Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Review

It's the final blog post of September, the 34th, so it's review time again. I've never written as many as 34 blog posts in a September before, so 2009 again makes a new record. On the running total, we're up to 355 of the year, so if October yields ten posts, then we'll have one for every day of the year. What has September held on the McFlurry blog?

In the world of blogging, there was the excitement of the Christian Blog Awards, as finalists were announced, and winners revealed. No prizes here, but then it's not what I'm after in the first place.

Musically, we had a little update, lords, lots of love, and a mad man. (Sounds like a soap opera in the Houses of Parliament, doesn't it?) There was also the video of Select Blendz.

New York, New York was our destination for a week of holiday, and there were some reflections on dangerous diversity, and the 'real' Jews.

Three books were read this month, so there were reviews on Out of the Storm (Job), The Year of Living Biblically, and The Lost Symbol.

This month's preaching was from Job 1 (audio) and Psalm 148 (audio).

As a demonstration of the breadth of material we cover on the blog, there were random pieces on conversions, clairvoyancy, television, history, CK fragrances and some helpful quotations on fellowship and preaching, and our flexible friend.

My favourite posting of the month was probably without many words, just the image of goggles!

Book Review: The Lost Symbol

To quite a bit of hype, the new Dan Brown novel was recently released in the UK. The author of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons has done it again. As one of my Facebook friends commented a while back, the latest Dan Brown book will contain some secret codes, some puzzles, a high speed chase through a city, and some secrets being revealed. A fair enough summary of the plot!

Having previously tackled Opus Dei and the Catholic Church, the Illuminati and the Catholic Church, both set in Europe, this time the hero of the stories, Robert Langdon, a symbologist, finds himself dealing with the Masonic Order. Unlike the previous organisations, the Masons (the Freemasons of the Scottish Rite in America) get off lightly, and are well respected. Is Dan Brown a mason himself?

Set in the capital of the United States of America, Washington DC we're quickly introduced to a series of characters, who are interacting at various locations, with increasing tensions and ultra-short chapters (some of less than half a page!) jumping from location to location and danger to danger.

It's typical Dan Brown material, with the expected twists in the tale and even more secrets being unravelled as the symbols and codes are discussed and solved. The action (apart from the numerous back-stories and remembrances by characters) all takes place in the course of one evening, so as you can imagine, it's high paced. However, it took me longer to read than the first readthrough of either Da Vinci or Angels. Each of those was completed in a day or two, but this one took me maybe a week and a half.

I don't want to ruin the story for anyone who will read it later, so I'll not comment on the plotline in detail or depth. What I do want to raise, though, is the assumption running throughout the story, that all religions are basically the same, and together protect and preserve the Ancient Mysteries, the secret wisdom of the ancients which allowed them to do miracles and wonders, to become deities or god-like beings.

According to the thesis proclaimed in the book, the Masons are interested in apotheosis - man becoming God, precisely because the power and potential lies inside man, hidden and untapped. All that is required is enlightenment, along with a butchering of the Scripture text that 'God created man in his own image' means that 'mankind was not created inferior to God.' The idea is then attempted to be justified by pointing to a bunch of enlightened teachers, 'the Adepts - Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Zoroaster, and countless others.' He then goes on to write that their ideas are passed on through books: 'Every culture on earth had its own sacred book - its own Word - each one different and yet each one the same.'

To which I say, nonsense! Jesus cannot be lumped in with other 'wise teachers'. His identity simply will not allow it. Either he is who he says he is - the Son of God, the only one who is the way to the Father - or else is simply mad and must be ignored. It's not worldly wisdom from one specially wise. Similarly the Bible is not the same as the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita or any other so-called holy book.

It's interesting to notice that at one point, a character reflects that 'the name Jesus has been hijacked as an ally in all kinds of power struggles... They defended their worldly desires by citing Scripture they did not understand.' In my considered opinion, this is exactly what Dan Brown does in his pursuit of this story (as well as his previous two novels!). There is widespread cherry-picking of random isolated verses which fit in with his theme of secret / mystery / wisdom / gods and these are repeated time and again, completely out of context. Also, atonement - the word coined by John Wycliffe to describe the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus for our sins as being our 'at-one ment' to God is reinterpreted to mean being at one with the universe in a general sense, not mentioning or referencing sin or sacrifice at all.

So where do I finish this short review? Like the others, The Lost Symbol is a decent read if you like mystery and thriller with some action and suspense. I enjoy trying to solve the puzzles and codes before the characters. But it's certainly not a book to base any doctrine on - it's fiction, after all, and in appealing to the Masons as the guardians of all that is good and right, I think it fails, and unfairly tries to insist that all 'religions' and none are all basically the same. Forget the secrets that have been deliberately hidden, and concentrate on the plain word of the open Bible, wherein God speaks authoritatively.

Mind, Heart, Will

One of the kind gifts I received at the time of my ordination as a Presbyter was a book from the parish: Preach The Word. It's a collection of essays on expository preaching, and I hadn't got round to reading it after my ordination. I picked it up earlier and have started to read the first essay, and already I'm struck and convicted. David Jackman writes the following:

Everything depends upon our detailed, careful, and disciplined reading of the text... The text needs to be seen not as an object to be analyzed, dissected, or even "mastered" so that we can then begin to "do something with the Bible." Rather, we need to hear it as the urgent, present-tense message of the present-tense God (I AM) through our minds to our hearts to energize our wills in faith and obedience. Then the Bible is doing something with, in, and to us. If the preacher's life is being changed through his encounter with God in the "living and enduring Word" (1 Peter 1:23), he realy does have a message to proclaim, not simply from the written page but from the heart.

The Bible is not just a textbook to learn off by heart, or as a ready supply of quiz answers, or random facts. It's not for head knowledge only. Rather, it needs to move from the head to the heart, and from there to our wills, moving us to action. If this is true of the preacher, how much more of his preaching?

If my last few sermons were to be analyzed, what part of the person was I targetting? The head or the heart? Jackman is certainly not saying that we only aim for the heart to the neglect of the head - we must definitely think about the Bible and learn it more thoroughly, but is that where our preaching sometimes stops? Do we merely inform without enthusing? Engaging the mind but not the affections?

Perhaps better focused content, and greater application is the answer, but there's a lot of learning still to be done!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically

I've been thinking carefully about how I should blog about this book. There were humorous moments, times when I quite liked the author, but there were more times when I got out my pen and wrote yet another note about how he had misquoted, stretched or made a nonsense of the Scriptures.

A J Jacobs is a career author, regularly churning out book after book based on strange challenges he sets himself. An American Dave Gorman, if you will. A previous effort saw him read through the Encyclopedia Britannica and use the facts he found there in his everyday life, as well as an appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The challenge he has set himself this time is, as the title suggests, to live biblically.

He's upfront and honest about his quest. He wants to 'explore religion.' And on that very point, he immediately stumbles into a great problem. He does indeed explore religion - rules to obey and seek some reward for obedience; but Christianity isn't about religion - it's about relationship. After a mammoth session of reading the Bible from cover to cover, he finds there are over 700 'rules' in the Bible, commands that he feels me has to fulfill and obey over the course of his year.

As he starts, he's only too honest that he doesn't believe in God, but seeks to practice 'cognitive dissonance', so that by behaving as if he believed in God, then eventually he will. Where practice leads the mind will follow. The logical conclusion of this is that the Bible is seen as a manmade book, a self-help manual, filled with rules and handy hints to make him a better person.

Yet as Hebrews warns, 'Without faith is it impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.' (Heb 11:6).

So how does he do as he seeks to keep the whole law? Within half an hour, he stumbles. Half an hour is quite impressive, yet he knows failure fairly quickly. And that's the point. The law wasn't meant to be kept, because we cannot do it. Yet Jesus perfectly kept the Law so that he does for us what we cannot do by ourselves.

He's a writer, out for laughs, and for maximum sales, and so majors in on the weirdest rules in the Bible. Wearing mixed fibres, impurity laws surrounding a woman's period and men's emmisions, stoning adulterers, not capturing a mother bird along with her egg, the red heifer. His overall opinion is that he admires the 'ethically advanced rules' but wonders how they sit beside 'these bizarre decrees.'

Part of his problem is that he takes random verses out of context. So, for example, the command to bind money in your hand (Deut 14:25), but one of our Sunday School class could probably spot his taking it out of context - this is in relation to the tithes to be brought up to Jerusalem for a party as a thanksgiving of all God's good gifts. It doesn't mean that when you're going out for a walk you bind up some money and carry it in your hand or attached to your clothing! In other occasions, he seems to think that the rules he has compiled are things to be checked off, and so he goes to particular people, places and events to tick off another rule from his list. Again, not really the right attitude!

Using his author's instinct for the ridiculous, he even admits that 'one of the reasons I embarked on this experiment was to take legalism to its logical extreme and show that it leads to righteous idiocy.' He has a problem with legalists? Christians too! We're not legalists at all, far from it, we abound in the grace and mercy of God, not in the letter of the law, which cannot save us and instead condemns us.

To help us through the year, he assembled a team of spiritual advisors - Christian pastors, Jewish rabbis, and anyone else he could call on. At times, he is helped, and at least does put across the reason why Christians do not observe the Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonial law (in several places) because Christ is our sacrifice for sin, and the Old Testament prepares the way and points forward to him.

An interesting read, to see how an unbeliever reacts to the Bible, but entirely predictable. In his reading, he completely misses the point, and focuses on rules rather than relationship, on 'I must' rather than 'Jesus has.'

For another reaction to the book, check out Phil's blog on Rules, Rules, Rules.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hebrews 1: God Has Spoken

Tonight we’re thinking particularly about the church’s mission, as we welcome one of our mission partners and hear of her work in Africa. But what is the motivation for mission? Why should we seek to spread the gospel, whether overseas or to our neighbour?

Our reading tonight gives us the motivation - God has spoken, through his Son, and we have a gospel to proclaim. First of all, God has spoken. This morning Tim was saying that it’s not about our search for God - we can never reach up to find him. Yet God in his grace has revealed himself. The God who spoke creation into being has spoken, first through the prophets in choosing a people for his own possession, but latterly through his Son.

As the writer to the Hebrews talks of Jesus, the Son, he lists seven facts about him. So who is Jesus, the one through whom God has spoken his final and great revelation of himself?

The Son is the heir of all things, the one through whom and for whom all was created. Indeed, he also sustains the universe by the word of his power. We do not have an absentee God, who kicked off creation and left us to ourselves. Rather, our God is intimately involved in his creation, giving us every breath by his command.

The Son is also the one who can perfectly reveal what God is like - because he is the radiance of his glory, and the exact imprint of his nature. For us to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. For us to hear what God is saying, we listen to Jesus in his word.

And what is it God is saying to us in these last days? What is the message that we hear through the Son? As a hymn reminds us: We have a gospel to proclaim - good news for all throughout the earth. As Hebrews tells us, Jesus has made purification for sins, dealing with our sin, and opening the way of access to the Father. Having completed his work, Jesus has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, the place of honour and power, where he lives to intercede for us.

Jesus is the heir of all things. His blood offers peace to all people, as they trust in him. God has spoken to all, through his Son - and so we must go; we must tell everyone of the good news of Jesus.

This wee word introduced our mission update night in St Elizabeth's Dundonald on Sunday 27th September 2009.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Cube

Earlier this evening we were sitting watching TV, when Phillip Schofield's programme came on UTV / ITV1. The Cube is a big glass cube, as the name suggests, and inside, challengers take on The Cube to perform certain tasks for monetary reward. There are memory tasks, balance tasks, ability tasks, and many others. It seems that things which appear very easy in every day life suddenly become very difficult inside The Cube.

The rewards are very profitable - £1000, then £2000, then £10,000, then £20,000, then £50,000, then £100,000, then £250,000. Challengers have nine lives to use in the pursuit of the big money. Compelling viewing as the contestants try to win against the cube's tricks.

When the nine lives run out, the contestant loses all money won so far, although before they begin a particular challenge they can decide if they keep what they have or risk it for the next prize. They enter the cube, and either emerge with a prize, or with nothing.

Reminds me of the cubes in the Bible. The inner sanctuary of the Temple was a cube, as 1 Kings 6:20 tells us: 'The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high, and he overlaid it with pure gold.' This is the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, where the High Priest entered once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make sacrifice for the sins of the people. Entering without the blood of sacrifice would have meant certain death for the High Priest. As it was, he achieved the purification of his people for the year.

However, as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, this was but an earthly shadow of the reality of the heavenly temple, where the Lord Jesus entered to achieve eternal salvation and satisfaction for sin (Hebrews 9:12). The thing is, though, that in contrast to the television competitors, Jesus never leaves the cube, and has won his eternal prize - the inheritance of all things and the salvation of his people. How do we know he never leaves the cube?

Fast forward to John's vision of eternity in Revelation 21. John is shown the holy city, the new Jerusalem. Revelation 21:16 shows us that 'The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal.' Another cube, the eternal dwelling place of the Lord God, where God dwells with his people forever.

Isn't it great how even television programmes can be reminders of the gospel? Phillip Schofield asks if you'll enter the cube. Will you be part of that greater reward in the greater cube of the New Jerusalem?

Prodigal Sermons

Recently I blogged about Tim Keller's book The Prodigal God. Currently on the Redeemer Church website they're offering the series of sermons the book is based on for free. Not sure how long the offer lasts, so hurry over and download some Keller now!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mad Man

We've reached M as we trail the alphabet asking 'what's on your iPod?' So here are some from mad to man:

Mad - Ne-Yo
Magic Love - Bent
Magnificent - Hillsong
Main Theme (Beetlejuice) - Danny Elfman
Main Title (Braveheart) - James Horner
Majesty - Heart of Worship
Make You Mine - The Corrs
Makeover - Christina Aguilera
Makes Me Wonder - Maroon 5
Making Melody - Matt Redman
Making Plans / Gathering the Clans - Braveheart Soundtrack
Mama - Spice Girls
Mambo Number 5 - Bob The Builder
The Man Comes Around - Johnny Cash
Man in the Mirror - Michael Jackson
A Man of Sorrows - Summer Madness
Maneater - Nelly Furtado

Favourite song without a doubt is The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sermon Audio: Psalm 148

Here's the sermon mp3 file from Sunday morning's Family Service preach on Psalm 148, Praise the LORD.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Real Jews?

While we were in New York, we came across a group of street preachers, so we stopped for a moment or two to hear what they were saying. However, it was unlike anything I've heard before, and certainly not witnessed even on the streets of Belfast.

Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ

The group involved was, I believe, the Israelite Church of God in Christ Jesus. They're an interesting group, who claim that those who we naturally think of as ethnic Jews are not actually real Jews. Rather, the twelve tribes were descended through the African-American slaves, who are the real Jews, the chosen people of God. They even had a poster set up with the places where each of the tribes is reportedly from - but I didn't get close enough to study it.

Their core message seemed to be that one day God would vindicate his people, the negroes, the real Jews, and in their version of Armageddon, the white peoples and Chinese peoples and Arab peoples would serve the negro. A reversal of those years of slavery, if you will. They also claim that Jesus was a negro, not an ethnic Jew.

Their method of preaching, indeed, the very way they presented their message was to misinterpret the scriptures and prophets' message of the Messiah, applying it to their own ethnic group. So a random verse or two from Isaiah, with one guy reading a few words, then the other shouting out his own interpretation. White people need not apply, and the street preacher and his colleagues were specifically targetting people they perceived to be the real Jews to sign up to their movement.

I've since been able to find out a bit more about the group, with reports on the Washington City Paper website. They preach a racial gospel, which is good news just for those they perceive to be part of the ancient people of God, not open to all. Reminds me of a quote: If it's not good news for all, it's not good news at all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Tonight we had the first night of the new term at Inform, our young adults' group. We launched into a journey through Paul's letter to the Philippians, and we concentrated on the slippery topic of fellowship.

When you hear the word fellowship, what do you think of? Is it a fuzzy, warm feeling as we have a cup of tea with Christian friends after the service? Just a wee chat at the end of the service, standing in the car park?

For Paul, fellowship is the deeper, harder, challenging idea of partnership. Fellowship is gospel partnership, standing together with other Christians, supporting them and working together to spread the good news of Jesus.

As Don Carson puts it, fellowship is "self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision." In Philippians, we see the partnership expressed in the financial support Paul received, as well as the visit and help of Epaphroditus. They were standing beside him in his imprisonment as well as in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. Paul, in turn was praying for them, and teaching them to be bold and confident in God.

So how do we build authentic fellowship in our churches? How do we grow together to really encourage and support each other as we spread the gospel? It all comes back to the source of true fellowship: God's grace working in us as individuals and in the community of the church. Standing and serving together. Who's up for some fellowship in the gospel?

Monday, September 21, 2009

For Entertainment Purposes Only?

Among the news feeds I subscribe to, one keeps me up to date with forthcoming events in Belfast - appropriately named the Belfast Events RSS Feed. It's maybe just nosiness, as I've never actually attended anything they advertise, but it's good to know what I could be attending or avoiding.

This morning an interesting event popped into my Google Reader. Not interesting in the sense that I want to go, nor even that I am recommending anyone else goes. More interesting in the way the event is being advertised:

An Evening of Clairvoyance with Joe Power

Joe Power is the new exciting Liverpool medium taking the psychic world by storm. The accuracy of his private readings, public demonstrations and celebrity predictions are creating a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Joe`s evening of clairvoyance will be a demonstration of communication where he delivers messages from people that have passed over.

While I do believe that there are angels and spirits, I'm certainly not in favour of any form of communication with them. The spiritual world is very real, and also very dangerous, with demonic powers ready to speak where they should not speak. The Bible repeatedly warns against mediums, clairvoyants, necromancy and such like, condemning King Saul for using the Witch of Endor to communicate with the departed prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 28); and showing the salvation for the slave-girl caught up with a spirit of divination and fortune telling who was exorcised by the Apostle Paul (Acts 16:16-18).

However, against all this background, both the guy's claim to be able to deliver messages from people that have passed over (where?), and the Bible's condemnation of such activities, the final line of the event listing is the most interesting:

An Evening of Clairvoyance is for entertainment purposes only.

So he claims to communicate messages from beyond the grave, but it's only entertainment? He claims to wield some power, which may psychologically and spiritually harm those attending, but it's only entertainment? He's getting mixed up in the dangerous daydreams and deceits of demons, but it's only entertainment?

Who was it put the disclaimer in? Is it his own line? Or is it a demand of the Waterfront Hall or Belfast City Council?

If genuine, and there is something demonic going on here, then it's really not entertainment. It's so much more serious.

Book Review: Out Of The Storm

Christopher Ash is steadily becoming a leading evangelical author on the British Christian book market. Alongside several books on marriage, the Director of the Cornhill Training Course in London has written an outstanding introduction to the Book of Job: Out of the Storm.

In just over 100 pages, Ash gets to the heart of Job's suffering and dialogue, tracing the main features of the book and priming the student for further study and reading. The insights are excellent, although perhaps unusually in a book review, I'm not going to provide quotations or much more detailed discussion at the present time. Why? Regular readers will have noticed that we're doing a series in Job on Sunday evenings, and I want to leave particular insights and helpful elements until we've finished each sermon!

Suffice to say that the book was very helpful in planning a series and is the book I've been recommending to the other guys who will be preaching through Job with me. Particularly helpful was his discussion of Behemoth and Leviathan as found in chapters 40-41. Rather than these creatures being the hippopotamus and the crocodile, they are actually probably the description of Satan, the best from the earth and the sea. Highly recommended!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sermon: Psalm 148 Praise the LORD

This morning we’re looking at one of the Psalms, one of the songs in the Bible, and as we look at it together, you might find it useful to have it open in front of you. Have a look at it now - what is the Psalm all about? How does it open and close?

Our Psalm today is a call to praise - we’re told at the start and at the end ‘Praise the LORD’. But what does that mean? How do we praise the LORD? Some people think that when the Bible talks about praising the Lord, that it means those times when we are singing in church. So if we sing four or five songs on a Sunday, does that mean that the rest of the time we’re in church, and the rest of the week we’re not praising God?

I don’t think so! As we sing to God we are praising him, but praising God is so much more. Indeed, as we’ll see, the Psalm is a command for all of creation to praise the LORD, angels and people, stars and mountains. Everything that God has made is called to join in praising God. But I’ve never heard the mountains or the fruit trees singing!

The Psalm is divided into two main sections, and in each section there is a call to praise from somewhere, and then the reason why we are to praise. So let’s look at the first section. Can anyone see where the praise is from?

‘Praise the LORD from the heavens.’ When the Bible talks about the heavens, sometimes it means the place where God dwells, and sometimes it means the sky above us. Here in the Psalm, we see it refers to both - verse 2 the angels and heavenly hosts; and verse 3 the sun and moon, and shining stars. Do you notice what is being told to the sun? What should the sun and the stars do?

‘Praise him.’ From our place on earth, the sun and moon and stars seem so bright, so great, that we’re tempted to worship them. Some people even go so far as to think that the stars have an influence over how their day is going to turn out, if they’ll be lucky or not. But the Psalm reminds us that the sun and stars have no power of their own - they were created by God, just like us, and they also praise the Lord.

Over in Psalm 19, David tells us how the heavens above us praise God: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.’ (Psalm 19:1-2) Praising God is about declare God’s glory - even though the sun and stars never speak, yet they shout out God’s glory.

It’s the same with the angels. They exist to praise the Lord. Remember when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the angels were there to declare God’s glory, to praise the Lord as they told the shepherds about Jesus’ birth.

So why should the heavens and all that are in them praise the name of the LORD? Look at verse 5. ‘Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.’

God is to be praised because he spoke, and everything was created. His word is powerful. God should be praised because he has made everything that exists.

In the second section, we see a similar pattern. First, there’s the command: Praise the LORD from the ...? Earth. So what on earth should be praising God? Is it just us humans? No, not just us, but also sea creatures, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, winds, mountains, hills, trees, animals, cows, insects and birds. It’s a catalogue of creation, isn’t it? Everything biological, everything geological, everything meteorological, everything on and in the earth, and even the earth itself is called to praise the LORD.

Verses 11 and 12 also show us that every person is called to praise - not just the young, or the old, or the middle-aged. Not just kings, not just princes, not just important people or celebrities. Everyone!

Earlier we thought about how some of us can praise created things like the stars, or angels. Maybe we’re more tempted to praise other people. Here in the Psalm, we might be tempted to praise the kings of the earth. Well, we say, they’re really important and powerful, so we should praise them.

Can you think of some people we might praise? Maybe we’re caught up instead with praising our favourite singer, or football player, or whoever is on Dancing on Ice or the X Factor this year. A few years back there was another reality TV show that hit the nail on the head: Pop Idol. The show was trying to make a new idol, a new someone to worship and praise.

But the energy and time that we devote to praising people is ultimately wasted. Our celebrities, heroes, politicians are just human - and make mistakes, and fail us. They’re not really worthy of our praise. Their failures make us more wary of who we praise. So why should we praise the name of the LORD?

Verse 13 gives us the reason: ‘Let them (that is, all of us) praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.’ If you go to a Northern Ireland game, you’ll spend the night cheering for David Healy or Steve Davis (not the snooker player!). But in the grand scheme of things, they’re just one person from little Northern Ireland. The name of the LORD - the Covenant making God, the promise-keeping God - his name is exalted or lifted up and praised everywhere. His is the only name that is praised.

Two Sundays ago, we were in Times Square in New York. There’s so much advertising that you can’t even see the buildings the ads are hanging on. All the big brands are there: Coke, McDonalds, Gap, and each one is fighting to be seen, to have the brightest and biggest and best advert. In the world, in the universe, there is just one name that is exalted and lifted high: The LORD (Jesus). It’s not just that his glory and splendour and wow-ness fill the earth - his splendour is above the earth and the heavens. God made the world to reflect his glory, like the moon reflects the sun’s light. We’re called to praise, to declare God’s name and glory and character. The sun and moon and stars are doing it, will you do it too?

Because, as verse 14 concludes, God’s people have an extra-special reason for praise. God has ‘raised up for his people a horn.’ Horns on animals are there for strength - so goats have horns and they try to overpower the other goats. Or the rhinoceros. The horn of strength that God has raised up for his people is his king, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was he who created the world (Col 1:16), he who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1:3), his the name that is above every name (Phil 2:9), whose glory fills the skies.

Psalm 148 is a call for all of creation to do what God made it to do - to praise the name of the LORD - to recognise the greatness of our God. The sun praises God - how much more we who are saved, adopted, and are members of God’s family? Praise the LORD.

This sermon was preached at the Family Service in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 20th September 2009.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

McFlurry's McLinks (8)

It's been almost a month since the last McFlurry's McLinks, and it's looking like this could be a supersize version with a lot of great blogs and websites being read and ready to be recommended:

Irish Calvinist warns against selfishly using God, as well as wondering what he would do to the evangelical church is he were Satan.

Kevin De Young reflects on mission and not being able to do it all. He also critiques Karen Armstrong's defence of God techniques. (Al Mohler also comments on Armstrong).

The Ugley Vicar (whom I missed on his recent visit to Belfast and my own parish) reviews the latest Tarantino flick.

étrangère asks if Christ really is our cornerstone. She also ponders the WWJD message, which is really another gospel.

I've been linking to some material highlighted by David Keen recently, and he also shared the 'Doesn't Count List' from Stuff Christians Like (also check out letting online people know you're married and the multi-multi-point sermon.) Dave also discusses the world ending in 2012, and a modern-day acted parable.

Adrian Warnock hosted a guest post by Sam Allberry on Islamic Christianity.

Ben Yong (Dr) ponders his pager number.

For you Lord of the Rings fans, Josh Harris compares Gollum's obsession with his precious and our obsession with sin. Meanwhile Slacktivist offers a theology of vampires and crosses.

In the funnies, Ali shares a Father Ted moment... There's also the earth-bound pet plan in case of rapture, and in a newly linked blog, Ten Digit Lumber provides a groan-fest of puns (which I enjoyed).

And for the geek amongst you, there's Quaerentia's favourite iPhone apps.

McFlurry's McLinks seems to always finish off with a funny video, so here's the Youth MiniStarz:

Blog Stars

As predicted earlier in the week, Dave's District Blog took the best blog at the Christian Bloggies last night. Well done to Dave, and also to BibleSEO which was placed second. A full list of winners and runnersup are available at the Christian Blog Awards site.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Love, Love, Love

We're coming to the Love section of my iPod, so here goes on a lovefest:

Love - Rosey
Love Can Build A Bridge - Cher, Chrissie Hynd and Neneh Cherry
Love Etc - Pet Shop Boys
Love Gives Love Takes - The Corrs
Love Guaranteed - Damage
Love Is All Around - Wet, Wet, Wet
Love Is The Law - Seahorses
Love Machine - Girls Aloud
Love Me And Leave Me - Seahorses
Love Me For A Reason - Boyzone
Love Me Tender - Elvis Presley
Love On A Real Train - Williams
Love Rendezvous - M People
Love Shy - Kristine Blond
Love So Amazing - Paul Oakley
Love Song - Hillsong
Love Song - Thirs Day
Love Story - Taylor Swift
Love To Love You - The Corrs
Love U 4 Life - Jodeci
Love's Embrace - Christina Aguilera
Love's Sweet Victory - Heart of Worship
Lovefool - The Cardigans
Lovely Ladies - Les Miserables Soundtrack
The Lover's Bits - Teannaich
Lovesong - The Cure
The Loving Kind - Girls Aloud
Loving Me 4 Me - Christina Aguilera

Lots of love songs there! My favourite in the batch is probably The Lover's Bits, from the Ceilidh band, Teannaich.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I was inspired by a piece of marketing mail we got through the door the other day. Not the Consider Christ campaign, being run by the Free Presbyterian Church, but rather another sort of marketing. Not so much Mount Sinai or Mount of Olives, as Mount Oriel.

You might be saying to yourself, I haven't heard of that mountain in the Bible. Neither you would, but it was the strapline that caught my attention:

Thirty years experience - one thousand conversions.

They're a firm of builders, people you want to call if you want your attic converted into a spare bedroom, playroom, study or even a sauna bathroom. Yet wouldn't that be a great statement for preachers of the gospel? Far better than attics made liveable and the houses increased in value, but the eternal dwelling place of people assured in the new Jerusalem, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Why should the builders claim all the best conversions?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Flexible Jesus Who Deals With Sin

Both in the Fourth Gospel and in the Synoptics, the sheer flexibility of Jesus leaps from the pages as he deals with a wide array of different people and their varied needs. No less startling (though more often ignored) is the manner in which Jesus commonly drives to the individual's greatest sin, hopelessness, guilt, despair, need. This should not be surprising; if he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, inevitably he will deal with sin in those who express some interest in knowing and following him.

So says Don Carson commenting on John 4:16 as Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well. Are we sometimes more comfortable discussing other topics or over-explaining that we fail to zone in on our greatest need, sin?

The woman at the well needed her sins dealt with more than the drink of water. Yet Jesus doesn't explain the water welling up to eternal life, he exposes her greatest thirst.

Blog Finalists

This Friday is the Christian Web and New Media Awards 2009 over in London. A while back I blogged about receiving an email saying that I had been nominated and was one of the finalists. Despite repeated checking on the site, nothing more appeared, with no list of finalists.

Church Mouse now has the exclusive list of the finalists for each category (H/T to DMK), so I'm able to see who else was selected in my category of best blog. You can check out the other four finalists, and try to see which of them will win - I haven't heard anything more, so I know I'm not the winner or runner-up, as the top two were being told and then invited to attend the awards ceremony on Friday night.

The five finalists are:

That I May Know Him
Bible SEO
Love Undefiled
Dave's District Blog
The Reverend Garibaldi McFlurry (who?)

Five very different blogs - I think mine is probably more general, whereas the others seem to be more focused on theology all the time. Which one will win? I'm thinking Dave's District. Good mix of photos and text, and a range of good subjects. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sermon Audio: Job 1: 1-22

Here's Sunday evening's sermon, as we began a new series in Job, concentrating on suffering. My Servant Job

All the sermon mp3s are available at the St Elizabeth's sermon website.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dangerous Diversity

One of the highlights of our recent trip to New York was an afternoon in the American Museum of Natural History. The crowds were (as with everywhere else in NYC) massive, so there was quite a queue to get into the museum in the first place. The other immediate reaction was that it was just too big to try to see everything.

Extreme Mammals

Our solution was to be selective, and to pick and choose the bits we really wanted to see. The African mammals were top of my list, with a big family of elephants taking centre stage in the hall, with the other exhibits lining the walls in their glass cases. Thankfully this was no Night At The Museum with them all coming to life again and running rampage!

The various bird displays from around the world were also interesting. However the European birds exhibit was quite 'tame' and boring compared to the eagles and hawks and penguins etc from the other continents and climates.

As well as animals and birds, a major part of the Natural History remit takes in peoples and their cultures. There were displays on home and family life, native clothing, food and diet, but the most interesting was the material on the religious life of the various cultures.

What was immediately obvious was that every culture had some sort of god or divine being, and had developed stories, rituals and images or idols relating to their understanding of the supernatural and death. There were no atheist societies featured!

But while each culture and people had some concept of the divine, each of their stories was very different. One south American culture had an elaborate story of the passage to paradise in the afterlife, whereby the soul had to cross a slippery tree bridge over a river, then avoid eye contact with two villages who would try to draw the soul to remain with them for eternity. After several other hazards, the soul would eventually reach the village of paradise and meet up with loved ones.

There was also a feature on the cult of ancestor worship in China, with shrines set up to forebears, who are still regarded as part of the family, even as much as a living relative would be. A great amount of display space was given to the various branches of Hindu, Sikh, Islamic and other eastern religions. Colourful representations of what the divine being was like were shown, with idols, images, and shrines.

If we were left to ourselves, given the very variety of the range of religions, we wouldn't know where to turn. Which is the right one? How can we know what God is truly like?

What is clear is that when we turn aside from the living God, humans seek to fill the God-shaped hole with all manner of contrivances and myths. Very religious, but not according to the truth.

For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23)

So how can we know what God is truly like?

Thankfully we don't have to worry, or invent God, or fret. We can never know God by ourselves or our imagining, but God has graciously revealed himself, through his word delivered by the prophets, and now in these last days by his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. There are not many deities and many gods, but one God, who reigns over all in the glory of his Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Monday Morning Music

Here's a little video clip of an acapella group we saw performing on the sidewalk as we came off the (free) Staten Island Ferry having seen the Statue of Liberty. They are called Select Blendz, and the song is Stand By Me.

When we came along at first, they were singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight, but I didn't get it on video, even though it's one of my favourite songs, especially sung well. It is on the cd they were offering for a kind donation, so I can continue to enjoy their sounds now that we're far away from New York City.

(Video recorded my my iPhone)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sermon: Job 1: 1-22 My Servant Job

Why do bad things happen to good people? Tonight we’re beginning a new series as we launch into the book of Job over the next few weeks. Over the coming weeks, I want to invite you to sit with Job as he wrestles with this big question - why do bad things happen to good people?

You see, sometimes we can be very clinical, very philosophical, very detached from the question. It becomes a theoretical plaything, to return to and argue about back and forward. For some it can be a seemingly compelling reason to remain an unbeliever - as they point to suffering and say, surely God is either not powerful or not good.

But as we sit with Job, we’ll come to see that there are no easy and quick answers. You see, Job isn’t a casual observer, able to recline on his armchair and consider the plight of others. No, Job is no armchair theologian, rather he is, if you’ll allow me this, he is a wheelchair theologian. Job wrestles with these questions (and his so-called friends) from on top of an ash pit, having been personally afflicted.

The first verses of the book of Job provide us with a fine introduction to the man. What was it struck you about him as the verses were read earlier? Was it his big family (seven sons and three daughters)? Was it his thousands of livestock (sheep camels, oxen, donkeys)? His servants? Maybe it was the declaration in verse 3 that he was ‘the greatest of all the people of the east’. Yet I want to suggest that the most important thing we’re told about Job is found in verse one: ‘that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.’

It’s not saying that Job never sinned. He’s not blameless by being perfect. Rather, he is blameless and upright because he ‘feared God and turned away from evil.’ He is one who fears and therefore trusts God, and turns from evil. Or, in the words of Jesus in Mark 1:14, he is one who has repented and believed (in the gospel). Those two words, blameless and upright describe his standing before God - blameless, and his dealings with other people - upright.

Job is someone you would want on the church eldership, or to serve on the Select Vestry, or who if he had the ability to teach, might be encouraged to think of ordination. A model Christian, a pillar of the community.

Yet in just one day, his world is turned upside down. It’s like a personal 9/11, a day he will never forget, as the devastating blows continue to rain down on him, with the out-of-breath arrivals of four of his servants. One of the events would be tragic, but together, Job has his disaster day. First the oxen and donkeys are taken by the Sabeans. Then the fire of God (thunder?) consumes the sheep. Then the Chaldeans capture the camels. Then the word arrives of the simultaneous death of all ten of his children. What a haunting refrain echoes in his ear: ‘And I alone have escaped to tell you.’ Left with just these four servants, and his wife. Total devastation.

How would you react? Would you do what Job does next? Verse 20: ‘Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped.’ His first response is not to curse God, but to worship God. His security was not in his possessions, but rather in his God.

This is brought out in his words, in verse 21: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ Notice that this isn’t a Stoic kind of que sera sera, whatever will be will be kind of attitude. He’s not saying, well, whatever happens we can deal with it, that’s luck or fate or chance.

No, what Job expresses is a firm, unwavering faith in the face of terrible events. He recognises the Lord’s sovereignty, both in giving, and in taking, and will bless the Lord either way. Remember what Paul says in Philippians 4 - I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Plenty or hungry; abundance or need - ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’

Yet even now, you might be wondering how Job could be going through such a painful period. Why did all this bad stuff happen to him?

In popular thinking, there’s the idea of some kind of cosmic karma. What you give is what you get. So do good things and good things will happen to you. Or do bad things and watch out. One of the tour guides on the New York bus tours appealed for tips, and said that we would get good ‘New York karma’ if we were generous.

But even inside the church we can see this kind of thing - if you pay in, or attend every meeting, or be nice to people, then good things will happen to you. And if something bad happens, then God mustn’t like you - or you must have done something really bad. In later weeks we’ll see this come up in the book as Job’s comforters (poorly named, I know) try to use this kind of prosperity theology against Job. There truly is nothing new under the sun.

So did Job do something bad? Was he a secret sinner which led to his sudden suffering? Is there a simple correlation between goodness and prosperity, between badness and health?

It would be so easy if it was. Then you could just line up at the doors of the Ulster and preach for repentance of the really sinful people who are ill and suffering, because their sin must be so great. But it’s not like that. We see Christians who go through immense suffering, or who are cut down at a young age, while the wicked go from strength to strength. We see believers struggle to eke out a living on sparse crops while sinners waste more food than they eat and grow dangerously obese.

Behind the scenes, unknown by Job, there is another series of events occurring. We see this in verses 6-12. It’s as if the TV programme cuts from the earthly scene to the heavenly throne room, then back to earth. The same moving back and forward repeats in Chapter 2. One commentator suggests its like stage left and stage right in a theatre play. We see the whole thing, but Job is unaware of what has occurred.

Our behind-the-scenes all-access pass helps us to understand more than Job can know, and helps us to see at least a little better how this could happen, and why we sometimes are faced with suffering.

Verse 6 presents us with the court of the king, the heavenly throne room. The sons of God (angels) are present, as well as Satan. Satan literally means the accuser, and seems to be the DPP of heaven - the Director of Public Prosecutions. His job is to investigate if God’s people are as they should be, accusing them of wrongdoing.

God brings the conversation round to Job, and Satan reacts in fine form. Of course Job worships God - after all, look how he is profiting from his faith. If God is protecting him and giving him so much, then Job would be a fool not to side with God. But Satan’s opinion is that if his wealth was gone, then Job will curse God.

It’s a challenging question, isn’t it? Why do we worship God? Are we only in it for what we get out of it? How would your motives stack up? This is the question that runs through the entire book: what sort of believer is Job? Is he genuine, or phoney?

God lays the challenge, and allows Satan to take away all that Job has, but without afflicting Job himself. And so Satan goes off and arranges the day of devastation. Job doesn’t know why it has happened, and yet he passes the challenge - Satan said in verse 12 ‘Touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face’ but verse 22 affirms that ‘In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.’ That would be 1-0 to God, then.

So even though Job doesn’t know what’s happening in the heavenlies, what can we learn from it? There are three important things to notice here, and to carry through the entire book.

1. Satan has real influence. Satan is indeed the accuser of the brethren, and is heard by the LORD. But let’s be clear - 2. God is absolutely sovereign. Satan and God are not two equally powerful agents who are in constant battle, getting the better of each other as things move back and forward between them. No, God is sovereign - the LORD reigns, and Satan answers to him. It is the LORD who first mentions Job and brings him into view. It is the LORD who invites Satan to consider him. And it is the LORD who sets the limits of Satan’s activity - verse 12 ‘Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.’ Luther called Satan, ‘God’s Satan’ - like a dog on a leash. Yet God in his sovereignty gives a terrible permission. This might just be the most scandalous aspect of Job. God gives terrible permissions.

3. Job really is blameless. We’ve already noticed this earlier, but it’s essential to mention it again. The LORD affirms the verdict of verse 1 as he talks to Satan: ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ Job is blameless, has no unforgiven sin to be punished for, yet these things happen to him. Sometimes in the Bible we do see people suffering for their sin, perhaps even instantaneously - the Israelites grumbling in the desert being bitten by snakes; or Ananias and Sapphira dropping dead after lying to the apostles about the proceeds of the sale of property. But not all suffering is as the result of sin.

Satan has influence, Job really is blameless, and God is truly sovereign. As I was preparing, I was drawn to the words of Paul to the Corinthians: ‘No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.’ (1 Cor 10:13)

Job doesn’t know what has happened, yet he remains faithful to the LORD, continues to trust in him. As we begin in Job, let me challenge you to take some time over the next few weeks and read through the book. We won’t be able to cover all of it on Sunday nights, but will pick out the main sections. You’ll find the text challenging, perhaps surprising. But for us to journey with Job, we have to sit with him, listening to his pain, and sharing in his faith.

Perhaps you’re suffering right now. Job is a companion, a fellow sufferer, who points us to faith in the LORD. Job is described as ‘my servant Job’, yet that is no guarantee of immunity from suffering - how clearly we see that in Calvary, when the suffering servant Jesus had all removed from him precisely because of who he was. Yet in the strange providence of God, he is our peace.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 13th September 2009.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New York, New York

So good, they named it twice. Or so it goes. We're now back in sunny Dundonald, and New York is becoming a memory. We were on the late night flight out of Newark, direct to Aldergrove Belfast International Airport with Continental. Arriving shortly after 9am on Friday morning, it was straight to bed to try and combat the jetlag by getting some sleep! We ended up sitting in the front row of the cattle coach class, just at the kitchen where the air stewards and stewardesses were preparing the meals and talking, so there was no sleep to be had on the plane.

More detailed analysis of the trip will follow, as well as a few photos, but what of
my initial reactions, from across the Atlantic pond?

New York is massive! The buildings seemed so tall, no matter where you looked. Driving down the M2 back into Belfast yesterday, the skyline seemed so tiny in comparison.

New York is bunged! To go with the massive buildings, there are thousands and millions of people every day in New York. One of the tour guides on the open top bus tours told us that Manhattan has an average occupancy of 268,000 people per square mile Monday through Friday. The roads were busy, the streets were busy, and Times Square seemed to always be packed. I'm not sure I could handle that all the time. Never again will I complain that Belfast seems busy on a Saturday!

There was just so much to see and do that another trip will probably be on the cards at some point, although there are other parts of the world that are higher up on the agenda than a return to The Big Apple. All in all, I was glad to have seen it, but am glad to be back in Northern Ireland, with proper food, my own bed and home comforts!

Friday, September 11, 2009


The next step in the 'what's on your iPod' series, and we're onto the Lords... not long now til the love songs!

Lord (I don't know) - Newsboys
The Lord Gave The Word - Handel's Messiah
Lord Have Mercy - Eoghan Heaslip
Lord I Come To You - Robin Mark
The Lord Is My Shepherd - Katherine Jenkins
Lord It's Your Mercy - Eoghan Heaslip
Lord Let Your Glory Fall - Summer Madness
Lord Of All Creation - New Irish Choir and Orchestra
Lord of the Dance - Summer Madness
Lord You Are My Righteousness - Ian Hannah
Lord You Have My Heart - Heart of Worship
Lord, I Lift Your Name On High - Sonicflood
The Lord's My Shepherd - Summer Madness

The favourite in this batch is the last one - The Lord's My Shepherd. Simple tune, great harmony, and high part for the ladies in the chorus.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


New York is waking up to the 9th September 2009, or 09/09/09. President Obama will shortly arrive in town for the Memorial Service for Walter Cronkite, the veteran US TV news presenter. So our last full day could be quite busy if there's a presidential motorcade towards the Lincoln Centre.

We've had a good week with some sightseeing, some shopping and lots of things to talk about on the blog in the days to come. Watch this space for thoughts from Redeemer Church, the Bodies exhibition, the Natural History Museum, and other Big Apple wonders.

For now though, it's enough to say that we saw the filming of Sex and the City 2 taking place yesterday, just opposite the Apple Store on Fifth. Sarah Jessica Parker and the others were repeatedly walking into one of the expensive designer shops, causing traffic congestion and big crowds of people trying to catch a glimpse of the actors. Don't think you'll see me when the movie is released, not that you would watch that rubbish anyway!

Saturday, September 05, 2009



Spotted this critter in Crawfordsburn Country Park, near Grey Point Fort.

Friday, September 04, 2009

A Little Update

This week's 'what's on your iPod' will be little. Not wee, tiny or small, but little:

Little Drummer Boy - Christmas Heart of Worship
A Little Fall of Rain - Les Miserables soundtrack
Little L - Jamiroquai
A Little Less Conversation - Elvis Presley (JXL remix)
A Little Night Music - Mozart
Little People - Les Miserables soundtrack
A Little Respect - Wheatus
A Little Time - The Beautiful South
Little Town - Christmas Heart of Worship
Little Wing - The Corrs

Favourite little song? Little People from Les Miserables:

Thursday, September 03, 2009

World War Two

Seventy years ago, Britain declared war on Germany and the Second World War began. For six years, the world would again face turmoil and suffering with armies, navies and air forces battling for supremacy. In a coincidence, it just so happens that I've been reading Timothy Dudley Smith's first biography of John Stott: The Making of a Leader, and it turns out that as the war began, Stott, then a schoolboy at Rugby, declared himself to be a pacifist.

This was not in an attempt to avoid his duty, nor to be safe from mortal harm. Rather it was a principled stand which long pre-dated the war. His position as a prospective ordinand for the Church of England also ensured that he would not be called up, despite having previously attested.

Yet the most interesting part of the story was that his decision caused a major family row, and led to a breakdown in communication with with father for several years. You see, his dad was a distinguished doctor, who had high hopes of a great career for his only son, whether medicine, or with John's talent for languages with the diplomatic service. Even more so, given that Arnold Stott, John's father, was a high ranking officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps, having also served in the first world war.

What a blessing John Stott has been to the church, turning down the British Diplomatic services to instead be an ambassador for the King of Kings. Through the dark days of the war, he continued to organise camps for boys, many of whom went on to be preachers and pastors.

What can we achieve in our generation to help and equip succeeding generations stand firm in the faith? The battle is real, and the call is clear. Will you respond to the call to arms?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Adbusting: Free?

I noticed a new advert on TV the other night for a new fragrance from Calvin Klein. CKFree purports to be the essence of true freedom. Here's what the actor says:

The best thing about getting lost is what you find along the way. Here, or there, I'm just going. Anywhere I end up. I'm just free.

So does freedom come from a bottle? Is being free just the absence of restraints, the ability to drive around a desert in a classic vintage car?

Freedom is what many of us long for. Teenage rebellion is a manifestation of the desire to be free from parents, school, authority and responsibility. We want to be free to set our own agenda, do things our way, in our time, according to our will.

The thing is, though, that often we fail to see that when we think we are free, we're actually in deeper bondage than we realise. In exercising our freedom, we're becoming slaves.

Going our own way sounds so respectable, yet it is the lie of the devil. It's what our first parents did, and what all of us do:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)

So as we chart our own course, we think we're free and unique, yet it turns out everyone else is doing the same thing. Turning aside, out for Number One.

True freedom? Well, no. It turns out that as we seek to be free, we turn to sin, with devastating effects. Jesus said:

Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. (John 8:34)

Thinking we're free has led to a greater slavery, and we're trapped in the prison of sin, submitting to our master, the devil.

So how can we truly be free? Is there any hope for us of finding freedom?

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free... So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31, 32, 36)

Our freedom comes in submitting to the Lord Jesus. Only through the word of his gospel, the forgiveness of sins, the glorious liberty of the children of God can be ours.

As the old collect reminds us: 'O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom...'

Are you free today? Truly free? Who is your master, the one you serve with all you have?

Being Born Again

Don Carson on Nicodemus and Jesus discussing the necessity of being born again:

What must be seized from Jesus' insistence of the new birth as the prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom is the fact that this truth is applied to a man of the calibre of Nicodemus. If Nicodemus, with his knowledge, gifts, understanding, position and integrity cannot enter the promised kingdom by virtue of his standing and works, what hope is there for anyone who seeks salvation along such lines?

No hope indeed! We don't need a partial improvement of a weak constitution, but a participation in new resurrection life through faith and the Holy Spirit. Not minor running repairs, but a complete overhaul.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Who's Your Father?

Or more accurately, who's your grandfather? That's the question that can now be answered thanks to the release of the Census of Ireland 1911 data online by the National Archives of Ireland based in Dublin.

The information is particularly interesting because it was the last census conducted in a united Ireland pre-partition - united, that is, under the Crown in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. To that end, it will sit well beside the previously blogged Ulster Covenant archive service hosted by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

The other night we had a quick look for some ancestors, and I was able to find my granda Moles of Tullylish, who was a bonny baby of one year old when the 1911 census was recorded. I've also found my great-grandfather McMurray of the townland of Islandderry, who with his brothers was the source of the several McMurray families in Dromore today. Other branches of the family have been harder to find due to common surnames around the Dromore area and not enough information known or remembered about grandparents and great-grandparents. But we'll keep digging, and hopefully find a full set of great-grandparents to further the incomplete family trees we know of.

The thing about family trees and genealogical research is that you sometimes encounter surprises, or worse, things you didn't want to find out. One surprise for us was that mum's family was registered as Church of Ireland back then, whereas by the time mum was born they were members of the Presbyterian Church. So whether they just moved, or there was a mistake made in the census forms, I'm not sure.

For the natives out there, were you able to find out anything interesting about your relatives? Any surprises?

Sermon Audio: Luke 9: 28-36

Here's the sermon mp3 from Sunday morning past, with the theme of Listen To Him! A look at the Transfiguration of Jesus, what it shows us about him and the consequence of who he is.