Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hanging on to the Summer...

Nikon D70s, 50mm, ISO 200, 1/125 sec, f8. (Click to enlarge)

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

First or last?

Pentax P50 (film scan from probably Ilford SP4 ASA 125) about 1988. (Click to enlarge)

Matthew 20:1-16

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

Lazy Cheetahs at Fota Wildlife park

Nikon D70s, 1/320, f11, 300mm (Click to enlarge)

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!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Time Out...

Canon A570is, f8, ISO 80, 23mm (x2), (Click to enlarge)

I’ve been working a lot recently (makes a change I hear some say ;-). So without my feeling any guilt at all I decided to take the morning off and we went for a walk along the beach at Ballybrannigan. What a beautiful morning it was, not even a hint of rain and what a lovely walk and time together it was too…

I came to the conclusion that God is pretty good at the whole "Time Out" thing. He gave us this beach just to ourselves and the sound of the waves and the feel of the water on our toes did just the job to recharge the batteries.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Emmet Place

Canon A570is, 1/60 sec, ISO 80, 5.8 mm (x2), (Click to enlarge)

On Monday evening, on my way to the institution of the new Rector in Youghal I passed this interesting place near the Church. It was quite a busy street and I couldn't stand back far enough to get it all in one photo, so it's two pictures 'stitched together' on the computer. The street sign says "Emmet Place", presumably after Robert Emmet, the famous Irish Patriot (and of course member of the Church of Ireland!)

You know the expression "if only ... could talk", well if only this house could talk, once we had got over the initial shock of a speaking building I'm sure it would be able to tell us a fascinating history. Who lived here, what were they like, how long has the building been empty? Probably many families have lived here, children were born and grew up here, people lived their lives and grew old and died here. There were probably many happy and many sad chapters of life lived out within those walls that are now weak with age and neglect and all memory fading away along with the peeling paint...

Where has the laughter gone, the windows won't say, where have the memories gone, the walls will not tell...

In looking at the transient nature of once fine human dwellings, I'm reminded of John 14, where the Lord Jesus says:

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (verses 2 and 3).

In the unsureties of this life it's great to know the permanency of what the Lord Jesus has achieved for all who put their faith and trust in Him - an eternal dwelling place that will never fade away and where there will be no sadness or death, only the joy of being with our Saviour, Master and Friend...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Failed crop?

Canon A570is, 1/320sec, F4, ISO 80, 5.8mm (click to enlarge)

It’s a bit sad driving around the parish and seeing the crops damaged by the heavy rain. When I took the picture above during a drive from Ballymore back home, I noticed how the wheat was all bent over. Apparently though this is not necessarily a ruined crop. I was speaking to a farmer on Sunday and asked him about the bent over wheat and he said that it can still be harvested so long as it hasn’t sprouted and so long as the rain hasn’t completely flattened the crop. I hope and pray that there will be better weather over the coming days so that the crop in this field and many others can be saved. However, it seems that we are having the tail-end of hurricanes ‘Gustav’, ‘Hannah’ and ‘Ike’ at the moment... Didn’t someone say that we were going to have good weather in September?!

I was asked by online Christian magazine "Good News Now", if they could use this photo as their "picture of the day". I was delighted to give them permission to use it but go and have a look at the other pictures there, they are all much better than mine!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Road to Forgiveness

The Road to Mombasa (1988)
Film Scan (Kodak G 100 ASA), Pentax P50, I'm guessing at 28mm

I’m often amazed at just how childish grown-ups can be sometimes. When we look at politicians debating with each other, refusing to listen to what the other is saying and resorting to just slagging each other off, it often has little more maturity or sophistication than a playground brawl. Unfortunately, we Christians seem to be right up there with the politicians when it comes to not listening to, not understanding and not forgiving each other. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve spoken to who don’t go to church because of a comment that was made to them (often many years ago) or because they sat in someone else’s seat and were belittled for doing so, or because the church building that they used to worship in has closed down and they are angry at those whose building remained open. I’m afraid to say I even watched an event a couple of years ago when some people who had newly moved into the parish sat in the seat of a well-known parishioner, who then proceeded to make a lot of fuss about it, even though there were many many other seats to choose from. Not surprisingly, those people have never been back. Ironically, even people who finally get around to coming back to church after a long absence are ‘welcomed’ (in inverted commas) in such a way as to not make them feel welcome but instead to feel bad for having been away! Of course I am telling just one side of the story, I am pleased to say that for every mishap like this, there is much that is good and that must bring delight to the Lord, such as the way that most visitors and newcomers are indeed made immediately to feel at home as they worship with us.

It saddens me when I visit a home that is fractured because of unforgiveness, nearly always due to a simple misunderstanding, often over a piece of land, or unnecessarily harsh words uttered in pain or distress and taken out of context by the one who was hurt. We are so easily hurt aren’t we, so proud, so ready to be forgiven by those we have wronged but so reluctant to forgive those we have trespassed against... ?

I am reminded of author Harper Lee’s classic book “To kill a Mockingbird”. A very important lesson that we learn from that book is the one that the father, Atticus tells to his children; that “in order to be able to understand a man you need to be able to ‘walk in his shoes’”. If we were willing to step into the shoes of a person whom we had wronged or who had wronged us we would understand their point of view and therefore be able to diffuse the situation much more quickly. For example if the offended visitors who sat in a parishioners seat were able to understand that that parishioner had sat in that very seat for many many years, that their spouse and children had sat with them there too, that the spouse was long dead and the children a long time flown the nest and that when the parishioner sat there on a Sunday morning to everyone else it looked as if they were sitting on their own but in actual fact to the parishioner it was as if their spouse was still sitting next to them and the children, in their Sunday best sitting in a row alongside... If the visitors had realised this then surely they would have not been offended to the extent of never coming back, in fact they might even have made it their duty to return in order to show their love and support for the parishioner in question. Now if the parishioner had been able to ‘step into the shoes’ of the visitors who had newly moved into the parish, it would be clear that there were many seats available and that it was quite all right to sit wheresoever they chose, surely we come to church to worship God, and things such as seats don’t matter - yes children may fight over seats in the classroom, but surely not mature adults!? They probably convinced themselves not to return because they didn’t want to worship in a church where seats were more important than visitors! But of course if only they had been able to step into the parishioners shoes and had seen things from the parishioners perspective and if only the parishioner had been able to step into the visitors’ shoes and seen things from their perspective then things would have turned out differently - they might even have become friends and now be sitting alongside each other to this day...

And how many other instances are similar to this? It’s hard for me to think of anyone in the parish who hasn’t at some time told me about how another parishioner has upset them at some stage - I’m serious, and often we’re talking about things that happened so long ago that the actual details of the disagreement have long since been forgotten!

When someone upsets us we naturally want revenge, we want to get our own back - we may not actually do anything but we may secretly rejoice when some kind of mishap comes to that person later on, we even convince ourselves that they deserved it!

Okay then what does the Lord Jesus think of that? Well He makes it very clear - He wants not revenge, but reconciliation, not dislike, but love. He says:

“If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back...”
(Matthew 18:15)

If someone wrongs us we want to get them back and we want to tell others in a gossipy kind of way what they have done, we try to turn other people against that person. But the best thing to do is not to tell anyone else at all, but to go and talk to that person directly, don’t phone or write or email, these are too impersonal, go directly to that person and as unaggressively and gently as possible talk with them and explain to them why you are hurt by what they said or did. Often such a humble and frank conversation will lead to a deepening and strengthening of the relationship that you have with them. It is much better to talk with the person rather than them hearing from someone else that you have gossiped to that you are upset with them...

Sometimes though the person will stand their ground and refuse to admit that they did anything wrong. Well, the Lord Jesus tells us what to do then, we take along two other persons with us as witnesses (v.16). Now these two other persons should not be body guards to ‘duff up’ the person who has wronged you, merely witnesses. The idea is that this will exert a little more pressure on the individual to admit their wrongdoing and thus be reconciled with you.

I must admit that I have no experience of stage two, just stage one, (where I have been both the wrongdoer and the person who has been wronged against). I have to admit that it isn’t very comfortable being told what you have done wrong and a close friend telling you how upset they are - but it is a very good environment to admit your mistake, just between the two of you rather than all sorts of other people being involved too.

Stage three is altogether more serious:

And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector. (v.17)

I don’t know if we have anyone from the Revenue Commissioners here, but be assured we love you because you are quite different from the type of tax collector that Jesus is talking about. Likewise any pagans, so long as you are not the child-sacrificing type you’re okay to stay too!

Certainly I have no experience of stage three, but of course we have all heard about or read about people who have had to be ejected from a Church community because of persistent, unrepentant wrongdoing. It is very sad and thankfully quite rare - sometimes the person is reconciled eventually to the Christian community, sometimes not.

In the last couple of verse from our reading (Matthew 18:15-20), the Lord Jesus reminds us of the greatest of all tools for mending broken relationships - prayer:

“And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” (v.19,20)

How strange it is that an all-powerful God, who could so easily fix our human messes by Himself, actually does nothing unless someone, somewhere starts to pray! Perhaps He wants to give us the honour of working in partnership with Him?1

How many friendships would have remained intact, how many marriages not broken down, how many churches and Christian communities remained worshipping and living happily together if only they had listened and not shouted, if only they had stepped into the others shoes rather than on them and if only they had not fought or gossiped but prayed?

Let us pray now:

Lord, next time I’m involved in a quarrel and someone upsets me, remind me to tell you first, then the person who hurt me, but please prevent me from telling everyone else.2 Amen.


1 From Scripture Union notes, “Closer to God”, vol. 23, p.80, 2004
2 Ibid.
Also helpful was Michael Green’s book: “Matthew for Today”, Hodder & Stoughton 1989

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Harvest time at Belvelly, Cobh

Canon A570IS, 1/500 sec, f6.3, ISO 80, 5.8mm (Click to enlarge)

The farming community has had a tough 'summer', it's good to see a field with a least a bit of sun on it - even if only for a brief while. This was taken yesterday evening and just this morning the weather had changed rather dramatically for the worse once more.

If only we could find some way to export a few clouds to places that could do with them, like those vineyards in Australia that haven't had rain for four years. To make matters worse, we got a water bill yesterday and a leaflet urging us of the need to conserve water, as supplies were limited!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Strandhill, Co. Sligo

Strandill Beach with Ben Bulben in Background (Click to enlarge)
Nikon D70s, 1/50sec, f18, ISO 200, 70mm, RAW

Another photo from our holiday in the West / North West. Using a polarizing filter really helps to bring out the detail in the clouds...