Monday, February 27, 2006


Ok, so my last post was a bit of a rant - and it was almost a whole week ago. Things have been getting a wee bit better since - not just so many annoyances in class since. Well, none that I want to discuss on this sort of thing anyway.

Over the weekend I was in County Fermanagh, on my annual visit - for the purposes of the Diocesan Confirmation Weekend (that is, Down and Dromore diocese). But for the second year in a row, we were joined by the young people and leaders from Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh as well. We had about 160 kids (or so) who will be Confirmed in the next couple of months, and had the opportunity of supplementing their own rectors' teaching with a focussed look at things like What it means to be a Christian, what Christians believe and practice, and then what the Church is.

The craic was also mighty - although on Saturday night I had to crash and was in bed by 10.30pm, because I was so tired and feeling a bit rough. But eveyrthing else went on around me - and I think I even heard some of the D-I-S-C-O as I was falling asleep! Saturday afternoon was a wee bit of a traditional adventure - out into the country town of Enniskillen, although with the added excitement this year of going further afield to Ballinamallard and back by Tempo!

We now only have two weeks left of term, and also, two weeks until I go to Venice! But before Venice, there are those two essays to be done, for Liturgy and Systematics, and already the 'extra' things that have to be done in and around college are mounting up to press out the available time for reading and writing of essays. Things like the hooley tomorrow night for Shrove Tuesday - perhaps the last bit of official fun until Easter; the watching of films on Wednesday night for Old Testament, to analyse in our learning of critical methods; College Fellowship on Thursday night (although I don't mind this one, and rather am looking forward to it) and after that, the official supper in the Principal's house for 1st and 2nd years; and that is just this week... So if we were just concerned with the studying, things would be fine, but with all the other things, it leads to me being tired, and distracted, and without much time!

I suppose, though, that this is a good lessson to learn here and now - about focusing on the important things (the study of God's word), and to have it as the one big commitment, around which everything else rotates. Because, as we were encouragingly told in Homiletics last Wednesday - we have been called to the Ministry of the Word, and no matter what else we do, the thing that we bring as ministers which is unique, is God's Word. Nurses, and social workers etc don't bring this to the situations they encounter (normally), whereas it is our life's ministry. So we have to give adequate time to the preparation of and study of the Word to be preached. So for all the 'bad' classes here, we do have some gems - so thank you to Tom for this insight, presented clearly and forcefully!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Dodgy Theology

Here's how it is. I'm fed up with the dodgy theology we're being fed. Yesterday, again, we were told that Jesus didn't die as an atoning sacrifice for our sins - that the theory of the atonement is just a remnant from the feudal and primitive ideas of religion where an angry god needs to be appeased by a sacrifice - that the only thing the cross shows is the love of God, and that love triumphs over evil by it.

But more than that, we're also being told that God didn't plan for, or know that Jesus would die - that Jesus came to the world to invite people to join the kingdom, and that in some sort of an accident, Jesus got himself crucified, because that's what happens when a good person comes about - bad people want to 'get them'.

In a way, it's similar to what the Jesuit priest was coming off with at the Approach event last week (see my blog posting).

Now, in one sense, I don't care if the tutors want to come off with this sort of nonsense, because it is so very obviously false, and unbiblical. However, the problems come when others, who lap up everything the tutors say, hear it and think it is true.

But even worse - and this is the thing that has annoyed me so much recently - it is the lack of respect that I and other evangelicals seem to encounter when we try to put forward biblical views on the matters under scrutiny, or when we object (respectfully, of course), to the dodgy teaching being given. The line that one tutor in particular takes is that 'we don't have time to go into this now, but you aren't seeing it in context, and you're missing the point of what I'm saying'. We have all the time in the world in the class to go off on wee stories, or spend long periods of time on pointless things, but when something important comes up, and something of crucial importance for a proper understanding of Romans (which we were looking at yesterday), then we haven't got time, and must move on.

It's also amazing to see the way some classes are taught, where the only commentaries or books consulted are those either written by the tutor, or are those he agrees with. He has, in the past, said that commentaries are excellent if he has worked on them, or if he agrees with what is contained therein. The same class is taught by reading through photocopies of one book, and commenting on it. There is no attempt made to present other views or scholarship, or even to allow time for discussion when I or someone else wants to bring up another (or more especially, the biblical) way of looking at an issue.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Contentment: A Sermon preached in the Cathedral (Hall) on 19th February 2006. Philippians 4:10-20

Are you happy tonight? Are you satisfied with what you have, and the situation in which you find yourself? For so many people in our country and world, life is all about money, or the lack of it; about working for the money to get the next big gadget, whether its the Satellite Navigation in the car, or the I-Pod, or whatever.

Tonight we're going to look at how Paul could say 'I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.' This is even more remarkable, as we will see, from the circumstances Paul found himself in. We'll also discover the open secret of contentment, and how we too can know contentment.

Paul was writing as a prisoner from Rome. Being a prisoner was a costly business in Roman times. We find at the end of Acts, he lived at his own expense in Rome, or as other translations phrase it, 'in his own hired dwelling.' There were soldiers guarding him, yet he had to pay for his own expenses – at least, during the time he was on remand. So they didn't have the grand state-financed prisons where the taxpayer pays for the prisoners to be held. He had to look after himself. Which obviously meant that he needed some form of financial assistance.

The background to the letter to the Philippians lies in a series of letters and travel between Philippi and Rome. Paul had established the church in Philippi (Acts 16), and it seems that they had been generous in supporting him financially throughout his missionary work. And what prompted this letter to be written was the arrival of Epaphroditus from Philippi with some assistance for Paul. And now Paul was sending Epaphroditus back to them, along with the letter.

So the letter to the Philippians is in many ways a 'thank you' letter to them. While the opening words of our passage might seem like a rebuke – 'I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me'; as if to say, what were you doing all this time when I was in need and you weren't doing anything? This is far from the case.

Rather, the Philippians were concerned for Paul, but had no way of showing it. With Rome being at least a month's journey from Philippi, it may not have been the easiest to get support to him, or perhaps Epaphroditus had been unable to travel earlier. But Paul doesn't rebuke them – rather, he is joyful that they have been able to support him at all.

Paul is indeed saying a sincere thank you, both to God, and to the Philippians. Yet you know the way some thank you letters seem to have a secret agenda (or maybe not so secret or subtle?), where the charity or the ministry or the group thank you for their donation while subtly suggesting that you can make the next contribution any time...

Paul's letter is not at all like this. He was in need, but certainly wasn't begging. That much is clear by his description of 'my trouble'. He goes on to say 'not that I seek the gift.' So while he was in need, he knew that he would only have to beg, and the Philippians would send money and support to him at the drop of a hat.

But rather, as he says in verse 11: 'Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.' So in his prison cell, or hired dwelling, Paul was content. Whatever he had (or didn't have), he was content, and able to live with. But this current thinking wasn't just a passing trend, or a vague notion he had that particular day.

It was an attitude he had been developing for a while. He had 'learned in whatever situation' – he had found contentment through all the various boom and bust periods, the triumphs and trials he had experienced and endured. He suggests these in verse 12: 'I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.'

There's no doubt that Paul had seen many ups and downs. From the highs of having plenty and abundance, to the desperate lows of hunger and need. In other passages, we find Paul describing his lows in greater detail: 'Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.' (2 Cor 11:24-27).

And yet, through them all, he was content. So his contentment didn't rely on his circumstances. You see, for many around us, and perhaps even you too, the thinking goes that, 'if I could have ... I would be happy and content.' Or you don't have very much, so for you, contentment lies far off, when you'll have more money. But who is to say that you would then be content? Would the wealth corrupt you, or the guilt that you now had plenty ruin the contentment you supposed you would have?

Or perhaps, at the other end of the scale, if you are already wealthy, then maybe you're thinking that you are content. After all, you have all you need or want, and more to spare, but your security then lies in what you have. Who is to say that if you lost all your money and wealth tomorrow, that you would still be content?

The secret of Paul's contentment, however, doesn't lie in his external circumstances. We've already seen that he was content throughout both the seemingly good times and the hard times. So was his contentment then based on a sort of fatalistic approach? Did he just think que se ra se ra, whatever will be will be? Again, no!

Rather, Paul's approach is one that we would do well to hear, to learn from, and to adopt. As I've said, it wasn't either depending on his outward circumstances, nor on a negative sort of fatalism, but rather: 'I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.' (4:13).

Paul's secret of contentment was based on doing all things through him who strengthened him. From the start, let's remember that this verse is not saying that Paul was a spiritual superman, who could do 'anything' at all. On many times this verse can be taken out of context, to try to convince Christians to do things out of their competence or gifting, because, after all, if Christ is strengthening you, then you can do all things?

Rather, Paul is saying here that no matter what situation he finds himself in, whether poverty or riches, hunger or abundance, whether preaching to substantial crowds, or lying in a filthy prison, he has learned to cast himself on God, to depend on God, and be content. His contentment doesn't depend on his situation, but rather, depends entirely on his standing with God, and on what God supplies him with.

Or to put it the other way round, it is God who strengthens him to do the work God has called him to, and so no matter how well off, or how poorly off he is, God will accomplish his work, and give him whatever is needed.

And I can testify that this is still the case. Paul wasn't an isolated incident, a rare one-off. Because God does indeed provide strength and contentment for his people, not only in the physical realm, but also in the spiritual.

After all, isn't one of the names for God in the Old Testament 'Jehovah Jirah' – 'The LORD will provide' (Genesis 22:14). This was the name Abraham realised as he raised the knife to slaughter his son Isaac on the altar. God provided the substitute ram, who died in place of Isaac. I'm very sure both Abraham and Isaac were strengthened and contented by the supply of the ram!

We find the same contentment in the story of Job, despite great pain. There is no doubt that Job was a wealthy man. The opening verses of his book tell us that he owned 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys and very many servants, as well as seven sons and three daughters. Yet in one day, he went from having all that, to having nothing but his life, and his wife (who frankly, wasn't of much help to him). And what was Job's response? 'Then Job ... fell on the ground and worshipped. 'The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' (Job 1:20-21).

One again, we find that contentment, being satisfied with the circumstances, didn't depend on what Job had – the important thing for him was his relationship with God, as we find him asserting when his wife urges him to curse God and die: 'Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?' (Job 2:10).

Contentment is found in several places in the New Testament. The first time we find it is on the lips of John the Baptist. In Luke's account of his ministry, John gave ethical teaching to the various groups of people who came to hear him and be baptised. To the soldiers, he said this: 'Do not extort money from anyone by threats of by false accusation, and be content with your wages.' (Luke 3:14).

Later in Paul's ministry, he advises Timothy that 'there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.' (1 Tim 6:6-8).

However, perhaps the other verse from the New Testament which best speaks on our theme, and illustrates the link between contentment and our relationship with God can be found in the book of Hebrews. The writer says these words: 'Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”' (Hebrews 13:5-6).

The path to being content doesn't lie in the latest money-making schemes, or in working all the overtime you can get, or by getting the big win on the lottery. True contentment doesn't lie in what we have or aspire to. Rather, the way we can be truly content is by realising that it depends on our relationship with God, and on what he has done for us.

This was the promise that Paul revealed to the Philippians in verse 19. 'And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.' As my former boss said to me many times – I don't have to worry about money or anything like that, because my daddy owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10).

Just this week, we had a mission event in Trinity College, and the speaker was looking at part of Matthew 6. The students were urged to consider where we were investing for treasure – either on earth, or in heaven – because 'where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.' (Matthew 6:21); and also, not to worry about clothes and wealth and food, because God cares so much more for us than for the birds and flowers, which he looks after. The final point of the talk on Monday is relevant for us tonight – because our contentment hangs on it also. For if we are worrying about wealth, and looking for contentment by having more money or possessions or whatever, then we can't be doing what God wants us to do. Food and clothing, and money is important to live by, but God calls us to 'seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.' (Matthew 6:33).

If we have the centre right, if our heart is set on Jesus, and we know the blessings that come from him, then we will indeed be able to say with Paul: 'I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content... I can do all things through him who strengthens me.'

May we indeed know the strength of Christ, to face whatever situation we return to as we leave this building tonight.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Just a very quick update, as I'm concious I haven't written anything in a few days - but only because it has been so busy!

The retreat on Wednesday was ok... quite good crack, as all three years were together!

This morning I was leading the services in Magheralin and Dollingstown, then tonight I'm preaching in the Cathedral (Hall) and looking again at Colossians with Youth Fellowship. If you happen to be reading this while I'm speaking, then be praying for me, but more especially for my listeners, as they need it, being forced to listen to me!

I'll get another proper post done in the near future, as well as the text of tonight's sermon, when I get a chance again... Last week was a bit hectic in college but hopefully it will slow down this week, with just two essays to be written...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mission Update

Just a quick post to update you all on the Approach event, held yesterday in Trinity College. The event comprised a contemporary service in the College Chapel, and then a Q&A debate afterwards in the Graduate Memorial Building (kindly hosted by the Theological Society).

We weren't quite sure if anyone would come, and if they did, how many - but it turned out that approximately 140 passed through the doors (some tourists, who came in for a while and left again), with a core congregation of 100 who stayed the whole time. The worship was led by Eoghan Heislip, the worship leader at CORE church in Dublin, and was very good. We also then had a drama, but the main element was the talk, delivered by Ed Vaughan, Rector of Crinken.

The Debate then had a varied panel, with Ed Vaughan, John Samuel (Minister of Grosvenor Road Baptist), Clara Ginther (PhD student who lives in our college accommodation), Dave Moore (an atheist), and Fr Peter McVerry (Jesuit priest). The questions came from the audience, and raised issues like salvation, revelation, faith, censorship, and absolutism. The biggest surprise for me was the statement by McVerry that everyone is going to heaven (even Hitler). Thankfully Samuel and Vaughan were able to make a clear explanation of the gospel, and to articulate the Christian faith.

But back to McVerry. I've been thinking about his assertion since he made it. And it is rather worrying. Let's take it to its logical conclusions:

1. Everyone goes to heaven, no matter what they have done. Ok, so if you go to heaven anyway, then why bother doing good, or being a Christian? If you can sin as much as you want, then why stop? There are no limits, or morals, and the end result is the same.

2. God is no longer love - if love allows the choice for people to do as they wish. Because if someone has willfully lived in rebellion of God their entire life, and hated everything to do with God, then is it fair or right or just to compel them to live in heaven, spending eternity with God? Surely that would be a form of torture, and would go against their choice.

3. And this is perhaps the most serious point for any Christian - and is actually what McVerry tried to say - that Jesus died in vain. Because if everyone goes to heaven, and salvation is therefore a necessity for everyone, then why did Jesus die? Indeed, McVerry went further, to reinterpret Jesus' death as inevitable, because he had been trying to include the outsiders in society, and mainline society didn't want that.

I'm still trying to process all this stuff, but am convinced that universalism (as this view is called) is totally wrong, and anti-biblical. Not only does it give people false hope, but it also diminishes the life, person, and saving work of Jesus - and this cannot be allowed by any Christian.

No matter how politically incorrect it might appear to say that Jesus is the only way to be saved. This was another issue that raised some controversy in the debate, and has also done so in some classes. But if Jesus said 'I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes ot the Father except by me' then how else can we possibly interpret this?

It was this very claim that drove the apostles out in the first place to spread the good news of Jesus, of the gospel, and remains the message of salvation for us today. 'There is no other name given under heaven by which men may be saved.'

Sorry these thoughts have been a bit random, and not properly thought out, or structured. But this is a big issue for me! Any opinions?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Presbyterian Service review!

This morning I attended Divine Worship at Bann Road Presbyterian with the Wilky family. And while it was different to what I'm used to in the C of I, it wasn't 'that' different - in fact, you could say it was almost a Service of the Word, without any responses or vocal congregational involvement.

One main difference was the Baptism. When we have a Baptism in the C of I, it affects the whole service, with every part of the service feeding into and reflecting the Baptism. This morning, though, the whole Baptism was fitted in just after the first hymn and prayer, and the rest of the service. In less than 5 minutes, the whole Baptism had been completed, with fewer promises by the parents, and the covenant theology expressed concisely, and fairly understandable. But then the whole congregation started singing the Aaronic Blessing, which was new and different for me.

The rest of the service was quite similar to what I'm used to, with a reading, prayers of intercession, hymns, and then the sermon. This morning, Gary Truman was looking at Acts 27, with 'how to survive a shipwreck'.

All in all, the service was good, although I think I would prefer even the slightly more structured and participatory form of worship found in, say, Dollingstown, or even the proper services from the Book of Common Prayer! But it will do me well to see things done in a slightly different way, with a different approach.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Review: 'New Beginnings' cd

I bought the new cd today from the St Saviour's Dollingstown Praise Group - called 'New Beginnings'. The cd is available from Faith Mission Lurgan, for £10 (and probably from church members as well), and is well worth listening to.

The songs are mostly modern ones, with a few older ones. There are also some I don't know yet - one of which I particularly like, which was sung last Sunday in Magheralin during Communion: 'Hide me now'.

Overall, the cd is a very good listen, and does indeed fulfill the wishes of the Praise Group Leader (Nicola Wilkinson), who writes in the sleeve notes 'We hope that you will enjoy listening to our cd and that most importantly God will be glorified!' God is indeed glorified through the cd.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Things that go bump in the night...

I don't think I have been engaged in any sleep-walking activities so far this term, although I had been suffering from tiredness, and general waking up at night. But last night must take the biscuit... Having been tired recently, I've been making sure I get early nights (although end up not sleeping for the first hour or so anyway...) so last night was in bed by 11pm. I can't remember being awake then, so I must have went off to sleep rather quickly.

But then I woke at one point during the night (or near the morning), and I was so confused!!! The duvet wasn't over me properly - sort of falling off the bottom of the bed... the curtains were open and some light was coming in through the 'open' window... and the sheet had it's top corner dangerously draped over one of the cactus plants sitting on my window sill - which I expected to pull down on top of myself if I moved even slightly....

It took a few minutes of sorting the whole situation (and me sort of semi-concious) to retrieve the sheet from the cactus without bringing it on top of me and getting jagged to death, to close the curtains again, and to get the duvet into a more regular shape.

Is it any wonder I'm tired during the day when I get so much exercise at night? Thankfully I haven't ever ventured out of my room at night - as that would be truly awful, getting locked out for the night, as I don't think I could go and waken anyone with a master key...

Radio appearance

I'll be making a 'live' appearance on RTE radio this Sunday! The Morning Service is from our College, and was recorded last night, but will be broadcast at some point on Sunday morning. We pulled together the choir again that functions for things like the Carol Service and random Communion services with special singing, and there was a really good sound coming from us (even if I do say so myself!). So we had 3 sopranos, 1 alto, 2 tenors (plus the pianist/conductor) and 3 bass. The readings, prayers and sermon were done by the staff of the College, and the rest of the First Years.

That is probably the most exciting piece of news this week from Dublin... although this Sunday I am venturing forth out of the Anglican fold to attend a Presbyterian service. Some sort of reflection and report will probably follow...

Please be praying for the 'Approach' outreach and mission event happening on Monday in Trinity - we're getting the final preparations together now for the event, and depend now on your prayers, and the grace of God, through the power of the Spirit to honour the preaching of Christ's cross and kingdom. Pray for Ed Vauaghan, the speaker, as well as the panel members, the whole team involved, and all who will come along.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


This morning was the first time I preached in the parish of Magheralin as their student reader, and what an experience! Hehe... The text of the sermon is below (in the previous post), but some of the surrounding things were rather amusing, or just plain embarrassing.

First off, the service in Dollingstown went really well. Hannah was leading the service for the first time, and she did very well. Gareth, the Rector, wasn't about Dollingstown this morning as he was at the more contemporary service in Magheralin. But we got on ok without him!

So then in Magheralin, we were robed up, with a huge and great choir... so we came up the aisle during the first hymn, got to the reading desk, turned round to look down the church, and behold, one of dad's cousins is sitting down the church, along with her husband, and their family connections to Magheralin. Oh dear! Just a bit embarrassing, and something I wasn't expecting. Especially, seeing as they had travelled from Dunmurry to be there...

So that was ok... the sermon came up, and I ventured into the pulpit. Robed, as I said earlier. And I'm still not entirely used to the robes, and negotiating steps... and stood on the bottom of the front of the cassock, and felt it dragging me down... Thankfully I was able to lift my foot and drag the cassock out from under before I landed on my head inside the pulpit - now that would have made an interesting start to the sermon!

So then later, during the prayer of Consecration (it was Holy Communion), I was at the kneeler at the south end of the Lord's Table, and underneath was polished marble... and I felt my feet slipping, and slipping... it was a bit of a struggle to stay upright on the kneeler! I just about managed it though, and was glad to be standing on my feet again!

I'm very grateful to Gareth and the people of Dollingstown and Magheralin for allowing me to come among them, and to assist in ministering to them. Let's hope it keeps going for the next while, without any truly embarassing incidents!!!

Authority - Action - Amazement. A Sermon preached in Dollingstown and Magheralin on Sunday 5th February 2005. Mark 1:21-28

Do you remember the old song by Percy French, called 'the mountains of Mourne'? It's about one man's experience as he moves to London, and gets a bit homesick, and wishes that he could be back in County Down, where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea. Well one of the verses goes a bit like this:

You remember young Peter O'Loughlin of course,
Well, now he is here at the head of the force,
I met him today, I was crossing the Strand,
And he stopped the whole street with one wave of his hand.

The thing about Peter that surprises the singer is that with just one wave of his hand, he can stop all the traffic. He is of course, a policeman, and so has the authority to do it. But it still amazes him, because he doesn't expect it to happen.

Authority leads to action, which leads to amazement. We find the same pattern working two times in the reading for today. We're going to look at the reading now, and seek to discover more about how Jesus' authority led to action, which led to amazement.

If we imagine ourselves in our reading this morning, we find ourselves in Capernaum, at the synagogue. The synagogue was the meeting place for Jews in each village or town, where they would gather to sing Psalms, hear the Scriptures read, and to have some teaching on the readings. In many ways, it was very similar to what we're doing this morning.

It also appears that the rulers of the synagogue would invite visiting speakers to preach, or to share a word of encouragement. This happened both with Jesus (Luke 4:16-21), as well as Paul in Acts 13:15 in Pisidian Antioch. So on this particular day, Jesus taught in the synagogue.
We aren't told what he said, but we are told about the reaction of the congregation. 'The people were amazed at his teaching.' They hadn't heard anything like it before! Why were they so amazed? 'because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.' (Mark 1:22)

Notice the contrast between Jesus and the teachers of the law. Jesus taught as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. You see, the teachers of the law couldn't give their own interpretation of the law, that is, of the first five books of the Bible. The teachers could only quote the authority of previous teachers, and say 'so and so said this' or 'so and so thought this' about the passage.

But here was Jesus, teaching with authority, his own authority! While Mark doesn't record his words, we can imagine what it was he was teaching. In Mark 1:14, we find the summary of Jesus' preaching: 'The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'

Mark's summary of Jesus' teaching and the peoples' response is not unique here. We find the same summary statement after the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel. 'When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.' (Matthew 7:28-29). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said several times 'You have heard that it was said... but I tell you.' Jesus gave the proper interpretation of the law. And we find that this was what he was doing in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Jesus had the authority to preach and teach, because he was the Son of God. After all, it was God who had given and written the law in the first place. So Jesus was presenting the full and proper meaning of the law, and when he preached, this led to amazement on the part of his hearers.

So what relevance has this for us today, two thousand years later? Well, we can still hear Jesus teaching us, through the study of his word, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And so the challenge stands for us today – are we willing to be taught? Do you make an effort to be learning from Jesus, not just here in church, but also in the Bible study, or your own quiet times?

When was the last time you were amazed by the teaching of Jesus? Are the Scriptures so familiar to you, or is the way that you read them so shallow, that you haven't been excited or amazed by them? Let's pray indeed that Jesus would still teach us authoritatively through his word.

I mentioned earlier that when Jesus preached, it led to amazement on the part of his hearers. Naturally, our thoughts turn to the congregation present. But there was another hearer too. And this links in to what Gareth mentioned in passing last week, about the 'hidden world' all around us.

'Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out' (Mark 1:23). The quietness and dignity of the service is shattered by the shout of a man possessed by a demon. Both through hearing the preaching of the kingdom, and the voice of Jesus, the demon knows immediately who is present in the synagogue.

'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!' (Mark 1: 24).

The demon recognises Jesus as being both man and God. He describes him as 'Jesus of Nazareth' and 'the Holy One of God.' And rightly so! Of course the created being knows the One who created him. As Colossians tells us, '[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.' (Colossians 1:15-16).

The evil spirit recognised Jesus, and trembled at his authority, at his power over him. And when Jesus commanded him to depart from the man, he had to obey. Jesus had authority over the demon, and still has authority over all creation.

As the previously possessed man picks himself off the ground, you can see the amazement on the faces of the congregation. And you hear them asking one another: 'What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him!' Once again, authority leads to action, which leads to amazement.

So I ask again. When was the last time you were amazed at Jesus? Do we recognise Jesus for who he is? Isn't it ironic that the congregation didn't recognise who he was, even though they had the testimony of the evil spirit? Here was the Holy One of God standing in their midst, yet they focus on the effects of his authority, rather than on him. They ask 'what is this?' rather than 'who is this?'

Ask people today outside the church who Jesus is, and they might tell you he was a good man, or a great teacher. But his teaching, and his casting out demons, in fact, all his actions were to show and prove who he was – in the opening words of Mark's Gospel: 'Jesus Christ, the Son of God.' The only way Jesus could teach as he did, and cast out demons as he could, was because he was, and is the Son of God.

As CS Lewis famously put it:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon and you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

We've been thinking this morning about the authority Jesus possessed, the actions he did, and the amazement which followed. But the story doesn't end there. Because we also have been amazed by what Jesus has done for us, his saving action on the cross. And our amazement has led us to repentance and to faith, as we trust in his action for us.

Having believed in him, then, Jesus has given us his authority. 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them... and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.' (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus has been given authority, and it is because of this that he sends us out, to witness for him wherever we are, in work or school, or home, or in the shops or wherever. And as we do these actions in his authority, telling others about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then our hearers will be amazed, and want to know more about Jesus and his saving gospel.

Let's pray that we will afresh know the authority of Jesus, the Holy One of God, and that as he teaches and cleanses us, that we will be amazed at his mercy, and grace and love, shown to us. And that we will then, in turn, witness to what Jesus has done.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Home again!

So there we are! Back in Dromore again for another weekend, made even better by Lynsey being home too!!! She had her introduction to the College last night, and to the characters in the College, and has survived all right! We even had the joy of having her in our systematics lecture this morning, where we were looking at the doctrine of the Trinity.

We then had the afternoon in Dublin, having a wander about, and a viewing of the Book of Kells in Trinity Library. But boys oh... the fog on the way home (from the border) was rather shocking, with the journey from the A1 to Dromara being slow and slightly dangerous!

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Homiletics is basically the study of preaching, and is one of the new courses we have started in the second term. So we've had two weeks of it so far, and I'm particularly enjoying it. For the class yesterday, we had to prepare some thoughts and background on John 2:1-11 (The wedding at Cana), and the whole hour of the class was basically an extended Bible study on the passage. Now this is more like it!!!

We haven't really learnt much about how to preach at the minute though, which is what I'm looking forward to learning a bit more about. Although I'm not sure if what we'll be taught here would compare with the material and content of the Theological Students' Conference I was at last summer in London at the Proclamation Trust.

Speaking of which, the Conference will be running this year again (under a slightly different name of the Preaching Summer School, but with the same focus), and I'm hoping to attend, with some of my colleagues from here in Dublin. More information is available from the Proc Trust website.

On other news, Lynsey touches down in Dublin in about 6 hours time... oh what a day! We'll get to spend the day in Dublin tomorrow, prior to her doing a medical placement in a local surgery in County Down.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Got another two essay results back this week, and I'm well chuffed with both of them... New Testament and Church History were both higher than I expected, so let's hope that keeps up! I'll not give actual scores, as that would be improper to do!