Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The salvation of God to the glory of God - Ephesians 2:1-10

At present in my devotions I'm working through Ephesians - just slightly too late for the summer preaching study in Magheralin Parish, but still beneficial, nonetheless. I'm using John Stott's commentary as a useful guide - but only after I have done some hard work myself. This passage is particularly great, as it shows us that our salvation is all because of God - to whom we give praise and glory!

Ephesians 2:1-10
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

What is Christianity? It is all of God. In Ephesians 2:1-10 Paul reminds the Christians at Ephesus what Christianity is, and who is behind it.

The passage starts us by showing what men and women are by nature - dead; in trespasses and sins (both positive overstepping the mark and negative missing the mark); following what we know collectively as 'the world, the flesh and the devil'; as we carried out the desires of our flesh and mind.

The end result of this behaviour (which we all were part of) was that we were children of wrath. The situation certainly looks bleak.

BUT GOD - What an amazing couple of words, that completely change our situation!

The characteristics of God:
- rich in mercy (4)
- great love with which he loved us (4)
- gracious (5, 7, 8)
- kindness towards us (7)

What has God done?
- we who were dead, he has made alive together with Christ (5)
- we who were following the evil powers, he has raised us and seated us on the throne of heaven with Christ, ruling over them (6)
- we who needed rescuing were saved (by grace)
- all a work of God (5, 8)

Why is it God's work?
- it is a gift (8)
- it is not by our works (9)

What about our works?
- We are not saved by our works (9)
- But we are saved for good works (10)

And notice - we are created in Christ for good works - we cannot create ourselves, if we are dead - salvation is all a work of God, from start to finish!


No this isn't going to be a post on women's favourite shopping items, as such, but more an observation that I've recently noticed. As you might know, I've been working from home on a research project with some of my former colleagues. The immediate advantage from working in my bedroom is that the computer is right beside the bed. The immediate disadvantage is that the bed is right beside the computer!

The odd morning I have noticed how handy it is to get up and dressed and plough into the work at my desk. But without putting on shoes, very quickly I'll become distracted and forget (if it were possible) about the work. However, the mornings that I'm fully dressed and shod, I seem to concentrate better and am more productive.

Is there something in this, I wonder... should it be a recommendation for all home-workers to put their shoes on, in order to have the work mindframe? Do the shoes help with the right attitude? Even, perhaps, a willingness to work?

We might find an echo of this in Ephesians, where Paul is talking about the armour of God... '13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. ' (Ephesians 6:13-15)

The readiness given by the gospel of peace - as shoes for your feet. Or as the CEV puts it, '15Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. ' Is Paul calling us to put our shoes on and work, and tell others, and to stand firm? I think so! Let's do it!

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Six Counties Challenge

So how do we spend Bank Holidays? Today poor Neil had to go out and work, but the rest of us were off, so after a nice lie in, we set off. On leaving home, we couldn't decide where to go, so mum decided on a mystery tour.

En route, I then decided to see if we could make it into all six counties of Northern Ireland... Getting the five big counties isn't too hard - a lap around Lough Neagh gets you Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Londonderry and Antrim. But how to incorporate Fermanagh???

Before we had decided on the 6-counties, we went in round by Donaghcloney, Dollingstown, Lurgan, Portadown, then out by Drumcree and onto the back roads by Derryanvil and into Maghery, Derrylee (which seemingly isn't where the cheese comes from...) and to Moygashel.

Then the challenge was on... so off we went down the A4 towards Enniskillen - but it would be too far to go, so we went instead by Augher, Clogher and Fivemiletown - all of which were still in Tyrone. Rage! But from Fivemiletown it was onto the backroads and in by Clabby, to Trillick, then back into Tyrone to show the folks the 'other' Dromore (seeing our same address over there - whose mail we sometimes get...) and to Omagh. The next challenge was to get to Londonderry, by crossing the Sperrins - by Cookstown or by the Glenelly valley?

Having loved the Sperrins, I decided we would go by Gortin, Plumbridge and up the Glenelly valley into Draperstown, Desertmartin and into Magherafelt. We stopped for a while there, then headed back home via Toomebridge, Antrim, Dundrod and Lisburn to get our final county - Antrim!

So all six counties can be visited in one day. The next challenge is... what about all 26 District Councils? Although to prove it, we would need to get a photo of a sign welcoming us to the borough... I think it would be a great laugh.

Anyone up for the challenge???

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bright the vision that delighted once the sight of Judah's seer. A sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 27/08/06. Isaiah 6:1-7

This evening we come to the end of our Summer Praise series of looking at favourite hymns. And as we come to the end, so we give thanks to God for all his goodness to us. For our final hymn of the summer, we’re going to think about number 316 – ‘Bright the vision that delighted, once the sight of Judah’s seer.’

One of the reasons I’ve chosen this one is that it is very appropriate to think about it and sing it here, because of its local connections. The author, Richard Mant, was bishop of Dromore from 1842 until 1848. Bishop Mant seems to have been a prolific writer and translator of hymns, and also compiled a History of the Church of Ireland – which is still in use today – I quoted from it several times this year in essays.

So let’s turn to the hymn, as a lead-in to the Scripture reading. The opening lines of the hymn can be quite confusing, or hard to understand – ‘Bright the vision that delighted once the sight of Judah’s seer.’ The hymn is of course, based on Isaiah 6, and the vision of God which Isaiah received. So let’s look at Isaiah 6, to discover what we can about the vision, and its effect on Isaiah.

‘In the year that King Uzziah died’ (Isaiah 6:1). How do you date things? Or how do you remember when things happened? For example, some songs come on the radio, and they remind me of revising for my GCSE’s or A-Levels, because they were playing on the radio so much when those things were happening.

Or perhaps something reminds me of a bereavement – the bereavement was such a big thing that everything else is remembered in terms of it. It was that same year… or whatever. The death of King Uzziah was such a big thing, that Isaiah dates his vision in the temple based on it.

‘In the year that King Uzziah died.’ The reason it was such a big thing was that Uzziah (also know as Azariah in 1 Kings), had been king for 52 years. He had come to the throne when he was 16, and had reigned until he was 68. The people couldn’t remember any other king – it was as if Uzziah was the one ‘constant’ – the thing holding the nation together.

In fact, his death was such a big thing that this is the only place in the Bible that an event is dated in terms of a death. Everywhere else in the history books of the Old Testament, dates are given as ‘the 5th year of the reign of …’. It’s only here, in Isaiah 6, that we read ‘in the year (anyone) died.’

I suppose it would be a similar feeling to that in Britain whenever Queen Victoria died, having been on the throne for 64 years. Or maybe even when Queen Elizabeth passes on – her reign of 54 years since her accession is just slightly more than Uzziah’s reign.

But the situation would have been worse for Judah than for Britain after Victoria’s death – Britain was a parliamentary monarchy, with power lying in the Houses of Parliament. For Judah, the power of the state existed in the person of the king. So after a long period of stable reign, Uzziah had died. What would happen to Judah now?

But notice the grace granted to Isaiah. ‘In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.’ Uzziah might have died, but the Lord was still on the throne! What greater word of comfort or security could there be for Judah, than that God reigns! Indeed, we see that it forms an important part of Isaiah’s message later on – ‘the Lord of hosts reigns’ in chapter 24 (:23), and ‘Your God reigns’ in 52:7.

Isaiah properly recognises God for who he is, as the king, in verse 5 as he says aloud ‘my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’ But as we look at the passage, we see that the vision is much more than just God the King on his throne.

The vision is amazing and awe-inspiring, and creates an amazing outburst from Isaiah: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.’ (6:5).

This outburst is amazing, because of who says it. Remember, Isaiah was the prophet of the Lord, he was one of God’s spokesmen. He has already been preaching and speaking for God – in the first five chapters. Yet he utters a curse upon himself: ‘woe is me’, recognising the sin of his lips. While he has been speaking God’s word, he has also been sinning in what he has been saying.

He identifies himself with the sins of his people, as he says that he dwells in the midst of a people of unclean lips. But what’s the problem? Why does he consider himself cursed because he has seen the King?

If we move back, we see the reason why, in his vision: ‘Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.’ (6:2-4)

Not only does Isaiah see the Lord, but he also sees the seraphim flying above – literally the ‘burning ones’ – the angels. No wonder the hymn we’re looking at describes the vision as ‘bright’! I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just can’t stand the sun – especially when driving… the brightness can be overwhelming.

Yet the brightness is only a secondary effect on Isaiah, when he is face to face with the holiness of God. He hears the seraphim calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ It is seeing this holiness of God that causes the reaction in Isaiah – against the pure light of the Lord and his seraphim.

You see, this brightness of God is his holiness, his moral uprightness. And the Bible describes sin as ‘darkness’ – as a spot, or shadow. And Isaiah and his people had been involved in the darkness, through having unclean lips.

Isaiah calls the curse upon himself – Woe is me, for I am lost. But is that where Isaiah is left? Does the curse stand? Is Isaiah convicted of his sin and left that way? Does God give him this vision of his glory and abandon him?

Thankfully not! In the vision of Isaiah, we have the problem of his conviction. But look, we see that God makes provision for his sin, and provides the cleansing. ‘Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”’ (6:6-7)

Notice that Isaiah can’t work for his own cleansing, he can only recognise his situation and cry out to the Lord. And God, in his great mercy, provides the cleansing. The vision seems to have happened in the temple, and the seraph brings a fiery coal from the fire on the altar, and touches Isaiah’s lips.

The altar in the temple was the place where sacrifices were made, for the sins of the people. This was in accordance with the instructions given to Moses. And remember, that when the tabernacle, and then the temple were being built, the instruction was that everything should be as God had told Moses. We read in Hebrews the reason for this – the physical temple, and the altar were ‘a copy and shadow of the heavenly things’ (Heb 8:5)

So when Isaiah is cleansed by the altar, it isn’t the Jewish system that cleanses him, but the altar points towards the heavenly altar, and the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

This is where our passage ends this evening, but it’s important to look on to the next verse. Because Isaiah isn’t cleansed from his sin just to exist in a blessed state with no sins. Let’s hear the next verse: ‘And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

We’ve had Isaiah’s conviction, and Isaiah’s cleansing. Here we find Isaiah’s commission. He wasn’t saved just to hang about in Jerusalem staying in the temple with God, and seeing visions of him. But rather, he is saved, he is convicted and cleansed in order to ‘go and tell this people.’

If this was the vision of Isaiah, then in some senses, was the question of God a rhetorical question? Who else could possibly answer, other than Isaiah? Yet the question had to be asked, and Isaiah had to answer, and volunteer himself for service.

So as we come to the end of this summer, we find ourselves being challenged tonight – have we realised the holiness and glory of God? Have we known the conviction which comes about by the Holy Spirit and cursed ourselves for our sinfulness? Have we known the joy of having our sins atoned for and covered? And have we heard the commission of God to go and tell – to let other people know about God’s love and grace?

The summer may have come to an end, but our work goes on, as we seek to serve God in his world.

Black Saturday

Yesterday was Black Saturday, the annual event in the calendar of the so-called Loyal Orders, when the Royal Black Institution holds its main parades at six venues in Northern Ireland. In County Down there are 13 districts, who take it in turn to host the parade, and this year was the turn of Saintfield. [Two years until Dromore hosts it again!]

So off I set in my chauffeur role, taking mum and my aunt to see the parade. After a series of diversions round wee country lanes from the Ballynahinch Road to the Lisburn Road at Temple, and eventually onto the Comber Road. Having abandoned the car at the gates of an industrial estate, we walked into Saintfield and got morning coffee. Already the town was alive with the sounds of pipes and flutes, accordians and brass instruments, and drums aplenty.

Having seen the parade going to the Demonstration field, we decided to move on to Bangor, where the Belfast parade was being hosted. It was a lovely sunny day, and with the Bank holiday weekend events going on in the coastal town, we enjoyed the afternoon watching the 'not the red arrows'- another flight display team thought to be the red arrows, until it was pointed out that the planes weren't red!

Meanwhile, I also went to find the demonstration field in Bangor... but to no avail. One burger van in the midst of the cinema car park and a fella beating a big drum, and that was it. Nothing else. It turns out that the city people don't have a field as such - suppose it wouldn't suit townies, but have a service in a church.

Eventually the parade was coming back, and we stood outside St Comgall's to see it. But, to be fair, it wasn't the biggest... and all the bands were very closely packed together. And except for maybe 3 accordian bands, the rest were flute bands. Suddenly, the dignified country brethren seemed a much better parade than the city parade, with a wider variety of bands, and much bigger!

But then, I suppose, if you have been to the biggest and best Black parade (County Down), then how could any other parade compare? So it's back to Bangor next year for the County Down parade.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The PSNI Jedi Force

Tonight I was out for a walk - out the Banbridge Road and over Barban Hill, then out the Mound Road and back in by Mossvale Road. I'd already passed the police (PSNI) patrol on the Bann Road when I was heading out - they had the 'hairdrier' speed camera there... but by the time I was coming in the Mossvale Road, they had moved to there, and gathered up two more colleagues.

It was getting dark by then, and I could see the dark, shadowy figures standing where the wee lane goes round to Graham's yard and Mount Street. Oh no, says I to myself (cos there was no one else with me) - who can these shadowy figures be? Am I about to be beaten up or mugged? Will my mini disc player be taken off me?

And then a car passed me... the shadowy figure moved out into the middle of the road and the lightsaber appeared! The wide circular movement and then the waving to stop the car. To my relief it was the Police!

The incident got me thinking about how the police are sometimes like the Jedi knights from Star Wars... From battling hostile enemies across the galaxy (or at least Norn Iron), to wielding those lightsabers (or lightsabres if you prefer..). Their landrovers can move fairly quick - some might say at lightspeed or warp factor when the petrol bombs are flying in. Plus, just like Luke Skywalker, some of them might be unsure of their fathers - at least when they come under verbal attack from the previously mentioned hostile enemies.

Of the breeding of books... by Greg Hartman

This is a rather funny piece of work, and sadly, it is not mine! To see it in its original location, go to Focus on the Family.

Of the Breeding of Many Books There Is No EndBy Greg Hartman

You can learn a lot from books. Not by reading them — by observing their behavior. Some people are book lovers. Me, I'm a book breeder.

When it comes to books, I'm like a cat lady. I never buy books. They migrate to my house from miles around all by themselves, so I can save money for essentials like food, clothing and shelves.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Food, clothing and shelves? But I'm serious.
I can't remember the last time I actually bought a book, yet every time I turn my back it seems I have more books in my office. When I'm working I sometimes take a break and go get a soda, and when I return, the floor is covered with books.

I pick my way back to my chair, sit down and survey the books on the floor: a Calvin and Hobbes comic book, a book of electron microscope photos of germs, the 1974 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records, a Dave Barry anthology, two Hardy Boys mysteries and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

These are all fine works of literature, of course, but I don't recall needing them for my research into the life of Job. In fact, I'm pretty sure I didn't take them off the shelf at all.

Again, I know what you're thinking: You're thinking I'm just messy and I leave books lying around on the floor. But you're wrong. In fact, I never take any of my books off the shelves anymore. I can't afford to. If I take, say, five books off a shelf, wait an hour, then try to put them back, I can't: the shelf is full again. The books still on the shelf quickly breed to fill the empty space, and I have to buy more shelves.

When Sarah and I bought our first libr — I mean, house, it had two large glass-covered bookcases built into the living room. I put all my books in them, with room to spare.

But glass bookcases are like incubators for books. Soon they began spreading throughout the house, multiplying like tribbles. They started filling my office, then our spare bedroom. Before long, they had even encroached on the dining room, filling our china cabinet. Sarah wasn't happy about this. She wanted to put dishes in the china cabinet. If you can imagine.

This created other tensions. Sarah's parents raised her to believe reading at the dinner table is rude. I, on the other hand, trained my own parents to let me read at the table whenever I wanted. I employed the time-honored method of behaving so abominably when I didn't have my nose in a book that they were willing to do anything for even a remote chance of having a civilized meal.

When Sarah complained about me reading at the table, I protested that having a bookca — I mean, china cabinet full of books within arm's reach was too great a temptation for me. Sarah responded that having forks, knives and other weapons within arm's reach was beginning to greatly tempt her.

"Just get rid of some books!" she would say. I was indignant. Why should I get rid of any books when I hadn't bought any in the first place? Besides, even though I had never read the handbook on elephant physiology, the illustrated history of fire hydrants, or the 1962-1970 Chilton's Auto Repair Manual, I never knew when I might need them.

So I covered the walls in my office with shelves, from floor to ceiling, and managed, with the aid of a crowbar and a few strong friends, to wedge all my books on them. And the breeding seemed to stop for awhile. I think maybe the books were afraid of heights. Either that or I had them crammed on to the shelves so tightly that they couldn't get loose to migrate across the floor.
But the books were more devious than I thought: They invented cloning instead. When we moved to Portland back in 1995 and I started packing my books, I discovered multiple copies of book after book. I had five copies of C.S. Lewis' The Problem Of Pain. Maybe the books were trying to tell me something.

With the addition of the extra cloned books, the books were packed on to the shelves even more tightly. So tightly, in fact, that some of the books sort of grafted together. I had throw away several bizarre hybrid books that had resulted, such as The Late Great Pilgrim's Progress, My Utmost For His Screwtape Letters, and The Lion, The Witch And This Present Darkness.

The tightly packed shelves probably caused structural damage to our house. I never measured my office before or after I built the bookshelves, but I suspect the walls were bowed outwards when we left. And taking the books off the shelves was downright dangerous. When I pulled a book out, the rest of the books on that shelf would often explode free, the way deranged soccer fans burst into a stadium when the gates are opened, spraying the office with cloned English/Tamil dictionaries, handbooks on glove manufacturing, and copies of I'm OK, You're OK (which I used for kindling in our fireplace). I had to wear a bulletproof vest to finish emptying the shelves.

I knew we'd have less space when we got to Portland, so I got rid of several hundred books, and Sarah only had to threaten to go for the knife drawer twice. I tried a garage sale, but the cultural Philistines in our neighborhood didn't want to read the 1941 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica or the Reader's Digest Condensed Bible.

This whole thing is my mother's fault. She got tired of breaking her back carrying all the books I wanted to check out from the library every week when I was a kid, and she made me start taking my little red wagon along. Really. She and the librarians thought it was cute — I was embarrassed.

That minor trauma has grown into a full-blown pathology. I'm just like the aforementioned cat ladies, who seem to like wading around through knee-deep cat hair. I like having to tiptoe across my office as if I was crossing a river on stepping stones. I like sliding out off the foot of the bed when I get up because of the small mountain of books on the floor on my side of the room. I like knocking over stacks of books in my cubicle at work with my elbow every time I reach for a cup of coffee.

Well, I tried donating my excess books to the library and discovered that librarians were not the mild-mannered pacifists I remembered. If they didn't want Moshe Dayan's memoirs or 88 Reasons Christ Will Return In 1988, they could have just said so. It was hardly necessary to call security.

I finally gave the surplus books to the rescue mission. I didn't want to be ostentatious in my generosity, so I left them by the back door at night. The remainder of the books fit into about 25 boxes.

But I didn't count on the Oregon climate. When we first arrived in Portland we had to leave some of our things in storage for a month or so. This caused a dangerous mutation in my books: Besides breeding and cloning, they now could also create new boxes to pack themselves into. When we emptied our storage unit, I discovered at least 40 more boxes of books, none of which had existed when we loaded the truck in Kansas.

As we were unpacking, Sarah walked by my office, glanced in, and saw me standing in the 23 square inches of remaining floor space, surrounded by chest-high piles of boxed books and trying to figure out where I was going to put my desk.

"I thought you were going to pare down your books before we moved!" she said, hands on hips.
"I did!" I protested. "Don't you remember how much I whined about it? They followed us here! Like in The Incredible Journey!" Sarah stomped off, exasperated.

"We are not putting any bookcases in the dining room!" she said over her shoulder.

I know you won't believe this, but I could hear snickering from some of the boxes.

Greg Hartman is a senior online editor at Focus on the Family.
Copyright © 2001, Greg Hartman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


As I have recently pointed out, beta blogger is muchly improved, and now allows for 'labels' to be attached to postings. These enable you to group or file postings together by subject or topic or in whatever way you want... So, for example, if someone wanted to read all the postings I have which talk about 'snow' or 'rhinos', they could go down to near the bottom of the sidebar on the right hand side >>> and click on the appropriate word, and magically, all the posts relating to it would appear.

But, friend, don't be fooled into the above scenarios - I have never before commented on rhinos, and snow is not one of my labels! But there is a considerable list of them - go on, try it out, just to see!

As the labels feature is only new, I was going in to older postings to add the said labels, to make the blog easier to manage. So, there are, for definite, 28 postings of sermons, and 7 on bowling (to name but two examples). But what made me blog about my previous blogging was that it was a way of remembering incidents and funny things I had forgotten about. Suddenly things like me falling and hurting my thumb (and being re-named Thumbellina by the Wilky's), or the embarrassing moments that have happened in St Saviour's Dollingstown already, all were coming back to me and making me smile!

So for that reason alone, I'm glad to have the blog, to look back at where God has brought me this past year and a half (since I started blogging). But even better, you have been sharing in that journey too, adding comments along the way. So thank you, and keep commenting!

The Kingdom of Mourne

Or so they call it... This morning I was down in Kilkeel with work, as I continue my research project. The weather was great for a drive down round the coast, and I mostly enjoyed getting there - except for the wee southern reg car which crawled along (with no overtaking places)...

So on the way back, again I was coming round the coast, through Annalong - which seems to have a huuuuge rectory - I'd never seen it before - and on round towards Newcastle. And coming up to Maggie's Leap, there appeared a glorious view of Dundrum Bay, and Newcastle, all in the sun. And there, the jewel in the crown, was the Slieve Donard Hotel, looking well after the extension. I'm not sure that it's finished yet, but from that distance, the new build seems to fit in with the rest, and looks great!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Thanks to my summer job, I was able to be back in Newtownstewart again today - nice to be back in the village that was my home for almost 3 years, and even more so to see my former colleagues again! I know some of them read the blog, so hello to Hazlett, Ken, Stephanie and Pauline!

Tomorrow the job will take me to Kilkeel, and visits to Lurgan, Markethill and Lisnaskea are hopefully coming soon too! So I'm still seeing a fair bit of the country, and doing lots of driving (which regular readers will know I like doing!)...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Blogger goes beta

You might have noticed a few changes when you came to check the old blog today - different layout down the right hand sidebar, and slightly different font and layout for posts, including the 'labels' now so they can be filed away safely.

These are not my doing, but solely because blogger has properly merged with Google and gone beta! Layouts and lists etc are easier to manage now, and you can set various levels of access for people to view the blog - for example, only contributors, or only friends (whose email addresses you put in the allowed box), so if you're shy about blogging to the whole world but want your friends to be able to read, then sign on in for the new beta blogger!


Just a wee picture of my good friend, David McCarthy, on parade yesterday to Hillhall Presbyterian with RBP 1074. I still can't quite get used to seeing him in a collar, though!

This picture is a still taken from the video of the whole parade, which can be seen by clicking here. Which reminds me - youtube has changed, and you can now access my videos by going to - probably easier to remember!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ballymacarrett Defenders Melody Flute Band today!

This afternoon I was out with my ma - as we do most weeks, and happened upon a band parade in East Belfast. This was by far the best band on parade - Ballymacarrett Defenders... and this is an extended clip of them coming to near the end of the parade. Enjoy!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart: A talk given at 'SPEAK' youth outreach in Newtownards on 18/08/06. 1 Samuel 16:7

Does anyone like the Royal Family? Any of the girls fancy Prince William, or Prince Harry? Tonight we’re going to think about a king, one of the superheroes of the Bible. We’re going to go back about 3000 years, when Israel had its first king.

You can imagine the scene. Paparazzi were everywhere, all the TV cameras and photographers… King Saul leading his troops back from war. They had won an important battle against the Amalekites, and King Saul was the hero of the day.

Until Samuel showed up. Samuel was the prophet, God’s spokesman. He had anointed Saul to be king – that is, putting oil on his head to show that he had been consecrated and chosen to be king. But while everyone else was in party mood, Samuel was furious.

Saul had disobeyed God’s orders, by allowing some of the animals to live, and taking the enemy king prisoner. And God’s verdict, which Samuel came to deliver, was that Saul was rejected. No more could he be king with God’s approval.

In fact, this was the second time Saul had disobeyed God’s word. After the first time, Samuel’s verdict had been the same – God will reject you… Here’s what God said, as Samuel told Saul: ‘Now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.’ (1 Sam 13:14)

You can imagine the excitement… Saul was no longer going to be king. A new king would be chosen. But who would it be? Would they have a sort of ‘king idol’ competition, to see who could be chosen? Would there be auditions across the land, and the funny programmes showing hopefuls making eejits of themselves?

But remember, Samuel had anointed Saul to be king. It would be Samuel who would anoint and appoint the next king. So all eyes were on Samuel. Where would he go? Who would he meet with and anoint?

Let’s read from the Bible, 1 Samuel 16, to hear what happens as Samuel is told where to go with the anointing oil…

Samuel arrives at Bethlehem, at the house of Jesse, as God told him to. Suddenly, ‘King Idol’ is in production. We’re down to the final seven, as Jesse’s sons are in front of Samuel. Samuel sees the oldest, the strongest, the tallest, the best looking – surely it must be Eliab!

‘But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”’

But what does God mean when he says this? Let’s see what it meant for David, first of all, before we think about ourselves.

So Eliab is out of King Idol. He won’t be king, because God has rejected him. So then Jesse tries Abinadab, but still no; then Shammah, but still no. All the big strong ones have been in front of Samuel – Jesse’s favourites, and yet they aren’t chosen. Altogether, the seven sons are paraded in front of Samuel, and still, Samuel is saying no, no…

And they’re at the end of the sons. Or are they? Samuel asks ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ Jesse answers, ‘There is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.’

And who was the youngest? David. Samuel had told Jesse to bring his sons in front of him, yet David wasn’t even thought of by his dad. He was stuck out in the field looking after the sheep. He wasn’t even in the competition – he was the youngest, how could he be king?

But remember, ‘Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’ David was the one Samuel had spoken about to Saul – ‘the man after God’s own heart’ – who wanted to please God, and serve him. Who was concerned about the things God is concerned about.

‘Rise and anoint him; he is the one.’ It didn’t matter what his father thought of him, or what his brothers thought of him, or even what Samuel might have thought of his appearance – it was what was on the inside that counted, and David was God’s choice, because David wanted to please God.

So you might be thinking – why are we thinking about David? How was he a superhero? Just think about his battle with Goliath – David, the young shepherd boy, taking on the 9 feet tall man… In those days, instead of having the whole army fighting, sometimes one soldier from each side would fight, and whoever won, their side won the battle.

Goliath, one of the Philistines, challenged the Israelites to war… This happened for forty days, but no one was brave enough h to go and fight. Until David came to visit the army, to bring supplies to his brothers. He heard Goliath’s challenge, and realised that Goliath wasn’t only defying the armies of Israel, but because Israel were God’s people, he was defying God.

You know the story – David challenged him, stood against him in the name of God, and defeated him, with one stone fired from his slingshot. But the reason he could win, and beat Goliath was because he was the man after God’s own heart. David wanted to please God, and couldn’t stand by as Goliath opposed God.

So what does this mean for us, today, in Newtownards? How can something that happened to David 3000 years ago be relevant for us today? God doesn’t change, and what he said then still applies for us today – ‘Man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks at the heart.’

Maybe people look down on you, or make fun of you, or call you names because of how you look. Those names are cruel, and you try to forget them, but they find a way of getting inside you, and you hear them when you’re on your own.

God says to you that you are beautiful – because he made you. As Psalm 139 tells us – ‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’ (Ps 139:13-14).

There was a TV programme on BBC 1 a while back called ‘Son of God’. They tried to recreate Jesus’ face by reconstructing a Jewish 1st century skeleton. The result was something very ordinary. There’s no description of Jesus in the New Testament, saying he was so high, or had brown eyes or whatever. But in the Old Testament, in Isaiah, we read this about Jesus: ‘He had no beauty of majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’ (Isaiah 53:2-3).

Or maybe people look down on you because of who you are. Maybe things are tough in your family, because you’re the youngest. Or maybe you just aren’t thought of as part of the family. Remember David – he wasn’t even brought along when Jesse called his sons. But while he was forgotten by his family, God remembered him, and God had a purpose for his life – to be king, and to be the great-great-great…. Grandfather of Jesus. Man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart.

In the cross, Jesus went through all that you have gone through. People hurled abuse at him, and attacked him. They made false accusations against him, and hated him. But again – they were looking only at the outward appearance. God knew Jesus’ heart, committed to serving God and obeying him because it was the heart of God, as Jesus was fully obedient to death.

God says that what matters is inside – he looks on the heart. He knows the hopes and fears you have, and if you want to please him.

Maybe you have issues about your identity, or about self-esteem. You think that nobody likes you, that nobody cares about you. God does. God loves you so much that he gave his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for you, to bring you back to God.

God says all these things to you, about you. But it doesn’t stop there. Because he also says those things about the person sitting beside you, and loves them too. So who are you to call other people names? Or to judge them because of how they look or act or talk?

I’m going to close with a verse from Zephaniah. This verse is for you, if you are trusting in Jesus – and show how God thinks of you. ‘The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.’ (Zephaniah 3:17)

The Blessed Sacrament

I think I have written before about my dislike of wine, indeed all alcohol, which means that the only time I have alcohol is at Holy Communion. And then its just a sip. That is quite enough for me!

But then came Sunday past, when I was preaching in the Cathedral. The service was Morning Prayer with Holy Communion added at the end for those who wished to participate. Now, normally there are a lot of people who stay, but for some reason on Sunday past there weren't so many.

As always at an 11.30am Communion, there were four chalices on the Table, and the wine was consecrated. And then came the end of the service, the congregation dispersed and we went to clear the Table. Normally the Churchwardens would have the Table cleared and the wine consumed, but... not that day. An awful feeling came over me as I realised there were two chalices to be finished and two of us - Trevor the Curate, and me. Aaaaaagh!

Somehow, eventually I got the chalice finished (reverently consumed, of course) and got the rest of the clearing up done, signed the preacher's book, got changed out of my robes, and chatted to Trevor.

I'm not sure I was in a fit state for driving though (I didn't have any breakfast...), but got to Dromara ok, and as soon as I walked in, Lynsey knew straight away that I had wine on me! Boys oh...

Now, I know my Presbyterian friends will point out to terribleness of 1. using alcoholic wine, and 2. having to drink whatever has been set out, and to some extent I do agree... So why must we drink the remainder and not put it down the sink?

Surely it could be the pathway to alcoholism in the clergy, if they have to drink so much wine... or indeed, it might become a temptation for them to add a bit more wine than would be used so that they must drink it - in a respectable context and not in a shameful binge drinking way.

And this isn't a recent issue... I remember one retired clergyman telling me about when he was a young curate and had consecrated too much wine one night and finished it on his own, leading him to stagger off up the road back to the curatage. now what sort of a witness is that to outsiders, if the minister is staggering home... or worse, would be in no fit state to drive?

What if a minister (or churchwarden for that matter) caused an accident on the way home and was breathalised? Would he be let off because it was his job? Would the church provide legal assistance for him?

So, any thoughts on the Lord's Supper?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

10000 up on the videos!

I've recently posted a couple of my videos which are hosted at - and have tonight reached over 10,000 views of my videos. At present, there are 62 videos, made up of 60 videos of bands and Orange/Black/Apprentice Boys parades, one of Dromore, and one of random buskers in Brussels! All the videos can be accessed from my Youtube profile, but in the meantime, here is my most popular video, currently at 1921 views:

Pride of Ballinran Flute Band doing a drumming display at a band parade in Markethill in June 2005, then playing the Great Escape, before moving off. Oh, and apologies for the stupid wee girls standing beside me talking the whole way through it! Soooooooo annoying!!!

Audio downloads

Remember the John MacArthur conference I was at in Knockbreda Baptist back in June? I've just learnt that audio downloads from the sessions are now available online for free... just follow the link to MacArthur's A Passion for Preaching.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

CITC Website Updated

Just a quick posting to let you all know that the Church of Ireland Theological College website has been given a much-needed update!

Little ole lonesome me

Yeah, as I said last week, Lynsey had less than a week left at home, and today she has started her new year at university. The big year. 4th year. And with all the trouble with flying, she ended up having to go by boat, bus and train... not very pleasant, although it gave her the chance to talk to a Mormon woman on the bus!

With Lynsey away, then, it means I'm a bit like a lost puppy! No more trips to Dromara every night - not sure her mum would appreciate me sitting there annoying her! Having said that, I still have the research project to finish, hopefully by the end of August, with a rake of interviews and visits to be completed before I do the write up.

As well as that, I have a couple more preachings to do before the end of the summer - this Friday night at a youth event in Newtownards for Mark - a guy I went to uni with all those years ago; then on Sunday week taking the final Summer Praise of the year in the Cathedral.

Then in September, we have the start of Northern Ireland's Euro Championship qualifier games - 2 home games, against Iceland (2nd Sept) and Spain (6th Sept), before I head over to Dundee for a week! Oh - and mentioning Northern Ireland - we have a friendly game tomorrow night against Finland away. It's being shown live on BBC2 NI and on Radio Ulster. 'Green and White Army!'

And then the end of the month signals my return to Dublin, and the start of second year at CITC. How quickly the summer is passing!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Abiding in love for fruit: A sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 13th August 2006. John 15:7-18

I know it’s in bad form for a preacher to talk about holidays, but allow me this one time! Earlier in the summer, I was in the south of France, in the Bordeaux region. Now, I didn’t taste any of the wine, but the family we were staying with had a vine in their garden. The vine was very fruitful, with lots of grapes growing. But I want to ask, are you being fruitful? What harvest are you producing? This morning we’re going to think about how Jesus leads us into life, through our connection to himself, for the purposes of being fruitful.

Our passage this morning is taken from Jesus’ farewell discourse, as he talked with his disciples after the Last Supper, and before his arrest. In the specific portion we’re looking at this morning, Jesus speaks of abiding, love and fruit. However, for us to understand the bit we’re looking at, we have to understand the wider context.

This is important, because taking a few words or a verse out of context is easy – but the meaning of Scripture is twisted. So, for example, some people might say that the Bible says ‘money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Tim 6:10)… but if you read the whole verse you find that Paul says ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.’

Or skip over to the Psalms, and twice you can read in them ‘There is no God.’ But guess what… read the words before it to put it into context, and the meaning changes. Rather, it reads ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”’ (Ps 14:1, 53:1)

So as we turn to this morning’s passage, we find that the farewell discourse has been going on since the start of chapter 14, and here we are in the middle of chapter 15. Now, don’t worry, we aren’t going to look at it all. The brief summary of chapter 14 is that Jesus has told the disciples he is going away – that he is the way, the truth and the life – and tells them that whatever they ask in his name, he will do. He then promises the Holy Spirit, which is linked in to loving him and keeping his commandments. He also promises them peace as he goes, and says they should rejoice because he is going to the Father.

Chapter 15 then begins by him saying that he is the true vine, in an extended metaphor of our fruitfulness depending on our connection to him. It is this extended metaphor that is extended into the passage we’re looking at this morning, as we see the word ‘abide’ so many times.

So what does it mean to abide? We sing the hymn ‘Abide with me’ – asking Jesus to be close to us, to stay with us, and this is certainly appropriate. But you’ll notice that it is all turned around – Jesus is telling us to abide in him, not us asking him to abide with us. So, verse 7 ‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.’

You’ll see that there is a double condition to asking whatever we wish – that we abide in Jesus, and that his words abide in us. So how do we abide in him? To understand that, we need to go back to the start of the chapter, to remind ourselves of what Jesus has been talking about.

‘Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me,’ (John 15:4) In Jesus’ metaphor, then, we see that just as the branch will wither and die if it isn’t connected to the vine (which is connected to the roots and bringing nourishment), then we also wither and die by ourselves. But if we are connected to Jesus, abiding in him, then we have life, and will go on to bear fruit – of which we will see more later.

So we must abide in Jesus. But as I said a few minutes ago, there is a double condition – not only does Jesus say that we have to abide in him, but also he says ‘and my words abide in you.’ And how do we have Jesus’ words abiding in us? Don Carson suggests that this is speaking of remembering Jesus’ words and doing all that Jesus commands. Do you have Jesus’ words abiding in you? Are you familiar with what the Saviour has said? Do you search the Scriptures and find Christ?

Later in the passage, we read that Jesus tells us to ‘Abide in my love.’ (15:9). So we find that abiding for Jesus is rather important – with the command to abide in him, for his word to abide in us, and for us to abide in his love. As before, Jesus tells us how we can abide in his love. We read in verse 10: ‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.’

So abiding in Jesus’ love is all about keeping his commandments – we are called to obedience. Of course, in one sense, having Jesus’ words abiding in us, and abiding in his love by obeying his commandments is the same thing. Because it is only by knowing God’s word that we can truly obey it. Indeed, Carson goes on to say that as we know God’s word more, it becomes more natural (or even supernatural) for us to obey.

But do you notice that we have been called to obedience, having a model of obedience before us in Jesus. Just as Jesus calls us to keep his commandments and so abide in his love, so he shows us that he has also kept his Father’s commandments and abides in the Father’s love.

Yet the obedience we have been called to is not a dutiful drudgery! Instead, Jesus speaks of joy – his joy – so that our joy may be full. Abiding in Jesus and keeping his commandments is not the niggly keeping of laws and rules – but rather a joyful experience of keeping in step with the Spirit, as Paul spoke about as he talked of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

So how can we know this joy of Jesus? We learnt earlier that we can know this joy through abiding in Jesus, having his word abiding in us, and in abiding in his love by keeping his commandments. Straight away, Jesus tells us his commandment – in verse 12.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus calls us to love one another in the church, as he has loved us – as he says elsewhere, this is the mark of his disciples, so that the whole world will know that we follow Jesus, by the love we display.

Love, though, can be a hard word to define, sometimes… Is it a gushy, sentimental ‘Hallmark’ love, where we’re all very nice and polite to one another but don’t really know each other? By no means! So that we’re very clear what Jesus is commanding, when he tells us to love one another, he provides the example, the model: ‘as I have loved you.’

Earlier in verse 9, we see that the love has a domino effect – ‘as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you’ – with the command for us to continue the dominoes falling by loving one another as Jesus has loved us.

At the start of John 13, we are told that Jesus loved his disciples to the full, as he washed their feet, in the place of the servant. When he had finished, he told them that this was a sign that they should submit to one another, and serve one another, because he had loved them and been their servant, even though he was their Teacher and Master.

But just in case we’re in any doubt of what this love looks like, Jesus goes even further: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.’ This year is the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and one of my heroes is a Belfast man called Billy McFadzean, who was part of the Ulster Division. He was awarded the Victoria Cross after his death on the 1st July, and his citation tells his story:

For most conspicuous bravery near Thiepval Wood, on 1st July 1916. While in a concentration trench and opening a box of bombs for the distribution prior to an attack, the box slipped down into the trench, which was crowded with men, and two of the safety pins fell out. Pte McFadzean, instantly realising the danger to his comrades, with heroic courage threw himself on the top of the bombs. The bombs exploded, blowing him to pieces, but only one other man was injured. He well knew his danger, being himself a bomber, but without a moment's hesitation he gave his life for his comrades.

Billy saw the danger his comrades were in, and gave his life for them. He died, that they might live. And that, in a small way, is what Jesus has done for us, as he gave his life for his friends. [Although, we are reminded of Romans 5 which tells us that we were his enemies when he died for us, but Jesus is speaking of the disciples as his friends in John 15]

There was no greater love Jesus could have shown for us, as he hung on the cross. And it is this love that Jesus calls us to put into practice, as he commands us to love one another as I have loved you. Because it is in obeying him that we are his friends – the ones he laid his life down for.

Jesus then goes on to talk about bearing fruit again – fruit that will last, or abide. Notice the responsibility of choice – ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.’ (15:16) To avoid any pride in the disciples, or any sense of superiority, Jesus reminds them and us that we don’t choose Jesus, or choose the church – but rather that Jesus has chosen us and appointed us. What a comfort in times of testing or temptation or grief – Jesus has chosen us! What marvellous grace – indeed, amazing grace, that he should choose a wretch like me, or you, or you.

But we haven’t been chosen to remain static, or chosen just to warm a pew on a Sunday morning. We have been chosen and appointed to go and bear fruit – to see the grace of God growing in our lives as the fruit of the Spirit [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control] grow, and to see the kingdom advancing in the hearts of those around us. Because this bearing of fruit is what we are called to – as we heard in verse 8: ‘By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.’

Fruitfulness is not only what we have been called to, and not only is it the result of Christ’s love in our hearts, which comes about as we abide in him and obey his commands – but it brings glory to the Father.

At the start we talked about asking for whatever we wish – and here we meet it at the end as well – ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.’

You might be thinking that Jesus is being a bit extravagant here, or maybe even foolhardy… anything we wish? But if we are abiding in Christ, obeying his commands, and producing fruit, then the things that we will be asking for are that God’s will be done, and his kingdom extended – and he will surely give us that.

So how do we apply this passage? What difference does it make to us at this time tomorrow? Here are some practical questions to be thinking about. Are you abiding in Jesus, feeding on him and getting your strength from him? Are you abiding in his love by keeping his commandments? How do we as a church obey Christ as he commands us to love one another as he has loved us? Are you bearing fruit, the fruit of the Spirit?

Let’s pray that we will glorify the Father as we abide in Christ, as we glory in his love and obey his command to love one another, and as we produce fruit that will last to eternity.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Dromore Photos

Following on from the posting the other day, some of the photos of Dromore are now online at my photo site.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The North Coast

Well, even though I still have about a month and a half of holidays left, Lynsey has less than a week, so we decided to go away for the day, up to the north coast. I have to admit, that before yesterday I had never been to the world famous tourist attractions - the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge and the Giant's Causeway (although according to my ma I was at the causeway when I was very young... but I don't remember it!).

The weather started nice, as we set off up the Antrim coast road, through Larne and on by Glenarm and Cushendall etc... for our first stop in Cushendun.

We then moved on and got to Carrick-a-rede. So off I ventured, across it... but I have to say, it wasn't as bad as what some people have previously made out - the bridge is wide and very secure, and it's all supervised!

Following lunch in the Causeway Hotel, we went down to the Giant's Causeway, but the rain came on. It wasn't too bad as we walked down the road, but at the bottom it was really heavy, so we had a quick look about, got a few photos and just made it onto the bus to come up the hill again (we were the last 2 allowed on!).

Thoroughly soaked, we came through Bushmills (not for the distillery, though) and went on to Portstewart, where we went for a walk round the coast to the strand, and back to enjoy Morelli's. And then, just as we came out, a pipe band was gathering for the concert at the bandstand, so we watched some of that until we were foundered!

Oh yeah - I'm still learning about the camera, and now realise that there's a slight loss of sound when it zooms in or out... but other than that, it seems to come off well, considering the wind was blowing half the sea onto us and the camera! Visit my site for more videos of Grove Pipe Band from last night, as well as lots of videos from parades.

A quick jaunt back to Portballintrae to call in with relatives, and then we made our way home, tired but very pleased with the north coast.

Suffering for my art

I got a new camera on Saturday - after a long time of looking and comparing prices and movie features and mega pixels etc... So of course, I want to be using it, to get the good of it.

On Monday, after I'd been working for a while, and my head spinning with inclusion and exclusion theory, I decided to go for a walk. Started off down the riverside walk, trying to get photos of the Cathedral, but the trees and all are so overgrown it was impossible to get a nice angle... continued in round the park and out to the viaduct, where it seems some bad stuff has been happening, according to the Dromore Leader a few weeks back - please note, this is not suitable for younger readers.

Anyway, back to my walk... I then went up over Barban Hill, and coming down the other side, noticed a good view of the Cathedral. So I climbed up onto what I thought was a bank... only to discover it was actually a ridge, and down the other side I went, feet first into lots of nettles! Thankfully I only was stung once, on my finger, and it's fine now. So I pockled up again and got my balance on top of the ridge for some photo-taking. Here's the result:

Good to see the new roof on the Cathedral looking so well!

I then got down from the ridge and started walking, only to find something in my shoe... a snail! I have no idea how it managed to get in, possibly during my freefall... but I got it out (undamaged) and went on my merry way! Next stop was the Mound, and got some photos and also a video of the town from the top of the mound. What an adventure!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Man of Sorrows: What a Saviour! A Sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 on 6th August 2006

Through the summer we have been looking at some favourite hymns, and considering their themes together. Tonight, we’re going to look at Man of Sorrows, and think about the passage of Scripture it is based on. So please turn with me to Isaiah 52 and 53, which you can find on the service sheet.

The text begins ‘See, my servant will act wisely’, so we should first ask who is this servant? We will then consider what the servant has done, before seeing the results of the servant’s action.

So who is this servant, described in verse 3 as ‘a man of sorrows’? The later part of Isaiah contains a series of ‘servant songs’, looking forward to the Messiah, and the work he would perform. But even more, we find in Acts 8 the same question on the lips of the Ethiopian Eunuch, as he read verses 7 and 8. “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (Acts 8:34).

Who was Isaiah talking about? Acts 8 continues: ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35). Philip was clear that Isaiah was speaking about Jesus. Indeed, we find that other New Testament writers use quotations from our passage to talk about Jesus – including Paul in Romans, and Peter in his first epistle.

So if the servant is Jesus, then what has he done, in the context of our reading? The reading starts with Jesus’ exaltation (52:12), but we will come to that again nearer the end, because as well as exaltation, Jesus undergoes humiliation and grief. Isaiah, writing 700 years before Jesus, accurately depicts his sufferings and rejection.

Verse 3 – ‘He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’

We see this in Jesus’ ministry, as large crowds heard him, but few became followers. Or think of the crowds that followed him on Palm Sunday, and how their shouts of ‘Hosanna’ quickly changed to ‘Crucify’ at his trial. Or think of even his disciples, who fled and abandoned him in Gethsemane. As John 1:11 tells us, ‘He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.’ He was despised and rejected by men.

The passage then turns to consider the sorrows that the man of sorrows has borne. Let’s read them – ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.’ (53:4).

The first part of the verse is used by Matthew as he reflects on Jesus’ healing ministry, in Matthew 8:17 – ‘That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases”’ (Matt 8:16-17). But even more so, it applies to the work of Christ on the cross.

Where else was Jesus so despised, and so thought of as being stricken? Last night I was reading Luke’s account of the cross, and very plainly, those who were watching considered Jesus to be under God’s curse. The rulers scoffed at him, and asked that if he could save others, why couldn’t he save himself? Indeed, we find the idea of the curse in Deuteronomy 21:23 – ‘a hanged man is cursed by God’ – that is, a man hanging on a tree. So, according to the traditional Jewish notion, the Messiah couldn’t be under a curse.

And yet, the Jewish leaders were fulfilling Scripture better than they knew, as they pushed for the Roman sentence of death – the cross. Because it was on the cross, under the purpose of God, that this chapter of Isaiah would be fulfilled.

We find the servant’s humiliation continued in verses 5-6. ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’

In these verses we note what Jesus went through – he was wounded, he was crushed, upon him was the chastisement, and he was afflicted with stripes – marks, wounds on his back. Jesus experienced terrible, brutal violence – I’ve spoken before about the pains of crucifixion, with the nails through the hands and feet, the slow agony of suffocation, the pain involved in raising the body on his legs to get another breath of air.

But do you notice the cause of these injuries? ‘He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.’ If you read any of the four gospels, you clearly see that Jesus was entirely innocent, and didn’t deserve to die. For example, even the briefest scan would show that Pilate, Herod, the dying thief and the centurion all maintain Jesus’ innocence.

Jesus did not deserve to die. But we did. Verse 6 explains: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ You see, we have all sinned, and gone our own way, rejecting God’s rule in our lives. We decide that we know better than God, and turn to our own way – but it leads to death.

As Romans 3:23 tells us, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ And the consequence of this is death, as Romans 6:23 says: ‘for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

All sin is an offence to a holy God, and must be dealt with. Look to Adam and Eve in the garden – when they disobeyed God’s word, they were taken out of the garden, out of God’s presence. And to cover their sin, a substitute animal died in their place, so that God could provide clothes of skin for them. (Gen 3:21)

Likewise, for us to be right with God, we needed our sins dealt with. But how could we do it ourselves, when we still sin, and could never pay back what we owe? God mercifully provided us with his servant, the man of sorrows, Jesus, who died for our transgressions, for our sins, bringing us peace and healing.

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned He stood,
sealed my pardon with His blood
Alleluia! What a Savior!

Yet Isaiah is still not finished with his description of the man of sorrows. In verse 7, we find that ‘He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.’ Even in spite of the sorrows, and oppression and afflictions he was undergoing, yet he did not complain, or answer back.

Think of Jesus’ restraint during his trials in front of the Sanhedrin, when he was slapped in the face, or in front of Pilate, and Herod, and with the baying crowd wanting his blood. And when he was nailed to the cross, he didn’t revile the soldiers, but prayed forgiveness for them. How many of us would be silent in the face of such undeserved suffering?

Guilty, helpless, lost were we,
spotless Lamb of God was He,
full atonement can it be
Alleluia! What a Savior!

Verses 8 and 9 detail his end – ‘by oppression and judgement he was taken away and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.’

The wounding wasn’t enough… Jesus died, cut off out of the land of the living. He was then buried in the grave of Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who owned his resting place. Jesus, the man of sorrows died on the cross.

Yet death was not the end, as Isaiah saw so clearly. At the start, I mentioned about the exaltation, and here Isaiah returns to the theme, as he speaks of the man of sorrows being exalted. Death was not the end, as he is vindicated by God.

As Peter told the crowd on the day of Pentecost ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ (Acts 2:23, 24, 36).

Following Jesus’ humiliation came Jesus’ exaltation: ‘out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied… I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.’ The one who divided the spoils of war was the conqueror, and we see that Jesus’ death was not the end – but that through his death, and his rising again, we can be saved, as he stood in our place, and received the punishment due to us.

I want to finish by considering the second half of verse 11. ‘by his knowledge shall the righteous one, the servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.’ By his knowledge, Jesus will make many to be accounted righteous. Or to say it another way, by knowing Jesus, he will make us be accounted righteous – he will make us right with God. Do you know Jesus? Is he your Saviour tonight? Do you know the peace that we achieved for you through the cross? Have you known the joy of having your sins forgiven by trusting in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for you?

If not, will you come to him tonight, putting your trust in him, and recognising him as your Lord and Saviour?

Truly, we can sing ‘Alleluia! What a Saviour!’ as we consider what Jesus has done for us, as he died in our place, bringing us pardon and peace, and forgiveness of sins. Let us sing together hymn 227, Man of Sorrows.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

'Rapture Fiction' by Crawford Gribben

Well well... this is turning into a busy day for posting on the old blog! Feast and famine springs to mind, but then I have some time to think and write today!

My 'recently read' list in the sidebar has suffered from neglect for a long time - I have read a few more books since those ones, but just keep forgetting to change them. Anyway, one that I read during BB Camp (I managed to get through 5 that week), was 'Rapture Fiction' by Crawford Gribben.

I had heard the book was coming out (through reading the blog he's a part of - Irish Reformation Blog) and was looking forward to it, having read his previous book on Archbishop Ussher. Also, it was interesting as I had started reading the Left Behind series last year when the rapture gripped our Youth Fellowship [not that they were taken away obviously, but interest in the rapture gripped them!]

Once again, Gribben has written a good, thought-provoking and clear book, as he examines the beliefs and gospel contained in the Left Behind series. He also discusses the post- and pre-millenialist positions in End Time thinking, with a useful biography of John Darby Smith, who had been a Church of Ireland minister before setting up the Brethren movement (known locally as the Gospel Hall).

However, I must confess that I still don't have a pre- a- or post-millenialist belief, and am rather confused on the whole thing... (Revelation 20:3 and its relation to Jesus' return). Anyone care to help me out with this?

But full marks to Crawford, for another great book! No doubt he will come across this posting at some stage, so what will the next book be on?

*** Edit - Thanks to David for his correction of my stupidity... It was of course John Nelson Darby who founded the Brethren movement... not John Darby Smith (whoever he was...). Evidently, I should have either remembered better, or else had the book beside me when I wrote the posting!***

New Forum

This is just a wee post to let you know of a new Christian forum site recently started, which you might be interested in. One of my friends in England (but originally from Norn Iron) was involved in setting it up, and there are plenty of topics to discuss and friends to make.

So why not go along and register for it? Maybe see you there! - Bringing People Together in Christ

Living and Growing Together: A Sermon on Ephesians 4:1-16 preached in Dollingstown and Magheralin on 6th August 2006

Church growth seems to be big business these days. Walk into any Christian bookshop, and books on Church Growth will be on the shelves. Or try Google – I did the other day and got 52 million sites, talking about church growth.

Another big issue is church unity. We see it in many forms today – from the ‘four main church leaders’ of Ireland speaking and acting together, to the ecumenical movement. According to Google, 17 million sites are interested in church unity.

This morning we’re going to look at church growth and unity, and what Paul has to say on these matters, as we continue to study Ephesians. These things are important, but we need to go about it the right way.

As in many of his letters, Paul starts off with the grand theological truths, reminding his readers of what they have received in Christ (for example in Ephesians 1 – adoption, redemption, forgiveness, grace, being chosen and the Holy Spirit, to name but a few). He then moves on to show the practical application of these truths – a sort of, ‘because we have this, then we should live like that’.

And so we find in the first verse: ‘I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.’ But before we move on to see the application; it might be useful to remind ourselves of the calling we have received.

Chapter one ended with the theme of Christ as the head of the body, and chapter two returns to the theme, enlarging on it to show that in Christ’s body there is peace and reconciliation; as the body, the temple, is being built up. ‘And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’ (Eph 2:22)

So if the calling the Ephesians have received is to become part of the body, and to grow together in unity, then how should they live? And how should we live and grow together in the body of Christ? As we consider these verses today, we’ll notice the unity of God, the diversity of the gifts, which leads to the growing unity of the growing body.

As I said, Paul reminds us of the call to live together in the church, in the body. But as you and I know all too well, living together, and putting up with other people isn’t always easy. After all, that other person gets on your nerves a bit… or just ignores you… or really annoys you with how they talk or what they say!

Or as the old verse goes:
Living above with the saints we love, oh, that will be glory!
Living below with the saints we know, now that’s a different story!

Into these situations, Paul urges the Ephesians to do the following: ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (4:2-3)

You can probably hear the Ephesians muttering, or saying out loud… but Paul, you can’t mean that… it’s all fine in theory, but not in practice. Not when they’re being so annoying…

But remember, this is the command for behaviour inside the church! Jesus talked about loving enemies, and it can sometimes seem easier to love those on the outside who we don’t have to deal with, than the brothers and sisters around us. Yet we hear Paul’s instruction – be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

He then goes on to say ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ This unity of the Spirit within the body is so vitally important, that Paul tells us to make every effort to keep it. Why is this? What is so important about unity?

We immediately find out, as Paul reveals the motivation for unity – the next three verses. Notice how many times we hear the word ‘one’: ‘There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’ Seven ‘ones’. Recently with the worldwide crisis in the Anglican church, we have heard of the so-called instruments of unity – the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lambeth Conference, The Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting. But these cannot compare to the instruments of unity within the church that Paul reminds the Ephesians of.

It is precisely because there is only one body, Spirit, hope, Lord , faith, baptism, God and Father that they are called to unity in the body, and to bear with one another in love. But the church is not static – the community is growing and developing, and growing closer together as well.

Yet some might be saying to themselves… if unity is so great, then how come there is such variety in the church? Well, we must remember that unity is not necessarily uniformity. Paul says as much himself, as he moves on to deal with the diversity of gifts.

‘But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.’ (4:7) Notice the ‘one’ again in ‘each one of us’ – all of us have been given grace from Christ to fulfil our purposes in his purpose, as we will see. But the things that we will do with the grace we have are very different. You’ll see in verse 11 that Paul outlines some leadership roles or functions which some people think are ‘the ministry’ – ‘It was he (that is Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.’

In thinking about these roles, what did the people do, or what do they continue to do? Some think that ‘apostles’ refers only to the twelve who started the church, or they can refer to those who plant the church in a new area. Prophets are those who speak God’s word – in Old Testament times by direct revelation from God, but nowadays through the preaching of God’s word. Evangelists are those who primarily tell others about God and preach the gospel. Pastors and teachers (the two go together and shouldn’t be separated) are those who work in the local congregation to pastor (oversee and care for) and teach the congregation.

The tendency today is to see this pastor and teacher role as that of the minister – with the connected assumption that ‘the ministry’ is something that only the ordained do. But we stopped in mid-sentence as we read earlier… let’s return to the end of verse 11 and continue:

‘It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service.’ (11-12). Do you see? It isn’t the minister who does the ‘works of service’ – but that the pastors and teachers prepare us to do the works that God has equipped us for through Christ’s grace (7).

And what is the purpose in all this? The final goal is ‘that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the full measure of Christ.’

Can you see what Paul is saying? From the unity of God, the members of the body are given a diversity of gifts so that they can be built up into the unity of the body to accomplish maturity. This maturity is important, as we see in verses 14-15, to prevent several things.

Paul wants the Ephesians to no longer be infants – babes in Christ – but to be growing up to maturity, to stand on their own feet against false teaching and false scheming. Because this false teaching would be like a wind blowing their boat away in the wrong direction, and unsteady on the waves.

Rather, Paul wants them to grow up – by speaking the truth in love. This is the tricky thing – doing it in love. Speaking the truth can be easy enough, especially when it is the truth about someone else. But to do it in love? That takes wisdom, and sensitivity. Did you notice that love is important in the passage? We find it in verse 2 (bearing with one another in love), and again in verse 16 (From him the whole body… grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work).

So what is this love that we need in order to grow and build the body? We find a description of it in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 – ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’

So the question we should be asking ourselves today is this – how committed to church unity are we? Are we living a life worthy of the calling we have received – the humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, life? Are there those around us we haven’t been bearing with in love? Are there steps that you and I have to take for reconciliation within our church?

[This is even more vital as we come to the Lord’s Table, and remember Jesus’ death on the cross together as the church body. Jesus’ death was the means for our forgiveness and reconciliation with God, and should lead us to reconciliation with one another too.]

Are we pursuing church growth by identifying and using our gifts and graces in love? And are we striving to maturity in Christ together? Because church growth depends on how we are individually growing in grace!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Darth Vader

I came across this video on YouTube and had to let you see it! I think it's brilliant, the way it has been done. And the music is fantastic too!

I wonder if Darth's orchestra is performing Handel's Messiah this Christmas...

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Quare Meal

Tonight we ventured a bit further for dinner, to the outer edge of County Tyrone, as we met up with Pamela. The venue was Corick House, which is situated between Augher and Clogher, just beyond Ballygawley. I'd been in it one other time for a meal, coming back from Rossnowlagh a day in July a couple of years back and had known of it through my work as well. Oh, and the Choir Trip went there for their meal in June.

And so we did indeed get a great meal tonight! Between us, the dishes consisted of salmon, chicken supreme and sirloin (no prizes for guessing what I had...), and at the end of it, I was stuffed! Really good food to be had there.

But do you know what? Isn't it strange that no matter how full you are, there is still room for dessert??? The pavlova was really good - topped with summer fruits (strawberry, orange and peach), and would be well worth having again!

So if you're ever in County Fermanagh/Tyrone and looking for food, then try Corick House!

Thursday, August 03, 2006


This is by no means original, but was prompted by the near-heresy of one of the speakers at BB Camp last week. The statement is that God does not forgive sins. When it was said, there was a bit of a sharp intake of breath and puzzled looks all around. Our table had almost convened an Ecumenical Council to pass a motion of heresy and condemn the speaker to die by being burnt at the stake...

But before Stewart could be burnt, he went on to explain that what he meant was that sins are always punished - either carried by the sinner, or by the substitute. He further elaborated that God doesn't just wipe the slate clean for everyone, but only the sins of the redeemed are forgiven - removed.

So that has me thinking... what is the nature of our forgiveness? Why doesn't God just forgive everyone if Jesus has borne the sins of the world?How does God's forgiveness impact on our forgiveness of others? What about justice? What about corporate sin and forgiveness - for example in the political sphere?

I'm only started thinking about all this (and not for the first time), so a few more posts will probably follow on this whole topic. But for now, we'll finish with the verses that Stewart talked about, and which has launched this odyssey:

'This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.' (1 John 1:5-10 ESV)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

BB Camp Photos

Well, I've finally managed to get my photos off the camera and renamed... So if you want to see a very few selected ones from France, go here, or for the full set of BB Camp photos, go here.

So I suppose I should write a short bit of commentary for the photos, or even just to explain what all we did...

Saturday was spent travelling - an early start to Newry for the bus, and then down to Dublin, across to Holyhead and down through Wales and England to Kent.

Sunday we paraded to Tonbridge Methodist Church, then back to the campsite for the official photographs. The afternoon was swimming for the boys and some of us went for a drive in the bus. At night was the evening service in the camp (traditionally known as the drumhead service), then the quiz.

Monday was the Low Ropes course, then we went to Royal Tunbridge Wells while the boys went soft rock climbing. The evening had the sports.

Tuesday was to London for the London Dungeon - full of frights and darkness, and some of us got false scars on our faces. We then walked along the Thames and across Tower Bridge to get the bus again, before going for a bus tour of London.

Wednesday was to Eastbourne, our trip to the seaside town.

Thursday was to Thorpe Park for the rollercoasters etc... until the thunder and lightning closed some of the rides.

Friday afternoon we went to Maidstone, then Friday night there was a boxing match (all scripted by the way), then a bit of a gentle riot as the boys paraded with flutes and flags while one of the officers produced a bag of gaelic flags and tricolours...

Saturday we travelled home again, although the HSS was an hour late, meaning we weren't into Dromore until 12.20am.