Thoughts and refections from the Cairngorms from a Christian perspective. The posts that have been published so far were first produced as printed hand-outs and shared out amongst a local fellowship in Aviemore. I have been encouraged to share them as a blog and hope a wider audience will benefit from them.
A few weeks ago the River Spey burst its banks as a result of rain and snow melt. Its height fluctuated over several days by the time this was taken it was on the way down again, but it was still way over its normal level. After taking a few more pictures I decided to go up the hillside above Aviemore called Craigellachie and look down on the flooding.
Having previously posted pictures of the flooding on Facebook and received a number of likes and comments I was somewhat surprised that nobody responded when I posted the two photos above. On reflection I recognise that the second photograph put the other pictures I had in perspective. The flooding does not look so bad up here. I am reminded of the verses in Isaiah chapter 55, 8 and 9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.” Funny how when we are confronted with a problem in our lives we tend to throw a pity party. We live in a “me centred” culture in Western Christianity which has also infected the Church in many ways, sometimes subtle but at other times more obvious. We want to live in a world where everything revolves around us, but forget that when Jesus said he was the Light of the World he knew the solar system was heliocentric. We need to take a few steps back and try and see things from God’s perspective.
There are times when the high tops of the Cairngorms are obscured by clouds, but on occasions some other lower feature is highlighted by a break in the clouds as in the photograph above. Equally, there are times when God will highlight some of his attributes which we would consider lesser ones.
In 1 Kings 19 verse 7 it states that “the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him [Elijah].” Now the phrase the “angel of the Lord” occurs many times in the Old Testament and can be used on occasions to refer to the pre-incarnate Christ. But I have never heard anybody cite this occasion as being one of them. After all the angel is performing a relatively menial task of cooking a couple of meals for Elijah whose courage had failed him. The angel makes no great prophetic utterance and in fact on the first occasion the angel wakes up Elijah the words “of the Lord” are omitted. But a year or so ago I heard a preacher quote verse 7 and the thought dropped into my mind that the phrase ‘angel of the Lord’ could mean the pre-incarnate Christ. I began to react against this being applied in this instance because God would not come down to earth to serve a failure like Elijah. But then I was reminded of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Immediately I was also reminded of John chapter 21 and the miraculous catch of fish, with Jesus cooking a meal the the disciples including Peter who had betrayed Him. Suddenly the idea of Jesus cooking the meal for Elijah did not seem to far-fetched after all.
Of course, we assume it was just an ordinary angel and we equally assume that God must have been angry with Elijah for doing a runner. Elijah was probably angry with himself for his failure, but just because we might be mad about our failures it does not necessarily mean that God was angry with Elijah or us. I mean that Jesus had every right to be angry with Peter for denying him three times and most of us would have found it difficult not to be in the flesh. Of course God knew that Jezebel would react in the way she did threatening Elijah with his life, even if it was the last thing that Elijah was. God knew how disappointed Elijah would be so why would He be angry with him? So maybe it was a way of showing Elijah how sympathetic God was to Elijah’s dejection. Even if Elijah was so deep in his “pity party” that he did not notice that the angel who served him was God Himself. Elijah may have assumed that the angel who fed him was the lowest of the low.
What we forget is that God loves the “servant heart” and wants to see it in us, but because of our sinful nature we want to be in control, and are therefore blind to the possibility that God Himself would humble Himself to serve Elijah. We would see the washing of the disciples feet as as one off, as again we would see Jesus suffering on the cross as the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53 as a one-off. But Jesus’ whole life on the earth was one of humility. Think, why Jesus’ severest criticisms were targeted against those who thought themselves self-important and want to lord it over others? Does it not show something of God’s nature and how He expects His servants to behave?
Apologies for a period of writers’ block and overcoming inertia.
“Don’t blame me! The virus is called covid-19 not corvid-19.”
Until a few weeks ago the idea that a virus outbreak would close churches was unthinkable in this country, but now it has happened. True, many churches are now trying to meet online but there are many older churchgoers who have no internet connection, and they are the most likely to be the ones most vulnerable with underlying health conditions. The reaction of Christians to the pandemic varies according to their views with Charismatics reciting healing Scriptures, so far without great effect. There were those who claim to be prophets claiming that the epidemic would be broken at Easter/Passover whose claims were then quietly forgotten about when this did not happen. Those who are into eschatology are looking into potential end time scenarios and seeing the virus as an end-time pestilence or look at the draconian measures introduced by governments to control the virus as a prelude to persecution of Christians and the introduction of the “mark of the beast”. Though what non-Christians think of those who give the impression of being gleeful as the death toll rises because they see parallels with the Book of Revelation is a moot point.
However, the crisis has brought about great financial uncertainty which affects those who are Christians as much as the rest. Various financial measures are being drafted to help those caught up in the crisis but many of them are either loans or just deferred payments that will have to be paid back sometime. At the moment money seems to be no object for the Government here when it comes to expenditure to tackle the virus. But what will happen afterwards when the purse-strings will have to be drawn back in. Many businessmen will be saddled with debt and red-tape with little hope of recouping their lost earnings. This might affect those Christians who because of political correctness in the public sector have decided to become entrepreneurs instead. One of the consequences of this is that being in debt might result in their faith being compromised so as not to offend those they owe money to.
Short-term measures may have unexpected long-term consequences. Most people are familiar with the story of Joseph in Egypt coming from prison to being Prime Minister and the reconciliation with his brothers. But there is a postscript about Joseph’s dealings with the Egyptian peasants. The first year of the famine they paid for their food, the second they sold their livestock to the state for food and the third year they sold their land for food. To this day few Egyptian farmers own the land they farm. Instead they farmed the land for Pharaoh giving him a large percentage of the crop. Because the Hebrews were not affected by this they became the cause resentment. It would appear that when they complained to a future Pharaoh, he decided to oppress the Hebrews rather than give the peasants their land back. Was it any coincidence that when the Israelites were to enter the Promised land they were to observe the Year of Jubilee when debts were cancelled and land restored. But no Pharaoh thought to relinquish the power that ownership of the land had given them. After all there was no concept of redemption in the pagan religion of Egypt, it is only the God of the Bible who redeems. So we should not expect our secular authorities to be forgiving of our debts. This may be bad in the West but in those countries where modern slavery is a problem the situation is liable to be much worse. Several Christians charities/churches have set up funds to help those in the severest financial circumstances.
The first steps are now being made to return to normality, though there are many conflicting views as to how this can be safely done. Suffice to say there will be many twists and turns along the way.
I suspect most people have received gifts they did not appreciate. This year I decide to give the birds that visit my garden a new nyger seed feeder as my original one was getting quite tatty with one of its perches missing and its top held together by glue. So on Christmas Day I filled up the new feeder and put it out. Only to find that the birds that used to feed on the old took one look at it and flew away. They obviously did not appreciate what I believed to be an improved service. True, the weather since Christmas has been relatively mild for the time of year so they are not forced to use the new feeder. Maybe they will return and try again to obtain the seeds from it if there is a cold snap. Until then the variety of birds in my garden has somewhat decreased. Since then there have been a few birds at the feeder but none of the species that were so regular at the old feeder. There have been times when I have considered putting out the old one instead.
It got me thinking that the most unappreciated gift at Christmas is God’s gift of His Son. For a start Herod did not appreciate it with the massacre of the innocents. When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan a voice from Heaven was heard to say that God the Father was well-pleased with His Son. Yet when he returned to Nazareth a few weeks later the crowd became so angry that they wanted to throw him off a cliff. Though the Jewish people were expecting the Messiah, the Messiah that came was not the one they were hoping for. They were looking for a military leader who would defeat the Romans. Even the disciples after the resurrection still asked if Jesus would restore the kingdom now. The temple authorities in Jerusalem did not appreciate any change to the status quo. Though I suspect that even they did not realise how redundant they would become under the new covenant. But they knew He was sufficient a challenge to their authority that they talked of killing Him for some time before the cross.
Today commercial interests generally ignore the religious aspects of Christmas, especially if they get in the way of a fast buck. Santa’s grottos are fine, but nativity scenes might offend someone. (Funny how secularists are so worried about how Christians might offend those of other religions, but they are quite happy to offend Christians by their attacks on Christianity.) Anything that might temper the public’s appetite for gluttony, drunkenness, and a whole host of other excesses that are associated with the Christmas period must be downplayed. The babe in the manger is totally unappreciated by them.
I had hoped that I could report that by this time the birds had overcome their reluctance to use the feeder and things had gone back to as it was. Alas this is not the case and I have not had to top up the feeder since Christmas Day.
At this time of year at Carol Services and other Christmas events the prophesies of Isaiah in chapters 7 and 9. The first being the sign of Immanuel and the second being the one with “for unto us a child is born.” Let us put them in their historical context. In chapter 7 Isaiah confronts King Ahaz of Judah and the prophecy concerning Immanuel is given after Ahaz refuses to ask God for a sign. Isaiah then rebukes him by saying “hear now the house of David! Is it not enough to test the patience of men? Will you test the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Now Ahaz was one of the bad kings of Judah and because of that we tend to forget about him and concentrate on the good guys whom we can use as role models. So let us step back and consider what else Scripture says about him.
In 2 Chronicles 28 the whole chapter is a catalogue of the bad things he did and the setbacks Judah suffered as a result of them but instead of repenting of his sin decided to worship the gods of his enemies and shut up the doors of the Lord’s temple. On the other hand 2 Kings 16 has him seeking help from the king of Assyria against the king of Aram who had invaded Judah. After Assyria destroys Aram, Ahaz goes to Damascus to visit the King of Assyria. When he saw an altar there he sent a priest named Uriah to sketch it and produce a copy of it and replace the existing altar to the Lord. Also that Ahaz made sacrifices on it. But it would appear that from 2 Chronicles that these sacrifices were made to the gods of his enemies and not the Lord. Did Uriah know this was Ahaz’s intention from the start, if so why did he not object? Or was he duped? Was he, in effect, a turkey voting for Christmas?
We live in an age when there are many oppose the worship of the one true God, of course, they will rarely admit it up front. They will say things like that the Church is behind the times and needs to modernise. True, the Church is a living entity and not a fossil, however, an organism reproduces according to its DNA and not its feelings or the latest fashion. Sadly, too many churchmen, and women these days, are too keen to be politically correct to object strongly when traditional biblical values are challenged. Like Uriah the priest they are all too keen to follow the pattern of this world rather than the pattern shown by God.
Returning to Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 9, “for unto us a child is born,” who is the “us”? Is it just the good people like Isaiah, or does it include people like king Ahaz? The babe that was born in Bethlehem came for all, good or bad, Jew or gentile. Sadly there is no evidence that king Ahaz ever repented of his sin, so I fear that he will meet Jesus as his judge and not his saviour. Those of us still in this world have the opportunity to do so if they have not already. That is the true meaning of Christmas that the Christ came to give the opportunity to look at the Crucified one and live.
When I came home from work yesterday I noticed a sparrow at my bird feeder then realised that something was wrong with it. I had omitted to fill it in the morning and this young fledgling in desperation had managed to get stuck in it, trying to get the remnant of the seed. I had to dismantle the feeder in order to release it. Its head was twisted by 180 degrees and when released its nape was exposed and bloodied and partly paralysed. I decided that it was a too pitiful sight to photograph. It was dying. I suddenly felt guilty about not topping up the feeder that morning. But what has this to do with money and the church? Christians are bombarded with opportunities to give whether to overtly Christian/evangelistic causes or more generally humanitarian ones. It is easy to argue that it is somebody else’s duty to give this time. If any ministry asks for money somebody is bound to shout “prosperity gospel” in their direction. True some ministries seem to be raising large amounts of money and are reputedly awash with funds. Others are living a hand to mouth existence.
But this is nothing new. The Reformation came about because of Luther’s objection to the Catholic Church’s selling of indulgences in order to finance the construction of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The fact is that this has left a large hangover for the protestant churches of today with deep suspicion for any project that needs a substantial amount of cash. Some fundraisers for major Christian projects have likened their schemes to medieval cathedrals that may have taken a hundred years or more to build. Of course, the bishops who founded them claimed they were building them for the glory of God, but how many of them were also building for the glorification of their own egos as well? Mixed motives are nothing new. Equally, short-termism is a plague in modern society so I admit there is some merit in the analogy but we have to avoid looking at history through rose-tinted glasses. Also in some countries tithing became, in effect, a local tax that went to the established church whether you were an adherent or not. This too has left a legacy of resentment against the church and giving to overtly Christian causes. There is a real danger that some worthy causes that are in God’s will are being neglected because we fear that they may be a scam.
I have to admit that I had never heard the phrase “sowing a seed” until I started watching Christian television. The problem seems to be that some fundraisers are telling us to sow all our seed in one furrow and not scatter it over the rest of the field. Now if a farmer did that he would have a very poor harvest. If we have limited resources for the Kingdom then we must use them most efficiently. That might mean giving to some ministry that nobody has heard of rather than one that has shows all over the Christian media. But there is no fool-proof formula, true we should listen to the Holy Spirit to prompt us but there are also a lot of persuasive techniques used by fundraisers that pluck at the heartstrings of Christians as well. Of course, it is all to easy to justify not giving to this or that cause because of something negative we might have heard about them. All too often our “reasons” are actually prejudices based on hearsay rather than legitimate grounds. Unlike the sparrow I mentioned at the beginning of this post we may not see the collateral damage that occurs when we decline to give or give unwisely but the Lord knows are heart as it says in Proverbs.
The picture that you see is of a bollard that was hit by a reversing vehicle. It is located at a supermarket, an articulated lorry delivering fresh food was just about to reverse into its delivery bay when a smaller truck, belonging to a laundry, entered the car park and noticing that the other vehicle’s reversing lights were on concentrated avoiding the other vehicle’s route the driver omitted to notice the bollard behind him. In trying to avoid one danger he ran into another resulting in a loud bang. Just like a golfer who hit a ball into a bunker on the right-hand side of the fairway last time he played a hole, over compensates and lands in a bunker on the left instead.
Equally, in Christian circles we can react against one danger by falling into a trap on the other side. For instance, many unbelievers will come up with an argument that Jesus was just a man; so in order to counter that we stress the divine nature of Jesus. The danger then becomes that we play down His humanity when He lived on earth, then it becomes questionable as to whether Jesus was capable of being the “suffering servant” who “bore our iniquities.” We need balance. In fact throughout the history of the Church one of Satan’s favourite strategies is to spread a spurious claim about Christians or the Church. In the early centuries it was claimed that communion services were orgies because they were often referred as “love feasts.” The problem with these claims is that in trying to correct them we are in danger of over correcting them and fall into some other trap like that van driver. The problem is that in spending time and effort countering false accusations we are not proclaiming the truth of the gospel itself. The fact is that Paul was misunderstood when he preached the gospel of grace when his critics claimed he was teaching that it was OK to sin so that God’s grace could abound. It has been argued that the Gospel has not been preached right if there is no possibility of somebody making that mistake. We have to be careful that we do not compromise the truth just because somebody might misunderstand it.
Sorry I have not a picture of a goat to hand so you will have to make do with this lesser common redpoll that visited my garden last week.
I do not know about you but this part of the Jewish Law has always mystified me. It first appears in the second part of Exodus chapter 23 verse 19. Curiously the first part of the verse is a command to “bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.” It is also repeated in Exodus 34 verse 26. But during the past year I came across an interesting fact about goats. I discovered that their mothers only produce milk for about six months after they give birth. Now I understand that observant Jews today go to great lengths to avoid breaking this law by not having any dairy products with any red meat whatsoever, not even drinking coffee with milk in it even if its not goats’ milk.But it occurred to me that the instruction is more to do with the maturity of the goat than the milk. In the following book of the Bible, Leviticus, in chapter 16 the instructions were given for the Day of Atonement. These included the necessity for two goats to atone for the atonement of the people’s sin, one to be sacrificed and the other to become the scapegoat. Therefore, I suggest that the command in Exodus was to prevent the goats needed for the Day of Atonement being killed and eaten too early.
There was no logical explanation given to this command about cooking the goat in its mother’s milk at the time it was given. But God knew the circumstances that would lead to the Day of Atonement (the deaths of Nadab and Abihu) and sometimes God might give us an instruction that does not seem logical at the time it is given. Our immediate reaction is to question it and object to it rather than obey. Waiting for God to provide reasonable grounds why it should be necessary.
Even though the crucifixion was at Passover it was also the day of our atonement there are many parallels with what happened at Calvary, with Jesus being both the innocent goat that was killed and the scapegoat that carried our sin. There is a hint in this instruction that there was a danger that attempts would be made on Jesus’ life before His time was ready. In particular before He was weaned at the time of the massacre of the innocents. Not to mention other attempts on Jesus’ life.
Have you ever noticed that when demons encountered Jesus in the Gospels they actually spoke the truth. Considering that the devil is the father of all lies, there must be a reason for this. Equally, in the book of Job when the devil is summoned into the presence of God, he does not lie. There is obviously something governing this that is not directly referred to in the text. However, I think there is a clue in the wording of the Lord’s prayer where is says “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Therefore when Satan was called into God’s presence to discuss Job he was unable to overrule the will of God and therefore had no option but to speak the truth. Equally, when Jesus walked this earth he often said that the kingdom of God (or Heaven) was near. Though humans were not usually aware of this, when demonic forces came into contact with Him the same rule applied, so they had to state that Jesus was “God’s Holy One,” or “the Son of God,” they were unable to deceive people by telling lies about Jesus in his presence. The last thing they wanted to do was to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, but they could not help themselves when they came into contact with Him. True, Jesus silenced them, but I believe this was more because he was concerned about the crowd’s reaction to their acclamation rather than he was concerned about the demons going on to spout untruths. Jesus knew that the Jews were waiting for a messiah that would fight and overthrow the Roman empire, and on several occasions He had to take steps to avoid being hijacked as a figurehead for a Jewish revolt. Of course once he had moved on they would have been free to lie again if they had not been cast out. Sadly, though, spiritually blind humans who encountered Jesus were not always as obedient as these demons. Such as the time in the synagogue in Nazareth when the people rioted and tried to throw Jesus over a cliff.
However, there will come a time when we die and have to face God in our spiritual bodies and then we will find ourselves very deluded if we think that we can confront God and lie our way into heaven just because we have got away with it here on earth. Instead anyone trying to they would find the words drying up as they tried to speak. The only way to get into Heaven is by being covered by the “blood of the Lamb,” but we live in an age where there is no concept of the idea of a blood sacrifice. It is seen as primitive and the human society has evolved beyond that in the sophisticated West. No wonder there will be many who will say “Lord, Lord,” but Jesus will say “I never knew you.” They may accept that Jesus is the Son of God, take active parts in church ministry yet see the enormity of their own sin and the need for Jesus to die in their place though they may have mouthed the right words many times but never truly meant it.
At the end of John’s Gospel there is the account of the miraculous catch of fish. Over the years I have heard many sermons preached on it, both in the flesh and on Christian media. I would like to add a few miscellaneous thoughts that have occurred to me over the years. Firstly, not all the remaining disciples witnessed this event, only seven including Peter, they do not seem to have been doing much the previous day, so that may have been the Jewish Sabbath. In which case the events took place on the first day of the week. How far away the others were is not recorded, though not all the disciples were fishermen by trade. The down side of being a fisherman is that you tend to smell of fish, so maybe the others had sought alternative accommodation because they did not want to be near the fisherfolk and their associated smells. In which case they missed out on an encounter with Jesus. I ask you, how many Christians miss out on spiritual encounters because we are too sniffy about our fellow believers? There have been occasions around the Scottish coasts where revival has broken out in the fishing communities but the landward farming communities they lived along side were largely unaffected.
A second point is that Jesus never actually criticised Peter for going out to fish, though most preachers tend to see his act as backsliding. I see it as an attempt to put food on the table on Peter’s part. I think this is in part because full-time ministers and theologians tend to look down those who earn their living outside of the Christian bubble. In fact if you were just to listen to some sermons on this passage you could easily think that a large part of it was Jesus ticking Peter off for going out to fish! Too many expect God to show up when we are sitting on our backsides doing nothing. It has often been said that it is easier to turn a moving vehicle that one standing still, and I suspect Jesus met them on the shore because Peter took them fishing rather than despite that. If Peter had decided “I will just go to bed and have a good night’s sleep,” he would have missed the reward of the miraculous catch of fish, no doubt the sale of the bulk of the catch (less those they ate) would also help finance their accommodation in Jerusalem before Pentecost as well. Anyway, Jesus needed to get Peter alone so he could reinstate him as a leader.
Returning to my speculation that this took place on the first day of the week, if this was case, (you might say this is a big ‘if’) then this would account for three of the encounters of the recorded in Scripture being with Peter on the first day of the week. If you had have been a believer before the crucifixion then you might have just noticed a pattern and come to the conclusion that if you wanted to see the risen Lord all you needed to do was just hang around Peter on the first day of the week. This may account for the occasion referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 where he states that 500 people saw the risen Lord at one single appearance. After all it would seem to be unlikely that these 500 people just happened to be together randomly without a logical cause. Yet it was only the remaining members of the twelve that were there at the time of the ascension which happened to be on a Thursday which must have caught out the other believers.
There is one more thing I would like to add. Some years ago I was watching a Christian television channel which discussed this passage and somebody emailed in to say that the number of large fish, 153, also occurred in the book of Numbers chapter 7. However, that is not true, the number in that chapter is actually 135. Yet on subsequent occasions when this chapter is mentioned somebody emails in repeating this error. Either this is the same person or people do not check Scripture for themselves and just repeat what they hear. So beware.