Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Well, we are still on lockdown, and like others I have been looking back on some of life’s adventures. 

Many years ago my wife and I and young daughter were returning home from a one year engineering contract that I had been working on in Thailand, and we decided to stop off in Israel for a holiday. It was a visit we had often talked about, and since we were ‘passing by their door’ as it were, it seemed the right time to do it.

We stayed at ‘St Andrew’s Guest House’ near to the Jaffa Gate of the old city. It was early March and we expected warm weather, but in Jerusalem the sleet was blowing across the Judaean hills and it was freezing cold.  We had ten days to tour Jerusalem and Israel, and thankfully the weather warmed up. Below are some of our photos of places we visited on this trip.

Prior to arriving I had read an article about ‘Hezekiah’s Tunnel’ and so was determined to see it. Hezekiah was an ancient King of Judah who reigned approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ. In the Bible, 2 Kings 20:20 we read of his reign – ‘’As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?’. (see also 2 Chronicles 32.30) 

So we walked down to the ancient city of Jerusalem, outside the old city walls, and were directed to the location and entrance to the tunnel by a guide. Down a steep set of stairs and soon we could hear the water running, still coming from the Gihon spring, mentioned so may times in the Bible. The water was running about 10 inches deep at the narrowest parts of the tunnel. UNFORTUNATELY THERE WAS ONLY ONE TORCH! It was impossible for the ones at the back to see properly and the rock beneath your feet was uneven so my wife and daughter thought it safer to go back. The entrance to the tunnel was low and narrow at places, and I just followed the guide through this chiselled rock, hewn by Hezekiah’s men 2700 years ago! The height and width of the tunnel vary as you walk through, and the water is running quite fast. The tunnel was dug through the rock from both ends, one starting at the Pool of Siloam and the other from the Gihon spring. Towards the southern end where the two teams met there is now a replicate plaque on the wall, copied from the original that is in a museum in Istanbul.  It reads:

When there were still 3 cubits to be excavated, there were the sounds of a man calling to his companion. On the day of the (completed) excavation, the stone-hewers struck out, each toward his opposite number, pick toward pick.”

The tunnel is about 600 metres long and takes 20 minutes or so to navigate. As you approach the pool of Siloam it was good to see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. And there waiting for me was my wife and daughter. Wow, that was for me a great adventure – the Bible text certainly is seen in living reality with a visit to Israel.

Hezekiah had ordered the tunnel to be built because Jerusalem’s water supply was outside the city wall and the people would be in grave danger in the event of an enemy attack or siege. In actual fact the city was later besieged by the Assyrian Army and the water tunnel was hugely significant in their survival. They were on lockdown, but lives were saved by Hezekiah’s foresight.

Sometimes we like to blame our politicians for their lack of foresight, perhaps justifiably at times, but this Corona virus lockdown shows that we too need to think ahead. So many of the things that we took for granted are now on hold and life seems somewhat frightening, uncertain and confusing. Figuratively, the pools that we drank from, for our security, pleasure and satisfaction have dried up! It reminds me of Jesus’ words to a woman at a well one day – “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) Eternal life? That sounds like an offer worth serious consideration, as we cope with lockdown and read of the growing fatalities of the Corona virus!

On another occasion Jesus standing in the temple court on a Jewish Feast Day, cried in a loud voice ‘If any one is thirsty let him come to me and drink.’  He wasn’t speaking of physical thirst, but of a thirst for meaning and purpose in life, indeed for God Himself! I came to Jesus many years ago, I can’t imagine life now without Him – He said, ‘I have come that ye might have life in all its fulness’ and I have proved that to be true -‘a well of water springing up to everlasting life’ is a great description.

He invites us all to come – so will you come? You could use the words of this hymn, which came to mind this morning as your prayer

Stay safe, God bless -Matthew

Fancy a walk through the tunnel? Click here:

Curtailed, but not Contained!

Sadly we had to cancel our planned visit to Oban and the isle of Tiree, which we were very much looking forward to during the next month or so. Caledonian MacBrayne have promised to refund our ferry charges, and also the cost of a day trip we had booked with them to Mull and Fingal’s Cave, but we may need to wait sometime for that to happen. Hopefully we can re-arrange the trip later.

Here in Scotland we have been experiencing an unusual spell of dry sunny weather for almost the whole month of April, so for those of us with gardens it has been a great blessing during this time of lockdown. The greenhouse is always busy in Springtime and there is never enough room for all the plants that are growing. Soon it will be time to replace the daffodils and tulips with other summer flowers, and of course there are a variety of tomatoes, lettuce and different types of peppers growing as well. Today my grandson Lewis arrived and helped by finishing off the power washing of our drive and patio he started last week, for which we were very grateful. Here are a few pictures.

Recent Travel: Some of you will be aware of the fact that my wife and I try and get away regularly for a day trip to some of Scotland’s beauty spots, but that has not been possible since mid March, so much more time has been in the garden. One trip that we did make just prior to the lockdown was to Killin in Perthshire, and Balquidder in Stirlingshire, on a rather cold and at times wet / snowy day, but none the less we did see something of Scotland’s beauties in spite of the weather.

We stopped at The Falls of Falloch just north of Loch Lomond and before Crainlarich for a coffee.
At Crainlarich we turned right and headed towards Lochearnhead, and watcched out for the Killin turn off sign on the left.
The village of Killin and the Falls of Dochart – Killin is at the western end of Loch Tay.
Inchbuie Island on the river Dochart – and the MacNab ancient burial ground!
We stopped here for lunch, unfortunately the Long House was not yet open!
Balquidder Church and churchyard, where Rob Roy MacGregor was buried and also David Carnegie
Balquider Churchyard – the cross and snowdrops speak of new life!
Muriel at Rob Roy MacGregor’s grave.

We travelled home via Calander and Aberfoyle enjoying some magnificent scenery along the way. Total distance travelled approx. 140 miles. We left Glasgow around 12 noon and were home for dinner by 6pm!

In spite of the lovely weather and garden however, our thoughts are never far away from those on the NHS front line, doctors, nurses and carers, ambulance drivers and so many others, who are battling this virus. Perhaps especially our prayers are with those who grieve the loss of one they loved. Some of our friends are in these categories and perhaps your friends are too. At this time of trouble, I love the verse of an old hymn that says,

‘Have we trials and temptations? is there trouble anywhere
we should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorry share
Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.’


Take care, and God bless
Matthew

Thanksgiving and Reflections during the Corona pandemic

My wife and I are self isolating like so many others during the Corona Virus  pandemic. We are grateful to God for a home, and garden in which to rest and exercise and for family and friends who look after us. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who today are struggling with the virus, those who mourn for friends and loved ones, our NHS staff, for carers, for police and all on the front line. Also the poor and needy around the world with no medical help.

It’s also a good time to read and reflect. The book of psalms is one of my favourites and I invariably turn to it in times of crisis for quietness and reflection. It was written over a period of approximately 1000 years and was compiled around 530 BC.  Psalm 90, is said to be the oldest psalm, and was written by Moses almost 3500 years ago!   I find that I so often relate to the writers as they express their wonder at God’s creation, rejoice in the good things of life, and mourn and complain to God about the seeming injustices of life, and the sorrow and anguish that besets them.

Psalm 23 has been read and memorised by people down through the generations, and there are few adults who have not attended a special event or funeral where it was not read or sung. It is said to be ‘Scotland’s most loved psalm’, sung by small groups and large.

It’s obvious as we read it, that the main person in the Psalm is God, the Shepherd, and that we as humans are likened to the sheep. David, who wrote it was himself a shepherd, and speaks elsewhere about having saved his sheep from the lion and the bear, although they were probably unaware of it! I wonder, if God has done the same for me when I was in danger?

David realises his need for a shepherd in his own life. One who will give guidance, safety, protection, provision and hope, which he so beautifully expresses in this poem. In fact he describes all our deepest hopes and longings, not just for ourselves and those we love, but for the world at large. Which of us would not like to see a world where people lacked nothing, and lay down in peace?

All the things that our politicians and political systems of all persuasions have consistently failed to adequately provide. Today in the midst of the ‘Corona Virus’ pandemic, when people are scared and petrified, and our health services are struggling to cope with the numbers, and where stock markets and world economies are collapsing, we tend to forget the chaos in so many other departments of our world!

Just think of this for a moment:

  • Tonight 850 million people will go to bed hungry
  • 2.1 billion people in the world have no access to clean water
  • According to WHO 400 million people have no access to adequate health care
  • Around 56 million babies are aborted worldwide every year
  • 53,000 people died in armed conflicts in 2018

Then consider this: 

  • Total world military expenditure rose to $1,822 billion in 2018 
  • Global government space budgets totalled $70.9 billion in 2018
  • The porn industry’s net worth in February 2017 was said to be $97 billion.
  • Alcohol and Drug abuse in 2018 cost the UK economy £36 billion, in the USA $274 billion (2016)
  • We could mention the refugee/displaced people crisis, the pandemic of violence against women, the mental health crisis, the suicide rates …. etc etc.

Do you get the feeling that something’s wrong with the world? In response to that question asked in a newspaper article some years ago, G. K. Chesterton the famous writer, scholar and philosopher responded by saying,  ‘Dear Sir, I am’. And that is why I too need a shepherd. The prophet Isaiah wrote in chapter 53 of his prophecy these words, sung so magnificently in ‘Handels Messiah’,  ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way;’

I guess we all know that’s true, for on too many occasions in our lives we have ‘gone astray’, you know it, and I know it. No need really to think about wars in far flung places, what about the war in our minds, our homes, or in our supermarkets over toilet rolls and hand sanitiser? Enough to make you smile if it was not so serious.  The Bible simply but profoundly says ‘for all have sinned’.

As we approach Easter, we are reminded that Psalm 23 points forward to Jesus. He is the one who said, ‘I am the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep’ and at His birth his mother was told, ‘call His name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sin’.

The story is told of the Shakespearean actor who would on occasions finish his performance by reciting Psalms 23 to rapturous applause.  One night he asked his young  ‘stand-in’ to recite the psalm. He read it quietly and slowly. When he finished there was no applause, but some handkerchiefs could be seen as people wiped their eyes and the occasional sound of someone weeping.  The actor was amazed at the effect the young ‘stand-in’ had had on the audience, and asked, how did you manage that? He replied, Sir, the thing is, you know the psalm, but I know the shepherd. You see, if you are to know all the blessings of which this psalm speaks, you have to know the shepherd. The story Jesus told in the book of Luke chapter 15 of the lost sheep, tells us that this shepherd Jesus, is looking for YOU and for me!

As the corona virus runs rampant in our world it’s so important to know the shepherd, as we, or someone we love could die! And don’t we want to know God’s presence in the valley, and don’t we all want to dwell in His presence? And of course we all expect to die one day.  How do I get to know this Shepherd? This prayer can be prayed earnestly from the heart.  

Dear Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that you are the Son of God, The Good Shepherd who came into the world to find sheep that were lost. I know that I have gone astray many times! I am truly sorry for my sin, please forgive me. Thank you for giving your life for me, and dying in my place, so that I may be forgiven. I want you to be my shepherd, I welcome you into my life and promise to follow you as my Lord for the rest of my days. Thank you – Amen

Prayed the prayer? Now read the psalm again, rest your head on the pillow tonight and sleep in peace, the shepherd, the Lord of Heaven and Earth is watching over you. He said, I give to my sheep eternal life and they shall never perish! 

Happy Easter – Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed!

Matthew

the tomb is empty

NB: If you prayed the prayer, and /or need further help please feel free to contact me. matthewmuriel@aol.com.

Pray with us for an end to the pandemic and for healing and peace for all whose lives have been affected.

Is My Life Significant or Completely Insignificant?

There is one day in February that everyone remembers – St Valentine’s Day! A day when traditionally men and women express their love and loyalty to that one special person in their life. I think it’s a good tradition in a world of constant wars and hostility, internationally, locally and sadly often at a personal level. Someone special saying, ‘I love you’ does help us feel some sense of warmth, value, worth and significance.

This month I have also gone back to working on my family tree. A pursuit which engages countless thousands around the globe. There is a sense of significance in knowing where you and your family fit into the great story of humankind, where your ancestors originated from, and some of the things they did, or did not achieve. ‘It’s one of life’s great thrills to have the sense of belonging to a goodly company and a goodly fellowship.’ So said Eric Linklater as he thought of the men in his company who lived and died with him during WW1 (quoted by the late William Barclay) Our branch of ‘the McKinnons’ came from Tiree, and with the help of others I am pleased to have traced the McKinnons back in time to a Flory McKinnon who lived in Tiree in 1742. How significant is that 🙂

The Tiree Connection goes a long way back!

In contrast, another event took place on the 14 February this year, which seems to convey a completely opposing message, suggesting in fact that we are completely insignificant. I refer to NASA’s publishing of an enhanced version of ‘the pale blue dot’ picture taken from ‘Voyager 1’ on 14 February 1990. Surely it must rank amongst the greatest and most iconic photographs of all time! I love this photograph, I marvel at the technology and ingenuity of man that allowed it to be taken some 4 billion miles away from our sun, as Voyager 1 headed out into interstellar space.

The Pale Blue Dot – Can you spot it?

When you consider the minuteness of our planet and solar system buried in the outer edges of our ‘Milky Way’ galaxy with its billion stars, amongst another billion galaxies in the universe, it surely raises the question, how significant are we? Is our life a sad, meaningless journey from nothing to nothing? A blob of carbon floating from one meaningless existence to another as Bertrand Russell put it? Or is ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more’? As in ‘Macbeth’

Scientific research in my lifetime has been phenomenal, and it seems the more science reveals the more we  come to appreciate not only the need for God, but see the evidence for God, and wonder at His awesome greatness. The fine tuning of the Universe at one end of the scale, and the intrinsic detail of the human cell with its DNA, at the other end testify to Him.  Anthony Flew the great atheistic scientist, philosopher and writer of the last century published his final book entitled ‘There is a God’. It makes for an interesting read. What changed his mind? He followed the advice of Socrates, and stated ‘I have followed the argument where it has led me. And it has led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being.’

This God I believe has revealed Himself to us, not only in creation, but in His Son Jesus Christ. Those who knew Him personally,  listened to His words, saw His miracles, witnessed His life and death, rejoiced at His resurrection and ascension, and put their experiences in writing so that we too might know Him. The disciple John in his book starts speaking about Jesus by sayingIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.’ He finishes his book by saying, ’Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

So as a follower of Jesus my ultimate significance comes not from my ancestry or from any other source, but from God Himself. Paul the Apostle says, ‘I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ No wonder Paul goes on to say ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ‘!

When it comes to the big questions of life, sadly, as David Robertson* has noted, there are far too many people who are agnostic and just do their best to avoid thinking. But as Blaise Pascal said, ‘there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.’ 

I’ve enjoyed thinking through this question of life’s significance, it’s good to consider if you are building on a sure foundation.

If you are interested in reading further I recommend:

  • John’s Gospel
  • The Magnificent Obsession – David Robertson*
  • The Atheist who Didn’t Exist – Andy Bannister
  • The Devil’s Delusion – Atheism and its scientific pretensions. – David Berlinski

Hurrah! The Picnic Season has started!

Well now that the busy period over Christmas and New Year has passed, we have the opportuniity to once again think of getting out of town. We love the outdoors! Glasgow is the perfect base for moving around as it has a great road and transport network, and is in close proximity to hills and mountains, seas and lochs, rivers and gardens.

Last week, spotting a break in the rather ‘driech’ weather, we prepared the sandwiches and flask, and at 12.15pm headed north towards Loch Lomond. We had no definite plan, but just intended to see if the weather would work out as the forecasters had suggested. It turned out to be the most perfect afternoon!

Leaving the little village of Arrochar at the top of Loch Long we proceeded to the top of the ‘Rest and be Thankful’ pass, where we turned left and headed down ‘Hell’s Glen’ on the steep single track road. We stopped to watch a sky diver floating in the blue sky amongst the snow capped peaks and enjoyed the beauty of God’s amazing creation. Right at the bottom of the hill we found a stranded motorist looking for someone with ‘jump leads’. Unfortunately we did not have any, and the driver did not belong to a motoring organisation, but after flagging down a few drivers we fortunately found someone who could help him.

The road led us on to Loch Fyne (once famous for its herring) and passing through Saint Catherine’s and Strachur we headed for the ferry terminal at Dunoon. We enjoyed endless photo opportunities along the way, and arrived at the terminal just in time to catch the ferry to Gourock, before heading home to Glasgow by 5.15pm. What a perfect day!

This week was so different, but also very enjoyable. We are only half and hour from the Ayrshire Coast, so with flask and sandwiches, we headed for our favourite reading spot at Irvine harbour. The tide was really high, the wind was howling and the sea was roaring, but the scene was spectacular! Just a few cars in the car park, so we were able to sit at the front and enjoy the spectacle.

I wonder, if like me, a song, a poem or hymn comes to mind when you are out walking or sightseeing? A hymn that I haven’t heard for years, but which we sang many times in our male voice choir came rushing back to mind. I wish I could still sing it 🙂 but the lyrics go like this:

Tho' the angry surges roll,                                                                                                               on my tempest riven soul,                                                                                                                   I am peaceful for I know,                                                                                                             loudly tho' the winds may blow,                                                                                                  I've an anchor safe and sure,                                                                                                     that shall evermore endure.                                                                                                    Chorus                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      And it holds, my anchor holds:
Blow your wildest, then, O gale,
   On my barque so small and frail;
By His grace I shall not fail,
              For my anchor holds, my anchor holds.                                                                                                                                                                                   -o-                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         NB. The anchor in the song, you may have guessed is Jesus!                                       

One picture per month from 2019 reflecting the beauty and joys of life

As we come to the end of the year, it’s nice to look back and review the year in pictures! I have selected one of my pictures from each month of the year, not an easy task when you are a compulsive photographer!! It might just have been easier choosing 12 of my favourite pictures. It does remind us however of the many blessings we have enjoyed throughout 2019.

JANUARY 2019 – This country lane just a few miles from our house is a favourite drive in winter!

FEBRUARY 2019 – ‘The Lonely Planet’ a visit to St Abb’s Head and Eyemouth in winter!
MARCH 2019 – Beautiful Inversnaid on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond
APRIL 2019 – A walk to Greenan Castle on the Ayrshire Coast on a sunny Spring day!
MAY 2019 – Glen Nevis at the foot of the Ben – a place of quiet serenity!
JUNE 2019 – Lachlan Castle on the edge of Loch Fyne, and a baby Loch Ness monster?
JULY 2019 – Irvine on the Clyde – always good for a paddle!
AUGUST 2019 – Ah, how I love my garden! Flowers in August!
OCTOBER 2019 – Two of our great-grandchildren reaching new heights!
NOVEMBER 2019 – A walk on the local Golf Course on a frosty Morning!

As we look forward to a new year and a new decade, I wish you all a Happy New Year, and God’s help and blessing in a very uncertain world. I like to follow the advice given to me by my father many moons ago. ‘Trust God from the bottom of your heart; dont try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track’. Proverbs 3:5-6

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

As Christmas approaches again we are all, it seems, inevitably caught up in the hype and hysteria as our ‘inboxes’ are bombarded by ‘Black Friday’ special offers from a multitude of retailers, plus the advertisements on TV, in newspapers and bill-boards. Then follows the rush to buy a ‘unique’ present for the lengthening list of recipients, not to mention Christmas cards, Christmas tree, Christmas lights and decorations. And of course there is the turkey, frozen or fresh?  The vegetables, brussel sprouts or cauliflower? The sweet, profiteroles or black forest gateau? fresh cream or ice cream? and on and on ….. 

My ‘man’ approach to all this is, set a budget, make a list of ‘who’ and ‘what’ for cards and presents, then decide what decorations, food, and drinks are required, drive to the nearest shopping centre and buy them! But, I’m married, so my better half thinks we must first go around the shops to see what they have, and then choose! Guess who wins? 😉 The late Derick Bingham in his excellent little book ‘When the Storks Flew South’ starts by stating that ‘a recent study concluded that all of us face between 300 – 17,000 decisions every day’, and I think that in our house we are approaching the top end of the scale right now!

Bingham in his book looks at some of the major decisions made by men and women down through the centuries that changed the course of history! And here in the UK we are being told that as a nation we are facing such a choice as we approach the 12 December election. So what will the nation decide? Who should lead the nation? and in what direction? Should we have Brexit or no Brexit? a ‘Hard’ or a ‘Soft’ Brexit?  Then there is the ‘trust’ question, who can we believe as we are promised an end to austerity and a huge surge in spending in everything from the NHS to police, from education to infrastructure, and from wages to pensions? Not to mention questions on Global warming, Scottish and Welsh Independence and the intractable question of the Irish border and Stormont? 

If you are like me, I confess that I am not impressed with the options when it comes to proposed leaders, and I have some serious questions about some of their proposals, so for the first time ever I find myself in the ‘undecided’ camp!

But are any of these questions of ultimate importance? I video recorded my friend Andy Hunter giving a different slant on Christmas recently, and you can click on the link below to hear what he says, when it comes to ultimate questions.  

Meantime I wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas, and God’s blessing in the New Year, whatever the nation may decide on December 12th!

Matthew