Rain on the Just and Unjust


Photo credit: Daily Express

I recently came across a posting in which the author made a “what I don’t want to happen to me” list, which she rudely titled her “*uck-it” list.  While the swearing is far from my focus here, I did have to reflect on the concept.  What would I have on such a list?  I therefore began the mental exercise to formulate one, and then to note (sadly) that my list is nearly complete.

I came up with about fifteen items, which I have edited down to 10 for this post. So here is my “Please, Not Me” list:

  • Been Shot (if pellet guns count)
  • Been Shot at  (actual firearm)
  • Been Stabbed
  • Had a Heart Attack 
  • Lost a Child
  • Had Cancer (though my wife has)
  • Been made redundant (laid off)
  • Had a car accident
  • Had emergency surgery
  • Been Burgled 

What have I learned from reflecting on this list? Life is not fair, bad things happen to good people, and to ordinary people, and to bad people alike. All of the points on the list are unfortunately part of the human condition.

Jesus recognised this when he told His disciples in Matthew 5: 45 b, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” This world is not perfect.  This life (despite what many desire) is not an end unto itself. Our daily walk can be, and often is, arduous.

Even the righteous man, Job suffered.  But herein, we have a Spirit inspired lesson to learn. Job discovered that even in hardship. God is still God.  We may want to control our world.  We may want to avoid the items on our anti-bucket list.  But these are not options open to our limited powers.  We need to realise that it is God who is control of the world, and even those pains of life have a purpose.  They may be so that we can grow.  They may be that we let go of our need to control.  They ultimately lead us to rely on Him.


Burns’ Night Reflections

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Tonight is known as Burns’ Night, a celebration of Scotland’s iconic poet.  In tribute, I will be making turnips and potato (neeps and tatties) and preparing a gluten-free haggis for my wife and some smoked Scottish salmon.

Scottish themed dinner aside, Burns is noted for famously reflecting in his “To A Mouse,” that, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley.” Put simply, the plans of both beasts and men often fail.

This is no clearer than in Judges 9.  In this side story in the biblical narrative we find Abimelek, the son of Gideon plotting with his mother’s people against his seventy brothers.  His aim is to be made king, a title and role his father had eschewed.  He surrounds himself with a group of ruffians and kills his brethren.   He then is proclaimed king, though he is called out and cursed by his youngest brother who has escaped the carnage by hiding.

Like Burns’ mousie, Abimelek’s scheme fails.  God in the end punishes him for the treachery towards his brothers, and his presumption to rule rather than giving the lead to God.  Abimelek has a falling out with his supporters, and this leads to open conflict.  Those rebelling against him become hold up in a tower, which he personally assaults with the aim of burning down its gates. It is at this point that a woman in the tower drops a millstone crushing his skull.  The scripture reflects, “56 Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelek had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers.”

Who is the author of our plans today?  Are they “of mice and men,” or of God?





Pastor Rich centred the family service on Matthew 7:24-27 this week.  It is well known as the parable of the wise and foolish builders.

‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’

The idea is clear, we need to make the foundations of our lives firm.  All too often people choose the wrong foundation to build their lives on however.  For some (especially in this present age) it is based on fame and prestige.   People seek out their fifteen minutes of fame.  Celebrity is a do all and end all in itself.  For others it is artificial crutches of drugs or alcohol which are seen to be needed “just to get through the day.” And yet for others, who may well look down upon those who build of the values of the world, they themselves often fall into the trap of “self-righteousness.”

But Jesus said there is a firm foundation, beyond the temporal, the artificial, and the self that gives life true meaning.  These are Jesus’  “words of mine  . . . puts  . . . into practice.” I remember a youth minister decades ago saying that each of us has a Christ-shaped vacuum within our lives.  Many of us seek to fill it with the wrong things.  Only Jesus, the true rock of foundation is sufficient to bear us up when “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew.”  

Are your foundations set in the rock of God’s love today, or on the sand of the illusion of stability?  Let us seek to dig deep into the stone of truth, and put the word into practice today.  Let’s be wise builders.


Honouring Foolishness?

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Do we honour folly?  I am not asking if we avoid shaming foolishness, but rather do we go so far in our attempts to uplift everyone, that we celebrate the lack of wisdom?

In today’s world it is not generally acceptable to shame anyone,  and while I am the first to uphold the idea of the human dignity of all, the Bible does indicate that folly should not be honoured.

The Bible praises wisdom.  This practical application of knowledge, is the ideal the people of God are called to.  Ecclesiastes 12 sums wisdom up simply, “13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. “

Much of our current celebrity culture goes in the face of this. “Reality” programming makes “stars” of individuals who for their proverbial 15 minutes of fame, are prepared to air their misdeeds and follies to the world.  Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle have made their television careers based on exploiting the vanity of such individuals.  Even the antics of politicians such as Boris Johnson seem to endear them to the public at large, if for no other reason the comic relief of the absurdity of it all. Face it, sage steadfast individuals are seen as “boring.”

But the scriptures make a point of warning against such elevation of foolishness. Proverbs 26 :1 reads, “Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool.”  Do you want snow in the growing season, or damp on your drying grain?  Of course not.  So in like manner honour is not fitting for those who show folly.

In fact chapter 26 continues with a warning, when it comes to putting trust in those who lack wisdom. “Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison (verse 6).” 

Verse 8, extends the discussion to the futility of elevating those lacking wisdom. It says it is, “Like tying a stone in a sling, is the giving of honor to a fool.”  

There is a response to folly (and to be fare we all fall into it sometimes).  It is the return to the Ecclesiastes passage cited above.  Fear God, and follow His ways.  And how do we know what those are? Simple: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).”

When we see unwise, self-destructive, or just silly practice we are not to shame.  When we are confronted with it though, we should not promote, encourage or celebrate it either.  We should in a spirit of love seek to instruct in wisdom and point out folly.  Not shame, but correction.  And above all, don’t encourage folly.


Slippery Slope Ethics


Slippery Slope image from The Guardian

The “slippery slope” is often used in the rhetoric of ethical discourse.  It follows a basic pattern.  If A is allowed, it must follow that will or should be followed for the same reason.  An example is the argument against euthanasia. If we allow a terminally ill person to end their life prematurely because it is only speeding up the inevitable, and it is a compassionate act owing to pain or quality of life, then we should allow the same end for someone who is not yet terminal, as their pain or quality of life is of equal value.

Let me first say, I am not advocating euthanasia.  I am in the sanctity of life camp on this one, but as a philosophical and ethical model it is an interesting starting point.  Let’s look at some scenarios.

Person A has a severe terminal ailment in which they will become totally paralyzed and fail to even be able to swallow.  They will die of this, and should we spare them the pain and agony of such a death?  If so, should Person B who was an active sporty individual who has suffered a broken neck be allowed to end their life?  They are not going to die from their injury, but they are now dependent on others for all of their basic needs, including post toilet wiping, and feedings. It can be argued such is no quality of life.  Should this be allowed as an act of compassion?  If so, what about Person C who has a similar but not as severe injury.  They can feed themselves, and have limited mobility via a wheelchair.  But they do not enjoy the level of freedom they had before their injury.  Do they rate the “compassionate” end?  I have seen the slippery slope taken all the way in this vein to Person F who is “suffering” a “bad hair day.”  The question is, do each of these necessarily follow from its predecessor?

I advise my students to check the validity of the slope argument by reversing it to a Slippery Mountain.  Does your end point necessarily lead to the next step?

So much for hypothetical arguments.  What about day to day morality?

It is interesting that the 10th Commandment (Exodus 20:17) in many ways is the most harsh of the set.  It is not based on action, but on thought.  But it is indeed clever to have this mechanism in the commands.  After-all, if you don’t covet your neighbour’s wife you will not be tempted to commit aultrery.  If you are not jealous of his/her reputation, you will not slander them.  If you don’t desire their property you wont steal it.  And if you have no desire for his things, reputation, or relationships – why bother murdering him?

Jesus uses this same approach in Matthew 5:27-28.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Here again there is the challenge to avoid a thought.  Okay, in this case it is linked to the action of looking – but it is specific in the intent behind the “look.”  It does not say don’t gaze upon a woman (or man), but rather don’t do so “lustfully.”  If you are not entertaining impure thoughts, the actions will not follow.  Here we have our slippery mountain scenario.  I Timothy 5 aids us in this in verses 1b and 2, “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”  It is all in the approach and attitude.  If the contact is pure, the actions that follow will be as well.

There are real slippery slopes out there.  We need to approach them in a spirit of purity, we need to not create situations in which one action (or thought) leads to more negative consequences.  It is so in keeping with God’s care of us, that He has given us the models of Exodus 20 and Matthew 5.


Of Youthful Fervour and Mature Wisdom


I have been teaching young people ever since I was technically one myself. I have seen amazing things from the young.  There is an enthusiasm in youth which those of us of less tender years can marvel at.  There are some drawbacks to this fervour as well, such as the tendencies to see things only as “black and whites” with little understanding of nuance, and the zeal which makes them at times rush in less than prepared.

There is an interesting case-study of this in John 8: 3-9.  The crowd was in an uproar.  Both old and young, were full of “righteous indignation.”  “ The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.” 

Jesus’ charge to have the one without sin cast the first stone, called for reflection.  Jesus’ meaning was therefore picked up upon by those with the most experience first. They could see and understand their own shortcomings.  They could when using their own conduct as the measure, see beyond the “black and white.”

The Apostle Paul seems to have grown in wisdom during his ministry.  He a man a zeal in the early chapters of Acts, was full of his youthful, culturally based “truths” as well.  He persecuted the church because it was “the right thing to do.”  But the Damascus experience turned him in a new direction.  But not without diminishing his fervour (or self-view).  His, maturing is road-mapped in his own writings.

In Galatians 1: 1 (written circa 53 AD), he refers to himself as, “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”  Paul and his office are introduced.  Yet, within a year, he addresses himself as “the least of the apostles” 1 Corinthians 15:9 (circa 53-54 AD).  This gradual diminishing of his self and elevation of “Him crucified” continues in Ephesians 3:8, “I am the least of all the saints…” (circa 62 AD).  Here no longer least of the apostles, but of all Christians.  His journey of Paul chief of sinners 1 Timothy 1:15 (placed by many as circa 64-65)

This should not be surprising.  Job 12:12 reflects, ” Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” This said though, we need to give youthful zeal its do. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (I Timothy 4:12).”  Even the young can show maturity (in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” It was evident in Timothy and in David as Psalm 71:5 “For You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.”

Such maturity is not always easy (not even for many of advanced years), but Peter offers a starting point to this attitude of wisdom, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).”  This was the lesson Paul seemed to learn between Galatians and I Timothy.

These musings call each of us to examine our walks.  For the young – are you seeking wisdom and guidance? It is not the place here to seek a dig at “youthful folly” (Proverbs 7:7 and others) but to encourage as Paul and Peter did, the attitudes of maturity that the young are so remarkable in achieving. For those of us who are older (and we pray wiser), do we still hold on to the vision and zeal of our youth (either physically or spiritually)?  And do we show the humility of an aging Paul?  Do we offer our wisdom in a spirit humility with the goal of lifting others and not ourselves?  May God give each of us balance.





Born Anew, Then Grow Anew


Many of us are aware of Jesus’ charge to Nicodemus to “be born again.” This had a particular spiritual significance, but the gospel account leaves us with the idea of being born of both water and spirit.

Peter on the other hand picks up on the implications of the concept. I Peter 2 reads, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Jesus had told His disciples that they needed to be like little children.  Peter then expands on this.  Like small children, we need to have an innocent and forgiving nature free of “malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.”  Okay, children do exhibit some of these traits, but I would argue they are learned through observation of us older than themselves.  As a whole the measure of this innocence is greater in them.  Jesus and Peter focus on this.

But Peter goes further. He calls on us to be as babies (not even as small children) to “crave pure spiritual milk.” This milk is the teachings, ideals, and examples of the scriptures. We are to grow by the food of God, not the dainties of the world. If we do, then our nature will be conformed to the spiritual and not the profane.

So to sum up – avoid ego and its accompanying vices. Seek that which is spiritually, emotionally, and socially positive.  Grow!


Safety in Numbers (Part 2)


Gideon was a man of contradictions, yet God chose him to lead Israel against the Midianites.  Here the judge and general begins his campaign with an army of 30,000. And in another of God’s seeming ironies, He tells Gideon his army is “too big.”

So those who are afraid of the coming battle are relieved of their duties and sent to the rear.  He now faces the host of Midian with 10,000 men.  Judges 7 relates, “But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.’ So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.”

So Gideon now has command of 300 men.  But, I thought there was safety in numbers? Here again we see that God’s ways are not our ways. Gideon divides his men into 3 units.  Each is given a horn and a hidden torches.   “They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. 20 The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.”

Safety was not in numbers, but in the Lord.  Strength was not in swords, but in wisdom and cunning.  Victory was not Gideon’s but God’s.

Where are we putting our trust today?



The Magic of Words

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Humans are endowed with imagination, and this has aided us in the symbolic medium of language.  We can communicate beyond the easily apparent.  We can describe a far-off land, or even better – abstract concepts.

An experiment I try with every first year class is to ask them to show me “one.”  I am then usually presented with an assortment of single fingers, pens, and books.  To which I respond, that is a finger, pen, etc. Some then turn to writing the figure “1,” to which I respond, “Then show me five.”  To this I am offered a “5.”  I in turn say, “There is only one symbol there.”  The end comes with the realisation that one or five are merely concepts.  You can see “one.”  One pencil, yes; “one,” no.

So it is that our language captures the concepts and constructions of our imaginations.  It is indeed a kind of magic.  I can tell you of a peaceful lagoon, with waters that glisten with the lustre of crumpled foil, that has been smoothed out.  The blue is that of a robin’s egg, and the sand a coral white.  Many of you will be able to share this invisible image with me.

There is the wizardry.  We as adepts in our own tongues can create “reality” from nothing!

How absolutely powerful is the creation account of the Judeo-Christian scriptures?  For we in our use of language are “in the image of God.”  God said in Genesis “Let there be . . .” and it was so.  In John’s gospel we similarly see, “In the beginning was The Word . . .” and nothing that was made was made without Him.  God created with words, and so do we.  [Don’t get me wrong, and think I am equating creation with “magic,” I am merely illustrating the power of words, and any verbal creation of ours must by necessity pale to true physical creation].

We then, as agents of this verbal power should create with good intention.  The words we use to paint a sunset, can also be used to bring darkness on the soul of the one we criticise.  With great power verbal magicians, comes great responsibility.



Authority over Authorities

scrollMany people practice a deference to authority.  This in part is drilled into us by parents, then later by teachers.  It is the rare individual who openly questions “why?”  Most of us take certain points for granted because someone in authority “said so.”

Okay, at one level, when your maths teacher tells you 5 x 5 = 25, it is a fairly safe bet (at least in base 10), but what about historical “facts,” and theological truths?  Here we need to seek greater authorities.

I do find it funny at times when that one brave student queries an orthodoxy.  “But, how do we know? We weren’t there!”  Here evidence from contemporary writings and testimony from near history are useful.  Archaeology, in part comes to the aid of such explanations as well.  But, where might we find such authority?   It certainly isn’t from my own “absolute knowledge.”  The best I can do is make appeal for the authorities that educated me. Or is that the best?  What might be even better?

There are some instances where a source can be said to be ultimately trustworthy.  In Acts 17 we find that,  “10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  The Bereans were not prepared to just take this itinerant rabbi’s word for things. They went to the source, to Tanakh to see if his words held up to scrutiny.  

I have in my life been under authority.  I followed orders as a matter of duty.  The military works that way.  But the authority was from a source, the regulations and traditions of the service.  The arbitrary commands of a superior were always in light of this greater authority.  

Scripture provides a similar bedrock of authority.  It is not the fleeting dictate of any rabbi, priest, or minister that makes a point “true,” but the Word of God itself.  I therefore challenge us today to seek Authority rather than the authorities for our answers.