Friday, July 31, 2009

July Review

July is hurrying to a close, and so ends the seventh month of 2009. This is the 40th blog posting of the month, which makes it 283 in 2009 thus far, and just ten to set a new record of annual posts to beat the 292 of 2006. What has been happening on the blog this July?

Traditionally in Northern Ireland, July is a month of commemorations and celebrations, which was reflected on the blog. Most importantly, it was our first wedding anniversary, as well as my first Communion service. Other events such as the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, Independence Day, the bonfires and especially Ballybeen's, the Twelfth in Belfast and Banbridge, and the Thirteenth in Scarva (cunningly both the latter were held on the wrong dates to confuse the tourists flocking to Orangefest and reassure them that we are just a bit Irish here!) were also reported.

There was some time away from Dundonald during the month, with a day trip to London for the UK and Ireland Launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (which also contained the month's only McFlurry's McLinks), and some time on the north coast at New Horizon.

This month's reading included The Deliberate Church, Drumcree, Sign of the Cross, God's Undertaker, and The Prodigal God.

On the preaching front, it was a busy month, with sermons from Psalm 125 (audio), and a series in 1 Corinthians 15 verses 20-34 (audio), 35-50 (audio), and 50-58 (audio).

I continued to reveal what's on my iPhone as we covered If In, Jacob to Jenny, Jesus, All Jesus, and Jigs and Jump: Just Dance.

However, the funniest post on the blog this year, and indeed, my favourite of all time (even surpassing The Great Toilet Roll Prediction Competition of 2005 which merited 24 comments), has to be another toilet related theme - what happens when a radio mic is accidentally left on in the toilet? Yes, it's the dangers of a radio microphone!

Jigs and Jumps: Just Dance

The remainder of the J's for this week's what's on your iPod? Hopefully we're back to the usual Friday service...

Jigs: Tripping up the Stairs - Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band
Jimmy Ward Set - Haste to the Wedding
Joseph All The Time - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat Soundtrack
Joseph's Dreams - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat Soundtrack
Jump - Girls Aloud
Jump Around - House of Pain
Jurassic Park Suite - John Williams
Jus' a Rascal - Dizzee Rascal in Radio One's Live Lounge
Just A Few Things That I Ain't - The Beautiful South
Just A Little Girl - Amy Studt
Just Can't Get Enough - The Saturdays
Just Dance - Lady GaGa

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book Review: The Prodigal God

My previous book took several weeks of hard reading. Tim Keller's latest book was a much quicker read, in two evenings, and was also an edifying read. Keller's short book is a refreshing exegesis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (as it is commonly known), or rather, the parable of the two lost sons.

Looking at the title, you might just come up short as you ask - did he really call it The Prodigal God? But God hasn't run away! No, rather, he latches on to the meaning of prodigal as being recklessly spendthrift, which is exactly how God's grace is displayed in welcoming younger sons home again. However, in welcoming younger sons home, it turns out that the older son is just as lost as his brother - he just doesn't realise it. Each one has rebelled, one by being very bad, and the other by being extremely good.

Keller spends some time on each of the two sons examining how they have been lost, and how they can be restored, but he doesn't dwell on cheap grace - the idea that God just welcomes everyone without cost. No, he portrays the deep and costly grace of God in Christ Jesus, who is the true older brother who came to seek and to serve the lost.

As Keller then applies the parable and explains the essence of Christianity through the parable, he writes these helpful words in showing the difference between religion and Christianity:

Religion operates on the principle of "I obey - therefore I am accepted by God." The basic operating principle of the gospel is "I am accepted by God through the work of Jesus Christ - therefore I obey." (p. 114)

What a world of difference! A great evangelistic and encouraging book, useful for those outside the faith, and also for those within to remind them of the basics and to root our identity and hope firmly in the Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book Review: God's Undertaker

Fundamentalist Atheists are on the rise. As militant as any army, they march on society, seeking to denounce and refute anything that stands in their way, or even attempts to criticise their views. Science and religion are in a battle, and with Richard Dawkins leading the challenge, it appears that science will win very shortly.

However, there are those who can stand against the rhetoric and science of Darwinism as purported by Dawkins et al. John Lennox is one such writer who has presented an exceptional discussion of the issues at the heart of Darwin's theory of natural selection as explaining everything, even the origin of species and life itself. As Lennox progresses through his chapters, he exposes the faulty reasoning, poor logic and shaky science of Darwin's theory, and presents major evidence for an Intelligent Designer of the universe.

With impeccable logic, such that I wish had been recommended the book and read it during the Cosmology classes at Trinity, Lennox makes his first major point - that the war between science and religion is actual a phony. There is no war here - rather, the war is between naturalism and theism - between those who claim that the whole material world came about by itself, and those who claim that there was an outside input. In this war, science is just a tool to weigh the proofs of each claim.

In a very helpful analogy, Lennox directs the reader to consider Aunt Matilda's cake. A beautiful cake, which scientists are analysing, and which they discover contains so many calories, and the chemicals which make up the ingredients etc. All well and good - science is telling us what science can tell us - the what, and maybe even the how. But science can never tell us why. The scientists won't be able to say why the cake was made in the first place, despite being very thorough in their own specialist fields. 'The grin on Aunt Matilda's face shows she knows the answer, for she made the cake, and she made it for a purpose.' (p. 41)

As he turns to the science of the universe, Lennox provides some amazing statistics, as he discusses the fine-tuning of the universe. This is made up of a series of constants, all of which must be within very small limits for there to be a chance of life existing on earth. These include the distance of the earth from the sun (too close and we'd boil, too far and we'd freeze); surface gravity to ensure an atmosphere; the speed of the earth's rotation. Other examples are provided for the entire universe, such as the nuclear ground state energy to produce carbon, the ratio of the nuclear strong force to the electromagnetic force to ensure stars are formed, and the level of entropy in the universe, which is 10 to the power 123 (10 multiplied by itself 123 times).

Further, Lennox very helpfully breaks down just what is meant by evolution, showing that micro-evolution (within species) occurs all the time, whereas macro-evolution (to form new species) has not been proven at all, much less can it be used to explain the origin of life at the start. As he points out, there is an edge to evolution - limits beyond which it cannot function, no matter how loud Dawkins shouts. this is demonstrated by the faulty fossil record - there are no 'missing links' proving species turn into other species; and through lengthy discussions of genetics and information theory. At parts, these were heavy going, with detailed science, mathematics and genetics. However, there was a light at the end, and through good humour and simple explanations for idiots like me, we got through it!

While risking a Dawkins Certificate of Lunacy for questioning evolution, Lennox emerges to point out that the Emperor of Atheism has no clothes in denying a Creator God who is more complex than the universe.

I really enjoyed this book, even though it was tough reading at times. If you're struggling to keep up with or counter the arguments of Richard Dawkins in the God Delusion, then this is a great book to read and remember. We may not be called to present the finer points of the details of the argument, but the book certainly increases confidence in Intelligent Design, and reveals the glory of God as seen in his creation.

Sermon Audio: 1 Corinthians 15: 50-58

The resurrection and victory. Sunday's mp3 file sermon audio:

The Resurrection and Victory

Sermon Audio: 1 Corinthians 15: 35-50

What will the resurrection body be like? Sermon audio mp3 file from Sunday 19th July:

The Resurrection Body

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Word With You

Psalm 1 reminds us that blessed is the one whose 'delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.' Meditating points to chewing it over, like a cow chews the cud, to get the full meaning out of the verses concerned. But how can we do this when we're busy people? Aside from a quiet time, how can we continue to reflect on the word through the day?

If you're anything like me, then you may well forget and be caught up in other things - even good things. Now I've hit on a scheme to help me remember and meditate, which happens as often as I check my phone for texts.

All it takes is a Bible, and a mobile phone with a camera. Take a photo of the verse you're using that day, or week, then store that photo as your screensaver/background. Every time you lift your phone, you see the verse which sets is running through your head again, stirring up reflections and maybe even influencing how you respond to THAT text or phone call.

I've even modified my suggestion, by having written the verses out first in my journal, then taken the photo:

I Will Rejoice

Monday, July 27, 2009

Waiting for the Deliverymen

Today was the date in the diary for a furniture delivery at home. The delivery was marked in for some time between 8am and 6pm. Well, says I, this could be a long day of waiting. Plenty to do in the study for sermon prep and catching up after last week at New Horizon.

So I was sat at my desk at 8.10am, doing some quiet time journalling when the phone rang. Ah, says I, this will be the phone call giving me a rough time of delivery before they rang again when they were an hour away.

But no, the guy says, "are you in the house? I'm sitting in the big white van outside your door!" Instant panic to get the old stuff moved and out of the way to get the new stuff in, but we got it done! So it's all here now and very comfortable.

No waiting needed, ten minutes and he had arrived.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15: 50-58 The Resurrection and Victory

When was your greatest victory? When did you enjoy your finest triumph? Maybe it was playing for the school team in a final, or a solo sports performance. Maybe it was that one time you managed to beat your brother or sister in Ludo or chess or tiddliwinks as a child. Perhaps it was in an argument, or even in a fight... There’s something about us, that we all like to recall times of victory, no matter how small. We can celebrate. Through this week I had a victory (of sorts). I was playing tennis with Richard and managed to win a game - not a set or the match, just a game, but that was a victory for me - it meant I wouldn’t lose another match 6-0 6-0 6-0!

As we come to the end of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul spells out the implications of a great victory that we can celebrate, both today, and for all eternity.We’ve been studying what the Bible says about the resurrection of the dead - and Paul now looks to the end, and declares in verse 57 ‘Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

We’ll look at the victory Christ has won, the change that it will bring in us, and then what that means for us today.

So first, the victory Christ has won. For there to be a victory, there must be an enemy, an opponent, someone who is defeated. As we gather here today, it is all too clear who our enemy is. As you walked into church, the headstones around the building are silent reminders of the onward march of death. Or look around. Saints who were faithful members of the congregation for many years are with us no longer. Or drive around and see the number of funeral directors and undertakers, whose business is death. Or spend a moment reflecting on your own loss - death is all around, our great enemy. As someone once said, the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

Our enemy is death. Death is painful for those left behind, who mourn the loss of loved ones. But the Bible goes further and says that there is a sting to death - like a bee or a wasp. There’s a sting to death, and that sting is sin - the needlepoint that threatens and does the damage. Death comes as a result of sin, and grieves us so. Sin gets its power from the law, from God’s command. As we break God’s law, as we disobey and rebel, then that sin stings us, and we fall into the hands of our enemy.

Sometimes bee stings can kill, but with the sin sting, death is a certainty. (The wages of sin is death - Romans 6:23). What shall we do? What can we do, in the face of such a powerful adversary? Our enemy will triumph.

Or will he? Faced with our enemy, how can Paul taunt death in verse 55. Look at it with me: ‘O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?’ Come on Paul, you almost want to say - death wins every time. Even the oldest man in the UK, Harry Allingham, finally succumbed to death last Saturday at the age of 113. Death wins, its sting is stung.

Yet Paul has been writing about the resurrection of Jesus, and how Jesus’ resurrection affects us, so that he can burst out into the shout of praise in verse 57. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Death affects us because of sin, but Jesus has dealt with our sin - as verse 3 reminded us - Christ died for our sins. He died the death we deserve, and has been raised again - he has won the victory over death - Jesus didn’t stay dead in the grave, but lives forevermore!

This victory will be completed and consummated when he returns, and brings the great change of verses 51-54. So far, Paul has been writing about those who have died, those who have fallen asleep - Christians who have died. As he describes what will happen on the last day, he is revealing a mystery - something hidden that is now revealed, a special apostolic revelation for the encouragement of the brothers and sisters. Not all Christians will die - some will be alive when Jesus returns, but no matter whether dead or alive, ‘we shall all be changed.’

All change - like the announcement on a bus or train. This one can only take you so far, after that, you must get on another one for your final destination. We see this in verse 50, where perishable flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God, we need a new imperishable and immortal body.

The trumpet will sound - the music of festivity, celebration and triumph - and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye - in the time it takes to bat an eyelid, the Lord will appear and everything will be changed.

But what will the change be like? Verse 53 helps us - this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (not immorality, but immortality!) As I said last week - our bodies now are weak and falling apart. Our bodies are prone to die, but they will be made new and will never die or fail or fade.

It is when this change takes place, when we are clothed with immortality, that ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ That line comes from Isaiah 25 - and I want to go there briefly to see the glory of the victory as prophesied in the Old Testament: (p 708). Verse 7 in Isaiah 25 shows the universal problem - death is like a sheet or a veil, a blanket over all peoples - full blanket coverage, as you might say. None are exempt. But, ‘he will swallow up death forever; and the LORD God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.’ Where? On this mountain - Jerusalem, the mountain of the Lord, where Jesus rose from the dead and swallowed death whole. Death does not have the last word, Jesus has triumphed!

That’s why Paul can taunt death in those words of verse 55 - O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Yes, you may take loved ones from us, but you will not triumph - they merely sleep, and they will be freed from your grasp as they rise and we rise with them, and we are together changed and clothed in the power of Christ and made like Christ’s resurrection body, never more to die.

This is our future hope as Christians, as those who trust in the death of Christ for our sins and his resurrection for our victory over death. I’m sure you know that when a bee stings someone, it soon dies - Death stings Jesus, and he draws its poison, so that we are saved and aren’t stung. What a glorious future - no wonder we rejoice as we look forward, so that even our mourning is transformed so that, as Paul says elsewhere ‘you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.’ Death hurts us as we lose loved ones, but we can look forward with certainty to that reunion through Christ’s resurrection. Death is not the end, death does not have the final say.

I don’t know about you, but I almost want Paul to finish on the high triumphant note of verse 57. That note of thanks and praise as we see clearly the victory won and how we will share in it. But that’s not where Paul ends. Instead he adds verse 58, as he draws out the implications of the whole chapter.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, and our resurrection; because of the world to come; because what we do matters, ‘therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’

The doctrine of the resurrection will lead to two things - being firmly faithful and abundantly fruitful. First of all, firmly faithful. My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable. Paul’s teaching on the resurrection is the corrective to the Corinthians’ tendency to be blown about by false doctrine. Some had been listening to people who said there was no such thing as the resurrection. Some doubted the power of God, or the promises of God. Now that they know the truth, they must stand firm in it, be steadfast, and not moving about, shifting , but standing firm on the rock of Christ. Wasn’t that how Paul opened the chapter? ‘Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you’ (1 Cor 15:1-2) Right doctrine, firmly faithful.

But they are also called (and we too), to be abundantly fruitful. Because Jesus has died and been raised, and he has entrusted us with the work of the gospel, and because Jesus will return victorious, then be ‘always abounding in the work of the Lord.’

Always abounding - Can any of us say that our work for the Lord is abounding at any time, never mind always abounding? We’re often so slow to speak for Christ, or serve Christ, or progress in godliness. Yet Paul gives us the motivation for pressing on, for abounding in the work of the Lord. Why?

‘Knowing that in the Lord, your labour is not in vain.’ We have two ‘ins’ here - not too pubs (inns), but two ins - in the Lord, and not in vain. These two ins summarise the chapter and provide the motivation for doing the Lord’s service:

In the Lord: Those in the Lord, in Christ shall be made alive (22), we have this sure hope, a hope that is not in vain. Our labour, our work for the Lord and in the Lord is not in vain - just as our faith in Christ is not in vain (v14). Our faith is not empty, because Jesus is alive. Our work is therefore also not empty or useless, but productive, fruitful, as we spread the good news of Jesus, the triumph of victory over sin and death.

Only one life, twill soon be past,
only what’s done for Christ will last.

What is your greatest victory? If you’re in Christ, then those sporting achievements or arguments pale into insignificance, and our greatest victory is just around the corner - just a heartbeat away, when the Lord returns and we share in his victory over death. How will you respond now?

Think of Chelsea supporters. Back in May, they were pleased when Chelsea won the FA Cup. Smiles on their faces, proud to wear the shirt, telling everyone about it... But the victory isn’t forever - next year another team will probably win the FA Cup and Chelsea will lose.

Our victory is complete, and forever! No replays, no rematches, no appeals, Jesus has won and we share in his victory. The result is sure, and we can celebrate now, as we stand firm in the truth of the resurrection, and spread the good news to others - Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Jesus, All Jesus

Regular readers may have missed a regular Friday feature from the last two Fridays. Busyness and holidays combined to prevent me from the normal What's on your iPod but here's a special one, strangely appropriate for the end of New Horizon week. It's all about you, Jesus, to quote a line from a Matt Redman song...

Jesus Arrested - The Passion Of The Christ Soundtrack
Jesus Be The Centre - Summer Madness 2001
Jesus Born on This Day - Mariah Carey
Jesus Christ (Once Again) - Heart Of Worship The Passion
Jesus Draw Me Ever Nearer - Margaret Becker, Máire Brennan & Joanne Hogg
Jesus Ever Abiding Friend - Kingsway Music
Jesus Is Carried Down - The Passion Of The Christ
Jesus Is The Name We Honour - Keswick Live 2008
Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross - William McCrea & Friends
Jesus Loves Me - Summer Madness
Jesus Loves The Little Children - Various Artists
Jesus My Desire - Andy Park
Jesus Paid It All - Kristian Stanfill At Passion
Jesus The Name High Above All - Keswick Live 2008
Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam - Hymns And Songs For Children
Jesus We Celebrate You Victory - Heart Of Worship The Passion
Jesus Will Always Be - Hymns And Songs For Children
Jesus, Lover of My Soul - Shelley Nirider Jennings at Passion
Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child - Mariah Carey
Jesus, Saviour, I am thine - Bach: St Matthew Passion
Jesus, Your Love - Andy Flannagan
Jesus' Blood - Delirious?

Favourite hymn here is Jesus the name high over all:

Jesus! the Name high over all,
In hell or earth or sky;
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.

Jesus! the Name to sinners dear,
The Name to sinners giv’n;
It scatters all their guilty fear,
It turns their hell to Heav’n.

Jesus! the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan’s head;
Power into strengthless souls it speaks,
And life into the dead.

O that mankind might taste and see
The riches of His grace!
The arms of love that compass me
Would all the world embrace.

His only righteousness I show,
His saving grace proclaim;
’Tis all my business here below
To cry “Behold the Lamb!”

Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp His Name,
Preach Him to all and cry in death,
“Behold, behold the Lamb!”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hellway Paving

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And it was with good intentions that I set out to blog the sessions from New Horizon. However, my plan came undone when my iPhone unexpectedly wouldn't connect to the Internet or an cellular data network for most of yesterday. So I've got notes from four sessions which haven't been blogged, and we're sitting in the big tent again about to praise before hearing Don Carson speak again. Oops.

The sessions and speakers have been great - challenging but also encouraging and edifying, and I've enjoyed sitting under the ministry and Bible teaching of Ray Ortlund and Don Carson. I'll certainly try to blog the sessions when I get home over the next week, but for now, I'm on holidays and enjoying a wee break! Even if I'm getting hammered in tennis by my friend Richard. At least I won three games today and ended the third set 3-3 as we ran out of time!

Now, bring on the Don!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Taste and See

Monday morning at New Horizon and Ray Ortlund invited us to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).It's an invitation to find our satisfaction in God rather than anything else, because God is the only one who can truly satisfy our deep longings. Each of us have a thirst, and all sins are an attempt to fill the void. We can either do good things, and expect God to reward us- which ends in false pride and an increasing hunger for God, or we can do bad things, attempting to find satisfaction, but ending up guilty, unclean and more thirsty. Sin is more than breaking a rule, it is living life without God.

The good news is that Christ suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. Jesus provides us with satisfaction with no bitter aftertaste. In fact, when the devil accuses us, he actually helps us to flee to Christ by reminding us of what Jesus has done for us and his great mercy.

God created us to glorify him by enjoying him. He is our pleasure, yet as Augustine pointed out, there's a danger that we can use God as a means of some other pleasure - this is sin!

When Psalm 34 tells us to taste and see that the Lord is good, it is a command from God. Enjoying God is therefore not only right, but also required! It's not an advanced thing, but the basic for all believers. Ray then looked at the why, what and how of enjoying God:

Why: because God is as good as he says he is - a message that is suppressed in our wicked world; our 'soul senses' are dimmed through our sin which keep us from enjoying God. It all goes back to Adam, who tore himself away from the life support for his heart and soul when he sinned, turning away from his soul connectedness to God and only having senses for the world around him. It's easier for us to get excited about our hobbies or the latest iPhone app than about our Creator. We're alive to the world, but dead to God. God acts though, to bring us to be born again, renewed and resurrected with Jesus, who changes and channels our desires - being greedy for Christ rather than money; passionate for Christ rather than lustful.

What: the text is clear, to taste is to receive and savour, to see is to personally experience vividly. It calls us to personal enjoyment of the pleasure of God, asking our existence on God's goodness and nowhere else. Holding to the Lord and not letting go until he blesses us.

How: the rest of verse 8 tells us how, by taking refuge in him. Image of an assylum seeker in an embassy - the laws of the nation don't apply as the embassy is an extension of it's native country. In this hostile land, we must take assylum in God. Being happy in the Lord, just like Richard Williams, a missionary to South America in 1851 who starved and froze to death, who wrote in his journal that he was happy in Christ, and would not change places with anyone else in the world.

Challenging material on my first morning, and later on we have Don Carson continuing the theme of enjoying God from the New Testament. Notes hopefully to follow.

Things That Go Bump

I think I've blogged about this before, but my nighttime horrors are back again. We're up at New Horizon, so
in a strange place and a strange bed. Didn't sleep well last night.

My dreams have been extremely vivid these past few nights. Last night I was in a bomb scare in Lurgan, and my car was at the centre of it. Didn't sleep much with that going on in my head. The night before, as we celebrated our anniversary, I was so caught up in a dream, thinking I was watching a parade and people attacked it that I launched a great karate kick - think of Eric Cantona's flying kick- only I connected with Lyns. Oops. Not good to be shouting, screaming and kicking the wife. And all in my sleep.

Perhaps I need to see someone about my nocturnal disturbances. For my sake, but especially for my wife's!

At least she's getting a break as the university accommodation we're staying in is all single rooms.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15: 35-50 The Resurrection Body

One of the questions I meet regularly asks what heaven will be like. Will we know each other? What kind of bodies will we have? What will we do all day for eternity? Maybe these are questions that you have thought about yourself. As Paul teaches the Corinthians about the reality of the resurrection, he knows that someone in Corinth sitting listening as the letter is read out will be asking these sorts of questions.

So, showed that the resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith (1-11), the consequences of not believing in the resurrection (12-19) and how the resurrection changes everything (20-34), he then gives voice to the question. Verse 35: ‘But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”

Or in other words - if the dead are buried and they rot away, then what kind of body can they possibly have? Paul calls the questioner foolish, and proceeds to answer by looking to what God has done, and will do. What will our resurrection body be like? How will we spend eternity?

Paul answers the question in two main parts. Verses 36-41 can be summarised as ‘dying to live’ and 42-50 ‘the change of the resurrection.’ So let’s look at the first part of his argument - dying to live.

As Paul begins to talk about the resurrection, he likens our bodies to a grain of wheat, pointing to the harvest. For it to come alive and produce more grain, it has to die - be buried in the ground. It’s only as it dies that new life is formed, and it becomes what it was meant to be - a fruitful, productive plant. In the same way, our bodies will die before we truly live, and the transformation occurs.

Transformation, because, as is pointed out in verse 37 ‘what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel.’ This world is not all there is - your body is not the finished article, but it will be transformed, as you trust in Christ and he renews and restores you.

As Paul continues with the picture, he shows that different types of seed produce different types of plant - so it’s no good planting apple seeds and expecting a tomato plant, or an acorn and expecting a sycamore tree. Each seed produces its own body, as God chooses and has planned. Even further, not all flesh is the same - we’re not the same as your pet dog, or the seagulls that fly around, or a rainbow trout. God has formed us as he has chosen, displaying the wonder and variety of creation.

And here’s the point - we are to live up to who we are - who God has made us to be. You sometimes hear when people die that they are now an angel. With the greatest respect, that is almost an insult to the person - we are changed, but we don’t become something else! It would be like saying the person has become a horse or a dog.

Each of us has been made just as God has chosen. Let’s live up to how God has made us - to be fully human, an image-bearer of God, one for whom Jesus Christ died to save. The angels haven’t been redeemed - those who fell will be punished for ever, whereas we have been showered with the grace and mercy and love of God.

As we die, then, we don’t become something else - we become truly human, restored, renewed, and glorious. We are dying to live.

In the rest of the verses, Paul spells out a bit more what our resurrection bodies will be like. Note that I say resurrection and not just resuscitation. Resuscitation is what happens when someone is brought back from the dead, maybe after an accident, or on the operating theatre. They stop breathing, and they are resuscitated. Their life is still the same, in the same body. But resurrection is an entirely different thing, as we’ll see.

The difference between resurrection and resuscitation can be seen in the Gospels. Think of the people that Jesus brought back from the dead: Lazarus, the widow’s son at Nain and Jairus’ daughter. Jesus demonstrated his power over death, but this was not their final resurrection. Each would die again, they were resuscitated - poor Lazarus was targeted by the religious leaders who wanted to kill him because his being alive was a great witness for Jesus’ power!

So as we look at our new bodies, Paul continues the theme of dying to live, being transformed in death and resurrection, and he shows this by contrasting what we are, and what we will become. Looking around the congregation this morning, you almost might be insulted by the terms Paul uses for your body at present: perishable, in dishonour, weakness, natural body. And yet, we know too well the truth of these words - perishable, because out bodies are wasting away, things go wrong, falling apart - as my granny sometimes says to me ‘I’m just done out’. We’re weak, frail, even the strongest of us, and we’re in dishonour, through our sin and weakness and failings.

And you might think to yourself - if this is what I’m going to be like in eternity, with my body still falling apart, or worse, getting worse over time, and eternity is a very long time, then I’ll not look forward to it. This is why we celebrate the resurrection. We’ll not just be resuscitated and made to do the best we can with what we’ve got - no, we’ll be resurrected, transformed, restored, renewed, changed and released from our weakness and frailty.

Perishable now - imperishable then. In dishonour now - glory then. Weakness now - power then. Natural body now - a spiritual body then. Utterly changed, but you will still be you! Notice, though, that when it says ‘a spiritual body’ that doesn’t mean that it is only made up on spirit - as if we are just a floating soul in the air. Spiritual body points us to the source - born of the spirit, in tune with the spirit. Think of Jesus’ resurrection body - it was different to before, but it was still flesh and bones - he could eat broiled fish with the disciples, and Thomas could touch him for proof of his being alive.

The change is then developed as Paul contrasts Adam and Christ again. Last week we saw that just as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. Adam and Christ are seen as the representative heads and the sources again:

‘The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.’ (47-48).

Where is your source from? Are you living as a child of dust, or as a child of heaven? Just as Adam died, and returned to dust, so all of us will also (unless the Lord returns before then) - but if we are a child of heaven, a child of God, then we shall ultimately go there - being like Jesus, living forever. Who is your head today? The dead Adam or the living Lord Jesus?

For those who are in Christ, who trust in him, there is that great promise. Our image will be changed. Now, I’m not talking about the style of the clothes you wear, rather, about whose image you bear. I’m sure you’ve often heard people saying that you’re the image of your mother or father. We had a new niece born on Tuesday past, and of course, the question was asked, who is she like? Well, all of us bear the image of our first father, Adam - all of us are sinful, with the tendency to rebellion, and are destined to share in his death. God made man in his image, but then Adam’s children shared his image. Genesis 5:1,3. ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God... When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.’

That image has been passed down. It ends in our death. But the resurrection changes even this, so that as we trust in Jesus, even our death is transformed, and we ‘shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.’ (49)

As we’ve seen today, Jesus death and resurrection means that we too can look forward to a new and glorious resurrection body. We’ve thought about the maxim ‘dying to live’ - this could be the summary of Jesus’ mission too - dying, so that we can live. As he says in John 12:23-34: ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’

Our bodies will die and decompose, but we are dying to live, through the transforming power of the resurrection, to live as the image of Christ, with glorious, restored, liberated bodies to praise the Lord for all of eternity.

Long before Paul, Job spells out what the resurrection will be like. He said, ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.’ (Job 19:25)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

One Year On...

Our Wedding

One year ago today, Lynsey and I were joined in marriage. We're thankful to God for the past year together, and in His mercy, look forward to many more. Our first wedding anniversary!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Book Review: Sign of the Cross

Conspiracy theory novels abound. Peruse any bookshop or search online, and novels which will finally reveal a long-held secret are everywhere. With one of his novels in the cinemas at present (Angels and Demons), you could argue that it is the Dan Brown effect. In both of Brown's novels, a secret has been contained for many years (being suppressed by the Church) and is now being revealed.

Chris Kuzneski offers another unique take on the life of Jesus Christ, and proposes another conspiracy in the form of his novel, Sign of the Cross. The story is fast moving, jumping across the globe, following many different protagonists as they follow various trails before finally converging to discover the secret of Jesus' crucifixion.

From a brutal crucifixion on the lake shore in front of Hamlet's castle in Denmark, Nick Dial of Interpol is plunged into a worldwide chase on the trail of the serial murderers. At the same time, two archeologists are digging under a town in Italy, before coming under attack from unknown combatants. Meanwhile, we're also introduced to Jonathon Payne and David Jones, who (I think), are the main characters in the book, private investigators who are caught up in the whole deal through shady operatives of intelligence agencies.

I'll not give away the plot, but it all centres on a plot by a Roman Emperor to fake the crucifixion and fool the Jews into hailing Jesus as the Messiah, all to benefit the Empire and restore the Empire's glory by uniting it around the Emperor. Expect some twists along the way, in another Dan Brown-esque manner.

Some interesting discussions are shared between the protagonists along the way, covering the nature of religion, belief and faith, and the historical evidence for the life of the Lord Jesus. One such topic is on whether we can know what really happened at the cross.

Toulon says, "I guess that depends on your perspective. If you're a Christian, the biblical version is the way it really happened, right down to he last detail. I mean, the Bible is the word of God." Dial responds by asking what if you're not a Christian and Toulon says that all religions have a different perspective on what happened, so that we can't really know for sure.

"All we can do is sort through the evidence, read what our ancestors wrote, and try to reach our own conclusions, which are invariably tainted by our upbringing... simply put, if your parents taught you to believe in Christ, you're probably going to keep believing in Christ. I mean, that's what faith is all about, isn't it?"

The story seems to suggest that Chrstianity was a state-invented religion, and all for the purpose of control:

"Tiberius started Christianity for one reason only: to gain control. He knew all about the unrest in Judea and figured the best way to placate the Jews was to give them the Messiah that had been prophesied. Then, once the Jews started to believe in Christ, he was going to take their Messiah away, which would allow him to grab control of this new religion."

An interesting conspiracy, but not ultimately one which is realistic. Even had Tiberius the Emperor hand-picked Jesus Christ, how could he have ensured the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies (such as where Jesus would be born, the manner of his birth, his flight into Egypt as a refugee, to name just three of the thousands...)?

Perhaps the most interesting element of the story is found in the epilogue, but I definitely can't mention it in case you find yourself reading the book! All in all, the book was a fast paced tale, with plenty happening, although at times there was almost too much happening, and too many 'main' characters to keep up with. Not a bad read, if you like this type of religio-conspiracy thriller.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Ballybeen Bonfire

I have a confession to make. This year was the first time I had ever been to an Eleventh Night bonfire. In fact, when I wrote about the bonfires on Sunday, I wasn't expecting to go to one this year either.

But on Sunday evening we got talking about it after church, and thought that if the weather cleared up after the thunder and lightning during church, then we would take a look later. Behold it did, and so Mark and myself headed over to Ballybeen for the stroke of midnight.

Eleventh Night Bonfire

Perhaps in my head bonfires were over-imagined, but I had thought there would have been music of some sort, perhaps a lambeg drum or flute band, or even just one fluter (flautist, if you prefer, although that word suggests more a James Galway type performer than someone playing the Sash on a flute). But there was no music. Just a huge crowd - perhaps several thousand, and most of them with carry-outs of drink. The Methodist minister in Ballybeen / Dundonald thought he was the only one not drinking, but there were two others of us at least!

We saw quite a few of the young people from the 'Been who come along to our Drop-in and youth club, so it was good to see them again now that we're in the summer break, and to hear what they're doing.

As I've already said, the one thing that struck me (other than the heat of the bonfire once it got lit, pushing most of the crowd backwards to cooler vantage points), was the vast number of people who were present to take part in the community ritual celebrating their heritage. For some, it was an excuse to get blocked, probably as quickly as possible, with the more drink the better. But many were there out of some sense of loyalty to Protestantism. They were celebrating Protestantism, and yet how many of them really know what Protestantism is?

I suspect for quite a number of them, to be a Protestant is to hate Catholics and go to parades. Oh, and vote unionist, if you vote at all. How far the community has moved from the traditions and origins of Protestantism, that of being a witness for the truth of the gospel, that is, of being a reformed Christian.

A connected challenge, then, is how can we impact on this community? Thousands of people in one place, coming together to celebrate (albeit missing the point) Protestantism. How do we reach them with the gospel? How do we reach the young men of Ballybeen and Dundonald whose main interest might well be drinking?

Ballybeen Bonfire

That photo doesn't really do the scene justice, as it was taken in my iPhone, but even here you can see some of the huge crowd. What can we do? We cannot do nothing!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Dangers of a Radio Mic

I've never liked Radio Mics. There's always the danger that they'll be on when they shouldn't be, and something is broadcast abroad. Here's a short clip from Sunday evening's service, when Mark is doing the announcements... (sorry brothers!)

The perils of radio mics

Apologies for the toilet humour...

Sermon Audio: 1 Corinthians 15: 20-34

Here's the mp3 file from Sunday morning's sermon on the resurrection and how it impacts the believer. Looking to the past (Christ's resurrection), and to the future (our resurrection) should lead to a change in our present too. Jesus' resurrection is like a red sock in the wash - it affects and changes everything else.

Download this sermon

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Scarva 09

With the Twelfth being on the 13th, the Thirteenth was moved to the 14th. The Thirteenth is the annual parade of the Royal Black Preceptories from Counties Armagh and Down, and accompanied by the Sham Fight.

One of the highlights of the Thirteenth is the quality of the bands. One of the best on parade today was Killeen City of Armagh Pipe Band:

Pure class!

I took about 850 photos today, which will be carefully selected and uploaded to Flickr over the coming days (as well as the remainder of the Belfast Twelfth pictures). You can check out the Thirteenth set or my main Flickr page.

Aerial View

Aerial View
Originally uploaded by Garibaldi McFlurry.

Photos from the Twelfth parade in Banbridge are now online at my Flickr page. Have a look at them. I've still got about 250 images from the Belfast parade to sort through and upload.

With the Twelfth being on the 13th, the 13th is shifted to the 14th - the County Armagh Royal Black Preceptory parade in Scarva. Expect some more updates and pictures from it in due course.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Belfast Twelfth

I'm currently standing on the Dublin Road in Belfast, watching the Twelfth parade on the 13th. An hour of the parade has gone by but now there's a long delay. Not quite sure why. We're up to the middle of District 6 Ballymacarrett.

The Twelfth in the city is a lot different to a country Twelfth such as I'm more used to. So far it has all been flute bands, apart from two accordian bands. No pipes, no silver or brass bands. A couple of lambeg drums were out before the parade started on Royal Avenue, outside City Hall and then at Bedford Street. But being here means I get to see different people, including some parishioners, and a new set of banners to take photos of.

Weather has been great, sunny and warm although there's a bit of a breeze which makes it hard to photograph the banners as they wave.

After this I'm off to Banbridge to get my fill of pipe bands and lambeg drums on the return parade

Sunday, July 12, 2009

When is the Twelfth not the Twelfth?

When it's the Thirteenth!

With the Twelfth of July on a Sunday this year, the Orange parades have been deferred until the next day. It led to some confusion about the lighting of the Eleventh Night bonfires - Saturday or Sunday night? I've never been to a bonfire, and yet for many, it's an essential part of the culture. The closest we ever got was sitting watching the Thornhill bonfire from a distance on the other side of the A1 dual carriageway.

But why bonfires? In some ways, those lighting the bonfires are celebrating the mobile phone of the Williamite era. Nowadays we're used to twenty-four hour news channels, mobile phone coverage and even Twitter to know what's going on in the world. But back in 1690, as William took to the battlefield on the green grassy slopes of the Boyne, how would the folks at home know who had won? Twitter is restricted to 140 characters, but the bonfire communicated one word: victory!

The word could spread quickly, from one hilltop to the next, with beacons blazing in the night sky. Ancient communications being continued, only now it's from one housing estate to another! That's why the commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne is (normally) held on the Twelfth. You see, the Battle of the Boyne was fought on the 1st July 1690 under the Julian calendar. In 1750, when Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar, ten days were added to bring Britain in line with Europe, which makes the 1st July Old Style into 11th July New Style. The bonfires on the evening of the 11th are as if the word is just reaching the towns and villages, and then the celebrations and processions are held on the next day, the Twelfth, unless it's on a Sunday.

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15: 20-34 The Resurrection

I wonder if you’ve ever had the misfortune to include a red sock among a washing machine load of white shirts? You know what happens - the white shirts are changed, nothing is the same again, everything turns a pinky shade. One thing changes everything else.

As we continue our series in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul shows that the resurrection of Jesus is like that. Nothing will be the same again. Paul writes about the resurrection because, as we saw last week, some people in Corinth were saying that there was no resurrection - that this world is all there is. Pure materialism. But as Paul pointed out, if there is no resurrection, then our preaching is pointless, our faith is in vain, our sins are not forgiven, Christians who have died have perished, and that we are just pitied fools. Without the resurrection, we’re idiots.

But as Paul goes on, he says that Christ has been raised from the dead. Forget about those consequences - Christ Jesus is alive, and because he is alive, everything is and will be changed. We’ll see this in three key areas: our future, our world, and our behaviour. In other words, what has happened in the past (Christ’s resurrection) affects what will happen in the future (our resurrection), and therefore must affect our present (how we behave).

Let’s look at our future. As we stand, our future is not a pleasant prospect. Death is what lies ahead, both physical and spiritual. Death is the consequence of our rebellion against God - something that we share in common with everyone else, as children of Adam. Look at the start of verse 22. ‘in Adam all die’. Four devastating words. All of us are sinners, all of us will die because of our disobedience. Further, the start of 21 shows that death came into the world by a man - by Adam - death was not part of the original order - it was brought in by Adam.

Because of him, but also because of our own sin, we share in the curse of death. And yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. Continue with me in 21. ‘For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.’ Adam introduced us to death, but another man has introduced us to life. ‘If Adam’s sin had far-reaching consequences, so had Christ’s resurrection.’ (Morris)

‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ The Corinthians thought that there was no resurrection. Paul says that Christ has been raised, but more than that - we too can share in the resurrection. The reference to firstfruits there comes from Leviticus, and was one of the festivals in the Jewish calendar. Firstfruits, as the name suggests, was the first pickings of the harvest, which were brought and dedicated to the Lord. The firstfruits implied that there was a great harvest to come. So, as Jesus has been raised, so we shall be raised. Firstfruits (according to Leviticus 23:10), was celebrated on the day after the Passover Sabbath - which is in fact Easter Day!

Christ reverses the curse and promises life through his resurrection. As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But let’s be clear that those two ‘alls’ don’t point to the same group of people. Just because all are in Adam doesn’t mean that all - everyone - will be made alive. Rather Adam and Christ are contrasted as the representative head of two groups of people: those in Adam, and those in Christ. Verse 23 helps us to understand: ‘at his coming those who belong to Christ.’ All of us will die physically, as we are all in Adam. But those of us who are in Christ will be raised to life eternal with him.

Which group are you a part of today? You’re automatically in Adam by nature, but are you also in Christ? It’s not an automatic entry, but comes by faith in Jesus. Have you taken that step?

Christ’s resurrection changes our future. But more than that, it also changes our world. When Adam sinned, he led humanity into sin and death, but more than that, he also unleashed the forces of sin and death on the world. Remember the curse on the ground in Genesis 3? The opposition to God’s kingdom became widespread, urged on by the devil and his demonic powers.

On the cross, though, Jesus took on the evil powers and our sin, and defeated them (Colossians 2:15) there. D-Day has been won, now we’re in the mopping-up stage, until all his enemies are put under his feet. The final enemy to be defeated is death - when all Christians who have died are released from its power, and are resurrected to live forever, body and soul.

The resurrection demonstrates, therefore, that Jesus reigns in triumph. Every objection to his rule is removed, and all things are in subjection under him. Verses 27 and 28 have a lot of subjections - but what Paul is saying is that all things are put under Christ’s feet, but obviously not God the Father, who reigns over all. Christ returns the kingdom to God the Father, and God reigns over all forever, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Christ’s final consummation has been guaranteed by his resurrection to life. It’s like one of those domino set-ups, where when you flick one domino, everything follows in sequence, leading to the end. Christ’s resurrection leads to Christ’s complete glorification. All his enemies will be destroyed - are you living as his enemy today? Then you stand in real danger.

So far we’ve thought about the future - both Christ’s glorification when all enemies are destroyed forever at his return, and our own future hope of eternal life guaranteed through Christ’s resurrection. These together with Christ’s resurrection have an impact on us today - it should also make a difference to how we live now, as we look towards the future. Paul shows this in three areas - practice, mission, and morals.

Verse 29 is tricky - this baptism on behalf of the dead. One writer has suggested as many as 400 possible meanings of what was happening. It seems, though, that in Corinth, some people were being baptised for the sake of a fellow Christian who had already died before being baptised. It’s not something that Paul recommends, and quickly fades away, but he points even to their strange practice as something which affirms the resurrection. Why bother doing it if there’s no resurrection in the first place?

The resurrection is the motivation and drive for mission, for spreading the gospel. It’s what pushes Paul: look at verse 32. ‘What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ Without the resurrection, our faith and mission is pointless. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. So we must get out there and tell people - no matter what the cost. Those wild beasts were those who opposed the gospel, who persecuted Paul for his message. There is a world to win, souls to save, through the preaching of the gospel. Are you excited about the resurrection?

At FCA on Monday, we sang a hymn: ‘We have a gospel to proclaim, good news for men in all the earth, The gospel of a saviour’s name, we sing his glory, tell his worth.’

The resurrection affects what we do in church, and drives our mission. But it must also have an impact on our morals, on our behaviour. You see, Paul spends a whole 58 verses and one whole chapter of his letter to the Corinthians because they had got into a terrible muddle about the resurrection. They were listening to the wrong people, drinking in what society and culture said, and it was leading not just to wrong doctrine, but also wrong behaviour.

To make the point, Paul quotes a Greek poet to say ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ By not believing in the resurrection, they were tempted into the eat and drink for tomorrow we die mode of behaviour, because they figured this world was all they would know.

What about us? Are we listening to the wrong voices too? If we do, then we’re in danger of those voices dictating how we lead our lives. Did you see any of the Michael Jackson tribute show the other night? The message that came from the most of it was that Michael is obviously in heaven, possibly because everyone goes to heaven. Friends, not everyone will be raised to life - only those whose trust is in Jesus, those who are his. By thinking everyone goes to heaven, then we can live how we please - it doesn’t matter what you do. Or on the other side, if you listen to Richard Dawkins and the scientific atheistic materialistic fundamentalists, who (like the Greeks) say this world is all there is, then again, it doesn’t matter what you do.

Who are you listening to? Paul says their confusion is like a drunken stupor, and calls the Corinthians to wise up, to wake up, and not continue sinning. Are we also confused in our thinking, and our behaviour?

Just like the red sock in the wash, Christ’s resurrection changes everything. Our future is no longer bleak, so let us celebrate. The opposition to Christ will end, so let us look for the coming of his kingdom. Our resurrection is sure, so let us live up to it. And let us pray...

This sermon was preached at the Lord's Supper in St Elizabeth's on Sunday 12th July 2009.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wimbledon, Here I Come. Not!

A few Sundays ago, I'd heard a guy from church talking about playing tennis with his brother. Ah, I thought, I like tennis, and can play a wee bit. Maybe we should play some day. Despite the fact that it's two or three summers since we played tennis, and my last organised games would have been back when I went to the summer scheme at Dromore Community Centre, about twelve years ago.

So earlier this week, we played some tennis. Or rather, he played some tennis and I struggled. The end result? 6-0 6-0 6-0. The Beatles were wrong. Love is not all you need- some points would be nice! Several times I had the opportunity of winning a game, but my service was letting me down- either too short or too long. Total humiliation, even though Richard tried to help me out with some training tips to improve my serves and returns.

So I won't be booking a place at Wimbledon in the near future. The British hopes won't be carried on these shoulders. But a good hour of exercise, especially running to get the ball all the time! A rematch has been planned for some time in August when we're back from holidays. Somehow I don't rate my chances too highly!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Jacob to Jenny

Some J songs in what's on your iPod?

Jacob and Sons / Joseph's Coat - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat Soundtrack
Jacob in Egypt - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat Soundtrack
Jailhouse Rock - Elvis Presley
James Bond Suite - John Barry
James Bond Theme - Moby
Janie, Don't Take Your Love To Town - Jon Bon Jovi
Javert's Suicide - Les Miserables
Jaws Theme - The City of Prague Orchestra
JCB Song - Nizlopi
Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine - The Killers

A smaller batch than normal, but these are all the songs in this section - the next song opens a new (huge) batch of songs about Jesus, which will come next week! Favourite song in this batch is maybe Moby's take on the James Bond Theme.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

McFlurry's McLinks (5) FCA Special

Following the UK and Ireland Launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) on Monday in London, the blogs have been red hot with comments, reflections, debates, and discussion.

The Ugley Vicar had some reflections, more reflections, and some thoughts on financial implications. Nick Jones was present, as was Jody, the Radical Evangelical (in 2 parts), the Urban Pastor,

Some Anglo-Catholic reactions from Edward Tomlinson, Giles Pinnock (2 posts), and Ross Northing.

Stephen Sizer quoted Maria Mackey's Christianity Today article on the FCA Launch at length. Wannabepriest asks what would Ignatius do?

Transfigurations has the text of Archbishop Peter Jensen's speech.

James Cary writes on homosexuality and Nazir-Ali, while Peter Ould missed FCA but attended one of the rallies the night before.

As with all links, the opinions are those of the authors of the blogs and sites, and may not necessarily have my approval. Nevertheless, there is quite a range of opinion there, and lots to think through. If you know of any other blogs writing about FCA, leave a comment, to continue the debate.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

My First Communion

This morning I celebrated my first Lord's Supper at our traditional midweek service. An apostolic number of communicants, and all seemed to go well. It's strange, having watched others leading the service for my first 28 years, and now suddenly finding myself saying the words and leading the service.

The sermon was from Romans 5, reflecting on the wonderful love of God, in that Christ died for us while we were still his enemies. The cross is central to our celebration of the sacrament, as we recall the death of Jesus in our place, for our sake, for our sins. Along with his death, we celebrate his victory over death in the resurrection, as we proclaim Christ's death until he comes.

One thing I need to work on is the words of administration, and remembering that the bread is the body, not the blood! Had one slight mistook, but rectified it and managed to get the right words the rest of the time! Still, it's only my second time of distributing bread, as I normally distribute the cup.

So that's my first Holy Communion done, another first completed in the experiences of ministry, and a new experience as a Presbyter (or Priest). Sunday's will have a larger congregation than twelve, in my first main Sunday Communion. Here goes for it, and on the Twelfth of July too!

Sermon Audio: Psalm 125

Here's Sunday night's mp3 from Psalm 125.

Download this sermon

Monday, July 06, 2009

FCA: United in the Gospel

Afternoon tea at the FCA conference, and time to take stock of all that has been said thus far. A variety of speakers have spoken on the big theme of being faithful. Indeed, we've seen speakers from both evangelical and Anglo-Catholic backgrounds standing together in the faith.

Greg Venables spoke on what GAFCON has achieved and why the FCA is necessary at this point in time. While society says that we cannot be sure of anything any more, Christianity says something very different. Christianity is not a man-made invented religion, but revealed by God through the Lord Jesus and his apostles. He pointed us to Hebrews 2, with the warning that we can drift away from what we have heard and received.

He went on to point out that FCA is not dividing the Church- that has already happened through the actions of the Episcopal Church in the USA as they proceeded against the will of the Anglican Communion to ordain Gene Robinson in 2003. We have not moved from the apostolic gospel once for all entrusted to the saints.

Keith Ackerman displayed his commitment to the gospel and affirmed that we need a Dependence Day, depending wholly on the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation. Coming from an Anglo-Catholic position, he called for us to set aside issues of style and come together on the basics of faith. He attacked those who hold to a canonical fundamentalism, elevating canon law to a position above Scripture.

In one of the funniest quotes of the day, he criticised those who seek to change the Trinity to suit their own purposes, by reducing it to mere functionalism, those of Creator, Saviour and Sustainer, as if that was all God was. He said it was like him ringing his parents and saying to his mother "Hi life-giver, is the sperm donor there?"

Other speakers have included Bob Duncan, Peter Jensen, Vaughan Roberts, Vinay Samuel, and Wallace Benn. The afternoon has been taken up with reports of mission, ministry, money, fellowship and oversight in the local situations of the churches in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Later, the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali will preside and preach at a closing Communion service.

The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is united in the gospel essentials. This is the resounding message coming from Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. Now to do the work of mission together, standig firm in the faith and being faithful.

FCA Launch

First posting from the Launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the UK and Ireland, in London. Huge crowd in the Central Hall at Westminster, and no trouble thus far.

The morning started with worship led by Stuart Townend before the introduction and welcome from Paul Perkin and Janice Whyte. A greeting was read from Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as messages of support from the previous Archbishop, George Carey, and from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. The Queen conveyed her "good wishes to all concerned for a successful and memorable event."

We've just heard from two Nigerian Bishops, as well as video messages from the other GAFCON Primates. The English Bishops have now been welcomed, as well as two Bishops from the Church of Ireland, Ken Clarke and Harold Miller.

Greg Venables is about to speak on what GAFCON achieved.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

London Calling

Tomorrow I'm off for a day trip to London. No sight-seeing, as we'll be in Methodist Central Hall at Westminster. The reason for the trip is to attend the UK and Ireland launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, a global fellowship of Anglican Christians committed to Scripture and mission together.

From what I can gather, there's wifi available in the hall, so I may be able to blog throughout the day - if so, watch this space.

The London-in-a-day thing means that it's an early start and a late return, but here goes...

Sermon: Psalm 125 Peace Be Upon Israel

How can we know peace in the midst of this world? Where does our security lie? These are the questions that our Psalm answers tonight.

Throughout these summer evenings, we’re looking at the Songs of Ascents, the Psalms sung by the pilgrims as they travelled up to Jerusalem. As they walk along, the view in the distance of Jerusalem sets them off with another Psalm which speaks of security, goodness and peace.

Verses one and two present us with two similes, two word pictures of the security for God’s people. Three gives the reason, or the purpose for this security, and then four and five present the two ways to live, two alternatives for living, in the form of a prayer. It all drives towards the final line, the climax of the Psalm, ‘Peace be upon Israel.’

Let’s look at the pathway to peace then. Verse 1 shows the first simile. ‘Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.’ As the pilgrims journey closer to Jerusalem, to Mount Zion, they can see Jerusalem sitting up on the horizon, in a fixed position, secure. Mount Zion is presented as the simile for the people of God, ‘those who trust in the LORD.’

Do we see the significance of this? So often it appeared that the Jews thought that they were God’s people simply because of ancestry, who their father and grandfather etc was... But here it’s clear that it is those who trust in the LORD who are God’s people. It’s not enough to be part of the ‘right’ family, or even to be in church. We must be trusting in the LORD.

And as we trust in the LORD, we have this image of being immovable, established, abiding forever. What a great promise! As we go into verse two, we can see exactly why this is so.

You see, Jerusalem was sitting on top of a hill / mountain, and yet, it was surrounded by higher mountains all around. ‘As the mountains surround Jerusalem...’ The geographical landscape helped Jerusalem be protected from enemies (just think of how David captured the city in the first place in 2 Samuel 5 - by going up the water shaft (sewer?)). And yet that wasn’t the reason for Jerusalem’s security. Rather, the mountains were just a picture of the real protection: ‘As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.’

The mountains point to the LORD’s protection, watching over his people, like a hedge or a fence around them. This is why those who trust in the LORD cannot be moved - because the LORD guards them.

This protection is seen demonstrated as we move into verse 3. ‘For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous.’ The threat of outsiders is maybe what you immediately think of here - given that the LORD is the protection of his people. But as we think about the history of Israel and Judah, we see that there was plenty of wickedness in the homegrown kings, without needing to import any in from elsewhere. Just think of Ahaz (who burned his son as an offering 2 Kings 16:3), or Manasseh (who rebuilt the altars his father had destroyed 2 Kings 21:3). How can the Psalmist say that the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest on the land?

The key is in the word rest - which the NIV translates ‘remain’. The sceptre of the wicked shall not remain on the land. Yes, evil kings will rise up, as they have done, but they will not remain, and will not prosper for long. As the Psalm expresses the ideal situation for Israel, and admits that things are not as they should be, the long view is taken. God’s people cannot be moved, but abide forever. The LORD surrounds his people forevermore.

The reason why the LORD surrounds his people and will not allow the sceptre of the wicked to rest on the land is ‘lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong.’ If evil men prosper and are in charge, then the righteous may be drawn into their evil. To prevent this from happening, the LORD does not permit wicked men to rule for long.

Think back over the kings of Israel and Judah. Even the good ones were bad. David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Josiah, Hezekiah. The kings failed, and were in some ways wicked. But the good news is that God has a king who will not fail, whose sceptre is not wicked, whose kingdom is good and true and pure and right and just.

Just as the LORD protects his people, so the Lord Jesus, the Christ (the anointed one) is King over his people. If Jesus is our king, how can we stretch out our hands to do evil? It happens, yes, sadly, we still sin, but our desire is to please him. We’re not being led astray by our king.

As we move towards the end of the Psalm, the two ways to live are placed side by side, in comparison, as the Psalmist cries out a prayer to the LORD, the king. ‘Do good, o LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts! But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers! Peace be upon Israel!’

Two ways to live - those who are good and upright, and those who turn aside, the evildoers. Given the two categories of people, I wonder where you put yourself? Or where you hope you are? Few people would describe themselves as the evildoers - we like to think of ourselves as the good and upright (maybe even the decent!).

Yet as we look at the Psalm, we have to admit that we find ourselves in the second category. That’s where we are - those who turn aside in crooked ways. But the good news is that we don’t have to stay there. There is a way to be good and upright, but it doesn’t come through being good and doing good. No, rather, the only way to be good is, as the Psalm highlighted at the start, to trust in the LORD. As we trust in the LORD, we are brought from the way of destruction to the way of life. Not because of ourselves, but through the grace and goodness of our God and Saviour.

Yet others remain on the path of wickedness, turning aside on their crooked ways. If you can imagine the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem, they tread the narrow way. the path is sure, but if they turn off and go their own way, then they completely miss the blessings of Jersualem. The end result of their turning away is to be completely led away, in the company of other evildoers. As CS Lewis once wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ And those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”

Verses 4 and 5 together sit as a prayer. It’s more obvious in 4 than 5, and yet they sit together. ‘Do good, O LORD, to those who are good’ - we’re asking God to do something for his people. Similarly, verse 5 may be asking the LORD to deal with the evildoers, asking him to lead them astray.

And so we come to the final petition. Peace be upon Israel! This peace, the Shalom, is more than the absence of conflict, but is more positive, speaking of wholeness, contentment, satisfaction. Again, this peace comes from the LORD, and is rooted in his protection, his kingly rule, and his grace to sinners, turning them into the upright of heart.

Do you know that peace tonight? Paul applies it in Galatians 6 to those who are a new creation through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. My prayer is that you will know that peace in your heart tonight, and throughout this summer.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 5th July 2009

Book Review: Drumcree

The name of a parish church sitting on a hill outside Portadown has become famous across the world, and became one of the landmarks of the post-ceasefire Northern Ireland. Drumcree is famous because the Portadown District of the Orange Order attends Morning Prayer on the first Sunday in July, and that was as far as they were allowed for some years, being blocked and banned from their traditional route back to the County Armagh town via the Garvaghy Road.

The first Drumcree dispute was in 1995, with the stand off lasting for several days, until the parade was permitted on 11th July. During the stand off, main roads across Northern Ireland were blocked, and there was the threat of electricity supplies being turned off at Ballylumford. Something similar happened in 1996, with a stand off until the 11th. In 1997, the parade was immediately permitted following the church service, although trouble later flared in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Since 1998, the Orangemen have been prevented from returning along the Garvaghy Road, and the district is still symbolically remaining 'on the hill' at Drumcree. Indeed, today is 'Drumcree Sunday.'

As well as the Orange aspect of things, the political negotiations involved have been continuing, both through and despite the Parades Commission. Most recently, the First Minister has offered to meet both the Portadown District and the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition. Away from these aspects of the dispute, however, there have also been pressures brought on the parish and rector of Drumcree by the Church of Ireland General Synod, and also by the former Archbishop of Dublin, Walton Empey.

Synod resolutions were passed calling on the Rector, John Pickering, to ban Orangemen from attending morning worship, thus (by their logic) removing the problem. Empey even went as far as to suggest that John Pickering could be sacked if he refused to obey the Synod, which was manifestly not true.

Much ink has been spilled and many books written about the Orange Order, and in particular, the Drumcree standoff. Recently released, however, is the insider view, from the pen of the Rector himself, following his retirement in September 2007. John kept scrupulous notes and notebooks as well as press cuttings from the years of dispute, and has collected them together to tell the story of Drumcree from his perspective. As well as the news events, the book opens us to life in a rectory, and the normal highs and lows of parish ministry. John then takes some time to reflect on the key issues at hand - those of Civil Freedom, Religious Freedom, The Church of Ireland, the media, and his own role in the situation.

Certainly not an easy place for parish ministry, with the focus of the world's media, and no support from a sizeable proportion of the wider Church of Ireland. Yet John displays grace and humility as he recalls the events, and reveals his principled stand rooted in God's faithfulness. By listening to him, we may even see a way forward for the future.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Independence Day

The 4th of July is the Day of Independence for Americans, but seven years ago, it was also our Independence Day. In 2002, our graduation from Queen's was on this very day.

Don't we look well?! The photo wasn't great, and the scan hasn't helped much, but this was David and myself before we graduated in the Whitla Hall at Queen's University Belfast, having completed our BA (Hons) in Politics.

Thinking about Indepedence Day, though, makes me wonder about it all. Americans are justly proud of their rebellion against the British, to make them an independent nation, and many countries mark important dates in their history. Indeed, July is quite a bit month, with Independence Day on the 4th, the Battle of the Boyne on the 12th, and Bastille Day on the 14th. But are we right to celebrate independence?

Surely independence is at the root of all our sin - not needing God and his commands, just going our own way? To celebrate this form of independence is to turn our back on God, the most grievous thing that can be done in all creation.

The good news is that Jesus died to take the punishment for our rebellion, and that we can be welcomed in by God, turned around, and brought to a right dependence on our Creator and provider, even God our Father himself. Independence? No, give me dependence any day!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Saints Alive!

Today's big news has been the imminent beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. That doesn't mean that he's having a make over (beatification, not beautification), but rather has passed one step closer to being recognised as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. The news has been welcomed by Ruth Gledhill, Archbishop Cranmer, and others.

Ruth Gledhill has also happily included an in depth look at the stages to sainthood, just in case you're tempted to want to become a Saint.

Step 1: Die

Step 2: A cult is formed for the cause of sainthood.

Step 3: An investigation into the life of the candidate - if sufficiently holy, then the title Venerable is awarded.

Step 4: Have done miracles, either in your lifetime, or through your intercession, in which case, you'll be beatified.

Step 5: Perform a second miracle, and you'll be canonised as a Saint.

Step 6: Die as a martyr and you can skip the miracles bit.

So there you have it, the way to be a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The question is, what's it all about? What's the point of it? You see, the Bible talks about saints, but the Bible is talking about something completely different.

So, just for comparison's sake, here's the in depth look at the stages to become a biblical saint:

Step 1: Trust in Jesus Christ.

Step 2: There is no step two. All believers are saints!

It's true. Paul writes to 'all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia' (2 Corinthians 1:1), 'to the saints who are in Ephesus' (Ephesians 1:1), 'to the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons' (Philippians 1:1), 'to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae' (Colossians 1:2), and to those 'called to be saints' in Rome (Romans 1:7) and Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2). Paul isn't writing to dead people already in heaven - what would be the point? Rather, he is writing to Christians living in the world, who are very much alive. All believers are saints! All believers are already saints, without the proclamation of popes or councils.

As to the stuff about praying to (or even through) Cardinal Newman, well, what's that all about? There is only one mediator between God and men - the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:6). Why pray to someone else when the Lord is always ready to hear our prayer? Is it a sign of humility, not wanting to trouble the boss? Nonsense - God our Father delights to hear our prayers. Is it a sign that we don't think the Lord can help us, or that he would be unwilling unless someone on the inside helped us out? What a sign of unbelief in the Lord's gracious provision!

As the Thirty-Nine Articles states, '... and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.' (Article 22) There are no first class Christians and second class Christians. All believers are similarly sufficiently saved, and are all equally under no condemnation.

If you are a Christian, you are a saint, without any need of the pope's promulgation, nor anyone else. Take the word of God to heart, which declares you forgiven, sanctified, justified, and set apart as holy unto the Lord, as a saint, a child of God and an inheritor of his Kingdom.

- Saint Gary.

If In

Moving on to a batch of I songs. Back at the start, we did a batch of I, so we're onto the if's and in's.

If - YFriday
If God Be For Us - Handel's Messiah
If I Have Not Love - Matt Redman
If Only - Amy Studt
If There's Any Justice - Lemar
If You Come Back - Blue
If You're Not The One - Daniel Bedingfield
In All The Right Places - Lisa Stansfield
In Christ Alone - Margaret Becker
In Christ Alone - Newsboys
In Christ Alone - Summer Madness
In Da Club - 50 Cent
In My Arms - Mylo
In Pursuit of Happiness - The Divine Comedy
In The Hall of the Mountain King - Grieg

Favourite in this section is In Christ Alone by Newsboys. Best version of the three on my iPod of one of the songs from our wedding!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Peter's Gospel Mission

Has revival broken out at the heart of the Northern Ireland Assembly? This evening the BBC were reporting that First Minister Peter Robinson MP MLA had unveiled his new Executive Ministers following a DUP cabinet reshuffle. They also reported that Robinson has called for his colleagues to spread the gospel. Great stuff, you say, but the quote didn't end there. The First Minister, a parishioner of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, isn't sending out apostles to preach the Kingdom of God, but rather the Kingdom of Peter and Martin. The new DUP ministers are being sent out to preach the gospel of devolution.

Following the major disappointment of the European Election, where Jim Allister of the TUV took a substantial number of votes from Diane Dodds, the fear is that many unionists are turning their back on the DUP and therefore on the Assembly. Peter is sending out his heralds to declare the good news of the kingdom of devolution, so as to defeat the "wreckers" who are trying to destroy the power-sharing Assembly.

Archbishop Cranmer, when not battling Facebook, is always interested in politico-religious matters and religio-political matters and so my ears pricked up immediately with this news. Indeed, it would be easy to see the religious elements of the First Minister's crusade. At one time this Peter was opposed to any elements of powersharing. It is hard to know when he was converted, but in a Damascus Road moment, Peter and his fellow apostle Ian led their party into the newly formed Executive. Having been converted, in a complete turn around, Peter now wants other unionists to share his vision of political ecumenism and has sent out his devolution evangelists to the ends of the province. The question is, will this word of Peter be as sure and as successful as the Gospel of our Lord Jesus?

One thinks not. But it's interesting to see the use of religious language in the political sphere.

Book Review: The Deliberate Church

There has been a flood of books on the church in recent years. From the Purpose Driven Church, to Liquid Church, to Emerging Churches, to Contagious Churches, to Cell Church, and the Provocative Church, you can have any type of church you like, and probably far more - this was just a selection from the books on my shelves.

So what's different about The Deliberate Church? Isn't it just another type of gimmicky church built around what we want? Well, no. Building on the Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever and Paul Alexander lay out the road map for taking a church from a single pastor who does everything, to being a biblical church which is healthy, and functions for the glory of God and the extension of his Kingdom.

Rather than being another program of church growth, Dever urges us to return to the Word, to let the Word of God build and shape the Church of God - in everything, not just in some elements. As part of this, he urges that the classical definition of church is not sufficient: a faithful gathering of men where the word is truly preached and the sacraments duly administered. Rather, to these he would include the practice of church discipline.

On this matter, he urges for strict and definite boundaries concerning who is a member of the church or not. He recommends interviews and a unanimous vote by the elders before anyone is welcomed into church membership. New members are also made to sign a covenant of membership which governs their conduct as a member of the church. These steps are recommended so as to be sure of who is a member, and to make sure that they are truly converted before becoming members, so as to not bring public disgrace on the witness of the church through having unregenerate members, and so as to be sure of who is included in the pastor's remit, as he will be answerable for them on the Day of Judgement.

While I can see some benefits in what he says, the situation is more complicated in a 'traditional' or 'mainstream' church such as the Church of Ireland. Church Discipline is, as far as I can see, few and far between.

Further, he recommends the extension of the staff team over time to include pastoral assistants, assistant pastors, associate pastors and other interns. This seems to me to be the American way of building superchurches, which I'm not convinced is the way to go - much better a smaller church where everyone can know each other and be supported.

All in all, some of his recommendations seem way out there, and based as much in his American culture, and not really applicable in the Northern Ireland context of ministry. The book is useful, though, as something to stir us up to think through what we do and why we do it, as well as returning us to the Bible to see what God says on his church. Deliberate on the Deliberate Church - it will serve you well!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Somme

Ninety-three years ago today, almost a generation of my countrymen, many of whom were probably younger than myself, were wiped out in one action. The action was the Battle of the Somme, as the 36th (Ulster) Division attacked the German lines by the river Ancre and Thiepval Wood.

The men and boys had signed up to the war effort so readily. In the midst of the constitutional crisis of Home Rule for Ireland (a form of devolution), the Ulstermen sought to prove their loyalty to the Crown and thereby avoid Rome Rule. However, they could never have foreseen the disaster that was to befall them as the generals and commanders urged men to run across no mans land to attack the German trenches. Some made it, but many more were cut down in their prime by the established German snipers and artillery. Whatever gains were made came at such a high price, and in the end, had to be given up as they hadn't the strength of numbers of soldiers to retain the hard fought possession.

An Orange banner from Dollingstown's Wickliffe's Invincible Morning Star LOL 62 says it all: Every House Mourned. Such a tremendous sense of loss through the province, given that 5500 men died on that one morning, as well as injuries and other losses throughout the war. It had a profound effect on the unionist community in Ulster (and what later became Northern Ireland), to the extent that church bells will toll the funeral toll this morning, and Union flags will be flown at half mast, then raised to full mast tomorrow in memorial.

Among the fallen, one man stands out - Private William McFadzean. He didn't even survive to see the attack, being blown to bits before it happened, and yet he received a posthumous Victoria Cross.

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.

Today we give thanks to God for the great sacrifice of the Ulster Division, and recall their death so that we can live.