Monday, August 31, 2009

August Review

It's the August Bank Holiday Monday, and also the last day of the month. The appropriate time for another monthly review, don't you think? This is the 38th post of the month, which is less than the 41 posts of August 2005, although is the 321st post of 2009, which is record-breaking in itself. What have we been doing in August on the blog?

My preaching this month was a mixed bag, with sermons from Psalm 129 (audio), 1 John 4, Acts 17 (audio) and Luke 9, and a youth talk from Matthew. As well as the sermons, there was some devotional content from Habakkuk's Howlings and Questionings (which reminds me, I must write more from there) and an old sermon recently digitised.

On the book front, there have been a few more books read, including CS Lewis on Miracles, and Peter Kay's autobiography The Sound of Laughter.

Musically, we've browsed some more iPod contents through K's and L's: Kings and a Queen, La Le, Let, Let, Let and Liars to Lions.

In a touristy kind of month while we have some semblance of summer, I wrote about recent experiences visiting the Clifton Street Cemetery, witnessing an AOH parade for the first time and seeing a bishop about to be burned in Londonderry.

August was also the time for Oxigen, our youth event, and also the time to say goodbye to Mark as he moves off to England next month.

McFlurry's McLinks were back in business, with episodes six and seven pointing to the best of the rest of blogs and websites that caught my eye.

Favourite post this month is on Corporate Worship, Windsor Park style, thinking about mens' ministry and reaching that demographic. While it didn't generate any comments here on the blog, there was some feedback both in person and on Facebook (where the blog is also published via automatic feed). What was your favourite post of the month?

Book Review: Jesus Wants To Save Christians

Rob Bell is one of the leading characters in the emerging church movement. Alongside his growing library of published books, he also produces the Nooma series of DVDs exploring faith issues geared towards the post-modern generation. While the videos are slick, he has come in for some criticism for his unorthodox theology, shying away from speaking of sin and the cross thus far.

While not endorsing him, I found it interesting to read his latest book, Jesus Wants To Save Christians. It's his attempt at biblical theology, writing an overarching grand narrative which all Scripture fits into. Ironic for a post-modern generation which supposedly rejects grand narratives, but there you go. The approach he adopts is that of the New Exodus perspective, which is basically that what God did for the people of Israel coming out of Egypt, he will do again writ large in Jesus - a new exodus from bondage and captivity into the glorious liberty of salvation.

However, the book is also an attempt at providing a manifesto for the church in exile. To explain this statement, he outlines four positions, four locations which, he argues, are the four places the church can find itself in: Egypt, the place of oppression where the cry goes up to God to save; Sinai, the place of liberation and covenant relationship to God; Jerusalem, the place where power is accumulated so that others are oppressed, and Babylon, the place of exile where God consigns disobedient oppressors.

He argues that the church today is in the place of exile, not because of our sin (for example, in the way Martin Luther would have understood the pre-Reformation church when writing On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church) but because of our acquiescence with the Empire, the wealthy materialistic consumerist war machine of the United States. In several places, he rants about the amount of money spent on security measures and weapons, which could be spent on alleviating the needs of the poor.

On this front, it's hard to see whether the book is a Christian one or a political one, and not immediately relevant to those outside the United States. Indeed, given the separation of Church and State in America, it may not even be relevant there.

There are some useful points. At least he deals with the Bible, and has a go at formulating a Bible overview. He critiques the 'Left Behind' rapture ready reading of Revelation which assumes that the book meant nothing for all those generations until the last generation who would be left behind and asks us to pay close attention to the first meaning for the original readers. He also speaks clearly of the Passover, and how it is the foreshadowing of Jesus' sacrifice, including the substitutionary element of the sacrifice (p. 144).

However, there are major sections I would take issue with. First, a small mistake which may have been easily made. There were three disciples on the mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, not two (p. 80). In another place, he controversially tries to claim that Exodus is the first book of the Bible - because it is 'the book in which the central story of redemption begins' (p. 22). Surely the redemption story begins with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12, otherwise why bother with the people of Israel when they're numerous in Egypt?

A more major error, which shows lack of research and understanding of the passage he is quoting (partly because it wouldn't otherwise fit into his schema of the four location approach) is when he says the following about the ministry of Amos the prophet:

Through Amos, God delivers the crushing blow: "Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end."

Amos predicts that the oppressors will be the first to be hauled away to a foreign land. How offensive would this be if you were a leader of Israel living in Jerusalem?

Amaziah the king, a descendant of Solomon, says in response to Amos's (sic) rants, "Get out! ... Don't prophesy anymore ... because this is the king's sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom."

Where to start?

1. Amos is prophesying in Samaria, not Jersualem. Samaria was the captial of (ten tribe) Israel after it had broken away from the kingdom of Judah during the reign of Rehoboam, who was Solomon's son. So, offensive as it would be to hear a word of exile (as it later was through the ministry of Jeremiah, for example) in Jerusalem, this word was not preached in Jersualem.

2. Amaziah is not the king of Jersualem, Judah, Israel, Samaria or anywhere else. There was a King Amaziah (2 Kings 14), but this is not the person Amos was addressing, nor the person who speaks here to Amos. After all, the very text Bell quotes tells us that Amaziah is 'the priest of Bethel' (Amos 7:10).

3. Amaziah (this one, not that one) is therefore not a descendant of Solomon. He's a priest, but not from the priestly family of the Aaronic priesthood, nor is he a Levite. The Israel Samaria sanctuaries were served by non-Levitical priests.

4. The reason Amaziah tells Amos to clear off is because he's seen as a 'foreigner' from Judah. It would be like a southerner prophesying at Stormont - he would be told to clear off... Yet Amos is God's messenger to the fallen rebellious people of Israel.

5. With this episode happening at Samaria and not Jerusalem, Bell's whole scheme seems to flounder. Jersualem was not the only place of luxurious oppression of the poor - Samaria was probably worse as it had the infamous cows of Bashan, rather than Jerusalem!

With such a major misunderstanding of the Scriptures which are used to back up one of his key points, it doesn't look like his handling of the Bible is actually legitimate - could other sections also be questioned?

Another gripe would be his attitude to the Scriptures. Earlier we looked at his claim that Exodus was the first book of the Bible. This seemed to be because the Genesis story was only told later as an introduction to everything else that had existed. So, "This Genesis account [of Cain and Abel] reflects the transition that was occuring in the time and place in which this story was first told." (p. 13). So Cain and Abel were made up to explain societal changes? The story wasn't passed down through their ancestors but merely made up later on? Yet fast forward a few pages, and an imagined Israelite slave's daughter is "being told the Genesis story of how they became slaves." You really can't have it both ways!

I really can't recommend this book, when there are better Bible overviews out there: Vaughan Roberts' God's Big Picture, for one. My advice is to steer clear of Rob Bell and stick to more orthodox books.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sermon: Luke 9: 28-36 Listen To Him!

Who is Jesus? It’s a question that many people are asking. Who is Jesus, and what is he like? For many, while not interested in church or the gospel, there’s still an interest in Jesus. I’m not sure if you saw in the newspaper a few weeks back, but there was a survey conducted, and it reported that the dead person Britons would most like to meet was... Jesus! One third of the people polled picked him.

Now obviously, the bit about him being dead is confusing - after all, he’s alive, but it’s interesting that Jesus appears top of the poll. People are interested in Jesus, but it’s probably a Jesus of their imagination - one who is always nice and pleasant, a ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ who accepts you no matter what and never condemns sin, or excludes people...

People are asking who Jesus is. What is Jesus really like? If you scan back through Luke chapter 9, you’ll find the same question being asked several times. Look at verse 9. Herod, the local ruler has beheaded John the Baptist, but then he hears of Jesus, and he’s perplexed. ‘John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ Who is this Jesus? It’s the same question that Jesus asks of his disciples in verse 18. What do other people say about me? Who do they think I am? And then in verse 20, and what about you? ‘Who do you say that I am?’

Having watched all that Jesus has done - healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storm, fed the five thousand - Peter gets it. ‘The Christ of God’ is his answer. Now, as the disciples have some understanding of who he really is, Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, and in Luke 9:21-22 tells them that he must suffer many things, be rejected, killed, and raised on the third day. He then calls for his disciples to take up their cross to follow him.

Jesus is the Christ, but not as they can yet fully understand. In Matthew’s gospel, you remember Peter taking Jesus aside and trying to persuade him that this won’t happen to him? In order for the disciples to more clearly understand who Jesus is, and what he must go through, about a week later, we’re told, Jesus takes his inner circle, Peter and John and James up a mountain to pray.

As they pray (and I’m grateful that Luke includes the detail that the disciples fell asleep as they prayed), Jesus’ face is altered - as the other gospels helpfully add - his face shines like the sun, and his clothing becomes dazzling white. Jesus shines with the brightness of his unshielded glory. Up to now, the disciples had seen glimpses of his glory in his miracles and teaching, but here (when they awake) the three disciples see Jesus for who he really is, in his glory.

More than that, Jesus is joined by two others - Old Testament saints from long ago - Moses and Elijah, who also appear in glory. What are they doing there? Well, we’re told that they are talking with Jesus, and speaking of his departure, which he is to accomplish at Jerusalem. That word departure is more accurately ‘exodus’ - the exodus he is about to accomplish.

There are no prizes for guessing what this exodus is - just before, Jesus had spoken of his suffering, rejection and death - and it’s through this substitutionary death that he will free his people from a greater slavery than that of Moses and the people of Israel coming out of Egypt at Passover. Moses and Elijah, two great figures from the Old Testament are there to speak with Jesus and encourage him as he prepares for the cross.

The disciples see Jesus’ glory - as Peter writes in his second letter ‘we were eye-witnesses of his majesty’ (2 Peter 1:16). Peter, years later, recalls seeing the glory of Jesus unveiled, his face shining, and says ‘we were eye-witnesses of his majesty.’

Yet there’s more to it than that. As well as seeing his glory, they hear the voice from the cloud, the voice of God the Father. As well as eye-witnesses, they are ear-witnesses too! And what does the voice say? “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

Who is Jesus? ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One’ (or as the footnote suggests, ‘my Beloved’). Peter was right when he said that Jesus was the Christ, God affirms his verdict, but reveals Jesus to be more than just the Christ. Jesus is God’s Son - an Old Testament category where the King of Israel was said to be God’s Son, only Jesus is how much more to Son of God - he is also ‘God’s Chosen One’ - with the link to the prophecies of Isaiah about ‘my Servant’, the one who would suffer and die for the people.

Who is Jesus? As we come to the passage, and see what happened, we’re confronted with the overwhelming evidence that Jesus is who he says he is - the Son of God, ratified and affirmed by God the Father. Is this how we see Jesus? Do we recognise him as the Son of God, appeared in flesh and displaying his glory?

You see, we sometimes only ever think of Jesus as a man - a superman, maybe, but still just a man. He becomes our pal, our mate, someone to hang out with, who’s fun for a while. He can do some tricks and can help us out of sticky situations, but that’s it. Totally human, just one of us.

But Luke won’t let us accept this as the whole thing. Who is Jesus? The Son of God, full of glory, the one who will die for the sake of his people, God’s Chosen One, the Servant, the King. Have we lost sight of Jesus’ glory and otherness? Do you need to repent of thinking far less of Jesus than he deserves and demands? We can sometimes get lax over the summer, and drift - let’s refocus on Jesus as we begin the autumn term, and see the Lord Jesus Christ for who he really is. He demands our devotion and service, not just our admiration and some fuzzy feelings.

Seeing Jesus as he is, is the first thing, but it’s not the only thing that Luke tells us here. Precisely because Jesus is who he says he is, the Son of God, the Chosen One, a response is needed. It’s not just Jesus is God’s Son, now isn’t that nice to know, but keep on with how things are...

What does the voice say? “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” Listen to him! Hear what he says and obey.

In the immediate context, the disciples were being told to hear and receive the word that Jesus had spoken about his imminent death on the cross. Over in Matthew’s Gospel, Peter tried to talk Jesus out of it. Here, even though he doesn’t quite know what he’s saying, he wants to build tents, booths, tabernacles for Jesus and Moses and Elijah - dwelling places for them to stay and to enjoy this experience of being with them.

He misses the point - Moses and Elijah are returning to glory, to heaven, and Jesus must go down the mountain and begin on the way to Jersualem, the way of the cross. Listen to him, when he declares that the cross is the way of God. For many today in the church, the cross is minimised or re-interpreted or explained away, rather than being celebrated as God’s rescue plan, his exodus to save sinners from hell! Listen to Jesus as he declares the salvation plan that he accomplishes.

More than that, Listen to Jesus, because the Old Testament bears witness to him. That’s why Moses and Elijah are with him on the mountain. Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah the prophets, together bear witness to the exodus, the salvation that Jesus will accomplish.

Remember later on, after the resurrection, Jesus walks with the two disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus? They have seen Jesus die, and don’t believe or understand the reports that he is alive, and trudge home. What is it Jesus says? ‘“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’ (Luke 24:25-27).

The Old Testament is all about Jesus, and points to his death and resurrection and the salvation he offers. As Moses declared in Deuteronomy 18, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers - it is to him you shall listen.’ (Deut 18:15).

Further, Jesus supersedes the Old Testament - as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us: ‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2). Notice that the voice of God does not say ‘listen to me’ but listen to him - Jesus is the voice of God, the word of God, and what he says is what God says. Listen to him.

So how is your listening? Have you suffered some summer drift? Or perhaps you’ve never listened to Jesus before and don’t know how to begin. The Fellowship Groups are a good way to listen to Jesus as we study God’s word together. Or maybe you’ll start with Bible reading notes - speak to Clive. Or check out the bookstall.

As we see Jesus for who he is, so we will want to listen to him, and in listening to obey.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 30th August 2009.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Pet God?

Don Carson on the Jews' demand for a sign when Jesus cleanses the temple in John 2:

A sign that would satisfy them, presumably some sort of miraculous display performed on demand, would have signalled the domestication of God. That sort of 'God' does powerful stunts to maintain allegiance, and that kind of allegiance is not worth having.

Reminds me of the CS Lewis line about Aslan not being a Tame Lion.

Black Saturday

It's the last major parade of the summer marching season today- Black Saturday or the Last Saturday in August. Sir Knights from Royal Black Preceptories from across Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic will gather to parade at six county demonstrations. County Antrim are parading in Lisburn, County Londonderry are in Castlerock, Armagh and East Tyrone will gather in Killylea, West Tyrone are in Castlederg, County Down are going to the small village of Crossgar in the Lecale District, and Belfast Blackmen are on their way to Ballymena. (County Fermanagh hold their RBP parade on the same day as Derry Day to commemorate the Battle of Newtownbutler won by the Enniskillen men at roughly the same time as the boom was broken by the Mountjoy on Lough Foyle to lift the siege of Derry.)

A couple of weeks back we heard the Apprentice Boys leaving from Tullycarnet, and this morning at 7.30 there was the sound of drums as the East Belfast RBP set off from the Old Dundonald Road. An early start as they move to Ballymacarrett Orange Hall then off to the trains for Ballymena (passing the Short Strand on the way).

I'll not be at the parades today as we have lots of stuff to be getting on with, but no doubt someone will have photos on Flickr later on.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Liars to Lions

Another L batch of songs from the Whats on your iPod series that runs most Fridays...

Liars' Bar - The Beautiful South
Libertango - Bond
The Life of Riley - The Lightning Seeds
Lift Up Your Heads O Ye Gates - Handel's Messiah
Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Gates Of Brass - Hymnmakers
Light of Foot - Newtownards Melody Flute Band
Light of the World - Matt Redman
Light of the World - Robin Mark
Like the Starlight - New Irish Hymns
Lillibulero - Newtownards Melody Flute Band
Lion of Judah - Summer Madness
The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) - The Tokens

The last two songs are my favourite two from this batch - could I even say I like The Lion Sleeps Tonight best of all? What's your favourite song from the list?

Sermon Notes

The average Christian, assuming that they attend one service each Sunday, will listen to about 50 sermons per year. More if they attend twice on a Sunday, and further if they also attend a midweek. Over the course of ten years, that's at least 500 sermons. But what happens to those sermons when they've been preached? How much does the congregation go away with? In a week's time, how much of the sermon will the average Christian remember? Or a month's time? Or a year's time? Perhaps one key point, but with the one key point from each of the sermons building up, things can be forgotten.

So how do we retain the material we're learning from God's word? How do we access the gleanings from God's word which may come in useful when we face a particular crisis or return to the Bible passage again? In this post we'll think of a couple of ways of taking sermon notes.

First up, and quite popular, is the Moleskine. Hardback notebooks with the elastic retainer and inside pocket, these are a luxurious way to keep sermon notes safe for a long time. The books are durable, and come in a range of options - unlined, lined, squared, leaving the note-taker free to use the page as you want. With plenty of pages, there's lots of space for many sermon notes, and it's fairly light to carry to church and back. Well recommended.

However, one of the issues with a Moleskine, or indeed any notebook, is the issue of accessibility. Imagine you're looking for a quote that you heard in a sermon maybe three or four months ago. You know it was on a particular passage, but you have to go hunting back through the pages until you find it. Even more complicated if you're onto your second or third book and have to search through several to find what you're after.

Further, if you're looking for notes from a particular passage, unless you've used some sort of indexing system on the back page, (and even then), it will take a bit of time to find the notes. The book won't be in Bible-book order, just in date order.

Here's another solution, and one which I've used for about four years now:

The Index Card system. Easy to begin, easy to use, and profitable for long term re-use of sermon notes.

My preference is for 6x4 inch cards, which give plenty of space for notes from a twenty to twenty-five minute sermon, using both sides. Along the top, I record the date, place, preacher, and Bible passage. It's easy to slip a card into my Bible when going to church, and always good to have a couple of spare ones already inside in case you forget!

The cards can then be stored in an index card box, in whatever way you want - I use Bible book order, so that they're easy to access again when returning to a passage. You could start up with a pack of cards and an index box for less than £10, and they'll stand you in good stead for a long time.

What ways do you store sermon notes? In another posting sometime soon I'll have a think about what to write as we take notes during sermons...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Empire

I was in the Empire last night for the first time ever. We were down in the Basement Bar for the jazz night for my final farewell with Mark. It seems that Tuesday jazz was a somewhat regular feature of his week and I had heard so much about it that I had to try it once before he moves off to London.

There seemed to be a huge crowd there and it took us a couple of minutes to find a table. Once we did, the music was good and relaxing, although possibly slightly too loud for me. It's also probably a little late, seeing as the music only kicks off at around 11pm. We called it a night about 12.45am, after the band had started their second set of modern songs from bands like The Killers, and Kings of Leon.

An added bonus was that I saw two girls from out old YF days back in Dromore. They were out as part of an engagement party and seemed to have a good evening.

Perhaps the most interesting thing though, was the fact that the Empire is an old Presbyterian Church building that has been restored to become a music venue. Belfast has quite a lot of old closed down churches, so it's good to see at least one being used for some purpose, although sad that what was once a building for the glory of God and the proclamation of his word is now used for drinking and music. So how can we use the old church buildings for the church rather than selling them to the world?

Imagine what could have been done if that was still a mission centre in the heart of Belfast's Botanic Avenue with the thousands of students who pass by on a daily basis. What buildings are now at riskthat we could use for gospel purposes in new and imaginative ways?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bad Not Big

Reading slowly through Don Carson's commentary on The Gospel According To John, and loved this quote which I've heard recited many times:

When John tells us that God loves the world, far from being an endorsement of the world, it is a testimony to the character of God. God's love is to be admired not because the world is so big but because the world is so bad.

Humbling truth which leads us to praise!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gospel Solos or Synthesis?

I've been doing my initial prep on the passage for next Sunday's sermon, which is Luke 9: 28-36, the Transfiguration. And as I've been reading it, I've been thinking through the words that Luke uses, seeing how it all fits together. At the same time, as I compare the other gospels, I'm realising again that while Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the same story, they each have their own particular emphases. Each one includes unique details or facts that the others omit.

It's what is referred to by academics as the 'Synoptic Problem'. The Synoptic Problem looks at how the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are written, and asks were they copying each other? Which was the original account the others used, and what other sources did the authors use to compile their story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

At the initial sermon prep stage, it can be helpful to see how the gospels vary, and how the details together give us a fuller picture of what happened. So, for example, in the Transfiguration accounts, Matthew records that Jesus' face shone like the sun (17:2), and that Jesus touched the disciples and told them to "Rise, and have no fear" when they heard the voice of God (17:7). Mark and Luke don't tell us this. Similarly, Mark's unique detail is that Jesus' clothes became 'intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them' (9:3). Matthew and Luke just say that his clothing was dazzling white, white as light. So also, Luke gives us a detail about what Jesus talked about with Moses and Elijah - 'his departure (footnote: his exodus), which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.' (9:31)

The composite images, as well as agreeing on so much, when put together, can help us see the bigger picture, as they provide these unique details. But the question I'm wondering today is this: when I preach on Sunday, do I preach the synthesis of the three gospel accounts together, making it into one all-encompassing narrative, or do I preach Luke's account only, sticking to his text, and hearing what he says?


It's understandable for us to want to smooth out the stories and make it easy with one super-narrative, just one great gospel account. After all, why would we really need three Synoptic gospels, and another one to boot, when they're just telling us the same story? Why do we need four (at times fairly) repetitive stories about Jesus' life? Why not just get one combined gospel story which is easier to handle than the three or four individual accounts?

That way, when preaching from one passage, we can dip into the others and then we'll only have to ever preach one series through the gospels catching everything along the way...


I think the better way to go is to concentrate on the text of Luke's gospel account, to focus on hearing him, and what he is saying, rather than the cover-all approach. Each gospel writer has particular concerns and emphases - these should be seen as the strengths, not the weaknesses of their account. Strengths, because they become the basis for seeing what the author is purposing as he includes the story in this particular way as he writes the particular details.

The work of exegesis - out of the text - calls for us to listen to the text, in its fullness, not quickly abandoning the text for the quirky details found in the other gospels. While this is undoubtedly harder, it is ultimately more rewarding, as we come to appreciate the individual gospels in their own right, as well as their authors, as they together but separately and distinctly testify to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Saviour.

Now back to Luke!

McFlurry's McLinks (7)

Another batch of links for you to peruse from the best of my recent online reading.

Alan in Belfast, following Tech Camp, offers some suggestions for Church Technology.

Unashamed Workman carries a review (by Phil Dunn) of Listen Up by Christopher Ash.

Adrian Warnock warns pastors not to try to marry the church, she's already taken...

Phil Whittall asks about American Christians being obsessed with dead Brits, and Brits being obsessed with living Americans, which Dave Bish also discussed.

Bish also writes on the melodic line.

As bloggers recalled the start of the Troubles 40 years ago, Malachi O'Doherty warns against accepting the myths of the period.

Great photo this time comes from Daniel Owen, with a model-looking Cork from the top of St Anne's Shandon.

And for a laugh, and to give another version of the Bohemian Rhapsody, why not try the Sanctuarian Rhapsody:

"I'm just a pastor, nobody loves me!
He's just a pastor, called to the ministry,
Preaching his sermons for eternity!"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

One of the worst things about pastoral ministry is when the time comes to say goodbye, either when friends and colleagues are moving on, or when you're doing the moving yourself. Just think of Paul's tearful goodbye to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.

Sadly, today is one of those days, when St Elizabeth's says 'so long, farewell' to our Ministry Apprentice, Mark Smith, after almost three years of service in the parish.

His final word will come later on, when he preaches at the evening service, but this afternoon, after the morning service we enjoyed a bring and share lunch together in the hall. As part of the proceedings, Tim asked us to suggest words to describe Mark using the letters of his name: M A R K. We also heard from Clive West, who encouraged Mark to stay close to Jesus, stay close to his word, and stay close to people both through his three years in college, and also as he moves into ministry afterwards. SET (St Elizabeth's Teens) performed a poem written by Stewart Balmer.

I've enjoyed this past year, in getting to know Mark while serving alongside him in Dundonald, and will miss his wit, banter, and all the rest. Our prayers will be with him as he moves across, and hopefully I'll get a wee trip to London to see him before too long!

I've uploaded some photos from the lunch on Facebook, if you want to have a look.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Buried Treasure

What's your greatest treasure? What is it you value above all else?

Treasure brings to mind the image of pirates and gold coins. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus talks about buried treasure, treasure hidden in a field. A man is digging, and comes across the treasure lying hidden. There were no banks or safes then. Valuable things were buried as it was the safest place for them. But without a treasure map where X marks the spot, sometimes the treasure could be forgotten.

So when the man finds the treasure, he knows what he has found. He sees the value of the treasure and knows he wants it! He quickly hides the treasure again and goes to buy the field. An unexpected find which brings joy.

This week, the Arctic Monkeys released a new record, being sold through Oxfam stores in the UK. Within two of the records, there are golden tickets- free tickets for the Reading and Leeds Festival. Another 40 are signed by the band. An unexpected find which would bring great joy to fans of the band.

Or consider the joy of Charlie Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Four of the five tickets have been found that gain entry for a guided tour of the factory. From a poor family, he finds some money and buys a bar of candy which contains the final ticket. He quickly runs home to tell his parents and grandparents, and one of his grandfathers, who has been in bed permanently for the past ten or more years, leaps out of bed and begins to dance around - joy at the finding of a great treasure!

The treasure is more precious, more valuable than all he has, so he goes to sell everything he has to buy the field and gain the treasure.

While the treasure was found unexpectedly, the second story Jesus tells is of a pearl merchant, a man who knows what he is after. On finding the pearl of great price, the perfect, exquisite, loveliest pearl in all the world, he sells all he has (including his other pearls in the collection) in order to have this perfect pearl. Nothing else matters; nothing else compares to this one.

But we're not talking about pearls and treasures. Jesus didn't just tell these stories for the sake of warning us that you might find buried treasure. So what are they all about? Well, each story begins 'The Kingdom of Heaven is like...' The stories are all about Jesus and his Kingdom.

Whether we are searching earnestly for the pearl of great price, by sampling lots of other pearls first before finding that Jesus is beyond compare when set beside other religions and other ways to find satisfaction; or if we are not expecting to encounter Jesus at all - he finds us rather than us finding him - when we do encounter Jesus, we realise that he is the pearl, Jesus is the treasure.

Why? Because he loved us, gave himself for us, died for us. That's why he is beyond compare, and that's why we know that Jesus is so precious, that nothing else matters compared to knowing him.

This is an abbreviated version of a talk given at Oxigen in St Elizabeth's Halls on Friday 21st August. Matthew 13: 44-46

Friday, August 21, 2009

Let, Let, Let

With a full house of lettings this week in 'what's on your iPod?' here we go:

Let Every Voice - Paul Oakley
Let Everything That Has Breath - Matt Redman
Let Everything That Has Breath - Robin Mark
Let Go With The Flow - The Beautiful South
Let It Rain - Summer Madness
Let It Rock - Kevin Rudolf
Let Love Speak Up Itself - The Beautiful South
Let Me Bleed - Booley
Let My Words Be Few - Matt Redman
Let Your Name Be Glorified - Eoghan Heaslip
Let's Dance - Five
Let's Push Things Forward - The Streets

Favourite in this batch is probably Let My Words Be Few - based on Ecclesiastes 5.


Θχigeπ is the Youth Mission near the end of August each year in Dundonald, in partnership between Dundonald Presbyterian and St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald. Formerly known as The Passion, it went through a name and image change a few years back, to be called Oxigen, using some Greek letters to make up the name. Whyso? Well, Within Θχigeπ, we have the Trinity - Θ Theta, the first letter of Theos (God); χ Chi, the first letter of Christos (Christ); and π Pi, the first letter of Pneuma (Spirit).

Last night we kicked off for the three night event, with the usual mix of Wii, games, coffee bar, tuck shop, football tournament, table tennis, and talk. Tim spoke last night on 'Live as servants of God' from 1 Peter 2.

Tonight we've got some archery over in the Presby halls, while the normal events will be on as usual in the Burton Hall. I'm speaking later on Buried Treasure (Matthew 13), and hopefully with some multimedia clips from films etc...

Θχigeπ continues tomorrow night, when Mark will be speaking after the BBQ, and we also get to meet and interview the new Youth Leader in St Elizabeth's, Johnny Beare, who will take up his new role at the start of September.

Θχigeπ is open to all 11-18s and runs from 7.30 to 10pm each night. If you're outside the age range, or outside Dundonald, then please be praying for the 40-50 young people we had last night and hopefully will continue to see and impact with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Gospel According To Peter Kay

I've recently finished Peter Kay's autobiography 'The Sound of Laughter', and found it very funny. Some laugh out loud moments, which is bad enough at home on your own, but when you're in a public place is just downright embarrassing!

Peter Kay is a funny man, and at the tender age of 33, had written his autobiography charting his life to date, and the hilarious happenings from his school days, a multitude of part time jobs, and his move into stand up comedy, finishing off with what may have been the biggest week of his life - winning a comedy competition, meeting his wife-to-be and (eventually) passing his driving test.

Kay's comedy is simple life observation stuff, from the things his mum will come out with, to the hijinks of friends, colleagues, classmates and lecturers. There are lots of laughs in the 271 pages, although sometimes his language is a bit choice with some rudeness.

In an interesting section, Kay recounts his days as an altar boy in the local Catholic Church in Bolton, and his schooling at the hands of nuns and real people as well. When writing about sex education (or the lack of), he remembers the nuns showing an anti-abortion slideshow and plastic replica of an aborted foetus, which he says was 'completely out of order for subjecting us to that... they never gave us both sides of the story.'

It leads him to the conclusion that:

It made me realise how dangerous Catholicism could be. When I was at school I was always told that if I was bad God would pubish me and in the same breath I was told that God would forgive me for my sins whatever they were. It was a bit like being slapped one minute and getting a big cuddle the next. Catholicism sure knew how to mess with a child's head...

Over the years I've come to the conclusion that Catholicism is rife with hypocrisy and confusion. It's preyed on people like myself while people like myself were praying.

He then comes on to discussing Jesus, again with interesting thoughts:

I also belueve that a man called Jesus did walk the earth at one time but I don't think he was the superhero that the bible makes him out to be. Could he really turn water into wine? Did he raise people from the dead? Well if David Blaine can't survive underwater in a tank for seven days without needing medical attention, then I very much doubt it. I think Jesus was just an ordinary person like me and you (well, I'm comparing you with myself in the hope you're not a mentalist). I believe that Jesus spoke about peace, he spoke about turning love into hate (sic), tears into laughter, war into peace and - hold on a minute, this is Johnny Mathis. Jesus' teachings spread and quickly he built up a passionate following. People hung on to his every word, some would even walk for miles just to catch a glimpse of him... Ultimately Jesus' success bred contempt, people of power weren't fond of this hip and trendy preacher and before you could say 'Happy Days' Jesus was beaten, whipped, nailed to a cross and crucified. They didn't understand him, so they murdered him, in their ignorance and fear.

But Jesus had the last laugh. Apparently two days later on Easter Sunday he came back from the dead. Well, he'd have been daft not to with all those chocolate eggs knocking around.

After a discussion of Judas, he comes to the conclusion of his religious thought:

The reason I'm telling you all this is that basically I believe in the same principles as Jesus, or, as they've now become known in the last few paragraphs, 'The Johnny Mathis Principles'. And these fundamental teachings are at the core of most religions.

Basically we should try to follow the fundamental rules that were laid out for us in the Ten Commandments (obviously use your own judgement when coveting your neighbour's ox). Treat others like you would like to be treated (that obviously excludes people like Gary Glitter). And try to stand up for old people on public transport every once in a while (no mater how badly they smell of [wee] and biscuits). If we all did this then I'm confident that the world will be a better place for all of us.

So is this really what it's all about then? Being nice to other people and making the world a better place? Sadly it seems that Peter misses the point of Christianity, which is certainly not a religion like all the others.

To insist the Ten Commandments are just about doing to others what you would have them do to you ignores the first four - our duty to God, serving him only, not creating idols or images, not taking his name in vain, and keeping a Sabbath. If religion is just about how we treat other people, then we can do without those first four commandments.

Christianity is not a religion, but rather a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has died for our sins to bring us back into relationship with God. The world may be a better place as Christians live out their faith in practical ways, but that's not the whole purpose. Rather, we look forward to new heavens and a new earth, made perfect, paradise restored. These are the principles that Jesus believed in, because they were all about Jesus, who he is and what he has done - yet they're sadly absent from Peter Kay's religious worldview. If Jesus is just a man, then not even his resurrection has a purpose. The miracles, the crucifixion, and the resurrection all hang together, and all have a purpose only because Jesus is God's Son, our Saviour.

Serving on the altar won't get you to heaven, nor even get a Fast track entry like at Alton Towers, as he later hopes. The only way to be sure of heaven is faith in Jesus. Nothing else is good enough, because we aren't good enough. Not even our funniest jokes, or a shiny autobiography. Just Jesus.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sermon Audio: Acts 17: 1-15

Here's the sermon mp3 from A Tale of Two Cities preached last Sunday morning in St Elizabeth's, Dundonald.

Blast From The Past: Sermon: Hebrews 10:19-25

Previously I've blogged old sermons from when I was just starting out preaching. This week I came across five old notebooks and in one of them was this extant sermon, fully handwritten, from a service led by SNYF (Sunday Night Youth Fellowship) in Dromore Cathedral, probably in April 2004.

What was more interesting was that it was a sermon on Hebrews, which is the book I'm currently working on for Fellowship Group and One-to-One Bible studies for the autumn term. Here it is:

This morning, the theme of our service is the church fmaily. By looking primarily at the first reading, from Hebrews, we will see some of the reasons for doing or being church, and the benefits that can come from it. There's a book out called 'Why Bother With Church?' which suggests that 1 million people left church in the 1990s, which is frightening reading.

The passage we're looking at is what I call the 'Let Us' passage. Now, we're not talking about the green thing you put in salads and sandwiches (lettuce), but about the instructions the writer gives us, when five times he says 'Let us.'

The first part of the passage is a summary of the previous chapters teaching on what Christ achieved for us, and how he fulfilled and exceeded the Jewish system of sacrifice. The most holy place was the 'Holy of Holies' in the Jewish Temple, the total presence of God's holiness, and as such, was out of bounds to most people. Only the chief priest, on one day of the year could enter that place, and only by sacrifices. But because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, the new and living way was made for us. Indeed, as Jesus gave up his spirit, 'At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom' (Matthew 27:51). Jesus, because he was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), has opened the way for us into the most holy place by his blood.

It is because of this, and only this, that we can therefore draw near to God, and this only through faith. Being able (confidently) to draw near to God (not just once a year as the High Priest did, but all the time) is an immense privilege, but as with anything, privileges bring responsibilities.

We must prepare ourselves spiritually to meet with God, 'having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.' This sprinkling and washing refers to the inward and outward parts of coming to faith. Inwardly, our hearts are sprinkled (with Jesus' blood), to cleanse, just as the Israelites were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice when the Old Covenant was confirmed (Exodus 24:8). The outward washing refers to baptism. This inner and outer cleansing is also referred to in Psalm 24: 'Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.' (Psalm 24:3-4). As Wiersbe comments, 'The New Testament Christian must come to God with a pure heart and a clean conscience. Fellowship with God demands purity.'

The second 'Let us' follows on from the first. The writer says 'Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.' Being in the holy presence of God, by faith, we should next hold unswervingly, doggedly, firmly, to the hope we profess, that is, the hope that arises from our faith. Not that our hope arisees from having faith as such, in and of itself, but that our hope arises from who we have the faith in.

The first readers of the Epistle were Jews who had become Christians. Some were tempted to go back to Judaism, to the old ways, rather than remaining as Christians. Maybe we, sometimes, can be tempted to go back to our previous life, and to forget about our faith. But the writer urges them and us to hold on to the hope we profess (that is, that Jesus gives us eternal life, and is coming back to take us to glory with him) - because of who our faith is in, and the hope that comes from him. Why? Because he who promised is faithful.

Maybe you're thinking to yourself - how does this relate to the church family? The first two 'Let us' directions relate to us as individuals. We can only be saved by having a personal faith in Christ - as has been said, God only has children, not grandchildren. But it is because of the first two that the reason for the church emerges in the last three. As we look at these three, we will consider the following: Why do we come to church? Why do we need church? Is it not possible to be a Christian without belonging to the church?

For the writer to the Hebrews (as well as the other New Testament writers), church is not an optional extra for a believer. Christianity is not a solo sport, nor a spectator sport. While the first two 'Let us' points must be applied individually, they affect others, through the next three 'Let us' directions. Allow me to read them again...

By faith, we become a member of the body of Christ, the church. Sometimes it can be so easy to fous on our own relationship with God (the vertical relationship) that we forget about, or neglect the horizontal relationship with other believers. A Christian is not left on their own in the world against sin, the world, and the devil. God created the church, the ecclesia (called out people) to be His people, the body of Christ who are in battle together.

But why do we need the church, or in other words, why do we need other people? Surely if being a Christian is about our relationship with God, why should we come together? Surely we can read our Bibles and pray at home, on our own, so why bother coming together?

The reason we meet together is that meeting together is essential for our strength and for our Christian faith. Church is essential because it is, or should be, the place of encouragement and support, as we spur one another on towards love and good deeds.

This idea of encouragement (by encouraging one another) was also evident in the second drama, based on 1 Corinthians 12. 'If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.' Here we see the church in action, supporting one another. This interdependence, or every helping, supporting, encouraing each other is a key part of SNYF's vision, and that of the church, as expressed in Romans 1:12 'that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.'

One thing is immediately clear - that we shouldn't come to church to see what we can get out of it for ourselves, as some people may grumble 'it's boring' or whatever. But, as Wiersbe points out, 'The emphasis here is not on what a believer gets from the assembly, but rather on what he can contribute to the assembly.' Similarly, as Paul points out, 'Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good' - or in other words, a spiritual gift isn't for the benefit of the individual only, or at all, but for what it adds to everyone else.

This encouragement, and the contributing to others is where the strength and importance of the church lies, and why the writer says, 'Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.' An image of this meeting together and the support that comes through this is that of a coal fire. I know this might be hard for some people, who only have central heating, but picture a coal fire. The fire burns well, with a lot of coal on the fire. Together, the pieces keep the fire burning. But imagine you lift one piece out (with tongs) and set it on the fireplace by itself. The heat would go out of that piece, and the burning would stop. In just the same way, we can lose our heat if we're separated from the encouragement and support of the church. It might be possible for someone to be a Christian on their own, but it is much harder.

This is all fine in theory, but may seem a bit abstract, cut off from reality. How would it work in practice? Does it happen?

One major element is that everyone has a part to play, in encouraging those around them. And for this to happen, there needs to be some interaction, some relationship between church members. Now I'm not recommending you all start talking to those around you right now, or in the middle of the prayers, but maybe before or after the formal service. It can be as simple as asking someone else how they are keeping, and listening for a reply, or letting them know quietly that you are praying for them. But support and encouragement doesn't only happen in this building on a Sunday. Wherever two or three gather in Jesus' name, there the church is gathered. This could be in one of the Fellowship groups, the Missing Link group, SNYF, Evergreens, Mothers Union, PATCH, Piecemakers, the Soup Lunch...

I know I said earlier that you should seek to give and not see what you can get from the assembly, but the plain truth is that as everyone encourages each other, everyone also benefits. There is something very special in being involved in a group where the members look out for each other - especially int he hard times, that you are sure others are thinking about you, praying for you, adn rallying round. And if this can happen in a small group, think of the impact if the 200 of us were to be fully committed to it! And remember, it isn't rocket science - it is simple everyday things yet they revolutionise the church, and can have those on the outside wanting to know what's different about us.

Because, on a very practical level, what happens in church on a Sunday should make an impact on the rest of the week - how we are on a Monday. Maybe you're the only Christian in your office or department or factory or class. The encouragement and support of being with other believers in church becomes even more vital when it comes to witnessing by the way you live your life.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Burning the Bishop

Anglican Bishops in the past were no strangers to being burnt in the flames. The Oxford Martyr Bishops Latimer and Ridley, as well as Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (before he took up blogging) all suffered for their faith. Yet when I was up in Londonderry on Saturday, I noticed another Protestant Bishop about to be burned.

Don't worry, the present Bishop of Derry and Raphoe (Ken Good) hadn't been condemned for heresy. Rather, it was a portrait of one of his predecessors, Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol. His portrait sat at the bottom of the bonfire on Lecky Road, near the Brandywell Flyover, and was featured alongside Union Flags, Ulster Flags, Rangers flags and scarf, Irish Football Association flag, and a homemade picture of a PSNI Landrover.

Bogside Bonfire

The bonfire has already attracted attention over at Slugger O'Toole, but I want to focus specifically on the Lord Bishop of Derry who was to meet the flames on Assumption Day, 15th August, and ask why they were going to burn him.

Is it because, in copying Loyalist tradition with their parades and bonfires, that they needed someone in episcopal robes in a tit for tat response to the burning of effigies of the Pope on the Eleventh Night (if indeed that still happens)?

Was it because they don't like the Mussenden Temple, which Bishop Hervey erected in the grounds of his palace at Downhill?

Was it to express their hatred of all things Protestant in the city, and his was the only episcopal portrait they could find? If this is the case, then they're terribly wrong in their understanding of Irish history, and particularly of Earl-Bishop Hervey. He was hardly the bastion of Protestant supremacy the Republicans may think him to be.

Burning the Bishop?

I haven't got all my history books arranged as I would like them due to small study space on few bookshelves, so my 'History of Ulster' by Jonathan Bardon must be in a box under the spare bed or in a cupboard somewhere. But even a quick Google search on Hervey reveals him to be quite liberal, indeed tolerant of other religious groups in Ireland.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, says this about him:

he was active and philanthropic . While not neglecting his luxurious personal tastes he spent large sums of money on making roads and assisting agriculture, and his munificence was shared by the city of Londonderry . He built splendid residences at Downhill and Ballyscullion, which he adorned with rare works of art . As a bishop, Hervey was industrious and vigilant; he favoured complete religious equality, and was opposed to the system of tithes . In December 1779 he became earl of Bristol, and in spite of his brother's will succeeded to a considerable property . Having again passed some time in Italy, he returned to Ireland and in 1782 threw himself ardently into the Irish volunteer movement, quickly attaining a prominent position among the volunteers, and in great state attending the convention held in Dublin in November 1783 . Carried away by his position and his popularity he talked loudly of rebellion, and his violent language led the government to contemplate his arrest . Subsequently he took no part in politics, spending his later years mainly on the continent of Europe .

The article has been rehashed on Wikipedia, and from it, we can see that the city prospered under Hervey's bishopric, but more importantly, that Hervey was involved in the Volunteers, the forerunners of the United Irishmen, whose vision was to unite Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter together as Irishmen. It was this group which later staged the 1798 Rebellion against the government (which Hervey loudly talk about). So far from Hervey being someone to revile as a British agitator and lord, the (dissident?) republicans in Derry should be finding a friend in Frederick Augustus Hervey.

So why were they burning him? Perhaps we'll never know, unless one of their apologists would like to share their reasons. But one thing is clear - Northern Ireland and Irish history is never simple, and never straightforward!

EDIT: This story made it onto BBC Newsline.

Book Review: Miracles

On approaching this book by CS Lewis, I was expecting a thorough discussion of the miracles in the Bible, perhaps even a devotional Bible study. Well, the book is thorough, but not quite in the way I was expecting. What Lewis does is write a book addressed to secular man, arguing deep philosophy to prepare him to examine the biblical accounts of the miracles themselves, rather than discussing them per se.

Given that the book was initially published in 1947, it is written for its time, with the philosophical and social circumstances of the post-war period, and the particular intellectual landscape of the era. As such, some of the arguments now seem to be redundant, or maybe just archaic. It was due to these deep arguments that I sometimes found the book hard going, difficult to read, and hard to keep up with. Maybe it's just that I'm very dense!

Despite this, it was still an interesting read with some great rhetorical flashes from the genius wit of the author of the Chronicles of Narnia. Arguing for the importance of getting the philosophical groundwork right, Lewis declares that 'what we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.' As he initially raises the subject of miracles (with his definition: 'an interference with Nature by a supernatural power'), he introduces the two types of people in the world - Naturalists and Supernaturalists. Naturalists believe that Nature is all that exists, whereas Supernaturalists believe that there is something (or Someone) beyond Nature, outside Nature, existing of its own accord.

Through a long philosophical discussion, he eventually argues that Nature cannot be all that exists, because Reason (our minds) can influence Nature (our bodies), so therefore something supernatural exists beyond Nature. Our Reason cannot be said to have evolved from non-rational causes, because otherwise we could not reason, it just would not be entirely logical. Rather, our consciousness must have come from the great Supernatural One, God who is beyond Nature.

As he moves on to think more specifically about miracles, he raises a red herring sometimes promoted - that people in Bible times accepted the reports of miracles because they didn't know about the Laws of Nature. With great wit, he exposes this for the folly it is, by asking if Saint Joseph really didn't know how babies were produced. After all, this is exactly why he was going to 'repudiate her.'

In thinking further about the Laws of Nature, he helpfully points out that they don't cause events to happen; they only describe what the normal pattern is for events - such as the law of gravity etc. Miracles, while not fitting into the laws of nature, being themselves a disturbance of the laws, feed new events into the pattern which is then assumed and used by Nature herself. His final comment on Nature is particularly apt:

'only Supernaturalists really see Nature (for who she is, not our Creator and the whole show, but just a created being)... Offer her neither worship nor contempt... she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed.'

Finally coming on to his subject proper, Lewis asserts that other religions don't really do miracles in the way that Christianity depends on them. In protesting about a naturalistic reductionistic Christianity, he states that 'Christianity is precisely the story of a great Miracle. A naturalistic Christianity leaves out all that is specifically Christian.' This great Miracle, the Grand Miracle is, for Lewis, the incarnation, and 'every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.'

For Lewis, the miracles in the New Testament * are either lies, legends, or history, and it is up to the reader to decide. But if they are merely lies or legends, then the entire credibility of Christianity is at stake - 'Christianity is simply false.'

In a helpful discussion, he asks about the similarities between the 'Corn King' - the god of agriculture, and Jesus - dying and rising. Did Christianity simply take some earlier religious myths and symbols to create its own theology? Jesus 'is like the Corn-King because the Corn-King is derived from the facts of Nature, and the facts of Nature from her Creator; the Death and Rebirth pattern is in her because it was first in Him... The Hebrews throughout their history were being constantly headed off from the worship of Nature-gods; not because the Nature-gods were in all respects unlike the God of Nature but because, at best, they were merely like, and it was the destiny of that nation to be turned away from likenesses to the thing itself.'

In his closing section, on dealing with the miracles of the New Creation, he points forward to the joys of heaven, when things will be even more marvellous than we can now imagine, when all things are set right. In preparation, therefore, we must enjoy our bodies now, as the prelude to heaven's spiritual body where full enjoyment will last forever.

All in all, it's probably a helpful book to prepare the philosophical outsider to consider the miracle accounts in the Gospels, and has some great moments and memorable lines. I'm glad to have read it, but am not sure it would be one I would recommend to many people.

* In a footnote, CS Lewis suggests that the New Testament miracles are more historically viable, but cannot possibly comment on the Old Testament miraculous, such as Jonah and the whale, as it is beyond the scope of his book. I can't say I agree with him on this, and think he depends too much on the mythology which may or may not be historically accurate for his view of the Old Testament.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Green Sashes

Green Sash
Originally uploaded by Garibaldi McFlurry.

Yesterday I went on a day trip to Londonderry for a dander around the walls and some photography in the Maiden City. Along the way, I noticed a parade was about to start in the town of Dungiven, and decided I would stop and watch it.

It being the 15th August, Assumption Day (or Lady Day) for Roman Catholics, when they think that Mary was ascended into heaven, there was a parade by the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) in advance of the main parade in Carnlough.

This was the first time I had ever encountered the AOH, and from what I could see, it was a sort of Catholic version of the Orange Order. There were 6 members, a bannerette and an accordian band, so not huge numbers involved in Dungiven anyway. The parade began in the grounds of the Chapel, and passed down the main street through the town to the waiting bus.

So what are they all about? According to the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, they are an Irish-Catholic fraternal society formed to protect Catholic churches and help Irish immigrants in America.

From what it looked like in Dungiven, it appears that, like the Orange lodges, the AOH is struggling to recruit new and younger members. But maybe it was different in Carmlough. It did seem strange to see what looked like the Orange order, only with green sashes!

Sermon: Acts 17: 1-15 A Tale of Two Cities

What happens when the Tall Ships come to town? Over this weekend we’ve seen huge crowds of people flock to see the ships, and enjoy the carnival atmosphere. Yet some people haven’t been so encouraging - there’s been some complaining about the traffic chaos, and the public transport (or lack of). There’s a mixed reaction when the Tall Ships come to Belfast.

But what about when the gospel comes to town? Surely with the good news of Jesus, there’ll always be a positive reaction. It’s the best news anyone could hope for. Surely everyone will welcome it and receive it with open arms, and all will be well.

Or what about when you decide to speak for Jesus in your home or workplace, or at school or in university. Why do people not welcome the good news? Why is there a mixed reaction, a divided response? Maybe you think that there’s something wrong with your method, that you just aren’t doing it right. Well, in our reading today, we heard of the apostle Paul arriving in two cities, bringing the gospel for the first time, and as you may have noticed, even he didn’t get a great welcome. As we’ll see, there is one message, two cities, and two responses - and it’s not all black and white, not what we would expect either.

Paul, along with his partners, is on his second missionary journey, having come over to Europe (Macedonia), at Philippi, where he spent some time in prison. The next stop is Thessalonica, and, as he always did, Paul goes to preach in the synagogue, the Jewish meeting house. Verse 2 tells us that he was there for three weeks, on three Sabbaths, and outlines his message: ‘he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”’

The Jews had the Old Testament, but without Jesus, they couldn’t make sense of it. Jesus is the key to understanding what it is all about. So Paul takes the time to highlight the central role of the Christ (Messiah), God’s promised King, and how the Christ would both suffer and be raised from the dead. Having then outlined the categories, the criteria, he then proclaims Jesus - the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, then shows that Jesus fulfils these perfectly. Jesus is the Christ.

It’s all very reasonable, reasoned and logical. Verse 11 shows that Paul’s message was the same in Berea as well - ‘they received the word with all eagerness’. The word is preached and proclaimed. Jesus is honoured, now surely everyone will accept it and believe?

Well, no - as we’ve seen, there are two responses, and not what we would expect. It’s not that one city fully accepts and the other city fully rejects - things don’t normally work out like that. Nor is it that the religious people all accept and the pagans reject - it’s not as simple as that. Yet there are some who believe, and some who reject.

Look at verse 4. This is from Thessalonica. ‘And some of them (that’s the Jews) were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.’ Both Jews and pagans were hearing that Jesus is the Christ and believing the word. It’s a similar response in Berea - here the Jews ‘received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.’ They don’t just accept what Paul says, they go and study for themselves to make sure he is speaking the truth - and then ‘many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.’ (12) Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all of the time - close bible study to ensure the preacher is on course.

Yet not everyone accepts the gospel. Alongside the joy of the good news, there is the threat of trouble and opposition from those who don’t accept it. Look back at verse 5. ‘But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason.’

These are the religious people, the people who should have been expecting the Christ, yet they reject the gospel, reject God’s word, and seek to cause trouble by stirring up a crowd, a rent-a-mob. As they take Jason to the city authorities, it’s clear why they reject Jesus:

They see Paul and Silas as ‘these men who have turned the world upside down.’ It’s a fair description. After all, nothing is the same after Jesus. Instead of going our own way, pleasing ourselves, looking after Number One, thinking we can save ourselves, the gospel message comes saying that we need a Saviour; that we are not the centre of our universe, but that God is.The gospel is revolutionary, because it is not what we naturally expect, or even want.

But even worse, they reject their true king. Verse 7, they’re still addressing the authorities, and they say ‘and they (Paul and Silas) are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.’ There’s one thing - they understood the message and implications of the gospel, but they completely turn their backs on it, and in a terrible irony, side up with Rome, rather than with Jesus.

In rejecting Jesus as king, they are doing what the Jews in Jersualem did that first Good Friday morning: ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ (John 19:15)

With all this going on - is it any surprise that many reject the gospel and then make life difficult for Christians? We may not face open opposition and persecution such as Paul faced - perhaps we’ll be left out of office parties or kept back from promotion because of our identification with Jesus, yet for many Christians in the world today, riots, mobs, prison, even death, are very real possibilities.

Back in March we had Patrick Sookhdeo with us, and his group, the Barnabas Fund, helps Christians facing persecution. Recently, Christians in Pakistan have seen their homes burned to the ground, churches vandalised, and some have even been burnt to death. The opposition to the gospel is real, and is the outworking of Jesus’ words in John 3: ‘the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.’ (John 3:19-20)

As Paul moves on to Berea, and finds a more favourable response, we see just how dedicated the wicked are to their wickedness. So angry are they that someone somewhere is hearing the good news of Jesus, that the Jews from Thessalonica travel about 50 miles to agitate the crowds in Berea. We would hardly walk 50 feet to tell someone about Jesus, yet here the opponents of the gospel walk 50 miles to stop it!

Paul is quickly sent on by ‘the brothers’ - those who have accepted the gospel, and moves on to Athens, where he will proclaim Jesus in the Areopagus.

A tale of two cities - Thessalonica and Berea. One message is proclaimed: That Jesus is the Christ, the King. And as we’ve seen, two very different responses - acceptance and faith on the one hand, and rejection and opposition on the other. What is there here for us? What challenges or comforts does the passage present?

The first, and the most important thing the passage raises is to ask us what our response is? One message and two responses - what will our response be? Do you fall in with those who receive the word eagerly, learning, growing, finding joy in the God of salvation? Have you heard the good news of the gospel and responded with faith?

Or do you find yourself among those who are hostile to the gospel, hostile to the one King Jesus? Maybe not openly, in causing trouble and riots, but more respectably, in working against the advance of the gospel, undermining those taking steps of faith, fighting against the progress of some.

For those of us who are committed to spreading the good news, there is comfort and encouragement here. There is no guarantee that all will be well and easy - there is a cost to discipleship and evangelism, yet the encouragement comes in the labour. We see the God’s word is powerful and effective in calling men and women to repentance - some in Thessalonica and many in Berea believed. So do not lose heart as you maintain your witness, even in times of difficulty and persecution - the letters that Paul later wrote to the Thessalonians are full of encouragement for them to continue: ‘And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Thes 1:6)

What happens when the gospel comes to town? Some respond with faith - praise the Lord! Some obstruct and fight - pray to the Lord! Ours, like Paul, is a call to continue to labour, to continue to proclaim that ‘Jesus is the Christ.’

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 16th August 2009.

Friday, August 14, 2009

La Le

As we begin the L songs in the What's on your iPod, here's a batch from La to Le:

La Festive - Pride of the Raven
La Tambour Majour - Pride of the Raven
Ladder In My Tights - Amy Studt
Lamb of God - The Passion
Land of My Fathers -
The Lark Ascending - Smooth Classics
Last Night - Orson
Last of the Great Whales - Band of the Royal Irish Regiment
Last Post / Auld Lang Syne - The Royal Highlanders
Last Request - Paolo Nutini
Lately - David Gray
Le Onde - Smooth Classics
Le Patron Est Devenu Fou! -

Quite a few marching bands here, but my favourite in this section is probably Land of My Fathers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Corporate Worship

Last night, I was at a radically different form of corporate worship. The congregation was overwhelmingly male, although there were family-friendly elements, and the hymns and canticles were sung loudly. There was one prayer, at the start, and elements of ceremony to rival any rubrics and liturgy. There was almost a mega-church sized congregation of approximately 13,000 worshippers. And right in the centre of the worship gathering, the pantheon of gods were very present, receiving and welcoming their adoration.

By now you've probably worked out I'm talking about being at Windsor Park for the Northern Ireland v Israel game which was tied 1-1. Yet without much exaggeration, it's clear to see that football matches are a form of worship. The crowds flock to see their heroes, spending huge amounts of money, not just on the match ticket, but also on the replica kit (or at least a shirt), scarf, face paint, flags and (for some) the drink.

Why is it that blokes will join in singing loudly at a football match, but hardly open their mouths in church? Why are blokes becoming an endangered species in our churches? It's a worrying development, not least because some godly, faithful Christian women are drawn to non-Christian men rather than holding out for a believer.

How can we create the community in which men are more comfortable in church? Or are we more happy to be more passionate about eleven men kicking a bit of leather around than about the good news of King Jesus?

Wanted: A Few Good Men to reach our generation of young men who are adrift in a world of sex, booze, porn, and gambling and to turn their lives around by proclaiming Jesus. Who is up to this mission field?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I've received an email today from Premier Christian Radio telling me that I'm a finalist in this year's Original Christian Web and New Media Awards in the Best Christian Blog category. Over the next couple of weeks the judges will be reviewing the various nominated blogs, and by the end of August, the winner and runner-up will be revealed in advance of the awards ceremony in London on 18th September.

So if you're one of the judging panel, you're most welcome to the blog!

I'm not sure who it was that nominated me (thank you, anonymous person!) - a few weeks back I had received an email from the Christian Bloggies telling me I had been nominated, and didn't really think much more of it. After all, my poor blog is hardly worth an award. It's not as if I write the blog to seek out nominations or awards - the blog is just the outpourings of my life, what I'm learning, reading, enjoying, struggling with, and thinking about. Not for anyone else, I write the blog for myself, and other people happen to look over my shoulder.

Still, it's interesting to be nominated, and we'll see what happens. The awards are in their third year, with some fine winners in 2008 and 2007.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Time Flies

Tempus Fugit

Time really does fly, or so it seems on this old headstone. Spotted this in the Clifton Street Cemetery, on a recent visit. Clifton Street Cemetery is one of Belfast's hidden gems - just a few minute's walk from Royal Avenue in the city centre, and right beside the Westlink, and yet not many people know about it.

The Cemetery was in the grounds of the Belfast Charitable Society (Clifton House), which is now on the opposite side of the Westlink, and provides a glimpse into the history of some of Belfast's citizens - from the wealthy doctors to the mass poor grave:

They All Had Names

Some of the leaders of the 1798 United Irishmen rebellion in Counties Down and Antrim are interred here, including William Drennan and Henry Joy McCracken, alongside other notables from the 1700s and 1800s.

The gates of the cemetery are normally locked, but access is available on weekdays by calling into Clifton Street Surgery and asking for Joe the security man. Joe is a friendly chap who holds the keys for the gates, and gives visitors a gift when they leave the cemetery - a poem he has written, 'Tell Jesus.'

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sermon: 1 John 4: 7-12

As we come to our reading this morning, we notice that twice, John writes that we are to ‘love one another’. Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I find it hard to get on with some people in church. They like different services, or music style, or whatever, and it’s easier just to talk to the people who like the same things as me. I’m sure it’s not like this in St Jude’s though!

John is writing to the church, and in this short passage out of a much longer letter, he says twice here (and a few more times throughout the letter), that Christians are to love one another. In order to help us understand why this is, and then how to do it, we’re going to use W5. Not the science playground in the Odyssey, but the five w questions, as we look at the passage: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and then when we have used those, the How.

So Who? As I’ve said, John is writing to Christians, to the church. But within the passage, we find another description for them. The NIV says ‘Dear friends’ (7), but other versions (ESV) have the one word ‘beloved’. You who are loved, held in high esteem, you who receive love, here is the command, the What:

‘Let us love one another.’ Well, that’s easy enough, you might think - but what does it really mean? John only says ‘love one another.’ But how do we love one another? We’ll see as we continue through the passage.

So we’ve looked at who - the church; what - love one another; now the where. Where should we love one another? Is it just something for a Sunday morning, so that we’re polite to one another as we come into church and leave from church, but that’s really it? Can we even extend it to Sunday evening, or at the midweek Bible study? Or maybe even if we happen to bump into someone from church on the street or in town?

John doesn’t set a limit on loving one another. It’s not just for inside the building, inside the church, it’s for everywhere!

As we move along, we’re faced with the next W - the why? Why does John tell us to love one another? What is the motivation for loving each other? As we look more closely at the reading, we see four connected reasons: God is love, God’s children also love, love is the response to God’s love, and our love is a way to witness.

Look at verse 8. ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ God is love. Do you see what the Bible is teaching us here? Not that God loves, that it is only something that God does - although that would be a strong enough reason to love. but more than that, God IS love. When you think about God, his very nature, his very being, his essence is love. All that he does (which is loving), comes as a result of him being love itself.

Because God is love, we who are his children must share in and copy his love. It’s the family likeness. Have you ever heard someone say to you that you’re the spitting image of your mum or dad? The family likeness is passed on, whether in looks, or in sporting ability, or musical talent. How much more then, when God our Father is love in his very self, that we should share in his likeness, and demonstrate his love!

‘Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.’ We who have been made children of God through adoption, who have been born again and made new - we are called to share in the family likeness, as we become more like Jesus.

But even more than that - as well as God being love, and us being born of God - our love is a grateful response to God’s love in the Gospel. Let’s look at verses 9 and 10 together - ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world, that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’

This is the essential gospel, the good news of the Lord Jesus. It’s very similar to probably the most famous verse in the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

We had a problem because of our sins - they meant that we would perish, would die. But God, in his great love, sent Jesus to atone for our sins on the cross, to die for them, in our place, so that rather than perishing, we might live through him. God’s love gives us life instead of death, peace instead of dread, joy instead of despair, and hope instead of fear.

When we think of God’s great love for us, the love that sent Jesus to the cross, how can we not love him and others? Or as John writes, ‘Dear friends (beloved), since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’

As you sit here this morning, pause for a moment, and think of this. You are totally loved by God - as Philip Yancey once wrote ‘there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less’ - because you are totally loved, you are therefore special. But the person next to you is also totally loved by God, and also special. God’s love transforms how we see those around us - those loved by God just as much as he loves us. Therefore: love one another.

Verse 12 gives us another reason to love one another, which is an evangelistic reason. How do those outside see God’s love? How do they come to know God? One of the ways is by seeing the church loving one another. Look at verse 12. ‘No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.’ Say a visitor or a non-Christian came today. Would they see God’s love in you, as you love one another? That is a powerful way for them to see that God is love - as it is reflected in us. Whereas if we were to be fighting and suspicious and critical, it’s a poor reflection of God’s love - they would be wondering where the transformation is.

Our last W is another short one - When? Is there a time limit on loving one another? Should we just do it for the hour or so from 11 to 12 on a Sunday? No, there is no time limit, no conditions, just a continuous command to love one another. It’s not a part-time profession, but a full-time following, a constant commitment to love one another.

We’ve seen the W5 - Who? The beloved. What? Love one another. Where? Everywhere. Why? God is love, and we show our faith as we respond to the gospel of God’s love. When? Always. Yet you might be wondering, how can we do this? What does it actually look like? It’s all very well telling us to love one another, but how?

I don’t know what you think of when you hear the word ‘love.’ Maybe it conjures up images of red hearts on cards around Valentines Day, or of romantic strolls along the river Lagan, or a dozen red roses. The Beatles sang Love is all you need, and Wet Wet Wet sang that Love is all around. Is that what we’re talking about?

Well, no. We’re not talking about a soppy, sentimental gushy flow of emotion. Rather, we’re talking about loving as God loves, loving as Jesus demonstrates.

How do we know what love is like? Our passage points us again to the cross. Just as the cross is our motivation to love God and those around us, so the cross is also our example: ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’

We are called to follow Jesus, to demonstrate cross-shaped love to those around us. Rather than putting our own needs first, or being comfortable, we put others needs ahead of our own. There’s a sacrificial cost as we put others before ourselves, as we put ourselves out. The Lord Jesus didn’t need to leave heaven, yet he came to seek and save the lost. He loved me and gave himself for me, as Paul said in Galatians 2:20.

Love is not just a word, it is an action. Genuine care, loving concern, yes, but also action. Jesus came into the world, sent by God’s love. Jesus came and also died. As John writes earlier in his letter: ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.’ (1 John 3:16-18).

Can you imagine the Lord Jesus sitting on his throne in heaven saying, yes, of course I love them, but I don’t want to go to die for them. Just saying the words doesn’t mean that we are loving! As we love one another, we must act, and show our love, as a grateful response.

There’s a story about the apostle John, who wrote this letter. He was the last of the Twelve to survive, and when he was very old, he would be brought into the church, and sit up on his bed and say ‘Little children, love one another.’ Why did he keep insisting on it? He was, in the words of his gospel, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. He knew the love of Jesus, which had transformed him from being one of the ‘sons of thunder’ among the disciples who all sought to be greatest, to be content in God’s love, and called the church to do the same.

Dear friends, let us love one another.

This sermon was preached in St Jude's Parish Church, Ballynafeigh on the Ormeau Road, Belfast on Sunday 9th August 2009.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Derry Day

I woke this morning to the sound of drums. Over in Tullycarnet, the Apprentice Boys and their band were marching in the local area before boarding a bus to travel to the City of Londonderry to celebrate the lifting of the Siege of Derry in 1689. Two hours on a bus for a wee walk, and then two hours home!

Today is also the anniversary of Internment, which was announced by the bonfires last night. As we drove through the Westlink, the smell of smoke was evident from the west of the city, reminders of past days.

For both communities, it seems, the past dictates how things should be conducted now. For the Protestant community, the siege mentality may never have lifted, with leaders being branded a Lundy if there is a hint of a sell-out or surrender. Indeed, in recent times we have seen the DUP, the party most likely to call others a Lundy now being branded Lundies themselves by Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice.

For Northern Ireland, it appears that neither side can 'break faith' with their forefathers, as they contantly recall the struggles of their ancestors. Will this condemn us to further conflict in the future?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Kings and a Queen

Another batch of songs in What's on your iPod? A line of Kings, and then to redress the balance, one Queen.

King Cotton - Pride of the Raven Flute Band
King of Glory - Chris Tomlin
King of Glory - Third Day
King of Love - Delirious?
The King of Love - Keswick 2008
The King of Love - Summer Madness 1999
King of the Ages - Kingsway Music
King of This Heart - Matt Redman
Kingdom Come - Summer Madness
The King's Review - Pride of the Raven Flute Band
Queen of Hollywood - The Corrs

A very royal repertoire! However, seeing we're on kings, I have to link to this great video:

The Church of Ireland on Swine Flu

Got a letter this morning from the RCB (Representative Church Body, which is a bit like the Church of Ireland's Civil Service) containing Interim Advice to Clergy on the H1N1 Flu Pandemic from the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland. The text sets out some commonsense precautions for ministers and the wider church to deal with the spread of Swine Flu.

The very high level of media attention on the H1N1 pandemic has led to a variety of enquiries and expressions of concern as to practice in the Church of Ireland. The notes that follow are advisory in nature and offer an initial framework to parishes as they address the issues raised by the pandemic. These have been drawn together following consultation among the Bishops and are offered subject to further approval or other advice that may be considered appropriate by your diocesan bishop as the pandemic develops. They may require future modification if further advice from Government agencies in each jurisdiction is issued.

1. Keep a sense of proportion. However, infection rates in Ireland are rising and likely to rise significantly if holiday makers come into contact with the virus and bring it home or visitors to Ireland bring it with them.

2. Use common sense. If you feel ill and display influenza-like symptoms stay at home. Do not come to church services until you feel well. Do not call the clergy for pastoral visitation unless you are told by a medical professional that your situation is grave. The symptoms to be aware of in the case of the H1N1 strain of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle pains and gastrointestinal symptoms.

3. Hand to hand contact, as in the normal procedure for greeting people, including Exchanging the Peace at the Eucharist, involves some risks. The spreading of the virus by hand to hand contact is an important risk factor. However, spread is, first and foremost by respiratory means. It is possible to continue to exchange the Peace as long as proper hand and good general hygiene is observed. The same observation applies to all other physical contact including the shaking of hands in greeting.

4. The canonical elements in Holy Communion are bread and wine. Communicants may, if they wish, choose to avoid the Common Cup and receive in one kind only. This is acceptable and may be advisable if we see a significant rise in the rates of infection in Ireland.

5. The practice of intinction involving the use of wafers is permitted under Canon 13(5) but is only envisaged for Communion at home with the sick and housebound where this is necessary. It is not advised for services in church where intinction might take the form of each communicant dipping the Bread of the Eucharist in the Cup. This practice is no less risky than taking wine from the Common Cup.

6. The use of antiseptic gels and tissues may be of some assistance to both celebrant and recipient, but personal cleanliness at all times should be the invariable watchword whether or not a pandemic situation obtains. In the case of tissues, careful and hygienic disposal is absolutely essential. Thorough hand washing is just as effective and disposal is provided for via the waste disposal system. Respiratory masks have been widely advertised as ineffective.

7. Arrangements for parochial activities on parish premises should observe the commonsense provisions set out above, especially at note 6.

8. Commonsense arrangements locally adapted should be put in place as circumstances require. Significant numbers of deaths may occur associated with H1N1 Flu and these may reflect the particular vulnerability of younger people and children. When this happens pastoral care may be particularly demanding and clergy should seek colleague help if they feel the need.

9. Prayer. It is an obligation on the Church at all times to pray for people in their need. The outbreak of Swine Flu has created a great deal of fear as well as significant sickness among the community. Church members are urged to remember these matters in their prayers as well as those in the caring professions.

10. For reference:

Northern Ireland: the UK Department of Communities and Local Government has published Faith Communities and Pandemic Flu: Guidance for faith communities and local influenza pandemic committees which should be read in full by everyone concerned with the running of local churches:

The Northern Ireland Swine Flu Helpline is 0800 0514 142 and up-to-date information is available on the NIDirect website:

Republic of Ireland: Advice is available from the HSE in the Republic of Ireland on its website:

There is a helpline on: FREEPHONE 1800 941100.

It seems that cleanliness is next to godliness, whether in flu time or not. It remains to be seen how hard the flu will hit come the winter - especially since many die from flu every year anyway.