Tuesday, February 27, 2007


It's been a couple of days since the last update, mostly because the essays are keeping me working away... On Friday I was in the position of having two weeks of term left, and four essays to be done by then. Now tonight, I'm in the position of having three essays to do - one completely planned, one partially planned, and the other I have a fair idea of where I'm going with it.

So hopefully by tomorrow night I will have the Old Testament essay conquered, and may even have started writing up one of the other ones. But that might be a bit too optimistic. Especially seeing as today we were given loads of reading for a seminar on Thursday, and Carmen and me have to present it and talk about it (as well as some of the Trinity students). Fun times ahead...

Nothing else to report, really... other than me looking forward to the break of three weeks! Hurray! The first will be spent in Scotland, and the rest has yet to be thought about - hopefully some lie ins, and some random drives...

Further thoughts from Nehemiah will be coming soon, if I find time to post them!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Good roads!

I was over in Dromara this afternoon visiting the in-laws to be (DV). And I was delighted to see that the Roads Service have laid a new surface on the B2 Ballynahinch Road between McAdam's Crossroads and Ballykeel Crossroads. Those two miles are now smooth, and not bumpy at all! Suddenly Ballykeel Hill is a delight to travel up and down! Hurray for the Roads Service!

A man of prayer

if I were to ask you to name a man of prayer from the Bible, who would it be? I'm guessing it would be Daniel. You probably know the children's chorus from Sunday School - 'Daniel was a man of prayer, daily he prayed three times.'

But he isn't the only one. I'm reading Nehemiah now, and have been struck by his prayerfulness. Having made it to the second chapter, he's already been praying right through - and the Commentary I'm using has highlighted that the praying goes right through.

Check out Nehemiah 2:4. Nehemiah is in front of the King of Persia, doing his job as cupbearer. Yet he's sad, noticeably sad. The king has asked what's wrong, and Nehemiah pours out his heart, saying that he's sad because of the condition of Jerusalem, the city of his fathers' graves. Then the question from the King comes: "What are you requesting?"

Imagine being in front of Queen Elizabeth, and she asks you what you want done! What would you do? I'm guessing I would probably launch into a series of requests - a new car, a tour around the world etc... But what does Nehemiah do? 'So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king...' Nehemiah's concern, even in that important moment was to pray. Just a sigh, or a breath, maybe, but still an awareness that he couldn't do it on his own, and appealing to God for help and strength.

So what? Does this passage just teach us that in trying situations it's a good idea to fire up an 'arrow prayer' to God? Well, maybe, yes, but more than that, we see that his prayer in the heat of the moment was rooted in being a man of prayer - as we see when we read Nehemiah 1.

That's when Nehemiah heard of the state of Jerusalem from his brother, and look at his response: 'As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven' (Nehemiah 1:4). In another posting coming soon, we'll look at the content of that prayer, but for now, let's just think of his habit of praying.

It took his praying in secret to empower him to prayer in the moment of opportunity. How do we pray? Do you aspire to be a man or woman of prayer?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Electoral Videos

As you may be aware, we have the Assembly Elections coming up on 7th March 2007 in Northern Ireland. To some extent, it's being seen as a referendum on the St Andrew's Agreement, and could see power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It seems that the parties are tapping into popular culture, using blogs and even YouTube to get their message across.

First up, Peter Robinson has started a daily webcast video on YouTube. This is quite a step forward, with Robinson attempting to explain why the DUP are the party to support through the medium of internet video. Also from the DUP, check out the Lagan Valley candidates out canvassing in Lisburn. The Green Party has also got in on the act - here, you can see the North Down candidate's video.

Also, check out the Voice4Democracy blog, supported by people who are opposing the DUP in this election, and who are unhappy with the prospect of terrorists in government. Some interesting reading, and check out the videos of DUP Executive candidates entering the Executive meeting - how they blank the victims' representatives.

For me, it's going to be a postal vote from Dublin as I won't be home for it. So decision time will be sooner than March 7th!

Theological Worldview

Yet another one of those quizzes that float about the internet - have a go yourself and see how you fare!

You scored as Reformed Evangelical. You are a Reformed Evangelical. You take the Bible very seriously because it is God's Word. You most likely hold to TULIP and are sceptical about the possibilities of universal atonement or resistible grace. The most important thing the Church can do is make sure people hear how they can go to heaven when they die.

Reformed Evangelical


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox








Roman Catholic


Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The irony of it all on Ash Wednesday

How is it that we in the church tend to hear what Jesus says, and then turn round and do the opposite? For example, Jesus warned his disciples to 'beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the market-places and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretence make long prayers' (Mark 12:38-40). And normally, those words are read by a cleric, wearing long flowing robes, who have come to the lectern from their special seat at the front of the meeting house... Something not quite right there...

I was struck again by this thought as the readings for Ash Wednesday were read at our retreat today. Ash Wednesday being the day when some people are marked by ashes, and wear them on the forehead throughout the day. Quite a public sign of fasting / discipline / denial, yet in the reading, Jesus says: 'beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven... and when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward' (Matthew 6:1, 16).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Beating the Retreat

Tomorrow, being Ash Wednesday, we're going on a retreat. A corporate one for the whole community. Should be interesting. My chosen reading for the day (other than the Scriptures, of course), will be 'The Hand of God' by Fred Leahy. Not sure how much free time we'll have, but I'd like to get through a good bit of it. I've enjoyed his other books, and am looking forward to benefiting from this one too.

Monday, February 19, 2007

'The Loard be wi ye'

I think I've written before about the times when I break into a flurry of Ulster-Scots. Sometimes in conversation, and sometimes it happens when I'm reading or preaching in church. Suddenly, I find myself pronouncing words as if I'm frae Ballymena.

And so it was that this evening I was leading the Evening Worship (makey-uppy) service in college chapel. 5pm arrived, and I stood to give the opening words of the sentence: 'The Lord be with you.' Except, it seems that I didn't say that. Rather, it was more like 'The Loard be wi ye'... I didn't notice at the time, but others did, and smiled... laughter would have been a bad thing, as it would have been infectious! But it was only after Late Praise that they told me about it!

For my excuse, I'm going to blame the Kilkeel people I had contact with over the weekend... maybe listening to them talk put the Ullans back in my head and it found a way out of my mouth when I started the service tonight!

Fair fa' ye!

Faith and worth: A sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 18th February 2007. Luke 7:1-10

When you hear the name, Neil Armstrong, you might think of the honour and respect he receives from people, and the fame he has, because of being the first man on the moon. You might even think that he deserves the attention. But recently in an interview, Armstrong said this: "I don't deserve [attention for being the first man on the moon because] I wasn't chosen to be first," says Armstrong, visibly uncomfortable. "I was just chosen to command that flight. Circumstance put me in that particular role. That wasn't planned by anyone," he says.

As we meet together for worship, and especially as we approach the Lord’s Table tonight, on what basis do we come? On what grounds do we come to the Table? Have we ideas of merit or worthiness? Or do we come by faith, trusting in God’s word?

In our Gospel reading, we heard of Jesus and a centurion. The two men didn’t meet. Yet Jesus commended the centurion for his faith. As we look again at the passage, we’ll see the two methods of approach, and which one Jesus commends.

Jesus has returned to Capernaum again. It’s the place where he healed the demon-possessed man in the synagogue in Luke 4, so he was probably well known. Further, verse one tells us that he entered the town when he had finished his teaching – that version of the Sermon on the Mount which is found in Luke’s Gospel. So it may well be he had been not too far from Capernaum when he was teaching.

Within the town there lives a centurion. A Roman soldier, in charge of 100 men. One of the commentators suggested that in rank he’s roughly equivalent to today’s captain. But there’s a problem. His servant, his favourite servant, who is highly valued by him, is sick. More than that, the servant is at the point of death. What could be done for the servant?

It seems, as we will soon see, that the centurion was in touch with the Jewish population and the synagogue. And so, he hears about Jesus, who has arrived in town. Jesus the teacher. Jesus the healer (Luke 6:17-19). Could it be that Jesus can help the servant? Could he make him better?

Already we get a hint of the centurion’s humility, as he first goes about approaching Jesus. Notice that he doesn’t go himself. Rather, he sends the Jewish elders – were these the select vestry of the synagogue; those who oversaw the community and the synagogue.

Why did he send them? Why didn’t he go himself? Could it be that he was afraid to go to see Jesus to ask him to do something, given that he was a foreigner, an outsider? Maybe he thought he would get a better hearing from Jesus if he sent the Jewish elders – Jesus’ own people, as it were.

Yet they didn’t do him any good. Look at verse 3: ‘When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.’ A simple request: ‘to come and heal his servant.’ But what do the elders do with it? Rather than coming with that simple request, the plea for mercy, the elders come with bargaining chips – arguments as to why Jesus should come and help him.

It’s as if they try to force Jesus into being merciful. Look at what they do, verse 4: ‘And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying ‘He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.’

Why should Jesus help him? Because the centurion has done so much. Do you hear them? ‘He is worthy to have you do this for him.’ He deserves you to help him. It’s as if the elders are trying to buy Jesus’ favour, by highlighting the list of things the centurion has done.

As I said earlier, the centurion would have been a foreigner, and probably a heathen or pagan. While he had been stationed in Capernaum, he had come to a change of mind. Firstly, they said, he loves our nation. Despite being a foreigner, an outsider, he loves the Jews, the people of God. But then he went further than that, because secondly, they said ‘he is the one who built us our synagogue.’ He loved the Jews so much and sees the importance of their God, that he provided the meeting place for them.

Can you see what the Jews are trying to do? It’s almost emotional blackmail of Jesus – because this man has done all this stuff for us (and by extension, for God), then you should do this for him. He is worthy. He deserves this favour. He deserves this grace.

Shift for a moment from the passage, to the church and world around you. Do we ever see this attitude in other people, or in ourselves? Have you ever come to church with this sort of attitude? Is this the basis of your hope – reckoning on the balance of all your merits to persuade or force God into accepting you?

What the Jews were saying, when you bring it into today’s culture was first off – we deserve grace if we love our nation – not in a nationalistic way, but that we are contributors to society. Sort of, he’s a good, loyal, upstanding citizen. He’s decent. He works hard and doesn’t do anybody any harm. Or she’s always well dressed, and always polite. She’s on the PTA.

The second appeal for grace was on the basis of what we do for the church. So just as the centurion built the synagogue – we deserve grace because we pay in to the church; or give a donation to the building fund every month (or once in a while). Or as we look at others - they’ve been on the select vestry and even had ago at being churchwarden. So obviously, they deserve grace – they’ve worked for it. They are worthy to be right with God, and to come to Holy Communion.

The elders were also trying to be gatekeepers on God’s mercy – trying to set boundaries for God’s love. Normally, a centurion – an occupying soldier, one of the enemy, would be hated. The only reason they thought he deserved God’s favour was because of what he had done. Had he just been a regular centurion doing his job, would they have cared about him, or helped him? Do we set limits on God’s love? Do we say (or think) that God only loves those inside the church? Do we view outsiders as less loveable, or less important?

Notice that Jesus goes with the elders. He doesn’t agree to do anything on the basis of their arguments or merits. He doesn’t immediately correct them either, but that rebuke will come in due time. In the mean time, he’s on his way towards the centurion’s house to heal the servant. Will he get there on time?

And so, on the way, they’re stopped by another delegation from the centurion’s house. Are these people going to tell Jesus that it’s too late, and not to bother? But no, it seems they have another message!

Let’s read 6-8 again. ‘When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

What a contrast to the attitude of the Jewish elders! They were arguing on the basis of his deserving the favour; the centurion pleads on the basis of not deserving anything. The elders said ‘he is worthy’, but the centurion says himself ‘I am not worthy.’

How does he demonstrate that he is unworthy, and approaches Jesus on the basis of seeking mercy, rather than on the basis of what he deserves?

Firstly, from verse 7, ‘I did not presume to come to you.’ The centurion was so conscious of his unworthiness that he didn’t dare to come into Jesus’ presence. Do you remember the words of Peter, when Jesus directed the miraculous catch of fish? ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Luke 5:8). Even though the centurion was an outsider, he recognised Jesus for who he is – calling Jesus ‘Lord’.

And as he recognises Jesus as Lord, he also recognises the authority Jesus has. The centurion well understands authority, both in terms of those under him, as well as those over him. As he says in verse 8, when I tell a soldier to go somewhere, he goes; and when I tell my servant what to do he does it. But the first part of verse 8 reminds us of those who were over him, who he had to obey – ‘for I too am a man set under authority’. That chain of command stretched up through the ranks to Caesar himself.

If Caesar commanded, he did it. Caesar had the power in the military realm. And he applies this to Jesus – seeing Jesus’ authority over sickness and life itself. Caesar was regarded as supreme commander – but here the centurion recognises the true supreme commander, and the true Lord.

How is it he recognises Jesus’ authority? How is it he shows himself to be unworthy? Those key words that connect the two things we’ve looked at so far – ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy you have you come under my roof… But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority…’

Say the word and my servant will be healed (as the NIV renders it). Do you see the faith the centurion is showing here? That faith shines out brightly – asking for mercy, because he is unworthy and doesn’t deserve it – yet he firmly believes that Jesus only has to say the word, and his servant will be healed, restored, given his health again.

What boldness, to approach Jesus, and to say to him, I don’t deserve anything from you, but I believe you can and will do it anyway! No wonder that Jesus marvels in verse 9, and says ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’

Jesus had come to Israel, to the people of God who had been expecting their Messiah King for so long, and he came across unbelief. But worse, the religious people, like the Jewish elders, were trying to buy God’s favour by doing things – trying to earn God’s grace. Yet this foreigner, this enemy soldier displays such a faith that it amazes Jesus!

But do you notice why the centurion has such faith? Yes, it’s firstly because it is in Jesus – but much more than that, it reveals something of who Jesus is. We’ve already thought about it briefly as we considered the centurion’s use of authority – he saw that Jesus’ word was enough for something to be done, in the same way that his word was enough for a soldier to obey him.

Yet this points us to just who Jesus is. For the miracle to happen, Jesus didn’t have to be there – Luke records this for us in verse 10. When the men who came to Jesus return to the house, the servant is already well! Jesus speaks, and it is done. Does this have echoes of anything for you? Does it remind you of another story?

Think of Genesis 1. God is creating the world and all in it. And it just takes him to speak, and it happens. God’s power is revealed in his word. God speaks, and it is done. Genesis 1:5 says this: ‘And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.’ Time and time again, God says ‘let there be…’ and it happens!

So here, in our passage, the centurion recognises Jesus for who he is – God among us – with the power and authority to speak and for it to be done. No presence or touch was needed – just the word to be spoken.

[Contrast this to even the apostles, the immediate followers of Jesus. In Acts 19, there’s a curious passage about the healing hankies – ‘And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them’ (Acts 19:11-12). There was some personal contact between Paul and the sick person. But here, by the time the people who are with Jesus get back to the house, the servant is already well!]

So how do we respond to this passage? How does it affect what we do later tonight, and in the days to come? As we approach the table, do we come trusting in our own merits, or looking at the merits of others? Or do we come recognising our faults and failings as we say ‘I am not worthy’ – yet trusting in God’s mercy and grace?

[As we finish off, this passage reminded me of a parable Jesus tells later in Luke’s Gospel which speaks about the attitude of approach. ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee standing by himself prayed thus: “God I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted’ (Luke 18: 10-14).]

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The past week...

Wow.. how quickly a few days go by, and no postings made because of busy-ness! This will be a very quick update as I'm getting ready to head out to church. Preaching in the Cathedral in about an hour's time and I'm still wearing my 'youth leader informal clothes' which won't cut it for the evening service - although I wonder if anyone would notice my jeans peeking out from beneath my robes! (Sermon will follow in due time!)

For the past couple of days I've been over in Fermanagh at the Down and Dromore, and the Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh Confirmation Weekend. We once again invaded the Share Centre in Lisnaskea, having main worship times, as well as small group sessions, and other activities (archery, canoeing, climbing, karting, and 'extreme t-shirt printing'). It was great to have the opportunity to share our faith with the young people who will make their own promises of faith in the next few weeks and months. But as well as that, it was good seeing friends from other parts of the diocese and country.

Before that, on Thursday night I was in St Saviour's Dollingstown at the 'Third Thursday' service. It included the service of Holy Baptism, using the baptismal tank which is a feature in the new building. Every blessing to Glenn and Andrea after their dunking in the cold water - something they won't forget in a hurry!

Before that, I was in Dublin, working away on essays and stuff... and speaking of Dublin, I'll return there in a few hours time, with another week of essays to do, as well as College Fellowship on Tuesday night with Gordon McDade, and a retreat on Wednesday for Ash Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The new toy

Just a quick posting from my new PDA! It's an ACER n 50 with integrated wireless. A whole bunch of us bought them together and are now having the fun of trying to get them to work!

Just one more distraction from the essays that are piling up!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Falling from grace: A Sermon preached in Magheralin Parish Church on 11th February 2007. Galatians 5:2-10

In these days of celebrity exposure on TV and magazines, we’re all too familiar with the fall from grace. Someone who was popular, or important, or influential does something or says something, and suddenly, they are dropped, ignored and forgotten. Think of Kate Moss, after the drugs scandal, or Jade Goody after her alleged racism on Big Brother. They’re out in the wilderness, and their position is lost.

As we come to our passage in Galatians 5, Paul warns his readers in verse 4: ‘you have fallen away from grace.’ So what does Paul mean when he says that they have fallen from grace? How did they get into that position, and what were the alternatives? And what will it mean for us? Is there a danger that we could fall away from grace?

So let’s first see what Paul means when he says that the Galatians have fallen away from grace. It is certainly a serious situation – to fall away, or remove yourself from grace – from God’s favour. Are we right to think that it is a position of being removed from God’s favour? Yes – look at verse 4 again. Not only does Paul describe it is falling away from grace, he also sees them as being ‘alienated from Christ.’

Remember, these are Christians Paul is writing to. This is a terribly serious situation – no wonder Paul uses such strong language right through the letter. If you know Galatians at all, you’ll have come across his outbursts, cursing those who try to preach a different gospel (1:8-9), his confrontation with Peter (2:11-14), his words in 3:1 (‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?’). Then just after our passage ends, he exclaims that he wishes that ‘those agitators… would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!’ (5:12).

So how did the Galatians get into this position? Why does Paul say they have fallen from grace? Look to verse 4 again – ‘You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.’ (5:4). The foolish Galatians were trying to be justified by law. So what does that mean? Quite simply, they were trying to be right with God by keeping the law. Verses 2 and 3 point us towards circumcision – as symbolising the law.

It seems that after Paul had visited Galatia and preached the gospel there (and moved on), other teachers came in to the church who were teaching something different. No longer was it salvation by faith alone, as Paul had taught. They were teaching that to be right with God, the Gentiles had to first become Jews before becoming Christians. And so, they insisted on circumcision for the Galatians, in order to be right with God.

Imagine you were a Christian in Galatia. Paul had taught them the basics of the faith and moved on. Then the other teachers arrived – maybe even claiming to have connections to the church in Jerusalem – who say that you have to submit to the Jewish customs and law in order to be fully right with God. Well, what do you do? You’ve no idea where Paul is now – he could be in Philippi or Thessalonica or Corinth… And you want to make sure you’re doing it right. So the Galatians bought into the new teachers.

But now Paul has heard of it, and he’s furious! Cue the curses and outbursts. Why is he so furious? Well, it’s simply the case that the Galatians were putting their hope and confidence in something other than Jesus. Their focus and attention was shifting from Christ alone, to Christ plus circumcision.

If they were hoping to be made right with God through the law (and through circumcision), then they weren’t looking to Jesus alone for their salvation. Call it an insurance package or whatever – you know, just to make sure, we’ll cover all bases and all possibilities for salvation – but really, it was to their condemnation and shame.

Why was this? Well, because if they are circumcised, then Christ is of no value to them. Christ won’t make any difference to them, because their confidence is in their circumcision. And yet, they’re not in a good position – verse 3 says that ‘every man who lets himself be circumcised … is required to obey the whole law.’ By submitting to the law, they were required to obey all of it, if they aimed to be right with God through it.

Yet they could never achieve this. No one (except for Jesus), could keep the whole law. So if they were trusting in their law-keeping, then they were condemned already. Remember what James said – ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it’ (James 2:10).

The Galatians were tempted by the Jesus plus circumcision package of the false teachers. Perhaps they were looking for that extra security or assurance. But in reality, they had exchanged freedom in Christ for the slavery of the Law. Isn’t that the point of 5:1, which we didn’t read tonight, but provides a key to the passage: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’

The Galatians had been under the slavery of sin. Jesus then freed them through his death on the cross for them, and by their coming to faith in him. But now they were exchanging their freedom in Christ for a new slavery under the law.

How does this affect us today? After all, we don’t have teachers going about saying that we need to submit to circumcision and the Jewish law and customs to be saved. That particular testing isn’t a problem to the modern church. I’m not sure it would gain much popularity anyway, if teachers came today preaching the need for circumcision.

Yet we face similar problems. For the Galatians, the teaching was implying that to be saved, they had to trust in Jesus and be circumcised. It was ‘Gospel Plus’. Trust in Jesus, yes, but you also have to fulfil all these other criteria too. What do we see around us in churches and denominations? Fill in the sentence – to be saved, you must trust in Jesus and …… - abstain from alcohol, or vote unionist, or whatever.

Are there problems with this approach? Yes, absolutely! The offer of free salvation in Christ becomes perverted and distorted to fit the other agendas of the individuals concerned. Suddenly, the gospel isn’t a free offer, when the other conditions (which may not be biblical) are added to it. And so easily, the focus can shift from faith in Jesus to that external thing which is noticeable.

But there’s another issue that arises as we seek to apply this passage today. The Galatians had been confused and led astray by the teaching they had received. Look at verse 7: ‘You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?’ It was their teachers who had cut in on them – that image of the athlete running, and someone getting in their way, diverting them. Paul is rightly harsh on the false teachers – affirming that they will pay the penalty (10).

And yet the Galatians were partly to blame for being led astray. I’m not saying that there’s a possibility of being led astray by those who teach here – not even when your new curate arrives – but how careful are you to check what you are being taught? Do you accept what is said from the pulpit without thinking, or do you check that it is what the passage is saying, and in line with the Scriptures?

Having looked at the position the Galatians were in – that of having fallen from grace; and considered how they had ended up in that situation – we should ask – was there an alternative? What was Paul urging on the Galatians?

Look again at verse 4, and read on into 5. In 4, we see ‘you’ and ‘you’, whereas in 5 we see ‘we’ and ‘we’. There’s a change and a contrast there, ushered in by the first word of verse 5: ‘but’. Let’s read it – ‘You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (4-6).

What is the alternative Paul urges? Rather than being alienated from Christ, the true believer is ‘in Christ Jesus’. Rather than trying to be justified, there is the hope and eager expectation for the true righteousness. Rather than working for justification by the law, their righteousness comes from faith. Rather than being right with God through something done to the flesh, the true believer is right with God through the Spirit.

So what is the position we should be aiming for? ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (6).

Paul has already been arguing that circumcision has no value – but he goes further here to say that being uncircumcised is no better. Just as those who were circumcised had nothing to boast about, so those who hadn’t been circumcised had nothing to boast about. Tom Wright suggests that the word for ‘value’ can also mean power – there’s no power in being circumcised or not being circumcised.

So to return to our earlier application of seeing other churches where we might see ‘Gospel Plus’ in operation – it won’t do us any good to boast that we aren’t like that, or that we don’t make additional demands.

The only thing that counts, Paul tells us is this: ‘faith expressing itself through love.’ How are we made right with God? Through faith. But it isn’t a dry intellectualism – in simply assenting to a series of beliefs. No, the faith is living and active – expressing itself in love. Being seen by what it does.

We don’t do the works to be saved. But the works we do show that we have been saved by faith. This is, for Paul, the key to Christian living – as he will go on in the rest of the chapter to write of the fruit of our faith – the fruit of the Spirit, those things that can be seen and are evidences of our faith – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

So having seen the options available to the Galatians, we have to ask – what way are we going? Are we, like the Galatians running well? Will we continue to run well, not allowing anyone to cut in on us? How do we keep it going? Let’s pray that we will continue to have faith expressing itself through love, rather than trusting in any sort of Gospel-plus system.

If you’re still in slavery to your sins, and have never known freedom, then Christ offers freedom to you tonight, as verse one reminds us. Come to him, and be set free! And if you do know Christ, and have been freed by him, then I urge you to continue to run well, in freedom.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

10,000 up!

I've just noticed that we have now exceeded 10,000 page views, according to the Bravenet counter. Hurray! Keep on coming back and reading these pages...

Fleeing and Pursuing

Another quick insight from 2 Timothy. Some people reckon that Christianity is all negative, based in laws and 'thou shalt nots'. They couldn't be further from the truth! Rather, as we see here, God's commands are both positive and negative, and are always for our best interests.

So, for example, Jesus' words in Mark 1:14 - 'Repent and believe the good news' - repentance being turning away from sin, and believing being the turning towards God in faith. We also see this pattern in the words of Paul to Timothy: 'Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.' (2 Tim 2:22)

Yes, we're to flee bad things - to not give them ground, to not stand in them or let them develop. Rather, we're to get our trainers on and run away - fleeing the evil desires of youth. But it's not entirely negative... we're not to be headless chickens running around.

Paul gives us what we're to run towards - we're to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. What better things could there be to pursue, to run after, and to make our own? And yet, if we're honest, it won't be easy. The metaphors Paul has been using in 2 Tim 2 show determination, endurance and hard work.

But the good news is that we don't do it alone - we aren't lone rangers; we are soldiers together in the army of the Lord! Look - we have to flee and pursue 'along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart.' Thank the Lord that we have other Christians to share with in our struggles, and to encourage each other!

Friday, February 09, 2007

My breakfast view

Remember I was writing last week about not being able to upload photos? Well, now I have managed to get some good ones online. What about this for a view for breakfast?
This is the view of Edinburgh Castle from inside the Elephant Cafe, which is down towards Greyfriars Church and Cemetery. The food seems to be very good, and as you can see, the view is also great!

Links to more pictures from Edinburgh can be seen at my Flickr account.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dublin Photo!

As I was previously saying, I was out taking some photos of Dublin between classes last week. This is one of my favouritest photos taken that day, of O'Connell Street, and the shadow of the Spire / Spike in the sunlight! To see all my photos, check out my Flickr Dublin tag!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

600 not out!

So this is now my 600th posting, according to the Blogger records on my dashboard. And a wee bit of catch-up needs to be done, since my last posting. Sunday morning we went as usual to Logie & St John's Cross Church in Dundee (known locally as Logie's). The minister, David Scott was preaching on: Jesus on trial - the testimony to him, and the Jews on trial because they rejected him. Great stuff. And the sermon is available to download from the Logie's sermon downloads page, as are many more! We stayed on for coffee, and got chatting to lots of people (many with Norn Iron links!), which was great.

Sunday lunch, then, was haggis, neeps and tatties. Yes, that traditional Scottish fare, so soon after Burns Night - and my first experience of eating haggis. It was rather nice, actually, and something I would like to have again. Then we watched the Ireland v Wales 6 nations game before it was time for me to head back home again. Well, to Dublin anyway. And so the train journey back to Edinburgh. Then the bus journey out to the airport. Then the sit in the airport (as the Dublin flight is the last one out of Edinburgh on a Sunday night). Then the flight, and the wait for the luggage. It was just about 1am when I got back to college.

Any wonder I was wrecked yesterday, and had a bit of a sore head?! But it was worth it for the time I was able to spend with Lynsey.

College has been going on as normal, well, what I have seen of it. I haven't missed any classes, but went to bed at 6pm last night, first off lying on top of the bed til 9.30, then getting up for a few minutes and a chat with Lyns, and then back to bed again... That cleared the headache, thankfully, and I've been fine today!

We had Liz McElhinney speaking at College Fellowship tonight - great, encouraging stuff! Liz is on fire for the Lord - may we also have her passion and zeal!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Dundee again!

And so here I am in Scotland again, my first visit of 2007. Following the excitement of Thursday, with the self-appraisal interviews, and some provisional curacy news for the final year students, it was a very early start on Friday morning - 3am, to be exact! The M50 was quiet enough at that time, you'll be unsurprised to hear, and so I was in the airport nice and early. Yes, I'm the sort of person who likes to be nice and early to appointments, and especially the airport. Plus, it means I can sit and read, or watch the world go by.

I mostly chose the reading option, which meant that by the time I had landed in Scotland, I had read through Max Lucado's new book, 'Facing Your Giants.' It's on the life of David, and revolves around the maxim: Focus on giants - you stumble. Focus on God - your giants tumble.' Lucado is generally 'light' reading, but the illustrations are great, and his stories are always good. He is definitely a wordsmith, the way he turns memorable phrases and word plays out. Plus, he is always focused on Scripture, and teaching the message of the passage.

However, in my people-watching, I noticed a rugby team from Old Belvedere in Dublin who were flying out to Spain. Their destination was San Sebastian, and brought back good memories of last summer to me, and our day trip to the coastal town in Spain... and the heat of the place!!!

Having landed in Edinburgh as the dawn was breaking, I got into the city and left off my bag in the station. Then off for a wander, taking in breakfast in a wee cafe at the foot of the Castle Mount, with a great view of Edinburgh Castle. Pictures to follow on Flickr and here! I then couldn't miss my regular tour of bookshops in Edinburgh, along the Grassmarket and on out round the back of the Castle.

It's been great being back in Dundee and seeing Lyns again! Today we got a trip to the hospital (no, don't worry, neither of us are sick, bad and bokey) and then into the city centre for some book browsing and other shopping. Tonight the meal was in Rancho Pancho, and was delicious - Mexican food, so a wee bit spicy - my usual order of fajitas!

But the weekend is too short, and so tomorrow it's back to Dublin again...