Minister's blog

Grand designs

"And He has made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to bring all things in heaven and earth together in Christ." Ephesians 1. 9-10 The apostle Paul is the "poster boy" of the Protestant reformation, which presented late medieval Catholicism as being like 1st century Judaism in its legalism. "Justification by faith alone" (sola fide) became the battle-cry of the new movement which spawned the Protestant family of churches. For the required biblical mandate, Protestant theologians homed in on Paul's letters to the Romans and Galatians, which are all about justification through faith rather than goo

Life-affirming

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139.14 'Peanut Butter Falcon' is a film which tells the story of Zak Gottsagen, a young man with Down's Syndrome who runs away to achieve his dream of becoming a wrestler. Apparently it was inspired by Zak's encounter with the directors of the film. When he expressed his desire to be a film star, they crafted a script around the dreams and hopes he had for his life. The cinematography is gorgeous and the musical score is exceptional but what distinguishes this film is the way it confirms the value of life, by focusing on an individual who would never normally be regarded as wort

Jesus is God

"I and the Father are one." John 20.30 At the time of Christ, the Romans branded Jews and Christians as atheists because they did not believe in the classical pantheon of gods and goddesses. Since then and at various times, Christians have been branded "polytheists" (those who believe in many gods) because of the faith we profess in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our theologians turn cartwheels to explain the mystery of the Trinity: three in one and one in three. Part of the difficulty is that Father and Son are really metaphors, because what they are trying to express reaches beyond what we can adequately describe or define. Yet there is an interesting convergence at the beginning of Revelati

Dog's life

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you..." Job12.7 Yesterday was International Dogs Day and I missed it. Mind you, I am of the opinion that every day is "dogs day", if the pampering our pooch receives is anything to go by! But I realise that, sadly, we need such an occasion because, for too many of the "man's best friend" species, life is miserable - on account of their mistreatment by humans (so much for the epithet). Not only is cruelty to animals a flagrant breach of our duty of stewardship over creation, failing to accord fellow creatures with the respect they deserve deprives us of the significant contribution they can make to our lives. As well as companionship and assistance wi

The intimacy of letters

"My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen" 1 Corinthians 16.24 So Paul concludes his first letter to the church at Corinth. Traditionally the letters of the New Testament are referred to as "epistles". But this is to give them a formality they don't deserve and that they don't seek. In smart 1st century society, great store was set by formality: if you wanted intellectual discussion you went to an ornate garden, if you wanted to be seen with the rich and famous it was the theatre and, for strutting your stuff, it was the gymnasium or public baths. Letter writing was an opportunity to display your eloquence. But Christians were different. They eschewed lavish gestures in favour of meeting

Timing it right

"... men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do..." 1 Chronicles 12.32 This description is applied to the tribe of Issachar, which rallied with representatives from the other tribes throughout Israel, to support David in his campaign to replace Saul as king. Each tribe is afforded a brief accolade. In the men of Issachar the gift of good judgment is recognised. This doubtless proved useful to David and saved him unnecessary loss and frustration. Recently my brother-in-law and one his sons completed an expedition from Fort William to Nairn in sea kayaks. They made excellent progress over the vast bulk of the 115k route. But the last few kms took a disproportionate amount of t

Why not today?

"Yes, I am coming soon." Revelation 22.20 Our preaching series in Deuteronomy is coming to a head. "Choose now! Choose life!" Moses was desperate that the people he had led out of Egypt, the people that he had shepherded through the wilderness for 40 weary years, the people whom God had chosen for blessing and as his instrument of judgment, yet who remained as ignorant of their true vocation as ever, would finally get it - and respond appropriately to God. His plea rings through the ages and expresses every preacher's desire for those being accosted with the Gospel imperative today: "Choose now! Choose Christ!" I'm going to give it my best shot in church today but the world-weary cynic insid

It's the little things...

"Who dares despise the day of small things...?" Zechariah 4.10 Wondering how to support my dad in hospital, whose Alzheimers has all but denied awareness of who he is or where he belongs, my brother had the brainwave of sending in brief video clips of family members doing stuff: chasing a dog, jumping on a trampoline, playing music. It appears to be working! The late minister of Portree, John Ferguson, used to enjoy the quotation above. Zechariah was a prophet of Judah, who operated around the time the Jews had been released from slavery in Babylon and were rebuilding Jerusalem. His concern was to encourage his compatriots not to lose heart, despite local opposition and the enormity of their

Altruism

"... because you loved me before the creation of the world." John 17.24 Altruism refers to the noble sentiment of serving others with no thought of one's own advantage. It is the very opposite of the desperate drive for self-gratification which powers contemporary society and is encapsulated in the word "narcissism" (derived from the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, the boy who fell in love with his own reflection - and suffered the consequences!) Altruism describes the love of God, both within the Trinity and towards creation. Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in a relationship of mutual adoration and service, while for the love of creation, God set aside his glory and devoted his life in o

Who's speaking, please?

"For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord..." 2 Corinthians 4.5 I am reliably informed that I lack the moral authority to be telling other people what to do. This is true. Indeed, if I was of the misconception that writing this blog or preaching in church amounted to telling other people what to do, I would have stopped long ago. Indeed I would never have started. On his death-bed, Martin Luther is said to have scribbled on a piece of paper that: "We are all beggars telling other beggars where to find bread." The apostle Paul was at pains to stress that he and his fellow apostles were not interested in making a name for themselves as sages or gurus. It seems the Corinthi

Only human?

"The Word became flesh..." John 1.14 Perhaps because it is 'World Humanitarian Day' I have spent much of it in humanitarian work - of a sort. That is why I am so late in posting this. At least, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! But maybe I should be spending as much time contemplating what it means to be human? Blithely we use the word as an(other) excuse: "I'm only human" or "in my humanity I only managed such and such"; as if our human-ness is a weakness which lets us down. Are we forgetting that, when he made the world, God fashioned human-beings as his crowning masterpiece? And when Christ came into the world it was not to come down to our level, so much as to raise us up to his.

The new oil

"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it..." Psalm 24.1 A university friend put something in an email which alarmed me. It was his remark: "Nature is the new oil..." The fact that he heads up a business consortium was especially chilling. Are we to expect an influx of prospectors and investors gobbling up every scenic view and scrap of wilderness, to be exploited on the world's stock exchanges or milked for their cash potential? I thought a cocktail of Covid 19 and climate change might prove sufficiently toxic to force even "big business" into a reconsideration of the way we value and handle assets, especially those that exist for the benefit of all. Or, to put it another way, those as

Sacrifice or legacy?

“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fall..." Isaiah 40. 6-7 I'm reading a book called 'Legacy'. It's about the formula for success behind what is presented as the most successful winning machine of all time: the New Zealand All Blacks. As the title suggests, it focuses on developing talent and exploiting opportunities in order to leave behind an indelible impression of excellence. From a secular perspective it's compelling stuff. But the extract above from Isaiah exposes the vanity at the heart of this approach to life. If history teaches us anything it is that today's heroes are quickly superseded. But don't despair, I'm

Time out

"The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights." Habakkuk 3.19 How will you spend your Saturday? It is a dilemma for ministers: while the rest of society (well, most!) is enjoying the weekend, ministers are thinking about tomorrow - Sunday! So is Saturday a time for re-charging batteries, catching up on unfinished business, or frantic preparation? I'm heading for the hills...

Has highland evangelicalism had its day?

"After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." Revelation 7.9 A 19th century folklorist gleaning fragments of traditional culture in the Hebrides was given short shrift when he came to Lewis: "You won't find much interest in these fables here nowadays" he was told in no uncertain terms. The Evangelical Awakening came relatively late to the Hebrides but, when it arrived, it came with a vengeance. There are good reasons for its enthusiastic reception. A population traumatised by the shock of the breakdown of the "old order" in the aftermath of the Jacobite R

Back or forward?

"Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one." Hebrews 11.16 Watching last night's 'Blood of the Clans' I was struck again how wild and lively the highlands once were. But would I put the clock back? That's like asking if I would like to be young again. Of course - except for one thing... What I perceive ahead of me is better. Eternal life: where one is neither young nor old but perfect, the way God intended; where there is no more crying or sickness or pain, but life in all its richness; where God's goodness and glory are no longer veiled but so bright that no other light-source is necessary. So, no thanks. Let's press forward, not backwards. But we'll need each other an

Whose agenda?

“Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Mark 1.38 Jesus' public ministry got off to a flying start. Having healed Peter's mother-in-law, the crowds of Capernaum flock to him with their sick friends and family. Early the next day, Jesus' quiet time is interrupted by news that yet more are pressing in to see him. That is when he announces that he is moving on. Imagine the disappointment! But Jesus didn't play to the crowd. He had a job to do, a mission to compete, a destiny to fulfil. I wonder how many of us would have had the character to resist some easy adulation? He was on a roll, why not enjoy it or, at least, milk the opportu

The secret of history

"Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb who appeared to have been slain... Revelation 5. 5-6 Do you long for a magic formula which will make sense of everything? Well here it is. At the heart of his Revelation, given by God to the apostle John to encourage him in his exile on the island of Patmos and to encourage the early church in the agony of persecution, John is granted a glimpse into the nerve centre of the universe. There he sees a throne and on it sits God himself. This may come as a surprise to those who feel that the world is in the grip of chaotic, even malevolent, forces. But there is more

Dislocation of expectation

"... you do not even know what will happen tomorrow..." James 4. 14 That things often don't go according to plan shouldn't surprise us. It's the way life is. As people sometimes joke: "I'm glad I didn't know what lay ahead of me today, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered getting up!" A long sea paddle yesterday was like a metaphor for life: sometimes the water was calm then, without warning, it became choppy - and then calm again. In the Marines they called it: dislocation of expectation. It can be stressful, not knowing what will happen next, because we are not in control. Yet worrying about what we cannot affect is no use. Especially when there is something we can do to mitigate the uncerta

Responsible for everything?

"... and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side." Luke 10.31 Do you think he felt a pang of guilt? The man in Jesus' story certainly doesn't win our admiration. Even if there were reasons (of ritual purity) which caused him to hurry on, he still failed in his duty of compassion. And why should we expect more from him than from any of the other residents along the Jerusalem-Jericho corridor? The man's responsibility derives from the fact that he was there, he was a witness, he was in a position to help - and he didn't. So, what does that mean for us in an era of global connectivity through mass media? We have instant access to breaking news wherever it occurs. That sounds like a

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