Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Such peace with God is to be desired above all things. As Paul has taken pains to prove at the beginning of the book, we are all by nature and choice under the wrath of God, and the drama of the Epistle to the Romans, like the drama of the Bible as a whole, is how rebels who attract only the wrath of God can be reconciled to him. The answer is in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of his coming, death, and resurrection. God sent him to die in our place, "so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). Because of what Christ has borne, those who trust in him are "justified" : they are declared just by the holy God himself, not because they are, or because their sins do not matter, but because Christ has stood in their place. And the consequence of having been "justified through faith", Paul writes, is that "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
All glory to the God of the Gospel, and Christ Jesus, who died for me!
Monday, February 25, 2008
Enniskillen by night
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.
As I said in my last post, I was down in Fermanagh at the weekend. Rather than driving home to Dromore on Thursday and then to Fermanagh on Friday, I went direct from Dublin to Fermanagh on Friday, along the N3. It was new territory for me as I had never properly been in Cavan before - either the county or the town.
I got a few pictures of churches along the way, but they're not online yet. I reached Enniskillen at about 3.30pm on Friday and had a wander about the town with my camera. Then, as the dusk fell, I noticed the lights coming on at the Cathedral, the Cole monument, and the Castle.
Heading out the Sligo road, I found a car park beside a jetty, and got this picture! I'm really chuffed with it, as lough Erne managed to stay calm to allow the reflection to happen!
I've a few more in the set to upload, but I had to get this one online as soon as possible!
Sunday, February 24, 2008
With about 150 people on the weekend, a great time was had by all. Adrian Dorrian was the speaker, Dave Lowry led the praise band, and we had a big team of staff and facilitators.
I got a bit more sleep than normal this weekend - was in bed shortly after midnight both nights as I was tired. The bad thing is that I was able to have a full conversation with one of the guys who came into the room a couple of hours later!!! I don't remember any of it!
So it's a quick stop off at Dromore before I head on down to Dublin again for another busy week. Three essays and the 10,000 dissertation to get done in the next fortnight or so - to enable me to enjoy my holidays!
To see what went on over the weekend, you can see the official video here.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The book came about through my work with the innocent victims' group, West Tyrone Voice. Part of my work was research, and I produced an Irish History course to help us understand the past, and how we got to where we are today. The book is the full set of notes from the course, which has been generously funded by the Community Relations Council in Northern Ireland.
More news to come shortly!
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
The radio news had a snippet of an interview with one of the Sinn Fein Assembly Members, who was speaking about his case. The Sinn Fein MLA talked about how the British had always tried to recruit people involved in the republican movement to provide information. Most people refused to give in, but sometimes, individuals succumbed to the pressure, or the lure of the rewards - and that was just human nature, he supposed.
I found this comment incredibly ironic. For members of the republican movement to complain about someone's ethics in the selling of information is a sick joke. These are the same people who willingly and deliberately set out to murder and maim hundreds of innocent men, women and children. Or maybe there's a different set of ethics for murder than for greed?
Sunday, February 10, 2008
A Testing Time - A Sermon Preached in Drumgooland and Drumgath Parishes on 10th February 2008 (First Sunday in Lent): Matthew 4:1-11
As we have been thinking this morning, it is the first Sunday in Lent, a time when we remember Jesus being tempted. This morning, though I want to focus on what the temptations say to us about the person of Jesus. Who is this Jesus, who goes through the temptations, and why does the devil spend so much time with him?
If you’ll look with me at the opening words of our reading, Matthew 4 verse 1, you’ll see the importance of context. ‘Then Jesus was led by the Spirit.’ What happens in our reading this morning comes directly after what came before. So when was Jesus led by the Spirit? This comes immediately after Jesus was baptised by John in the River Jordan.
Look at the last verse of chapter 3 – 3:17 ‘And a voice from heaven said “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”’ At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father had affirmed that Jesus was his Son. Now, straight away, the devil puts Jesus to the test.
What are the devil’s first words to Jesus in chapter 4? ‘If you are the Son of God…’ The devil tests Jesus, challenging the word that the Father has spoken to him. This is nothing new for the devil. Do you remember what the serpent said to Eve in the Garden of Eden? ‘Did God really say…?’ (Genesis 3:1) Right back at the beginning, he was challenging God’s word, and it is no different today.
But before we go on to look at the temptations themselves, we also have to think about the wider biblical context. When you heard the reading earlier, did it make you think about the grand story of the Old Testament? You see, in Matthew 2, Matthew tells of Jesus going down into
When Hosea spoke those words, he was speaking about the exodus, when God brought
Therefore, it is highly significant that the temptations happen at the very start of Jesus’ ministry, and that they come in the desert. Having considered the background, we’re now able to think about the temptations themselves.
Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights in the desert. (Again, the significance of the number 40). After that time, it was natural that he would be hungry. And this gives the devil the opportunity to tempt Jesus. ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Notice that the devil recognises that Jesus has the power to do it. After forty days of hunger, it might even seem like a good thing to do. Yet Jesus recognises that he wasn’t given power and authority to use it selfishly.
In response, Jesus quotes from God’s word, from Deuteronomy 8. In Deuteronomy 8, Moses was reminding the children of the generation of Israelites who had failed in the wilderness what had gone wrong. God had been testing the people ‘in order to know what was in [their] heart, whether or not [they] would keep his commands.’ (Deut 8:2). By causing them to hunger, then feeding them with manna, God was reminding them that they don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Therefore, for Jesus to use his power selfishly, or to satisfy his own needs would be in disobedience to God’s word. Instead, he depends on God to supply his needs, and trusts for his provision. Jesus 1, Satan 0.
Satan then tries another approach. Once again, he introduces it with the challenge – if – ‘if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.’ Satan had taken Jesus to the highest point of the temple. And look at what happens – even the devil can quote scripture! He ties it to the promise of Psalm 91 that God will command the angels to protect his own. So surely if Jesus is the Son of God, then God will protect him if he abseils without a rope. What’s more, it would be the perfect way to prove to everyone (as well as Jesus himself) that Jesus was God’s Son. After all, the temple would be a busy place with lots of people around. If everyone saw Jesus jumping off the top and landing without any injury, then they would know that he was the Son of God and follow him.
Yet Jesus knows what is going on. While the devil may be able to quote scripture, his use of it will be as twisted as himself. He only uses the verses from Psalm 91 because it seems to help his cause. But while God promises ultimate security for the believer, it isn’t something you should try out, or provoke God into action.
Again, Jesus quotes from the early section of Deuteronomy as Moses speaks to the Israelites. ‘Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah.’ Once again, the temptation was for Jesus to use his power in an inappropriate way. It would have been sensational, but would have been in disobedience to God’s word. Jesus 2, Satan 0.
The devil then tries his final temptation, for the time being. Again, Jesus is taken to a high place, and shown the kingdoms of the world and their splendour (or glory, in some versions). ‘All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.’
What a vision that must have been, to see the glory of all the nations. If you’ve ever visited the
Yet when we think of it, this temptation is probably the most subtle. Jesus knew what his mission was – to die on the cross, in obedience to the Father, and through that, would be crowned with glory and honour. Think of that passage from Philippians 2 which speaks of Jesus’ descent into greatness, being obedient to death, even death on a cross; then Jesus is raised up so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The way of glory for Jesus was the way of obedience to death. As the old slogan goes, ‘no cross, no crown.’ Yet this was precisely what Satan was offering. He could enjoy the glory of the nations and have it all, without having to endure the cross. What a prospect!
But once again, Jesus recognises the temptation for what it was. In worshipping the devil, Jesus would have been disobeying the first commandment, and would have ultimately lost all that he had been sent to do. And once again, Jesus responds with that ‘it is written’ – again, God’s word is the motivation of obedience, and resisting the temptation. Jesus 3, Satan 0.
So how do the temptations of Jesus help us today, as we struggle with temptations? Firstly, we see that it is not a sin to be tempted. As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, we have a high priest ‘who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.’ Jesus was sinless, yet suffered the same temptations that we face.
Also, we see that temptations will be things that relate to our situation in life, and appeal to us. After fasting, the temptation for Jesus was to satisfy his hunger. Where do the temptations come in your life? Are there particular situations in work or in your street that present temptation? How can you watch out for temptations?
We also see that the temptations sought to make Jesus disobey God’s word. His solution was to quote scripture (in context) to keep him on track. How do you know what God’s will for your life is? Remember that Paul talks of the word of God as the sword of the Spirit – the one offensive weapon in the armour of God. How is your sword work?
But I want to finish with a word of grace and hope. Jesus demonstrated how he did not yield to temptation, and he is our example – as we seek to become more like Jesus. Yet there are times when we mess up; when we fall into temptation, and follow the desires of our human nature. Be assured that it is not all over – failure is not final!
Jesus fully obeyed the word of God and the law of God, and as we trust in him, God credits our account (bankrupt as it is by ourselves) with Jesus’ righteousness. Failure is not final because Jesus has died for our sins, and he gives us the grace to follow, the grace to rise again, the grace to stand and face the accuser (what the name Satan means).
Through the temptations of Jesus, we see again that Jesus is the Son of God, the one who obeys the Father’s will, and that he chooses to obey even when it hurts, as he goes to the cross. He knows what you’re going through, and is there for you. Hear these marvellous words from the letter to the Hebrews:
‘Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Heb 4:14-16)
Let us pray!
Friday, February 08, 2008
I want to tell you the story of a young woman who lived in Lurgan around 1705, named Margorie McCall.
Margorie is thought to have fallen ill and - as her family thought – died. There was quite a lot of commotion at the wake concerning a valuable ring that Margorie was wearing. Many of the mourners tried in vain to prise the ring from her fingers – perhaps because they anticipated the possibility that grave robbers would desecrate Margorie’s resting place in order to steal the ring.
After the wake, Margorie was duly interred in Shankill Graveyard. That very same night her body was exhumed by grave robbers. The robbers also tried in vain to remove the ring from her finger, but could not. Eventually a blade was produced – perhaps with the intention of severing her finger to remove the ring. As soon as blood was drawn from Margorie she came to – revived from the coma-like state - or ‘swoon’ - she had fallen into. This obviously gave the robbers the fright of their lives and they fled the cemetery never looking back. She climbed out of the coffin and began to make her way home.
Meanwhile her family were gathered around the fire at home when they heard a knock at the door. Margorie’s husband John – still wrecked with grief – exclaimed – “if your mother were still alive, I’d swear that was her knock.” And sure enough, upon opening the door John was confronted by his “late” wife – dressed in her burial clothes, very much alive. He fainted immediately.
It is said that Margorie McCall lived for some years after this grotesque event and when she did die she was returned to Shankill Graveyard and to this day her grave stone still stands. It bears the inscription – “Lived Once, Buried Twice.”
In our Bible reading today, we heard of a death. Lazarus, a friend of Jesus had died, leaving his two sisters behind. Mary and Martha were understandably upset, especially since they had sent for Jesus while Lazarus was still alive – while there was still a chance of recovery.
Yet Jesus hadn’t appeared. Instead, he had stayed where he was for another two days. Eventually, Jesus arrives at
As someone has once said, there are only two things guaranteed in this life – death and taxes. For many people, death is something to be feared, something to shy away from, because it means the end. There is an awful finality about death. This was felt in the days of Jesus – professional wailers would attend the home of the deceased, wailing for the dead, and helping those left behind to mourn.
But notice that both Mary and Martha had the same reaction to the death. In verses 21 and 32, each one says to Jesus ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ They seem to recognise that Jesus could have made a difference. He could have saved Lazarus from dying. Does Jesus make a difference for our grief? As we think about the passage, we will see how Jesus can make a difference in death.
The first sister to say it is Martha. You might remember from previously meeting Martha in Luke’s Gospel that she is the practical one. Martha was caught up in serving, getting annoyed while Mary sat listening to Jesus. Well, when Martha hears that Jesus is on the way, she goes out to meet him.
You know the way a sentence can sound differently depending on how it’s said, or in what context it comes? This is just one of those times – at first glance, it seems like Martha is giving Jesus a telling off, for not coming sooner, not being there at the right time to stop Lazarus from dying. Yet we can see that Martha is actually speaking words of faith, words of hope. Even though you weren’t here, ‘But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’
Even after all this, though, Martha still doesn’t seem to get it. Jesus gives a simple reply – ‘Your brother will rise again’, but Martha thinks he is speaking of the future resurrection at the Day of the Lord, on the last day.
Are you a Martha? She has no doubt that God could have worked in the past to save her brother. She has no doubt that God will work in the (long term) future to raise her brother. But she doesn’t think God can act in the present to raise her brother. Remember that Jesus is the same yesterday, and today and forever – he still has power to act today, and is still working for his glory.
Do you also see the graciousness of Jesus – he doesn’t get into a debate on how God can act; rather he states simply who he is, and what he can do. ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’
Here we have another of those ‘I am’ statements by Jesus we find throughout John’s Gospel. Jesus uses the divine name of Yahweh ‘I am’, and speaks of himself. We will see what this I am means, as the rest of the passage unfolds.
Martha expresses her faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ who was to come.
Next up, Mary comes along (with a crowd in tow). See as she falls at Jesus’ feet and uses the same words of Martha. If you had been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. That’s all she manages, as she weeps, and the crowd weeps with her. Do you see the different reactions? Once again, Mary is at Jesus’ feet, in close relationship with the Lord, pouring out her loss to him; it is enough to be with Jesus for her.
So far we have thought about the reactions of Mary and Martha to the death of Lazarus. Yet in these verses, we also see the reaction of Jesus. The shortest verse of the Bible speaks so much more to us, as we read in verse 35 that ‘Jesus wept.’ These were not the tears of the professional mourner, nor the detached onlooker. Through his tears, we know that Jesus is with us, alongside us in our griefs and losses.
Yet there is also, what the commentators describe as, anger. Twice we are told, Jesus was deeply moved. Some have argued that this is anger at death itself, in how it destroys and decays.
Nevertheless, by his tears, Jesus shows the deep love for his friend – a fact not missed by some of the crowd – ‘See how he loved him!’ Yet others in the crowd seem to be more cynical, almost challenging – ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’ Is this the expression of doubt or contempt – well, if Jesus was worth his salt, he could have saved him. Are they asking if there is a limit to Jesus’ power – well, he can do some things, but not others.
Yes, Jesus could have saved Lazarus from dying. Martha knew that. Mary knew that. Even the crowd seem to hint at it. What they fail to realise is that Jesus is going to do something much more amazing than healing. Jesus has said that he is the resurrection and the life, and he will demonstrate it.
Finally, they arrive at the tomb, and Jesus calls for the stone to be rolled away from the entrance. This was probably a similar type of tomb to that in which Jesus was laid. You’ll remember the worry the women had on that first Easter morning about who would roll away the stone for them – so here, the stone would be huge, needing several men to move it.
And yet again the ever-practical Martha jumps in. Why would you want to open the tomb to see the body? Decay will have started – there’ll be a smell. Lazarus is really dead, not like Margorie from our opening story. And after all, he’s been dead for four days. The Rabbis taught that the soul attempted to return to the body of the deceased for three days, and on the fourth day went off. He was really dead!
But Jesus knows what he’s doing, and reassures her by saying ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ Once again John has that focus on believing, seeing, and the glory of God. Again, we’re right back to the whole purpose of John’s Gospel – ‘these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:31).
Having prayed (for the audience to know that the Father has sent Jesus), he then cries in a loud voice – ‘Lazarus, come out.’ What was happening? Dead people don’t get up and walk out of their tombs… Yet behold, Lazarus comes out of the tomb, bound in the grave clothes. And Jesus tells them to ‘unbind him and let him go.’
Jesus declared that ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ and here we see, in a foretaste, just what that meant. Jesus is the one who has the authority over life and death, and who within a matter of days would himself die on the cross, only to rise again. While Lazarus would die again (and indeed, was the target of a murder attempt on the part of the chief priests – 12:9-11), Jesus will not die again, but lives for ever more.
As John Stott has commented, ‘Jesus’ remarkable reply, I am the resurrection and the life, is a culmination of the unfolding revelation in the preceding chapters. Jesus has been revealed as the giver of life, in a number of ways. Materially, he gives life to water, making it wine. Spiritually, he offers the new spiritual life of the
For the person in Christ, death is not the end. The raising of Lazarus is a sign – pointing us primarily to the glory of God manifest in Jesus; but it also points to the new life available in Jesus, to that eternal life, because Jesus has conquered sin and death.
As a result, we don’t have to be like the crowd of wailers, ‘sorrowing as those without hope’. We don’t have to wait, like Martha, for the last day for the new life to become real for us.
We can experience and enjoy that new, eternal life in Christ now, and look with hope through our earthly death, knowing that we live in him who has defeated death.
Jesus said: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
This was my first time at Croke Park, and I have to say, I was impressed with the size. Roughly 88,000 people jampacked into the stadium - an awful lot bigger than Windsor Park on match day. However, the stadium doesn't look right - it looks sort of half-done, as the stands aren't the whole way round. One end only has about half a stand, on the bottom deck.
Yet despite the number of people there, I think I have seen livelier funerals. Give me the 14,000 passionate Northern Ireland supporters of the Green and White Army any day. At Windsor we sing from start to finish (and after), but there seemed to be little passion in the Irish fans tonight.
To give them their dues, Ireland played well, with some good moves. In the first half, the Brazilian right-back didn't win a chase at all, and he wasn't much better in the second half. Duff and Keane seemed to work well together, and I was impressed with McGeady as well.
Yet I wasn't there to see the boys in green. It was all about the team in yellow; the nation who have set all the records in the World Cup; the team who showed their outstanding class and skill in simple but elegant football, threading together passes and not hurrying shots - as someone behind me remarked, 'they're trying to walk the ball into the net!' And on the 66th minute, score they did - Robinho finishing a good advance up the pitch.
For me, though, while the whole Brazilian team was impressive, my man of the match would have to be Julio Baptista, their number 7. No matter where the action was, he was involved; he seemed to always be on or near the ball, and covered every inch of the pitch.
All in all, a good evening, and us country boys managed to negotiate our way through the heaving streets of Dublin - the crowds that were out, you would think it was the Twelfth day!
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
We also showed John into Christ Church Cathedral for the first time, and again visited the crypts. But no mummies there; well, none without daddies too - but a different sort of mummy. Instead, you will find some of the equipment used in the Mass for James II before the Battle of the Boyne, and the celebratory silverware and Communion Plate given by King Billy (William III) after the Battle of the Boyne. The chalices and patens are huge!
This evening I've been writing a sermon for Thursday's exegesis class on the raising of Lazarus (John 11). So after all the death, it has been comforting and encouraging to hear again the words of Jesus - 'I am the resurrection and the life.' Amen.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
This is partly because of the different aims of the translators. According to the preface of the ESV, 'The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on "word-for-word" correspondence.' The TNIV, on the other hand, seems to present a balance between word for word correspondence and 'dynamic equivalence'.
Why have I been prompted to blog on this? Well, this morning's reading had such an example of seeing what can be lost by some translations.
Compare the two versions of Luke 2:26:
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. (TNIV)
And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (ESV)
Do you notice the double 'seeing' in the ESV text (which reflects the Greek script)? Simeon wouldn't see death until he had seen the Christ. A thought which isn't communicated just as well by the bald statement 'that he would not die.'
Praies God that God kept his promise, enabling Simeon to see the Christ before he saw death - 'a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.' May we also see the glory and light of Christ.
Friday, February 01, 2008
Mel Wiggins is an amazing singer, and is currently in the running for a recording budget of £15,000. To help her bid it's really simple - it will take about 5 minutes. You just have to go to Slice The Pie, sign up for a free account, then go to the Showcases button on the menu bar at the top. From there, it's in the 'All Genres 2' competition, and Mel appears in the list. You can hear three of her songs to hear how brilliant she is, then give her your vote!
It would be brilliant if you could do this - at present (about halfway through the competition) she is in second place with 15% of the votes, and the leaders have 16%. There are 12 days left to vote, so get your skates on!!!
For more information, you can see Dave's blog, Mel's blog, or the competition site itself.