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.
As I am writing this there is war in Ukraine and much of the news broadcasts is devoted to this. How it will all end is unclear at this time. But no doubt it will end one day. The news media will move on to the next story, but the scars will take time to heal if at all. A few days ago I was walking in woods that had been previously felled during the Second World War by men from Newfoundland. By that time bulldozers were being introduced as a means of making tracks so that the timber could be extracted. The fact that Newfoundland was sending men to fell trees rather than fight alongside the British Army was in part due to the experience of the Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the Battle of the Somme when the suffered terribly high casualties. After the war the hillside was bare for several miles, it took decades to completely replant the woodland felled. In the meantime the tracks made the Newfies’ bulldozers were livid scars on the hillside including the one shown in the picture above. But as you can see the forest has re-established itself and the evidence of the wartime scars has diminished over the years. From the valley below there is no sign of this track.
Sadly, there is no indication that a lasting peace ill happen anytime soon, especially a just peace. Though the emphasis of the action appears to be shifting further east. However, we need to be careful that we are not fooled by propaganda which is coming from both sides. There are claims and counter claims concerning “war crimes.” Though by invading through the Chernobyl radioactive exclusion zone it could be argued that the Russians have committed a war crime against their own soldiers, many of whom seem to have suffered severe radiation sickness if reports are true. This is unusual if not unique.
The wounds are too raw at the present time to begin the process of reconciliation and forgiveness, much as the outsiders we are might wish. Jesus told us to love our enemies and to reconcile with those we are in dispute with. But I doubt that many Ukrainians feel like forgiving the Russians who have invaded their land any time soon. A just peace must come first, but this does not appear to be likely to happen any time soon. Even so the scars will remain though they may not be obvious.
Today the word fear has negative connotations, however, when put in perspective it can be a positive thing. This is true when we hear the verse about the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs Chapter 1 verse 7a). But there are always some people who go out of their way to interpret a verse of the Bible in the most negative light including this one, seeming to think that fear here is synonymous with dread. Rather, I would put it like a warning that one takes heed of like the following example. There is a road drain near my house and I have a fear that when returning to my house that as I put my hand into my pockets to get my keys out that they will accidentally fall down the drain. I have lived in this house for over twenty years and so far it has never happened. Quite simply I can easily avoid my fears coming to pass by waiting till after I have gone past the drain before reaching for my keys. If, however, I was so worried about losing my keys down the drain that I refused to leave my house you would question my sanity. The fear of the Lord is meant to warn us from doing things that have serious consequences. Not a dread that should stop us from doing the right things, after all Jesus had no kind words for the man in the parable of the talents who from fear did nothing.
In tension with this is Paul’s exhortation in Philippians chapter 4, verses 6-7:- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ.” So not being anxious does not mean being complacent and doing nothing just as the fear of the Lord does not mean that Christians should be paralysed with fear. Interestingly, high levels of anxiety reduce the immune system and anxiety related conditions are listed amongst the co-morbidities in the Covid 19 pandemic. As an aside, one does wonder whether those parts of the media that have ramped up the scare-mongering might find themselves being sued by the relatives of those with anxiety related conditions who it might have arguably died as a result of their scare-mongering?
So fear in proportion is not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, the word phobia tends to be misused these days by propagandists of lobby groups that somebody who does not agree fully with them is suffering from a paralysing fear. In view of this it is not surprising that there is confusion as to where on the scale of fear from a mild concern to a morbid dread does the word “fear” in Proverbs 1:7 fall.
The above is a phrase that is often heard in Evangelical Christian circles. It is one of those sayings that you could forgiven for thinking that there was actually a verse of Scripture. But there is a section of the book of Judges that makes me think of that phrase. The chapters in question are 17 and 18, but it is only at the end, when the punch line is given that one will see why. So be patient if you are unfamiliar with these chapters.
I could also say that this post is one of an occasional unofficial series on parts of the Bible or Bible characters you rarely, if ever, hear preached on. Chapter 17 starts with a man called Micah who admits to his mother that he has stolen a load of her silver. When he returns the silver, she decides to “dedicate it to the Lord” by commissioning an idol to be made out of it. Obviously not getting the memo that idolatry was forbidden. He then compounds this by appointing his son as a priest. This is summed up by verse 6 which states that “in those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” A verse that is often quoted without its context. Then its gets worse when a Levite turns from Bethlehem and Micah then appoints him instead. At which point (chapter 18) the Danites who were given land to settle along the Mediterranean coast where the Philistines lived decided, after Samson died, to call it quits and find somewhere where the natives were more conquerable. They sent out a party to search out possible victims and they headed northward and passed through the territory of Ephraim where Micah lived. As they passed Micah’s shrine they enquired of the Levite who they recognised because they living amongst the people of Judah in the meantime. He told them their journey would be successful. It was, and after they duly reported back an expedition was mounted to wipe out the people of Laish which would be renamed Dan. On the way the Danites steal Micah’s Idol, but the Levite woke up and tried to stop them. But they said that if he went with them he could be the priest to a whole tribe, he then agreed and went with. Micah and his neighbours tried to chase after them but had to back down when they realised how badly they were outnumbered. So the Danites went on their way and succeeded in conquering Laish and duly set up Micah’s idols with the Levite as their priest. But the identity of this Levite is then revealed as Jonathan, son of Gershom, the son of Moses.
The first time you read through the book of Judges this hits you like a punch in the stomach. You think how could the grandson of Moses be so stupid as to officiate in idol worship. Now if you are a first generation Christian you might think so what? But for those who have been brought up in Christian families who can trace back a long line of believers it is troubling to think that family traditions could so quickly be abandoned. However, it is worthy to note that the motive that drove Jonathan the Levite to compromise was money, Micah promised to pay him, and then status when the Danites offered to make him the priest of their tribe, no doubt with commensurate reward. Sound familiar?
Unless a preacher is charged with systematically goes through the Book of Judges he is unlikely to choose to preach from these chapters, because there is no feelgood message that can be drawn this passage. Though it is possible to learn from these episodes as a warning as to how easy it is to go astray. As Paul said all Scripture is God-breathed.
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.