Wednesday, December 15, 2010

imprintsoflight.wordpress.com


Not one to take rash decisions, I've been humming and hawing about this one for a year or more; I've finally decided to move the blog from Blogger to Wordpress.  Not that I don't like blogger, it's just that Wordpress seems a lot more flexible and I'd like to give it a go.  Still early days yet and it will take some time to get the layout right, but I'm happy about it so far.  So "Imprints of Light" will from now on be found at:  


Thank you for all your encouragement and support - I would have given blogging up a long time ago without it.  

Daniel.  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Photographic notepad

I heard of someone who was forever complaining that they had their best ideas in the middle of the night, but of course the ideas themselves were long forgotten by the morning.



Someone else suggested to them that they leave a pen and paper beside the bed to write down these great ideas so they could be read In the morning. This was duly done but the problem was that, what was in the middle of the night thought to be an earth-shattering brainwave turned out, in the cold light of day, to just be a load of gibberish scrawled across the page!



I can't tell you the number if times I have come across what I thought would make a good photograph, (with the light just right), only for the moment to be gone by the time I have got the camera to hand and ready to take the picture. Sometimes you come across a moment and it is a very fleeting moment, the light will not wait for you, you have to be quick. That is perhaps one of the reasons why mobile phones have become so popular now for taking pictures; we nearly always have them on us and in no time at all they can take a picture of whatever it is that has caught our eye.



Of course, so often the image is then very disappointing when we look at it on our computer screen later on, but just occasionally it comes out ok. Mobile phone cameras have come on a long way (though i.m.h.o. not yet as good as a dedicated compact camera, the image sensor is just too small). They are like photographic note pads, great for ideas and sketches and there have been many times when I have been glad of one...




By the way this blog post was written on and all the photos taken using my mobile phone - hence the strange formatting :-)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Epitaph

1011Sensia097bw


I am not one for habitually stalking around graveyards, but like many people I am sometimes fascinated by what is written on headstones; it is the deceased's final message to the world, there for generations to see after their passing.  What does that message say about the individual, what was their parting shot?

The first picture is of one of the most famous graves in Ireland, that of W.B. Yeats, in the churchyard at Drumcliffe in Co. Sligo.  The lines come from the sixth stanza of Yeats' poem "Under Ben Bulben" (named after the mountain that you would see in the distance were in not for the Sligo weather).  It reads:

Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Coming to the end of his life, Yeats wants there to be no fuss about his death, he wants to be remembered only for his legacy of writings and does not want to get in the way of those poets and artists who would come after him.  Ironically, his grave has become a famous tourist attraction!

He who winneth souls...


The second picture is a headstone of a much less well-known man than W.B. Yeats.  It belongs to John Basil Clarkson.  Basil used to run summer camps for children, firstly in North Wales and then latterly in Co. Sligo.  My wife had the pleasure of getting to know Basil and his wife Nora at these summer camps when she was a teenager.  I came to the camps myself to help out years later (and unfortunately after both Basil and Nora had died.)  No one knows how many men and women today are living their lives for Christ as a result of attending these summer camps in their school years, it must be hundreds, if not thousands.  I cannot think of a more fitting epitaph for Basil than:

"... He who winneth souls is wise."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

and the busy world is hushed

Clonakilty Snowscape


The past week or so has been unusual; many meetings, visits and school days have been cancelled and we have had the sort of weather that "only happens once in a generation" (except of course we had it last year as well.)  

Personally there has been an up-side to being confined to home - more family time, time for catching up on reading etc.  But there is more, a deeper sense of peace, perhaps because of being forced to slow down a little and to reflect upon the things that matter and the things that are important in life and in work.  

(Photography Bit).  Of course I have enjoyed taking a few photographs too :-)  Snow photography is pretty tricky because of all the light reflecting back; my little compact camera has a 'snow' scene setting, which is cheating a bit but really all it does (I think) is overexpose things by about a stop.  The above picture was taken from our garden using good old Tri-x film, with a Nikon F100 and 50mm lens.  Developed in Rodinal means that the grain is very grainy but I like the effect here.  

The scene above was as I was standing there in the stillness of the early morning light, very peaceful and  tranquil.  As I look at it now (and as I think about the memorial service I am doing this afternoon) I am reminded of one of the prayers from the funeral service (by John Henry Newman):  

O Lord,
support us all the day long
until the shades lengthen, and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us safe lodging,
a holy rest, and peace at the last;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

JtheB and the road to the Lord

Clonakilty in the snow



Thank you so much to the person (who wishes to remain anonymous) who posted me a Facebook message answering my call for help.  The message picked me up and got me writing again - thank you!

Today's Sermon (Text: Matthew 3:1-12) Advent 2, Year A

In his poem “St. John the Baptist's Day”, John Keble writes:

Where is the lore the Baptist taught,
The soul unswerving and the fearless tongue?
The much-enduring wisdom, sought
By lonely prayer the haunted rocks among?
Who counts it gain
His light should wane,
So the whole world to Jesus throng?(1)

The Lord Jesus said of John:
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist... (Matthew 11:11a)

John the Baptist was an amazing character. He lived in the desert wilderness, and Matthew tells us that he had raggedy old clothes made from camel’s hair, held up by an old leather belt. For his food / Bush Tucker Trial, he had a strict diet of locusts and wild honey. The honey sounds nice, but I’m not so sure about the locusts! He doesn’t really sound like the type of character one would normally listen to, does he? But what an awesome character John was, so holy and so humble, never seeking any credit for himself and always directing attention away from himself and onto Christ.

When I was at theological college, a Rector who I did a parish placement with discussed John the Baptist with me as I was preparing to write a sermon for that Sunday. He told me about a sermon he did on John the Baptist when he was a Curate at a well-to-do parish in Dublin. Unbeknown to the very proper elderly ladies sitting a couple of pews back from the front, a friend of his had been hiding behind the Communion Table from before the start of the service. This friend was dressed as near as possible to what John the Baptist would have looked like; he was all messy and dressed in old rags, looking like he had wandered in from the nearest desert. Right in the middle of the sermon at the pre-selected point of time, he jumped out and shouted at the top of his voice “Repent, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. I'm told that the old ladies had such a shock that the preacher feared for their health. It took much apologising from both rector and curate to smooth things over afterwards!

You'll be pleased to know that there are no hidden John the Baptists here this morning, behind the Communion Table or anywhere else!

Matthew tells us that John the Baptist came preaching in the desert. Here was a man who had given his life to God, and now God had a very important job for him to do. Firstly, he had to awaken the people to see their need to be converted and secondly he was going to introduce them to the Messiah, who would make it possible for the people to be converted.

If any of you have ever been to see a famous band or act such as U2, Lady Gaga or the Munster Ramblers :-/ perform, they will usually have what is known as a “support band”. This is a kind of “warm-up” act, to get everyone in the mood for the main performance. Usually however, people tend to ignore the support band and not bother coming out of the bar until the main performance starts. John is a bit like the warm-up act, though his job is infinitely more important. Perhaps a better example is whenever a head of state, such as a King or Queen does something important, they may be announced with a fanfare of trumpets, the red carpet will be rolled out, and people will have spent time beforehand making sure that everything is ready for the important person to arrive. This is exactly what John the Baptist is doing for the immanent arrival of the Lord Jesus and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John is blowing Jesus’ trumpet and he’s laying out the red carpet to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

So John went into the countryside all around the River Jordan and he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The word Repent in Greek is μετάνοία (metanoia), It means 'to change one's mind for the better, knowing that you have offended someone (in this case God) and to look with abhorrence on your past sins' (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon). Of course, repentance then is not just once off, it must be the way of life for the Christian. Every day in prayer and through reading God's word we allow Him to work in us to align us to His will, to His plan and purpose for our lives and to repent of our old way of living.

Baptism was nothing new. The Jewish people had for a long time performed a ceremonial washing of Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. The idea being that Gentiles were unclean and they needed to be washed before they could become one of God’s people. But here John is having the cheek to tell the Jewish people themselves that they needed to be washed, they too were unclean! But he’s saying to them, “Yes, you are unclean, but you can be forgiven, your sins can be washed away.” His audience would have been well aware of some wonderful verses in the Hebrew Scriptures that tell us about God’s forgiveness, for example:

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
(Micah 7:19)

A family member told me about a dream they had once, where they were looking out to sea. The tide was out and in the mud there was lots of junk, you know the sort of thing, old shopping trolleys, washing machines and so on. The person understood these to represent all the junk in their life, in other words, all the sin. But then the tide turned, the sea came in and completely covered over all the junk. This represented what God does with our sins when we say “sorry” to Him. Even more than that, because in the dream the junk was still there under the surface – but God does much more than that, He removes our sin completely.

In other words, when God forgives, He sends our sins away to a place from which they can never be brought back. When we forgive someone, we might occasionally remind them of the bad thing that they did to us, thereby showing that we haven’t totally forgiven them at all. But God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t remind us of our sins, He completely wipes them out, so that they are no more, literally, as far as the east is from the west, or as if they had been cast into the depths of the sea.

Quoting from Isaiah, John says that there will be:

A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight …’ The voice in the desert is of course John himself, but what does he mean when he says about making straight paths for the Lord? Perhaps that his audience should provide the Lord with ready access to their hearts and lives. May we let God’s access to us not be a windy narrow West Cork Boreen full of pot holes, but a highway where we openly welcome Him into our hearts and lives.

Later on, the Lord Jesus was to declare that John was in fact the most important of all the prophets. But even he is only a forerunner, he is only the one to announce the arrival of the coming King, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God and Saviour of the world.

John welcomed the King himself, and many people who heard John’s message also welcomed Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Let’s ask ourselves, how straight the paths are between us and God; are there obstacles in the way? Let’s be encouraged by John’s message. Let us allow ourselves to be converted, to repent, to walk in the direction of God’s will for our lives. If we’ve done this already, let’s keep going, and let us allow God by His grace to remove every obstacle in our lives that prevents us from having an increasingly full relationship with Him. Let us pray:

Lord God, you know our lives so completely, you know my life. You know the obstacles, all the pit falls, all that hinders my relationship with you. Lord there are things I try to hide, things that I am ashamed of, things I avoid; words I should say and words I shouldn't, things I should do and things I shouldn't … I give this all to you now and I say 'sorry' with all my heart. Help me Lord, help me every day to follow you, every day and every moment of my life now and into eternity. For the glory of Your Name. Amen.

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(1) http://yimcatholic.blogspot.com/2010/06/poem-on-st-john-baptists-day.html

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sparing a thought for Farmers

Kilmalooda Cows


Many of the Parishioners here are Farmers or in some way connected to Agriculture.  Having spoken with a couple of dairy farmers in the last few days I am getting a greater understanding of how tough this cold, icy weather can be.  Their work takes much longer in these freezing conditions, as they do everything to stop the water pipes from freezing, keeping the yard from getting too slippery and trying to prevent the cows skating around!  Then there's loads of other stuff which to a layman like myself I wouldn't get or understand, but nevertheless farmers have both my sympathy and my prayers at this time.

Kilmalooda Church Panorama


Yesterday I was driving (very slowly) through Kilmalooda on my way to a visit.  I had set out too early and had some time to spare so I took a few pictures.  Firstly the one at the top of the cows, (which got me thinking again about the farmers), then one of the church (or rather 21 pictures merged together to form a giant picture on the computer),

Kilmalooda road


then one of the icy road

Kilmalooda Valley and Castle


and finally one of the old raiding Castle in the valley.  For all its harshness, the snow and ice is at the same time, quite beautiful...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In the days of Noah.

rainbow_Panorama b&w

Today's Sermon.  Text Matthew 24:36-44

Even just a short time ago hardly anyone would have predicted the enormity of what is now happening to our country. The thought that we would be plunged into a recession so low and debt levels so high that we will never be able to afford even the interest on the loans let alone the loans themselves would have been laughed off. In the midst of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, whilst the Property Bubble was still expanding, no one predicted how great the fall that we are now experiencing would be. Anytime an economist came on the radio and said that the whole thing was unsustainable, they were laughed at and not taken seriously. The mentality of so many was ‘eat drink and be merry’; with no thought to the consequences of endless spending and borrowing of money that was not ours. It turns out that predicting the future is a hard thing to do.

When I was a boy, I was fortunate enough to go with my parents on a holiday to Italy. My favourite part was when we visited the ancient city of Pompeii. This city in Roman times was full of life and home to 18,000 people. They were just living their lives when, out of the blue, there was an enormous volcanic eruption which rained down hot ash on the city. Many managed to escape, but 2000 people didn’t, they were buried alive. Today you can walk through the city streets and see ancient shop signs, houses, and theatres and it’s not hard to imagine that the people there had no idea when they woke up that morning on August 24th AD 79 that it would be their last day on earth.

The second coming seems all a bit like something from a Hollywood movie, something fantastic and theatrical. I think it's one of those times when the Bible uses metaphorical (or picture) language to convey to us what it will be like.

The most important thing about chapter 24 in Mathew's Gospel is to remember that it is primarily about the end of the world’s history. History is in a real sense “His Story”. The Kingdom of God came with Jesus’ Incarnation; when He lived among us. The Lord’s disciples, both then and now are citizens of two countries; we belong to this age and in the age to come. As Micheal Green puts it “”We are not what we were, but equally, we are not yet what we shall be”(1). History is steadily moving to the day when God’s Kingdom will be “Consummated”, that is achieved and fully realised. Jesus’ return will settle forever the destiny of all people. There will be no sitting on the fence, either we are with Him or we are against Him (cf. Matthew 12:30)

Our reading begins with the Lord saying:

‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father...’ (36)

Only the Father knows when the end will come, not even the Lord Jesus in His human nature knew, nor should we give any heed to anyone who claims they know when it will be either! There have over the centuries been many people who have tried to predict when the second coming would be. One of the most famous was a chap called John Napier, a sixteenth-century mathematician. He applied logarithms and all sorts of clever formulae he had invented and applied it to the book of Revelation (the last book of the New Testament). He then calculated that Jesus would return sometime between 1688 and 1700. His book sold like hot cakes and went into twenty-three editions - until 1701, when sales unaccountably plummeted!(2)

To help His disciples understand what His second coming would be like, the Lord Jesus then says:

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. (37-39).

The people In Noah's day would have had a hard time believing the warnings that a great cataclysmic flood was going to sweep them away, even though Noah was building a great big Ark (as a more than subtle hint)! If they really suspected that the end was coming they would have asked Noah if they could get on board. The people in Noah’s day were just getting on with their lives, just like we do today, they were eating and drinking and marrying right up until the end. The warnings are there for us too, though we have something much greater than an Ark to find safety in, we have the Lord Jesus Christ; He is our Ark, it is through believing and trusting in Him as our Lord and Saviour that we find eternal safety and salvation.

We do not know when the end will come but the door of the Ark is still open and there is still time to get on board, why wait, we do not know how long we have, it may be tomorrow for all we know?

The Lord Jesus explains things further when He says:

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (40-42)

It is clear that once the final day arrives, all opportunity for repentance will be gone, the door is shut. These are very sobering verses which act as a clear warning to us. If we are not on board the Ark of Christ we shall be left behind, lost forever, there will be no second chance.
Jesus is pleading with us - ‘get on board, take my hand, quickly, now before it is too late.’

He continues:

But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (43-44)

Anyone that has had their house broken into will be able to relate to this. It happened to Sonja and I once, in our previous Rectory. We came back one evening to see a couple of windows broken open and saw that they had tried to break into the very strong filing cabinet in the study, making quite a mess of it in the process. Of course, if we had known what time the burglar was coming we would have been ready, we would have had all the lights on in the house and let it be obvious that we were there, so the burglar would not have bothered trying to break in. The Lord Jesus urges us to live lives of constant readiness for His return, to live in joyful hope and expectation that He is coming at an unexpected hour.

Probably most of you have heard of or read some of John Grisham’s novels, such as The Firm, Pelican Brief, and The Client. Despite his fame and wealth, Grisham makes a concerted effort to focus on things that have lasting meaning, including his faith in God. Grisham remembers, as a young law student, the remarkable advice of a friend:
“One of my best friends in college died when he was 25, just a few years after we graduated from Mississippi State University. I was in law school, and he called me one day and wanted to get together. So we had lunch, and he told me he had cancer. I couldn't believe it.
"What do you do when you realize you are about to die?" I asked.
"It's real simple," he said. "You get things right with God, and you spend as much time with those you love as you can. Then you settle up with everybody else."
Finally he said, "You know, really, you ought to live every day like you have only a few more days to live."
Grisham concludes: ‘I haven't forgotten those words’”.
Will Norton, Jr., in Christianity Today.Christian Reader, Vol. 32, no. 6.(3)

Let us make the very best use of the time we have left, because no matter who we are the time is short and will go very quickly. Let us make sure that we know Christ as our Lord and Saviour and let us make sure that we are living lives of readiness and expectancy: What would we like Jesus to find us doing when He returns? Then let us be doing that thing. Amen.



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(1) Matthew for Today, Michael Green, Hodder & Stoughton, 1999, p.229
(2) From Scripture Union Bible Notes “Closer to God”, No.12, 2001.
(3) http://preachingtoday.com/search/?type=scripture&query=Matthew%2024:36-44&start=21

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harbouring?

Courtmacsherry Harbour


This was Courtmacsherry harbour last week as we waited for "The Storm". It's strange how the word "harbouring" seems (to me at least) to have negative connotations. We hear about someone "harbouring criminals" or someone "harbouring" bad thoughts or bitterness / resentment in their hearts, which is of course something that we need to be aware of.

But I like to think of what God Harbours us from, though even as I write that many many objections pop up in my mind!  It is a deep and holy privilege of my work to listen to and to pray with people who have experienced every high and every low that life has to offer.  Yes I can think of many times when a sick person has recovered, when a potential tragedy has been averted or the joy of when a person accepts Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.  But I can also bring to mind many times when a sick person has not recovered, when a tragedy has happened and of trying to minister to people who have no cause for any kind of hope or joy in their lives.

Bishop Paul Colton struck a chord with many people last week with a 'tweet'.  Trying to come to terms with the sudden tragic death of a young man on a hockey pitch he wrote the next morning:
Yesterday was a day when my and others' prayers were not answered. It's hard to pray again today. Club is heartbroken. Andrew Chambers, RIP
Sometimes it seems that God does not shelter us, we are left to face the full blast of the storm, apparently on our own.  We cry out to him for help but our prayers are swallowed by a great void of nothingness.  I am reminded what what C.S. Lewis wrote after the death of his wife in his book "A grief observed" On trying to pray he experienced:
"... A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence”
As I struggled to come to terms this week with Andy Chambers' death, as my prayers joined those of hundreds, (if not thousands) of others in praying for his family and friends, and for Bishop Paul as he ministered in that situation, a strange sentence kept repeating itself over and over in my mind.  The words were strange, but I immediately knew what they were and Who it was that spoke them:
‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’
Link

They are the words of Jesus on the cross "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  If we ever feel forsaken by God, if our despair is too great, our pain too intense or our anger too hot, then these words of Christ become our words.  In this life we can only ever have a partial answer, but if Christ himself knew what it was like then it perhaps is against the hard, rough and blood-stained foot of the cross that we find the beginnings of a response...

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Photo notes:  This picture is actually sixteen separate pictures 'stitched' together as a panorama - it takes a bit of practise to get it right!  Here's how to do it with a digital SLR:  First of all set the lens to 50mm equivalent (to minimise distortion), then take a meter reading from the brightest part of the scene.  Then put the camera in manual mode and set it to whatever the meter reading was (eg. f10, 1/250 sec) then disable the auto ISO (I used ISO 200) and manually set the white balance (I used 'cloudy' for the above), finally make sure to turn autofocus off and depending on the scene set it for just short of infinity.  Then start at one end and work your way across taking pictures.  Make sure that you have plenty of overlap with each picture as this helps the computer to create the image afterwards.  (You can do this using JPEG's, but I use RAW files, again to give the computer more to work with).  If you have photoshop you are laughing, I have an old version of photoshop elements which does the job almost as well, though there are many other programmes both free and expensive that will do the job for you.  If you want to know more, just ask and I will be happy to help.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dulce et Decorum Est? (The old Lie)

We will remember them...


The poem of this name was one we had to learn in school.  The horrors of the first world war put to rest any ridiculous romantic notion of it being "Sweet and right to die for one's country." (Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.)

We will remember them...

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!---An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,---
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Wilfred Owen.
(See link for more on this poem).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Horses for Courses (or why I am an Anglican)

West Cork Horses
(West Cork Horses waiting for that strange guy with a camera to fall off the fence, 
and no I am not sitting on any metaphorical fences, see below).  

By the time I was in my early twenties I had been thoroughly put off the Anglican Church for life, or so I thought. I had attended a Church of England boarding school where we were required to attend chapel every day, seven days a week. Listening to the chaplain preach, carefully explaining why the miracles in the Bible never actually happened and then singing the Te Deum (tedium) was like some kind of Chinese water torture. I finally gave up on the Church of England when on my first Sunday at University I went to the local Cathedral, to be greeted by no one, sat in a space where no one came within a hundred feet of me and then no one said good bye as I was leaving at the end of a very dry and boring service.

I started going to the Baptist Church when I was home. They were brilliant, friendly (but not invasively so), and I learnt so much from the great sermons and the example of the way those in the youth group lived. At University (after my brief flirtation with the Cathedral) I followed the crowd and went to the Elim Pentecostal church. They too were great people, great sermons, great ministry to the students (especially the free lunches - of course there is no such thing as a free lunch, the catch was that these people really cared about you). I probably learnt more about God, His love for me as a sinner and about personal holiness from these two churches than from anywhere else since. This was the place where I met my future wife; we journeyed though these churches together and it was a wonderful time.

Skip forward a few years and we find ourselves living in Ireland. Yes, there was an Elim and other churches in the nearby town, but we felt drawn to the local Church of Ireland. A good sized congregation was eight people; it was difficult to see any hope for the future. In my massive ignorance and shameful naivety I doubted how God could use a place like this. We helped with the Sunday School, more children then showed up and we began to realise that this place mattered to God (I am ashamed to think that I ever doubted otherwise). I can’t remember if it was a dream or a very clear picture in my imagination but I saw clearly that this church was like a table where there was very little food on the table and the people were very grateful for whatever there was. Other churches had more food than they could eat and their tables were overflowing. There was no doubt where we were needed most. It was not long after this that the sense of call (to ordination) came, starting as a small voice and growing gradually to the point that it was impossible to ignore or put off any longer.

I get frustrated today by anyone who thinks their church is better than someone else’s. We could take all day and hundreds of pages outlining the faults of the Anglican Church (in fact this is what many people seem to spend their whole time doing), but it is my home, it is the part of the church to which I feel called to help out in some small way.

I’ve been skirting around the edge of what I want to say because I am trying to put it as delicately and sensitively and lovingly as I can. Please my brothers and sisters in other church denominations don’t think that your denomination has got it right and the part of the church to which I belong has got it wrong. Please don’t feel sorry for me or patronise me; yes we pray using a book, yes our new hymns are not very new or trendy, yes our clergy wear seventeenth century fancy dress, yes we struggle with a historical / modern / relevant dialectic and I could keep going, but my point is this: We are part of the Body of Christ. Together.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

(1 Corinthians 12:12).


When I was thinking about all this a phrase which I haven’t heard for a long time popped into my head, “Horses for Courses”.  I couldn’t have told you what it actually meant, so I looked it up: It means that some horses are more suited to some race courses than others, so some people take to some things better than others. God has made us all uniquely individual. Some people I believe are naturally predisposed to worship God in different ways (see Gary Thomas’ book “Sacred Pathways”, Zondervan, 2000, for more on this). Now if someone finds their home in one church denomination, how strange it is that they should look negatively on others who attend churches of other denominations.  Some like to worship in silence, some like to look at icons to help them pray, some like organ music, others like drums and guitars, some like incense, some like video screens, some like medieval hymns some like songs that are in tune with contemporary music trends. All these things are good if they draw a person closer to God. All these things are bad if they become an end in themselves.


Horses for Courses and lets leave it there.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Towards the Sun - a lesson from nature.

Towards the Light


Sunflowers are amazing; we all love the large yellow flowerheads and the fact that they can grow so tall with little or no help from the gardener.  The most wonderful thing about them is their ability to track the Sun.  At night, the flowers move either not at all or randomly about, but with sunrise they immediately (in plant terms) turn to face the east and then follow the Sun throughout the day until it finally sets in the west.  They call this Heliotropism (thanks to Wikipedia for that one) and this reminds me of a great truth...

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

Like the Sunflower, we were made to follow the light.  The Sunflower follows the Sun, we follow The Son, the Light of the World.  

And another verse, this time from Ephesians 5:8
"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light."

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Photo notes:  I'm fairly sure that I couldn't have taken this picture with my digital camera (a Nikon D70s); the sun would have been overexposed to the point that the whole right hand side of the picture would have been white, with no clear definition in it at all.  I could have then exposed for the sun, but that would have meant that the left hand side of the picture would have been very dull.  If I had a graduated neutral density filter I could have used it but I don't have one :-(  However, a great advantage of slide film is increased dynamic range (you can get more detail in the highlights and in the shadows than you can with all but the most expensive digital cameras).  Of course you get great colour and a three dimensional look too, and you also get the joy of not knowing what your pictures will look like until that little box arrives in the post and you hold up those small plastic slides to the light...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gougane Barra

During last months clergy conference we had a couple of hours of free time, so I made my way to Gougane Barra.  St. Fin Barre built a monastery here in the sixth century and it's not hard to see why; it is a beautiful and peaceful place...

But there is something about this place that goes beyond its beauty. Perhaps it's because of the centuries of prayer and Christian witness, perhaps it's the example of St. Fin Barre himself or maybe it is because this place predates our man-made church denominations. In the sixth century there were no Protestant or Roman Catholic churches in Ireland, that all came later (and all the pain / mess that came with it which continues to this day).  Last night at the Institution service for the new Rector in Bandon, Rev. Denis MacCarthy, there was a particular prayer before the Holy Communion that struck a chord with me:

As the grain once scattered in the fields
 and the grapes once dispersed on the hillside
 are now reunited on this table in bread and wine,
 so, Lord, may your whole Church soon be gathered together 
from the corners of the earth into your kingdom.  Amen.

Gougane Barra 2


Gougane Barra 1

Gougane Barra 5


Gougane Barra Church Interior


All pictures taken using Nikon F100, Nikkor 18-35mm lens and Fujichrome Sensia 100 Slide Film (which has now sadly been discontinued).  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Into another's shoes

Little shoes

It was Atticus in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird who said:
"... you never really understand a man unless you step inside his shoes and walk around in them." 
Last week at the Cork, Cloyne & Ross Clergy Conference I learnt a lot.  The speaker was Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon and he spoke to us on "Old message, new media: communicating the Gospel in the digital age".  Key points included understanding what it was like for the person who has no experience of church or theological language coming into a church service and how alien an experience it can be for them.   How do we present and share the gospel with a 16 year old and / or someone from a completely different background or cultural environment than our own?  What language do we use, does it make sense?


Another point Bishop Nick made was the importance of engaging with people through blogging, Twitter, Facebook etc.  It was like the penny finally dropped for me; yes I have been blogging for a while but now I see a greater purpose in it.  Likewise I have been on Facebook and Twitter for some time, but have never really got going with either.  Now even in the past few days I have found myself joining in a debate with some Atheists on Facebook - what an opportunity this is, to share the gospel with people who are never going to go anywhere near a church!  Compared to many I do not get huge numbers of visitors to my blog, but the numbers reading my sermons on line would fill all the church pews several times over - this is exciting stuff but it will only work if I am able to communicate in a way that those who I am trying to engage with understand what I am trying to say.  That of course is a huge challenge...

Monday, October 11, 2010

The AIB in Schull

Cape Clear Island - South Harbour



AIB Schull

On a visit to Cape Clear Island a couple of years ago a particular field on a steep slope behind the Youth Hostel was pointed out to me.  It was nothing special to look at (rougly near where the top photo was taken from).  I was told that this was the site of the former Church of Ireland church, which had been dismantled in the 1930's - and that the stone was taken and used to build the AIB bank in Schull.  

There was a time, I am sure, when it was beyond the comprehension of the people involved that the church building would ever be dismantled and yet that time came.  It was no longer financially viable to keep the church open, numbers had fallen and the stones (which had come from Cornwall) had to be dismantled.  

There was a time too when the AIB (along with the other banks) seemed totally secure.  Banks (like churches) were built with stone to convey solidity, security and permanency.  Yet it seems that were it not for our children (and goodness knows how many further generations down the line that will be paying to keep the banks open for business) then they also would be going the way that the Church on Cape Clear did all those years ago...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Remembering to say 'thank you'.

I have not had much time for blogging recently.  I have put together several 'posts' in my head but have not got around to creating them yet.  In the meantime here's today's sermon (the usual caveats of poor grammar and bad syntax apply!)  Oh, and if I can think of a suitable photo I'll put it up later...

Text:  Luke 17:11-19


Mother Theresa told this story to a gathering in 1994: ‘One evening we went out, and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition. I told the sisters, "You take care of the other three; I will take care of the one who looks worst."

So I did for her all that my love could do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand as she said two words only: "Thank you." Then she died. I could not help but examine my conscience before her. And I asked: What would I say if I were in her place? And my answer was very simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said, "I am hungry, I am dying, I am in pain," or something. But she gave me much more; she gave me her grateful love. And she died with a smile on her face. Gratitude brings a smile and becomes a gift.’[1]

Gratitude brings a smile and becomes a gift.  How good are we at saying ‘thank you’?  Sometimes we forget ourselves, we are like the child with a present that tears off the wrapping paper and runs off with the new toy and forgets to say ‘thank you’ to the person who has just given them the gift!  Think of the times you have opened a door for someone and they have just breezed on through as if you were their slave and not said a word of thanks!  Do we remember to say ‘thank you’ to those who love us and care about us for all that they do, whether it be cooking us meals, washing our clothes or going out to work so that there is money to put food on the table? 

In our reading from Luke’s gospel, we see that the Lord Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  He is journeying towards that city where He will be crucified and where He will rise again.  He is on his way to die for my sins and yours.  As He does so he comes into a village where there is a colony of ten men who have Leprosy.  Leprosy in those days was the number-one dreaded disease.  Today we fear Cancer and we fear Heart Disease, in those days they dreaded Leprosy, a disease that was (and is) caused by a bacteria.   Pale patches on the skin were usually the first sign of the disease then other complications occurred as the disease progressed. Numbness and lack of feeling in the limbs often led to festering wounds on the hands and feet, and then to the characteristic deformities of the face and limbs. This led to stigma towards those affected and their families, causing them to be shunned and excluded from everyday life.[2] 

So these ten men that the Lord comes across are living in isolation, away from their wives and children, away from their community.  They must be very lonely; it would be an awful existence.  They call out to Jesus:

‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ (v13)

Jesus’ reply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us at first, so lets have a look at it.  He says:

‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ (v14)

Back then, the way that it worked was that if a persons leprosy went into remission, if they were healed then they would have to go back to the priest before they could be declared clean and fit to live in their community once more.  So the Lord is not beating about the bush here.  He does not deliver a sermon, pass round the collection plate  and then pray for their healing.  He simply tells them to go to the priest.  All ten men knew what Jesus was saying and so they did as He told them.  Not one of them said, “Yeah right, I don’t believe you.”  All ten had faith in Jesus, because it was not until they responded in faith that they were healed.  Luke puts it like this: 

And as they went, they were made clean. (v15)

Now, like the child who in their excitement forgets to say ‘thank you’ for the birthday present, the men run off.  They have been imprisoned with this disease for so long, they can’t wait to get home, to see their wives and children.  They never thought they would see their homes again and yet here they are, healed and made whole.  Wouldn’t that be the most wonderful thing?  Would you not just run and shout and jump for joy? 

But only one man remembers to thank the Lord Jesus.  He falls at Jesus’ feet and thanks Him.  This man is grateful.  Then Luke drops the bombshell - this man was a Samaritan! The Jewish people and the Samaritans hated each other.  From a Jewish perspective the Samaritans were unclean, although originally Jews, their ancestors had intermarried with Gentiles, they had their own temple and style of worship and they were outcasts.  This man was not a member of the Select Vestry, he was not even a member of the General Vestry, his name was not even on the Parish list!  He was an outsider.  But Jesus came to save any who would come to him, Jew, Samaritan, Gentile, any who would respond to Him in repentance and faith. It should have been the insiders who said thank you to Jesus, but they ran off, they took Jesus for granted and off they went. 

17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Why do we do it?  Why do we take God for granted?  If we are honest, we find a pattern as we examine our lives and our relationship with God.  We see that there are times when we are thankful, when we do pray and when we do worship with fervent hearts.  We have no problem showing our gratitude.  But there will be other times, perhaps the majority of the time when we do not.  We just cruise though life, hardly praying, hardly worshipping, hardly showing any gratitude at all.  Then Bang! Something goes wrong, we get bad news from the doctor or from our employer or from a relative or friend and we are back on our knees praying with all our heart once again.  A few days, weeks, months later, the problem has passed, the prayers have been answered and what do we do, we slowly fade in our daily devotion to God, slowly, but surely His Lordship of our life slips and downwards we go until something else happens.  How do we solve this?  One word:  Discipline.  We make sure that we have a regular time and a regular place of prayer and Bible study, preferably in the same place, so that that chair or that room or that part of the garden becomes our sacred space.  We do this even and especially when we don’t feel like it.  Don’t just pray when you want to, pray when you don’t want to.  Don’t just say ‘thank you’ to Jesus when it is easy, say ‘thank you’ to Jesus when it is not easy. 

Pastor Rinkhart[3] was a Minister of a church in Prussia from 1619 to 1649, during the Thirty Years War[4].  From the year the war began until the year the war ended, he was the minister in the same walled city.  Many refugees from the war flocked into his city to find safety inside as the battles raged around them.  His town was overrun with poverty, the plague, and all the perils of war.  It was awful.  It was hell on earth.  By the end of the thirty years war he was the only minister left in town alive; all the other clergy had died, so he alone was to bury the plagued villages and refugees from war. Somewhere in the middle of all of that suffering, he wrote a hymn, “Now, thank we all our God; with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done; in whom this world rejoices.  Who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.”  Incredible, isn’t it amazing that he was able to be so thankful in the midst of such suffering because he kept his eyes on the Lord Jesus.  It is a great miracle when the human heart is healed of ingratitude, when we can be filled with daily thanksgiving .....to God and others..... for God’s countless gifts of love.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, I lay myself at your feet and with all my heart I thank you for all that you have done in my life.  I thank you for forgiving me; I thank you for saving me, for loving me and for washing me clean.  Help me Lord to follow you, teach me to be your disciple and to show you how very thankful I am by living my life, all of my life everyday … for You. Amen. 





[1] http://preachingtoday.com/illustrations/1998/july/4146.html
[2] http://www.ilep.org.uk/facts-about-leprosy/
[3] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_c_where_are_the_other_nine.htm
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years'_War

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Encouragement for the journey

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(Photo from the Sheep's Head walk for Christian Aid last month)

A couple of people actually read last weeks effort, so for anyone that may be interested, here is this mornings sermon.

Text:  2 Timothy 1:1-14


Have you ever watched or taken part in a long distance endurance test, you know something like a sponsored walk from Malin Head to Mizen Head, a cross-channel swim, the Cork, Dublin or London Marathon, or crossing the Himalayas on a pogo stick!?  One of the things that they all have in common (apart from making the participants very tired) is that they all have support teams.  There will be a crew of people backing up the walkers, providing food, drink and perhaps shelter.  There may also be a crowd along the way, clapping and cheering as the participants pass by, giving encouragement “well done”, “keep going”, “Only 4000 Kilometres to go” and so on. 

The Christian life is in many ways a bit like a long endurance race.  We will sometimes find the going tough, we may even want to give up, drop out completely or hail a taxi to take us to the finish line!  One of the things that makes it easier is when we encourage one another.  I just love it when I hear that happening, when you take the time and the effort to look after your fellow travellers and ask how they are doing and help them in different ways, encourage them to persevere and pray for them.  This is one of the reasons why the Tuesday morning and Thursday evening groups work so well for those that take part; they are places of encouragement.  People always come away encouraged and built up in their faith. 

As we look at the reading today from 2 Timothy, we see that Timothy, a young church leader has a very tough job to do.  Without support, it would be fair to say that Timothy would not have lasted the distance, yet the letters he receives from the Apostle Paul (who is in prison in Rome), spur him on and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he is given the power and energy and strength to persevere. 

Right in the first verse, Paul puts the Gospel in a nutshell; it is “the promise of life”.  Outside of what Jesus did for us upon the cross there is no promise of life.  Without Christ we are completely lost and without any hope, yet the gift of God is forgiveness and eternal life.

Then in verse 3, Paul writes: 

I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 

Wow, Imagine that, having the Apostle Paul pray for you, wouldn’t that be great!  Perhaps we underestimate the importance of praying for each other.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your prayers for my family and for me “Please Lord help Daniel with his work, help him to get round all the visits he needs to do, get to all the meetings he needs to be at and let his sermon not be so long this week Amen!”  Let us always pray for each other, for our family members, friends and even people whom we don’t know.  I’m sure that in heaven we will be stunned at the effect our prayers had in the purposes of God’s Kingdom, how God used our weakness to perform mighty acts of greatness.  Never underestimate the power of prayer. 

Timothy came from a godly home.  Paul writes that

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  (v 5)

The love of Jesus was there in Timothy’s younger days.  He saw how important this faith was to his grandmother and mother.  Timothy grew up in the Lord.  How important it is for us to make sure that our children ‘grow up in the Lord’, that we show them a godly example of how to live and that we teach them to pray and teach them to read the Bible and show them how to be godly, to be loving to others, to be forgiving and gentle, yet strong in faith and courage.  I know how difficult this is and we can only begin to do it with God’s help, but I am convinced that all the effort that we put into trying to bring up our children to know and love the Lord Jesus will not be in vain.  Our children may not turn out the way we want them to, but if they can just acknowledge God in their life then ultimately that is all that matters. 

As the weather begins to turn cold once more some of you may have already lit your first fire for several months.  Some people just seem to have a gift when it comes to lighting a fire.  Many times I have a fire all set, I have a good amount of dry kindling and newspaper and it is all looking good.  I light the match and it all starts off well, the fire roars into life then in no time at all the flame dies down and there is just a bit of smoke hanging on and it is all looking rather pathetic.  Then Sonja comes in, gives me a look of pity, and in less than a minute I have to stand back because the heat of the fire is so great! 

The Apostle Paul likens Timothy’s spiritual gift to a fire.  He says:  

 I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (6b, 7)

We don’t know especially what Timothy’s gift is, but the same truth applies to us also.  What gifts do you have?  What has God made you good at?  Gifts tend to fade in strength when they are not used or encouraged, so whatever gift you have make sure you use it and when you do, give all the credit and glory to God, because a gift is just that, a gift.  There are lots of people at the moment helping to make the Alpha course we are doing go so well, including those with the gift of hospitality.  They are using that gift so well that the Grace Centre feels such a welcoming and homely place (not to mention the fact that I have probably put on half a stone since the course has started)! 

It seems that Timothy was (understandably) a bit overawed by the responsibilities entrusted to him.  Ephesus was a city where few people had any sympathy for Christ; there was much persecution and opposition to the Christians there.  Paul reminds Timothy to rekindle, to get the fire going again, to be strong in the Lord, not to rely on his own strength and power, but Gods strength and power.  The word ‘cowardice’ in the Greek means someone who flees from the battle, who will not stand up to the fight.  How often has this been true of us, that we have not spoken up when we should have done?  How often have we neglected to tell someone of God’s love and forgiveness, how often have we fled from the battle?  I can think of many times when I should have spoken up on something but didn’t, so I am encouraged by this verse and I hope you are too; God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 

We know that in our own strength we are simply not able, we do not have the ability to use our God-given gifts, we are naturally cowards who run away from the battle, we are lacking in love and we have the self-discipline of a sloth!  Verse 8 though gives us the answer:

‘…relying on the power of God’ 

That’s it, that’s the secret.  Relying on the power of God.  Have you ever run out of petrol and had to push your car?  It’s not easy is it?  It is possible (especially with a bit of help) to move the car, but it will move very slowly and only for a short distance.  When we do not rely on the power of God it is like we are running on empty!  We need His power and we get this power when we surrender to Him, when we hand over control of our lives to Him.  Let us pray:

Here I am Lord, I give you everything, my whole life and all that I am.  All my plans, wishes and desires I give to you.  Leave no stone unturned.  Lord, please heal me of my selfishness and forgive me for the countless times I have sinned.  Cleanse me through the power of the cross, wash me from the inside out.  Lord I am yours, use me for the glory of your name and by your grace to make a real difference in this world for you.  Fill me with your Spirit that I may not be afraid to speak about you and to help people in your name, to live out the gospel everyday in all that I say and all that I do and I ask this in the name of your Son, my Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rain

DSC_4232.jpg

He draws up the water vapour
and then distills it into rain.
The rain pours down from the clouds,
and everyone benefits.

(Job 36:27-28)


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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Encouraged by a recent post from "Rev Garibaldi McFlurry", I'd thought I'd post a sermon, as I haven't done so in quite a while.  There's good reason for this (frankly it's just too embarrassing - I know that I'm not a great writer, my grasp of English grammar must make people who can actually write wince with pain, and also the written sermon differs quite a lot from the one that I actually end up speaking in church.)  But anyway here's the one I will be delivering later this morning (God help the congregation!).


Text: Luke 16:19-31 "The Rich man and Lazarus"

Hell is quite unfashionable these days.  There was a time of course when preachers, usually with wild hair and staring eyes, would thump on pulpits and declare damnation with vivid descriptions of fire and torture and eternal hopelessness.  Of course that would be sooo politically incorrect today, we talk a lot about heaven and salvation but very little about final rejection by God and the eternal punishment that results.  Many Christians today just choose to ignore the subject or believe that a good and loving God would never allow such a place to exist.  Others think that surely hell must just be for a time; it surely can’t be for eternity can it? 

The Lord Jesus actually had quite a lot to say on the subject of hell, and one of the better-known passages includes our reading for this morning from Luke’s gospel.  He starts off by saying:

‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 

There is of course nothing wrong with being rich, Abraham and Jospeh of Arimathea were rich; it is what one does with ones wealth that matters.  The rich man in this parable liked dressing up; purple cloth in those days was usually reserved for royalty because it was so expensive, the purple dye was extracted from shellfish and was a very expensive process.  This was the kind of man who might be described as “filthy rich” (Hendriksen New Testament Commentary, Luke, Banner of Truth 1997, p.782), a strutting peacock.  He wanted everyone to know that he was rich.  He was in love … with himself! 

Jesus continues:
20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 

Here is the test for the rich man, to see if there is any kind of compassion in him or is he TOTALLY selfish!  A poor man, called Lazarus lies at the gate to the rich mans mansion.  The name ‘Lazarus’ means, “God has helped”, but not only was he a beggar, totally unable to provide for himself, he was covered in sores also.  The poor man would have been happy even to receive the scraps, the leftovers from the rich mans table, but the rich man did not help him in any way, he continued living only for himself.  Lazarus’ condition was so bad that even dogs used to come and lick his wounds.   

We then learn that:
22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.  The rich man also died and was buried.

The beggar’s misery had ended at last, we don’t even get any details of his burial, it probably was very short and sad. Yet what happened to his soul was far more important, he was carried by Angels, God’s own messengers to be with Abraham.  The rich man however had a burial, it was probably a big funeral with lots of important guests and a lavish ceremony.  His tomb was probably in an important and prominent place.  What happened to his soul though was far more important, we are not told what happened to him, no angels are mentioned, but his final destination we are told is: 

 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 

“Hades” is the Greek work for the place of the dead.  Here it clearly is hell, the place of torment and flame.  However, the descriptions that we are given are not meant to be taken literally, but that does not take away from the fact that certain definite truths about the life hereafter are conveyed to us; those who have died are not asleep but awake and of those who have died, some are saved and some are lost.  Another more disturbing truth conveyed is that the destination of the dead is final, there is no second chance, no crossing over from hell to heaven or vice versa. 

We are not given much detail, other that the rich man is in torment, he cries out in agony in the flames.  But how can hell be a place fire and a place of darkness?  Clearly these are indicative of the terrors of hell and perhaps the truth is beyond the ability of our language to tell.  

The rich man calls out to Abraham for help, but Abraham reminds him that he received the good things in his life on earth, the implication being that he is receiving his punishment now because all he could think of in his life was himself and he did not care at all for his fellow man or for God.  And then what makes help further impossible is the great chasm between the place where Abraham and Lazarus are and where the rich man is, there is simply no way to get across. 

In desperation then the rich man pleads for his five brothers, that someone would go and warn them so that they would not end up in hell also.  At last the rich man is thinking of someone other than himself (though it is too little, too late). 

Abraham replies:
 “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 

To which the rich man responds:
“No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

And of course someone did rise from the dead, the Lord Jesus, and many refused and to this day continue to refuse his offer of salvation, which He won on the cross, to all who would come to him in repentance and faith. 

A few weeks ago this kept me awake most of the night.  I was basically trying to have an argument with God.  I could not get my head around the idea that hell is for eternity.  I reasoned that no matter how bad a person is in this life, no matter what crimes they commit, they of course deserve a punishment for those sins.  I could understand better if that punishment was in proportion to the crime, so a person could be in hell for the duration of their punishment, whether that was a year, a hundred years or a million years.  And it is very tempting to believe in such a thing, that is one of the reasons people believe in purgatory or annihilation- it is much easier to believe in these things than hell for eternity, a never ending permanent jail sentence.  After many hours of wrestling with this I fell into a short and uneasy sleep.  It was still troubling me the next day and for several days afterwards.  I read a lot of chapters of theology books on the subject and of course read a lot of Bible passages too.  I came to the following conclusion:  That the Bible is correct, that God is love, yes, but He is also a God of truth and justice.  I don’t like the idea of hell, who would?!  But just because I don’t like it, I don’t have the option to stop believing in it.  Somebody who is walking towards the edge of a cliff might choose to believe that there is no fall ahead of them, but that does not stop the fall from happening when they take the step over the edge!  We can choose not to believe in hell or pretend that it doesn’t exist, or object to it on philosophical grounds, but what help will that be?  Surely the best thing we can do is try to warn people – yes they will probably think we are mad, but what a small price to pay that is if it makes a difference.  How much do we pray for those we know (and even those we don’t) who do not know the reality of Christ in their lives?  How often have we begged and pleaded with God with tears in our eyes for those whom we love who we so desperately want to be saved? 

A mother once came to me and asked me to pray for her sons.   There were tears in her eyes as she spoke of them and the kind of lives they were living.  As she spoke I remembered the story of St. Augustine, one of the greatest Christians in history.  Augustine was a fairly wild and ungodly youth.  His Mother, Monica despaired, she went and pleaded with the local priest to try and get him to talk some sense into her son.  He said to her, “… it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.”  For Monica it was the encouragement that she needed and she didn’t give up praying for her son.  in later years she often recalled with him how she had taken these words as if they had sounded from heaven. 

Let’s pray … Amen.  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Home

At Home



The snail he lives in his hard round house,
In the orchard, under the tree:
Says he, "I have but a single room;
But it's large enough for me."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Faded Glory

Faded Beauty


I suppose we don't need any reminder that Summer has now reluctantly begun to make way for Autumn.  All around, the leaves are beginning to change colour, many flowers parade their final encore and the sounds are those of finality (for this year at least); the swan song is in the air.

I came across this butterfly whilst recovering a rugby ball from a flower bed.  Like the autumn leaves, its wings are fading; once glorious colours are now only shades of brown.  Yet it is still beautiful.

Having helped with a couple of funerals recently, the words of the old funeral service (which is seldom used now) came to mind:
Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live ... He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.  
A little bleak perhaps, but a stark reminder of not only the fragility of life but its transience also.  Not only we but all of Creation are in an inevitable Autumn, waiting patiently for that eternal Spring to come...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Raging Waters

Rushing Wave

The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!"
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.
(Luke 8:24)

Dear Lord Jesus, for all those who are facing storms and trials and great difficulties, we pray for your calm and peace to come into their hearts and lives.  For all who need stillness, for those who need to see the way ahead, speak your words of truth and light.

Help us to let you be in charge of our lives, let you be the Captain who steers, the Navigator who directs and the Saviour who heals and forgives....