Archive for February, 2012

February 28, 2012

On the shelf

On the shelf

These Rag Dolls are stuck on the shelf, but it’s O.K., they know that one day the waiting will be over and their time will come … ;-)

For anyone interested, I have been trying out the free ‘beta’ version of Lightroom 4, available for Mac and PC here.  This photo was shot at 5600 ISO and as a result was very ‘noisy’ (lots of grainy stuff, especially in the shadow areas).  Lightroom has a series of  ‘noise reduction’ sliders that are very effective at reducing the graininess.  If you are into photography it’s something I would recommend, but hurry, it’s only going to be free until the end of March, after which it will probably be three hundred Euro or more…

 

 

February 22, 2012

Under an Ashen Sky

Under an Ashen Sky - Coolmain Bay

The view over Coolmain Bay this morning.  Given the day that’s in it, an appropriate sky…

February 20, 2012

A mountaintop experience

Annascaul Lake(Photo:  Annascaul Lake, Co. Kerry, January 2010)

Yesterday’s Sermon. Text, Mark 9:2-9

Do you ever like to ‘get away from it all’?  You know, to go to some quiet place, away from the busyness and the hustle and bustle of everyday life, some place to relax and de-stress.  Probably most of us like the idea but may seldom if ever get around to doing anything about it.  If you look at the gospels, you will see that the Lord Jesus liked to get away from the crowds, He liked to spend time alone with His Father, time to recover and rest so that He could continue His ministry with a fresh energy and vision.

One such time though, Jesus decides to not go alone but to take with him three of His disciples, Peter, James and John.  The four of them journey together up a high mountain.  I wonder what was going through the disciples’ minds as they journeyed along?  Perhaps they were curious as to why Jesus was leading them up such a steep and rocky path, perhaps they wished they could get to the top sooner, perhaps they wished they were not so hot and thirsty and tired.  But whatever they are thinking or saying they do not turn back, they keep following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Once they reach the top, something remarkable happens.  In the second half of verse 2 and then in verse 3 we read:

And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 

This word ‘transfigured’ is a curious one, what does it mean?  It means to change or transform; the Greek word used is μετεμορφώθη (metemorphōthē), from which we get the word ‘metamorphosis’.  It is like the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly, and it was something like this that happened to the Lord Jesus.  His appearance changed, Mark tells us that ‘his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.’  There is something wonderful and beautiful and heavenly happening here.  Peter, James and John are seeing the Lord Jesus in his glory, in His deity and power and His appearance is like nothing they have ever seen before, it is like nothing else on earth.

I would imagine that as Peter, James and John looked on in awe, that any sense of tiredness at climbing the mountain evaporated at this point and was replaced with joy, elation, wonder and even a little fear at this numinous, otherworldly encounter with Jesus, whom they thought they knew, but now know in a whole new dimension.

As the three disciples gazed, unable to take their eyes off Jesus, look what happens next.  Mark writes:

4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Elijah and Moses were two of the Old Testament greats, they were looked up to as men of God, as examples to follow, and great leaders of God’s people in the past.  During their lifetimes, both Elijah and Moses had spoken with God on mountains.

In Exodus chapter 34, we read about Moses meeting with God on mount Sinai and when he came down, his face had such a radiant glow that the people were afraid to come near him and so he had to put a veil over his face until he went back to speak with God again.

Elijah too met with God on Mount Sinai, (we can read about it in 1 Kings chapter 19), and it was there that God revealed himself not in a spectacular way, but in an incredibly gentle way, a ‘still small voice’ (KJV) or ‘gentle whisper’ (NIV).

So why then were these two Old Testament veterans meeting with the transfigured Jesus on another mountain and many many years after they had died?

Firstly, there is the obvious connection that they are, in talking with Jesus, in fact meeting with God.  There is an implied familiarity between them; these guys are not strangers, they have met before, they know each other.  Secondly, Elijah as one of the greatest heroes in the history of Israel, is there to represent all the prophets of the Old Testament and Moses, as the one through whom God gave the Ten Commandments is there to represent the Law.  So the significance here is that in Jesus, revealed in His Divine Glory, we are shown the One in whom all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah are fulfilled and the One in whom all the Old Testament law is fulfilled.  The Lord Jesus is shown to be above and superior to Moses and Elijah and the One who is the fulfilment of everything that had gone on before.

Last week we went on a family outing to the cinema to see the 3D Star Wars film that is out at the moment.  As we walked into the auditorium we were handed special glasses to wear so that we could see the 3D effects on the screen.  I must admit that the three boys found it very enjoyable (though my better half less so, as she actually fell asleep during the film).  Of course, special effects are not enough on their own to make a good film; the story needs to be good too.  The ‘Transfiguration’ of Jesus was much more than just special effects; there is a very important story and meaning behind what happened that day on the mountaintop.

Peter tries his best to deal with the amazing event and ‘special effects’, that he is witnessing and so he says to Jesus:

‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 

Mark tells us that Peter did not know what to say, he was terrified!  I think we can all have a bit of sympathy with Peter here; the experience was for him and the other two disciples way way beyond anything they had seen or heard before, even with Jesus.  Perhaps Peter is just trying to be hospitable and make a tent – they are after all on a mountaintop and maybe it was windy!  Peter, James and John may be terrified, but their life-changing encounter has not finished yet.

Next we are told that:

‘… a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 

God the Father is here and as He spoke centuries earlier to Moses and to Elijah He speaks again now to the disciples.  ‘This is my Son’, says the Father, the ‘Beloved’.  The bond of love and attachment between the Father and the Son could not be greater.  The word translated ‘Beloved’ means a complete and total unconditional and sacrificial love, a love that is beyond all others.  And it is the same word that Jesus Himself when He says to His followers:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

As the Father loves the Son so the Son loves us and asks of us to love each other.

Dumbstruck as they were, by what they had seen and heard, this extreme, mountaintop ordeal was now over for the disciples. We are told next that:

8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

It was over.  It had seemed like time had stood still, all their senses had been overloaded with this experience of the Divine and now it was all quiet, all calm and they were alone once more with Jesus, not the Jesus who was too bright to look at, but the same Jesus they had been with on the way up the mountain.

What they had witnessed Jesus told them to keep it to themselves until much later when He had risen from the dead.  I’m sure that once their fear had subsided and given way to worship they would have greatly treasured this ‘mountaintop experience’ for the rest of their lives and it would have been something for them to remember during times of doubt and fear, persecution and testing that lay ahead for each of them.  Perhaps we too can draw upon those great times with God that we may have experienced in the past to help us with the struggles of the present and future.  Mountaintop experiences can sometimes be the thing that keeps us going when we find ourselves in the darkest valley.

Maybe we think that getting away on a holiday would be the answer to all our stress and tiredness, but perhaps what we really need is an encounter with Jesus, a ‘mountaintop experience’ where we realise either anew or for the first time, who He is and what He has done for us, just how much He loves us and how He longs for us to come to Him, to follow Him, to believe in Him and to trust Him.  As God the Father said to Peter, James and John, so He says to us: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Amen.

February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love Birds

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

(1 Corinthians 13)

Have a great day, whoever you are and whoever you spend it with, especially if it just you, alone with God…

February 13, 2012

Untouchable?

DSC_1165.jpg

Yesterday’s Sermon.  Text Mark 1:40-45

Have you ever experienced being an outcast?  Probably most of us have little idea what it is like, yet in the world today there are many people who are exactly that.  Imagine if wherever you went people shrank away from you and shielded their children from you lest they be contaminated!  Leprosy has over the centuries been a disease that if you suffered from it, you were forced to live apart from even your family, you were physically and emotionally made to be an outcast.  Of course Leprosy is better understood these days so thankfully the stigma associated with it is not as great as it once was.  However, many people today who suffer from AIDS can meet the same kind of rejection as Lepers used to, and then you have the Dalits in India, the so called ‘untouchables’ that make up 16% of the population of that vast country.  But what about you and me, have we ever experienced rejection?  We probably all have at one time or another, so it is not totally impossible for us to try and understand what it must be like to be an outcast.  I was never much good at soccer, and so I can remember what it felt like to be standing there, wearing overly large National Health Prescription glasses and sporting the most knobby knees, the last one chosen after all the other children had been picked for a team!  But joking aside, maybe you are facing rejection now in one way or another; at home or at work or at school or college.  Let us all try and bring our experiences to the reading from Mark’s Gospel today[1].

The Lord Jesus is near the beginning of His ministry and he is traveling around the villages in the region of Galilee when a man with leprosy came to him and kneels down, begging Jesus to make him clean.  the Lord’s response is both wonderful and miraculous.  No-one is an outcast with Jesus; to Him no-one is unclean or unworthy of his great compassion.  To everyone else this man suffering from Leprosy is an outcast, but to Jesus this man is another lost soul that needs healing and rescuing.  The man seems to have heard about Jesus and even though it was forbidden for a Leper to come into close contact with others, (Leviticus 13:45,46) this man is so desperate to meet Jesus that he disregards the rules.  He does not presume that Jesus will heal him, so he says:

‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ (40)

The Lord is deeply moved by this sight before Him, a man suffering so dreadfully from an awful disease.  Jesus’ response is not just compassion, but action, he responds to the man by saying:

‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ (41b)

The man had a desperate need and he had the faith to believe that Jesus could heal him.  Jesus responds by touching the man who was untouchable and he instantly and miraculously heals the disease that was in that day likened to being a living corpse and considered as hard to heal as resurrecting someone from the dead! [2] To Jesus, God the Son, this is all part of His work of redemption which would have its ultimate fulfillment in what He would achieve on the cross.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for this man who was untouchable to be touched by Jesus?  Perhaps one of the most terrible things about suffering from Leprosy was that he was completely deprived of any human contact; how long would it have been since he had even been close to a person, let alone felt the touch of someone who cared for and loved him?

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge spoke of all of our need to be touched when he told the story of his three year old son, who awoke in the middle of one night and called out to his mother:

“Touch me, only touch me with your finger,”
The child’s mother was astonished.  “Why?” she asked.
“I’m not here,” the boy cried. “Touch me, Mother, so I may be here.”[3]

All young children crave to be held and I suppose this boy, the son of a great poet, was able to express it particularly eloquently!  But it is not just children, all of us long for physical contact, God made us that way, not only for human relationships but also for our relationship with Him.  Yes all of us need human touch but how much more do we need the touch of God to soften our hardened hearts and damaged lives?  Jesus longs for us to come to him, like this man with Leprosy, to come to him on our knees and ask Him to touch us and heal us and cleanse us.

I recently read something written by a lady called Jan, who wrote a letter to her Pastor, (who with her permission shared it online).  In her letter, she wanted to share her experience of illness.  Maybe some of you will be able to relate to this.  She writes:

It was the end. I knew it. I could no longer fight. I sat here emotionless. I was totally alone. Others had tried to help—doctors, nurses, parents, husband, children. But they were gone…

…Deep within myself I knew I was still sick. My symptoms worsened. So, here I was, back in the hospital.

I sat in the bathroom. It was the middle of the night. No people, no “miracle” medicine, no strength left. I was too tired to fight. I sat there—four walls surrounding me. And a bleak, monotonous “bleep” from my battery-operated IV filled the silence. I couldn’t stop the sound of that miserable machine, anymore than I could control my own miserable life. So I sat there—dull, miserable, in pain, with no hope.

It was while I was there that I finally did hear something else. I didn’t hear it with my ears—but I did in my spirit. I heard someone crying. And I immediately knew that it was Jesus crying for me. I was shocked—totally surprised. I didn’t think he would do that for me.

This experience did not leave me emotionally elated. Nor did I feel a physical touch. Life was the same; except I now knew I really was not in this battle alone. Jesus cared in a way my wildest imagination would never have hoped for or expected.

Slowly I got up and shuffled back to bed, my IV still “bleeping” in my ears. Life was the same but different entirely. I believe that Jesus at that time made intercession to the Father for me. When there was absolutely no one else that would help me, he cried for me. And I did recover. Thank you, Jesus.[4]

None of us need to be alone, ever, at any time, no matter what it is that we are going through.

Understandably, the man who was healed of Leprosy, was filled with great excitement.  The Lord then sternly warns him and says something that we might think a little strange:

‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ (44)

If you or I were healed of something as minor as hay-fever we would want to be telling everyone about it, how much more so if it was something as dreadful as Leprosy!? But perhaps the Lord does not want people to know Him only as a miracle-worker, with a reputation like a travelling magician.  Also, don’t forget that this is near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; He does not want the opposition to that ministry to grow too great too soon.  But as well as telling the man not to do something, He also gives him something that he is required to do.  As an act of witness to the priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, this man is to go and show himself.  The priest would then perform the ritual cleansing of the man and learn that it was Jesus who had performed the miracle.

Thankfully, when we go to church to worship we only need to bring ourselves, and maybe a Bible and hymnnal. This man however had to bring with him two clean living birds!  One bird then had to be killed and in its blood the bird that was alive had to be dipped.  the blood of the slain bird was also sprinkled seven times over the healed man, after which he would be pronounced cured.  Of course this sacrifice and the blood of cleansing was all pointing towards that ultimate Sacrifice which the Lord Jesus Himself would perform on the cross.  An act of sacrifice so total that it would never need to be performed again and an act of sacrifice that makes anyone who comes to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith clean, not just once, but always.

Because of what the Lord Jesus has done, we are no longer outcasts.  If you have not already done so, allow Him into your heart, into your life, let Him be your Friend, your Lord and your Saviour, let Him touch you and heal you inside and out … Let us pray … Amen.

 


[1] Much of this opening paragraph is either taken from or inspired by Susan Sayer’s notes from “Living Stones” Year B Resource Book, Kevin Mayhew 1999, p.61.

[2] S.U. Notes “Closer to God”, Vol.13 2002, p.15

February 10, 2012

Towards Duneen Point

Brooding skies over Duneen Point

Last Sunday afternoon I abandoned the Rugby match at half-time, perhaps it was the ‘Call of the Wild’, or just the fact that I never know who to support when Green meets Red.  With Camera and Tripod in the back of the car I headed down to Ring and Simon’s Cove, around the edge of Clonakilty Bay.

Photographers love light but there was not much light to love on Sunday afternoon.  Typically, long exposures were required to get any usable pictures and even then they were dull, flat and grey.  As I wandered around, clambering over rocks and dodging the slippery green patches, there would be brief moments when a gap in the clouds would let some light through – typically these abridged moments were gone again by the time I had readied the camera and tripod to take a picture.  Eventually though, as I looked across the bay for the umpteenth time, a large fissure of light broke through the dark brooding sky and lit up the sea on the far side of the bay, near Duneen Point.  I had my picture.

February 5, 2012

How big is our God?

Blue Sky Thinking

(Photo taken at Trimpley Reservoir, Worcestershire, in 2009)

Sermon for today.  Text Isaiah 40:21-31.

There is a story that I read recently of African-American slaves toiling in the hot sun. They are working so very hard to pick cotton. There is a young woman and beside her is her small boy, maybe six or seven. She’s working in the fields and she has such incredible dexterity that she is able to pick cotton with her right hand and caress the forehead of her child with the left. But eventually, exhausted by working so hard in the fields, she falls down from the weight and the pressure of the work.  Her boy attempts to wake her very quickly, knowing that if the slave drivers were to see her the punishment would be swift and hard.

He tries to shake his mother, and as he’s trying to shake her, an old man comes over to him.  He looks up at the old man and says, “Is it time? Is it time?”

The old man smiles and looks at the boy and says, “Yes!” And he bends down and whispers into the ear of the woman who was now upon the ground and says these words: “Cooleebah! Cooleebah!”

At that moment the woman gets up with such incredible dignity. She stands as a queen and looks down at her son, grasps his hand and begins to look toward heaven. All of a sudden they begin to fly. The slave drivers rush over to this area where she has stopped work and they see this act of human flight and are completely confused. They do not know what to do! And during their confusion, the old man rushes around to all the other slaves and begins to tell them, “Cooleebah! Cooleebah!”

When they hear the word, they all begin to fly.  And at that moment the slave drivers grab the old man and say, “Bring them back!”

They beat him, and with blood coming down his cheek, he just smiles at them. They say to him, “Please bring them back!”

And he says, “I can’t.”

They say, “Why not?”

He said, “Because the word is already in them and since the word is already in them, it cannot be taken from them.”

The old man had a word from West Africa, ‘Cooleebah’, a word that means God. It had been placed into the heart of these displaced Africans and now they had dignity and they were flying[1].

How big is our God?  I ask this question because it’s an important one.  Sometimes we have no problem singing “Our God is a great big God…” but other times, especially when problems are looming large our God seems to shrink doesn’t He?  Have you ever heard the expression “You can’t put God in a box”?  It means that we try to restrict God, we try to place limits on what He can and cannot do, and we start to believe that He could not help us, or heal us or provide for us or forgive us, when He can of course do all those things and so much more.  So let us ask ourselves today, “How big is my God”?

The background to our reading from Isaiah is that the people of Judah were in big trouble; for generations they had turned their backs on God and now it was Isaiah’s job to warn them that because they would not change their ways they were going to be punished.  A foreign army was going to come and attack them, defeat them and drag away many captives.  But also there was hope, God would ultimately save them not only from the Assyrians and Babylonians, He would save them from themselves too.  A bit like us, the people’s view of God had become stunted and small, they had not only put God in a box, but also stuffed that box away in a corner and out of sight.  In our reading today, Isaiah reminds his original audience (and us today) that God is all powerful and at the same time longs for those people who have deserted Him to come back.

Isaiah reminds us that there is only one Creator God, who not only originates all, but maintains and controls everything too.  This supreme Creator God also directs all of history towards a definite goal.  Therefore to believe in Him is to be assured of ultimate safety; that both the present and the future are secure in His hands. In verse 21 we read:

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning? 

Isaiah tells us that it should be obvious to us that God is not only there but that He is also the source of all things; that in comparison we are like grasshoppers, we are very small and He is very great.  I like the second half of verse 22, which reads:

who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in…

I have problems putting a wardrobe together, but God stretched out the vastness of space with a spoken command.

How big is our God?

Isaiah reminds us that the vastness of our universe allows us a glimpse of the might and majesty of our Creator. Philip Yancey in his book “Prayer: Does it make a difference”, gives the following description to help us appreciate the scale of the universe:

If [the galaxy in which we live] the Milky Way galaxy, were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup. Even now, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For almost three decades they have been speeding away from Earth, approaching a distance of 9 billion miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes 13 hours to arrive. Yet this vast neighborhood of our sun—in truth, the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their minions in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.[2]

No matter how big the people of Judah’s problems were, God was greater; no matter how big our problems are, God is greater.  How big is your God?

Look at verse 25 and 26, we continue on with the theme of God’s greatness.  Isaiah asks us to look up at the night sky and says:

“Lift up your eyes on high and see:  Who created these?  He who … numbers them and calls them all by name.”

How many stars do you think there are?  Scientist are not sure, but:

“In July 2003, scientists at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Australia announced their latest estimate for the number of stars in the Universe – 70 sextillion. That is 7 followed by a mind-boggling 22 zeros…”[3]

To give us some idea of the large number we are talking about, the number of stars is far greater in number than all the sand on all the beaches in the world.  Yet God not only has them all numbered, he has names for all of them too!

How big is your God?

O.K., you might be getting a bit fed up with me asking that question by now, but I do not mean to nag or annoy and I ask the question to myself too, “how big is my God”?  It’s not very nice to be someone who is suffering in some way and someone starts going on asking you how big your God is.  Of course we have all been there haven’t we, we say that God either doesn’t know about me or if He does He simply doesn’t care or is not powerful enough to make a difference, and if we were to feel like that we wouldn’t be the first to do so, the people in Isaiah’s day felt the same too.  Look at verse 27:

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God’? 

They thought that their way was hidden from God, that He could not see them and that he did not regard them in any meaningful way.  But nothing, NOTHING, could be further from the truth.  Look at the answer the doubters are given, and look a the answer we are given when we think that God doesn’t care about us:

The Lord is the everlasting God, 
the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 
29He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 
30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 
31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. 

We grow tired yet God never tires in any way, we only know a few things, God knows everything, (even before it happens).

Have you ever been in a hurry at the airport?  I can remember one time in Dublin airport running to get to the Departure Lounge, carrying a couple of heavy bags and puffing and panting as I went.  Then I looked to my left and noticed a man walking at a normal pace and going at least as fast as I was – he was of course standing on one of those moving platforms that you get at airports.  He was going the same direction as me, with the same amount of baggage and yet with a fraction of the effort!  When we walk with God it is a bit like that, by His Spirit he comes underneath us and bears us along. We’re still walking, but we walk dependent on him[4].

What is going on in your life right now?  Are you tired or sick?  Walk with God.  Are you lacking in faith or courage or wisdom?  Walk with God.  Have you lost your job or worried that you might lose it?  Walk with God.  Perhaps you don’t know how you are going to pay the bills and put food on the table.  Walk with God.  Do you dread going to school or college tomorrow morning?  Walk with God.  Are you afraid, do you seek forgiveness, are you lost or lonely?  Walk with God.  And when you walk with God, before you know it you will be flying.

A.W. Tozer wrote:

“Anything God has ever done, he can do now. Anything God has ever done anywhere, he can do here. Anything God has ever done for anyone, he can do for you.” [5]

Please pray this prayer with me:

Heavenly Father I ask that you would walk with me now and that you would come alongside me and bear me along.  Help me to walk alongside you, to hold on to you.  Help me to not try and walk only with my own strength but to know your support at all times and in every sense.  Lord I have many questions, but I somehow know that You are the answer, I choose to trust you now and for always…

Amen.

February 3, 2012

Who’s been sleeping in my bed?!

Who's been sleeping in my bed?

Of course Jasper (the Cat) would argue that it is, in fact his bed…

February 2, 2012

A cold and frosty morning

A cold and frosty morning

This was the view from the other side of our garden wall at 8 o’clock this morning.  Now that we are officially in to Spring, it seems that Winter is reluctant to bid farewell just yet…