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

The Bookcase – it’s dangerous to go there!

I confess that looking in my bookcase is not something I do very often these days, as I now find it easier reading from my ‘Kindle’ due to print size, back lighting, and the ability to carry your whole library around with you. However I was searching in my bookcase yesterday for a particular book, and in the process was distracted by two other books that caught my eye! Books have power 🙂

One of the books I picked up and browsed was Tom Lennie’s ‘Land of Many Revivals’ – Scotland’s extraordinary Legacy of Christian revivals over four centuries 1527 – 1857, published in 2015.  What an amazing amount of research has gone into this book.  Many people will know, and have read of the Lewis Revival (1949-52) and perhaps have heard people speak about it at an event or on TV or You Tube.  But I guess most Scots are oblivious to the fact that this whole phenomena of Christian revival goes a long way back in Scottish history. 

Being a Glasgow boy I looked for ‘Glasgow’ in the index, and read with interest of George Whitefield’s visit in 1741 and of his subsequent visits. Even by 1751 Whitefield recorded that he was speaking to ten thousand souls every day, with people leaving their homes early in the morning to walk into the city to hear him. Countless numbers of people came to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, claiming Him to be their Saviour and Lord.

Pictures of Tiree

Since my ancestors came from the Isle of Tiree, that was where I next looked. I was interested to read that revival commenced there in the Congregational Church at the end of 1839, and spread to the Baptist Church. In the late 1830’s the Baptist pastor there, a Duncan MacDougal lamented – ‘sunk too much into formality, and we almost despair of prosperity’. By the end of 1840 MacDougal was exclaiming ’Our winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the time of the singing of birds has come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land’! There were frequent baptisms, one in April 1840 records 300-400 people on the edge of the loch witnessing the baptism of another six candidates. As I read that I wondered, was one of my ancestors among them? 

The other book that ‘caught my eye’ was ‘Covenanting Pilgrimages and Studies ‘ by A B Todd published in 1911. It was a kind of ‘Eureka’ moment when I put my hands on it. I had forgotten that I had it, and in recent months we have been visiting some of the many Covenanter monuments that are scattered around this area of East Renfrewshire, and throughout the South West of Scotland.  In fact I recently made a short video on this subject, (see below).         As an aside, the book is special because it originally was given to James Wands as a Bible Class prize in Glasgow. Jim Wands was one of my leaders as a teenager at our Christian Youth Centre, and later became my friend. I received the book from his library on his death.

Today it seems that in society at large, much of Scotland’s Christian heritage is ignored and set aside.  But it’s also encouraging to read of the many exciting things happening within churches of various denominations up and down the land, and the impact many are making in their communities.   My own Church is always packed out on a Sunday, and every day throughout the week a busy programme is in operation. 

Perhaps it is time to start praying again for ‘Revival’, as our nation and world seem in such chaos, and many individual lives are broken and in despair! May God again bless the people of Scotland!

And yes, I eventually found the book I was looking for!

Autumn’s Coming On!

It’s been another enjoyable year in the garden, but yes, ‘Autumn is Coming On’. The heather is out, and is still looking absolutely beautiful. The main apple tree has produced a very much reduced harvest this year, and the small apple tree produced no apples at all. I notice that my neighbour’s apple tree which is usually loaded with apples has none at all this year! Anyone know why? Maybe I need to get the ladder out and do some prunning! On the positive side our main tree has produced enough apples for some apple cakes, as the smell from the kitchen was telling me this afternoon. (See photo above)

Tomatoes plants on the other hand gave one of my best years ever. I picked the first tomatoes on 16 July and we have been picking them every week since. Photos above shows some still on the plants and others that I picked a couple of days ago. If the weather holds out we may get another few pounds yet, if not the chutney option will be implemented by my good wife.

Other things we do at this time of year is pick some local brambles, for our favourite bramble and apple jelly. This years crop gave us 8 lbs of jelly. It was quite difficult picking, as the wet weather had destroyed a lot of the brambles.

The flowers are now fading, apart from the dear old ‘Cosmos’ that are still attracting the bees, and I have started emptying the pots and refilling them with daffodil and tulip bulbs, but still have a long way to go on that. Soon the leaves will be falling and they will need to be vacuumed up. The grass will be given its last cut of the season, after which, I like to put down some ‘feed and weed’ before the winter, as it helps keep the moss at bay. In the greenhouse the hydrangea cuttings are ready for the Spring. And so ends another summer season, and the last of my garden reports for 2019.

At Church we always like to celebrate Harvest – and remind ourselves of the goodness of God. Paul says ‘He (God) has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy’ Acts 14.17 How true!

To all my fellow gardeners I hope you have had a great year, and are now studying the gardening catalogues, all being well, for Spring and Summer 2020 🙂

Magnificent Lake Maggiore – Italy

Earlier this month we embarked on a holiday to Lake Maggiore in Italy, along with our friends Dorothy and Iain. It was a part of Italy that we had never visited, and having read mixed reviews, we were excited to see how it would all turn out. We flew from Edinburgh to Milan, and as some comedian had remarked ‘it was sunny all the way’! We had some great views of the Alps, and their snow capped peaks as we approached Milan. On arrival there we were met by our tour guide and were driven by coach to our hotel at Baveno on the edge of the lake, passing many interesting towns and villages on the way. This would be our home for the next seven nights. We were pleased that the room we were allocated had a beautoful view out across the lake.

The itinerary that the tour company had arranged was excellent, in that it showed us a wide variety of places, and scenery, and we travelled by boat, rail and coach. We spent a day on the lake visiting the Barromean Islands with their variety of botanical gardens, palaces, exotic birds and flowers, and open air restaurants at the edge of the water. We had a visit to Lake Orta, and Orta ‘the Venice of the North’ the one time home of Francis of Assisi, we also had a visit to the island ‘Isola San Giulio’ home to an ancient chapel and convent. Our next official tour took us into the Alps at Macugnaga. The weather was favourable to us and the mountains with their snow capped peaks were absolutely amazing. The last official tour was to Locarno in Switzerland by means of coach and narrow gauge railway. It was incredible to think that we were still on the edge of Lake Maggiore when we arrived there, which highlighted the huge size of this lake.

Holidays like this give us an opportunity to meet people of different cultures and languages, to smile together and share in our common humanity. We might enjoy different foods, and dress styles, and have different colours of skin, but we share the same joys and sorrows, and the same hopes and fears for ourselves and our families. As a Christian I also like to think that we have a common need for a Saviour and friend, and that in Jesus Christ we have one who bridges all cultural and social barriers. There is a verse in the Bible that speaks of a day to come in heaven when we shall worship God together, it says ‘And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;

On our free days we went exploring on our own, and if you would like to see more you can watch the video of the holiday by clicking on the link below.