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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Gale Force Winds

The sun is warm and smiling in a mottled sky, while grey and white clouds stream past it carried along on the high winds. In like a lion (March 1st) and out like a lion (March 31st) it seems this year. Not a lamb in sight.

High in the sky but also down here on earth, the winds are fierce and icy. Too wild to take the fireside ash out to deposit in the bin – I would have been covered in grey grit myself. Too unpredictable to venture out in. 

Or am I missing something by hunkering down inside? Is there exhilaration and drama to be found out there in the wild winds? Perhaps, though in my imagination the only drama is in dodging a flying tree branch!

Some churches, some Christians, avoid exposing themselves to the unpredictable and wild winds of the Holy Spirit. They shut their hearts and their doors, metaphorically speaking, to his presence and prefer the safe version they choose to believe. A Holy Spirit who comforts and teaches, who inspires and guides. Which is true but isn’t all he does.

The Spirit blows where he wills, Scripture says. Nobody knows why, or where he came from, or where he is going. But the disciples on that first Pentecost couldn’t exclude him from the upper room, and when he blew in he blew out any resistance and fear and filled them with faith and power. 

I may choose to stay inside today while the wild wind whips round the building, but I am open and willing for the Holy Spirit to blow wild and untamed in my life, inspiring my thoughts and energising my faith and giving me power to live life to the full and see Jesus’ kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.              

Monday, 30 March 2015


Caught on camera. Laughing faces; striking sunsets; happy dogs; newborn babies; weddings; journeys; loved ones. 

Hours spent trawling through digital images and off to the shop to print out 400 – a small percentage of what I have digitally. I’ve been frightened into action by a dire prediction that millions of images would be lost forever once technology moves on and there are no longer the same means of capturing, storing, retrieving the files. Now I’ve purchased the photo albums and will spend a few more hours when they arrive, labelling and placing the pictures in their sleeves to be enjoyed later at our leisure.

The great thing about photo albums is just that. You don’t have to look at a screen to enjoy the memories captured in the pictures.

I have a bookcase of such memories. My mother has a bookcase of such memories. Priceless. Wonderful, though I do wonder what on earth we are to do with all these pictures when we move on outta here. Well, it won’t be our problem. One more decision for our kids to make...

It is so nice to have images of much loved faces. The Bible, of course, has no such images. It rarely even describes the physical characteristics of anyone so we have little more than guesses to know what Jesus looked like, or Paul, or David, or Moses. An odd sentence here or there might provide a clue but that’s it.

I like that. It universalises the people in the Bible and helps everyone to identify with them where they might not if appearances differed radically from one’s own looks. 

It’s amazing how many different shades of skin, of hair, of eyes...how many shapes of noses and lips and limbs...what variations in height and girth...there are, and yet we are all God’s children. We all are made in his image. His DNA runs through each one of us. 

Why, why, then, don’t we get along better? There shouldn’t be such discord, mistrust and downright hatred in the family of God. We have so many challenges in stewarding this wonderful planet, and it would make so much sense if we pooled our resources and figured out the best way to keep the Amazon rainforest, to save the tigers and elephants, to clean the air and purify the seas.  

Made in the image of God. My prayer is that we all begin to resemble him more and more each day, through the help of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Father, Forgive

Forgive. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. Forgive us ... as we forgive them ... him ... her...
But we cry out for justice! Why should ‘they’ get off scot-free?  

Yet holding on to unforgiveness does not mete out punishment to those who trespass against us. Instead, holding a grudge metes out punishment to the one holding the grudge, in terms of physical, emotional, spiritual sickness.

There is evidence that nursing a grudge is sometimes connected to heart attacks, rheumatoid arthritis, even diabetes! Not that everyone who suffers from these and other ailments does because they are holding on to grudges, but just that these illnesses occur in a higher prevalence among people who haven’t been able to forgive.

It is just emerging that the co-pilot of the German plane which slammed into the French Alps Tuesday and killed 150 people deliberately crashed it. As the relatives of the dead gathered today in the nearby town, the parents of this co-pilot were among them and were there to grieve and mourn. Suddenly they have been separated from the other mourners and their own grief has been ratcheted up. Rather than mourning together with others, they now bear a lonely guilt and no doubt a hurt and an anger and a disbelief. And grief. Gut-wrenching grief.

Forgive, for they don’t know what they are doing. Jesus prayed that prayer as the Roman centurions nailed him to the cross. He prayed it not just for the soldiers doing the hammering, but for all those involved in bringing him to this point – Judas, Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas, the Pharisees, the mob. Sinners. You and me.

There was no justice for him. Not at that point. Not ever. He paid the price of sin though he was sinless. He took my punishment. And yours. Voluntarily. 

Forgiveness comes at a cost. But so does unforgiveness. To allow unforgiveness to fester is to extend the offence against you. 

Some offences are so horrific, though, that it takes an act of supernatural grace to free us to let go. It needs prayer for God’s intervention to enable us to forgive, to move on, to continue to live a life in grace, through the power of God.

My prayer tonight is for those affected by this tragedy. May they be given the grace and the power – immediately or over the next days, weeks, and years – to forgive. May they be comforted tonight, held close in the arms of our Saviour.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Railway Lines and Electricity Poles

Walking along the railway line (disused, I hasten to add, with no remaining tracks!) in Newtyle yesterday, enjoying the spring sunshine in between the wintry downpours, I noticed the electricity poles on either side of the embankment. Their tops were below the height of the embankment, and the wires disappeared underneath my feet. 

A bit further on, I realized that the tree branches stretching towards the path were actually at the tops of majestic trees, rooted in the ground fifteen feet below. It struck me as kind of weird that whoever constructed the railway thought it a good idea to raise it above the surrounding fields, rather than keeping it on the level.  Why?

Many times our eyes scan a landscape and miss the detail. How many hours were spent deliberating and considering where to carry the power or lay the tracks? How many heated discussions took place? How many friends and colleagues found their opposing views were vindicated when problems arose around the chosen method or route?

Years later, and here I was walking along the peaceful path. The ground on which I walked would have once reverberated under the weight and power of steam trains puffing along. The tree branches would not have reached that height, perhaps, and if they did, they might have been forcibly pruned by each passing engine. A very different landscape from what was there fifty or a hundred years ago.

Every day we walk through terrains where once there would have been drama and confrontation, violence and coercion, joy and sorrow. Not far from our home is a hill where Mary Queen of Scots watched her troops defeat the Duke of Gordon and his troops. Today it is peaceful. Deserted. 

Places of conflict today will one day fall silent, hopefully, because peace will return to the land. Places where horror and brutality send shivers up our spines may one day ring again with the joyful laughter of children. 

Life is a journey. We walk through our every day, sometimes aware, sometimes oblivious, of the history of our locations. 

We are told at the end of the Bible that there will come a time when God will live amongst us here, as heaven is revealed and as all tears are washed away, all sorrows comforted, and death is no more. 

One wonders if there will always be an atmosphere of remembrance, though, a sort of sense of the traumas and dramas once played out here.

Just as my gratitude to Jesus is cemented in an appreciation for what he did for me by hanging on that cruel cross, perhaps there is a sense where the sacrifices of history form a foundation for the joys of heaven to come. To have such memories erased somehow cheapens the price that others have paid to see God’s kingdom come, and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Does that make sense?

Monday, 23 March 2015

Richard III

Not much of a television buff, but hey, give me some good old British pomp and ceremony and I can hardly budge from the couch.

Last night we had it in spades, as they say. Such an extraordinary spectacle – the solemn conveying of the bones of the 500-years-dead Richard III to his new place of burial in Leicester cathedral. Accompanied by two knights in shining armour. Amazing. 

Extraordinary when they found his skeleton under a car park a few years ago. Even more extraordinary to have such excitement over the bones of a monarch reputed to be a child-killer (the little princes in the Tower of London), deformed and in Shakespeare’s play, exuding evil intent. 

But Richard has his supporters. The skeleton revealed that although he had scoliosis, his spine had twisted laterally and would never have given him the hunch he was depicted as having. And contrary to Shakespeare’s account, he had two healthy arms, neither withered. 

So if reports of his physical appearance were so wrong, what about the reports of his character?
I learned that despite his short two years in power, Richard enacted more laws than Elizabeth I throughout her reign. One of which is the ‘bail’ law which is still extant.

History hands down a muddle sometimes. Factions form on opposite sides of a controversial figure. Facts can be scarce, fabricated, or lost. 

That’s what is so extraordinary about Jesus. There are multiple sources from 2000 years ago attesting that the man Jesus lived. Just as many who chronicled his gruesome death. There were hundreds, thousands of witnesses to his miracles, and as many again who met him in his resurrected form. 

And millions who have met him since. We don’t know much about his appearance, but we know a lot about his values, his character, his love, his power. 

People are queuing in Leicester to see the coffin holding the bones of Richard III, a coffin made by one of his descendants. They are queuing to pay their respects, or out of curiosity, or simply to be a part of this rather weird and quirky bit of history.

The respect being shown for those old bones reveals some of what it is to be human. It reveals a spark of the divine which is hidden in each one of us. A spark which comes from God himself. 

Incredible that he has accorded human beings such honour, to partner with him in helping to establish his Kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven. Amazing that he accords us such undeserved respect. 

Such love can only be reciprocated with a humble and a grateful heart. Don’t you think?