:

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (v2,3)

‘Transfigure’ means to transform into something more beautiful or elevated, and this is what happened to the Lord Jesus, suddenly he was blindingly bright, his face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzlingly white. Imagine what this would have been like for the disciples!  How would you have responded if you had been there?  The purpose of this was perhaps to encourage the disciples, to give them some idea of Jesus’ divinity – everyday they were with Jesus and they saw Jesus the man (though they must also have known and realised that He was so much more than just a man). Here was an occasion when they were reminded of how Jesus was before He came to live on earth and how He would be in eternity and specifically how He would be at His second coming.

There would be much sorrow and hardship ahead for the disciples and this vision of Jesus would have been a great encouragement to them in the darkest and most difficult days that lay ahead (and so also for Christians throughout the centuries and today).  Just a few days ago Shahbaz Bhatti, a remarkable man and Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs was assassinated in Islamabad, why? Because he was a Christian.   Since he was high profile we heard about it in our part of the world, but there are many many more Christians killed daily only because they are followers of the Lord Jesus.  What has kept them going and what has always kept God’s people going during times of persecution and hardship?  The knowledge that this life is a preparation for the next; that we shall see Christ in His glory can and does give the believer strength and courage to face the trouble and the evil of today.

Now if we have never heard this bit of the Bible before we might be wondering the significance of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.  The remarkable thing here is that these two men had been dead for centuries and yet here they are talking with Christ!  Surely then these verses show us that those who have died live on in the next life, but they have another purpose too – Moses and Elijah were two great Old Testament characters, Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets.  In other words the whole of the Old Testament was leading up to its fulfilment in the Person and work of Christ.  The Lord Jesus does not do away with the Old Testament, He fulfils it.  So when we read the Hebrew Scriptures (which we all should) we see them through the lens of Christ, we use His teaching and the words of the New Testament to interpret all that we read in the Old.  So the purpose then of Moses and Elijah appearing and talking to Jesus was for the benefit of Peter, James and John (and ultimately all believers) to show Jesus’ authority and rightful place in the scheme of things; yes Moses and Elijah were important, but Jesus is infinitely greater.

Peter, James and John were in awe of what was happening and Peter has one of those moments when he doesn’t really know what to say or how to respond, so he says:

‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ (v.4)

Whether Peter wanted to preserve the moment or to somehow give Moses and Elijah a place to sit down and have a cup of tea we are not sure!  This was such an awesome experience that Peter didn’t want it to end – he wanted to stay on the mountain longer.   But next, while Peter was still speaking we read:

“… suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’” (v.5-7)

We can be left in no doubt that this is God the Father showing not only His approval of God the Son but also proof of Jesus’ divinity – Jesus is one with the Father and with the Holy Spirit.  Peter wanted to put up thee tents as if Moses, Elijah and Jesus were on a par with each other, clearly they are not because even before Peter has finished speaking he is told in a most dramatic way that One is there who is far greater than even these towering figures of history.  So the warning is there not only to Peter James and John but to all of us never to put our trust in any person other than Christ, people will always let us down, Christ never will let us down.

As the disciples were huddled on the ground in fear Jesus comes over to them and touches them, He comforts them and tells them not to be afraid.  They find the courage to open their eyes and when they do so, all they see is Jesus.

So where does that leave us?  I think it is an important reminder that our religion, our faith is a supernatural one.  Too often, we try to sanitise God, make him presentable and acceptable, ordered and dare I say it tame!  But God is not tame; He will not fit neatly in a box!  I think it leads us also to being honest with ourselves and asking the question about whether or not we are happy with our relationship with Christ.  How is that relationship going?  Is it going well or is there any relationship at all?   – Only you and He know the answer to that– so let us pray:

Lord God forgive us for trying to keep you at a safe distance, actually we long for a greater encounter with you, we yearn for a deeper relationship with you and we hunger and thirst for more of you in our lives.  Help us to let go of all that gets in the way of our relationship and help us to seek you with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.  May we know you more fully, more completely and by your grace help us to listen to you, to not be afraid and to do all that you require of us, that you Holy Name may be glorified in us and through us … Amen.

March 2, 2011

Arachnophilia?

Incy wincy

I think Spiders get a bad press.  Whenever we come across them in literature (see Tolkien’s Shelob for a good example) or films (such as Arachnophobia), they are nearly always bad news – maybe they need to talk to Max Clifford!

Spider’s don’t come up too often in the Bible, though I did come across these rather sobering verses in Job chapter 8:

11 “Can papyrus reeds grow tall without a marsh?
Can marsh grass flourish without water?
12 While they are still flowering, not ready to be cut,
they begin to wither more quickly than grass.
13 The same happens to all who forget God.
The hopes of the godless evaporate.
14 Their confidence hangs by a thread.
They are leaning on a spider’s web.
15 They cling to their home for security, but it won’t last.
They try to hold it tight, but it will not endure.

The fragility of the Spider’s web is compared to those who put their trust in things other than God; real security is only found in Him.

The spider in the picture above I noticed one morning in a skylight window.  To take the picture I had to stand on a rickety old chair and hold the camera above my head at arms length – of about ten pictures I took, this was the only one in focus!  As I look at it now, part of me thinks ‘yuck’, but another part marvels at this wonderful little creature.  I would hardly call it beautiful, but it is (to me) rather fascinating and awe-inspiring.  It helps me to marvel at the One who created all things – and to thank him that I am not a fly!