April 3, 2015

Good Friday

DSC_3011_wp

(Photo of the recent Solar Eclipse)

The Death of Jesus

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Luke 23:44-49 (ESV)


March 10, 2015

A hint of Eden

DSC_2893_wp DSC_2894_wp DSC_2903_wp

I love walking around the garden at this time of year, enjoying the spring sunshine and looking at all the new growth taking place. The Crocuses (top) seem to be one of the earliest to make a move, not afraid of a night or two of frost. The beautiful bright red Anemone, meaning ‘daughter of the wind’, is the middle photo, then last but not least comes the much-loved Daffodil, that inspired Wordsworth to pen:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze

There is a deep stirring of the soul that takes place upon encountering all the new colour bursting forth from the greys and browns of Winter. The subdued silvery light of cold short days gives way to the yellowy warmth of the Spring light and the anticipation of the Summer to come. Perhaps it is a hint of Eden, of new life and new beginnings, the old is passing away, the new has come…

February 16, 2015

Contentment

DSC_2606

We have some new neighbours in the field opposite us. One evening we went over to say ‘hello’ and we came across them looking towards the horizon where the sun was setting. Soon the lambs will arrive and all will be joyful chaos, but in the meantime there is peace and contentment…

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.

(Psalm 23:1-3a)

February 5, 2015

Earth’s shadow

4007215535_382695d1aa_b

At the moment I am reading Timothy Keller’s “Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” and I am finding it a great read. A quote quite early on in the book from Flannery O’Connor, beautifully describes the sense of the struggle and frustration that so many of us have with putting God first above all:

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon … what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know You God because I am in the way.

The implication is that a major aspect of learning to pray (and therefore growing  in our relationship with God) is to not to let ourselves, or rather our ego get in the way. As John the Baptist said of the Lord Jesus:

“… He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Of course this is easier said than done!

December 16, 2014

When God comes near

I came across this painting in the Chapel of one of the local nursing homes. As I saw it from a distance, at first I thought the foreground was the rolling waves of a tumultuous sea at night. I felt drawn in to the scene and as I got closer I saw the snowy landscape and that what I had originally thought to be the moon, was of course a star, and not just any old star, but The Star of Christmas.  The star is small and right on the edge of the picture but nevertheless it casts significant light on the mid and far distance, even if the way immediately in front of us (as we look at the scene) is still in darkness.

There is much here to meditate upon (whoever decided to hang this painting in the chapel knew what they were up to). In this season of Advent we are reminded that God comes near, very near and yet He is hidden also. We are called to seek Him and to find Him in unexpected places and in the lives of unexpected people. This is the season where darkness gives way to Light, where sin gives way to the Saviour and where death is overcomes by New Birth. Come O come Emmanuel, God is with us!

Postscript:
We have been greatly enjoying the Advent series of videos produced by 24-7 Prayer called “When God comes near” (the inspiration for the title of this blog post). Here is the link, they really are well worth watching.

October 24, 2014

The wind blows where it wishes…

DSC_1858_wp

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

(John 3:8)

A low, beautiful, sharp and bright autumn light was shining through the leaves of this Japanese Maple.  The dark red of the leaves contrasted wonderfully with the clear azure sky.  I had a photo in mind of the leaves against the sky, showing lots of detail and texture, enhanced by the light shining through from behind.  However it was very windy and even using a fast shutter speed didn’t enable me to get the shot I was looking for, so I tried a different approach.  I dropped the shutter speed down to 1/45 sec to show the motion of the wind, as leaves and branches were buffeted to and fro.  I was quite happy with the result, a static picture, but showing lots of motion…

It reminded me of the Bible verse above, where the Lord Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit.  I like the way that in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek) the words for wind and Spirit are the same.  The unpredictability of the wind blowing through this tree was a reminder to me that God often works in ways we cannot always predict or understand, but nevertheless we can always trust Him because He loves us beyond all measure…

September 26, 2014

Persecution, humility and a perfect example…

DSC_7406_wp

(Photo: Sunset over Crozon, Brittany, August 2013)

Sermon for Sunday 28th September 2014.

Philippians 2:1-13

A few days ago during an early morning time of prayer and Bible reading, I was struck by the stark difference there is in being a Christian here and being a Christian in say Syria, Northern Iraq, Nigeria or many other places at this time. We can sit and read our Bible in peace and safety, not worrying for a moment that we are in any danger – a deranged sword-wielding Jihadist is unlikely to bang on the door.  Yet daily we are hearing reports of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering unimaginable persecution; men are being crucified, women and children are being beheaded and worse.  Why?  Because they are Christians who live in the path of a great swathe of evil the type of which the world has never before seen.

Of course we do have persecution of sorts here, (though it is so different from what I have just described that the same word hardly seems appropriate). In Ireland the Christian who does not readily agree and go along with societies views on divisive issues such as the life of the unborn child, fair economic policy, marriage or the importance of the family in bringing up children, is scorned and ridiculed.  When we gently quote scripture and talk not only of grace and love but right and wrong, eyebrows are raised and eyes roll as if we are some quaint and old-fashioned sideshow.

I don’t know if we will ever suffer persecution here in the same way that our brothers and sisters in Africa and the Middle East are going through right now, but we can be sure that if we stand up for Christ even here then we are going to be increasingly in for rough treatment in the years that lie ahead.

It is with all this in our minds that we turn to the Epistle reading for today. The Apostle Paul is writing to the small group of believers in the Roman city of Philippi.  Paul himself is writing the letter from prison and he writes as one who has endured much for the cause of Christ.  He writes to a church that has undergone and continues to undergo much in the way of persecution.  He knows that they have suffered much and so he seeks to encourage them.  In so doing, we are left with these wonderful and Spirit-filled words of truth and beauty, which are a wonderful encouragement to us today, whether we are a Christian in Ireland mocked and gossiped about by her work colleagues for being a follower of Jesus or whether we are a Christian living in Africa or Asia who daily wonders whether this will be their last day on earth.

Paul starts off his encouragement by saying that they must as a Church be united. A church is united when Christ is the focus and the centre of everything that happens and when it is His love that is the driving force behind all that is said and done.   When things are done because of selfish ambition or conceit then the church is in trouble.  Sadly we see it far too often that people in the church do things for the wrong reasons; to promote their own views, or to get everyone noticing how important or humble or holy they are.  When as the church we take our eyes off the Lord Jesus, we start to disintegrate as a body.  He must always be the focus of everything that we do, and everything that we do must be done with the aim of giving glory to Him. Paul says that humility is the key ingredient. He says that we must consider others better than ourselves.  Let’s just think about this for a moment, how can we genuinely consider others better than ourselves?  Well if we are a Christian it is easy – we only need to consider the extent and the stench of our sin and of the enormity of God’s grace to us through the cross of Christ.  If we remember that we are forgiven sinners it will soon stop us from strutting around like a Christian Peacock going ‘look at me aren’t I holy’!!  As well as being aware of our sin, if we remember that other people, especially those who we dislike and extra-especially those who dislike us, are wonderful creations of God, made by Him in His own image, then we will have a much better perspective on reality and it will help us to be genuinely humble.  It is the soil of genuine humility, with everybody looking to Christ, that provides the only environment in which the Church will grow and thrive.

A woman was sitting in the waiting room for her first appointment with a new dentist. She noticed his diploma on the wall, which bore his full name. Suddenly, she remembered that a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in her high school class so many years ago. Could this be the same guy she wondered? She quickly discarded any such thought when she met the balding, grey-haired man with the deeply-lined face. He’s way too old to have been my classmate, she thought to herself. Still, after he had finished examining her teeth, she asked, “Did you happen to attend Morgan Park High School?” “Yes I did”, he said, smiling with the recollection. “When did you graduate?” she asked. “1980,” he replied. “Why do you ask?” “You were in my class!” she exclaimed. “Really?” he said, looking at her closely. “What did you teach?”[i]

Sometimes we all need a bit of help to be humble, but it is important that we are. Have you ever heard Nicky Gumbel (Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton and author of the Alpha Course) speak?  Compared to most Christians, he could be excused for patting himself on the back a little, but even though God has used Nicky to reach thousands, if not millions of people with the Gospel, he always credits other people and most of all Christ when he speaks – perhaps that is why God is able to use him so effectively – because he is genuinely humble.

The Apostle Paul shows us that the best example of humility is that of Christ Himself.  Verses 6 – 11 are thought to be words of an early hymn and if so what a hymn it is!  Jesus willingly and out of love for His Father and out of love for us gave up the glory of heaven.  As a member of the Trinity He gave up all the power and knowledge that went with His deity.  He emptied Himself and was born as a tiny, helpless human baby.  As we know, He lived a perfect life, never committing sin (1 Peter 2:22) and He was totally obedient to His Father in heaven.  He obediently went to the Cross and to the unimaginable pain and suffering that He bore for us there.  Look how the words change going into verse 9; from utter humility, dead on a Roman cross, He is resurrected from the dead, God highly exalts Him from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high.  The day will come when every knee will bow to Him, “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (v.10,11).  This is referring to the Day when Christ shall return, known as the “Second Coming” or the “Day of Judgement”.  Talking about such things today will get people rolling their eyes at us, even sadly sometimes amongst people who go to Church.  But we make no apologies for Scripture; we are plainly told by Christ in the Gospels (for example in Matthew 24) and in many other places as well (see Acts 1:11, 1 Corinthians 11:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, James 5:7-9, Revelation 3:11 etc.), that Christ will return and on that day, people in heaven will bow their knees before Christ and those who are left on earth at the time of His coming will bow their knees to Christ, and those who are ‘under the earth’, (referring to those in hell) will also bow their knees to Christ.  Not only will all knees bow (willingly or unwillingly) at the mention of His Name, but every tongue will also (willingly or unwillingly) confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord”.

What about us? Do we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord?  Do we bow before Him in humility, worship and wonder?  One day everyone who has ever lived will together bow their knees before Him.  The question we must ask of ourselves today is – Will I do so willingly or unwillingly?[ii]  Let us pray … Amen.

[i] http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2007/july/8073007.html (Altered)

[ii] Question adapted from: Bentley, Michael. “Shining in the Darkness”, Philippians simply explained. Welwyn Commentary Series, Durham. Evangelical Press 1997, p.80

August 28, 2014

An ugly beauty

DSC_0890_wp

The photo above is of a “Common Darter” Dragonfly, (at least I think it is, I found a similar enough picture in our Collins British Wildlife book and online).  It’s probably a female or immature male!  (See Chris Brooks’ excellent site here for more.)

Usually these wonderful insects fly away the moment you get anywhere near, but I was able to get quite close on this occasion (with a 70-300mm) lens.  Even so this is a 16 megapixel file heavily cropped to get close enough to see the detail.  I came across one of these Darters before, you can see that post here (definitely a male on that occasion.)

There really is something magnificent about Dragonflies.  They truly are beautiful to look at as they fly into your vision, and as they do so you find yourself hoping that they will just settle somewhere nearby so that you can get a closer look.  I don’t know how something can be both beautiful and ugly but there you are. On one level it is a marvel of Creation, with such masterful intricacy and balance, perfect in it’s design and operation.  On another level it is a terrifying monster (particularly if you happen to be a smaller and edible insect nearby!)

Of course it is not just Dragonflies that are capable of beauty and ugliness, it is a contradiction which we humans exhibit to an even greater degree.  We want to be a good person, we want to do the right thing but all too often we mess up.  I love the way that the Apostle Paul describes this internal dilemma in the Bible:

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate… Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Romans 7:15, 24-25 NLT)

Unlike the Dragonfly, we do have an option to change, an opportunity to be rescued from the ugliness of our sin.  That wonderful option is found in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…

August 25, 2014

“But who do you say that I am?”

DSC_0458-Edit-Edit_wp

(Photo: Statue of Christ in the Gothic Memorial Church, Kylemore Abbey, Co. Galway.  July 2014)

Sermon for Sunday 24th August.  Text – Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’

Sooner or later we all have to deal with the Great Question. The great question is one that Jesus asked of His disciples and it is a question which each of us must give an answer to also. The question Jesus asks is: “But who do you say that I am?’ (Repeat).

Those who have grown up in the church and can recite the creeds in their sleep are perhaps most in danger. We are so used to the liturgy and the prayers that we go through a church service on autopilot, without ever actually really engaging with what we are (or should be) doing. We might answer the question from our head saying that, “Yes, Jesus is of course the Son of God our Saviour who died for us upon the cross and rose again on the third day etc. etc.” And we can say all this (and even sound convincing when we say it), but the reality is that even though our heads know the right thing to say, in actual fact our hardened hearts are far from Him. We need to let go of our protective wall of hardness because not only does it keep people out, it keeps Christ out too.

In the previous chapter (15), in verse 8, Jesus, speaking about the religious church-going folk of the day said: “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

I don’t like saying it, but that is a warning for us. We are guilty. We honour God with our lips when we are in church, but our hearts are far from Him. What do we need to do?

First of all we need to repent. We need to acknowledge our sin to God. We need to say sorry for just going through the motions of Christianity. We need to say sorry for coming to church merely out of a sense of duty. We need to say sorry for busying ourselves with all the activity of church and parish life and thinking that that is enough to make God like us.

Secondly we need to be thankful. God has provided the means for us to be right with Him. Jesus Christ, the Son of God took upon Himself our sins upon the cross. When we repent, when we say “sorry”, He will forgive us and He will cleanse us from our sins. Because of Jesus, God the Father sees us as spotless and without any blemish when we allow Jesus to be our Lord and Saviour. Let us fully take on board what God has done for us and let the roof of this place be lifted off with the power and strength and passion of our thankful praise and worship.

Thirdly we need to invite God to come into our hearts and dwell there. Perhaps we have been going to church all our lives and yet we have never unlocked the door of our hearts and let Him in. Maybe we let Him in years ago but over the time since the weeds have grown up and we have become closed to His working in our lives; we have built up barriers of resistance to the Spirit and we no longer know His power or His leading in and of our lives.

Fourthly, we need to get serious about serving Him. Let’s get this straight, turning up at church is not serving God. We can only truly serve God once we have got to know Him and we can only get to know Him once we have acknowledged Him as Lord and Saviour and invited Him into our hearts.   Once we have a relationship with God, He will then lead us and show us how, when and where He wants us to serve Him. This is a big obstacle for many people because we don’t want to be told what to do. We want to be in charge and we want to make our own decisions. But it is impossible to be a Christian and be our own boss. It is impossible to serve Christ and only go where we want to go and do what we want to do. It just doesn’t work like that. He has to be in charge, He has to be number one. If we look at our lives and wonder why God has never really used us, the answer most certainly is that it is because we have not let Him! To begin with, when we were a young Christian, God tried to gently lead us, but every step of the way we thought we knew best, and now look at us, we no longer know God’s leading and our life for Him is but a pale shadow of what it could have been. But don’t despair, whether we are 18 or 80 it is not too late. All we have to do is acknowledge our sin and rededicate our lives to God, to allow Him to come into our hearts and lives and then when He asks us to do something we do it! He will never ask us to do something without helping us and giving us the power to do it. Yes it will mean leaving our comfort zones but He is with us and as St. Paul said “If God is for us who can ever be against us?” (Rom. 8:31b).

Where is our Passion? Where is our commitment?

Benjamin Kwashi, a Christian leader from Jos, Nigeria, tells the following story of how the gospel came to his part of the country:

Missionaries came to my home area of Nigeria in 1907. One of them was a man named Reverend Fox. Reverend Fox was a professor at Cambridge University, and when he arrived his walk with Christ was so deep that he led many people to Christ. He founded a church and moved about 10 kilometers away to Amper, my own hometown, and founded the church there too. How a first-class [scholar] from the University of Cambridge was communicating to illiterates, I don’t know, but God suddenly gave him favour and people were turning to Jesus Christ. So many people came to Christ that he wrote to his younger brother, who was a physician also in Cambridge, and asked him to come and help him because medical practice was needed. As his brother started the journey from England, Reverend Fox fell ill and died. Soon after his brother arrived, he also fell ill and died.

The Church Mission Society wrote to their father, who was also a pastor. When they told him he had lost two sons, he and his wife [mourned deeply], but then in their grief they did something astounding. They sold their land and property, took the proceeds to the mission society, and said, “As much as we grieve the death of our two sons, we will only be consoled if the purpose for which they died continues.” They gave that money and walked away.

Recently I looked through the profile of those two missionaries who came to my hometown. They both had first-class educations and degrees from the best universities. They died as young men—the oldest was only 32. They gave up everything to serve Jesus and bring the gospel to my country. Were they crazy? No, they had heard what Jesus had said, they believed it, and they were willing to stake their whole lives on the truth of Jesus’ words. These men wanted to end their lives well. No matter how long or short their life, it wasn’t going to be wasted, but they would invest it for eternity.[1]

Will we give up everything to serve Jesus? Are we willing to stake our whole life on the truth of Jesus’ words? Today, right now He looks us in the eye and He says “What about you, who do you say that I am?” Will we give up everything to serve Him? Today is our opportunity to say enough is enough and to stop our old selfish and insecure way of living. Today is the day to invite Him into our hearts and say ‘here I am Lord, I am Yours, I will serve You from now on for the rest of my life. You are number One.’

Let us pray together: Dear Lord Jesus, I am so sorry for my sin, for going my own way and being my own boss. I acknowledge my sin before You now … Thank you Lord that You died for me, in my place upon the cross. I give my life to You now and I invite You to come into my life, into my heart. Please use me Lord to serve you in whatever way You wish. Please lead me and guide me in Your ways, because You are the way the truth and the life. Lord I ask all this in Your precious and Holy Name … Amen.

[1] http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2014/august/3081814.html

August 18, 2014

Connemara

We took our summer holiday in the West of Ireland this year, in beautiful Connemara:

DSC_0574-Edit_wp

A friendly Donkey at Cleggan


DSC_0436-Edit_wp

A “Galway Hooker”, traditional fishing boat.

DSC_0323-Edit_wp

A lonely road on the Aughrus Peninsula.

DSC_0438-Edit-Edit-Edit_wp

Stacks of turf with Derryclare lough and mountain in the background.

DSC_0518-Edit_wp

Kylemore Abbey.

DSC_0714-Edit_wp

Something about this granite wall adorned with fluffy clouds caught my eye (Aughrus Peninsula).

DSC_0335-Edit_wp

 There are many beautiful Connemara Ponies around the place – this one was very interested in seeing if my camera was edible!