Posts tagged ‘Co. Kerry’

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.

December 20, 2010

To be rescued from ourselves.

Yesterday’s Sermon from Matthew 1:18-25 “The Birth of Jesus the Messiah”.

As one of the most important events in all history, the birth of the Lord Jesus stands out so much it cannot be ignored.  It stands out not for its splendour and pomp and ceremony, it stands out so much because it is so humble.  When we hear about it we cannot help but be intrigued and fascinated.  Now if we didn’t know better, we’d have thought that the King of kings, God Himself made flesh would have a very dramatic entrance on to the stage of humanity – but no, quite the opposite is true.

We’d have thought that at the very least He would have been born to very important people, in a big palace in the wealthiest of cities.  But the reason why the events surrounding the birth of the Lord Jesus stand out as much as they do is because everything is just the opposite from what you would expect them to be if you had never heard the story before.

First of all we have an ordinary young girl called Mary; she’s not a daughter of a King, she doesn’t wake up in royal splendour every morning, her every whim is not catered for by an army of servants.  Mary lives in an ordinary house in a little village called Nazareth, she is engaged to be married, not to a prince or wealthy merchant, but to a carpenter named Joseph.  We don’t know much about Joseph except that Matthew describes him as a “righteous man”.  He needed to be with what would happen next!

No doubt Joseph was looking forward to getting married to Mary; they had the whole of their lives together to look forward to.  But then Mary tells Joseph that she is pregnant and that the child is from the Holy Spirit!  Understandably, Joseph panics – in those days a woman could be stoned to death for adultery, (which is what it would have been seen as).  Clearly Joseph thinks that Mary no longer wants to be his wife so he thinks about divorcing her from their engagement on the quiet so that nobody would find out about it.

Somehow, Joseph manages to get some sleep with all this milling around in his mind.  While he is asleep, an Angel appears to him in a dream to explain what is really going on.  Yes Mary is telling the truth, the child really is from the Holy Spirit – Joseph must not be afraid to take Mary as his wife – she will give birth to a son, and Joseph is to give him the name “Jesus”.  (Jesus being the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua), which means “The LORD saves”.  The angel finishes off by telling Joseph that the son that his fiancée will have, whom he is to call Jesus will save his people from their sins.

Have you ever been told a piece of news that is so big that you cannot take it all in at once?  Sometimes on telling a very significant piece of news, a person will say, “you might want to sit down before I tell you this”.  It was just as well then that Joseph was lying down at this point, otherwise he might have collapsed with the news of all that he was hearing and seeing!

So upon waking, Joseph did what was asked of him, he took Mary home as his wife, but had no union with her until after Jesus was born.

Matthew then is keen then to emphasise two things: Firstly (as we have just seen), that Mary was a virgin, her child was of the Holy Spirit.  Secondly, that Jesus’ birth is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.  Quoting from Isaiah 7, he says:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Immanuel” – which means, ‘God is with us.’

In other words, Matthew is telling his audience that Jesus is the Messiah.  He is the one who will save his people.  Israel had been waiting for hundreds of years for their Messiah.  They were just so fed up with being oppressed; If it wasn’t the Egyptians, it was the Babylonians or the Assyrians, then along came Greeks and after the Greeks came the Romans.  The people of Israel had been under the oppressive rule of one foreign power or another for most of their history.  They wanted so desperately to be free – free from foreigners telling them what to do the whole time.

So the Messiah was going to be the one who was going to set them free from all this oppression.  In the mind of the average person, the Messiah would be some kind of superhero who would send the Romans packing.  Like a kind of spiritual Arnold Schwarzenegger, He would terminate the enemy and restore Israel back to the days of when king David was on the throne, a nation that was both feared and respected by the other nations of the world.

But few realised He was going to do something far more significant, something far more powerful and something that would have consequences not just for the people of Israel but for all people throughout history.

What did the Angel say to Joseph?

“… for he will save his people from their sins”.

The biggest enemy that the people of Israel had was not the Romans.  The enemies of the past, the Greeks and the Babylonians were not the real problem either.  No the real problem and the real enemy was themselves (or more specifically, their sin).  It was these people’s rebellion against God that was the real enemy.  They had turned away from Him.  Their worship had become dry, empty and meaningless.  They were not so much concerned about living their lives for God; it was all about outward show, to be seen to do the right thing.  (Sound familiar?)

In His ministry, the Lord Jesus brought this subject up many times, for example in Luke 18, where the religious leader, the Pharisee goes up to the temple to pray.  He makes sure that everyone can see how religious and holy he is and no doubt with a fake serious expression on his face he says, ”I thank God that I’m not a sinner like everyone else, I don’t cheat, I don’t sin and I don’t commit adultery.  I fast twice a week and give away a tenth of my income”.  In contrast, the outcast of society, the tax collector stood at a distance with his head bowed and said “O God be merciful to me a sinner”.  The Lord Jesus tells us that it is of course the second man who returned home justified before God.

The Lord Jesus had a much bigger job to do than ridding the people of Roman oppression.  Hearts that were hardened towards God needed to be softened; minds that were only concerned with the things of this world needed to be re-orientated towards heaven.  The people didn’t need to be changed on the outside, no people needed to be changed on the INSIDE….

That is why Jesus’ birth is so humble.  The Lord wants us to get the message that outward appearances count for nothing in God’s Kingdom.  In the Old Testament, speaking to the prophet Samuel, God says:

“The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 – NLT)

This is a lesson that we need to learn again and again throughout our lives.  We all know the saying “don’t judge a book by the cover”.  Thankfully God does not judge us by our outward appearance, but He looks at our hearts.

Now if it weren’t for Jesus, this would be a very heartbreaking truth.  We know that our hearts are not very pretty.  We are full of sin.  We might look not too bad on the outside, but inside, if we are honest, it’s not too good in there.  We might be like a nice ripe apple on the outside, but all mouldy and rotten on the inside!

But the reason why we celebrate Christmas is because God came down as Jesus to save us, so that when God looks at the hearts of his people He finds Jesus there, it is no longer rotten and mouldy, it is clean and made new.

Why do we give each other presents at Christmas?  We do so to remind ourselves of the best gift of all, the gift of forgiveness and the gift of new life that the Lord Jesus has won for us.

If we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are free from oppression.  Today we are not oppressed by Romans or Babylonians or even the IMF, but we are oppressed by ourselves, our own sin and rebellion against God.  And that is what the Lord Jesus frees us from.

So this Christmastime let us receive into our hearts and lives that greatest gift of all, Jesus.  What does the name Jesus mean again?  “The Lord saves”.  Amen.

October 1, 2010

Rain

DSC_4232.jpg

He draws up the water vapour
and then distills it into rain.
The rain pours down from the clouds,
and everyone benefits.
(Job 36:27-28)

Photo taken on the Cork Kerry border on the N71 between Kenmare and Glengarriff.  

August 8, 2010

Big Mamma!

Big Mamma!

A recent trip to Kennedy’s farm in Co. Kerry proved to be a wonderful day out, (once we had come to terms with the entrance fee).

The pigs were amongst my favourite animals there; there were half a dozen or more piglets running around and then there was the mother pig, who was rather grumpy – I can understand why they are called Sows!  Though grumpy, she mattered an awful lot to the little piglet shown in the picture above, he followed her around, when she lay down, so did he, when she got up to rummage for more food, he did the same.  Sometimes though he got too close and was then chased to the other side of the sty.  Perhaps not the most doting mother, but to this piglet she was his world.

Of course this got me thinking about motherhood.  Not that as a man, a son and a father myself I would have the slightest clue, but not having a clue about something has never stopped me writing about it before!  I look at our own children and see, that for them, mummy is their world.  Whenever they need something, whether it be food, drink, a plaster or comforting, daddy will do, but really mummy is the number one choice.  Why?  Because she is mummy and because she has all the God-given qualities necessary for this important role.  There is a very special bond between mother and child that, even as the years go by and mothers become grandmothers never goes away.  I still have a close bond with my mother, even though we do not get to see each other (other than on Skype) very often.  There is something very special (and of God) in all of this, a bond that transcends time and distance.

I can’t help but think of Mary’s relationship with the Lord Jesus, but I simply am not able to fathom how despairingly, darkly, impossibly difficult it must have been for her to see her son being crucified.  I think of Jesus’ words to her, recorded in John 19:

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

In a significant sense, Mary was no longer Jesus’ mother, but in a way beyond our understanding they would be together in eternity (along with all believers).  In the meantime, Jesus gave her another son, the apostle John, in order that they might look after each other.  How amazing it is that the Lord was able to think of his mother in this way even whilst he was suffering the way he was.  She must have been quite a mother and he quite a son.

January 11, 2010

The South Pole Inn

Nikon F100, Nikkor 18-35 D, Fujifilm Superia 200

Tom Crean is known to many today becasue of the successful play “Tom Crean – Antartic Explorer” and also because of the excellent Guinness ad. of a few years ago.

Driving though Annascaul in Co. Kerry recently it was great to come across his old pub “The South Pole Inn”. This is the place he bought and ran after his retirement (in 1920) from all that exploring with Scott, Shackleton and Co. It’s not hard to imagine bygone cold winter evenings with the fire blazing the porter and whiskey flowing and Tom telling stories of his many adventures another world away…

January 7, 2010

Annascaul Lake

Nikon F100, Nikkor 18-35 D, Fujifilm Superia 200

On our way to Dingle, my better half and navigator saw something interesting on the map so we decided to take a small detour and investigate. Despite driving on narrow, icy roads (with a severe drop down a cliff awaiting any slippery mistakes) it was definitely worth the diversion. The lake was flat-calm, the air still and cold and the scene very beautiful.

When we rounded the corner to see this scene in front of us it was a special moment. Being naturally a booky indoors type, I’ve gradually over recent years began to see the importance of appreciating God’s creation in worship. Trying to find a good place to take the above photo from was done with a mixture of prayer, excitement and carefully placed footfalls. Looking at the picture now makes me excited, excited about God.

August 2, 2009

It’s all about the Light

Nikon D70s, f7.1, 1/200 sec, ISO 200, 30mm equivalent

These thoughts and the above picture were on my mind as I awoke this morning. It’s all about the Light! Look at this leaf, now if there were no light shining through it, it would be dull, flat and uninteresting. More to the point, this leaf, like all green plants needs light to produce sugars and other nutrients though photosynthesis. Without light, it is only a matter of time before this leaf withers away to nothing. Not only is the leaf affected, but the rest of the plant to which it is attached is affected too.

O.K., here’s the deal. We need light too, yes sunlight but more than that (I’m not talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder), we need Light. Jesus said:

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Without the Light of Christ shining in our lives, we become dull, flat and lifeless – and we produce nothing worthwhile. Imagine how different today would be if Christ was shining in us and through us, in all that we said and all that we did and everywhere we went. Contrast that with how dull and flat and lifeless our day would be without Christ’s Light. Yeah we can get by on our own for a time but just as much as a green leaf (if not more so), we need the Light….