Wednesday, 25 April 2012

New Heaven And New Earth

Last night I saw some stunning views of the earth taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts, a blue and white glowing disc hanging in the deep darkness of space.  It spoke of life, beauty and potential,  belying the stories that are unfolding daily on its surface.  
There are people who are anguished at being overweight when there are others who every day do not know if they will eat at all.  
There are people who are being encouraged to take more exercise when there are others who daily have to walk miles to the nearest fresh water source.  
There are people who complain of the effects of their governments policies on their bank balance when there are others who cannot be sure that their governments will uphold basic human rights.     
Years ago there was a film entitled ‘It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World.’  I cannot remember much about it but the title is forever fixed in my mind because in so many ways it is true.  And yet this is a world that God not only cares about but has plans for.  He did not place the earth in the universe and then abandon it.  He has shown this to be true in the mission of His Son Jesus.  He came to bring in a new era in the history of the earth when there would be an alternative to all those things that devalue human life and alienate people from God.  His life, death and resurrection spoke of transformation.  People being changed when they realised that sin need not dominate their lives.  Communities being changed when those who possessed material and spiritual resources were moved to share.  The earth itself being changed when Christ Himself would act decisively against the darkness and create a new Heaven and a new Earth.  
Paul describes Jesus as the ‘firstfruits‘ of the New Creation, our Brother in His humanity and yet not touched by the things that limit our lives and bring pain.  This is what God has planned for us.  Transformed lives fit for a transformed Creation.  
The challenge for us is to live these transformed lives now.  Jesus spoke of a Kingdom which would be seen in all its fullness at some future time but he called on his followers to live as Kingdom people now.  God cares for the earth and its people.  He expects nothing less of us.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Francis Wheen

This will appear next week in the 'Yours Faithfully' column of the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald:

The trouble with listening to the radio when you are driving is that you can become easily distracted.  It happened to me listening to the news the other day.  There was an item about the writer Francis Wheen (that's him on the left)  who had seen his garden shed burned to the ground.  No big deal, you might say.  Nothing there, surely, that cannot be replaced.  The trouble was that Wheen did not use his shed to store garden tools and other implements.  He used it as his study.   It contained at least 5, 000 books, including some first editions, along with notebooks, letters and research documents which had been gathered throughout his lifetime.  To add to the pain, he was well into a new novel.  Yes, he had backed it up on a disc but do I need to tell you where the disc was?  Everything was gone. 

I can honestly say that I winced when I heard of Wheen’s loss but was amazed at how composed he sounded when being interviewed.   He said that he was not the first writer to lose a work in progress to a fire.  For instance, Thomas Carlyle gave his friend John Stuart Mill the manuscript of his history of the French Revolution to read for advice or comment before he handed it to his publisher.  Mill’s maidservant used it to light the fire.  Carlyle’s response was just to start all over again.   And that is what Wheen proposed to do.

It reminded me of something the apostle Paul once wrote: 

‘We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken.  We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit.  We are hunted down, but God never abandons us.  We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.  Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly  share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.’  (2 Corinthians 4: 8-10)

Paul knew what it was to have dreams dissolve, relationships sour, precious things lost, not least health and strength.  He was able to carry on, not just because of an inherent toughness or an unusual determination but because he believed in the power and purpose of the Risen Jesus.  He believed that through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus  was present with him in every circumstance and that He was always working for good. 

It is a challenge to live like this but the more we know about this Jesus the more we understand that nothing will ever separate us from His love.     

Saturday, 14 April 2012


Gabrielle and I travelled up to Perth yesterday through sunshine, rain and hail and temperatures ranging from 2.5C to 10C.  We have a lot of weather in Scotland.  
It’s a while since I have been in Perth and was taken aback at how many churches are clustered around the city centre.  It makes for a very impressive sky-line but more than anything else a great potential for Christian witness.  A bit like Milngavie.  There are eight congregations here representing five different traditions.  There is much impressive work done together but I cannot help but feel that in these very challenging days for the Gospel we need to pull together more.  C.S. Lewis once said that hardship would bring the churches together more to share the things they have in common.  Maybe if we cannot do it ourselves God will do it for us!   

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


Joni Eareckson Tada wrote this as a commendation for Randy Alcorn's book 'Heaven':

'One thing's for sure: 'Earth can't keep its promises, but aren't you glad Heaven does? And oh the joy of one day enjoying not only glorified bodies but hearts free of sin.'

What struck me about this is that despite her extensive disabilities Joni still focusses 
on the life to come as a release from sin.

For me, Joni is one of the most significant Christians of the last fifty years and will continue to be so until the New Heaven and  the New Earth.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Norwegian Good!

This is based on a book by the Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo.  I read his The Redeemer recently and was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  I am not really a fan of crime fiction and I tend to get lost in complex plots but the quality of the writing (or translation!) and the strong characterisation kept me going.  And in the end the plot was worked out quite ingeniously.  
So I was prepared for an exercise in concentration with Headhunters, the movie and that was just as well.  Numerous sub-plots cut across one another until things are at least partially resolved in the end.  What I was not prepared for was the black comedy.  Terrible things happen to people and you find yourself  chortling.  I heard someone say on the radio that in that respect it’s a bit like a Coen Brothers movie.  Well, maybe not quite as extreme but getting there.  
The acting is great, all local Norwegian talent.  The great achievement of Aksel Hennie who plays the principle character, Roger Brown, is that he grows from this smart, smug, self-centered scoundrel to a man stripped bare (at one stage literally) of everything he values but in the end finds a way forward with the things that really matter in life.  
This is a quality film.  I believe Hollywood is showing some interest in a re-make.   Mmmmm. 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Happy Easter!

This morning I said to the St Paul’s people that it doesn’t matter how we feel on Easter Day, Christ is risen and we can go forward in faith.  If I am honest I have to say that there have been Easter Days when I haven’t felt it too deeply but today I have experienced the touch of the Risen Lord.  
Three people were admitted to full membership of the Church, two of whom I baptised as babies, the other has recently come to the community and found a spiritual home with us.  
Other thoughts:
I have lost friends younger that I am now and so I am grateful for the years I have been given.  I have seen friends lose children so I am grateful that mine are still with me to enjoy.  I have seen friends lose their partners and that my wife and I have been granted all these years together is a very special blessing.  I have seen people die with no hope to cheer the grave and therefore to know that I have a Saviour who has made it possible for me to be with God forever is the greatest gift of all.   
To all of you who may have logged on, Happy Easter!  

Saturday, 7 April 2012


‘Hugo’ arrived the other day.  No, not a friend but the DVD of what I consider to be the best movie of 2011 and fast becoming one of my all-time favourites.  It is based on a unique children’s book by Brian Selznick called ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ which combines text with drawings and photographs.  It actually resembles a movie story-board.  
It’s a story of broken things being mended - toys, clocks and even an ‘automaton’ - and broken lives being mended.  Disappointed, angry, lost, disillusioned, they all appear in ‘Hugo’ and without giving too much away there is a way forward for them all.  
It’s a good movie to be watching at Easter.  The Risen Christ has sent a surge of renewal through the whole of Creation which renews, empowers and brings hope for this life and the next.  
I’ll try to write tomorrow but it’s a big day.  We have three new members joining St Paul’s, two of whom I baptised as babies, and the other a newcomer to the community.   There is great encouragement for me in this.  Despite the challenges, Jesus is building his Church.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Good Friday (2)

I wrote yesterday that not many Presbyterian churches would be observing a Three Hours Devotion tomorrow but I learned last night that they might be more common than I thought.  Apparently many South African churches in the Reformed tradition will observe it in some form or another and there are more than just a few parish churches in Scotland where something similar will take place.  
A strict observance of the Christian Year was abandoned at the Reformation in Scotland.  There were good reasons for this but in course of time it was considered valuable to have designated times of the year when particular aspects of the Christian story were highlighted.  
Martin Luther never had any problem with the Christian Year and in fact much of his preaching was based on prescribed readings from a lectionary which followed the ancient liturgical rhythms.  
The good thing is that in the Church of Scotland we have the freedom to observe as much or as little of the Christian Year as we deem appropriate.  It should never be forgotten, however, that a dramatic step forward in Reformed practice occurred in Switzerland in 1519 when Ulrich Zwingli was appointed to the pulpit of the Great Minister in Zurich and announced that he intended  ‘with God’s help to preach the Gospel according to Mathhew in full and consecutive order and not divided into the prescribed extracts.’  This he did for a whole year.  
This was not new.  This was the method applied by men such as John Chrysostom who was Archbishop of Constantinople in the fourth century AD.  ‘Chrysostom’ means ‘Golden Mouth’.  That’s him on the left.  His preaching was regularly acclaimed by great outbursts of applause and it wasn’t unknown for him to be carried from his Church shoulder-high.  Ah, them were the days . . . 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Good Friday At The Cathedral

I am very happy to be taking part in the Three Hours Devotion this year at Glasgow Cathedral - especially as the 30th Anniversary of my Ordination there is next month.
You won’t find too many Presbyterian churches engaging in this.  As far as I can gather it was the idea of a Jesuit priest in the eighteenth century.   He saw the benefit of focussing on the words Jesus spoke from the Cross as a means of understanding more about the Passion.  I don’t know when this started at the Cathedral but it is one of the high points of the Christian year there.  There will be seven preachers in all, each taking one of the sayings of Jesus as a focus for his/her preaching.  Hymns are sung and prayers are said in between each one.  The whole thing takes three hours but whenever I have taken part I have never found it heavy going.  But for those who have other pressing engagements, they can come and go during the hymns.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Daffodils and Snow!

Amazing to wake up this morning to snow falling and on stepping out of doors to feel the icy blasts we thought we had left behind us.  But I suppose it was the heat-wave of last week which was exceptional for this time of year.  I remember one April after a heavy day in the University library stepping out and finding myself in the teeth of a blizzard.  John Macleod of Allander Evangelical told me last night that his sister has a photograph of the hills of Harris covered in snow and that was last May.
There are not too many references to snow in the Bible but one of the best known verses in Isaiah says:
‘Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow.’  (Isaiah 1: 18)
This time of the year is a reminder to us how this was finally achieved.  The sacrifice of Jesus is the means whereby everything that would prevent our fellowship with God has been removed and it is possible for us through faith to be part of His family now and through all eternity.  
Richard Tiplady began our Holy Week Services at St Luke’s last night.  Pray for him as he struggles with the aftermath of what he described as ‘man flu’.  We know all about that, don’t we boys?  

Monday, 2 April 2012

Eye Of The Tiger.

I managed a good workout at the gym today which involved hitting the pads with Ross, one of the Personal Trainers, with ‘Eye Of The Tiger‘ blaring out of the sound-system.  It was exhausting and exhilarating. (That’s not us on the left but you get the idea.)   I know the strong negative feelings people have about boxing and I understand them and respect them.   But I have always had a guilty respect for boxers.  I think they must be among the fittest and psychologically strongest of all sportsmen.  
My father boxed in his youth.  Although born in Inverkeithing in Fife he was brought up in the Gorbals in Glasgow.  Benny Lynch was a local hero and my father was among the hundreds who gathered at the Central Station in 1936 to welcome Benny back to Glasgow as the undisputed Flyweight Champion of the world having beaten Jackie Brown.  A Gorbals boy,  the first Scottish World Champion!
Father had a short but successful run as an amateur until his nose was broken.  He decided to retire then to save any further damage to his film-star looks.  I think, however,  his mother might have had something to do with that too.  
He still attended boxing bouts and in my childhood he commandeered the television and the radio if there were any important fights on the go.  In the early 1960s the World Heavyweight Championship fights were televised live to Scotland but very early in the morning.  I think around 5 am or 6 am.  He watched these before he went to work.  I wanted to be up to watch too but my mother always claimed she couldn’t rouse me.  Aye right!  This was the time when Floyd Patterson, Sonny Listen and a young upstart called Cassius Clay were the big names.  My father’s opinion of Clay was that he was ‘just a clown’ and Sonny Liston would shut his mouth forever.  I tended to agree.  Boasters and big-heads always came a cropper in the end.  But Cassius had not read that script.  The clown became the King.  
So boxing was always around when I was growing up although I never actually went as far as to participate.  After all, I was a child of the sixties, love and peace and all that. Furthermore, as the years went by I became like many people and began to have doubts about the whole thing.  Then I read a book by Jose Torres, a former Light-Heavyweight Champion of the the World,  called Sting Like A Bee.  I still have my copy, well-worn and heavily foxed.  As the title suggests it is about the former Cassius Clay, Muhammed Ali.  Eamonn Andrews, the best boxing commentator there ever was according to my father, wrote a review in which this deeply religious man said:
‘Booze and tobacco I constantly run away from as damaging, corrupting things.  For a long time I have been thinking the same about boxing and trying to push it away.  Then up comes a book like (this), and all the smell and sweat and the evil magic is back.’  
It is a remarkable book in which Torres lays bear the demanding lifestyle of a boxer in training and the physical strength and stamina that is required to sustain a contest.  Of more interest to me was the psychological strength that is required which Torres deems crucial to any boxer’s make-up.  For instance, he notes that Ali always had more bother disposing of white opponents.  He knew how to upset black opponents, to press the buttons that would disarm them and render them more vulnerable.  
Eamonn Andrews was right, though.  For some of us, though we may find boxing fascinating,  we can never defend it wholeheartedly.  But I enjoy hitting the pads - and that is the way it will stay.    

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Palm Sunday

There was a disturbing item this morning on the Radio 4 programme 'Sunday'.  Apparently at this time of the year donkeys are going missing all over the UK.  Suspicion is obviously falling on ministers desperate to do something new and eye-catching at their Sunday services.  This is an appalling witness.  I hope the poor animals are returned soon.  

By the way, what date did you say it is today?  

Despite the start of the holiday period there was an encouraging turn-out at the service this morning.  I hope this continues at the Holy Week services in St Luke's.  The preacher is Richard Tiplady, the Principal of International Christian College.