Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I'm leaving Newtownstewart - AAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!!!

This is going to sound really silly, but it is only today that it has finally hit me that I am leaving Newtownstewart so soon. It was only when I went into the Post Office (which is also a men's clothes shop, furniture shop, hardware, fancy goods, and undertaker business and more stuff that I either haven't seen or can't remember) and was squaring up the remainder of the rent with my landlord that it hit me. Then later on, when I was back in the PO, and one of the staff wished me all the best in case she didn't see me again before I left.

I am gonna miss this place so much. From the flat (yes, even the flat with the regular return of mice, and the at times dodgy shower, and the 4 bedrooms and the heating system and the coin box electric meter), and Finlay's supermarket for the morning paper, and the quiet life of a wee village, and the view of the Sperrins from my desk, and the friends I have made with my colleagues - Stephanie, Ken, Pauline and Hazlett, as well as the committee and members - the victims who have suffered so much in this part of the world. All coming to an end.

I'll be sad to go. And yet, a part of me is ready to move on, to see what is around the next corner, because I know that I am going in the power of God - he has called me (I believe) to the ministry of the word, and I go to follow his call. So I'm well excited about Dublin and all that lies beyond there! Here goes...!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

History Book!!!

Remember way ages ago I talked about the History Book I had written in work, that would be published some time? Well, today the lady from the Community Relations Council came in to say that it is virtually approved for publication - there's one sentence needs to be changed (but I'm not telling you what it says!) and then we can start.

So watch this space to order your copy of the book!

Video Footage now available!

Ok, I have now found a way of hosting some of my video footage of bands etc... Thanks to the good folks at, just click on the below links, and you will be able to watch some of the footage from Sturday's parade. But be patient - the videos take a wee while to download. But they're worth it! More will be added with time... Check the links down the right hand side for all the clips, but here is the best one:

Click here to watch 'Upper Crossgare Pipe Band'

Bank Holiday Monday

Oh how nice it was yesterday to be off for the whole day. Bank Holiday Monday - what a great idea! And even better was the opportunity to spend half of it (up to noon) in bed! I had been quite tired recently so that allowed me to recharge the batteries and catch up on lost sleep.

Then in the afternoon, I went to Bangor with me ma, and I managed to meet Adrian and catch up on what he had been up to. The weather was great yesterday, and there was a huge crowd about the town.

But then in the evening it was back up to Newtownstewart, now with just 9 days left to work... it is indeed getting very close!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Matthew 16:21-28, Romans 12:9-21 A Sermon Preached in Dromore Cathedral at Morning Prayer on 28th August 2005

What way do you think? What sort of attitude do you have? How do you view things that come along? This morning we're going to look at the only two ways we can think – either from our natural, sinful viewpoint, or we can see things as God sees them.

Our second reading this morning is the turning point in the Gospel of Matthew. Up to Matthew 16, we find the birth of Jesus, then the start of his ministry, some teaching, healing and miracles. It took the disciples until Matthew 16 to discover who Jesus was. But within Matthew 16, we find a turning point, a new departure, with that revelation of Jesus' identity.

We find Jesus and Peter in conversation. The other disciples are there too. It follows on immediately from the previous verses, in which Peter had declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. So now that the disciples understood that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus declared what the Christ would do.

He told them, “That he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things ... and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt 16:21). These were the things the Christ, the Messiah had come to do. These had been promised in the Scriptures, that the Christ would come to die for his people, crushed for their iniquities.

Yet Peter had other ideas. What does he do? He takes Jesus aside and has a quiet word with him. It goes something like this – 'now, come on Jesus, wise up; this isn't going to happen to you!' Peter was expecting, along with most Jews, that the Christ would be a great military leader, who would expel the Romans, the occupying army, and would set up his kingdom on earth and restore Israel to it's strength and glory.

But notice the strong rebuke from Jesus: “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me.” Hardly the words you would expect to hear Jesus saying to one of the disciples. And to call him by the name of the enemy – Satan? So what was the problem? Surely Peter was looking to Jesus' welfare, and trying to cheer him up, rather than thinking about death and despair? Jesus himself told Peter what the problem was: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Peter was looking at the whole situation through the eyes of man, and sinful man at that. He was looking for Jesus to set up the earthly kingdom, to expel the Romans, to get the glory through self-preservation. But that wasn't why Jesus came.

Jesus came because he had his mind firmly set on the things of God. He knew that he had to die on the cross to save his people. As the hymn tells us:

There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in

As Philippians 2 tells us, he 'humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name' (Phil 2:8,9). And, as we find in Hebrews 12:2, Jesus,'who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame... is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.'

Jesus, knowing that there was no other way for his people to be saved, looked beyond the despair and pain and death of the cross, to the glory and the joy that would be his, and through him that would be extended to those who trust in him. And this was God's way. This was what God intended.

Thanks be to God, therefore, that Jesus resisted the subtle temptation from Peter to take the easy way out. Jesus suffered and died, going the hard way, the way of the cross, the way that we could be saved. Have you come to glory in this? Have you found this salvation because of what Jesus did for us?

After we come to faith, and have found that salvation in Christ, how do we view our faith? How do we live our life? What are the decisions we make in everyday life, in following our Saviour? Jesus then moves on to talk about the cost of being his disciple, which is all about denying yourself and living for God. Now to those of us who are settled, with a comfortable existence, these words will be very unsettling, very uncomfortable. We'll think first of what the world would tell us, then we'll hear how Christ calls us as his followers to be different.

The world around us, and even our own sinful natures would tell us that, even though we've come to faith, we should really look to our own interests – to make sure that we're all right. To take things easy, to seek comfort, and to avoid pain or struggle.

Jesus says: 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.' Those who follow Jesus must put to death their sinful nature. They must crucify the flesh, and battle against the devil. This is no life of ease – but a difficult, painful struggle.
The world says, save your life; look after yourself. Store up for yourself good things; make as much money as you can and treat yourself to everything you desire or want.

Jesus says: 'Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?'

Again, it is all about seeing things from God's perspective. Those who are materialists only see this world and live for this life, without realising that there is an eternity to live for – and a heavenly home to gain. And while it might look like you're throwing your life away in living for God, you are living in light of eternity, and storing up treasure for eternity – you truly find life, real life!

Indeed, some people have said to me that it is a waste that I'm going to become a minister – surely I could have a proper job, and make lots of money, and become wealthy, and have it easy? But all that is as nothing when you recognise the certainty of eternal judgement. This world is not the final thing – it will all come to an end. But our soul is eternal, and will live on – either in heaven, or in hell.

JC Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool writes on this passage that 'there is nothing so precious as a man's soul ... there is nothing that can make amends to us for the loss of our souls ... the world and all that it contains is temporal: it is all fading, perishing and passing away. The soul is eternal: that one single word is the key to the whole question.'

This theme of Christian living is also raised in the first reading, from Romans 12. Verse 2 (which wasn't read) tells us 'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.' We are not to be conformed to the patterns of this world – whether in the way non-Christians think or behave. But as the spirit dwells in us, renewing our mind, he takes us, and changes us, making us to think like God, and turning away from acting like sinful beings.
But be warned of this – the Christian life is not easy. In fact, I don't have to tell you that – you probably know that better than me. Hard times come, and persecution comes, because the world outside doesn't want to know about the faith, or thinks us odd.

So how should we act when persecution or opposition comes? How should we relate to those around us? The natural, sinful, easy reaction is: REVENGE! As the saying goes – revenge is sweet – you get back at the person who hurt you, and it feels good (at least initially). It is so easy to lash out and get back at them! But it isn't God's way. It isn't the way we should live as Christians.

God's way is to 'bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them ... repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all ... never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God ... to the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'

This is the difficult thing, but the right thing to do. It is the mark of a Christian, because this is what Jesus did. In 1 Peter 2, we read this: 'if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly' (1 Peter 2:20-23).

Jesus was not only our Saviour, but also our example, and we should seek to live as he did. When you face those hard times, or people are hurting you, remember the example of Jesus, who didn't curse them, or answer back, or strike out – he was silent, he bore the hurt and prayed for his enemies.

So what does this mean for our every day life? What happens when you meet that annoying neighbour, or that hurtful colleague? Bear your suffering, having Christ as your example. Bless those who persecute you – do good to them, maybe making them a cup of tea, or asking how they are, or simply smiling, and not trying to fight back, or defend yourself.

And what might possibly be the results of such a course of action? By not fighting back, it means that the confrontation won't be escalated – they will lose interest, and they won't be provoked to continue on attacking you. It will also create space for God's grace to act, by making you a better witness. But it will also keep you from sinning – because whoever is angry with their brother is guilty of judgement – it is as if you have murdered them. So instead, by being transformed by the Spirit, and not fighting back, you will see so much good come from it.

But there's another reason, and both the passage from 1 Peter and Matthew focus in on it. It is the fact of judgement. There is a day coming, when everything that we have done will be laid bare, and will be judged. All sin will be punished. But for Christians, there is no condemnation, because Christ has paid for our sins!

So how are you thinking? How do you view life? Will you think the easy, sinful thoughts of instant gratification and revenge? Or are you willing to step out this week and set your mind on the things of God?

The Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity

Well, now, today has beena busy day, all in...

8.30am Communion, with Alex Cheevers, then 10am Celebrate at Ten, then 11.30am Morning Prayer, at which I led and preached (and did the readings and prayers unexpectedly!). So I was in church from 8am til about 1pm... But the service went well (and yes, apologies - I have started another sentence with the word 'but' - evidently my English still isn't very good... you know who you are!), and the sermon seemed to go ok, apart from the random wee woman that came into the church halfway through the sermon, sat down, looked all around her for 5 minutes, then left again!

We even had Presbyterian visitors from Stewartstown, who were very welcome - I'm not sure if we converted Aled to the Book of Common Prayer yet - but maybe he will give us his impressions on it all in a comment...

Then this afternoon, we were in Newcastle with the family for a while, then back to the Clayton Hall to see the video of the RTE Morning Serice, which some of our parishoners were involved in this morning from the studio in Dublin. Then a wee jaunt to the park, before the last of our Summer Praise services at 8pm... next Sunday returns us again to our 6pm Evening services... where has the summer gone? It seems to have passed so quickly. In fact, this time four weeks and I will be in Dublin ready to start the first Monday of the course!

But I'm in Dromore tonight with the lovely prospect of a day off tomorrow for the Bank Holiday - excellent!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Black Saturday

Well, today was Black Saturday, and Newtownards was very good. The weather was good, and the bands were great (well, most of them... two particular pipe bands from the Newcastle/Leitrim area weren't so good, but I won't name and shame just yet!)

I even got the chance to call in at 'Speak' - a week of mission stuff going on in Ards, linked between 7 churches in the town. This afternoon, they had a roller disco going on (music outside, music inside!), but I wasn't on rollerblades/skates - I would spend most of the time on my bottom... with bad memories of the same at Dundonald Ice Bowl one night...

The reason I called in at Speak, though, was to see Mark Henry, Youth Pastor at Movilla Church, who was at the event. It was great catching up with him again!

On the way home, we stopped at Connswater Centre briefly, then home again!

Some pictures of the parade will follow - again, if anyone has a way of hosting video footage that people could download, then please let me know - I'll have a couple of good video clips - one of the start of the Newry District (with Tullyvallen and Commons Silver Bands, then Altnaveigh Pipe all in a row), and also a clip of Upper Crossgare Pipe Band, who were the best pipe band on parade today!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Bands tomorrow!

Tomorrow is Black Saturday - the day when the Royal Black Institution has its annual parades. The one in County Down is the biggest, and this year is in Newtownards... so I'm going to it. Nothing else really to report... Was out for a drive this evening, out through the Mournes and into Newcastle, and it was great, as usual!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

This Sunday...

Just a quick posting... This Sunday morning's service on RTE is featuring a congregation from Dromore Cathedral - so watch out for that! But I won't be on tv (not this time, anyway - weren't my appearances coming up to the election enough for one year?), as I'm holding the fort back at the Cathedral.

Which meant that last night I was working on my sermon - as always, it will appear here through the week, but why not come along and hear it in the flesh - 11.30am in the Cathedral for the service of Morning Prayer 2 (Contemporary Language).

Oh - and a happy birthday to dad!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Prayer Support

Just today I have been blown away... In exactly one month, I will have started at college - well, we will be in the midst of our tour of Dublin, but it is the first day we're there. The time is getting very close now, and I have to admit, it is slightly scary!

But today I got two emails from different people, just to let me know they were thinking of me and praying for me and the task ahead - what a great encouragement! So I want to say a big thank you to everyone who is praying for me as I prepare for Dublin - I appreciate your prayers and support so much.

At some point in the near future I'll be getting ready for a prayer letter type thing... but more news of that when I'm ready!


Last night I began my meet-ups with people before heading off to Dublin... (yes, I know I'll be home most weekends, but it's still a big thing moving on...). So I was up in Portstewart, and had dinner, then a walk out round the coast to the strand. Thankfully the rain didn't come on til we were back at the car, and it was a good evening, made even better (again) by the performance of a pipe band beside the bandstand!

In other news... I've got the new router installed for broadband, so hopefully no more crashes, and certainly not in the 2 and a bit weeks I have left to work!

And finally... this headline from the Ballyclare Gazette, as passed on by Mr Andrew Brannigan, Diocesan Youth Worker for the Diocese of Down and Dromore (otherwise known as Brandy):


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Desire of our Soul

If you're Church of Ireland, you might well recognise these words, and could even finish them off... 'The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee'. Words, of course, from the Urbs Fortitudinus, one of the Canticles we sing, which is taken from Isaiah 26 - 'We have a strong city, salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks; Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in...'

Why I say Church of Ireland, and not Anglican per se, is because it is only used in Ireland! It is our own canticle - the Canadians used it for a while, but it isn't in their latest BCP.

But anyway, why am I writing about that? I finished reading a book of the same name last night - written by Bishop Harold. It's subtitle is 'A User's Guide to the Book of Common Prayer 2004' and is a very good read. It basically goes through the book, and more especially the contemporary services, highlighting new things, raising concerns and commenting on why we do things the way we do them in the C of I.

It might not be a book for outsiders to understand what we do, but I think that members of our church might well find it useful to see the structure and thinking behind the new Prayer Book (Harold was the Chairman of the Liturgical Revision Committee which did the spadework for it).

Harold writes with humour, and even reveals some interesting facts (e.g. that the Urbs are only sung in Ireland, and that the phrase 'hocus pocus' comes from a word play on 'the Body of Christ' from the mass, indicating the funny business that goes on in transubstantiation.

However, one thing that is annoying in the book is the numerous spelling mistakes and typos - it does distract from the points being made. I'm not sure who is was, but the spell-checker or sub-editor or whoever needs to be fired or replaced!

All in all, though, it was a good read, and well worth it.

Oh, and 'the Desire of our Soul' - that is of course God! The Book of Common Prayer is not to be worshipped itself, but it is a vehicle to worship, containing ways in to worship, and material (all Scriptural) to aid in worship. But the words are just words, unless they are heartfelt and earnest words.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Annoying technology

Technology is great when it works... I've a feeling this is going to be similar to a posting that Martin had on his blog a wee while back... but let me tell you about today in the office.

We have had broadband in the office since January, but on Friday (once), and then numerous times today, the whole connection has crashed - not just the internet, but also our internal network system... Rage! It's so annoying when you're trying to keep up to date with emails, or work from websites to check things out, and suddenly it is all unavailable. To such an extent that this posting was written offline, and hopefully added when it came back on!

As well as that, I've been trying to sort out the stuff on the work laptop and my office computer, seeing what is my own, and needs to be removed (or rather, copied to cd)... It's amazing how many documents and pictures you accumulate in just 2 years.

And then soon will come the unenviable task of trying to clear out the flat with mountains of books, cds and videos... then deciding which stuff I need urgently in Dublin, and which should be put into my (already full) bedroom in Dromore...

Dublin Photos

Photographs from our adventure to Dublin are now available at my photo site. Click here to go to them!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Wedding and Dublin

NO, not my wedding... no chance of that in the very near future! Yesterday evening I was in Omeath (County Louth) for the wedding party of my cousin Jason, and his wife Georgina. The party was quite good craic, although we were only home at about 3am, which was awfully late!

Then today, it was off to Dublin. Translink have been having some special £10 return to Dublin offer on Saturdays in the summer, so we went down - Scott, Donna, Lorna, Gillian, Lynsey and me, and ganshed about. We went on one of the city bus tours, hopping off and on again at several stops, of not much interest as it turned out, but then ended up on Grafton Street and St Stephen's Green Shopping Centre.

So I'm only home there at about 11.30, by the time we had been to Dromara and then out by the Maze to check church times for tomorrow, which then I didn't need as David isn't taking the service there... ah well... I'll get to see him at some stage!

Thursday, August 18, 2005


Again, not much to report on today... I spent much of yesterday evening reading 'The Sinner' by Tess Gerritsen - with lots of twists, turns and exciting bits. I have about 50 pages to finish tonight, when it will all become clear. There were more surprises with the dead nun, and with the other nuns too, but I won't spoil it for anyone who would read it!

In other news, we're in the monitoring season in work, it seems, with reports due for most projects and visits from the funders - people always keeping an eye on others to check they're getting on well. But there is One who always knows what is going on with us - 'He who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps' (Psalm 121).

God keeps watch over us and knows all about us, as Psalm 139 also tells us. Now, that might seem frightening to those who are against Him, or who have fallen out with Him, but it is a tremendous relief and a joyous delight to be knowing that God loves us so much that he watches over us all and knows what is going on with us. We aren't a number to him, we are a beloved child (when we have come to trust in Him and become part of His family).

There's a wee thing in granny's house which speaks so much of this. Granny can worry a bit, and doesn't sleep too well, but the plaque says 'When you go to bed, give your concerns and worries over to God - He'll be up all night anyway'

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Nothing much to report

I know I'll get a bit of stick from Scott, but I really have nothing much to report today... last night I was in the flat, and finished the book on Calvinism, but I'm not in a position to write any more on it yet. Be assured it will come though!

I don't read that much fiction, but I started a new book last night - 'The Sinner' by Tess Gerritsen. So far we have been in a convent where one nun has been killed and another seriously injured...

I wonder why it is that a lot of my fiction reading has some link to faith or religion in some sense? For example, one of my favourite (fiction) books is 'Death in Holy Orders' by PD James - set in an Anglican Theological College in England, with a whole lot of murders... A few years back, I read some of the Barsetshire Chronicles by Anthony Trollope, which revolve around the church politics in a town and diocese. And then there's always some background of morality or faith to the books by John Grisham.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What type of theologian are you?

I found this wee quiz from another blog, and have taken the test - it appears that I score highly in both Anselm and Luther, although my closest affinity is with Luther! The link is at the bottom... have a go yourself!

You scored as Martin Luther. The daddy of the Reformation. You are opposed to any Catholic ideas of works-salvation and see the scriptures as being primarily authoritative.



Martin Luther


John Calvin


Jonathan Edwards


Karl Barth


Charles Finney


Friedrich Schleiermacher




Paul Tillich




Which theologian are you?
created with


I started reading a small book on the five points of Calvinism the other day. It's quite a good book, and more will follow, when I think about it more. I was a Calvinist before, (yes, even before David McCarthy tried to convert me to it), but now I'm seeing it all better fit together.

One thing that struck me on reading it was the quote on the Church of England (which would probably suit the Church of Ireland too): 'a Romanist ritual, Calvinist articles and Arminian clergy'.

So what is Calvinism? It is a doctrine that certainly didn't start with Calvin - Augustine was a proponent of this system of thinking. It looks at soterology (the doctrine of salvation), and attributes all the glory and initiative of salvation to God Almighty. It does this by setting out the five points:

Total depravity of man
Unconditional election
Limited Atonement
Irresistable grace
Perseverance of the saints

They are also known as the TULIP principles (due to the first letters) - and I will go into a bit more detail on them when I have finished the book. I am fully expecting a bit of a challenge on them from George - bring it on!

Monday, August 15, 2005

New Hair

Ok... here's the story.. I've recently got my hair cut a bit different, and instead of being fluffly and all over the place, it's now short and spiky... what do you think? I know I'm setting myself up for some rude comments, probably... but the 'delete' button might come in handy!

Londonderry pictures online now!

Ok, just a quick post to let you all know that photographs from the Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry on Saturday are now available online by following this link.


Yesterday was a busy wee day - I was preaching at the 8.30am Communion in the Cathedral, then off to Killinchy to lead the service there. They both seemed to go well, although I have noticed a bit of a weakness in the sermon for Killinchy (see the previous post for the text of the sermon).

In the evening, we had Alex Cheevers taking Summer Praise, and he was great! His short address captured the passage well, and even had the good introduction with a personal story that got the interest of the congregation, and led into the sermon well. If only I could do that well!

This morning it was off to Markethill for a wee run, as our fridge had packed in, so we got a new one and then back to Newtownstewart - 4 weeks left now... and counting!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Romans 11:28-32 A sermon preached in Killinchy Parish Church on 14th August 2005

This morning I want to focus on the reading from Romans. This was just a very short part of an argument that Paul was making, about how God had treated the two groups of peoples – Jews and Gentiles – historically, at the present time, and in the future. The argument begins from Genesis 12, when God called Abram: ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’

This blessing would extend to all peoples through Abraham. All peoples would be blessed. Yet the Jews became very nationalistic, as their concept of nationhood expanded, and they referred to themselves as the chosen people. They forgot that other peoples would be blessed as well, to the extent that they thought that outsiders – Gentiles – who wanted to share in God’s blessing had to become Jews.

Paul himself even refers to this way of thinking, in that while the Jews had traditionally obeyed God, the Gentiles had disobeyed. Yet, with the gospel, the very fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham, when the early believers who were all Jews, took this message out, it was the Jews who refused to believe. Now, granted, there were some who did believe, but generally, they refused to believe. This was the case in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:42), and in Corinth (Acts 18:6) and in Ephesus (Acts 19:9). Paul had entered the synagogue, bringing the good news of Jesus, but the Jews had refused to believe, so he went instead to the Gentiles, who heard and accepted the message with great joy.

This is what Paul was referring to when he said ‘Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience’ – that is, the Jews had been disobedient in refusing to accept the message of the gospel, so the Gentiles benefited by receiving mercy – ‘so they too now have become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you’. In other words, the Jews, in seeing the Gentiles coming to receive the benefits and the blessings God provides, would be provoked to also accept the gospel.

But it is on the last verse of the reading that I want to focus on this morning, and to draw out three lessons. The first is that we are disobedient; the second is that God has bound us over to disobedience; and the third is that God then shows us his mercy.

Paul tells us that all men are disobedient. But what have we disobeyed? How have we become disobedient? Obedience is based on recognition that someone has the right to tell us what to do, and on the fact of hearing the command. So, say, for example, that you are driving home from church, and a policeman tells you that you aren’t allowed to go down a road because it is closed, then you must obey, because he has the authority to command you not to go down that road, and he has told you the command.

For the Jews, disobedience, in these terms, was failing to recognise God’s authority over them, failing to remember that he was their king. After all, they sought to have a king ruling over them, rather than have God’s rule (1 Samuel). And despite the commands of God being clearly pronounced to them through the Scriptures, and through the prophets that God sent, they refused to listen or obey. And then, when Jesus came, the Son of God, their Messiah, they refused to listen him, and crucified him. And when the gospel was proclaimed in the synagogue, they refused to listen.

And what of the Gentiles? Well, God had created them, and there was within each person that element of conscience, and the knowledge of right and wrong. But more than that, all peoples are descended from Noah, given that the earth was destroyed, and only Noah, his wife and his three sons and their wives were saved. Noah was a ‘preacher of righteousness’, so this message was lost among the Gentile descendants of Noah.

Yes for all of us, Jew or Gentile, the indictment is clear, the verdict is sure: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). We have all of us gone our own way, and disobeyed the commands of God.

But we have also refused to recognise the right for God to rule over our lives. Each of us has sought to rule our own lives, and make our own choices, depending on what feels right for us. This selfishness is at the root of our problem. We have put God off the throne of our hearts and lives, and sit there ruling ourselves. [The centre of any sin is ‘I’: S-I-N ]

So we have gone our own way, we have decided that we know better than God, that we will rule our own lives.

And God has ‘bound all men over to disobedience’. We have wanted to go our own way, and God has said ‘fair enough’. He has let us go our own way. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, when the son wanted to go away with his inheritance, the father allowed him to. Now, the father knew exactly what sort of state he would end up in, but he let him go.

God does not force his way on anyone, and so, when we decide to go our own way, he allows us to. Yes, God is sovereign, but at the same time, we have an element of human responsibility, and so our choices are our own.

So where has our disobedience taken us? What is the result of our sinfulness? As Paul tells us elsewhere, those who sin are slaves to sin (Romans 6:16), and so we have ended up as prisoners and slaves of sin. We are imprisoned in sin. As the hymn writer put it:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature’s night

Or as Psalm 107 puts it: ‘Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains’. Why? ‘for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High.’ (Psalm 107:10,11) These people had rejected God’s authority, and rejected his commands, and ended up as prisoners, suffering in darkness.

Maybe you know that feeling of helplessness, and imprisonment. Maybe you have been locked in a prison of memories, of guilt and shame at the way you have lived your life, the choices you have made. Or maybe it was the consequences of your actions that have plagued you – those memories and hurts and pain just won’t go away.

And you think that God can’t possibly want anything to do with you – with such a great burden, or with these things holding you back – that you are bound to your disobedience, and locked in this prison.

Or maybe you have tried to prevent them, and have wanted to come to God, and to say ‘no more’ – but you always end up back in the same place, bound up with your sin – you just can’t leave it behind. Those sins won’t let you leave – they have a certain hold on you, keeping you in that prison of despair.

That prison of despair is an awful, horrible place. It is in darkness, and gloom. But the good news is that God does not leave you there. There is a way of escaping it. And the way of escape is the good news – the gospel, as our reading continues to tell us, in those last few words: ‘For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all’ (Rom 11:32). So that God may have mercy on them all! God wants to have mercy on you! As one writer put it: ‘God’s purpose was to shut up each of these divisions [that is, Jews and Gentiles] to the experience, first, of an unhumbled, condemned state without Christ, and then to the experience of his mercy in Christ’ (Wilson 1984:196)

So what is mercy? What does it look like, or how does it affect us? Mercy is ‘compassion for the miserable’ (Easton’s Bible Dictionary), and God’s mercy to us was when he looked at us in our miserable sinful, imprisoned state, and acted to relieve that situation. Our sins deserve judgement, all the more so, because God is holy, and just, and so condemns sin. He cannot abide sin. But, thanks to God, he is also perfect love, and sent his Son, Jesus, to die in our place, and to take the punishment due to us for our sin.

Jesus bore our sins, and took that punishment, in his death on the cross, and rose again, with the guarantee that our sins had been dealt with, and the offer of eternal life with God. God’s mercy is therefore when he does not give us what we deserve. We deserve separation from him; he has made the way open to himself. We deserve death; he gives us life. We deserve punishment; he gives us peace.

As Titus 3:5 tells us ‘when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy’. God saved us, because he is full of mercy. Remember the people we heard about earlier, in the prison because they had disobeyed God’s word? The Psalm continues: ‘Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains’ (Psalm 107:13,14).

Or as Wesley wrote in that great hymn that we thought of earlier:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed thee

This is all indeed a marvellous work of God, from start to finish. He sent Jesus into the world to bear our sins; and he now offers us this great mercy. If you identified yourself as being in that prison of sin and guilt earlier, then hear these words today: Jesus Christ offers you mercy, through what he has done for you.

He can break the chains of sin that hold you, and he can take you out of that prison. Your sins have been paid for, so you don’t have to struggle under the burden any more.

It used to be the case that in businesses and shops, there would be a nail, a spike, sitting on the desk, and when a bill was paid, it was put on the spike. It showed that the bill had been paid for – it was cancelled. In the same way, your sins have been paid for – they have been pierced by the nails that held Jesus – they are cancelled, because Jesus bore your sins in his body on the cross.

This is indeed the good news of the gospel, the blessing that all people everywhere can know, and this offer is open to you today. Why remain in prison any longer? When Jesus started his ministry, he gave his vision statement – his manifesto, as it were. And he quoted from the book of Isaiah, and said this: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18,19 quoting Isaiah 61:1,2).

Jesus has come to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and release the oppressed. Will you be free today? Will you come to know God’s mercy?

[PRAYER: Lord God, I thank you that you are merciful, and that you do not give me what I deserve. Thank you that Jesus came and took the punishment due to me for my sin. Because of Jesus’ death, forgive me all my sins, and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Grant that I would be free from my sin, and would be freed from all that holds me back. I thank you that you hear my prayer, and will answer it to your glory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Derry Day

Today was of course Derry Day, but I shall come to that in good time... First, a general report on the events of last night, and within this posting shall be revealed the exact finish time and result of the Great Toilet Roll Prediction Competition!

Bryan and Stewart came up to the flat last night, and we had chips in Andy's (the biggest portions in Newtownstewart), then went out on a grand adventure. We started at Harry Avery's Castle, overlooking the village. There used to be 'authentic' Environment & Heritage Service green steel steps up to one of the balconies / window holes in the gate house, but they were removed, so Stewart decided to climb up to the nook anyway. Well, he managed it fairly easily, but his descent was a different story - being guided the whole road down with where he could put his feet!

Moving on from the castle, we headed out to Baronscourt, and down into the estate (whether we're meant to or not)... had a wee look about, and then out again. We then began following one of the new tourist routes recently begun - the South Sperrins Scenic Route, and we came upon the Baronscourt Parish Church. After Stewart had a go at bell-ringing (the chain is outside and ready for anyone to have a pull), we had an investigation into the oldest graves - roughly 1880 was the oldest. Then we found the former Dukes of Abercorn, all buried in a row.

It was on from there towards Crew Bridge, then into Castlederg, then to Clady and Strabane, before coming back to Newtownstewart by the back road to Victoria Bridge. We then proceeded to talk for a long time... (3am was the end up).

This morning then, I was up first (by a long way), then Stewart, and finally Bryan (although we had to threaten him to get him up). So we got to see the Newtownstewart ones parading before we left for Londonderry.

But the other big news is that the toilet roll was finished this morning at apprximately 9am. Primrose had guessed yesterday, and Claire had guessed tomorrow, so I shall have to decide on a way of allocating the win...

We had a good (but at times wet) day in Londonderry, watching the parade of the Apprentice Boys celebrating the Relief of the city from the siege. I didn't take too many pictures (what with wrestling with the umbrella in the wind and rain), but whatever few I have might well go on the photo site at some point in the future, under the culture section.

Friday, August 12, 2005


This week I've had my biggest challenge yet in coming up with the sermon for Sunday. I normally follow the Revised Common Lectionary, or else whichever series we're doing (e.g. Sunday nights in the Cathedral are Philippians during the summer). And the readings for this Sunday were unusual: Genesis 45:1-15, where Joseph makes himself known to his brothers; Matthew 15:21-28, where Jesus is going through Gentile territory and a Canaanite woman comes to him wasking to heal her daughter, and Jesus calls her a dog (indirectly), but she takes this name to herself and so her daughter is healed; and Romans 11:1-2(a) and 29-32.

It seems to me that the compilers of the RCL left out the main thrust of the argument in Romans 11. But I have decided that I'm going to preach on the last verse, verse 32: 'For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all'. The sermon plan in short is this:

- disobedience - what it is, how we have disobeyed God, and the scriptural proofs
- the consequences of that disobedience - how God has bound us all over to disobedience
- God's mercy - how he frees us from our slavery to sin

As usual. the full sermon will be posted in due time on the blog.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


I'm not sure if you had noticed any of the trailers for the new TV series which started on Channel 4 last night? It was a programme called 'Lost' about a plane which crashed on a desert island, and how the people on board cope, especially with a mysterious thingy on the island... The trailers seemed interesting, so I watched the first episode. It was ok, and certainly, there were cliffhangers every time it went to a break, but it wasn't overly great. So I decided not to watch the second episode.

But the concept, and the name of the programme got me thinking. 'Lost'. We all are lost. We are far from where we should be. (In the show, the pilot reveals they were about a thousand miles off course when they crashed.) We have gone 'to a far country' (Luke 15:13 AV).

The wonderful news, though, is that 'the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost' (Luke 19:10). Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes in search of his lost sheep, and when he finds it, brings it home on his shoulders, rejoicing!

Yes, we are lost - we all, like sheep, have gone astray, but Jesus came to find us, and to bring us home. I'm not sure how the programme will turn out - there will probably be many twists and turns before they are rescued, but Jesus is there for you today, willing to come and find you, wherever you are, or whatever you have done.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Google Earth

I noticed a report on this new programme this morning in the Irish News, and downloaded it. Google Earth allows you to use images from satellites, to view the world and move about, in and out, and tilt the image! Even better, the basic version is free, and can be dowloaded very simply. It is also easy to use.

Sadly, so far there are no areas of Northern Ireland in the ultra close-up pictures (e.g. in the Dublin area you can see the individual busses sitting in the depot in Amiens Street), but hopefully they will follow!

Romans 1

Last night I started reading Romans, and in that first chapter there is so much great stuff! It is with some trepidation that I would even start commenting on the book, mindful that I can only skim the surface, and never reach the depths or the heights of that great book. Indeed, I think it was Martin Lloyd-Jones who said that you should never seek to preach on it until you were over thirty, or well experienced (or something like that). Call it the folly of the young, but I have already been preaching on parts of the book (in Dromara and this Sunday in Killinchy), so I'll try and include some comments as they come...

Romans 1:1-17 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— [2] the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures [3] regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, [4] and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. [5] Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. [6] And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. [7] To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. [8] First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. [9] God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you [10] in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you. [11] I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— [12] that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. [13] I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. [14] I am bound both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. [15] That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. [16] I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. [17] For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

- The letter is about the 'gospel' - the good news of God
- The gospel wasn't something that Paul made up, or that started with Jesus. It was 'promised beforehand' by prophets and by the Scriptures.
- The gospel is about Jesus, both man and God, who was declared to be God by the fact of his resurrection from the dead.

The Church at Rome was in Paul's heart, and this letter was being written to them, to let them know that Paul was hoping to come to them. Why?
- Their faith was being talked about all over the world. They were Christians at the centre of the known world
- Paul always prayed for them
- to encourage and strengthen them: 'that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith'
- He wants his visit to be profitable, and to produce a harvest among them.

Then we find his mission statement: 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes'

Oh God, grant that we too would not be ashamed of the gospel, that we would proclaim it boldly, that we would believe in the power of the gospel, and that we would invite others to come to faith, to believe in you and be saved.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


I know I have talked about my sleeping habits and problems before, but let's go at it again... Last night was a case in point. I couldn't get to sleep, and seemed to be a like a roasting chicken on a spit, constantly turning... So then I put on a cd (Kathryn Scott), and I can only remember about the first 2 songs, so I must have been sleeping, but then after it stopped, I went back to my pattern of sleeping for about 20 minutes, then waking... It's not nice at all, and then when the morning comes, I want to sleep but have to get up!

I suppose last night it wasn't helped by meeting a mouse in the flat - the first in several weeks, but I thought they were all away. RAGE! So they must have gotten used to the electro-magnetic pulser type device my landlord supplied me with... So I'm on the war path again tonight!

Philippians 3:1-11 : A Sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral at Summer Praise on 7th August 2005

What is the gospel? What is it at the core of our belief? Are there things that we hold over and above the gospel, that we don’t want to let go of? Tonight we will have a look at what Paul defines as the core of our belief, through re-telling part of his own story. Originally, as we shall see, he trusted in his own righteousness, based on what he was and what he did, but this changed, and he then found the true righteousness that comes by faith.

[Incidentally, preachers seem to get a hard time for using the word ‘finally’, which opens our reading tonight. And despite Paul using it, we find that there are still two chapters to go. But don’t worry; I won’t be using the ‘finally’ word tonight!]

Paul, in writing to the Philippians, takes this opportunity to ‘write the same things to you’; to recap on the basics of the faith, so that it will be ‘safe for you’. He wanted to ground the church so firmly in the foundations that it would stand, and continue to stand in the face of opposition and attack. And therefore, we also need to review the basics of the faith time and again, because we need to be sure of what we believe. We can never outgrow the gospel. We must always have it as our focus.

Yet it was even more important to review the basics, given that the Philippians were facing opposition and problems. Some people were seeking to slightly alter the faith, or alter the conditions that someone could come to faith. Paul referred to them as ‘dogs’. Now, I’m not all that fond of dogs, but when Paul used this word, he wasn’t being too complimentary. After all, a ‘dog’ was the name that good Jews gave to Gentiles. Matthew Henry writes that these men were called dogs ‘for their malice against the faithful professors of the gospel of Christ, barking at them and biting them.’

So who were these men? They were Jews who had come to faith, yet thought that Gentiles who were coming to faith first of all had to become Jews – by being circumcised. They thought that God’s promises were only for the Jews, but the gospel is for everyone. Their emphasis on circumcision, the basis of why they were wrong, is that they had a ‘gospel-plus’ attitude. That you weren’t really a Christian unless you not only came to faith, but also did something else. Now, in their day, it was circumcision. But in our own day, there are similar brands of this gospel-plus thinking around – elevating man-made rules into the command of God. Perhaps this is how some people view Confirmation in our church – that you aren’t a real Christian without it.

The reason for these extra rules is that they think that it brings acceptance with God. That somehow, by keeping these extra rules, we can be more right with God. And isn’t that the basis of all our self-righteousness? We think that if we do such and such, then we will be right with God. Now, we maybe don’t admit it in so many words, but that is the basis of our thinking. You know… ‘if I turn up at church every week, then God will like me’, or ‘If I read my Bible, or sing in the choir, or … then I’ll be right with God.’

Paul tells us of his own self-righteousness. ‘I myself have more reason in the flesh: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness, under the law blameless.’ Paul had it all made, according to the Jewish understanding of righteousness. He kept all the laws, joined the strictest sect of teachers, persecuted the so-called heretics, and was blameless.

Until the moment he met the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. He suddenly realised that whatever that had been to his credit – those laws he had kept – all meant nothing. It was all ‘rubbish’. The original word means ‘dung’ – the stuff you just want rid of as quickly as possible, with no benefit. This was how Paul viewed all those things that before contained his hope, and were valuable to him, that seemed to be a gain for him. They were rubbish, compared to the worth and joy of knowing Christ. There was nothing that Paul had before that could possibly compare with knowing Jesus, and the benefits that flow from that relationship.

To some extent, that is my own testimony. I grew up in this church, was in the choir from an early age, and knew lots from Sunday School and BB Bible class etc. And I thought I had it made. Surely, I thought to myself, God will accept me, and like me, and take me to heaven, because of all that I do. And after all, I’m so much better than my classmates at school – they don’t go to church, and swear and on and on…

But thanks be to God, that during the Mission in November 1992, I came to realise that it isn’t about what I do, but about what Christ has done for me, and that it is only by coming to faith in him that we are saved.

It is to some extent, like a balance sheet, when you’re doing your accounts. Paul had all those things on the ‘credit’ side. They were all a benefit to him. But after his encounter with Christ, all those things shifted over to the debit side – they were only a loss to him. And the only item on the credit side? Knowing Christ! For it is by knowing Christ, by coming to faith in him, that we attain this righteousness from God. We can be right with God, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us, by accepting it by faith.

It is in the cross of Calvary that this righteousness that comes by faith is grounded. In the perfect work of Christ, in which he gave himself for us, to pay for our sin, and to make us right with God.

Paul closes this passage by giving a sort of mission statement for his own life, and one which we should also adopt as our own: ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.’

The first part of that verse is wonderful – ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.’ There is nothing that is better than knowing Jesus, than being able to talk to him at any time, from knowing his presence with you. And to have the power of his resurrection? That is, the power of God, which raised him from the dead? Well, who doesn’t need that power to live life, and to serve God? We cannot do it in our own power, and need this power of God.

But there’s something uncomfortable about the next part of the verse. ‘And the fellowship of his sufferings’. Suffering is not pleasant. It is not what we would willingly choose. Yet here Paul states that he wants to know … the fellowship of his sufferings’. Christ came as the suffering servant, and while he was our Saviour, he was also our example. Jesus has called for us to follow his example, and to keep going through the hard times. Because, as Paul realised, that when we are weak, and hard pressed, then the grace of God is strongest, and carries us through.

So the question that comes to you tonight from the reading is this: What is on the balance sheet of your life? Are there things that you value higher than Christ? Do you insist on trying to work for your own righteousness, by doing so much for God? Is your religion a struggle of your own will, rather than an admission that by yourself, you can’t do anything, and that you need Christ? Are there things that you are trusting in, rather than in Christ? Because we all put our trust in something, whether it is in our religion (being Protestant), or in our upbringing, or our culture, or all that we do, or our own goodness.

Tonight, we need to come again to the cross, and to find in it the only ground for our righteousness – the only way we can be right with God. By coming, and trusting in Jesus, and knowing him, and the power of his resurrection, we can be saved. Won’t you put your trust in Jesus tonight?

[PRAYER: Lord God, I thank you that you sent Jesus into the world to die on the cross, and that we can be right with you through that. Forgive me for my sins, and cleanse me. I want to know you, Jesus. Come and live in my heart, so that I may say that everything is loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing you as my Lord. Thank you Father, that you hear my prayer, and will answer it to your glory, in Jesus’ name. Amen ]

Philippians 2:19-30 'Together for the Gospel' : A Sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral at Summer Praise on 31st July 2005

Have you ever thought about models? I’m not talking so much about model cars or trains, nor even fashion models, but about models – those who are an example to us? I’m always intrigued by accents, and how we pick them up. I remember the first time I went to BB Camp, my tent commander came from Castledawson, and I had listened to him so much over that week, that I ended up talking with a Castledawson accent. I had been influenced and changed to a certain extent, by the model that had been around me. I was moulded by the experience. That’s probably also the case with me spending almost three years in West Tyrone. Certainly, some of the people from Youth Fellowship find my new hybrid accent hilarious or just not understandable! Again, having listened to those around me, I have picked up certain words or phrases, and have been changed by that experience.

I think it is true of most of us that we are changed and altered, even very subtly by the company we keep, and by the examples we have in front of us. Which is why, when you’re growing up, your choice of friends can be so important.

It is also true of the apprentice schemes for learning a trade. You learn as much, if not more, by working alongside someone who knows what they’re doing, and so you become skilled in that trade, and can then pass that knowledge on to others.

This past two weeks, we have been looking at the example of Jesus, who was fully obedient, and humble, and at how we should therefore shine like stars in the universe, by following His example. Paul now writes of two of these ‘stars’, who the Philippians should seek to copy, and use as an example.

Timothy was one of Paul’s apprentices in the gospel work. We sometimes think that Paul travelled alone on his missionary journeys, and that it was all Paul, but this is not the case. Paul always had a number of people with him, for mutual support and encouragement, as well to share in the gospel work. And Timothy was one of these.

He was a messenger of Paul, who brought news of Paul out to various churches, and then brought news from those churches back again. He had been an apprentice, as Paul says ‘as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel’. In those days, sons normally ended up doing the same job as their sons, and so learnt their trade by watching and working alongside their father. Thus it was, that Timothy, like the apprentice, had worked along with Paul, and had learnt the trade for him.

But one thing set Timothy apart from the rest of those around Paul at the time. ‘I have no one else, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’

Timothy’s concern was for the interests of Jesus Christ. And what are these interests? Well, that His church is expanded, that its members are growing, that the people of God are fed and encouraged. This was in following the example of Jesus, who shunned self-interest by giving himself up to death for others.

Don Carson says that we should seek to emulate those who are interested in the well-being of others, not their own. ‘Be on the alert for Christians who really do exemplify this basic Christian attitude, this habit of helpfulness. They are the kind who cheerfully pick up after other people. They are not offended if no-one else asks after them; they are too busy asking after others. They are the kind who are constantly seeking to do good spiritually, to do good materially, to do good emotionally. They are committed to the well-being of others. Watch them. Watch how they act, how they talk, how they react. Talk with them; learn their heartbeat. Imitate them. Emulate those who are interested in the well-being of others.’

Paul also encourages us to emulate, to imitate, and to honour those who put their lives on the line for the gospel. Such a man was Epaphroditus. He had brought money from the Philippians to Paul, and this epistle was, to some extent, a thank you letter for it. Epaphroditus had stayed with Paul for a time, being of service to him, and working in the gospel ministry with him, and while there had become ill.

Yet, God had mercy on him, and also on Paul, to save him from death, yet Epaphroditus was distressed because he knew the Philippians were distressed about him! So, to bring about joy, and less anxiety all around, Paul was sending him back to Philippi, along with this letter.

But the instructions were clear: ‘Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ’. And we too should also seek to honour those who lay their lives on the line for the gospel, both in home service, but also across the world on the mission field.

So if we are seeking to grow in our faith – what models do we set before us? Are we being encouraged to grow in our faith by those around us? Are we learning by watching their example, and growing ourselves? Are we also encouraging others in the faith, by exemplifying these qualities?

Let’s learn from Timothy, and seek to put the concerns of others ahead of our own, by putting the interests of Jesus Christ first of all. There’s the old saying that the way to Joy is by having our priorities right:

Yourself – JOY.

And let’s learn from Epaphroditus, by putting our lives on the line for the sake of the gospel, and by taking care of the needs of those around us. And let’s honour those who put their lives on the line, by supporting those in the mission field, both through our prayers, and also by our resources.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Photographic Proof! Bryan/Aled Aled/Bryan


Yesterday we had the usual busy Sunday. The first service was the Celebrate at Ten, when Neville was speaking on the faithfulness of God, as displayed through the unfolding story of the Bible. They did a great 'sketch' type thing, using four readers, and covering the story of the Bible in 5 minutes... combining humour and the message of God's faithfulness to His people. God is indeed faithful, and will be faithful. It is in this faithful God that Neville has his trust, as he returns to England again for a new challenge.

At the 11.30 service, we had Holy Baptism with Holy Communion, and the visiting minister was William Quigley, who baptised his grandson.

In the afternoon, I took a wee drive out towards Killinchy, just to find the curch and see where it is I'm taking the service next Sunday. It was a great day yesterday, and nice weather for the drive.

Then last night I took the Summer Praise service, which seemed to go ok. The sermon, on Philippians 3:1-11 will, as always appear in the next week. However, I learnt a very important lesson last night: If using a music stand as a lectern, secure the top bit. I kept leaning on it, and it kept moving, which led to much amusement for the Youth Fellowship (as did my newly trimmed beard and gelled hair, for some reason...).

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Quick Bowling Update

Tonight's bowling was won by Jordan (131) with me in second (126) and Bryan / Aled in third on 119. Most hilarious moments included 'We're walking in the air' (theme tune from the Snowman which catapulted Aled Jones to fame) being played over the sound system in the Odyssey bowling centre, and David trying to get the two pins down by throwing two balls at the one time... priceless!

Friday, August 05, 2005


Last night I experienced an element of 'freedom', of being isolated, which was great. And it all came about accidentally! I was going down to Londonderry yesterday evening to just have a walk about and look in some of the shopping centres, but I was in so great a hurry out of the office that I left my mobile behind. I only realised when I was a right bit down the road, so had to go on without it.

And what was it like? Well, it felt like bliss, not being contactable, knowing that for those 2 or 3 hours that I wasn't a slave to the mobile... jumping to answer it or read and reply to texts... Although, of course, as it would happen, there were a right few waiting on me when I got back, but it was nice just to have those few hours of 'freedom'

I'm not saying, though, that I don't want to be texted or rung any more... far from it! But if I don't reply immediately some day, you'll know I have maybe deliberately forgotten the mobile for another hour or two of freedom!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Well rested!

I'm very glad to report that I had a full and proper early night, and got a great sleep, and feel so much better this morning! Although when I got into bed, guess what happened... yes, the phone rang again! But it was only a short call, and then it was sleep time!

Although there was some sort of sleep-walking last night, because I can vaguely remember something, and then this morning, the chair in the bedroom was sort of leaning over, where I must have dunted it... But I don't know what I did. CITC beware!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

An early night

Well well... Early nights never seem to work! Last night my evening was interesting... I got some dinner, then went into the living room to read for a while, and I put on the 'Master and Commander' DVD as I had been given it for my birthday and never saw it... I still haven't, as I dozed for about half an hour... so at 8pm, I went back into the bedroom, did my Bible study and devotions etc and was in bed at 9pm. At 9.10pm, the phone rang and during that call, I had got two messages - one of them that new call alert thingy that sends you a text if you miss a call - so then I rung back to see what they were after. So anyway... it was 10.30 before I was in bed, and I lay and read til 11.30, because the tiredness feeling had departed, so sleep wouldn't come so easily. Then at about midnight, there was an almighty downpour, so I went into the kitchen to watch it... But now it is morning, and I'm still not feeling altogether right. Ah well... another early night will hopefully help tonight!

It seems I was indeed living a verse of Scripture last night: 'On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.' (Psalm 63:6).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Great Toilet Roll Prediction Competition!

Yes folks, this might be a bit of a strange posting, but have a go, and see what comes of it...

In a bid to enliven some interest and comments on the old blog, I'm launching this form of a competition... The Great Toilet Roll Prediction Competition!

Just yesterday, I began a new toilet roll in the flat, and the challenge is to name the date on which I will next need to change the roll... answers in a comment on this posting.

The sunniest corner of Ulster

Yesterday evening, the sunniest corner of Ulster was none other than the village of Kesh. Newtownstewart was a dull sort of a day, overcast and all (and it is raining now), but I was heading down to Kesh to meet up with a friend, and lo and behold, it was sunny! So sunny, in fact, that I couldn't see hardly to drive - even with sunglasses on... My eyes began to water but thankfully I came across a wee car park where I could stop and wait until I could see again.

Yet, do you know what? The brightness of the sun is nothing compared to the brightness of God! In the new Jerusalem, there won't be any call for the sun, because God himself will provide the light for it - and there will be no night!

And what is our reaction to bright light? Well, we normally turn away, or shield our eyes, because we cannot endure it. And even more so, God's holiness is beyond anything we can imagine or face up to. The Psalmist said 'Lord, if you mark our transgressions, who would stand?' But, as the song goes on, thanks to your grace we are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb!

We all fall short (Romans 3:23) of the glory of God, yet thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus, we are able to stand in God's presence, and live with him for ever! (No sunglasses needed!)

Monday, August 01, 2005

BB Camp Photos online now!

Ok folks... the moment you have all been waiting for... the photographs from BB Camp are now available online, by following this link. Go along and see if a certain Welsh singer looks anything like Bryan...


Yesterday we had the Celebrate at Ten, then Morning Prayer, then Summer Praise last night. I was preaching at Summer Praise, and it seemed to go ok - maybe my hearers wouldn't agree, but I thought it went ok. As usual, the text of the sermon will follow shortly - when I get it up online.

Also, photos from BB Camp will shortly be available on the photo site, once I get them named and uploaded.

Again - a bit of a wick posting... but they will improve, I'm sure!