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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Of Wet Walks and Signposts

We’ve not done the ‘wet walk’ for weeks, so Dusty and I slipped out of the house just after 7 and headed for the castle. 

The wet walk used to include many pauses along the way, at every small loch and bubbling burn so that I could pitch sticks into the water for this manic dog who would race down the bank and leap into the water to retrieve it. She had a habit of waiting for the second stick to be thrown before she launched herself, so that she could round up two sticks at a time and bring them back.

Past tense because now, at 13, she is more sedate in her approach to the water. There are no more wild flings into the loch, more like gentle wades, though she does still enjoy the water and could seemingly continue to retrieve sticks until my arm went into spasm. 

During our absence from this walk the rangers have made a few improvements – straightened a pathway (was that really necessary?), and tacked up a few more signposts. Blue and red arrows, depending on the walk you want. 

The thing is, though, that I know these woods, so I went ahead and ignored the new signpost. A few hundred yards later, another signpost appeared anyway, though I wasn’t on the officially designated path anymore. I guess the ranger realized there would be some rebellious types who would ignore the first arrows but might just be grateful for a second guide to indicate the way out of the woods.

Made me think of God. He gives us all signposts on the road of life. Some are subtle, some are in your face. Since he gives us free choice, we are all able to ignore their guidance and strike out in our own direction. But even when we do rebel and do our own thing, he meets us in the midst of that and gently indicates the best path for us. However many times we go against the arrows, he will still be found on whatever path we take, ‘recalculating’ the best route for us. And if we end up in the mire with no signposts in sight, we just need to look up and he’ll be there.

Some of us do our own things for years and years; others of us join in on God’s path earlier on. But whichever way we’ve chosen to take, he loves each of us so much he continues to slip ahead of us and plant another signpost, hoping that perhaps this time, the errant heart will follow.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Justice, mercy and humility

So the EU election results reject the status quo and bring in those espousing extreme views from right and left. Is anyone surprised?

During these last several years of economic crisis, we’ve been voicing lots of outrage over fat cats and bonuses, only to watch the disparity between rich and poor continue to grow. Politicians, a class of people who used to command respect, fiddle and fudge their way through their terms of office. A few get caught and pay a price but many continue to act as if they are above the law.

It’s seemed amazing that there hasn’t been more civil unrest. Of course there has been some, but maybe not as much as I would have anticipated. And maybe that’s the strength of democracy and even of the EU; where there might have been revolutions or wars before, now outraged citizens take to the ballot boxes and vote in the most outrageous candidates just to make sure the powers that be recognise the depth of the populace’s discontent.

Where are we going with all this? I don’t know, but this morning on my walk I was reminded of a bit of Scripture from Micah: What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

To act justly. I guess the Germans don’t feel it’s very just for them to be working hard in order to bail out the southern nations whose work ethic isn’t the same. 

To love mercy. I guess the Greeks don’t feel it’s very merciful to be stripped of their income (and their extremely early retirement packages!!) by the powers that be.

To walk humbly with your God. Well, there’s few enough of us Christians who manage to do that, let alone politicians who are out to line their own pockets.

But I think this is the challenge. As secularisation gains in strength and power, fewer people are going to make an effort to live by God’s guidance. Does that matter? Do people have an inherent sense of goodness and fair play which will still seek a high ethical standard?


The only way to succeed in acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly is by living as close to God as is possible and allowing him to be Lord of one’s life, to listen to his voice and swallow one’s pride and love God and neighbour before self. 

People deride Bible-believers because so many of them focus on the trivial – arguing for a literal seven days of creation, for instance, when actually, does it matter how long it took God to make the world? Real Bible-believers should be recognisable by the way they behave in a just, merciful, and humble way. 

Not many of them on the political scene, but there are some. But before I worry about them, I think I better check my own life’s choices.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Thin Places

A glorious spring day in Scotland. As I rounded the stand of trees on our usual walk, I paused to wait for Dusty to catch up. The birdsong soared through the air – I don’t know one from another but together their chorus is beautiful. The sun shone down; the grass rippled, its heads rustled by the soft breeze, and the air smelled fresh and clean.

I gazed round the open park and marvelled that we live in such a place, where we can wander out into an uncultivated rough space and drink in the beauty without it costing us anything. We don’t have to pay for this privilege. We don’t have to work for it – wonderful that the ground doesn’t belong to us, and carries no responsibilities for us to meet. 

The earth is the Lord’s and everything that is in it. And he loves us to enjoy it, to appreciate it, to make the most of the beauty that is all around us. 

Enjoying it leads me to a deeper appreciation for its creator, awakening my senses to his presence and exciting gratitude and praise in my heart to him. Jesus advised that the most important thing to do is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, spirit and mind, and your neighbour as yourself.

A spot of natural beauty is one of those ‘thin places’ where it’s relatively easy to draw near to God and love him. And his love in me is healing to my soul, and helps me to love others – which isn’t  always easy to do in my own strength.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. May you glimpse some natural beauty today and consider the creator who made it. And give thanks.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Is Evil Metastasizing in this World?

Praying for a new friend this morning, a young woman who is newly diagnosed with breast cancer and now undergoing treatment. That led me to pray for so many others I know with this dread disease. 

Cancer is insidious. It lurks in all of us, we are told, waiting for a catalyst to awaken it and get it going. The catalyst can be any number of things: diet, stress, environmental pollutants, whatever.
My prayers widened to include the world. So many areas of horror and pain: Syria, Ukraine, Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan ... So many places where corruption and violence have erupted as evil has metastasized. 

The catalysts for turmoil in the world are many and varied: conflicting religions, territorial claims, historic instability, injustice.

Cancer is treated by removing the tumour and then blasting the body or at least the area with radiation and chemicals targeting any evil cells still lurking behind and preparing for another assault on the body. Sometimes human treatment works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes God intervenes and brings about full healing. I’ve known some people who have received such grace.

How do we treat the evil which is overwhelming our fragile world? Sometimes we try to remove the ‘tumour’ by getting rid of the prime mover in a wicked situation. Sometimes we try to starve the evil out through sanctions. Sometimes we launch a full-blown assault on the tumour of evil. 

I’ve heard it said that as soon as surgeons operate on a cancer patient, the cancer seems to spread. I’ve seen how launching a full-on military strike on Iraq has caused the cancerous evil of extremism to spread.  

We need to figure out how to treat the causes of the cancer, be it human physical illness or evil spreading through the world. If we can address the causes – fewer additives in our food perhaps, less crop spraying, harmonious living – we will have fewer cases to treat. 

There is something called the Micah Challenge which comes from the book of Micah in the Old Testament.  ‘What does the Lord require of you?’ Micah wrote. ‘To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’

If we were able to pursue justice and mercy while remaining humble, we might have a bigger impact on the outbreaks of evil in the world. 

And beyond that: Lord, I don’t know what to do, but Lord my eyes are on you. Our Lord is a good God, a loving God, compassionate and full of grace and mercy and ready to heal, both the individual and his world.

‘As for me, I watch in hope for the Lord. I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.’ (Micah 7:7)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Scottish Bluebells

What’s in a name?

I’ve learned that bluebells are not always blue. For years I’ve loved the carpets of blue, white and pink bells which sprout in the woods at this season, but I have wondered if they are, in fact, Scottish bluebells or just some weed masquerading (quite beautifully I must say) as such. 

When someone brought me a handful of the delicate flowers the other day she asked me if they were all bluebells, so I googled it. What else does one do these days? And how did we survive before google?

Turns out that bluebells do come in those three colours, and it all depends on the soil. Now that’s kind of weird as these clumps are all growing together in the same soil, and yet varieties of colours, but that’s not my point today.

I met someone this week named Attila, and though that word naturally attracts the soubriquet, ‘the Hun’, to it, this guy is certainly nothing like the brutal savage I think of when I think of ‘the Hun’. What’s in a name?

Well, God’s names in the Bible are many and varied and each one reveals a different aspect of his wonderful character. El Shaddai, Jehovah Raffah, Jehovah Jireh, Immanuel. Lord God Almighty, the Lord that Heals, the Lord will Provide, God with us. 

His names are not misleading but revealing. We are blessed to have a Lord who wants us to know him and gives us every clue and opportunity. 

He’s not like a white or pink Bluebell. Oh no.