Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Did I miss something?! Two days before Christmas Day was a terrible time to be flattened by the 'flu! Somehow I got through all the services standing upright - though I doubt anyone noticed any difference ;-)
The above photo was taken three days ago from Great Island looking across to Passage West...
A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Here we have the tension of Christmas: The Virgin and Child in the foreground and the Virgin Megastore in the background. Two competing voices: one is the timeless truth of the awesome humility of the incarnation, the other is the brash, hollow and fleeting thing that persistently tries to rob us of what Christmas is about...
I took this picture in 1996, the Virgin Megastore has been re-branded since.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
John 1:6-8, 19-28
John the Baptist was quite a character. If you were walking along the street today minding your own business and a man dressed in a coat made out of camel’s hair, eating wild honey and locusts came towards you, you couldn’t be blamed for wanting to cross over to the other side and out of the way of this tramp / hippie!
How deceptive appearances can sometimes be. John the Baptist was unique and perhaps a little out of the ordinary in what he looked like and what he ate. But what really mattered was what he said and what he did. He had a very important message given to him by God; in fact verse 6 tells us that John was sent by God as a witness to testify concerning the light.
The light is of course referring to the Lord Jesus, the Light of the World and it was John’s duty to tell everyone that Jesus was here, the King had come. I don’t know about you, but when I see the word “testify”, it conjures up an image of a courtroom, with someone standing in the dock giving evidence, (or maybe that’s just because I’ve read too many John Grisham books!) But that is sort of what John is doing, he is standing up, not in a courtroom, but in the Judean wilderness and he is testifying, he is proclaiming the truth of Jesus’ arrival as the promised Saviour.
"[In December 1952] a toxic mix of dense fog and sooty black coal smoke killed thousands of Londoners in four days. It remains the deadliest environmental episode in recorded history."
Here is what happened:
As the smoke coming out of London's chimneys mixed with natural fog, the air turned colder. Londoners heaped more coal on their fires, making more smoke. Soon it was so dark some said they couldn't see their feet. By Sunday, December 7, visibility fell to one foot. Roads were littered with abandoned cars. Midday concerts were cancelled due to total darkness. Archivists at the British Museum found smog lurking in the book stacks. Cattle in the city's Smithfield market were killed and thrown away before they could be slaughtered and sold—their lungs were black.
Funeral director Stan Cribb remembers the moment he saw the first gray wisps: "You had this swirling, like somebody had set a load of car tires on fire."
London's killer fog is a metaphor of the spiritual world into which Jesus came: a malevolent, sinister, deadly darkness covered the world when the Word "made his dwelling among us." (1)
Despite what he looked like, and despite where he was, John had really good news. It was the most important news the world had ever heard; the Saviour, the Deliverer of God’s people was coming …
Notice how John was very quick to make sure that he wasn’t the one being noticed. As far as he was concerned, he was just the messenger and he wanted people not to take any notice of him, but rather the message that he was giving and who the message was about, the Lord Jesus. As we read in verse 8:
He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The light is Christ and John is only (I say only but it’s a very important task) the reflector of the light. As one writer puts it, “John testifies concerning the Christ like the moon testifies concerning the sun.” You know how the Moon has no light of its own to give, but we see it lit up in the night sky because it is reflecting the light of the Sun? (2) Well that is a picture of the relationship between John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus.
So then the first part of our reading shows the purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry, to focus everyone’s attention on Jesus, the Light of the world. In the next section we see John actually in the wilderness, Baptising people in the river Jordan (v.28). The religious authorities had got to hear about John, so they send a posse of priests and Levites to check him out. Some rumours had probably filtered their way back to Jerusalem that this John character was a bit out of the ordinary, some people thought that he might even be the Messiah – John would have been horrified at such a suggestion and that is the first thing that the religious men ask him. He replies very clearly “I am not the Christ” (v.20). So next they ask him, “Are you Elijah?” This is a bit strange don’t you think? But these guys knew their Scriptures, and they knew that the prophet Malachi, in chapter 4 of the book that bears his name said that Elijah (who was one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets) would come to herald the arrival of the Lord (v.5). Of course John wasn’t Elijah, but he was a great prophet like Elijah, and he was indeed proclaiming the arrival of the Lord. But he was playing a bit of a game with this inquisitive bunch of religious men so he leads them to question him further by saying “No”. So next they ask him, “Are you the prophet”. By this they meant THE prophet (in capital letters), in other words, the Messiah. Of course, John said no to this question also.
You can see that the priests and Levites are getting exasperated, so then they just say “Who are you? Give us an answer that we can take back to those who sent us”.
So then quoting from Isaiah, he says:
“I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (v.23)
So then, they understand that John is saying that he is in fact the forerunner of the Christ, he has come to prepare the way for His coming. But he is saying more too, he is also implying strongly to the visitors that the religious authorities which they represent must make the road straight so that the Lord can come into their hearts and lives and those of the people. No longer must they place obstacles of a thousand-and-one rules and regulations for holiness for people to follow. It was not about what people do, it was rather about being forgiven, something that can only be achieved through faith and by God’s grace (3).
The image that John conjures up is one of a King returning to part of his realm. They must make the way clear for Him to return and they must remove all the obstacles that would hinder people coming to Him in repentance and faith.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of being invited to the official opening of an extension to a school not too far from here, at which the President would be performing the ceremony. As you would expect, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air as we awaited her arrival. There was a long wide red carpet laid out for her, with lovely flower arrangements lining the pathway into the school. There were many Gardai and important looking people milling around, awaiting the arrival of the Presidential car and entourage. Now I am always one to arrive early whenever I can, and this occasion was no exception. I was feeling quite pleased with myself at being able to get a car parking space right next to the entrance gate, and thought nothing more of it, since I was one of the first to arrive. There I was sitting on the front row in the school hall, with several hundred people present and then it happened. You know how when you are in a public place, whether it be the theatre, a bus station or the airport and an announcement comes over the loud speaker “would the owner of car registration number …” and you think to yourself what eejit left their car there! Well this was about to happen to me. A rather flustered and hurried lady got up onto the stage and said, “would the owner of a dark red Honda Civic, with the registration number 97 C blah blah blah please move their car, as it is blocking the Presidents entry into the school.” Needless to say I went an even darker red than the car and rather sheepishly made my way through a dozen rows of tutting, head-shaking guests to remove the offending obstacle …
Now making way for the President is one thing, but what about making way for the Lord Jesus? John was preparing the way for the Lord by baptising, which is washing the people in the river. At that time, baptising was only performed by priests as an initiation rite for gentiles, (that is non-Jews), who were converting to Judaism. But here John was saying that the Jews, God’s people themselves were not clean, and they needed to be washed of their sins. Naturally the religious men took him up on this, to which John replied:
“I baptise with water … but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (v.26-27)
So John, by washing the people in the water of the river Jordan was saying that what he did was only a sign. It was Jesus who would do the real cleansing work on people’s hearts. And so it is with Baptism today, it is only an outward sign of an inward action of God upon the hearts of all who put their faith and trust in Him.
And what about us? What if any obstacles are there in our lives hindering our relationship with God? Let us ask Him to remove them. Let us ask Him to level the mountains of our pride and lift up the valleys of our doubts and fears and let us in true and humble repentance and faith come to Him who left the glory of Heaven and gave His life for us ...
(1) Preachingtoday.com, National Public Radio, "All Things Considered," (12-10-02)
(2) William Hendriksen, John, p.77, Banner of Truth
(3) Ephesians 2:8
Saturday, December 13, 2008
A voice says, "Cry out."
And I said, "What shall I cry?"
"All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever."
"All Flesh Is Grass"by Christina Rossetti
So brief a life, and then an endless life
Or endless death;
So brief a life, then endless peace or
How man but like a flower
Or shoot of grass
Blooms an hour,
Well may sigh "Alas!"
So brief a life, and then an endless grief
Or endless joy;
So brief a life, then ruin or relief:
What solace, what annoy
Of Time needs dwelling on?
It is, it was,
It is done,
While we sigh "Alas!"
Yet saints are singing in a happy hope
Bright eyes of faith enlarging all their
Saints love beyond Time's measure:
Where love is, there is bliss
That will not pass;
Where love is,
Dies away "Alas!"
Monday, December 8, 2008
I am blessed to have a very scenic drive to church on Sunday mornings. This one was taken from the Belvelly Bridge which links Fota Island to Great Island yesterday morning on my way to Cobh.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Apart from the cold and the rain, one of the things that we often dislike about the wintertime is the darkness, or rather the lack of light. A few years ago, my wife and I went on a tour of a disused slate mine in North Wales that has been turned into a museum. After taking a short ride underground to the first level of caverns (of which there were a further six below us) we got to appreciate just how hard life was for those miners, working six days a week by dim lanterns and in the winter never seeing the sun from one day to the next as they travelled to and from their homes. Today I feel for those tens of thousands of commuters who travel both to and from work at this time of year under sunless skies, so that during the week anytime that they have at home is in the dark.
In our part of the world, Christmas comes in the middle of winter, which is great, because we have something to look forward to. Imagine if as in the Narnia books, “It was always winter and never Christmas”!(1) Christmas is a time of fun and joy and bright lights that shine amidst the darkness of short days and long winter nights. How appropriate it is then that we have our Bible readings from Isaiah and Mark. In a spiritual sense, things had been very dark for God's people. Isaiah's audience were captives in Babylon and Marks audience, although not taken captive, were nevertheless under the control of the brutal and all-powerful Roman Empire. God's people in both settings are feeling rather sorry for themselves, but their deliverer is coming...
So God gives Isaiah this message:
“Comfort my people ... Comfort them. Encourage the people of Jerusalem. Tell them they have suffered long enough and their sins are now forgiven. I have punished them in full for all their sins.” (v.1,2)
OK so the people had been taken captive to Babylon and they'd had a pretty tough time and they'd been there for about 70 years but surely this isn't enough to make up for all the rebellion against God that had taken place over generations? No, of course it isn't but then again the same wonderful thing applies to us too. No amount of serving God will make us clean and without sin – it is all down to God’s grace, in giving His Son to die for us on the cross. Do you know (I’m sure you do), that all our sins deserve to be punished? We discipline our children and we punish them appropriately when they deliberately do wrong things. In a much greater way, so our Heavenly Father needs to punish our rebellion against Him – but in His infinite love and mercy He chose to punish His own Son in our stead. I’m reading a book at the moment, a work of fiction called the “Shack”(2) . In one chapter the central character of the story, Mack, a Father of five children finds himself in the seat of judgement. A heavenly being puts him in a terrible situation – of his five children two will go to heaven and three will go to hell, and he has to choose which go where. He falls on the floor in agony pleading that he as their Father be allowed to go to hell and suffer for eternity so that his children be spared. When he looks up from his place of agony the heavenly being is smiling at him and says, well done, now you know what Jesus did for you, he pleaded to the Father to die in your stead. And that is what the cross is all about, Jesus dying in our place, taking the punishment that we deserve.
Isaiah put it powerfully, when writing hundreds of years beforehand he said of the Lord Jesus:
“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne … But because of our sins he was wounded … we are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
It’s unfair; we don’t deserve this amount of love! Too right we don’t, but God loves us perfectly and we are very special and precious to Him, as are all people, because He created us and made us in His own image.
Have you heard of the Trans-Sahara Highway? It’s a fairly new road that runs from the city of Algiers in Algeria down through the Sahara desert to Lagos, the capital city of Nigeria. Building this road was an enormous challenge. The desert sands are always moving and the road is often covered, so nylon curtains had to be put up to protect the highway at certain points along the route. The curtains need frequent repairs as the wind and sand break through them. Trees that can survive in the desert have been planted along the new road to grow into a more permanent defence, but many have already died.
Temperatures can vary from below minus 10°C to above plus 40°C, which makes the surface of the road expand and shrink much more than in most places, so there has to be a special roadbed made of sand and seashells to stop it from cracking.
There are many fierce sandstorms, strong enough to blow empty oil drums across the desert and to damage vehicles along the route. As well as all these physical problems, groups of armed bandits work in this area and attack unwary travellers. (3)
Makes travelling on the Dublin road seem almost safe in comparison!
You can almost imagine the wise old prophet Isaiah calling out:
“Prepare in the wilderness a road for the LORD! Clear the way in the desert for our God! Fill every valley; level every mountain. The hills will become a plain and the rough country will be made smooth. Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and the whole human race will see it…” (Isaiah 40:3-5).
What is Isaiah talking about, major road works?! Well yes and no… It’s all about access to God. As you know, in the Old Testament, the people did have access to God through the priests in the temple, who would make sacrifices of animals to God on their behalf. This was messy in more ways than one and it was only a temporary arrangement that pointed forward towards the time when there would be a “once and for all supreme sacrifice”. Jesus, God the Son, sacrifices Himself voluntarily and because Jesus is perfect in every way, His sacrifice is sufficient, there is no need for any other. So even though the way to God was at one time difficult, there is now a highway to God via the cross of Christ – all the obstacles have been removed.
The problem though is that we personally, and the church also, often places obstacles to people coming to Christ. Do you remember in the Gospel, where the Lord Jesus says:
“ … Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24)
And you may remember also that there was a gate in the walls of Jerusalem that was called the needle gate. It is still there today, and it was used when the city's main gates were closed at night. It was designed for security so that enemies could not simply ride into the city. The gate was so small, that a rich man would have to unload his camel and then with great effort, lead his camel through –a slow & difficult process. The Lord Jesus likened the process to entering heaven: we must come to God stripped of all our importance –a seemingly impossible task until we realise with God, all things are possible.(4)
Well, we have mountains of pride that need to be brought down and valleys of doubt and fear that need to be raised up – a task that might seem impossible, but thankfully is possible by surrendering our lives to Christ.
And how does all this tie in with Advent when we look forward to celebrating Christ’s first coming at Christmas, but with a joyful eye on His second coming also?
We are reminded in our reading from Isaiah that God is with us. He wants us to be encouraged and comforted by the fact that He has forgiven all our sins, the debt has been paid; the slate has been wiped clean. He wants us to know that He has opened up a highway for us to come into His presence – all brought about because He sent His Son to earth to be born and to live and to die and to rise again for us.
On several occasions, King Abdullah II of Jordan has disguised himself and mingled with his subjects. Taking the character of an ordinary old Arab man, he has appeared in public with a fake white beard, wearing the traditional Jordanian kufiah, and the Arabic white dress. While so disguised, the king walked around two government buildings without security and was not noticed. While waiting in a long line, he engaged people in conversation and listened to their point of view.
Such incognito appearances have marked the 42-year-old monarch's reign since he assumed the throne in 1999. He disguised himself as an old man previously while visiting a hospital. Another time, he circulated around Amman behind the wheel of a taxicab. Still another time, he passed himself off as a television reporter trying to cover a story at a duty-free shop.
According to reporter Costa Tadros, "I think that being in disguise and going around as a normal civilian to listen to their problems and know more about their needs is a good thing. I think it would make a great movie."
Jordanian government employees aren't taking any chances. They have started to spend time looking at people's faces, fearing they could meet the king in disguise.(5)
So in a much greater way, the Lord Jesus came to us. He therefore understands us perfectly and longs for us to seek and know His comfort, His encouragement, His forgiveness and His peace. He longs for and invites each of to live our lives in a relationship with Him, a relationship beginning now and lasting for eternity. The winter of our hearts is over...
1 C.S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, p.14
2 The Shack, William, P. Young, Hodder & Stoughton 2008
3 Jacqui Hyde, www.rootsontheweb.com, copyright © Roots for Churches Ltd 2005.
5 Greg Asimakoupoulos, preaching today.com
Friday, December 5, 2008
One of the joys of winter is being able to find a beach and have the whole place to yourself. The blissful solitude of such a walk is the perfect antidote to the busyness and hurry of the workplace.
I suppose some might call it "connecting with nature", but when for example walking on the above beach a couple of weeks ago, to me at least there was a strong sense of God's presence. It was like being absorbed into a work of art, the stunning low winter light, the breathtaking wind like the ruach of God's Spirit and the gentle, almost hypnotic sound of the waves all combining to bring peace and soothing to the soul. God's Creation, God's handiwork, I think He loves us to enjoy it, like a parent giving a gift to a child not because they have been good, but because they are loved...
I thought of the famous "Footprints poem" - having done a Google search for this, I was surprised to discover that there are three versions of it (though all pretty similar) and a rather poignant Leona Lewis song of the same name.
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed He was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from His life. For each scene He noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to Him and the other to the LORD.
When the last scene of His life flashed before Him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of His life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of His life.
This really bothered Him and He questioned the LORD about it. LORD you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.
The LORD replied, my precious, precious child, I Love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.
Carolyn Carty, 1963
Friday, November 28, 2008
I can't ever remember a week going so quickly! We had a great holiday in Sligo, renting a cottage (not the one in the above picture) and doing little other than walking and playing on deserted beaches. Of course we took the opportunity also to make a trip to Enniskillen to buy what seemed to us from the "Rip-off Republic" incredibly cheap groceries!
Friday, November 14, 2008
Cobh was recently voted the dirtiest town in Ireland. I can understand this because litter is a big problem and the town is in fairly urgent need of a makeover. However, there are many old buildings with lots of character and it is a lovely place to stroll around, the people are friendly and the atmosphere is alive with history - so it's not all bad. I think I prefer dirty with character than somewhere that was pristine and yet lifeless...
The above photo I took earlier this week as I was walking along the main street, looking south into the harbour.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The sharp-eyed among you will easily be able to work out which photo was taken first ;-) The tower of St. Anne's, Shandon is one of the most well known sights of Cork city. Yesterday I got a bit lost trying to take a shortcut to the Orthopaedic Hospital and was pleasantly surprised at finding myself at the foot of this famous Church building. The light was interesting and I had my small pocket camera with me, so much to the amusement of a few of the patrons of a nearby drinking establishment I took a couple of pictures...
Sunday, November 9, 2008
I suppose that often we are not very good at listening to, and heeding warnings. When sitting down for a meal and being warned not to touch the plate we have just been given because it is hot, our first reaction is often to touch that plate to see how hot it is! When driving and we are confronted by a speed sign that tells us that we should not drive at a speed greater than 50 km an hour (the implication being that it would be rather unsafe both for us and others about us to do so), we often think we know better and drive above that speed limit. When leaving school or university to start work, young people are wisely advised to start thinking abut getting a pension organised but many do not heed that warning thinking that they are going to live forever and “why do today what you can put off until tomorrow”! And what about all those economists who were warning of the need to save and put Government tax money aside during the years of plenty in order to make life easier once the Celtic Tiger had run its course!
So I don’t suppose that it’s too much of a surprise then that even Jesus’ warnings all too often fall on deaf ears. In our Gospel reading for today (Matthew 25:1-13), the background is that of a Jewish wedding. Now we’ve probably been to weddings that we think went on a bit too long. I went to one once where the meal went on all through the night with a new course each hour finishing up with a final course, which was breakfast! But even that is short compared to the celebrations of a Jewish wedding, which lasted for at least a week. The couple would not go on a package holiday to a Greek Island for their honeymoon; they would stay at home and welcome family, friends and neighbours. It was very relaxed, there was no set time when the bridegroom would come to the house of his bride, either to eat the wedding feast there, or more frequently take her to his own home for the wedding feast. There would be much joy, feasting and music. In the parable the ten young women were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive at the brides house so that they might accompany him into the ceremony and feast.
The ten young women are divided into two groups, the wise and the foolish. The wise ones were prepared for the possibility of the bridegroom being late, so they brought spare oil with them in case they should need to keep their lamps lit for longer. The foolish ones brought their lamps with oil in them but not enough to last should the bridegroom not come quickly.
And guess what? The bridegroom was a very long time in coming, so long in fact that the young women fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out that the bridegroom was coming. Panic ensued as the foolish young women realised that they were running out of oil. They asked the wise young women if they could borrow some of their oil – but there was not enough to share – so the foolish young women had to run off and find an oil seller, which at that time of night would have been tricky! While the foolish young women had gone off to find oil the bridegroom arrived. The wise young women with the oil for their lamps went in with him to the wedding banquet and the door was shut behind them. Later on when the foolish young women returned they found that the door was shut. They banged on the door and pleaded to be let in, but the bridegroom insisted that he didn’t know them; it was too late to join in the wedding feast.
So what is this all about? Well I don’t think it’s too difficult to see that the bridegroom represents Jesus. He will of course one day return to earth, the Bible makes this clear (e.g. Matthew 24:30), but of course no one knows when it will happen. The young women, the bridesmaids are Christian people. Five of them are ready five of them are not. The scary thing is that they look the same, they are dressed the same and are carrying identical lamps, the only difference between them is their state of readiness. Only half of them were ready for the feast and went in to enjoy the festivities with the bride and groom and the others tragically and terribly are shut out. Looking like a Christian, going to church and even behaving like a Christian are not enough – do we know Jesus as our Lord and Saviour? That is what it is about. Surely the most terrible words we could ever hear would be the Lord saying to us “I never knew you”, before being forever shut out of His presence.
We learn too that holiness is not something that we can borrow. It’s no good thinking that because we come from a Christian home and are surrounded by others who know and love God that we will be okay. It is no more possible to borrow holiness from others than it was possible for the foolish young women to borrow oil from the wise young women. Holiness is of course not something that we can buy or even earn by being good. It is the gift of God for all who put their faith and put their trust in Christ (Ephesians 2:8).
I will never forget something that I witnessed on the London Underground when I was a teenager. I had just disembarked the train and was walking up the stairs and away from the platform. As I looked down, I noticed a mother had put her child in a pushchair into the carriage and had got back off to train to retrieve a bag she had left on the platform. As she did so the doors shut and the train began pulling away. To the horror of the many onlookers the mother ran at the moving train and tried to prise open the doors letting out a terrible cry as she did so. The train kept moving and disappeared into the tunnel with her child on board with the utterly distraught mother crying out in hurt that her child was on the train. Of course I’m sure that things turned out well - as soon as the underground staff were informed they would have been able to rectify the situation and reunite mother and child quickly, but there was a awful moment of despair and pain in that poor mother that I will never forget.
But I suppose that is nothing compared to the pain of the foolish young women in the parable and even more so, the desolation of being shut out from Heaven, of realising that we weren’t ready because we had never truly committed our lives to Jesus, we had never allowed Him to be our Lord and Saviour…
The last day will come for each of us. C.S. Lewis sums it up in this way: That “we do not and cannot know when the drama will end, the curtain may be wrung down at any moment”(1) . “When the author walks on to the stage the play is over … (When the Lord returns he will be) without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side … That will not be the time for choosing: It will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, to-day, this moment is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that last chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”(2)
Are you ready?
(1)C.S. Lewis Index p.177
(2)C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity p.62, 63
Matthew for Today, Michael Green, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989
Thursday, November 6, 2008
It's strange how dead and dying leaves can be so beautiful. There's something very glorious about walking through an autumn woodland, whether it be the quality of the low silvery light filtering through the hues of reds, browns and yellows, or the rustle of leaves beneath your feet, an enchanting carpet of decay.
But death is necessary in order to facilitate life. New leaves could not grow in the spring if the old remained. God is a God of new beginnings...
Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal.(John 12:24-25 Message)
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Please pray with me:
Father, we ask that you would grant us the wisdom to understand, the courage to face things as they really are and the power to change, Amen.
Martin DeHann said: "Humility is something we should constantly pray for, yet never thank God that we have."(i)
Saint Augustine said: “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”(ii)
Archibald Alexander said: “Humility is to the Christian what ballast is to the ship: it keeps him in his proper position and regulates all his thoughts and feelings.”(iii)
The Lord Jesus was so disappointed with the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. They had been given a really important task. They were supposed to teach and explain God’s laws and commandments and help people as much as possible to live by them. They had been entrusted with the responsibility of teaching, leading and guiding the people in the ways of God, of showing them His love, His grace, His compassion and forgiveness. The reality though was often very different. In looking at yet another encounter that Jesus had with the religious leaders (Matthew 23:1-12), we might be tempted to think that this was all a long time ago in a faraway place and in a culture very different from our own. That may be true, but the warnings and lessons learnt from this Bible passage are startlingly relevant and contemporary.
The Lord Jesus concisely and clearly lists five problems with the religious leaders, all of which could apply equally today:
First of all, they did not practise what they preached. Isaiah put this in a nutshell when he said: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13a). We need to be careful that our faith isn’t just us putting on a good performance of being a Christian, like wearing a mask or making sure that everyone knows about it when we do some act of kindness or charity. The Pharisees loved to tell people how to live but didn’t back that up by living that way themselves. Do we call ourselves a Christian? If so, then how well exactly do we know Jesus and how much does He work in us and through us?
Secondly, the religious leaders were not willing to do what they asked of others. What’s the point of encouraging people to abbey God’s laws if you don’t do it yourself? How we have seen the media revelling in the hypocrisy of famous preachers who have made stands against adultery, homosexuality etc., only to be found to be engaging in the very acts which they condemn! Or how about the religious leader who promotes keeping Sunday special who goes shopping after church or who teaches about the importance of sacrificial giving and only puts pittance into the collection themselves!
The third problem was that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees loved to show off. They wore little leather boxes on their foreheads, which contained verses of scripture – a little strange we might think, but nevertheless a practical way of trying to be constantly reminded of God’s word. However the problem Jesus saw was that they were wearing the Phylacteries to get attention “Oh look how holy and devout I am” they might as well have been saying. I can remember when I was a new Christian and going to Bible studies with my shiny new Bible I used to feel a bit unholy because I would look at some of the other Bibles and marvel at how worn-out they were; the paper covers would be torn, the pages (even the Old Testament) would be all dog-eared and generally they would have a battle-scarred look, like they had come though a few hedges backwards! Wow, I thought, these people must have read their Bibles hundreds of times and probably know the whole thing off by heart by now! Call me cynical, but looking back I can’t help but think that some of those Bibles were deliberately roughed up a bit and were carried proudly around like badges of honour. Nowadays of course my Bible too looks like it’s a hundred years old and been owned by a succession of devout monks, not because I am super-holy, but because as well as reading it, I have dropped it, spilt tea on it, left it on the roof of the car whilst driving off and with the help of two small boys it has been much written on and rummaged through…
The fourth problem was that they revelled in grand titles and they loved to be given much honour at banquets and in the synagogues. This is like the clergy person today who loved to be called “Reverend”, or the medical practitioner who glows when called “Doctor”, or the academic who delights in being called “professor”. What is Jesus’ response to this attitude?
You must not be called ‘Teacher’, because you are all members of one family and have only one Teacher. And you must not call anyone here on earth ‘Father’, because you have only the one Father in heaven. Nor should you be called ‘Leader’, because your one and only leader is the Messiah. The greatest one among you must be your servant. Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great. (Matthew 23:8-12 GNB)
The Lord is making it clear that He is in charge. He is our teacher and we are his students – we go to church, we go to Bible studies, home groups etc., to learn from Him. His life is our model, our pattern and our example for the way to live. The Lord is not saying that we should do away with all earthly titles and positions of authority, He is warning against the yearning for rank, of putting ourselves or letting others put us on a pedestal. The attention of Jesus’ followers must not be on human titles and distinctions but on God in Christ, who alone is worthy of all praise, reverence and honour.
There was once a church that realised the importance of humility, so it formed a committee to find the most humble person in the church. Many names were submitted and numerous candidates evaluated. Finally, the committee came to a unanimous decision. They selected a quiet little man who always lived in the background and had never taken credit for his years of devoted service. They awarded him the "Most Humble" badge for his faithful service. However, the next day they had to take the badge away from him because he had pinned it on and was wearing it with pride!(iv)
The fifth problem was that the religious leaders misunderstood the purpose of ministry and service. One of the things that so clearly makes the follower of Jesus different from the norm is the way that greatness is achieved. Rather than putting ourselves first, rather than racing to be at the head of the pack or the top of the pile, we are encouraged to humble ourselves and to seek greatness through service. Success therefore is not measured in terms of wealth, academic achievements, business victories or any other quantifiable asset; it is measured in terms of submission to Christ and of service. The greatest Christian is the one who has learned to be a servant, to have the heart of a servant, the attitude of a servant and the actions of a servant(v). Of course Jesus Himself is the perfect example – He practices what He preaches, he doesn’t ask of us anything that He Himself has not already undertaken and He wants us above all to know, understand and believe that He loves us so much that He humbled Himself upon the cross that we might receive forgiveness, eternal life and freedom, freedom to love and freedom to serve…
(ii) The Complete Gathered Gold, John Blanchard, Evangelical Press, 2006, p.319
(iv) http://www.kentcrockett.com/cgi-bin/illustrations/index.cgi?topic=Humility (adapted)
Michael Green, Matthew for Today, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989.
William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary - Matthew, Banner of Truth, 1989.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Much to my astonishment I opened the Irish Times yesterday to see four of my photos printed in the "Gallery" section! This is a new section where they invite readers to send in their pictures on a certain theme. This time round the theme was "Autumn" and so I sent a few in and well they actually printed them! (One of them is the blog entry for October 11, "Sunrise in Glounthaune")
The picture above was taken last Saturday on a family trip to Kinsale. With all the roadworks going on there at the moment preventing cars from driving along the quayside it actually makes things much quieter and more pedestrian friendly.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
"The Heaven's Declare the glory of God", (at least they would without humankind's best attempts to blot out the night sky with light pollution)!
I've been itching to try out the "starry sky mode" on our new compact camera, so last night I set it on a tripod at the side of the Rectory facing south towards Great Island. You can make out the stars but the scene is dominated by the bright lights from what I think must be the floodlights from the Cobh Ramblers ground, roughly 4 miles away as the crow flies.
On a camera such as this, with a fingernail sized sensor, it really struggles to capture detail without making the photo very blotchy and full of digital 'noise'. At a small picture size like this it looks okay but at full size it's pretty ghastly. Of course in the days of film you just pointed your tripod mounted camera at the night sky put it on 'bulb' and went away and had a cup of tea for half an hour or so. Hmm, I guess that this is one example when film is actually better - maybe I'll give that a try soon.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Garrettstown is a fantastic place for surfers of all ages and abilities. You get those who are clearly beginners mixing with those who make the whole thing look so easy that they might as well be walking on water! If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see a few more surfers in the background - there were at least 50 of them out there that day...
Sunday, October 19, 2008
But actually, taxes are a good thing if we think about it. It’s nice to get in our cars and drive on a tarmacadamed road! It’s good to know that the Gardai and Defence Forces are there to protect us and the Fire service and Ambulance Service there to rescue us. It’s comforting to know that there are fully equipped hospitals waiting for us when we get sick and schools for our children to attend. So we might after all begrudgingly admit that taxes are a good thing, even if sometimes the government (allegedly of course) doesn’t use our tax money very wisely!
I read this story recently (I don’t know how true it is). A Little Boy in the United States wanted $100.00 badly and prayed to God for a whole week, but nothing happened. So, he decided to write God a letter requesting the $100.00. When the Post Office got the letter addressed to God they forwarded it on to the Whitehouse. The President was very impressed, touched and amused so he instructed his aid to send the boy $5.00. He thought $5.00 would be a lot to the little boy. The boy was, indeed, delighted by the money. He sat down and wrote a thank you note immediately, which read: Dear God, Thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington and, as usual, they kept most of it as tax! (From Bucket of Surprises by John and Mark Stibbe)
In our gospel reading for today (Matthew 22:15-22), two groups of people, the Pharisees and the Herodians try to trick the Lord Jesus by asking Him a question about paying taxes. This is just an incredible situation, because the Pharisees and the Herodians hated each other, and yet here they are working in alliance against the Lord because their contempt for Him was even greater than their contempt for each other! The Pharisees, were the Nationalists, they hated the Romans and they were fiercely loyal to the idea of an Israel free of all oppressors. They also liked power and the support of the people, so they wanted to get rid of the Lord Jesus because He was eroding their support among the people by showing what Hypocrites they were. The Herodians were the collaborators. They supported the Romans and Herod Antipas, the King put in place by the Roman authorities. So these unlikely allies get together to try to trick the Lord Jesus. They say to Him:
“Teacher … we know that you tell the truth about God’s will for people, without worrying about what others think, because you pay no attention to anyone’s status. Tell us then, what do you think? Is it against our Law to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor or not?” (Matthew 22:16,17).
You can just imagine the smug look on their faces once they had finished asking this question. They really think they have got Him this time. If the Lord Jesus said that it was wrong to pay taxes to Caesar the Emperor then they could have Him arrested for rebelling against the authorities. If the Lord said that the taxes should be paid then they would call Him a collaborator with the Romans and He would lose popular support. So what did the Lord do? How did He respond in this seemingly impossible situation?
He says to his questioners:
“Show me the coin for paying the tax” (v.19)
It’s funny isn’t is that the Lord didn’t even have a coin on Him. He chose to be poor, He didn’t need wealth. Here is the King of the Universe and He has humbled Himself so much that He asks them to hand Him a coin so He can make His point . The coin in question was a Denarius, a Roman coin that was worth a days wage for a labourer. So, they hand Him the coin and then the Lord says to them:
“Whose face and name are these?” (v.20)
On the coin would have been written “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of the deified Augustus, chief priest.” There was also a relief, a side-on picture of Caesar, not unlike coins in the UK today with the picture of Queen Elizabeth II on them.
So probably sensing that the trap they thought that they had set for Jesus was unravelling before their eyes, his accusers reluctantly answer that it is the Emperor’s face and name on the coin.
So then the Lord Jesus answers them by saying:
“Well, then, pay the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay God what belongs to God.” (v.21).
The Lord Jesus completely avoids the trap that was set for Him by showing that we have a “Dual Citizenship” . We belong in two Jurisdictions. We are citizens of our country here on earth and if we put our faith and trust in Christ, we are also citizens of Heaven. We have a passport with a Harp on the front (if we are Irish) and if we are a citizen of God’s Kingdom, then we have a passport for Heaven.
The simplicity and obviousness of Jesus’ reply is very clear; the coin was just a coin, it was no big deal. If Caesar the Emperor wanted it as tax, give it back to Him! But there is something else we learn that is very important too. The Lord said that we should not only give to our Government what belongs to them, namely the taxes that we owe, He also says that we should give to God what belongs to God. What was He talking about when He said this? Well, just as in the same way that the coin had Caesar’s image on it and so it should be given back to Caesar, so we have God’s image stamped on us and so we should give ourselves to the One who made us in His own image and likeness.
In Romans 13:7 we read:
Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honour to all to whom it is due.
And in 1 Peter 2:13, 14
For the Lord's sake, accept all authority--the king as head of state, and the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish all who do wrong and to honour those who do right.
It is important therefore that we are good citizens in the country that we live. We should pay our taxes, because we enjoy the benefits that those taxes pay for. We should obey the laws of the land be upstanding members of society.
In some ways it might seem that God has a harsher tax regime even than that imposed by the recent Budget. Our government may have many tax rates, levies and stealth taxes, all varying year by year. God only has one rate. 100%! In other words, the Lord Jesus is telling us to be loyal to our country and our government, but be totally committed to God. Remember what He said elsewhere:
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'
That is what God requires of us. Yes it sounds difficult and (excuse the pun), taxing. In fact it is impossible in our own strength. So we need to ask for God’s help to love Him and God’s help to love each other - something far more exciting than any tax return ...
Sources of help:
Justin Meek in sermoncentral.com
Michael Green, “Matthew For Today”, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989, p.212
Life Application Bible, New International Version, Kingsway, 1991, p.1691
Saturday, October 18, 2008
On route to Gougane Barra (Click to enlarge)
Nikon D70s 3 photos at 1/400 sec, f10, ISO 200, 40mm
Well the annual Cork, Cloyne & Ross Clergy conference has been and gone once again. The speaker this year was Bishop Michael Mayes who gave us some truly excellent insights into the interpretation of Scripture with genuine warmth, wisdom, humour and humility. One thing that he said that has stuck with me is that dissection is done usually to something that is dead and that if you dissect something that is alive you would end up killing it - and to bear this in mind when we try and dissect the Bible. In thinking about this I would further say that it should be a case of allowing God's word to dissect us - but of course we try not to do that too much becasue when we do we usually don't like all the ugly rubbish and selfishness in our lives that is exposed!
As always though my favourite part of the conference was the afternoon on the second day when we were allowed to escape! The sun came out and it was great to go around taking pictures ...
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Have you ever been invited to the wedding of someone famous? That must be really exciting, but the pressure to look right and buy the right present must be even more immense. In the Bishop's house, there is a very modestly sized photo on the wall of him taking the wedding ceremony of David and Victoria Beckham, in many ways, and for many people they are like a kind of royalty. They are very famous, known all around the world, for better or for worse.
In our gospel reading for this morning (Matthew 22:1-14), the Lord Jesus tells a parable with a wedding feast as the backdrop to the story. He tells us that, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son.” As was the custom in those days, two invitations were sent out, the first to ask the guests to attend, the second to announce that the feast was ready. (Of course all the guests would have been living nearby, so it was easy enough to do this.)
The strange thing is that upon receiving the second invitation, as the servants of the king went to tell everyone that the feast was ready, we are told that they did not want to come. Why not? Why did the people refuse the invitation? This was a very special wedding, it was the kings son, so why did they not want to come?
What is the Lord Jesus saying? His original audience would have understood exactly what He was saying. God's chosen people, the people of Israel were those invited to His Kingdom. They were His honoured guests. He wanted them to join in the festivities of His Kingdom, He wanted them to celebrate Jesus as the Messiah, the One who would truly save them. The servants in the parable are God's messengers, prophets and preachers, those who invite others to accept God's message and offer of salvation. Yet they chose to ignore this invitation and to turn their backs on God and on what He wanted to give them. In verses 5 and 6 we read:
"But the invited guests paid no attention and went about their business: one went to his farm, another to his shop, while others grabbed the servants, beat them and killed them.”
It is bad enough to ignore the invitation that was given through the servants, but to kill them was totally and utterly wrong. Of course, the Lord Jesus is referring to all the prophets and messengers who had been killed for proclaiming God's message, including John the Baptist and countless martyrs both before and after John the Baptist, even up to the present day.
So, what's the kings reaction? We read:
The king was very angry; so he sent his soldiers, who killed those murderers and burnt down their city. (v.7)
Some people interpret this as the fall of Jerusalem in about 70 AD, when the Romans came in and destroyed everything, including the temple and thousands of people were put to the sword. But it also shows just how seriously God deals with those who take the lives of His servants and of those who continually reject His invitation. God invited His people, the people of Israel to believe in and accept His Son Jesus as the Messiah, and many of them did, (the disciples and the early church were all Jews.) But many of the people of Israel and indeed most people today do not accept God's invitation. In the parable, we see that many of the invited could just not be bothered, one went to his business another to his shop. In other words, the cares of this world were more important to them than accepting God's invitation. And how true that is today. The things of this world, our jobs, our friends, our hobbies and our leisure time all crowd our time, space and energies. “How can I have time for God? I've got to go and do something else instead.”
A good friend that Sonja and I have used to do all that he could to avoid coming to church when we were all students. On Sunday mornings I used to go round to Sonja's house and then together we would call on our friend to see if he was coming to church. There was nearly always some excuse and usually it had something to do with fixing his old MG car. The excuse would be something like “oh I can't come to church this morning, the brakes need bleeding”, or “the carburettor's a bit clogged, it's going to be a while I'm afraid.” My personal favourite was when he claimed that it was going to rain that afternoon and he needed to waterproof his wax jacket!! The funny thing was, if any of us came along to see if he wanted to go to the pub or the cinema there was never a problem, even if he was under the car covered in grease, he would down tools in no time and be ready!
Of course, it's more than just about going to church, it's about our whole lives. Do we make time to live our lives for God, or are we just too busy? Too busy making up excuses!?
In the parable, the king didn't give up when the initial guests refused to turn up. He sent out his servants again and told them:
“Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find.” So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people.”
“Yay”, that includes us! God sent us an invitation. How did we hear about the Lord Jesus? Was it from our parents, was it at Sunday School? Was it through Confirmation classes? Somehow, somewhere along the line we all heard about Jesus and at some point in our lives we have to either accept or reject the invitation. Some of us are perhaps still holding the invite in our hands, looking at it and wondering what to do with it. “How can I give my life to God”, we might ask, “I'm not good enough to accept this invitation”. The point is that none of us are good enough, if we were good enough, then there would have been no need for Jesus to die on the cross. He died in order that our sins might be wiped out. ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS ACCEPT THE INVITATION.
When we get to the bit in the parable about the man at the wedding feast who was not wearing the right clothes we might think that his treatment was a bit harsh! We've all done it haven't we? You know, when we go to a meeting dressed in shirt and tie and everyone else is wearing jeans and tee shirt, or we go in shorts and everyone else is in formal evening wear complete with black tie! Yet we were never tied up and thrown out into the darkness, not even on our stag night! So why is the punishment so harsh?
In the time when the Lord told this parable, it was customary for guests to be given a garment to wear at a feast. It was usually longer than a persons normal robes and white in colour. So to refuse to wear the garment was to be very arrogant and insulting to the host, making a clear statement that he did not want to take part in the wedding celebrations. The application of this is that Christ has provided the garment of righteousness for us to wear through what He achieved on the cross. But each of us must choose to put that garment on in order to enter the King's banquet / Eternal life. We are all given the invitation and offered the garment to wear. It is entirely up to us whether we accept the invitation and whether we wear the garment.
Let us seriously and soberly ask ourselves the question this morning: Have I accepted God's invitation? Have I put on the garment of righteousness or is the invitation still unopened in the envelope and the garment on the floor? The invitation will not remain valid for ever. There is only so much time we can delay. Come on, let's get ready, let's accept the invitation and let's put on the garment of righteousness that was won for us at such a great cost. And what gift do we bring? Oh, that's easy, we bring ourselves, that's all God wants, us, because He loves us and because we are so precious to Him...
(I got some useful bits of background for this from Michael Green's book “Matthew for Today”, Hodder & Stoughton 1988).
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
Hmmm, sometimes following instructions doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all! When I saw the Cheetah enjoying its chicken dinner underneath the sign like this, I just had to take the picture. Then it got me thinking (unusual for me some may think ;-) well on one level this sign is silly, along the lines of the peanuts in Tescos that say on the back of the packet "This product contains nuts" Obviously this animal might bite me (or worse) if I were to stick my hand through the alarmingly flimsy fence - but it's good to be reminded of the obvious sometimes.
The rebel in us generally has a mistrust and dislike of being told what (or what not) to do. Someone passes us a plate of food and says "don't touch, it's hot" and of course the first thing we do is touch the plate and burn our finger. God says, "you shall have no other gods before me" yet how far down our list of priorities does He come? God says "you shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God" yet how often His name is used when, for example a thumb is accidently bashed by a hammer instead of the nail!? God says "remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" - how often do we Christians on the Christian Sabbath (ie Sunday not Saturday) not treat the day as set apart and special? God says to honour our father and mother, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to lie about our neighbour, and not to want our neighbours house, wife or possessions...
Ouch, there's a bit of a bite to the Ten Commandments don't you think? But like the sign at the Cheetahs enclosure, they are there for our own good, to ensure our enjoyment, happiness and protection.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
One of the things that makes photography so enjoyable is the challenge of the limitations of your equipment. It’s great when you take a picture that a lot of people like, using an old film camera that’s worth about €30, especially when they say “wow you must have used a really good camera to take that picture”. I don’t have any photos good enough to make this point but have a look at Ken Rockwell’s take on this, “The camera doesn’t matter”. A good photographer will take good pictures using a disposable camera, because it is all about finding a location and waiting for the light to be interesting not about the better the equipment the better the picture.
Some of my favourite photos on this blog were taken with a plastic wonder of camera, the Canon A570is, which you can buy now for less than €100 on line. Unfortunately I did a very silly thing with it. We were all heading out in the car and I put the camera inside its case on to the drivers seat while I secured the boys into their child seats. Somehow the camera fell out of the car onto the driveway. Once we were all in the car I reversed it out and felt a slight bump under the wheel – I thought it might be a toy digger or something until I reversed back some more only to see the camera bag complete with squashed camera inside! Amazingly it still worked, but I couldn’t access the menu to change any settings and the focus and the metering were off, which meant that basically it wasn’t much good any more. I persisted with it for a few frustrating weeks and eventually conceded that it had to be taken to its final resting place (the retired gadgets shelf in my study).
With a very limited budget I started trawling eBay for a second-hand replacement. For €130 I got a bargain. Yes the camera is several years old but it was owned by a very careful retired chap in Scotland - it doesn’t look like it’s ever been out of the box, not a mark or scratch anywhere. For those who are interested it’s a Panasonic LX1, which was replaced by the LX2 a couple of years ago and more recently the LX3, which today sells for over €500!
On the way back from visiting a parishioner yesterday I stopped at the place you see in the picture above, it had only just stopped raining, so you can still see a bit of menace in the sky!
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Cobh was very busy last week to see this famous ship on it's last voyage (before being made into a hotel). I think she's probably earned a good retirement after 40 years of service and over five million nautical miles...
I couldn't get both the ship and all the interesting detail around in one shot so it took 11 photos to capture all the detail I wanted - unfortunately this meant that the finished picture was the equivalent to a colossal 66 Mega Pixels, so I had to shrink it considerably for the internet and in so doing many of the interesting fine details are lost.
Friday, October 3, 2008
It's become a bit of a tradition that after the Harvest Services all the edible stuff that's left over finds its way into the boot of my car. It's then great to be able to take it down to Cobh Hospital, where hopefully the kitchen staff are able to do something with it. It looks like there is going to be a lot of apple pie, stewed apple, apple strudel, baked apple and er apple tart this year. I can assure you though that if you look closely you will see a large bag of potatoes, a box of carrots, a squash or two and some other things that I have no idea whether they are for eating or for decoration!
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Even though the Buddleia is way past its best, this Peacock Butterfly doesn't mind. In order to get this close to take a photo I had to improvise by sellotaping a magnifying glass to the front of the lens! Most were blurred, but this one came out alright...
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Imagine if in the place where you worked full-time, 9 to 5, six days a week, there were other employees who worked part-time, say in the afternoons, and there were still others who only came in for an hour at the end of each day. You might not have a problem with this initially because you would assume that those that worked less hours would get less money at the end of the week. But how would we feel however if the boss came round at the end of the week and gave the wage cheques to the one-hour-a-day workers first, then the part-timers and then us last of all, and to make it worse how angry would we be if they all got the same wage as us!?
This is what happens in the parable of the ‘workers who were paid equally’. In the Parable, the Lord tells us that the:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a man who went out early in the morning to hire some men to work in his vineyard.”
Next we see that the Lord returned to the market place at 9 o’clock, where the men hung out waiting for someone to come and employ them for the day, and he hired them also. The same happened at 12 o’clock and at 3 o’clock. Even at 5 o’clock, when the working day was nearly over, the landowner went and hired still other men who were standing around.
Finally when the working day was over the landowner instructed the foreman to give out the wages to the workers. Those who were hired last, with only an hour of work to do, each received a silver coin, (which was the standard wage for a day’s work for a soldier or a labourer). On seeing this, the workers who were hired first then expected to receive more than they had agreed to at the beginning of the day. So when they were given their silver they were upset and grumbled. They said to the landowner:
“These men who were hired last worked only one hour, … while we put up with a whole day’s work in the hot sun - yet you paid them the same as you paid us!” (v.12)
The Landowner replied to one of them:
“Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for one silver coin? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired the last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
And then the Lord finishes off the parable with a statement that summarises all that he has been teaching here on the kingdom of heaven. In verse 16 he says:
“So the last will be first and the first will be last.”
What on earth does that statement mean? Basically it means that all those who in the world are first, i.e. those with wealth, education, position, prestige, talents etc. All those who are highly regarded and who all in society look up to, they will be last in the kingdom of God. The opposite side of the coin is that those who are last in the world, the poor, the uneducated, those at the bottom of the ladder, those who everybody tries to avoid, those who have no real quality of life at all, these who are last in the world will have first place in the kingdom of God.
This is of course consistent with what we read in the gospels; those that responded to Jesus were more often than not the outcasts of society, the poor, the blind, the lame the lepers, the tax collectors and the prostitutes. Conversely, the pillars of society, the religious leaders and rulers, the landowners and so on, as a whole they rejected the Lord. So it is that the last will be first and the first last. There are of course notable exceptions to this. In the gospels, important people such as Nicodemas who was a member of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedren, followed Christ, and there was the Roman Centurion also, who Jesus commended for having a strong faith in God. Likewise today, it would be foolish to say that no one who is privileged in society can be saved. There are numerous, politicians, leaders, wealthy people and celebrities who know and love the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, but no doubt they are greatly outnumbered by those much less fortunate from a worldly point of view.
So it shall be in heaven that we will probably be surprised at whom we may see there. There will be those pillars of society, even of the church that we might have been expecting to see, who will not be there. Likewise there will be those who we considered to be dropouts who will be there, the Lepers of our day, the druggies, the prostitutes and outcasts. Those who everyone else looks down on always have been very dear to the Lord. This reminds us of the Lord’s words to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7:
“The LORD does not look at the things that man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
That’s so true isn’t it? We judge each other so much by outward appearances. That’s why we dress up to go to church. We might even say that we want to look our best for the Lord as we do so. But the Lord doesn’t care so much about how nice our clothes and our hair and our teeth are. He looks at our hearts. He might say, ‘Well Daniel you’re looking very smart, if a little hot in that historical costume you’re wearing, but what about your heart?’ Is your heart washed and cleansed and looking it’s best as you come to church? The Lord would much rather we approached him dressed in rags, yet with a heart that loved Him first, than with our best M&S suit and tie or flowery dress, and a luke-warm heart. Of course it is possible to have a good heart and be smartly dressed, as many here clearly show ;-), but we must never forget that our priority is how are heart is, because that is where the Lord looks and what the Lord takes note of.
Just as in the parable, where the workers who were last got the same reward as all the workers that went before them, so we will find many others coming to faith in Jesus Christ who leave it a lot later in life than us. We’ve all heard about ‘death-bed conversions’, where people have lived their whole lives for themselves and then at the very last minute as death stares them in the face they turn to Christ. Think also of the thief on the cross next to Jesus. He had committed a crime serious enough to deserve the death penalty, yet by the grace of God he had a spark of faith, enough to believe in who Jesus is. The thief never got to go to church, never got to go to a Bible study, he never paid any envelopes in, he was never baptised. He simply said to the Lord ‘remember me when you enter your kingdom’, to which the Lord replied ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’
I’ve heard people who have been urged to turn to Christ, especially young people say that they want to live their lives first, how they want to make money and travel and so on, then when they are older they will give their lives to Christ! Firstly the longer we travel on the road of this world, the road of selfishness, and greed, the harder it is to get off it. The more worldly we become the harder it is to have faith in Christ. Secondly, as the saying goes ‘we may be run over by a bus tomorrow’. We never know what’s around the corner. It’s a really stupid thing to keep putting off giving our lives to Christ, because we do not know what will happen tomorrow. I’m sure that there are many poor souls for whom this is true, that they intended to give their lives to Christ, ‘but not yet’, and due to circumstances beyond their control, they died before being able to come to Christ. Again as the old cliché goes ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’.
So where are we in relation to the kingdom of God? Are we in God’s kingdom or not? Are we putting off giving our lives to Christ? If that is you, please do not delay any longer, because you do not know what tomorrow may bring. For those of us who have already given our lives to Christ, let’s make sure that our hearts are God-centred rather than self-centred. Let us show our gratitude to Christ by living our lives solely for Him, not grumbling and complaining about other people but by being ambassadors for Christ, that He might be able to use us that much more effectively for the service of His kingdom...
Thursday, September 18, 2008
One of the many highlights of the Wildlife Park are the Cheetahs. If you go at feeding time you get them running around and being fast, scary, impressive and intimidating. If you get them early in the morning however they seem little more than lazy, harmless and cuddly kitties!