Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Classroom View

Cork Harbour from Cobh, looking towards Roches Point (click to enlarge)
Sony Ericsson K800i mobile Phone

I said farewell to the pupils and staff at Cobh Mixed National School this morning. This has to be one of the best views from a school in the country - imagine trying to pay attention in Irish or Maths and having that view to look at instead! I only had my mobile phone to take the picture but it came out okay.

Monday, October 19, 2009


My Farewell words in church yesterday:

One of my favourite T-shirts has printed on the front the words “First-class honours” and then in smaller writing underneath it says “from the University of hindsight”! As I look back over the last 6 ½ years I can think of many things which if I could go back and do them again I would perhaps go about them differently, but then that is why old people are so wise, there is no substitute for experience!

It really is such an incredible thing, moving to a Parish as more or less a complete stranger and then in no time at all getting to know (and know about) a lot of people. It has been a great honour and privilege to be a part of your lives, whether it just be a chat over coffee, or a significant milestone of life, such as a wedding, baptism, confirmation or funeral.

I can remember on the drive down from Belfast in March 2003, stopping for Petrol in a now closed petrol station outside of Youghal and the price of fuel being 79.9 cent a litre and thinking that was really expensive! Back then the US invasion of Iraq was only just beginning, the most popular search term on Google (apparently) was Britney Spears! We didn’t have broadband, Mahon Point was only just starting to be built and the Jack Lynch tunnel was still quite new and not leaking as much as it does today! The planning for Cork as the European city of Culture was still in it’s early planning stages (some might of course say that it never really got beyond that) and of course in sport Cork lost to Kilkenny in the hurling final, Munster lost to Wasps in the Heineken Cup semi’s, Ireland came second in the rugby six nations, but that’s all OK because England won the Rugby World Cup with Jonny Wilkinson’s last gasp drop goal!

In many ways the time has gone very quickly. You’ve all been so incredibly good to me and my family. When Sonja and I arrived here, it was just the two of us and a cat! We were in our very early 30’s and I had a lot more hair and none of it was grey! Now, as well as a cat and a goldfish, we have two lively and wonderful boys who have only ever known this place as their home.

You have all been so good to us as a family, the level of care and support you have shown us, particularly when the boys’ were born was just phenomenal. I remember too how loyal you have been to me as a Rector, when I have organised things you have come along to them, even though at times it was probably the last thing you wanted to do. The best thing though is how we have grown in our faith together – I’ve learnt so much listening to your stories of faith and commitment to Jesus through good times and bad, it’s been wonderful to see God at work in your lives and for us all to journey together on the road of faith.

Since I have been your Rector there have been 35 Baptisms, 10 Weddings and 21 Funerals. Of course the Baptisms and Weddings have been a joy; the funerals have been very hard. To be with you, there along side you through the whole process of saying goodbye to one you love who has died is not only a massive responsibility, it is holy ground. To say it is a privilege is an understatement, it is a deep honour. I cannot help but look out on Sunday morning and remember those who used to sit in certain parts of the church who are no longer there, or as I drive around the parish past houses and farms where people used to live and work and find it hard to believe that that if I knock on the door they will not answer. I don’t know how anyone can grieve without God’s help in the whole process; it must be the loneliest experience in the world.

One thing perhaps more than anything else I have tried to do is get us all to realise even more and have confidence in the fact that Christianity not just for Sundays but for every moment of our lives, that the Lord Jesus not only died for us and rose again but wants to be our very best friend, our soul mate too. He wants to share every moment with us and for us to share every moment with Him.

I’ve tried also to get us to have confidence in the fact that He’s given us all gifts, every single one of us has something (at least one thing) that we are good at and that we could use to serve Him. What we need though is an environment to make that happen – W4 (home groups) tried to be that environment as did Carrigtwohill Praise, as did Bible Study and prayer meetings. It was great to see some people have the courage to run with this and to start doing things for God because they knew that God had given them a gift and they wanted to thank Him for that by offering to use it for His glory.

One thing I see in not only in my own life but also in the life of every Christian is that God is a God of new beginnings. Because the Christian life is a journey, we are always moving forward, on to the next thing that God wants us to do or requires of us. It is a fantastic thing to watch that spark of faith come alive in someone’s life. They may have been going through the dull routine of coming to church out of a dormant sense of duty for years and years and then it’s like the penny suddenly drops and they realise what it is all about – a living relationship with God. It’s been so great to see that happen in different people’s lives and then to see them start to be used by God to make a difference in whatever way they let God use them.

For a little while now I have had the sense that God wanted to do something new in this Parish and that he also wanted me to move on to somewhere else. At first this was not really what I wanted, I was happy in what I was doing and my family were happy and settled too. I worried about where we would go but had to remember that God had always looked after us in the past so He would now and in the future also. It is a little unnerving knowing that to move is the right thing to do but without actually knowing where you will be going. To cut a long story short it has worked out well. I am happy to be going to somewhere not too far away from here and that the upheaval for my family will be a lot less than if we were off somewhere far away and very different. However, it is difficult to say goodbye. Sonja and I have got to know many of you well and I as your pastor have a deep bond of affection for you. I have worried about you, prayed for you, tried to help you and most of all learned from you a great deal – and of course I’m deeply humbled by the way you have been so loving and patient with me, whether it be enduring many a long boring sermon or not getting too stressed out with my mistakes and failures.

I will of course continue to pray for you, as individuals and as a parish, until such time as you get a new Rector, and then when that time comes I will pray for him or her too. Be assured that God will bring you a new Rector in His own timing. You may have a short wait or a longer wait and whoever it is, trust that it is God who has brought this person to you, even if you might have preferred someone else!

Sonja and I would appreciate your prayers for us as we make this move and for the people of Kilgariffe Union – I hope they are as nice as you lot!

God bless you all with every blessing and may each of you always fully know the height and depth and width of His love for you in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Unexpected Farewell

"Sticky" the cat

Early yesterday morning my wife found our dear cat "Sticky" dead on the road outside our house, having been knocked down by a car during the night. We've had him for eight years and he was a constant part of our lives. We're all very sad.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Middle of the day Moon

Nikon D70s, f9, 1/250 sec, ISO 200, 450mm equivalent (click to enlarge)

This picture of the moon was taken a few days ago in the early afternoon from the front garden. Nasa have been up to things crashing two unmanned spacecraft on to the moon's surface to try and see if there were any signs of water in the past. An interesting experiment or a waste of money? I'm not sure.

It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever-flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.
Psalm 74:15-17

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Haven't posted a sermon in a while so thought I'd post one today, just so you know that I still do write them ;-)

Mark 10:17-31

Sometimes the words of Jesus are very difficult to accept. When they are we need to have the courage not to run away and pretend we never heard or read them but to face them head on and WITH HIS HELP seek ways that we can let Him transform us into the person He made us to be. Hopefully this will become clearer in a few minutes.

At the Prep school I attended there were a number of boys who had very wealthy parents. On a Sunday evening when we were brought back to school by our parents after a weekend at home, there was an expectation on the parents to come to the evening chapel service, which most did. We had a very godly School Chaplain and I remember one evening he spoke on the passage of scripture that we have for our Gospel reading for this morning, about the rich young man and the bit about how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Thereafter, there were a few parents who no longer came to chapel when dropping their sons off on a Sunday evening. I happened to be there when the chaplain quietly asked some of the boys why their parents no longer came. One of them replied that it was because of his teaching that rich people can’t go to heaven!

Of course there will be many rich people in heaven! What Jesus is teaching is something more subtle than simply how wealthy we are, He is warning us to have a correct attitude to wealth and possessions. Money should not be more important to us than God and money should not be more important to us than helping our fellow human beings in need.

The rich young man in our Bible reading falls on his knees before Jesus and says:
“Good teacher … what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

In response the Lord gives him a summary of the Commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your Father and Mother.’

To be honest, I find it hard to believe the man when he responds to Jesus, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus though looks at the man and loves him, “One thing you lack,” he said, “Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me”.

God can ask us to do some very uncomfortable and very difficult things but when He does so, we can be sure that we will get infinitely more back from Him then we could ever give up.

I think we can have a lot of sympathy for the man at this point. In response to what Jesus asks of him, his face falls and he goes away sad because he had great wealth.

J.C. Ryle describes Jesus’ attitude towards this rich young man wonderfully. He writes:
“Just as we look with sorrow at some noble ruin, roofless and shattered, and unfit for man’s use, yet showing many a mark of the skill with which it was designed and reared at first, so we may suppose that Jesus looked with tender concern at this man’s soul.”(1)

I suppose it’s not hard for us to imagine Jesus looking at us like that too. He looks at us with a great deal of love, mercy and compassion, yet like a ruined house he sees that we are far from a completed work and there is so much that needs to be changed and transformed in our life, so much renovation is required. We are indeed ‘human becomings’(2) and it is up to us whether we let the Great Builder work away at our hearts and lives or whether we resist Him at every turn. Sometimes it might be painful, maybe He needs to demolish an area of our lives before He can build it back up again but let us always be confident that God knows what He is doing, even if at times it is a struggle for us to understand.

You can just imagine the expressions on the faces of the dumbstruck disciples as Jesus turns to them and says:
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”

and then:

“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! 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.”

A Sunday school teacher was telling about a little girl who had gone to the zoo with her Sunday school class. There, she had spent an inordinate amount of time at the camels' enclosure. Her teacher finally made sense of her fascination when the girl asked, "Where do they keep the ones who can go through the eye of a needle?"(3)

Perhaps one of the most misquoted verse in the whole Bible is the first part of 1 Timothy 6:10 which is often quoted as:

Money is the root of all evil. (Including by the band Pink Floyd in their song “Money”)(4)

But in actual fact is:

For the love of money is the root of all evil.

Having money is not the problem; it’s what we do with it that matters. It might well be that we don’t have a problem with money, our master well be something or somebody else. For this young man, it was his wealth that was getting in the way of him becoming a disciple.

It is said that in Jerusalem at the time there was a narrow gateway and because of its shape it was called the “eye of the needle”. If you tried to get a fully laden camel through the gate it would have got stuck. You first had to unload the camel before it could pass through the gate. So it was with this young man, he could not pass through the door to God’s kingdom, because he was fully laden with the love of his money. He first had to take off this load before he could pass through the doorway to a new life in Christ. And of course the same is true of us. If we are to pass through the narrow gate to eternal life, we first have to shed our load of all that hinders us. We all carry baggage, and that baggage is no doubt different for each of us, it might well be money, but it could just as easily be something else, but before we can be truly born again we have to shed our load, lay it at the foot of the cross, and then, only then can we pass through the gateway.

As usual, Peter is the spokesman for the disciples, and he says to the Lord:

“We have left everything to follow you.”

There seems to be an element of doubt in what Peter says, yet where the rich young man had failed the disciples had not. Each one of them had given up a lot to follow Jesus and as we know, many of them would later even give up their lives for Him. Peter himself (according to tradition), was crucified upside down because he insisted he wasn’t good enough to die the same way that his Master had.(5)

Jesus’ reply to Peter and the other disciples must have been a very comforting one to them:

“Yes,” Jesus said to them, “and I tell you that anyone who leaves home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and for the gospel, will receive much more in this present age. He will receive a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and persecutions as well; and in the age to come he will receive eternal life.

It is clear that this is a promise for all believers, not just the original disciples. For all who have put Christ first, over their possessions and even over their relatives, for all who have made a sacrifice to follow Christ motivated by love for Him and for the Gospel, they will be reimbursed many times over for what they gave up. In these uncertain times, where financial investments are so fragile and once great banking institutions are being artificially propped up by tax payers money, it is good to remember that one investment is sure and certain and guaranteed – investment in our relationship with God through Christ.

A very sobering thought indeed is that one day we will have to stand before Christ (Heb.4:12)

What will we be able to say that we gave up for Christ? Will we be like the Rich young man and walk away in sadness, or will we be able to stand up like Peter and say “Lord I left everything to follow you.”



(1) J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Mark, Banner of Truth, 1985, p.209

(2) Phrase attributed to John Macquarrie - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Macquarrie

(3) http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/weekly/98-07-01/3091.html

(4) http://www.pinkfloyd.com/dsotm/content/setup.html

(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Peter

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Time and tide

Panasonic LX1, f4, 1/125 sec, ISO 80, 28mm equivalent (click to enlarge)

How long have these wooden posts been here trying to hold back the inevitable progress of the sea? Presumably there would once have been planks between these upright posts, yet this once sturdy and proud structure has been reduced to a few stubborn, highly worn posts.

So much that we build and strive for in this life ultimately comes to nothing. ‘Time and tide wait for no man.’ I seem so slow to learn the lesson that is repeatedly played out before me; today’s shiny new gadget is tomorrow’s piece of junk! I think of my first computer, An Acorn Electron, which had 32 kilobytes of RAM – (one photo today can be 5 megabytes meaning it would need 150 or so Acorn Electrons’ memory to store it)! Of course it didn’t have a hard drive, programmes were loaded from and stored upon an audio cassette tape that you plugged in and waited many minutes for it to load or download. I am writing this on my Apple imac that has a 360 gigabyte hard drive, 1 gigabyte of ram and more processing power than probably all the Acorn Electrons that were ever made put together. Yet the day will inevitably come when this computer too will be of no more worth than a large paperweight!

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
(Matthew 6:19-21)