Stop! Look up, and stand in awe!

A view through our bedroom window

People have been looking to the night skies for millennia, eager to understand the wonders of our universe, and our place amidst the myriad of stars. The book of Job, written somewhere between 6000 – 4000 BC speaks of God in reference to the stars and constellations, familiar in our world of today. Quote –

He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.
He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
Job 9:8,9

Countless books and charts have been made by astronomers and astrologers, and now with the right app you can just point your ipad at the night sky and identify the stars and planets as they make their regular circuits in the silence of the night.

An example of my night photographs

As I look through my library of photographs I’m amazed at how many photos I have of the moon and night sky, in spite of my limited knowledge and equipment. Above are just a few taken recently on the edge of the city with all of its light pollution, so I think it’s time we made another trip to the ‘dark sky park’ in Ayrshire, or alternatively perhaps we could visit the planetarium? Yes, that’s exactly what we did!

Glasgow Science Centre including Planetarium and IMAX theatre

This is the Science Centre on the banks of the river Clyde, which runs through the heart of Glasgow. Among many other wonders at the Science Centre is the Planetarium

The Planetarium, plus the planet Information board

It’s amazing just to lie back and be guided around the sky by an expert, and although the quality of the sound was unfortunately not too great from the hand held microphone, somehow it didn’t seem to matter too much. Lying there just trying to grasp the size and scale of our galaxy with its billions of stars, and considering the countless other galaxies, that was in itself enough to keep this old mind of mine fully occupied. Unfortunately photography was not allowed, but the above charts of the planets (in order, from the nearest to the sun first) were in public display. It should be said however that ‘Pluto’ has now been down graded from a planet to a ‘mini planet’.

Photos from ‘Our beautiful planet’ 3D film at the Imax theatre.

A few weeks later we heard that the IMAX theatre were showing a 3D film entitled ‘Our Beautiful Planet’ so we made plans to see it. Above are some shots taken during the show, plus a couple of photos from our earlier visit to the Planetarium display area. The 3D experience makes you feel as if you are right there in the International Space Station, looking out of the windows – absolutely amazing! The Earth shines like a jewel in the canopy of space, and in spite of much searching no other inhabitants in space have as yet been found. Scientists however say they have located a planet similar to earth, but it is said to be 500 light years away. To reach it would take approximately 18 million years! Sometimes you feel it is beyond comprehension. So many statistics to blow your mind! Here’s another one I came across recently – If the sun was a hollow sphere how many ‘Earth size’ planets would it take to fill it? Well, it is said to be 1.3 million earths, and our star the Sun, is a dwarf sompared to other stars in our galaxy. Whew!

Reflection: This week I was talking on line to my great grandson who goes to school in Africa, and was asking ‘What were you learning at school today? He said ‘GG’ (Great Grandpa) ‘we are doing a project on the planets, and I was asked to introduce it to the other classes‘. Not bad for a wee guy about to turn six years of age. A day or so later I received a newsletter from a Christan friend also working in Africa and he sent me this photo of their ‘Kids Club’, He said, the children are memorising Psalm 8. Psalm 8?

‘When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him’.

600+ children at the kids club!

They did not know I was reading ‘The Planets’ a best seller by Andrew Cohen with Professor Brian Cox, plus re-reading Lee Strobel’s book, written as an investigative journalist, ‘The Case for a Creator’. All facinating stuff which certainly gives one a reality check, if we are getting too carried away with our own importance!

The advances made in the study and exploration of the universe during the last 30+ years have been quite staggering to say the least. Much has been said and written about the fine tuning of the universe. Strobel says, ‘Just about everything about the basic structure of the universe is balanced on a razor’s edge for life to exist. The coincidences are far too fantastic to attribute this to mere chance … the dials are set too precisely to have been a random accident. Somebody, as Fred Hoyle quipped, has been monkeying with the physics’. A number of examples are given to illustrate the point, but you had best read it for your self. All this of course points to an intelligent design and to what the Bible has always claimed. Let one quote suffice:
β€˜Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You. Jeremiah 32:17

It reminds me of Robert Jastrow’s quote: ‘For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.’

i’m not too sure about all theologians, but I am constantly impressed with the Bible and the God of whom it speaks. The God of the universe – the infinite, and the God of the human cell – the finite, with its amazing DNA code. The God who has made himself known in creation, through his written word, and finally through His Son Jesus Christ. And although He is often described as the creator, the maker and upholder of all things, yet when he speaks of Himself he says ‘Come to me …. for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your soul’ Infinite love, infinite grace, infinite mercy …….. Graham Kendrick’s song ‘The Sevant King’ expresses it so well:

From Heaven, You came helpless babe, Entered our world, your glory veiled Not to be served but to serve, And give Your life that we might live

Come see His hands and His feet, The scars that speak of sacrifice, Hands that flung stars into space, To cruel nails surrendered

This is our God, The Servant King He calls us now to follow Him. To bring our lives as a daily offering Of worship to The Servant King

How amazing that God not only knows us, but everything about us. That can be comforting, and that can be a bit scary too, considering we must all stand before Him one day! You can listen to Graham Kendrick’s lovely song here

Thanks for reading thus far, and yes I would recommend a visit to the Planetarium and Imax theatre complex in Glasgow, or one close to where you are.

God bless

Matthew

How many miles have you travelled?

Now that’s what I call a Steam Engine – Ah!

Some great journeys have been undertaken on foot! George Meegan left the southern tip of South America in 1977 and walked 19,019 miles to the Northernmost tip of Alaska. All this at a time when so many different means of transport were available! Looking back to my childhood in the 1940’s I remember that walking was a way of life for us as children, both as a necessity and as a pleasure, but who can guess how many miles we walked? But for all of us things have now dramatically changed!

Recently we spent an afternoon at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow where we saw on display the huge range of transport used and developed in the last century. Everything from giant locomotives to motorcycles and even horse drawn carriages! It portrays the expertise of the Industrial Revolution and reminds us why Glasgow was once called ‘the second city of the Empire’. Here are some of the items on this amazing display!

The Riverside Museum – Entrance is free.

At the quayside next to the Museum itself, is moored the sailing ship the ‘Glenlee’, which is a museum in itself. There are also models of the many famous ships built on the river Clyde, during its heyday as a world leader in shipbuilding. One notable, and perhaps most important exception at the museum, was the lack of any ‘aircraft.’ So here now is a glimpse of some of the items on display.

The locomotives on display, are to say the least, hugely impressive, and the one shown above looks in excellent shape, having been exported to South Africa and returned to Glasgow after 43 years of service!

The Scottish car industry was small in comparison with other nations, but the Galloway Coupe built in 1924 led the way, when the woman owner Dorothee Pullinger designed a car especially for women drivers! (read the full interesting story online) In the early 60’s Roots (Scotland) Ltd started the production of the Hillman Imp in competition to the new Morris Mini. My brother was one of the first to take up employment with them and soon was the proud owner of one of their cars.

Glasgow’s public transport system was all electric for 66 years, but trams and trolley buses were discarded in 1967 in preference to ‘the advanced’ diesel buses, which were said to be more versatile and economic. πŸ™‚ How times and thinking change!

Many more vehicles – cars, vans and lorries are on display, just too many to share here, but the exhibit does finish on a modern note with the new Tesla electric car.

One last thing, I found was the ‘film style set’ of an old Glasgow street, complete with shops, billboards, cars and horsedrawn hearse, absolutely fascinating.

Reflection: Since then my mind has pictured all the cars, vans and buses I’ve driven over the years, and wondered how many miles I’ve covered? Above are photos of my first and current motor car. Which one do you think I have the most affinity with?

Well certainly the Ford saloon, simply because I bought a 22 year old car and it needed constant attention. I got to know the car inside out, and at the roadside over the years, it was serviced, exhaust changed, engine stripped, new piston and valves and head gasket fitted, brakes relined, and constantly washed and polished! πŸ™‚ The Toyota Yaris with all its magic electronics and gadgetry? I just enjoy driving it! The truth is however, the Yaris too will one day end up in the scrap heap or in a museum somewhere! Even our solar system has a limited life span we are told.

So, how many miles have you travelled? Walking, running, riding, driving, sailing, or by bicycle, train or plane! Like me, I suppose if we took the time we could hazard a guess. And all for what purpose, business or pleasure? and to which destinations?

It’s good to remind ourselves that our life travels too will come to an end, and there will be a final destination! Jesus it has been calculated walked more that 21,000 miles in his life time, but he always had a final destination in mind! It was death on a cross! Why? Because he was born to die for the pupose of saving humankind from the consequences of our sin and rebellion against God. That is the message of the angels, which we will soon celebrate at Christmas. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. His substitutionary death, resurrection and ascension makes it possible for people like you and me to be forgiven by a Holy God and to know His peace, and be welcomed into His family and heavenly home. So how much does it cost? It is free to receive if we confess our sin and ask Him for forgiveness, but the new life we receive which Jesus referred to as being ‘born again’ by His Spirit, will change us and equip us for service for earth and heaven.

So, have we planned our final journey? or are we crossing our fingers and hoping for the best? I like this hymn by a bunch of guys singing of their guide and leader!

Matthew, always happy to talk if you wish.

Portencross, and Portencross Castle on the Firth of Clyde

Portencross Castle

Portencross village and the castle are well off the ‘beaten track’ so it is perhaps amongst one of the less well known castles in Scotland. Suffice to say, that having lived within 30 miles of it for more than half a century, I only visited it for the first time within the last two years. It is situated between Seamill and the Hunterston peninsula. The narrow ‘no through road’ which leads down to it is easily missed unless you are on the alert and look out for the junction, which sits at a busy bend in the road. Having found it, we have now made a number of visits, as it is beautifully situated with a coastal path in either direction, and lovely views across the Firth to Arran and the Cumbraes.

In the 1980’s, land and buildings that had been bought by the government with a view to expanding the Hunterston Power Station complex, was returned to private ownership. By 2005 the charity ‘Friends of Portencross Castle‘ (FOPC) had been formed locally to conserve and repair the castle for present and future generations. And what a great job they have done with the help of volunteers and external funding from organisations and individuals.

The Castle will be closed for the winter, but I was fortunate enough on my last visit to gain access, (which is free, but a donation is requested) and very much enjoyed seeing the restoration work, and also appreciated the information boards and leaflets which were freely available. Here are some photos.

Here is a sample of the information boards and literature that are available, some of which are presented as a teaching resource for teachers and children.

Finally, a short video combining two visits to the castle, one on a sunny day and the other on a stormy day. I hope you catch the atmosphere of the place! On both occasions the situation of the castle against the backdrop of the sea looked stunning! I would strongly recommend a visit.

Reflection: I find it fascinating visiting historical sites of interest, and have had the priviledge of doing that in many ‘far flung places’. Scotland of course has a plethora of such sites away and above one’s expectation for such a small nation. I like to think of the person(s) who first had a vision of building a ‘hall-house’ here at Portencross away back in the 1300’s AD. It’s good then to read of all the changes that have taken place down the centuries, both in the structure itself and the people who lived and worked in and around this castle. Did any of them ever imagine it would last all these centuries and undergo all these changes? Probably not!

And of course when we look back on our own lives, it is astounding to have witnessed the changes that have taken place in our world in the last century, things my own mother and father would never have dreamed of. The pace of change has brought so much blessing to humankind, and yet conversely, so much danger from new and deadlier weapons, pollution of air, land, rivers and seas, and loss of habitat for animals birds, fish and insects. It would seem mankind is now capable of destroying the very planet itself!

I am so thankful that God and His Word never change, and there we can find an anchor to our soul. I sometimes smile as I listen to our leaders in the fields of politics, science, philosophy and theology and …. telling us that the eternal God and His Word are a bit out of date, and suggest that perhaps God needs to ‘get up to speed’! Then I listen to our news bulletins and hear of disaster and carnage on a multitude of levels, and remember God’s word ‘the heart of man is deceitful above all else, who can know it’. That apparently does not change.

This morning I was reading a letter written away back in the first century AD by a man named Paul. Since he became a follower of Jesus Christ he had suffered it would seem one calamity after another,* and now he was in prison in Rome awaiting execution for proclaiming the good news of Jesus, ascerting there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ God’s Son. In his letter to his young protege he writes “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.“** In an ever changing world, and our ever changing circumstances, it’s good to entrust ourselves to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour and as our friend, for of him it is written ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever, and of course for all of us there is ‘that day‘!

*2 Corinthians 11:21-33, ** 2 Timothy 1:10-12

A famous hymn written around Paul’s words you can listen to here!

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Matthew

After the Perfect Storm!

Invariably it takes time before the true damage and destruction that a storm has caused becomes obvious to us! With our 24 hour media coverage of news from around the world continually hitting our TV screens, yesterday’s, and the day before yesterday’s news, can quickly be forgotten.

At the end of November last year (26th-27th), ‘Storm Arwen’ swept across Scotland and parts of the UK with gusts reaching up to 100mph. It was headline news at the time, three people were reported killed, 9000 were left without power, roads were blocked and property damaged. However if you are like me you will probably have long forgotten all about it by now. However a few weeks ago we made our annual trip to the Trossachs for our drive around the ‘Three Lochs Forest Drive’ on the dirt road that passes loch Reoidhte, Drunkie and Achray, then that old news came alive again!

On approaching the gate to the forest drive, we were stopped by the park warden, who asked if we were regular visitors to the park, and when we replied in the affirmative, she went on to explain with some emotion, that areas of the forest had been devastated by Storm Arwen, so now we had been warned! Many of the fallen trees had since been removed, but nonetheless we were completely astounded by the extent of the damage!

Trunks of trees snapped like match-sticks.

It was a sad sight to behold, but thankfully many areas of the forest escaped unscathed, and were just as beautiful as ever.

The initial report suggested that up to 4,000 hectares of trees were destroyed, but that figure has now been doubled, which equates to about 16 million trees! It certainly changed the landscape, and the forests will take some time to rejuvenate themselves. I’ll leave you with one more photograph of one of our favourite picnic spots!

Our former favourite picnic spot!

Reflection: It has been said, that after disaster strikes there comes a time when we stop asking the ‘why’ question, and start asking the ‘what now’ question. And already it appears that foresters are thinking on how in the aftermath of the storm they can turn this situation around for the long term good of the landscape and wildlife. Tree diversity, dead trees left in place for insects and wildlife, fire gaps perhaps are some of the ideas. It takes time to work through these things, so the changes envisaged are unlikly to be seen in my lifetime, but they could in the end be for the better.

We are all aware of the many storms of a different kind that are sweeping across not just Scotland, but the world in these uncertain times. Ukraine, Tigray in Ethiopia being just representative of the many armed conflicts. Worldwide political storms, industrial storms, economic storms, energy storms, health service and the care sector storms ….. Watching TV and our news bulletins can be a very depressing exercise these days, and an increasing number of people are choosing not to bother, especially among the young, where TV is being abandoned and news is collected by means of social media.

One storm or crisis that the UK had to deal with recently was the sudden death of our much loved monarch and head of state Queen Elizabeth II. Yet it was a storm with a difference! There was much sadness expressed throughout the Kingdom, but so much love and respect was also shown by millions of citizens for this queen and her family, for she had reigned for 70 years! One housewife commented, ‘The Queen, she was lovely, everyone’s Granny’!’

One thing that came over loud and clear during the period of mourning and at the Church services was this woman’s Christian faith and devotion to God and her Saviour Jesus Christ, throughout her entire reign. Catherine Butcher’s book ‘Our Faithful Queen’ well illustrates this point. One episode in her life she records followed on from her 2011 Christmas address to the nations, when she said “Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love”. Just a few short months later this picture showed that she was one who ‘practiced what she preached‘! This handshake between the Queen and ex IRA Commander Martin McGuinness played an important part in calming the storm that was tearing apart communities in Northern Ireland, and helped in the Irish peace process.

The Queen meets Martin McGuinness

So who do you and I need to forgive? not just in words but in some tangible action? It is such a life changing thing to do, not only for others, but for our own peace of mind and wellbeing. In the prayer Jesus taught us, these words are so significant ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’. If you have ever come to Jesus and asked for forgiveness for your sins, remember His forgiveness and peace are only possible because of His action, when he the sinless Son of God shed his blood for you. If you haven’t yet come, I would encourage you to do so. Then the storm that troubles your mind can pass, and who knows what God will do in our lives in whatever time we have ahead!

Wishing you every blessing as we enter the Autumn Season

Matthew

Colours Galore – Garden Joys and Surprises

Every Spring and early Summer I look forward with anticipation to see the outcome of all the things that have been planted in the garden and greenhouse. My earlier blog at the start of June showed photographs of Spring flowers and the early growth of vegetables in the greenhouse. So how did they all turn out? Well as always the results were mixed, but we keep persevering. Lately I have grown the large begonias, and they are lovely, but they unfortunately keep bowing their heads so they are hard to see and appreciate. Next year, all being well, I think I will give the dhalia’s a try. πŸ™‚

Let’s start with summer flowers.

The fruit and vegetable side of the garden has proved quite productive, in spite of my earlier misgivings about my tomato plants. Four types of tomato were grown and they all produced a good crop. I also tried a new cucumber seed for smaller fruit and they were better than my expectation both in numbers and taste. Peppers were not so good as I had insufficient space in the greenhouse, so put them outside where they didn’t receive the care they deserved and were damaged by slugs and bugs! Those in the greenhouse did much better πŸ™‚ We did get a bowl of gooseberries from two small bushes, which were stewed and sweetened and consumed with our morning cereal. Rhubarb was fertilised this year and gave us two crops for crumbles and pies.

Here are some of the results.

Other bushes and plants also brought some real colour and charm. This is the year of the hydrangeas I think, as they have been superb.

Look at me, dressed to impress!

Last year, this little Acer tree looked as if it was almost gone, but I decided to give it another chance and surprisingly it burst into life! It certainly needs repotted, but I am just awaiting the right time to do so! Everything and everybody needs another chance!

Finally, my willow tree at the bottom of the garden is not looking good this year. I saw the resident grey squirrel hanging upside down from one of its branches in early summer and I thought, is it chewing the tree bark? A neighbour commented that her apple tree was also looking poorly, so on checking on line I learned that squirrels eat the bark from trees and also use strips to build their dreys! So sure enough the bare patches on both tree barks seem like conclusive evidence! It’s the squirrel!

Reflection: Now we look forward to the Autumn colours, and the Spring flower planting, if all goes well. I’ll finish with the words of F E Pettingell 1899

Through the changing seasons, of the changing year, with its light and shadow with its hope and fear. Through each glad fulfilment, and each sad defeat, we have safely journeyed, and again we meet. Through this changing year, by His guiding providence we assemble here.

Well many of you I have not yet met in person, but thank you for reading / following my blog, and by God’s grace and mercy, and through your faith in Jesus Christ and commitment to Him, we shall meet one day!

Enjoy what remains of Summer – Matthew!

Thinking ‘Outside the Box’

Most of us are creatures of habit, so we go on from day to day and week to week going through the same routines, whether it be at home or in our place of work. Seldom do we stop to consider, is there a habit, a diet, a shopping practice, a workout routine, or something else that I need to change? Would a better way of doing things enable me to achieve my goals, assuming that we have set some! With soaring prices for energy and food and with recession coming on, it is perhaps a good time to ask that question!

In industry they might say we need a ‘paradigm shift in thinking’! During my former engineering days I remember being part of a committee looking in detail at machinery we manufactured and its function, to see if we could manufacture it more efficiently or replace it all together by changing the system for which it was designed. But any ideas we had pale into insignificance when compared to the countless examples of ‘people ‘thinking outside the box’ in the fields of science, healthcare, space exploration, art and engineering, and almosy every other field of expertise that you could mention!

One example of ‘thinking outside the box, unique to Scotland and indeed the world, is the ‘Falkirk Wheel’, which we recently visited with friends from the Argentine!

The Falkiirk Wheel that links the Forth and Clyde canal with the Union canal’ (which sits 35 Metres above) allows vessels to sail through the sky thanks to an amazing piece of engineering and art! The energy to turn the wheel is said to be the equivalent of that used to boil just eight kettles of water!

We visited in summer, so the wheel was busy as many boats were passing through the canal. It’s a great place for a day out as there are loads of things to do with shops, museum, restaurant and toilets etc. You can try Archery, Mini Golf, Boating for kids or even a Canal Boat Ride that will take you up to the Union canal and back! We also took the advice on the notice above, and visited the Kelpies to feed the horses!

Admission is free to the Falkirk Wheel site and also the Kelpies, but if you travel by car there is a parking charge of Β£4.00.

Reflections: Thinking ‘outside the box’ can be a challenging experience in every area of life, not just in the making of things! Puting your new thinking into practice can often be life changing, and have implications for relationships and careers, and change our goals and path through life. I have recently read Prof. Neil Thomas’ book, ‘Taking Leave of Darwin‘ – A Longtime Agnostic discovers the Case for Design. In his prologue he speaks of being struck by the thought, that if a group of tenured academics and other responsible scientists could no longer support the claims of Darwinism on which the worldview of much of the West rests, then he must investigate the subject for himself. His detailed investigation which he spells out in the book is fascinating, bringing him to a conclusion which the title of his book well summarises – ‘Taking leave of Darwin‘. It’s certainly worth a read, but how will Neil Thomas’ book go down with his fellow peers and academics?

Another well known writer and agnostic David Foster Wallace, somewhat ‘rocked the boat’ by his speech in the US to the graduating class of Kenyon College in 2005 when he said, ‘You get to choose what you worship. Because here’s something that’s weird but true: in the day to day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god … to worship .. is that pretty much anything else you choose to worship will eat you alive.‘ He goes on then to speak of money, your body and beauty and sexual allure …power and intellect … ‘They are the kind of worship you just gradually slip into day after day … without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.’ (Emphasis added) His message was received with a loud round of applause. David Foster Wallace did not disclose who or what he worshipped, tho’ one might guess. And one must wonder if he had slipped into a worship he was warning others to avoid? Very sadly just three years later this talented young man committed suicide at the age of 46. It does raise the question, what god are you and I worshipping?

I think for many the day comes when we start wondering if life is passing us by, and we still have not found our true role, or meaning in life, or faced up to the fact of our mortality. Is it time for me to think outside the box? The story of Antartic Explorer – Ernest Shackleton’s advert for crew members perhaps illustrates the point.

MEN WANTED for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success. Ernest Shackleton

Five thousand men are reputed to have responded even although the terms were far from attractive, and the possibility of achieving the goals of the expedition were in doubt, with your life itself being in question. People desperate to find meaning in life?

Personally as most of my readers will know, I am a worshipper of the great Triune `God of the Bible – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You may think that sounds like something for the weak, the old and the unsophisticated, and YES you are right, for God calls everyone – rich and poor, educated and uneducated, young and old, healthy and sick, everyone to come and follow Him. The terms Jesus the Son of God laid down for His followers is set out in these words of his –  Then he said to them all: β€œWhoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? The early disciples were in their day accused of turning the world upside down. God still calls such men and women today! Every morning I read a Christian Mission magazine and am constantly amazed at what God is doing through ordinary people all around the world – amazing!

In a day when many people are looking for meaning and authenticity, Jesus offers the forgiveness of all our sins, relief from a guilty conscience, a new life in all its fulness, guidance and direction by his Spirit and through his Word. We can know an inner joy and peace, and a personal relationship with him, which will ultimately take us home to heaven – No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. How is that possible you may ask? Because the Son of God loved each of us, and gave himself for us. At the cross the great exchange took place, your sin placed on Christ, and if you come and confess that sin and give your life to Him, His righteousness becomes ours, so that exchange becomes a reality in a new life.

In the search for meaning and purpose we as Christians have found and believe that this is only possible when we find our rest in God.

Thinking of stepping ‘outside the box’?

Best wishes – Matthew

                                                            

The Pass of Brander, St Conan’s Kirk and Kilchurn Castle

On my last blog I was writing about our day trip from Oban to the Isle of Staffa and our visit to Fingal’s Cave, but we extended our holiday by choosing on our third day to visit three very interesting stopping off places on our drive back to Glasgow.

The first stop, was at the Pass of Brander where in August 1308 Sir James Douglas and King Robert the Bruce led a successful attack on the MacDougalls, It has been said, this was the final battle of Bruce’s campaign in the North, during what is called ‘the ‘Wars of Independence’. The visit reminded me of my primary school days when ‘the Black Douglas’ and ‘King Robert the Bruce’ were our folk heroes as children. Many mock battles were enacted in the school playground with imaginary swords at our play times, after being told of their many exploits during our history lessons!

Stop two, was at Saint Conan’s Kirk, which is beautifully situated on the edge of Loch Awe, and here too there is an interesting history to consider. The Kirk is not far from the Brander battlefield referred to above. In fact inside you will find an effigy tomb of King Robert the Bruce, and one of his bones is also said to be buried here. The original Church was built in 1886 by Walter Douglas Campbell, who was one of nine children. He trained as an architect, and when his mother found the journey to the local parish church too tiring, he decided to build this church for her. By 1907 he started his Church extension to ambitious plans he had drawn up. Unfortunately he did not live to see its completion, but the Church was dedicated anew in 1930. You can read the full story on-line. Highly recommended for a visit if you are touring in the area.

Our last stop, was to visit Kilchurn Castle. A Castle we have photographed on many occasions, but never found the time to visit, but this time we did! The Castle was built in the mid 15th Century and became the home of the powerful Campbell Clan of Glen Orchy, who extended it and made it their stronghold for 150 years. It contains the oldest surviving barracks on the British mainland. Lots more info on line!

It was a rather cloudy day for our visit, but the surrounding hills and landscape, and its situation at the end of Loch Awe always gives this castle that special flavour of the dramatic! Our walk from the car park, which takes you under the railway bridge and on to the grazing land, also proved to be a bit dramatic as well! As we walked along we noticed there were some highland cattle grazing in the long grass, and to our surprise they seemed to take an interest in us, whilst others had been ignored! So it was slightly ‘off putting’ when first a large brown cow with large horns came straight towards us! I hurriedly pulled some grass and offered it as a peace gesture, but after a look and a sniff she turned away in disappointment. She was follwed by an even larger black cow, who also snubbed my peace gesture! Later we saw the farmer arriving with bags of cattle feed, so me thinks we were perhaps involved in ‘a case of mistaken identity’! πŸ™‚

Soon after we made our way over the ‘Rest and be Thankful Pass’ and home via the the banks of Loch Lomond.

Reflection: It’s such a joy to get out of town for a few days and to enjoy the summer holidays, sunshine and fresh air. We are truly blessed here in the West of Scotland as so many places of quietness and beauty are within easy reach of the city. Our evening readings these days are in the Psalms, and thus one reflected our mood as we returned to Glasgow.

It is good to praise the LORD
and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
and the melody of the harp.
For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD;
I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
How great are your works, LORD,
how profound your thoughts!
Ps. 92:1-5

All in such contrast to the gloom and sadness of our news bulletins, so of course we do need to come down from our ‘mountain top experiences’ just as Jesus did, to face the challenges of every day life. There is much need all around us. Lord help us to play our part!

Here is the Fingal’s Cave video if you missed it!

Matthew

Fingal’s Cave – Isle of Staffa

At last, a long held dream came true for us this year as we made the trip to Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa!

It had long been talked about, and indeed planned for last year, but everything had to be cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. This little island just half a mile long and quarter of a mile wide lies off the west coast of Scotland in the Inner Hebrides near to the Isle of Mull. It is famous for its hexagonal rock columns, dramatic caves and cliffs and also by the many nesting ‘Puffin’ seabirds who colonise the cliff edges with their nesting burrows. Many famous people have visited the island over the years including Queen Victoria, Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth and composer Felix Mendelssohn, who was inspired to produce his ‘Hebrides Overture’as a result of his visit. Another large cave next to ‘Fingals’ is called ‘Mackinnon’s Cave’ said to be named after ‘Abbot Mackinnon’ of Iona. Well, this past week the McKinnon’s were back! πŸ™‚

Ours was a day trip from Oban, sailing at 12.30pm by the Calmac ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull (45 minutes), where we joined a ‘Turus Mara’ mini bus group for travel across Mull to ‘Ulva ferry’ (40 minutes) before boarding the ‘Turus Mara’ boat that took us to Staffa. (40 mins)

The weather was perfect, which was a real blessing, and the boat trip to Staffa we found to be beautiful and exhilarating!

The view approaching Staffa can only be described as dramatic as you catch your first view of the sheer cliffs and rock columns. The massive size of the caves come into perspective when you spot people walking along the cliff edged shoreline path. Going ashore is not for the faint-hearted as you are immediately faced with a ladder type climb if you are going to spot the puffins, or a 10 minute walk if you are going to visit the cave! This walk takes you on a narrow path with a steep drop at places on the seaward side, and just a single handrail to assist. I was glad my wife opted to stay on board the boat to enjoy the views from the sea.

It seems each visiting group is allowed appoximately one hour ashore, so it wasn’t possible in the time allotted to wander across the top of the island to view the puffins and then visit the cave, unless you were young, fit and sure footed. But I did manage onto the top to catch the vista, before walking to the cave. However my daughter Jennifer was on Staffa with her husband recently and she kindly gave me licence to show two of her puffin shots, plus that handrail! The time passed so quickly and soon it was time to go!

Reflections: On our regular day trips around Scotland I always ask my wife ‘Where would you like to go today’? Invariably she says, ‘Oh please yourself, but somewhere near the sea’! Reminds me of the John Masefield poem we memorised as kids in primary school.

‘I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;”

Another great sea poem I love is found in Psalm 107:

Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper;the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

That one reminds us of the story in the Gospels of Jesus the Son of God calming the storm! Mark 4:35-41 So whatever circumstance we find ourselves in today, it’s good to ‘put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water, put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea’, as Elvis Presley used to sing.

I wish you calm sailings, but before things get rough, remember there is a hand held out to save! Matthew 11:28-30

Matthew

The Burrell Collection & Pollok Park – Glasgow – Scotland

The Burrell Collection Museum reopened in Glasgow on the 29 March 2022, having been closed for refurbishment since 23 October 2016. Admission is free and there is a very nice cafe and retaurant along two sides of the building, and also other ‘cafe’ like facilities for teas and coffees. The refubishment cost, is said to be around a cool Β£68,250,000.00, almost half of which was pledged by Glasgow City Council. So after waiting for the crowds to die down we decided to make our first visit at the end of May, and it proved to be a very interesting afternoon.

The Museum’s architecture, design and its location within the park I find very pleasing to the eye. This sense of beauty and design continues inside, and I particularly enjoy the gallery that runs full-length alongside the woodland at the rear of the building. The changing woodland scenery which is viewed through the glass windows that reach from roof to floor level, combine God’s artistry with that gifted to man.

The refurbishment has brought many changes, with new areas being opened up to the public, and even items in storage, some of which circulate in the viewing galleries, can be viewed if you book an appointment. Some of the new displays are spectacularly combined with the use of modern technology. These photographs show but a few of the thousands of items on display, and the history of this amazing collection can easily be researched on line. It will take a few visits to truly appreciate the wide range and variety of art on display.

Pollok Park is also home to Pollok House a National Trust for Scotland property, once the home of Sir John Stirling Maxwell and family. The house and garden are just a short walk from the ‘Burrell’, so if you are planning a day in Glasgow this park has everything you could wish for in terms of interest both indoors and out!

Pollok House and surroundings

Reflections: The field on which the Burrel museum was built has been a playground for me with my siblings (see below), and also for my children and grandchildren and great grand children throughout life. The ‘Children and Youth’ departments of our church have also used it for countless numbers of games of ‘football’ and ’rounders’ on many summer nights. The children’s smiling faces, shouts and hoots of laughter you will still hear if you close your eyes for a minute! πŸ™‚ The Burrell Collection now attracts a much more diverse and perhaps ‘upmarket’ group of visitors, but it’s good the local young folks and families still have a place to picnic and play! In fact Glaswegians are spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding which park to visit.

One thing I notice as I visit parks and gardens, is the number of folks often sitting on their own, seemingly just reflecting on life and its events. My own garden, and especially my seat in the greenhouse πŸ™‚ I really enjoy for the quietness it provides. which gives opportunity for prayer and reflection in this noisy and increasingly chaotic world. As I write this I was reminded of the Elvis Presley and Jim Reeves song made known world-wide many years ago, (You can still hear them sing it on ‘You Tube’) but here it is sung by Michele Lane, who for me, sings it so beautifully.

I enjoyed listening to it again so hope you enjoy it too!

Pollok House Gardens

Have a great summer wherever you are

Matthew

Catch the Joy of Summer!

Yes, here in Glasgow situated in the world’s northern hemisphere the daylight hours are extending, and today we enjoyed sunshine from its 4.40am rising until its 9.50 pm setting! What a special gift is that! The garden is slowly coming into bloom and everything is looking beautiful!

The garden tonight at 8.30pm

It is amazing to watch the budding trees and Spring flowers give way to Summer bloom, and to see and hear the excitement of the birds as the they prepare their nests and get ready for the new chicks to arrive. We have blackbirds nesting in our hedge every year and their song in the evening is enough to cheer the saddest heart.

Springtime

Early Summer

The greenhouse is now catching up, with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and courgettes all coming on, and with three bags of potatoes planted and a bucket full of carrots. My two hanging baskets are now out, but the flowers for them were bought from the nursery. My tomatoes are causing me some concern as they look a bit ‘spindly’ but hopefully they will come on ok.

The greenhouse

Talking about potatoes, tonight we enjoyed some fresh buttered Ayrshire potatoes with beans, coleslaw and ‘corned beef’ for dinner. It reminded me of my mother’s love for Ayrshire potatoes when I was a small boy, and that wasn’t yesterday! πŸ™‚

Tatties and corned beef!

And of course, this summer in the UK and Commonwealth we are celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th Jubilee, and events are being held all over the country. This week at our church we had a service and afternoon tea for senior citizens and it was a special and joyous occasion. Most of the folks there remembered her coronation all these years ago! We recalled her faithfulness and servant heart through all the ups and downs of life, and remembered her faith in God, which in her own words has sustained her, and enabled her to fulfil the vows given at her coronation! Across the political divide I think it is true to say that the vast majority of citizens in the UK are delighted to honour this lady for her commitment, grace and loyalty sometimes amid adversity.

Wherever you are, and in whatever season I hope you are well. Here is a new song we are singing in church these days, it is beautifully sung and the words I find encouraging and inspiring too, for all of life’s circumstances.

Matthew