Thursday, April 30, 2009

April Review

This is my 50th posting in April, again, the most of any April on the blog. This year is definitely setting records in blog postings! We also had our first ever guest post on the Emmaus Road.

April is the month for fools, and on the blog, I was no exception. There was the sermon on the fool from Psalm 1, a foolish TV news announcer, some foolishness of my own in Lanzarote about the Amy Grant museum, and a round-up of links to other April Fools blogging.

Easter fell in April this year, so there were lots of reflections on Holy Week, with a special focus on the betrayal of Judas, parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. There was music for Good Friday, a sermon on the Wednesday of Holy Week, and some thoughts on the resurrection from Eugene Petersen and Bruce Milne.

Book reviews featured this month were on The Cross of Christ, The Horse and His Boy, Christ in the Passover, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Living the Resurrection, and The Kite Runner.

Sermons were from Psalm 14, Luke 4 (audio), Galatians 6 (audio), and Titus 2 (audio) and 3 (audio).

In the "what's on your iPod?" feature we had Candy to Chocolate, I, I, I, Red River, and music for Good Friday.

My favourite blog posting from April was Weeds and Sins.

Four months are gone in 2009, a third of the year. So far in 2009 we have had 168 blog postings, which is getting close to the total number for 2008. Here's to May...

The Unpopular Calling

Isaiah 6 is probably one of the favoured passages for those 'called' of the Lord. There we read the call of Isaiah to be a prophet, with its stirring imagery of the LORD seated on the throne, high and lifted up. There's the sound of the seraphim, the angels calling to one another "holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" There's the drama of the moment when Isaiah cries out 'woe is me' which is resolved when the burning coal from the altar is touched to his lips. There's the resounding question "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"

But herein lies the problem. Normally when we read this, particularly in church, we stop when Isaiah heroically steps forward and says "Here am I! Send me." Verse 8, quick, close your Bible. He's going, and so should you!

Yet when we read on, we find that the 'call' Isaiah responds to wasn't easy, and certainly wasn't going to be popular. His message is one to the people, telling them to keep listening but not understanding, to proclaim the word of the Lord in order to harden the hearts of the people so that they won't turn or be saved.

Now then, are we so willing to respond? You might come back and say, ah but that was the Old Testament - now as Gospel ministers we call people to be saved with the good news of the Kingdom.

Yes, and yet at the same time, our message is still not popular. Our message that salvation is possible and available is not welcomed by some. And in the end, our message continues to harden some people who will never respond to God, continuing to reject God's word as we all naturally do.

So why respond to God's call? Why proclaim God's word? Because there is still hope - that some will respond! Not all turn from God's word, and as the final words of his commission declares: 'The holy seed is its stump' Even though the most of the nation will be destroyed because of their disobedience, there remains a holy remnant, who will be saved. God's word is effective and powerful.

There's an old Puritan saying: The same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay. God's word melts the hearts of some, while hardening others. Our job is to faithfully proclaim and let the word do the work.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Old Getting

Today I've been marking my 28th birthday. The day started down in Newcastle, finishing off the retreat with a reflective session and then a feedback on the past year of CME. This was the last time for Adrian and Craig, but come September we'll be joined by the new Deacons in the diocese. At lunch, there was a birthday cake, a pleasant surprise.

Then it was off home to see Lyns and spend some time together. 28 years ago I was born, and dad missed going to see Northern Ireland beat Portugal 1-0 as he had to come and see me! Incidentally, Northern Ireland went on to qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain through that victory.

So now I embark on my 29th year. Only God knows what's in store. Here goes!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Just a quick posting from Newcastle, where I'm on our CME retreat. CME stands for Continuing Ministry Education, and is a programme for ministers in their first three years of Curacy. As well as providing a monthly get-together for curates gathering around the Word of God with a meal, it allows us to discuss issues we encounter and continue to learn!

At the end of each year's series there is a retreat in the Glenada Centre. The venue is excellent, food great, and as I discovered earlier, WiFi in the main building! As we meet in the conference room, or eat meals, we're looking out onto Dundrum Bay and towards the Irish Sea. Even better, the weather has been mostly good.

Part of the idea behind the retreat is to de-stress, so I was out last night with the camera in Kilkeel- expect photos when I'm home again. This afternoon we had some free time and I did an impromptu tour of the Kingdom of Mourne, round by Bryansford, Spelga Dam, discovered the ruins of Clonduff old church, Hilltown, Warrenpoint, Rostrevor and back by Kilkeel and Annalong.

However the main reason we're here is to do business with God, being sustained and refreshed by His Word. Bishop Ken Clarke has been leading our sessions. Last night he spoke on our call to follow Jesus. Sometimes we can be so busy leading others we forget to follow. Further, the call to follow means leaving the nets behind, the old habits which have a hold on us. While there is the initial leaving of nets when we come to faith, there are other things we also need to leave behind as we continue on the journey.

Today has been spent looking at the privileges and pressures of ministry, and dealing with stress. Lots to think about and act upon. Back to home tomorrow and back to parish life.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

Dundonald Confirmation 2009

Tonight in St Elizabeth's we had a service of Confirmation with the Bishop of Down and Dromore, Rt Rev Harold Miller. Six young people (and another from Killyleagh) stood up in front of the congregation and declared that they are following Jesus.

I had the privilege to lead the Confirmation course this year, and really enjoyed the time spent with these guys teaching them the basics of Christian faith and doctrine, and trying to answer their questions.

Please do be praying for them as they continue to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Red River

Another in our What's on your iPod feature.

Red and Black - Les Miserables
Red Sea - Prince of Egypt Soundtrack
Redeemer - Heart of Worship
Rehab - Amy Winehouse
Rejoice Greatly - Handel: Messiah
Rejoice With Trembling - Matt Redman
The Reprimand - Prince of Egypt Soundtrack
Return To Sender - Elvis Presley
Returning Home - Emma Johnson
Revelation - Matt Redman
Revival Town - Delirious?
Ride of the Valkyries - Wagner
The Right Time - The Corrs
Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash
River Lullaby - Amy Grant (Prince of Egypt Soundtrack)
River of Dreams - Hayley Westenra

This version of River of Dreams is considerably different from the famous Billy Joel song also called River of Dreams, which I now realise should be on my iPod! Also, The Ride of the Valkyries has to be one of the best pieces of classical music, ever.

Marketing Failure?

Last week it was reported on the BBC news website that Hamley's the toy shop was pulling out of Victoria Square shopping centre.

This was a big shock to me - not at the loss of another trader from Belfast's newest development, but because I didn't even know it was in Victoria Square in the first place!

The company is claiming that they are ending their association with House of Fraser, and pulling out of having small Hamley's branches within big House of Fraser stores, to instead concentrate on having stand-alone Hamley's stores.

I'm sure I'm not the only person in Northern Ireland that didn't know that there was a Hamley's store in Belfast. In fact, I only realised it was there when I saw a friend's photo of the House of Fraser store on Flickr. Situated on the top floor of House of Fraser, it wasn't somewhere I had ventured, and there didn't appear to be any signs highlighting its existence.

It will be sad to see it go, and perhaps is another sign of the uncertainty of the times, as it leaves in the wake of Zavvi, Crombie, and even possibly French Connection.

Is it simply a marketing failure, by not getting its message out, so that people weren't even aware of its existence? Perhaps. Farewell Hamley's. I'll see you in London!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Discipleship Explored

Last night we kicked off on a new programme of Fellowship Groups across (and even outside) the parish. Small groups of Christians are meeting together to study Psalms, Daniel, Ephesians, and in the Upper Room, Philippians through Discipleship Explored.

Discipleship Explored is, as the name suggests, the follow-up course to Christianity Explored, specifically geared towards new Christians, but suitable for all Christians who want to grow and mature in their faith. The format is similar, with group discussions, and the DVD presentations.

The first session is on being Confident in Christ, from Philippians 1:1-11, and specifically verse 6: 'And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.'

This is my first real exposure to the ... Explored material, and I'm impressed with the DVD presentations and the supporting material for group discussion. Barry Cooper presents the talks in the DVD series, filmed in and around London, and helpfully explains the passage and some of the implications, before the discussion questions help participants to apply it to their lives and situations.

The next session is in two weeks time, and hopefully I'll remember to blog on it too!

The Kite Runner: Book Review

Khaled Hosseini has produced two epic stories of life in Afghanistan, both of which are great reads. Earlier I blogged about A Thousand Splendid Suns, and mentioned that having run out of books on holiday, I had to buy something to read on the way home. Having spotted Hosseini's first book, I immediately bought it.

Unlike the other novel, though, The Kite Runner is told through the eyes and views of a single narrator, Amir. Amir lives with his father in Kabul, along with their servant and his son Hassan. The title comes from the old custom of kite competitions in Kabul where each competitor attempts to break the string of their opponents' kites, which are then fair game for anyone to capture. The kite runner is the one who runs after the freed kite to catch it.

Hosseini provides a realistic, vivid picture of life, and the reader is transported to the joys of childhood in Afghanistan, before experiencing the horrors of war and terrible personal circumstances. Things aren't quite as simple as they may appear to Amir, and the story develops into him seeking to redeem and make up for both family and personal wrongs and failings.

Along with the gut-wrenching sadness of some of the twists, this is a novel with a glimmer of hope. It has also been released on DVD, so I'll maybe try to see it sometime soon, to see how the adaptation has been handled.

Come Fly With Me

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On The Inside

Last Saturday, I was inside a prison. Hadn't been charged for anything (except the entry), and wasn't locked up in a cell. In fact, we had free access, and a wee man showing us round.

Flickr is, as I've previously said, a little community of people who enjoy photography and meeting people. Through it, I've made some good friends, and so on Saturday I met up with two of them in Belfast city centre.

JDholic and MacBern

By pure randomness, we headed up towards the Crumlin Road, where we discovered that there are now guided tours around the prison. The slightly annoying thing was that you can't pay for the tour there, but have to buy the tickets at the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau, which we had walked past. The guides were helpful, though, and provided a mobile phone and a call through to the centre to pay for tickets by credit card.

B Wing

The tour itself lasts an hour, and is well worth the £5 admission fee. On the tour, you hear stories from the building of the prison, the common experience of prisoners, and also some Troubles related material.


*Spoilers* Along the way, you see the 'reception room' - where prisoners were strip-searched, then washed, the governor's hall (which prisoners wouldn't have seen), the circle, then down into the tunnel beneath the road which links the Crumlin Road Courthouse to the Crumlin Road jail. From there, you're taken into C wing, shown the prison routine and various cells before being taken into the condemned cell - where those awaiting execution by hanging were kept. After seeing the execution place, you're taken outside to see the place where some prisoners are still buried, within the prison grounds. The tour ends in B wing, where Rev Dr Ian Paisley spent some time in the 1960's, and a look into a padded cell (which is not where Paisley was housed!).

Condemned Cell

The tour moves quite quickly though, as there are tours about every fifteen minutes, so there wasn't much time for photos to be taken. But all in all, an interesting part of Belfast's history, and well worth a visit! At least you're guaranteed to be released after an hour and not kept for twenty years!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Refreshing The Vision

Last night I was present at the evening in St Saviour's Church, Dollingstown (one of my training parishes), hosted by the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy (EFIC). The speaker was the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, who spoke on 'Refreshing The Vision.'

The vision to be refreshed is that of the (Anglican) Church's commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over His Church, and of recognising God's authority in the Bible. It was a stirring, and very challenging, call to stand for the faith once delivered to the saints, in the midst of worldwide turmoil as the Church departs from the Scriptures in the area of human sexuality.

Speaking from Jeremiah 9:12-26, he pointed out three major things, as God spoke to the Old Testament Church, which God is still speaking to the Church today:

1. The crisis Jeremiah is dealing with came about because the people of God turned away from his word. It was, essentially, a crisis of authority - would they listen to and obey God's voice, or would they listen to and obey the world, the flesh and the devil? 'Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed after their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them' (verses 13-14)

2. The crisis is the unleashing of God's wrath against his disobedient people. In verses 15-22, we see the terrible picture of the Lord's judgement in Israel, and judgement always comes first on the Church. Part of the current problems is that we haven't taken sin seriously at all - rather there is the 'sanctifying of sin' - saying that sin and our sinful actions aren't actually a problem. The 'inclusive Jesus' is spoken about, without the call to repentance, the call to change.

3. The Lord's people ought to be like the LORD - both in understanding and knowing Him, and in practicing steadfast love, justice and righteousness, because in these things, the LORD delights.

In another post, I'll write some more on his thoughts on the implications of the current crisis in Anglicanism, as well as what is needed in this hour. But even the above provides food for thought.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sermon Audio: Titus 3: 1-7

Here's last night's sermon, Gospel Transformation, from Titus 3. How should Christians relate to government and society? What is the change in Christians that happens at and after conversion? We also look at why the Christian life isn't a list of moral do's and dont's, but rather a life of grateful response to God's mercy and grace.

090419pm Titus 3 1-7 Gary McMurray.mp3

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sermon: Titus 3: 1-7

I wonder if you’ve ever seen the Channel 4 programme, How Clean Is Your House? Each week, Kim and Aggie go to the house of someone who is in dire need of help. Their house hasn’t been cleaned in fifteen or twenty years. The living is a mess of papers or takeaway wrappers or whatever, and it needs to be transformed. After a lot of hard work, some cleaning secrets, and half an hour of television, the house is like new. You wouldn’t recognise it. Something dirty, unclean, is transformed by cleaning.

In the Bible reading tonight, we see something similar happening. Paul is writing to his young colleague, Titus, who is on the island of Crete. He’s there to help establish the church, and teach sound doctrine. But just as important as getting the doctrine right, Paul also wants to see the Christians live out what they believe. As we saw right back in chapter 1, ‘knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.’

But unlike the cleaning programme on TV, or indeed any of the makeover kind of programmes, Paul sets out right at the start of this passage how the Christians are to behave. In the programmes, you see the state of the house, then all the effort to get it set right, and only in the last couple of minutes, the finished article. Yet here, Paul says how the Christian should behave straight away.

Earlier in the letter, he dealt with behaviour in the church (chapter 1, with his emphasis on leaders), and in the home (chapter 2). Now he turns his attention to the state and society. How should Christians behave in relation to the government?

In verse 1, Paul says we should be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, and to be ready for every good work. Is this the mark of Christians today? Are we submissive and obedient to the authorities? You might even be offended by me asking that question - and yet it’s still an issue for us. Do we obey the laws of the land, or bend some of them? For some, it’s straightforward - we don’t kill people, and we don’t rob banks. But what about laws like speed limits? Or traffic lights?

The reason Paul sets being ready for every good work here is because over in Romans 13 (:3-4), he writes of the duties of government - to approve the good and punish the evil. As we submit to government, then, we support them in being ready to do good, just as they approve what is good. Yet, as can sometimes happen, the government perverts things, and approves what is evil, and punishes what is good - in these circumstances, we must recognise God’s over-arching authority, and obey God rather than men.

Widening the picture from government, to those around us, Paul gives us four patterns of behaviour, two negative and two positive: speak evil of no one, avoid quarrelling, being gentle, and showing perfect courtesy towards all people. Are these how we are known around Dundonald? Are these the things that non-Christians would say or notice about us?

This, then, is the standard that Paul sets out for Christians. It should be so different from those around us, because, as Paul goes on to point out, this isn’t how things are. It also isn’t how things were for Paul and the other believers before they became Christians. Notice at the start of verse 3: ‘For we ourselves were once...’

Here’s how it was: Rather than being obedient and submissive to authority, we were foolish, disobedient, led astray, and slaves to various passions and pleasures. It’s not a very positive picture Paul paints, is it? Because, you see, he’s not just thinking of human authority here. He’s also thinking of God’s authority, which we disobey, and turn astray. As Isaiah 53:6 says: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.’

As well as this, our attitudes to those around us wasn’t much better: ‘passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.’ This is fairly bleak stuff. Rather than seeking the best for others, putting them before ourselves, the picture of those without Christ is one of me first - viewing others with malice and envy. Malice is wishing the worst for others, while envy is being jealous of what others have. The summary at the end there, hated by others and hating one another seems harsh, and yet, in the core of our being, this is probably true.

We’ve seen what Paul calls for in Christians, and we’ve seen how things were before. The two are completely different - there’s obviously a change involved when we come to faith, when we turn to Christ. But what is it brings about the transformation? Is it some lessons in treating others nicely? Is it having our backbone removed? Is it something that we work up within ourselves, so that we try really, really hard to be nice to people?

No. None of the above. To be blunt, nothing that we can do can make us change from hating others to being submissive and obedient. Just as in the How Clean Is Your House programme, it takes something from outside, to do what the person themselves cannot do.

Paul says: ‘But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us.’ It took the intervention of God our Saviour, and specifically the Lord Jesus (who seems to be referred to here as the goodness and loving kindness). And how was it that God our Saviour saves people?

Notice that Paul spells out that it’s not because of us, or what we have done: ‘not because of works done by us in righteousness’ - that would have been impossible. Malice, envy, hatred aren’t exactly what God is looking for! This is entirely Paul’s point. Because our actions are always evil, we can’t expect to be saved by them.

Rather, our only hope is being saved by God’s mercy and his grace. Those twin characteristics go together, and we see them here in this passage too - verse 5 and verse 7. We are saved by his mercy and justified by his grace. Mercy is when God does not give us what our deeds deserve. Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve.

Our evil deeds deserve the judgement and condemnation of a holy God. Yet that holy God, in the person of the Lord Jesus, took our sins, died for them, died for us, taking the punishment that we deserve. He doesn’t give us what we deserve. But more than that, he then gives us what we don’t deserve. We don’t deserve to be welcomed into heaven, to be seen as justified (just as if I’d never sinned), yet he does this for us too.

Yet, as if even this weren’t enough, Paul goes even further in describing how God’s mercy and grace have been given to us. Earlier we were talking about the cleaning of the houses in the TV programme. Here we see the washing of regeneration. God brings about his transformation in us, not through brainwashing, but through soul-washing! The washing, the cleansing that comes about through Jesus’ blood is that which regenerates us - makes us new, and changes us. Another picture is that of renewal - renewal of the Holy Spirit, which again makes us new.

[Some might think that this washing of regeneration refers to Baptism, so that when we are baptised, then we are born again, but this is inaccurate. Baptism is a symbol of the regeneration, the washing or cleansing of the believer, which has already happened. Baptism is the public sign of what has already happened in the individual’s life, as a believer, or of what we pray will happen as we baptise the children of believers.]

This passage is, if you will, the testimony of a believer. Here is how I now live, but it was not always like this. And here is how the transformation came about. As we’ve seen already in Titus, a change in behaviour comes as a result of the gospel, as we respond to what God has done for us in Christ.

So where are you in this scheme? Are you a believer already? If so, then how does this appear in your life? Can those around see something different in the way you live, compared to the others in the factory or office or classroom? Let’s be clear that the passage isn’t asking you to pull your socks up, or to try a bit harder. Rather, it’s a call to recognise what God has done for you, and to live in response to that.

Or maybe you’re not yet a believer. You identify very well with that description of the non-Christian - malice, envy, hating others and being hated. You don’t like how things are, you want to change, but you don’t know how. Look to Christ, and find the grace and mercy that he provides - he who was hated and despised, who went to the cross to bear the punishment for your sin. He can wash you clean, and save you tonight, if you will ask him.

This sermon was preached at Sundays at 6.30 in St Elizabeth's Halls, Dundonald on Sunday 19th April, 2009.

If You Don't Want To Know The Score

... look away now.

So said the lady doing the sports report on the late BBC news bulletin last night. It's a moment of warning that the results from the Premiership football matches will be shown on the screen, and if you're waiting to watch Match of the Day afterwards, then you can avoid knowing how your team has done, and see how it transpires in the highlights.

Which made what happens next quite funny, but probably also horrible for those in this boat. Imagine avoiding all news and sports coverage all evening, stopping friends from telling you how your favourite team got on, being two minutes away from the start of Match of the Day, and then this happens:

The results are shown on the screen, and then the sports reporter reads them out as well! She had said to look away, but you haven't closed your ears, and so the suspense is ruined, the results are broadcast.

Reminds me of this world. Some people run about, not wanting to know what's coming next, or how it's all going to end up. Yet the answer is there for us already, in the Scriptures. Revelation (while some of it may be hard to understand), plainly shows that the Lord Jesus has won and that he is going to return as King and Judge, to send the guilty to hell and to usher in the new heavens and the new earth in his perfect reign forever.

Why anyone wouldn't want to know the final score astounds me - because it gives us confidence as we live for Christ and witness for him - he will return and take us to be with him.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

This Little Light of Mine

There seems to be a current fashion for advertisers to use songs from Sunday School. Previously, we noted the corruption of 'He's got the Whole World in His Hands' for PSP. The other day, I noticed another in this trend, using the song 'This Little Light of Mine, I'm gonna let it shine' to advertise the new Honda hybrid car.

"Everyone wants to be good. And now, there's a hybrid for everyone. The affordable Honda Insight." So declares the commercial. Therefore, to be good, you should buy this car - it's the secret to the world's problems. To use the title of Nick Hornby's novel, it's How To Be Good.

While the idea for the ad is certainly clever, it's almost distracting. Shining your little light might be about being good, but certainly not in a being good for the sake of it kind of way - no, it's about witnessing for Jesus Christ, shining the light of the gospel for Him in this dark world.

So while buying a hybrid car might be slightly better for the environment, this suggests that you can be "good" based on your choice of car. I don't think so!

The Resurrection and Us

Earlier in the week I blogged about Eugene Peterson's Living The Resurrection. It didn't really help me understand or relate to the resurrection. It's funny how things can come together - God-incidences, I suppose, but I was doing some reading for TASTE * and the set reading happened to include a section from Bruce Milne's Know The Truth on the Work of Christ.

It was heartwarming to read just why the resurrection matters, and then later, how it should affect us in responding to (or you could say, living) the resurrection.

The resurrection matters because it:
- fulfills Christ's priestly work. 'In the resurrection God the Father in effect pronounced his divine 'Amen' on the priestly work of his Son. He openly declared it effective; real atonement has been attained... Further, in the risen Christ we see our flesh-and-blood humanity preserved and affirmed before God on the further side of condemnation, wrath and all the assaults of evil. Here is humankind beyond the reach of judgement.'

- manifests his kingly work. 'His resurrection proclaims his victory over all three (sin, death and the powers of darkness)... The risen Jesus is the evidence of God's victory in him over all challenges to his lordship and rule and therefore demonstrates the establishment of the kingdom of God.'

- embodies the promise of his future reign. 'The risen Jesus is the 'first-fruits' of the coming harvest of the dead at his return in glory.'

The resurrection means the following for the Christian: joy, peace, worship, hope, and victory. In view of Christ's resurrection, we know that we reign with him, are seated with him, and our life is hidden in Christ. Therefore, we set our minds on the things that are above, living to please him, as we know the joy of the Lord, the peace that comes from knowing we are under no condemnation, worshipping the one who has been revealed as the Son of God, looking forward to his return, and celebrating in the victory he has won for us.

What does the resurrection mean? Everything for the Christian!

* TASTE stands for Training at St Elizabeth's, and is a monthly meeting of people eager to learn the tools of word ministry, preaching, doctrine, training papers and discussing leading the people of God.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I, I, I

Eyes Down, this is a full house of songs starting with I, the latest in our What's on your iPod? series.

I Adore - Piano Chill
I Am Yours - Matt Redman
I Believe - Andy Park
I Believe - Hillsong
I Believe in a Thing Called Love - Lemar
I Believe In Jesus - Heart Of Worship
I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever - Sonicflood
I Could Sing of Your Love Forever - Delirious?
I Dreamed A Dream - Les Misérables
I Heard the Sound of Voices - Robin Mark
I Know A Place - Piano Chill
I know that my Redeemer liveth - Handel: Messiah
I Know You By Heart - Eva Cassidy
I Love You Lord - Summer Madness
I Never Loved You Anyway - The Corrs
I Saw Him Once / In My Life / A Heart Full Of Love - Les Miserables
I Sing A Simple Song Of Love - Piano Chill
I Stand Amazed - Summer Madness 1999
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2
I Try - Macy Gray
I Walk the Line - Johnny Cash
I Want To Know You - In The Secret - Sonicflood
I Will Follow - U2
I Will Get There [Acappella] - Boyz II Men
I Will Love You For The Cross - Heart Of Worship
I Will Never Be The Same - Summer Madness 2001
I would beside my Lord be watching - Bach: St Matthew Passion
I.D. - Kasabian
I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That) - Meat Loaf
I'll Be There For You - Bon Jovi
I'll Fly Away - Bond
I'll Stand by You - Girls Aloud
I'm Forever Grateful - Heart Of Worship
(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles - Maxïmo Park
I'm Not Ashamed - Delirious?
I'm Scared - Duffy
I've Been To A Marvellous Party - The Divine Comedy
I've Found Jesus - Delirious?

Quite a collection. I think my favourite song of this bunch is Johnny Cash: I walk the line.

Remembering the Belfast Blitz

Last night in Belfast, a new war memorial was being dedicated. But rather than commemorating the sacrifice of soldiers, it remembers innocent civilians living in their own homes. They never went to war, but the war came to them.

The Second World War is famous for the air raids on both sides, with films like Dambusters celebrating the ingenuity of the British bouncing bombs. Yet the war came to the UK, with incendiary devices and bombs dropped from the skies on the main cities involved in the war effort. Churches, factories, and homes were all destroyed. Over 1000 people died in Belfast alone. Until now there was no memorial, but this has been set right.

On a family level, my grandmother can still remember the Dillon children coming to live with them in their house in the country, those evacuees from Belfast. Behind the fatalities there must have been countless others traumatized by the sudden separation from family, especially at such a young age.

All of which makes me wonder what the impact is today in the places of conflict, where air raids / mortars / long range weapons are used. What is the impact in Afghanistan when innocent people suffer, or as soon may be the case, Pakistan. Yes, it's right that we seek to prevent Al-Qaeda from wreaking havoc and terror across the world, but at what cost to people going about their business in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

It is right and proper to recall the loss of life in Belfast and other cities in the UK, but let's not stop there, in our own community. Let's also recall the ongoing suffering of others caught up in war through no fault of their own.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Living the Resurrection: Book Review

Another seasonally themed read, this time on the resurrection. Despite the feast of books available to the reader on the Cross, there aren't so many on the resurrection. Having found this one a while back, I looked forward to reading it. Eugene Peterson is a well-known pastor, writer and Bible translator (famous for producing The Message version).

A helpful aspect of the book was the review of the resurrection stories from the Gospels and Acts, with some useful insights. Yet despite all this, I didn't enjoy the book. It didn't deal with resurrection in the way I expected, and for the most part, confused me as I didn't follow his reasoning.

Peterson's main argument is for spiritual formation, which he says, is what the resurrection is all about. "The resurrection of Jesus is the action at the core of all Christian formation." This formation-by-resurrection is then applied to our sense of wonder, our meals and our relationships through Sabbath, Lord's Supper and Baptism. To me, it seemed as if there were a lot of words but not much substance.

Worse, it would appear that resurrection stands on it's own, with few references to the Cross. So much so that it seems that the resurrection life is available for anyone, without reference to sin, or the redemption available only through the cross. This is, for me, the biggest failing of the book, and for this reason, I wouldn't recommend it to others.

Given this, are there books on the resurrection you would recommend for me and others?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cruising on a Camel

Riding the Camel

This was one of the highlights from our recent trip to Lanzarote! Great fun, although a bit wobbly!

A Thousand Splendid Suns: Book Review

Having finished all my holiday reading, I had to turn to Lynsey's books, and this was one of them. Khaled Hosseini has written two novels of life in Afghanistan, and by now I've read both of them. This is how good A Thousand Splendid Suns was! I had to get his other book to read it as well.

Afghanistan is one of those places which we hear about all the time on the news, and yet we really don't know that much about it. Perhaps in this regard, it's like Northern Ireland to those outside the province. Using the historical framework of Afghanistan's recent history - the overthrow of the monarchy, the invasion of the Soviets, the civil war, and the emergence of the Taliban - Hosseini weaves his story around the main main female characters, Mariam and Laila.

It's a great story, but you must be warned, the stories are frank and horrendous, with some terrible life experiences related. The reader is quickly sympathetic for the two women, whose stories are found in each part of the book, and soon coming together.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a story of life, love, death, and the harsh treatment of women in a Muslim country. A good read.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Weeds and Sins

The other day I was out in the gardens, front and back, doing some much needed work. This was the first cut of the back garden 'lawn' (or should that be jungle), and the dandelions were masquerading as the only yellow spring flowers in the front garden. Gardening is a good discipline, and gives time for reflection while getting the hands dirty.

As I was weeding, I saw some parallels between weeds and sins.

- Weeds are things that shouldn't be present. The definition of a weed is a plant that is unwanted in the garden. So the dandelions weren't part of my plan for the garden, so I had to get rid of them. In a similar way, sin wasn't part of the Designer's intention for our lives, yet that's the way we have chosen.

- Weeds are things that need to be constantly watched. A few weeks back we hit the front garden and tackled the weeds. For a while, the front looked decent, but then the weeds came back. Similarly, we need to be constantly watchful over our lives for the sins that keep rearing their heads.

- Weeds are easier dealt with when they're small. Young dandelions are easier pulled out than established dandelions which have developed roots. Similarly, we should be watchful for destructive patterns of sin - these are easier to deal with at an early stage than waiting until they have bedded down in our lives.

- It's not enough to clean up the surface. Dandelion roots go deep down, and just removing the shoots above the surface (thus making things appear good) isn't enough - the roots are then left in place and will keep doing what dandelions do - grow! Similarly, when dealing with sin, it's not enough to tackle the presenting issues, or to maintain a front of goodness - we must tackle the deep and hidden roots of sin in our lives.

I also noticed that weeds are quick to take over areas where there isn't anything else growing, and will take any opportunity to take root, even small cracks in the crazy paving! It's not enough to just remove the weeds, we also need to plant good plants. Similarly, while removing sins and mortifying the flesh, we also seek to grow the fruit of the Spirit, abounding in good - as Titus 2:11-15 says, renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.

While the garden is presentable for now, it won't be long before another weeding session will be needed!

Sermon Audio: Titus 2: 11-15

Here's the sermon audio from Sunday night's preaching on Titus 2:11-15. Godly lives of hope rooted in what Christ has done for us, and what Christ is going to do for us. Are we really zealous for good works?

Download this sermon

Sermon: Titus 2: 11-15

Today we’ve been celebrating Easter, the day of resurrection, when Jesus rose again from the dead. The vindication of his death on the cross, and his victory over death. And yet, it can all seem so long ago, that we don’t think about it much.

Similarly, we can think that Jesus’ return is so far away in the future, that we don’t think about it much. We know it could happen tomorrow or even tonight, but we don’t consider.

Yet for Paul, as he writes to his young colleague Titus, both Easter and the return of Jesus are vitally important matters. Both of them together affect how we live today as Christians. Do you see the ‘for’ as the first word? This helps us to see that what follows is related to what comes before.

You see, in the passage just before this one, Paul has spelt out specific behaviour for specific groups of believers - older men are to be sober-minded amongst other things (v2), older women are not to be slanderers, but to train the younger women, and younger men are to be self-controlled.

But why is it Paul urges these things? Why should we live in a particular way? As we look at the passage tonight, we’ll see that Paul presents his argument in terms of past, present and future. A summary might be that because Jesus has redeemed us, we are to renounce ungodliness, and live godly lives of hope as we wait for Jesus to return.

So let’s look at it in more detail. First, the past. There are two ways Paul speaks of the past. ‘the grace of God has appeared’ (11), and in verse 14, Jesus ‘who gave himself.’ When Paul writes these things, he is not thinking of two separate events - that the grace of God appeared like a vision or in a blinding flash, or as an article in a newspaper. No, the grace of God appeared, was made visible, in the person of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Remember what John writes of Jesus at the start of his Gospel? ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory... full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14) And what was it Jesus appeared to do? (Maybe I should phrase that differently as our uses of the word appear might make that confusing - we can mean either appearing became visible, or appearing only seeming to do) What was it Jesus came to earth to do in his first appearing?

Well, verse 11 seems to provide a summary - ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.’ Verse 14 fills in the detail: ‘Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’

What a great summary of the Easter event. Jesus gave himself to redeem us and to purify us. We’re probably more familiar with the first part, so let’s concentrate on the second. What was Jesus purifying? He was purifying a people for his own possession. Have you ever thought of it in this way - that you are part of the people of the Lord Jesus? That when we are redeemed, we are brought into the possession of the Lord Jesus?

Perhaps you have. But maybe you haven’t thought of the purpose. We are (forgive me) a people of his possession for a purpose. What is the purpose? If you hadn’t already looked at the reading, and I asked you what is the purpose of the people of God, you might have thought to live with God, or to praise God, or to tell others about Jesus, or the list could go on. yet here, Paul is saying that the purpose of the people is to be ‘zealous for good works.’

Yet we see this also in Ephesians, where Paul teaches that we are saved by grace through faith ... ‘for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ (Ephesians 2:10)

Now all those other things I mentioned, like praising God etc are very important too, but what Paul mentions is being zealous for good works. You know the way some people talk about doing a good deed, so if they hold a door open for you they say ‘well, that’s my good deed done for the day!’ This is not what the passage is saying. We shouldn’t be miserly in our good works, but like the Lord Jesus, gracious (literally full of grace) - as we have received from him, so we seek to do good to others.

What are the good works that God has prepared for you to walk in? Maybe you have a neighbour who needs help, or a friend who would appreciate company or a coffee? A walking of the dog, or a trip to the seaside or a meal or a half hour weeding?

Yet even as your minds race with the possibilities for good works this week (hopefully!), Paul reminds us that these things don’t come naturally. As we think about the present, we’ll see that we need help in living this out. You see, if the Lord Jesus had to die to purify a people for his possession who are zealous for good works, then it mustn’t come naturally.

By nature, all of us live for ourselves, with good deeds maybe only done for what we can get back, what we can get from the other person. Yet the Christian can be different, can become a person zealous for good works. Look back to verse 11. As we respond to the grace of God, that same grace, in the person of the Lord Jesus, and through the work of the Spirit, trains us to do two things, negative and positive: renounce, and live.

Some of you might be too young, but the rest will remember, perhaps all too well, the political campaign in the 1980s ‘Ulster Says No’ in response to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I can remember coming through Hillsborough and there being a big banner up outside the council offices ‘Hillsborough Says No.’ It’s the same idea here - because we are saved, because Jesus has redeemed us from lawlessness, God in his grace helps us, teaches us, trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.

We say no to those things that characterised our old life before conversion - ungodliness, and passions or desires rooted in the world apart from God. Yet it’s not enough just to say no - we also have to say yes! The grace of God also trains us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives, because Jesus has purified us to be his people zealous for good works. The details of this were seen in verses 2-10, but notice again the importance of self-control. We saw that in the elders (1:8), older men (2:2), young women (2:5) and younger men (2:6). In contrast to our lives before Christ, which were filled with ungodliness, now, our lives are to be characterised by godliness. Living as he commands, following and imitating the pattern of the Lord Jesus.

So far we have thought about how the past (Jesus saving, redeeming and purifying us), impacts our life in the present, but now we move on to think how these impact the future. As we see in verse 13, it’s not just a godly life, it is a godly life of hope, waiting for our blessed hope.

That word waiting probably conjures up bad pictures in your head - sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for your appointment, or waiting at the bus stop for what seems like a long time. Waiting always seems to be an inactive kind of thing. Yet here, waiting is much more positive. The waiting involves living godly lives and being zealous for good works, which are spurred on because of our blessed hope.

And what is the blessed hope? What is it we’re waiting for? ‘The appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Earlier we thought about the first appearing, but now we come to the second appearing - when Jesus returns. Notice that it’s not even just the appearing of our great God... but the appearing of the glory of our great God... That word appearing is epiphany - like a veil being lifted, or a light coming on. Just think of a veil being removed from the bride’s face, and her full radiance being seen. These are the pointers of what it will be like on that day. Already, the heavens declare the glory of God, but on that day, we shall see the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The Christian life is not moral rules for the sake of it. What God commands for us is rooted in the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross, and helps us look forward and be ready for his return.

So what sort of lives should we be living? Godly lives of hope. And why? Because of the first appearing of the Lord, when he saved us, and also because of the approaching appearing, when we shall see him as he is, in all his glory.

This sermon was preached at the Sundays at 6.30 in St Elizabeth's Halls, Dundonald on Easter Sunday night, 12th April 2009.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. (Luke 24:5-6)

Jesus is alive!

May you have a blessed Easter, full of the joy of the risen, ascended and glorified Lord!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christ in the Passover: Book Review

One of the benefits of the Church Calendar is the yearly remembrance and reflection on the key aspects of the life of the Lord Jesus. So, every winter, we recall the great miracle of the incarnation, the wonder of Jesus being born as a baby. Similarly, while our focus is always on the cross, Holy Week can be a special time of meditation on the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died.

To help me with these annual events, I like to do some seasonal reading. During Lent, I was able to read John Stott's book, The Cross of Christ. In this Holy Week, which is also the time of Seder, or Passover for the Jews, I read the short book 'Christ in the Passover' by Ceil and Moishe Rosen.

As you might have realised by their names, Ceil and Moishe (Moses) are Jews, but Jewish believers in the Messiah Jesus. Through the short chapters, they trace the development of Passover from the first one in Egypt through the period of the first and second temples, to the contemporary Seder meal. This was a particularly helpful insight into the Jewish background of the Lord's Supper, and helped me to better understand the concept of Passover.

One such insight was that 'The verb "pass over" has a deeper meaning here than the idea of stepping over or leaping over something to avoid contact... The word used here is pasah from which comes the noun pesah, which is translated Passover. These words have no onnection with any other Hebrew word, but they do resemble the Egyptian word pesh, which means "to spread wings over" in order to protect.' (p. 22) Hence the Lord's weeping over Jerusalem wanting to gather them as a hen does her brood under her wings.

There was also an interesting discussion into the tradition of the matza (unleavened bread) whereby three pieces are set apart, and during the meal, the middle one is broken, part of it is hidden, then later on found, and then everyone shares in a part of it. The resonance seems to be the three persons of the Trinity, the Son broken, buried, and raised, and all individually sharing in it. This may come from the time when Jewish Christians were still part of the whole Jewish family before they were removed. This same eating of the unleavened bread is at the point when the Passover Lamb would have been eaten (when the Temple was still in existence), and so there's another resonance with the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

All in all, an interesting book, and one I'm glad I read. I'm not sure how I got my hands on it - possibly at a free book giveaway in college, but one to think through again in the years to come.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Wondrous Cross

The Cross

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. (Luke 23:33)

Music for Good Friday

In a slight change to the regular 'What's on your iPod' feature, we'll not look at an alphabetical series today. Instead, because it's Good Friday, here's a playlist from my iPod on 'The Cross.'

All we like sheep - Handel's Messiah
God so loved the world - Stainer's The Crucifixion
I Stand Amazed in the Presence of Jesus the Nazarene - Summer Madness 1999 *
Jesus Paid It All - Passion
Jesus' Blood - Delirious?
Nothing But the Blood - Matt Redman
O Sacred Head surrounded by crown of piercing thorn - Bach's St Matthew's Passion (in English)
Oh To See The Dawn - Summer Madness 2006
Surely he hath borne our griefs - Handel's Messiah
Thank You for Saving Me - Delirious?
Thank You for the Blood - Matt Redman
The appeal of the Crucified - Stainer's The Crucifixion
The Wonder of the Cross - Robin Mark
You Are My King (Amazing Love) - Newsboys
You Led me to the Cross - Matt Redman

* This was the hidden bonus track at the end of the CD.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It Started With A Kiss

Through Holy Week we've been reflecting on the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. So far we've seen the problem of the chief priests, the solution when Satan entered Judas, and the fear of each of the disciples that it might be them.

Following the Last Supper / Lord's Supper, Jesus leads the eleven to the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane. Having prayed fervently, sweating drops of blood, he calls the sleeping disciples to come. 'While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him.' (Luke 22:47).

What great irony in this scene:

The kiss, a sign of friendship, devotion, greeting, subverted by Judas to be the sign of betrayal.

Judas, one of the twelve, a leader in Jesus' movement is the one leading the enemies of Jesus to arrest him.

The crowd come with swords and clubs to arrest an innocent, peaceful man.

One of the disciples lashes out with a sword, and hacks off an ear, only for Jesus to heal it instantly.

What do we make of these things? What grace we see in the Lord Jesus as 'even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.' (Psalm 41:9) Wasn't this what he had been praying about in the garden, 'not my will, but yours, be done.' (Luke 22:42) And yet this was what he must endure to fulfill the Father's will, to save sinners like you and me.

Why did they come at this time, when he had been teaching every day in the Temple? Surely that would have been more convenient. Yet: 'This is your hour, and the power of darkness.' (Luke 22:53)

Great is the darkness. But Jesus has overcome!

The Horse and His Boy: Book Review

I've read this book by CS Lewis so many times, yet each time have forgotten the story so that each reading is as fresh as the first time. This is indeed the beauty of the Chronicles of Narnia. Each story can be enjoyed on its own, yet together they build up a picture of life in and around the magical world of Narnia.

This story concerns the horse, Bree, and the boy, Shashta, who has a secret identity, unbeknownst by himself. Together, they escape from cruel masters and seek to return to Narnia and the north, the free lands, where the High King Peter, King Edmund, Queens Susan and Lucy reign.

Through many twists and turns, we are introduced to the great lion, Aslan. The best part of the book has to be when Aslan reveals himself to Shashta, with an appearance like the risen Lord Jesus: 'Once more Shashta felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. "There," it said, "that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows."' Reminds me of when Jesus breathes on his disciples in John 20:22.

Aslan goes on to reveal that there had only been one Lion throughout Shashta's travels and experiences. He was the one who had pushed the boat ashore when Shashta was but a little boy at sea, he was the one who had protected Shashta from wild jackals, he was the one who had spurred the horses on to bring the news of attack in time, he was the cat who had comforted Shashta at the tombs. In all, over all, through all, Aslan was watching over Shashta.

This is revealed as they walk along, with Aslan on the lefthand side of the horse Shashta is riding. The next day, when Shasta returns by the same way to go towards the battle, he finds that on that side there was a steep cliff with a sheer drop, yet Aslan had been protecting him the whole time from going too near the edge.

The Chronicles of Narnia are not an allegory, like Pilgrim's Progress. Rather, they are an imagining of what things would be like if the Lord Jesus were to appear in another world, as a talking lion. When he see Aslan, we are invited to marvel at what Christ has done, is doing, and will do. The Horse and His Boy, as well as being a great story, is also a faith lift! Go and read them again!

Sermon Audio: Galatians 6: 12-16

Here's the sermon recording from last night's preach. Boasting in the cross of Christ, because it is the end of our pride, our death to the world, and the source of the new creation.

Download this sermon

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sermon: Galatians 6: 12-16 Boasting in the Cross

Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of Christ. So says Paul in our reading tonight. That word boast means to glory, to revel, to be totally captivated and only interested in. Now, it might sound strange to you for Paul to say that - that he boasts, or glories in the cross of Christ.

After all, the cross is a gruesome symbol of death. It would be like someone today saying that they glory in the electric chair, or that they boast in the hangman’s noose. How could Paul be so interested in the cross? As we look at the Bible tonight, it might be useful to have it open, we’ll see just why Paul boasts in the cross. We’ll see that the cross abolishes our pride, makes us die to the world, and brings the new creation.

To understand the passage, we have to understand the context of the Galatian letter. Following Paul’s missionary journey through the region, which is in modern day Turkey, false teachers had come along, saying that for believers to be real believers, they had to be circumcised too. In seeking to promote the Old Testament Law, they were creating real pressure for these new Christians. So Paul writes his letter to the Galatians telling them to stand firm in the faith, and to reject these Judaizers.

As Paul shows, the Judaizers weren’t actually interested in these believers, just in how things appeared. We see three reasons why they wanted the new believers to be circumcised: 1. to make a good showing in the flesh (12), 2. in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross (12), and 3. to boast in your flesh (13).

The Judaizers focus is entirely on the externals, through formal religion. You see, these were Gentiles who had heard the good news of Jesus, and believed in him. But the Jewish believers were insisting on circumcision, to make them real proper believers. These Judaizers were wanting to keep in with the rest of the Jewish community, who had rejected Christ but sought to maintain the law and traditions.

By forcing these Gentiles to be circumcised, they could say to their fellow Jews and point to the fact that they were coming under the covenant of circumcision. By doing this, the Judaizers were seeking to avoid the scandal of the cross - seeking to avoid being persecuted for the cross.

Rather than faith in the cross, they had faith in the cross plus circumcision. A kind of “Jesus plus” idea. I don’t know if you have been in McDonald’s recently. When you place an order, they’ll say, do you want fries with that? The burger is never enough - they want you to take the fries too. Similarly, the Judaizers were saying that faith in Jesus wasn’t enough - you also had to go through the act of circumcision.

So when other Jews came along, these Judaizers could point to the Gentile believers being circumcised, and so they wouldn’t be persecuted for faith in the cross. Instead, their confidence is in the circumcision, in the flesh of the Galatians. It all centres on human pride - what we do to earn merit and favour.

Now, thankfully, there isn’t anyone going about today saying that we should be circumcised to be real Christians. Yet there are still people who try to earn God’s favour through what they do. For example, some might say that if you’re baptised, then you’re saved. Like circumcision, it’s an outward symbol, which may or may not reflect the internal situation. Or maybe it’s believe in Jesus plus go to church twice on a Sunday, or believe in Jesus plus sing in the choir, or ... whatever!

The cross, on the other hand, cuts through all of our pride. They might boast in the flesh, but Paul will only boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than trying to show God how great we are, the cross cuts through our pride, and shows that we can do nothing. It’s only by the sin-bearing death on the cross that saves us. As Paul says in chapter 3 - no one can be saved by their law keeping, because everyone is a law breaker, and a curse is upon them.

‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”’ (Gal 3:13) It takes the death of the Lord Jesus to save us. It takes only the death of the Lord Jesus to save us.

Yet we can’t leave it there. We can’t just observe the cross as an objective thing, seeing that Christ has died on the cross. Because, as Paul goes on to say, we’re also involved. Look at verse 14. ‘But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’

The cross is not just something that happened to Jesus - we are also involved, when we are united with Christ. As well as abolishing our pride, the cross is also an end to our sin and our death to the world. Remember what Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome? ‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?’ (Romans 6:3). Paul’s point here is that we have died to sin, or as he says here, the world has been crucified to us. But also, we have been crucified to the world - we have died to the world’s standards and opinions.

Do you see how revolutionary this is? The Judaizers were living to make a good show in the flesh, to look good to the other Jews. Having been crucified with Christ, we have died to these external pressures, and they no longer mean anything to us. Rather than worrying what people think of us, we have died to the world, so that we live for God, and to please God.

It’s what Paul had written earlier in 2:20: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ Do we live in fear of what other people think of us? Of how people judge us based on their external, legal, or self-righteous standards? Paul’s saying that they shouldn’t concern us - we are to live for God alone!

Our third point builds on this one, as we see that the cross brings the new creation. Throughout the passage, these Judaizers had their focus on circumcision, all on the externals. To be right with God, they were saying, you had to do all these things. But read what Paul says in verse 15. Because we have died to the world, and the world has died to us, we boast in the cross, ‘For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.’

It doesn’t matter if you are circumcised. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t circumcised. What matters, what counts, at the end of the day, is a new creation. The new creation comes about by the cross of the Lord Jesus, and is an internal work. The cross of Christ is the place where we find new life, real life, in the new creation.

Lanzarote is a volcanic island. Vast stretches of the country are covered with ash and lava from the last eruptions. The lava is a symbol of death and destruction. Cesar Manrique was an artist and architect who lived on the island. One day, as he was walking, he found a series of volcanic ‘bubbles’, and he began to build his house inside these bubbles. Everyone thought he was mad - the lava meant death to them. Yet now, the house is famous - tourists go to visit. Out of the point of death has come life - out of the lava comes a living.

Similarly, we glory in the cross, the symbol of death, because we find in it the end of our pride, the end of what others think of us, and the beginning of life, real life, new creation life, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

As the hymn says:

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

Pride, opinions, our achievements, our goodness, all must be sacrificed on the cross, crucified, so that we can always, only, and ever glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. May this be so!

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Dundonald on the Wednesday in Holy Week, 8th April 2009.

Is It I?

Continuing our theme of betrayal, we come to the Lord's Supper. This is the final meal with the disciples, and the chief priests are waiting for Judas to hand Jesus over.

Following the institution of the Lord's Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him. He says, "For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22)

As we read the Gospels, we know from very early on that Judas is the one who is going to betray Jesus. As Jesus calls his twelve disciples, we read 'and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.' (Luke 6:16) We know, but the disciples don't.

It's significant that when Jesus tells them one of them is going to betray him, the other eleven don't immediately point to Judas. They don't know it's him. Instead, they instantly think that it could be them. As Luke writes, 'And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.' (Luke 22:23)

Or, as Matthew writes, 'And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, "Is it I, Lord?"' (Matthew 26:22) They were all fearful it could be them. No one suspected Judas.

To all intents and purposes, he was as much one of the twelve as the rest. Indeed, he had some responsibility, being the keeper of the common purse - the treasurer of the group. On the outside, he was a good member of the church, never missed, always present, maybe even a member of the Select Vestry. Yet on the inside, he was ruled by Satan, used by Satan, and betrayed his Master.

On Sunday, I was talking to the Confirmation Class about the church, and was explaining the difference between the visible church and the invisible church - between the outward attenders and the Lord's people. We can't know the hearts of our brothers and sisters, but the Lord surely does.

Judas may have made a show of his membership of the twelve, but ultimately, he was found out when he completed his evil work of treachery and betrayal. May our outsides and our insides match up!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Youth Pastor

Later in the week, we're interviewing for a new Youth Leader in the parish. Please pray for the panel, and the candidates, as together they discern the way forward for gospel work among the young people of Dundonald.

With that in mind, here's a funny and scary cautionary tale of what not to look for! (With thanks to Jill Boyd)


Yesterday we thought of the difficult situation the chief priests were in. They feared the people; they hated Jesus, and wanted to get rid of him. Yet with the crowds in the city of Jerusalem for Passover, they have no way of getting at Jesus.

At that very time, enter stage left, Satan. The enemies of Jesus are friends of Satan's. So he gives them a little kick-start in their plan to kill Jesus.

'Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.' (Luke 22: 3-6)

Why did Judas do it? Some, looking on the human level, think that he might have been trying to instigate events to give Jesus the opportunity to start a fight. Maybe he was provoking the showdown when Jesus would defeat the Romans and lead the rising (rebellion). Maybe he was disillusioned with how things were going with Jesus. Maybe he had given up, and was out to gain some money.

Maybe all these. Yet Luke gives us an insight into what was also going on at the same time. Then Satan entered into Judas. Demonic and diabolical distraction encourages Judas to betray Jesus for a handful of coins. Satan's grand scheme to destroy Jesus advances to the next stage.

The chief priests are glad. No wonder, as they can see things moving on in their favour - one of the inner twelve have defected, and they can now see the arrest shaping up. It's just a matter of waiting.

Yet this episode may make some tremble. Can Satan enter a Christian, and influence them? I don't think it possible, as it appears that Judas was not converted, he wasn't a believer. Rather, when the believer is in Christ, then there is security and protection in the strong name of Jesus.

Mapping The Passion

When reading about the events of Holy Week, it can all seem unconnected. We read the various place names, but can't really see how they connect. How near is Bethany to Jerusalem? Where was the Garden of Gethsemane, and the crucifixion site? Thanks to the ESV Study Bible, the Passion can become more geographically relevant, using Google Maps. Check out the Passion Week interactive map and maybe even use it as you read through the Gospels. Zoom in and see what those locations look like now. Above all, think on the Saviour who walked these streets, and carried our sorrows as he goes to die for our sins.

Link highlighted by Irish Calvinist.

10,000 Up

Back in August I started using StatCounter as my main visitor analysis. Last night, I broke the 10,000 page views ceiling, in 8 months. A big thanks to all who visit regularly, or even just visit once. It's a great encouragement to keep going and keep writing.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Guest Post: The Road to Emmaus

I’m sitting writing this on top of my bed, and all I can see over the top of the computer are my feet, minus 2 toe nails. Lost recently, reminders of my many long walks during my week living in poverty (back in early March) on £2 per day. Denial was all I could think of to do, an active prayer against atrocities being carried out in Sudan.

I’m feeling so bereft; if you’ll pardon the antiquated language, not only of my toenails, but of my much longed for short mission trip to Sudan. It didn’t take place because of that severe civil unrest which went largely unreported to the outside world. So I’m left in some strange limbo of a life with emotions on the spin cycle. People have been killed in Sudan, and I’m anguishing over whether or not to unpack my bag. But my emotions were so intense that I was almost a hologram standing alongside the people in Maridi, Sudan whom I was supposed to meet. This to me was so very much more than a ‘feel good factor’ type holiday. How can I describe it to you?

I was preparing something last weekend for a youth group, small reflections of Jesus last words on the Cross, when I came on something I had certainly seen before but was only really reading for the first time. It was the conversation after the encounter the two disciples had with an unrecognised Jesus on the road to Emmaus, which caught my attention and took me off on one of my many tangential trips through Scripture. It was this:

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised Him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-32)

For some reason as I lived in poverty, and certainly up until I started writing this I didn’t realise what has been happening to me, I didn’t see Jesus in my life, didn’t feel his touch, brushing lightly as I walked the roads. But, my heart was burning, just like those disciples experienced! I can’t describe the fire, incandescent, consuming, and now it’s gone and I want it back, how I want it back. Will it ever return? Sadly, I’m beginning to realise that there may only have been fuel for a short, catalytic fire and it burned only long enough to cover Maridi in prayer and to help raise emergency funds.

I’ve never been on the road to Damascus, but I have travelled the Emmaus road.

“It is finished.” (John 19:30).

It is accomplished.

My future is in the eyes of a beggar, wearisome, lost eyes. In the eyes of an addict: bloodshot, watery. In the eyes of the pensioner: frightened, lonely. In the hands of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the first of a hopefully regular series of guest posts by Mrs McF.

Hanging On His Words

It's Holy Week again, the run up to Good Friday, and the remembrance of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Before dashing straight to the passion narratives, I thought it would be good to see what Jesus was doing in his final week before the cross.

Following the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, he entered the Temple and drove out those who were selling. The place of prayer had become the place of robbery. Jesus purifies the temple, restoring it to its original purpose. Yet this act increases the attentions of his enemies.

Monday to Thursday, he was teaching openly: 'And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.' (Luke 19: 47-48)

That's a great image, isn't it - hanging on his words. They were waiting with baited breath, hanging like washing on a line, caught like fish on a hook, wanting to hear what he was saying, listening intently to his teaching.

Who wouldn't? It was Jesus teaching, after all.

Well, the chief priests weren't so keen. But because of the crowds, they couldn't get near him to do him in.

And that's before he starts telling the pointed parables directed against them!

No small wonder that by chapter 22, they're wanting blood. 'Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.' (Luke 22: 1-2) What will the chief priests do? They've no way to advance their plan. Find out tomorrow!

Sermon Audio: Luke 4: 14-30

Here's the mp3 recording of last night's sermon at our Invite Night in the church hall. On the first Sunday of the month, we're working through aspects of Luke's Gospel, looking at Jesus the Man, his Message, his Miracles etc. Last night it was Jesus: His Message, from the Nazareth proclamation in the synagogue. It's like Jesus publishing a manifesto, which unlike politicians, he won't break!

Download this sermon

Sermon: Luke 4: 14-30 Jesus: HIs Message

I’m sure you’re familiar with election manifestos. Coming up to the time of elections, suddenly the post man has to struggle with the extra weight of all the leaflets and flyers from the various parties and politicians, looking for your vote. In those leaflets, you see the manifesto - the message they’re promoting and the promises they make.

Tonight, we’ll see the message of Jesus - his manifesto, if you will, as he begins his public ministry in his home town of Nazareth. What is it he says? What is the message of Jesus? You might find it useful to have the passage open, but it will also be on the screen. Luke 4:14-30. We’ll see the message, and then the rejection of that message.

Let’s set the scene. Jesus has just been baptised, then spent forty days in the wilderness. His public teaching ministry is beginning, first in Capernaum, and now in Nazareth, where he grew up. The scroll of Isaiah has been given to him, and he begins to read from chapter 61. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.’

Having read, he then sits down to speak on the passage. This was entirely normal, and no doubt the passage had been spoken on and explained many times down through the years in the synagogue. But there was never a sermon like this one.

Luke records just the opening words of the sermon, yet they are enough for us to grasp Jesus’ message. ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ What Jesus is saying here is that these words, written approximately 700 years beforehand, are all about him. The prophet Isaiah looked forward to the one who would be anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news.

If you remember those words at the end of Luke’s Gospel, on the road to Emmaus. He explains that he had to die, and ‘beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’ (Luke 24:27)

That word anointing just means being blessed, set apart, equipped, empowered by the Holy Spirit for the job at hand. In the Old Testament, kings were anointed, so too were prophets, and priests. In a special way, then, Jesus is anointed by the Spirit - which is precisely what the title ‘Christ’ means - the anointed.

So as we look for the authentic message of Jesus, we find that it is a big ‘me.’ The ‘me’ in this passage of Isaiah is Jesus. It’s all about him, and what he will do. The message of Jesus, the message about Jesus, is one of good news. Look at the various things he will do (that he is doing) - proclaiming good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty for those who are oppressed.

How could you fail to be glad if these things were proclaimed and performed for you? Liberty, freedom, sight, good news. And it all flows from Jesus - this is the message that he preaches - himself!

And yet, as you read the passage, you notice that the congregation begins to turn against him. Jesus publishes his manifesto, but the people don’t want to vote for him. Do you see what they say in verse 22: ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’

What is it they mean by this? Well, it appears that as Jesus identifies himself as the Servant of the Lord from Isaiah, the people don’t like this. He’s identifying himself as the Lord Jesus - the Son of God.

This is what Luke has been showing right through his Gospel. If you have a Bible, flick back to Luke 1:32: ‘He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High.’ Then to Luke 3:22: the voice from heaven says ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ The angel Gabriel, the voice from heaven, and even Satan recognises Jesus as the Son of God: ‘If you are the Son of God’ (4:3)

But the people like it better when he’s just Jesus the son of Joseph, the carpenter’s son. They remember his growing up, and when he starting working with Joseph in the workshop, and when he took over the business when Joseph died. They can handle the carpenter, but not the Christ. The man Jesus, but not the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friends, it seems to me that the congregation that day turned to unbelief because of over-familiarity with Jesus. They like him fixing furniture and making doors, but not when he reveals himself as the subject of Scripture. Could it be that we can also be over-familiar with Jesus, so that we fail to see the great blessings of the good news? Have we heard about the cross so often that it just washes over us? Let’s pray that this week we will hear afresh, and really focus on the wonder of the cross!

Perhaps they thought that they didn’t need him. The message he brings is, as we’ve thought about, one of freedom, release, recovery, restoration. Yet to benefit from the message, to receive the blessings that Jesus offers, we have to admit our need - we have to see ourselves as needing to be released from the power of the devil; we have to confess that we are blind, spiritually blind without the light of the Lord; we have to admit that we are captives to the world, the flesh and the devil.

The people couldn’t bring themselves to admit those things. After all, they were good Jews at synagogue - what need would they have? Surely they were in with God!

Yet Jesus illustrates their profound blindness, by likening them to the days of the classical prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Are you familiar with these two? You might like to read 1 Kings 17-19 and 2 Kings 4-8 to recall their stories.

What Jesus is saying as he points to Elijah and Elisha is that God is bigger than the Israelites, and that God’s good news is for everyone, not just the people of Israel. That God is sovereign, and will give his grace to those he chooses. You see, the people of Nazareth expected that Jesus would perform miracles there, as he had in Capernaum. Yet as in Israel’s history, God is in charge:

So during the famine, Elijah goes to stay with a widow in Sidon, away from Israel, when there were plenty of widows he could have stayed with inside Israel. Similarly, while there were lepers in Israel, it was only a foreigner, Namaan who was healed of his leprosy.

Do you see where their rejection leads? They become so angry that they want to get rid of Jesus, by throwing him over the cliff. By rejecting his message, they also reject Jesus himself, and seek to destroy him. Yet he is able to pass through them, away to safety.

So as we draw to a close, let’s remember that the authentic message of Jesus is found in the Scriptures, and is the message of himself - ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.’ The Scriptures testify to Jesus. Let’s pray that we don’t reject him, but that we receive the great blessings of the good news - liberty, freedom, sight, and knowing the year of the Lord’s favour.

I want to close with the words from John’s Gospel: He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ (John 1:11-12)

This sermon was preached at Sunday at 6.30 in St Elizabeth's Halls on Sunday 5th April 2009.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Excluding Northern Ireland

Residents of Northern Ireland have long been accustomed to seeing the words 'Excluding Northern Ireland' in Television and Newspaper advertisements, particularly in adverts promising discount car insurance deals. The bargain prices seem attractive, but then those magic words appear meaning that they don't apply. You do get used to seeing them, such that you don't even get interested in ads.

Normally, the words are excluding residents of Northern Ireland. Yet in one instance, the words are giving the Northern Irish something that people from other parts of the United Kingdom aren't. McDonalds have their Best Chance Monopoly promotion at present, and to claim prizes, a purchase is necessary, 'except in Northern Ireland!' This means that you can send a sae (self-addressed envelope) and they'll send you a token or voucher for free!

It makes a change for something to be only available for Northern Ireland, rather than us being excluded! Saves you from having to eat the McDonalds cuisine too...

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Cross of Christ: Book Review

John Stott has long been regarded as one of the leaders of the British Evangelicals. Alongside his parish ministry, he has written many excellent books, pamphlets and Bible study guides which have been mightily used by God across the world. Perhaps the pinnacle of his writing was the book, The Cross of Christ.

In characteristic style, the book is very thorough, exploring all the options as he progresses, explaining why some things are inappropriate to say, as well as clearly explaining what the Scriptures teach about the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross. As is to be expected, the doctrine of penal substitution is expounded and explained. Beginning with the centrality of the cross in the Christian faith, practice, architecture and focus, he then asks why did Christ die?

Part Two centres on the heart of the cross, posing the problem of forgiveness, and wondering about satisfaction for sin. This treatment was very helpful, as he first writes about the satisfaction for justice, and goes on to point out that God must deal with us in accordance to his nature, both just and love, and that at the cross, God must satisfy himself! As he says, 'The way God chooses to forgive sinners and reconcile them to himself must, first and foremost, be fully consistent with his own character... in every aspect of his being, including both his justice and his love.' (p. 129) This can only be achieved by the self-substitution of God, the God-man Jesus Christ. The point he comes to is 'satisfaction through substitution.'

Part Three moves on to consider what the cross achieved, looking at the three broad areas of the salvation of sinners, the revelation of God, and the conquest of evil. However, as he presents the salvation of sinners, he uses various images of salvation - propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation - reminding us that 'substitution is not a further theory or image to be set alongside the others, but rather the foundation of them all, without which each lacks cogency. If God in Christ did not die in our place, there could be neither propitiation, nor redemption, not justification, nor reconciliation.' (p. 168)

Most books on the cross finish with these areas, but Stott is to be commended for his final section, in which he moves on to consider what it means to live under the cross. In other words, he moves from explanation to application. One particular aspect which struck me here (and has since been shown by another of my holiday reading books) is his contention that only the forgiven sinner truly knows joy in the community of celebration. He quotes WM Clow, who points out that singing is a unique feature of Christian worship, because:

'There is no forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, except through the cross of Christ... The religions of paganism scarcely knew the word... The great faiths of the Buddhist and the Mohammedan (Islam) give no place either to the need or the grace of reconciliation. The clearest proof of this is the simplest. It lies in the hymns of Christian worship. A Buddhist temple never resounds with a cry of praise. Mohammedan (Muslim) worshippers never sing. Their prayers are, at the highest, prayers of submission and of request. They seldom reach the gladder note of thanksgiving. They are never jubilant with the songs of the forgiven.' (pp. 257-258)

All in all, The Cross of Christ is a great, if sometimes difficult read. I had begun reading it about four years ago, and got bogged down in it, but this time, I read right through, and was richly blessed by the reading. Perhaps that says more about my concentration back then. Either way, I highly recommend this book for all thinking Christians who want to learn more about the foundation of the faith, and their ground of hope. The Cross of Christ is right at the crux of the Christian faith.