Sunday, July 31, 2005

Romans 6:1-11 'Saints or Sinners?' A sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 19th June 2005 at Morning Prayer

Who are we in Christ? This morning I want to focus on the reading from Romans, to try to discover something of our identity in Christ after salvation, and our relation to sin after we come to faith. So many of us can be labouring and burdened by sins committed after being saved – frustrated at either our weakness in not being able to resist temptation, or else doubting that we are saved at all because we sin. Through our time together this morning, I hope that we will come to a better understanding of who we are in Christ, and what this means.

Paul, in writing his letter to the Romans, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was giving an outline of the Gospel, and highlighted some objections and wrong interpretations as he expounded the truth. One of these wrong interpretations was that, if God’s grace is shown when he forgives sin, then should we not seek to sin more, so that God’s grace is shown more?

On the surface, this might seem like a reasonable suggestion – after all, if man’s chief purpose is to glorify God, then what brings more glory to God than him forgiving sin? The Russian monk, Rasputin, taught this approach – on the basis that those who sin more need more forgiveness, and therefore enjoys more of God’s grace. He lives his life in notorious sin, and urged his followers to do the same as the path of salvation. To these people, therefore, salvation was just a free pass to sin all the more, in the knowledge that God would forgive them; God’s grace was to them a licence to sin. But this was not at all what God’s grace was intended to do – indeed it is the complete opposite!

God’s grace is poured out on those who recognise that they are sinners, and cannot be saved by anything else, other than the full and free pardon provided by the finished work of Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection. To think, therefore, that when you’re saved, you can go out and do as you wish, because, after all, God will forgive because he always forgives, is wrong.

Why? Because intentionally setting out to sin, wilfully sinning (knowing in advance that you will run to God for forgiveness), is an abuse of his grace, and fails to recognise the seriousness of sin. The seriousness of sin was the reason that Jesus had to die on the cross in the first place – ‘There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.’ Indeed, it is a betrayal of God’s grace, and an insult to Jesus’ blood shed for us to sin after salvation, but to do it intentionally is much worse. Instead, after salvation we ought to strive to live a holy life.

You see, the first half of the book of Romans establishes in order, our condition. Chapters 1 – 3 (verse 20) show us that ‘no one is righteous’ (3:10), that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (3:23). Then Chapters 3, 4 and 5 show us how we can be saved ‘through faith in Christ Jesus’ (3:22), because ‘Christ died for us’ (5:8), demonstrating God’s love for us. This is justification – because when we trust in Jesus’ death, and the benefits of his passion, it is just-as-if-I’d never sinned. Justification is a once-for-all decision that we come to. Then in Chapters 6 – 9, we find the life of a Christian, working towards sanctification. Sanctification is the process whereby, after coming to faith, we become more like Jesus.

So if it is wrong to sin in order to maximise God’s grace, yet Christians still commit sins, ‘Which we, from time to time most grievously have committed’ in the words of the Confession at Holy Communion, how does it all tie up? Are we weak if we sin after coming to salvation? Or are we not saved at all? It is Romans 6 that helps to explain our state after coming to faith.

How many times have you heard someone call themselves ‘a sinner saved by grace’? Now, on first sounding, this can sound right, and humble, and proper. After all, it recognises that we are saved by grace – which is the essence of salvation. But it really isn’t right, and certainly isn’t a term found in the Bible. Why? Well, because in the Bible, there are only two groups of people – sinners and saints.

Now, when you hear the two categories, you probably think, well, I’m certainly not a saint, so I must be a sinner… But that is all down to our misunderstanding of the word ‘saint’. The images that spring to mind when you hear the word saint are probably those in heaven, or someone very good, a church named after someone, or maybe a stained glass window. But these are not what the Bible calls saints. Instead, when the word saint appears in the Bible, it refers to ‘one separated from the world and consecrated to God; one holy by profession and by covenant; a believer in Christ’ (Easton’s Bible Dictionary).

Indeed, if we consider the usage, we find Paul writing ‘To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints’ (Romans 1:7), ‘To the saints throughout Achaia’ (2 Cor 1:1), ‘To the saints in Ephesus’ (Ephesians 1:1), ‘To the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi’ (Phil 1:1), as well as references in Acts to the saints in Jerusalem and Lydda (Acts 9:13, 32).

The implications are clear – those who are in Christ, who are believers, are therefore saints, and not sinners, nor even sinners saved by grace. How is this? Well, because in 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ (2 Cor 5:17). The passage we’re looking at this morning shows in greater detail how this is possible.

‘Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? … For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin’ (6:3,6,7).

This is the picture of baptism by full immersion – with the person being baptised going down under the water – buried, as it were, and dying to sin, before rising again to new life in Jesus. When we trust in Christ, therefore, we put to death our old sinful nature, and instead, Jesus lives in us, and lives his life through us.

But we must remember that although we have been saved by faith, at our justification, the battle is not over. While sin’s position in our hearts has been altered by us trusting in Jesus and giving him the throne of our hearts, it still wages war within us, seeking to regain a foothold. This is like the situation near the end of World War Two, when victory was guaranteed for the Allies, but there were still pockets of resistance to be mopped up. Victory was sure, but there was still fighting to be done.

Verse 7 tells us that we should no longer be slaves to sin. In essence, the entire passage is related to the concept of who we are serving. Is it our sinful nature (and therefore sin), or is it Jesus?

So what are the implications of all this? Well, it all depends on how we view ourselves as to how we conduct ourselves. If we think that we are sinners (even sinners saved by grace), then there is a fair chance that when temptation comes, we will fall into sin again. Our enemy, Satan, seeks to win against us, by questioning our faith, and all the more so when we come to faith. It is not easy to be a Christian – we are in a battle situation!

And if we continue to think of ourselves as ‘sinners’ then we are recognising the hold that sin has on us, and recognising that we are serving it.

But if we view ourselves as saints, saved by Christ, and being strengthened by his presence living in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, then we are more likely to resist temptation, by recognising the Lordship of Christ in our hearts. We will still occasionally sin, not wilfully, but by not being perfect, but we are likely to be quicker to return to God in confessing our sins, and being restored. It is all about how we view ourselves, and about our thought processes. This is why Paul closes today’s passages with the command: ‘In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:11). Count yourselves… Think about yourself as being dead to sin, that it has no hold on you, that it is not living in you.

So therefore the challenge for you today is this: Are you a sinner or a saint? If you realise that you are still a sinner, that you haven’t come to faith, that your sinful nature still rules in your life, then come to Christ. Come, and put your sinful nature to death by trusting in Jesus’ death, and live in him.

And if you’re a saint – do you realise what this passage means for you? Count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God, and turn from your wicked ways. Stop giving the enemy a foothold in your heart, after you have put it to death. Live wholly for God, and not for sin. Invite the Holy Spirit to live in you more and more, directing your thoughts and actions, and serve him totally. Your sins have been put to death, they have been paid for by Jesus’ blood – go and sin no more.

Philippians 2:12-18: Complaint-free zone. A sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 24th July at Summer Praise.

Have you noticed the stars recently? I’m not talking about any sort of celebrities, but about the stars in the sky. Normally there’s just too much light in the town from streetlights to look up and see the stars properly, but when I’m out in the country, I like to look up and see them. They are, of course, always there, but during the day it is too bright to see them.

The reason we see them at night is because they stand out. They’re different. It’s very easy to see them, against the backdrop of the dark night. It is in this way, that Paul says we are called to ‘shine like stars’ compared to the ‘crooked and depraved generation’ we live in.

This command comes in the context of Paul declaring the practical outworking of being a Christian. Following on from the early hymn of Christ’s divinity, which we looked at last week, we come to what it means to be a Christian, following in Jesus’ example of humility and obedience.

Just as Jesus was obedient to God, even to the death of the cross, with the future exaltation promised, so Paul calls the Philippians to obey, by continuing to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’

Note that it doesn’t say ‘work for your salvation’ – it says instead ‘work out your salvation’ – because our salvation is not something we can work towards, or repay God for; it is a finished act, completed when we trust in Christ, yet we have to work it out, we have to keep going at the process of sanctification – becoming more like Jesus.

But we should also see that it isn’t all our own effort – by ourselves we cannot do anything to please God – but through interaction and partnership between God, and us, he works in us, empowering us to both desire to please God, and the strength to do what is pleasing to him.

Paul then moves on from the general command to the particular, and commands us to ‘do everything without complaining or arguing’. It’s not just what has to be done, but also the spirit in which we do the action, and here we find something that we should all learn from.

It is so easy to have a moan, and it generally makes us feel better, but what does it achieve in terms of our witness to the world? If they see that we are Christians, and go to church, and then complain about someone else at church, or complain about things that have happened to us, then what will the outsider think? They’ll be wondering what difference does believing really make? Those Christians are really no different to the rest of us, and instead, their faith must make them grumpy, and be a burden.

Instead, Paul tells us to ‘do everything without complaining or arguing’ – not just because he doesn’t like complaining or arguing, but because there is a real purpose, and a great effect from this attitude.

The purpose is this: ‘so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault’. This means that, not only do we not do such things, but we are not even to come under suspicion of doing such things – of being above criticism, and of thoroughly wholesome in character and single-minded. But let’s be clear here – Paul isn’t telling us to not complain so that we are saved, but rather, it flows as a result of us being saved, and being children of God.

The effect of this is that the church, the children of God, stand out in ‘a crooked and depraved generation’, shining like stars in the universe. Here we have that picture of the stars shining, distinctive against the black of the night sky. It is obvious to see them.

But our being different is for a reason ‘as you hold out the word of life’. We aren’t different for the sake of being different, but rather, to draw attention to the word of life that we hold on to, and that we hold out to others. And so, as moths are attracted to the light, so we are to be distinctive and attractive to those around us. Perhaps the best picture of this is the lighthouse – which is a beacon of light and of life – as God’s light shines through us when we don’t argue or complain, then those around us notice, and come to see the effects of the gospel.

Remember, those around us who aren’t Christians may have no desire to read the Bible or even come to church. And the only Bible they may ever read is you, as they watch you living your life. But you have the opportunity to show those around you in simple ways what the gospel means, what being a child of God means, through the choices you make, and the attitude you have.

It is also important to remember that this calling is to a radical lifestyle, a completely different attitude to that which the world expects, because we have such a serious message. We are holding out the word of life. The message we have is that of life, and not of death.

I had the privilege this week to be speaking at BB Camp in Wales every night on the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus, where he says that he is the light of the world, the Good Shepherd, the way, the truth, the life, the bread of life, the true vine, the resurrection and the life, and the gate for the sheep. Every one of these statements about who Jesus is relates to life, overcoming the curse of Eden, whereby sin brings death to us all, but through believing in Jesus, we can have life in him.

The challenge tonight therefore, is this: are you ready to shine like stars? Will you seek to do everything without complaining and arguing, in order to be blameless and pure, and be different for the sake of the gospel?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Friday night Saturday

Friday night was spent at Yorkgate, watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with some friends from Bangor and Magheralin, which made for an interesting evening. The film was fine, not overly my sort of thing, but some funny moments, and most of the Roal Dahl story remaining led to it being bearable!

Today, then, we went to Cregagh, and then to Lisburn, where I managed to get some decent book bargains.

Tonight I went to Lifespring in Lurgan Town Hall, where they were having a Praise Night. It went very well, with 3 bands playing a variety of praise songs, leading us closer to the throne of Grace, glorifying God through song.

Yes, I know, that was a bit of a woeful posting... simply reporting on fact with nothing besides, but hopefully they will improve again soon!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Divine Appointments

Last night I was back in Coleraine again for New Horizon. Alistair Begg was speaking on Acts 19, and he was very good - on the Kingdom of God. He, borrowing from others, said that the Kingdom of God is: God's people in God's place under God's rule enjoying God's blessing.

Then afterwards, Lynne and Heather from BB Camp were up, along with their friend Laura, and Stewart and Bryan and me... so we decided we would go to Morelli's in Portstewart for ice cream, and we did indeed have ice cream, and a bit of craic. But still, we didn't know about the appointment God had for us...

So at 11.15 or so, we decided we should call it a night - we had a long way to go, and some of us had work in the morning, so we were standing outside just talking and these 2 fellas walked past, heard some of us say something about 'Presbyterian' and turned back! They wanted to know did we know the gospel, and would we tell them it - would we convince them about the gospel and about Jesus? Well, we talked for an hour, and the fellas, Gary and John had some interesting questions, and we certainly told them straight about being saved by faith, trusting in Jesus.

And so it was at 12.15 we finally left them - so much for the getting home not too late! Please pray for Gary and John, from Dollingstown, that they will remember what we talked about (John even took our photo on his mobile cos he liked us), and that they would come to know Jesus, not because of us, but because of God's mercy and grace.

Divine appointments... things that we aren't expecting, yet God brings about to surprise us and to bring about His glory.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Answered Prayers!

Thank you to all who were praying last night and this morning... the latest word from our friend in Eastern Europe is this: 'Praise God for answered prayers. Camp is going ahead. Not sure if we'll openly be allowed to teach but we can still live out the love of God'

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:10,11)

Thanks be to God who has moved in the hearts of the officials, to allow the camp to go ahead, and to ensure that the kids will have exposure to His love and grace through the team.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Prayer needed!

Some prayer is needed urgently! A friend of mine is in eastern Europe at present to do some Bible Camps with orphan and destitute kids, but I've just got a text from her saying this:

'There is a possibility that camp will not be allowed to go ahead. New regulations and child protection stuff complicated by corruption. Won't find out until tomorrow or Friday. Then there'll be an inspection by government and if they find out we're Christians we'll probably be kicked out of the country. Keep praying.'

So guys... you know what to do! Pray that the team will be allowed to stay in the country, that their camp will go ahead, and that they will be able to show the love of God to these kids.

More news will follow in due time...

New Horizon

Last night I went down to Coleraine for my first ever experience of New Horizon. It was very good, and I enjoyed it. The praise (is that ok, Bryan?) was led by Stuart Townend, and was good, with a mixture of well known songs and some new ones. The speaker is Alistair Begg, and last night he looked at Acts 10, and was very good.

The only bad thing is that it is in Coleraine, which is a right drive to Newtownstewart and for getting up for work the next day... but I'll probably get along to it again tomorrow, if I possibly can...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


'The fool says in his heart "There is no God"'

So begins Psalm 14. And we probably think, yes, that's right - only a fool would say that God doesn't exist, after all, we can see his purpose and order in creation; and everyone has an inbuilt sense of right and wrong (or conscience), even if some have been dulled or ignored completely.

Yet, the next few verses of the Psalm say that we are all fools, because we live as if there is no God:

'The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no-one who does good, not even one.' (Psalm 14, 2,3)

This isn't just so nice a thought, after all! Now some might say that this isn't really a proper interpretation of the Psalm, because the Psalmist then goes on to say that God is present in the company of the righteous, and that the 'sons of men' are different to the 'sons of God'. Fair enough. But in Romans 3, when Paul is arguing that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God', he quotes this verse to prove that it's not just the Gentiles who are sinners, but also the Jews!

So all of us are fools, because we live as if there is no God, we have lived in sin.

But the gospel means that those who believe are 'fools for Christ'. How is this? Well, because 'the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God' (1 Corinthians 1:18).

To those who don't believe, the suggestion that God would become a man, would die on a cross, and that, through that apparent weakness and defeat, that our sins could be paid for, that we could be reconciled with God, that we could gain eternal life is all a lot of nonsense, and all foolishness from start to finish.

Let the world think as it will - I am happy to be a 'fool for Christ' and believe!

So are you, who are reading this today, are you a fool, who thinks there is no God and live as you wish? One day this world will finish, and judgement will occur. Or are you a fool for Christ, trusting in the apparent foolishness of the message, which is indeed the power of God?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Back to work...

Well, after three weeks of holidaying, I now find myself back in Newtownstewart, to do some more work for a wee while, until my Dublin adventure begins!

Yesterday two months will be my first day in Dublin, although as far as I know, that first day (a Saturday) will be a tour of Dublin! Time seems to be going so quickly, with the countdown getting closer. But I'm still looking forward to it, and can't wait to get started, even on the Greek (and possibly Hebrew... I can now see the merit in doing both languages to have a foundation in them to aid future sermons and understanding).

So what will I be doing in the meantime? Well, through the day, I am still with West Tyrone Voice, although now working on a similar, but different project, still involving setting up training courses and the usual stuff! Evenings in August will hopefully be spent touring about a bit up here, in Tyrone, Londonderry and Donegal, while I'm still in this area, so my Wednesday evening drives will be back on schedule, as well as doing some sermon prep for when I'm next preaching. I've also got a family wedding reception to go to, Derry Day, Black Saturday in Newtownards, a day out in Dublin and maybe even a weekend in Rostrevor!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sunday, and a BB Camp memory

Well, this morning I was out with Garvaghy and St John's Dromara, leading services there as the rector is on holiday. Thankfully the services went reasonably well, with a very warm welcome from the churchwardens and organists in both places. the choir was absolutely brilliant in Garvaghy, and were very good at chanting - they would put the Cathedral choir to shame!

And even better, I knew people in both places, which was good, as it meant it wasn't completely strangers, and even better, one of my friends came along to St John's to support me!

This afternoon we went out for a drive, and I managed to get mum lost several times out in the country between Drumbo and Temple, and Temple and Saintfield, and Saintfield and Ballynahinch. And the weather is far nicer here at home than it ended up at camp - no wind at all, so my shorts might get another wearing up in Tyrone this week!

Perhaps the funniest memory from camp was the Tuesday morning 'beauty salon'. I know this will seem a bit random, but tolerate me on this - it will turn out hilarious! The girls at camp had got showered and all, and were sitting in the marquee doing their hair, when they hatched upon this great plan to spike my hair - to see how it looked...

So anyway, they had finished their own, but then they did David Calderwood's, putting some gel in it, and putting it up, which turned out not too bad. But then, as they were working on mine, David noticed in the mirror there was a wee bit of hair that didn't go up, right at the front of his face, so he asked for it to be cut off. Hehe. So they cut that wee bit of hair off, so as not to spoil his hair, but disaster - it turned out that with his hair up, there was a bit of a white line round the top of his face, and this bigger bit where that hair had been. what happened next was slightly traumatic, and you shouldn't read if you are at all disturbed by strangeness, but David got some sort of foundation make-up muck put on, to cover his white bit! So much for the tough farmer image! Now, to be strictly fair to him, he did wash it off again virtually straight away, but he had asked for it in the first place!

Then, my hair being finished, and not looking too bad (I have since invested in gel for 'rare' occasions when I'll do it), Bryan was next, but he was less willing, to the extent that three fellas had to land on top of him and hold him down while Heather put it on his hair!

Oh yes, and talking about Bryan... we all think he looks very like Aled Jones (thanks to Trevor Johnston for pointing that out!), so being in Wales, we kept winding him on it most of the week. The best moment, though, was being in this sort of Welsh shop, selling all sorts of things Welsh, including books and flags and stuff. We came across a cd of Aled's, and the women behind the counter laughed along as we teased him about being Aled, and wanting his autograph and stuff! I currently have forgotten the camera lead, but when I get it, and get this year's camp photos on the web, you'll see what I mean!!!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

BB Camp part one

This is going to be a very quick random thought exercise as I'm on to check emails and find an illustration for tomorrow's sermon in Garvaghy and Dromara... good old google and the Antique's Roadshow website! I'll explain all another time!

BB Camp went very well this past week. So many laughs and memories... From the big bus not starting on the HSS when it got to Wales (for which poor Trevor our driver got a powerful slagging all week), to the antics of the UUP (United Unionists of Prestatyn), the WUP (Wales United Party) and even a visit from the Prestatyn branch of the Isle of Wight Concerned Residents Supporters of Garvaghy, we had it all. [If that last bit means nothing to you, I'm very sorry, but it would be impossible to explain quickly - possibly some time if I get to thiking about previous camps. Let's just say it is a long running 'entertainment' between the junior officers and some of the senior ones to arrange banter and hilarious parodies of political situations...

Some of the activities included the usual football, table tennis, cricket and volleyball (in which I managed to play without busting my ankle, and in which the officers remained unbeaten all last night in games against the boys!), as well as trips to Chester (well, some of the junior officers went on the train to it anyway), and Alton Towers. The boys and some officers also engaged in 'ropeworks' (which was a big climbing type thing up high with ropes and stuff), and coasteering (basically wet bouldering along the coastline).

But the most important thing was that the Word of God was proclaimed to the boys morning and night. It fell to me as Chaplain to do a series in the evenings, and we looked at the 'I am' sayings of Jesus from John's Gospel. Pray now that the word proclaimed by the other officers and myself would be seeds planted in the hearts of the boys, that would grow to maturity in Christ as they reflect on their time in Wales with the BB.

So now it is bed for me, as I need a good night's sleep before taking services tomorrow morning and evening... please pray for me too, if you happen to read this before the services all finish at 8.45pm or so.

I'll add more stuff, and also the photos when I get time...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dublin venturing

Today I was in Dublin! I took mum and dad down to the city, and we went along to the college, to let them see around it. By good providence, when we rung the doorbell, the Principal answered the door, so we were able to get in round it.

My room will be Number 2, so I won't be too far down the corridor! However it turns out there is only going to be 6 in our year, so it will all be fairly intense.

After that, we went down into the city and I wandered about for 3 hours and not spending much at all.

Tomorrow I will get ready for camp and then Saturday I head off to BB Camp in Wales. So no more posting for a week or so probably.

Please pray for BB Camp, that it will all go well, and the boys will encounter the living Christ; and for me as I prepare to take the morning services in Dromara and Garvaghy the Sunday after camp...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Sham Fight

NEWSFLASH... William wins the Sham Fight at Scarva Demesne...

Hehe... ok, so there never was any doubt, but the sham fight was as good as ever, with a huge crowd.

The bands were good, and I enjoyed seeing friends that I haven't seen in ages.

Photos will follow, as I'm still getting the Twelfth ones up from yesterday...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Yes, today is the Glorious Twelfth, and it was indeed a glorious day, with the sun beating down in Loughbrickland, on the very site that King Billy reviewed his troops on the way to the Boyne, beside Loughbrickland Lough.

Some photos will follow, when I have a chance to get them done.

Last night we were on the Bishopswell Road watching the Thornhill bonfire from far away, but before that I had been in Newcastle for a bit of a walk and a Maud's ice cream.

Tomorrow sees the annual Royal Black Institution Parade and Sham Fight in Scarva (cue the usual jokes about possibly James winning this year etc), where a huge crowd descends on Scarva village. It's always a great day, and with this weather, it will be even more so.

I'll post more later...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Busy Sunday

Aren't they all?

Today was very busy with the Celebrate at Ten service, then Holy Baptism (2 of them) with Holy Communion. This afternoonwaqs the Orange service to the Cathedral, and then tonight we were in Ballylesson Parish for the commissioning service for the Albany Team!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Philippians 1:1-11 'Message from the heart' - A sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 3rd July 2005

Have you noticed how rare a personalised letter from someone you know has become? These days, our postboxes are full of letters addressed to us, even with our name in the letter, promising all sorts of good things for us, for example, a holiday, a loan, a prize… Yet these letters are more and more from companies seeking to take advantage of us, or seeking to benefit from our custom. But they aren’t intended for us specifically, just for whoever will take up the offer.

And then of course, there are those personalised letters, specifically for us, which contain the bills – for credit cards, or the phone, or electricity etc… While these are for us, they aren’t just such a pleasure to receive.

Yet personalised letters are also becoming more rare due to the phenomenon of the internet and email – no more envelopes and stamps, but instead, type your message on the computer, press a button, and away it goes to the next door neighbour or the other side of the world. So when you do get a letter, a personal letter, an individual letter, specifically for you, from someone you know and love, then it is terribly exciting.

And as you read it, you can sense the love that they have for you, the value they put in your friendship, and the enjoyment they get from writing to you. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is such a letter, from one person to a church, whom he loved dearly, and who delights in his relationship with them.

It is, in many ways, a ‘message from the heart’. You can see in these first eleven verses, the love, and the joy and delight that Paul has when he thinks of the Philippians. He ‘thanks God’ when he remembers them, he ‘prays with joy’ for them, because he ‘has them in his heart’ for their ‘sharing in God’s grace’ with him. He therefore ‘longs for all of them with the affection of Christ Jesus’.

This is a tender epistle, written to friends, but more than friends – he feels like a father to them, having planted the church in Philippi. He is therefore interested in its progress, and remembers with joy those he met in Philippi.

What is even more amazing, though, is that he could have such feelings of warmth towards the place where he was treated so badly. This was, remember, the place where he had met Lydia at the place of prayer by the riverside, but on going towards her house, they exorcised a demon from a slave-girl and, after being beaten, were thrown in prison. They didn’t stay in prison for long, though, as they sang hymns at midnight, you remember the earthquake, and the conversion of the jailer. We read in Acts 16 ‘when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed’ (Acts 16:40).

So even though this was a place of suffering for Paul, he still held it in his heart, because there were those who had received his message and become Christians. It was to these Christians he was writing, and his heart overflowed with love and joy and thanksgiving for them. We will continue to see these flowing over the rest of the summer, as he acknowledges a gift from them, as well as the helper they had sent to him.

The letter to the Philippians is therefore, a message from the heart. But even in these early verses, we find the heart of the message that Paul is seeking to remind them of, and to encourage them with.

The heart of the message is, of course, the gospel, of which the Philippians are partners with Paul. It was this gospel that Paul had proclaimed when he was with them, in very simple but profound words. Firstly, at the riverside, as they spoke with the women who had gathered at the riverside. Then in a demonstration of the gospel, when they provided salvation/freedom/release to the slave girl possessed by a demon. Even in prison, Paul had proclaimed the gospel to those listening by singing psalms and praying. And then the Philippian jailer had asked: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ to which Paul had replied ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.’

This situation in Philippi, was of course, not unique. The gospel was always the heart of Paul’s message. As he says in the letter to the Romans, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth’ (Romans 1:17), to the Corinthians he wrote ‘For Christ sent me … to preach the gospel’ (1 Cor 1:17). Indeed, there was such a compulsion upon Paul, that he said ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ (1 Cor 9:16) So for Paul, the heart of the message is the gospel.

But to turn it round again, the gospel is the message of the heart – because our hearts are sinful – but through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we can have a new heart. Our need for this was recognised in Psalm 51, where David said: ‘Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:10). Therefore God promised that he would indeed give us new hearts, as Ezekiel prophesied: ‘And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put in you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh’ (Ezekiel 36:26)

Through these summer Sunday evenings together, we will be looking at the epistle to the Philippians, taking it a bit at a time, to observe life in that early church, but also to apply it to our own situation, and see how we can learn from them. All Scripture, including the epistle to the Philippians was written ‘to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4). So while we can observe the interplay of relationships between Paul and the church at Philippi, or mark certain themes which emerge as the chapters unfold

Our first point of challenge tonight is this: do we know the gospel of which the Philippians were partners with Paul? Has the message of the heart affected our hearts? Have we got a new heart within us, changed by the gospel?

Secondly, if we have indeed been changed, do we maintain the heart of the message? Is the gospel at the centre of our thoughts, and speaking, and interaction with others?

But also, how do we relate to those around us in the church? If we were to be writing to them, or even when we deal with them in person, is it by messages from the heart? Do we hold one another as precious and special? Is there true brotherly love among us? Oh that this church would increase in brotherly love, that others would know and see that we are united together.

Recap of the week

Ok, so here goes with a brief summary of my week in London, following on from my earlier reports on Monday and Tuesday.


Today was the day we were to find out who would be the host city for the Olympics in 2012. But in the meantime, there were the usual round of sessions in the conference, which were again very useful. Then at lunchtime, we heard the news that London had won! It was quite something being in the city when the news came through – and when we went to the Tube at lunchtime they already had the posters up celebrating the city’s victory!

The reason we had went to the Tube during lunchtime was that we were going to see the Metropolitan Tabernacle. This is the church that C H Spurgeon preached in for many years during the 19th Century, and it is huge! There was a conference on in the building, but the main reason we were there was to see the bookshop. It was rather large, but with the conference on, it was hard to see books and move about, added to the fact that we should be getting back to our own conference!

After we had finished in the afternoon, we went to the Protestant Truth Society shop on Fleet Street, and had a good browse in there until we were thrown out as they were closing! We then walked back to the tube and back to the hotel.

In the evening, we then went over to Piccadilly Circus, where we got our meal in a bar/restaurant called ‘Cheers’, based on the TV Programme. The food was very nice, and the Australian waitress was very friendly. From there, we walked back to the hotel, having first visited All Souls Langham Place at the top of Regent Street, then going via Oxford Street (where all the shops were closed) then Park Lane (where we saw the very nice and expensive cars) and past Buckingham Palace, which had projected images on the front of the Second World War, as this Sunday marks the anniversary of the end of the war.


This morning, we were late out of the hotel, and had reached the station when Stanley needed money… and as we were standing waiting for him, David’s ma rang, to say there was something wrong with the underground, that the trains were off. As we went over to the tube station, we realised it was closed, and headed out to the front of the station. Well… never have I seen such a big crowd of people and busses, no one really knowing where they were going or what was happening. We managed to eventually get on a bus which would take us to Waterloo station, where we hoped to then get another one on towards Borough High Street, where our conference was.

But as we were waiting on the second bus, we heard more news, via mobiles and the station official, who told us there had been an incident with a bus, and they had all been suspended. So we then started out on the trek of 2 or 3 miles along to the Conference, arriving about an hour and a half late!

When the conference had finished at lunchtime, we were kept in for a while, as Stanley and Andrew (from Scotland) were due to fly home that evening, and we didn’t know how it would all happen. We heard, however that the riverboats were still in operation, and were free, so we thought we would try that. But when we got to the pier, they weren’t taking any boats towards Millbank/House of Commons direction. So we were faced with the job of walking along the riverbank as far as the London Eye, then crossing at the Houses of Parliament, going past them and New Scotland Yard to Victoria. Poor Andrew, he was slightly nervous, whereas us Ulster lads weren’t too concerned, seeing as we were used to this sort of thing happening. But when we told Andrew we were coming past New Scotland Yard (Headquarters of the London Metropolitan Police), he was distinctly upset, and wondered at the wisdom of following us – as we had went close past everything he considered a target for terrorists and thus he wouldn’t want to be near at all!

Eventually Stanley and Andrew got a taxi – I don’t know how – and they set off for Stansted, being faced with a very steep bill. David and me stayed in the hotel room for the rest of the afternoon, watching the TV to try to find out as much as we could. The whole terrorist attack on the transport system was devastating, with 3 bombs on tube trains, and one on a packed bus – reminiscent of incidents back home such as Bloody Friday, when a series of bombs exploded across Belfast on one afternoon.

But in the evening, we went out for a walk, past Buckingham Palace, and through the Green Park, and up Picadilly, to the Piccadilly Circus, where we got some food, before walking back via Haymarket to Trafalgar Square and then up the Mall to the Palace again and round to Victoria. On the first night we had seen a bus which was a ‘London by Night’ bus tour, and as it turned out, the bus was sitting at Victoria, so we asked was he running that evening. He was indeed – even if we were the only customers, he would be going, because it was vital to get back to normal and to beat the terrorists.

The bus trip was very good, with plenty of commentary by the driver, and we were even joined by 2 Germans and an American as we went round the city.

Oh – one other thing about Thursday. I was overwhelmed by the number of wee texts I got from people just to check I was ok – thank you for them!


Today, the underground was partly back to normal, with some closures to some lines, but generally, we were able to get about on it ok. So we did some serious sightseeing! We started off at St Paul’s, having a look about the ground floor, then climbing up the 300-odd steps to the Whispering Gallery… that was not so pleasant! By the way – it seems like I walked miles and miles over the few days, as well as climbing and descending thousands of stairs…

From St Paul’s, we then got a tube across the city to emerge at Notting Hill. Form there we walked down into Kensington Palace grounds, where was saw the statue of King Billy. William and Mary had Kensington Palace and the grounds built for them, in the style of the Palace of Versailles. We then walked through Hyde Park, past the Albert Hall to Harrods, where David bought some chocolate.

Returning to Victoria, we got lunch to take with us, then set off on the train for Windsor. I had never been in Windsor before, but it is a nice wee town, dominated, of course, by the castle. We went in round the castle, and then in through St George’s Chapel, even seeing the Queen Mother’s Tomb. However, in the Chancel floor, there is a glaring mistake in one of the tombstones… It states that Charles I died in 1648. However, any astute student of history will know that it was in 1649 that Charles was executed! Whoops!

We then went back to Victoria, collected our bags, then headed out to Stansted and flew home.

And here we come to the end of the story of my time in London. The sightseeing was great, the walking was long at times but also good, and the craic was mighty. But the main reason I was in London was of course, to attend the Proclamation Trust Conference for Student Ministers. Will it make any difference to my preaching and ministry? Hopefully so, but we will see in the long term…


Well folks - I'm not long home, but I am so glad I am!

I will certainly post more on what I got up to in London since Tuesday when I get a chance... as well as the episode of the terrorist attacks and what it all felt like.

But for now, it is time for me to go to bed and sleep for a long time!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Just a quick posting...

The conference was good today again, then we went out for a meal with the other students tonight. It was in a pizza place beside London Bridge. Then afterwards we came to the London Eye, opposite the Houses of Parliament, and went up in it. The view wasn't bad, although, it being about 8pm, it was a bit dull.

We then crossed the river again, and because the flag was up on the Palace of Westminster, we knew the House was in session. So we went in to the public gallery of the Commons. It seems to be a lot smaller than it does on the tv.... The debate was on immigration, so we stayed about 10 minutes.

We then took a quick walk back to the net cafe here, opposite Victoria station - we then only have to go through the station and out the other side to get to our hotel.

And I must apologise to David and Stanley, as, on at least two occasions last night, I talked in my sleep... dear help my colleagues in Dublin!!!

Monday, July 04, 2005


Hi folks... just a quick posting from London as the other 2 guys are waiting on me!

Today has been a long day, having left the house before 4.30am and then being on the go all day... The conference has been good though.

We got a bit of a shock, though as there are only 10 students on the conference, so it's all very close together! The first session also was a shock, as we had to do an exercise where we had 3 minutes to prepare a sermon based on a text, to bring out the main points of each passage (for 5 passages...) with feedback to the person next, and then answering questions put by the speaker.

The other sessions have been heavy as well, but there is plenty of stuff to be learnt and it has already been well worth while. I'm now ready for sleeping though...

Another post will follow later in the week hopefully...

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Very quick posting as I should be in bed ages ago!

This morning Adny Hickford was again on top form as he spoke on the story of Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee, and his encounter with the prostitute whose tears washed Jesus' feet, who dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with oil. At the Communion service, we even had Archbishop Robin Eames along, which is the first time I have seen him at Summer Madness!

After another huge and heavy shower of rain, I was immensely glad to be coming home again!

Tonight I led our service of Summer Praise, which was a short, informal-ish service, and we looked at Philippians 1:1-11. There were lots of changes made to it after I had typed it, so it won't be published here until next weekend when I'm back from London and I can make the changes on my disk copy!

I'll see if I can find an internet cafe and get a few mnutes on during the week just to update on what has been happening at the Student Minister's Conference...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Summer Madness

Well, after a bit of an early start, I headed down to Summer Madness, and thankfully, the feelings of being slightly out of it yesterday had passed when I spent half an hour there... sitting in the group chatting and catching up on what had happened. Now, it was still different to actually camping, but as you'll find out later, I was slightly glad I wasn't camping...

This morning's 'service' was led by Kathryn Scott, with a mix of known songs, new ones, and best of the lot in my humble, traditionalist opinion, a verse and chorus of 'What can wash away my sin?' There really are some amazing old gospel/redemption hymns with sound theology and excellent sentiment, and it's good to see the leaders at Summer Madness incorporate some of them into the singing - last year we had 'My Jesus I love thee, I know thou art mine', and it flowed nicely... and even is the finish to last year's cd!

And as for the speaker, well, I really do like Andy Hickford. Sound Biblical teaching, and an exposition from the Bible! As in, he had the passage open, and referred back to it - not like some speakers or preachers who launch themselves off on a tangent having read the 'text' or passage. Andy looked at the call of Moses, from Exodus 3, and established that Moses' identity was bound up in God's call, and that we also find our identity in Christ.

This afternoon, I went to the seminar 'Called or Collared', on the theme of vocation and calling. The panel was made up of Alan Abernethy, Ken (Fanta) Clarke, James Boyd, Craig Cooney, and Denise Acheson. The seminar was very good, and we heard the stories of the panel, and soem of the challenges and problems with being ordained, but also of the delight and joy found in the ordained ministry.

Then there was the famous Bishop's Barbecue, which Harold does every year for the Down and Dromore subcamp. Once again, the burgers were great, and the craic was good. And I'm not just saying that because there's a chance Bishop Harold will be reading this at some point! If he does have a look, it will be thanks to the secretary of my blog fan club - Mr Martin Montgomery!

Tonight's 'service' had the Psalm Drummers, who use a lambeg, and a bodhran (probably spelt wrong, but my Irish is not great!), as well as other bongos etc to create rythms. They did a sort of a presentation type thing which started with the lambeg and bodhran as competing, but they ended up in the same rythms together. The inference was that these rival drums would come together in some form of unity.

I wasn't so keen on the speaker tonight, though. He was Tre Sheppard, and it seemed that the first twenty minutes were a standard sort of motivational/sales pitch that any religion or salesman could have used to get people onside, about how we have to play a part in the community and move forward, and that we can change history - that the fact isn't that we may change history - we will, but in what way? Eventually, then, he mentioned Jesus, and a couple of bible references in passing, but I wasn't so keen on it at all. Some people, perhaps the most of the crowd were taken by it, but I was talking to a few people afterwards who expressed similar thoughts to mine...

After that, we wandered a bit, talking to people we knew, but then the rain came on at about 10pm, and I was so glad I wasn't camping, as I could come home and get into my warm bed with proper walls and all that!

Friday, July 01, 2005

First day of holidays

Well, let me see... what happened today. I started my first day of the holidays with a long lie-in, then afterwards, went with mum and dad towards the Cregagh Road, where I spent a long time in the upstairs theology section of the secondhand bookshop... then from there we went to Bob Stewart's for lunch - this is a good place in Drumbeg, which does fine meals, and plenty good servings.

We then got a text from Neil, saying he wanted lifted form his place of work today - La Salle Boy's School, off the Glen Road - so we went looking for it, and drive about, after having found it and not wanting to sit in the one place too long in case we looked suspicious!

Since then I have just been ganshing about, and getting a sermon done for Sunday night on Philippians 1:1-11. No doubt it will appear here in due time, but I think I'll wait until after it has been done, rather than disclosing it beforehand. Not that any of the 8pm congregation will probably be reading this, but I'll keep it til then!

But I'm feeling just a little out-of-sorts tonight, seeing that Summer Madness is going on, and I'm not at it. But that will change tomorrow and Sunday when I call in. I hope it's good and that our young people learn lots through it. But I'm looking forward to London, and I couldn't have done both. So here goes!