Posts tagged ‘Bible’

May 13, 2016

Meditation: Jesus calms the storm

 

 

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Glendalough, Co. Wicklow (April 2016)

As part of our school’s “Mental Health Week”, I did a meditation in the morning Chapel Service. It’s based on the wonderful account written in Mark 4:35-41.

 

It’s been a really long and tiring day, a day where so many thousands of people were surrounding Jesus. It was wonderful to see Him heal so many of them, and in between to teach such beautiful parables. But everyone is really tired. Jesus knows this and he calls out: “Come on let’s go down to the beach, let’s get into the boat and cross over to the other side of the Lake”. As he leads, you walk along with the group behind him … he walks down the hill towards the shore, the dustiness of the bare earth turns to sandy gravel, which crunches beneath your feet. You notice the sun getting low in the sky, casting an orange glow across the water. As you walk along the shoreline, the cool water washes against your sore feet. Peter is there by the boat, holding onto the rope, as one by one, the disciples get in … and now you get in. As you put a hand down on the side of the boat you notice the smoothness of the well-worn wood under your palm. Jesus climbs in just behind you. Peter casts off the rope and the boat drifts away from the shore. Peter skillfully spins the boat around and you head out into the deeper water. In the gathering gloom you can just about make out a few dim lights and some smoke from fires far away along the shore. But ahead is just too dark to see.

Everyone is settled into the boat, there’s not much conversation as you and the others are just so tired. As night falls, you notice the breeze getting stronger and the boat starting to rock a little as you continue to head towards the centre of the lake… You drift into a daydream remembering the faces of all the people who came to Jesus today. There’s just something about Him…

Suddenly, shockingly, things become scary. The waves are huge and the boat is being swamped. Peter, James and John are desperately trying to tie up the sail as it flaps about uncontrollably. Before anyone has realised what is happening you are suddenly in the middle of a violent, lethal storm. The water is filling the boat and you join in with the others trying to bail, but it’s no use. The wind is so loud but you just about hear Peter shouting to hold on tight to the ropes around the edge of the boat. But even as he shouts you see the fear in the eyes of this experienced fisherman. But it’s not just Peter, everyone is terrified. No one has ever seen a storm like this before, there is something primeval, something supernatural about its ferocity. Suddenly you remember Jesus, you don’t know why you didn’t think of Him before. You look about and you can’t believe what you are seeing. Everyone is terrified and thinks they are about to be thrown into the chaos of the deep and there is Jesus, asleep! His head resting on a cushion with a serenity that seems totally misplaced. Stunned, you shout out from the depths of your being, “Jesus, Jesus, wake up, don’t you care about us, we’re going to drown!” The others look at you and then at Jesus, you think maybe You said too much, but this is serious. Jesus slowly wakes up and looks around him and he seems surprised by our fear. He stands up in a way that he seems to hardly notice the boat rocking violently about. He looks at you and says in a voice that although quiet, can be heard easily and says “Why are you afraid, when are you going to get some faith?” Then he looks about at the others too, none of us can look Him in the eye, we all know that we doubted Him. Then in a way that seems so normal, so natural he shouts out, his voice has a power, a resonance that is at once the most beautiful and most terrifying voice you have ever heard. “Peace, … Be still!”… Like someone closing a door the wind immediately stops. The waves take a few moments longer, but soon you notice a peace and tranquility that would have seemed impossible just a few moments before.

You become aware that this is more than just a physical stillness, it is a peace that is beyond the natural. It is not just the water and the air that are now still. You feel a deep-down stillness within yourself also… As Jesus looks at you, you know that His peace will remain, so that no matter what will ever happen in your life, no matter what storms lie ahead, you will always be able to remember that peace you feel inside right now, the day that Jesus calmed the storm. In the very depth of your being, you know that His peace will carry you through anything because you now know that Jesus will always, always be there … Amen.

 

April 15, 2015

Good soil

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Earlier this morning while taking the dog for a walk, something about the field behind our house made me want to go and have a closer look. The sun, still at a low angle was shining across the soil, highlighting the long furrows created by the ploughing that took place yesterday.

There was an almost palpable sense of expectation coming from the ground, a sense of readiness and anticipation. Soon the crop will be planted and growth will begin.

Jesus’ story about a sower sowing seeds provides a wonderful description of those who allow his words to take root in the fertile and receptive soil of their minds:

“… And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Mark 4:8

How good and receptive is our soil? Perhaps a bit of weeding is needed, perhaps there are some rocks to be cleared away!

August 28, 2014

An ugly beauty

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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 13, 2014

Getting out of the boat

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(Photo: Inishbofin Ferry, July 2014)

Sermon for Sunday 10th August, 2014.

Text: Matthew 14:22-33

As we look at the gospel reading this morning, many of us (if we are honest) will find ourselves identifying with the disciples in the boat. If you think about it, it is a picture of much of the church in our part of the world today. As we look beyond the confines of the boat, we are intimidated by the height of the waves and the strength of the wind. The world is in such a mess, with seemingly endless numbers of spiritually starving people all around us, and the world beyond appears to be nothing but war and rumours of war, disease and disaster, with countless numbers of innocent men, women and children caught up in it all. “It’s much better to say in the boat”, we say to ourselves, “where it is safe, where it is dry and where we can hide from the oceans of need all around us”.  

I have a memory from when I was about five or six years old of watching an episode of Dr. Who on TV – there I was, eyes glued to the old black-and-white television when all of a sudden a scary screaming monster type thing came on to the screen and I was terrified. I got up and ran around to the back of the sofa, occasionally peering over the top to see if it had gone away and then ducking for cover once more. My mother then came in to the room and told me not to be afraid, it was just a man dressed up in a silly costume and it was nothing to be frightened of. I didn’t need to hide behind the sofa any more after that.  

But staying in the boat, or hiding behind the sofa or just keeping ourselves busy with church activity is not where the Lord wants us to be. He does not want us to live in fear, He wants us to trust Him, He even wants us to get out of the boat…  

The reading starts off with the Lord Jesus telling the disciples to head out in the boat and go over to the other side of the lake whilst he goes up the mountain by himself to pray. Did the disciples know that their master and friend was going to pray? I’m not sure, but if they did, then perhaps they didn’t need to fear what was going to happen next. The same is of course true for us. In Hebrews 7:25, the Bible gives us the wonderful promise that Jesus prays for those who come to God through Him. Isn’t it a very special thing, to know that Jesus prays for us?  

So whilst Jesus is alone on the mountain, the disciples are making their way across the lake, but a storm has arisen, the boat is being battered by the wind and the waves and they are far from the shore. It’s quite a contrast don’t you think? Picture the serenity of Jesus in the place of prayer up on the mountain and then in the distance out on the water are the disciples, being lashed, buffeted and bashed by the waves and the wind which are coming hard against them. Remember that a number of the disciples are experienced professional fishermen, they have encountered many storms before, but this is a bad one. The disciples are in a state of panic and in fear of losing their lives and yet they were in fact perfectly safe, Jesus was praying not only for Himself but also for them and He very soon would come to them. How many times have we been in a state of anxiety and fear only to realise later that God was with us all along, looking after us, holding and protecting us?  

In verse 25 it says “In the early morning he came walking towards them on the lake”. In the original it says “In the fourth watch of the night”, which is between 3 am to 6 am. So the disciples had been battling the storm most of the night, and they were no doubt by this time not only frightened, but exhausted. The waves were still large and the wind still strong and there had been no let up. But Jesus comes to them ‘actually walking on the rising and falling waves’ (Hendriksen). ‘The disciples must discover that they have a Saviour who is able not only to still the storm but even to use it as His pathway’ (Ibid.) Initially they don’t realise that it is Jesus coming to them across the water, in the dim light and overcome with fear they cry out ‘It is a ghost!’ But now close to them Jesus says:  

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Beautiful words, words that give us strength and comfort to this day. If we look at the literal translation of what Jesus says, it is even more powerful, He says: “Take heart, I AM”. When Jesus says ‘I AM’, it is very significant, because this is the name for God in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14). Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that He is the great ‘I AM’, so there is no need to fear. In whatever situations you are in today, this is a huge reassurance to your heart that Jesus is in control.[1]   DSC_0801_wp

(Photo: “Jesus walking on the Water”, Stained-glass window, Church of the Ascension, Timoleague)

I think Peter is just such a great, larger-than-life character. He sometimes gets criticised for being a loud mouth who always seems to put his foot in it, but what we learn from him is that it is much better to do something and fail whilst trying, than to do nothing at all. It is much better to get out of the boat and sink and be saved than to never take the step of faith at all. Peter wants to be wherever Jesus is, even if that means doing something that is impossible, something that contradicts the laws of physics, such as walking on water. Of course it was Jesus who created water in the first place, it was He who determined the laws of physics and nature, He is Lord over all He has created and it is subject to Him in every way.  

Peter has enough faith and enough courage to step out of the boat, which at this time is still being buffeted about. To begin with it all goes well, he is actually walking on the water towards Jesus. But the initial wonder of what he is doing evaporates as Peter takes his eyes of Jesus and notices the strong wind. In so doing his faith is replaced by fear and he begins to sink. Turning back to Jesus he cries out “Lord, save me!” Jesus’ response is immediate, He reaches out and catches hold of him. Perhaps it is then as the two of them are walking back to the boat that Jesus says: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ In other words, Peter should have taken to heart that He was in Christ’s presence, and he should not therefore have been afraid.  

Perhaps some of us can relate to Peter, yes we have faith, but mixed in with that faith is fear and doubt (Wright). It can seem that what Jesus has asked us to do is impossible, whether that is being a witness for Him in the home, in school or in the workplace; whether that is being involved in ministry of some kind to those in the church or to those outside; whether it is in helping those around us or helping those in far away places. It can all seem, at times, overwhelming. If like Peter we look at the wind and the waves we will conclude that what God has asked us to do is impossible. All we have to do though is keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, in prayer, in His Word, in worship and praise and as we go out into the world. Spending time with Him is key so that not only will we know what He wants us to do, but we will have the power, energy, strength and faith to do that which He asks of us.  

As Peter and Jesus get back into the boat all is calm, the wind stops and the disciples cry out now not in fear, but in worship, saying to Jesus ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’  Worship is of utmost importance.  

One of my favourite books of recent years is John Ortberg’s “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.” He writes:   “When human beings get out of the boat, they are never quite the same. Their worship is never quite the same. Their world is never quite the same. Whatever the results, whether they sink or swim, something will have changed… Jesus is not finished yet. He is still looking for people who will dare to trust Him. He is still looking for people who will refuse to allow fear to have the final word. He is still looking for people who refuse to be deterred by failure … Just remember one thing: If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.”[2]  

Let’s pray: Lord, we ask that You would give us courage to get up and to step out and to follow You and Your will and plan for our lives, now and always … Amen.  

Further Reading:

  • William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Matthew, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1989
  • John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001
  • Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, SPCK, London, 2004

[1] http://acs.alpha.org/bioy/commentary/765

[2] John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001, p.202

January 15, 2014

Storms

 

On the 27th December we took a trip down to Red Strand and on to Long Strand and Ownahincha to take a look at the stormy conditions.  It was very windy and quite a job to hold the camera still enough to take pictures …

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It was a wonderful experience, to feel the strength of the wind and to hear the roar of the sea so loud that we had to shout to speak to each other.  It was also good to get back to the car and feel safe!  Looking back at these now I am reminded of all the verses in the Bible about God sheltering us from the storm, such as in Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

November 8, 2012

Art

 

He stood there for a long time, lost in thought and completely oblivious to my taking his photo.  What is it about the painting that has so caught the man’s attention?  I would imagine that the artist would be delighted, the painting was achieving the desired affect; the viewer was being drawn in, captivated, connected with.  Art is many things, but as a means of communication it is a very powerful medium.

Last night I read this:

The first thing we learn about [God] in the Scriptures is that He was an artist. … God moved across the chaos and began to imagine.  Colours – blue and green and red and yellow.  All the colours somehow mixed together.  What would green look like alongside blue, with a little thin band of gold to join the two?  Mountains.  Oceans.  Beaches.  Rivers.  Trees. Canyons.  Valleys.  Shapes and textures and smells and taste.  All these things existed in God’s imagination, even before he decided to make them into a reality and create His artistic masterpiece – the world…

(Steve Stockman, “Walk On”, the Spiritual Journey of U2.  Relevant Books, 2005, p.88)

God is the great Artist, He has communicated to us through His great canvas.  Are we drawn in, captivated, connected?

Or do we just walk on by?

October 9, 2012

Roots

‘Roots and Stream’, Cumbria 2012. (Panasonic LX1, 1/30 sec, f3.2, 8.7mm, ISO 80) Larger version here.

Every Sunday in our Parish notices we have a ‘Memory Verse’, a sentence or two from the Bible to encourage, comfort or challenge the reader.  The verse from last Sunday was still wending it’s way through the alcoves of my mind as I was looking through some pictures taken during our summer holiday.  As I came across the photo above it was just asking to be paired with that verse:

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him.  Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

(Colossians 2:7)
New Living Translation

September 25, 2012

Garden life and colour

Some recent pictures from the garden…

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…

(Genesis 1:31a)

May 5, 2012

Fading away

As I looked at this photo taken yesterday at Inchydoney I was reminded of the verse:

“People are like grass;
their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades…”

At times it seems that all around us are reminders of the transient and fragile nature of life.  To see deteriorating health in those that were once so strong, whether people or animals, can be a difficult thing to have to deal with. I never cease to be in awe of those who face death with both great courage and deep peace. I wonder how I would react if I was addressed with that awful doctor’s euphemism, “I think you should get your affairs in order”?  I’d like to think it would be a spiritual experience and maybe it would, but I’m sure too that I would scrape and rebound through each of the  ‘the five stages’, Denial & Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and perhaps (God willing) finally Acceptance.

The destination is perhaps what shapes the journey most of all. If I were an atheist I would ponder the dissolution of myself to nothing, if I were an agnostic I simply wouldn’t know what to think, but as one who stumbles, trips and hobbles after the Lord Jesus, I know that He is the way, the truth and the life.

The verse I quoted at the beginning is from 1 Peter 1:24.  The verse that goes before it reads:

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.

Yes this life is fleetingly fragile, but new life in God, that is something different altogether.  Perhaps we don’t fade away after all and for the one who puts their faith and trust in Christ, death is not just an ending, but a new beginning.

January 24, 2012

The ultimate ‘Fail Whale’, a lesson from Jonah.

"The Whale Tail", Clonakilty

Photo:  “The Whale Tail” sculpture in Clonakilty, the nearest I could get to a whale around here without getting on a boat!

Sermon from last Sunday.  Text: Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (though the whole story is discussed).

You’ve got to feel a little bit sorry for Jonah; he was just sitting there, minding his own business and then God comes along and tells him to get up on his feet and go to an enormous city and start preaching.  Imagine if that were us?  There we are sitting down one day, watching T.V. or counting our ‘Friends’ on Facebook and all of a sudden there is a Big Voice and the Big Voice tells us to get up off our backside, to leave our comfortable life in West Cork and go to a big city, far away in another country, where we have never been before and we are to walk the streets and market places and we are to tell people that they had better turn to God, because God is angry with them!  What would go through your mind, how would you react?  Right now, are you trying to push out of your mind something that God has called you to do and you are not yet doing?

Jonah ran away, he wanted to hide, silly thing that, ‘how can you hide from God?’ we say, but haven’t we tried to hide from God sometimes too?

There’s a wonderful few verses in Psalm 139 that go like this:

7Where can I go from your Spirit? 
   
Where can I flee from your presence? 

8If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
   
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 

9If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
   
if I settle on the far side of the sea, 

10even there your hand will guide me, 
   
your right hand will hold me fast. 

Of course, these are meant to be comforting words, but if you are trying to run away from God, then they will help you to see that it is all pretty pointless, because God is everywhere!

But that doesn’t stop Jonah.  He gets up, then standing at the crossroads and looking at the sign for Nineveh, (which is in the East), he takes the road heading in the opposite direction to a town on the coast called Joppa.  Then from Joppa he pays to board a ship headed west for Tarshish and as far away from God as he can get.

Once on board the ship, perhaps Jonah begins to feel a bit safer, perhaps he feels he can stop looking over his shoulder for a while.  It is an exhausting thing running away from God.  Jonah goes down into the safety of the ships hold and in no time at all he is in a deep sleep.  We are told that the LORD hurls a great wind upon the sea and that there is a mighty storm that threatens to break up the ship. Things are desperate and the crew of the ship sense that there is something supernatural going on here.  Perhaps this is a storm unlike any other they had seen and they reckon that it is somebody’s fault, they cry out to their gods for help and they throw cargo overboard to lighten the ship, but it is no good.  Jonah’s disobedience is putting the lives of everyone on board in grave danger.

But not for long, the captain wakes him up and says:

‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.’ (1:6).

They draw lots to see whose fault it is and sure enough the lot falls on Jonah.  The sailors are convinced that it is his fault and they ask him to explain himself.  Jonah replies:

I am a Hebrew,’ … ‘I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ (1:9)

And when the sailors learn also that Jonah is fleeing from this all-powerful God, they become even more afraid, so they ask him what to do because even as they are speaking the wind and waves are growing in strength and stature.  Jonah replies:

‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.’ (1:12)

What an astonishing response.  Jonah realises that he is cornered, that it is ultimately futile trying to run and hide from God and so he gives up and resigns himself to the fact that he has lost, that God has won and they might as well throw him overboard because that is the only way that the storm will stop.  But the sailors don’t want him to die so they try hard to row the ship back to land, but it is no use so they cry out to Jonah’s God asking for mercy and they throw him overboard, into the dark ocean depths … and immediately the sea quietens down.

Perhaps Jonah is convinced he is going to drown, that the light from above will fade as he disappears into the inky blackness of the deep, that yes it is possible to run away from God, but if you succeed the place where you will end up is called hell.  But God has other plans; He sends a big fish to swallow Jonah.

Have you ever been swallowed by a great fish?  No, I haven’t either, but perhaps we have been or are in the same place that Jonah was.  Now at last the running away had stopped, Jonah cries out to the God that he had been running away from and he does something that he had not done for a long time, he prays.  Jonah pours out his gratitude to God that he has not drowned.  Overwhelmed with relief, he looks to God again and over a period of three days and nights, he refocuses his life, he stops trying to be in control and he hands his life back to God.

Jonah learns his lesson (I suppose that it goes without saying that he has learnt it the hard way!) So when God sees that Jonah is a changed man He speaks to the fish and so Jonah is unceremoniously spewed out onto dry land.  He stinks and looks like he’s been in the belly of a fish for three days, but he has been saved, he is alive and stands on solid ground once again.

God tries again, He says:

‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ (3:1)

So we are told that Jonah goes into the middle of the city and he speaks out the word that the LORD had given to him, he says:

‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’

I imagine that he was probably thinking that they would grab him and throw him in prison, or something much worse, but at least God was on his side now, he was doing the right thing.  But something amazing (and probably most unexpected) happened, in chapter 3:5 we read

5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

Next time you are thinking that people will think you are strange if you tell them about Jesus, think again.  You may very well be surprised at their reaction.  The longer we follow God’s way, the more we realize that we do not need to be afraid, so we certainly do not need to be afraid to tell people that we are going to church, that we are going to a Home Group or helping out with Sunday Club, God can and will use all these things to bring people to Himself.  The people of Nineveh were far from God, but on hearing the message from God they repented and they fasted and they changed their ways, so that in verse 10 we read:

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

If you ever doubted that God is the God of the second chance or that He is the God of new beginnings, read again the story of Jonah!  Just because we have made mistakes in the past, it does not disqualify us from serving God in the future.  On our own, none of us are good enough, none of us are qualified enough to serve God.  It is all down to His love, His mercy, His healing, and His undeserved favour.  One of the most incredible verses in the whole Bible is found in Romans 5:8, it says simply this:

‘… but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. (ESV)

God loved Jonah and He proved it by not leaving him to be a victim of his own choices and in rescuing him from the dark depths of his own decisions.  God loved the people of Nineveh so much that He wanted to rescue them from themselves and the mistakes they had made.  He wanted to warn them and He wanted them to change their minds and be saved.  God loves you and me beyond all measure and He proves it by giving His Son to die for us, in the place that we deserved upon the cross.

Please don’t let your life become a tangled, mixed up mess of your own wrong choices and bad decisions, hand it over to God, all of it.  Trust Him, He does, after all know what He is doing … Amen.