Friday, July 13, 2012

The Twelfth in Enniskillen: PIcture Special

Yesterday was my first time watching the Twelfth parade in the county of Fermanagh, and the important Williamite garrison town of Enniskillen. Throughout the siege of Derry (Londonderry), it was the island town of Enniskillen that prevented James II from pressing the advantage and forcing the Maiden City to surrender. The Williamite troops of Enniskillen went on raiding parties, engaging in guerilla warfare against the Jacobite forces; which meant that James had to divide his men.

The route of yesterday's parade was largely contained on the island of Enniskillen itself (Kathleen's Island), with the assembly and demonstration fields both car parks - at the Legion and the Castle. A large crowd of supporters watched as the lodges, bands, and even a pair of Lambeg drums made their way to the Castle car park for a Highland Scottish dancing demonstration before the service and speeches. Rev Stanley Gamble, newly appointed Rector of Killinchy, Kilmood and Tullynakill, and Grand Chaplain of the Orange Order, preached, assisted by County Chaplains Rev William Johnston and Rev Roderic West.

Surprisingly for Fermanagh, the sun came out, to the extent that I'm nursing a bit of sunburn on my face this morning!

Here are a few pictures from the day:
King Billy leads the procession.
County Fermanagh Grand Lodge
The County Standard.
Orange Women
Orange sisters on parade.
Banners in the breeze.
Cappa LOL 279
Britannia from Cappa, Monaghan.
Broken Banner
Emergency repairs on a broken banner.
Ballindarragh LOL 689
Local history in the Battle of Ballindarragh.
Tenor Drum
Tenor Drum in action.
Brookeborough Temperance LOL 330
One of many portraits of King Billy.
Brookeborough Flute Band
Brookeborough Drums.
Pipe Band and Lodge
Pipe Bands were the order of the day.
Lambeg Drums
The Lambeg Drums.
The Queen Travelled in Style
The Queen revisits Enniskillen!
Platform Party
The Platform Party, with special guests First Minister Peter Robinson and Minister Arlene Foster.
Scottish Dancing
Scottish dancing.
Stanley Gamble
Platform Proceedings.

For these and more photos from the Twelfth in Enniskillen, check out my Flickr set.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: The Making of Modern Britain

Another Kindle special offer; another book I really enjoyed reading. Having completely missed the first book on Modern Britain, and the accompanying TV series for both books, it appears I'm a latecomer to Andrew Marr's modern Britain history series. But it's definitely better late than never, if the other book is as good as this one.

In The Making of Modern Britain, BBC journalist Andrew Marr takes us from the death of Queen Victoria through to VE Day, surveying the scope of British history in the war years. The question being asked is this: How did Britain change from being an empire to the modern democracy we reside in today? As you would imagine, there's a cast of thousands, each playing their own part, and Marr marshals the facts superbly as he presents this popular history of Britain.

As well as presenting the facts, and introducing the characters (in every sense of that word), Marr also has an eye on what we can learn from our forebears: 'Looking back, we learn to see ourselves more sharply. Our forebears were living on the lip of the future, just as we are. Their illusions about what was to come should make us, right now, a little humble.' Or as he concludes much later in the book: 'If there is one thing we can learn from history it is that we rarely learn from history.'

I enjoyed Marr's writing style, as he began each chapter or section with a little cameo - describing a situation or a person, leading the reader on to discover who was being described, and how it related to the grand picture. His eye for detail and storytelling talent makes him an enjoyable tour guide on this journey through the past. This isn't just the broad sweep of things we probably already knew, but also a poke into the background, the minor characters, the life of the 'ordinary people', which makes it a rounder history than one just focusing on the 'greats'.

Life in Edwardian Britain, with its misery and terrible living and working conditions, is powerfully portrayed, while the build up to the Great War (what we now know as World War One) is dramatic in its inevitability. Similarly the aftermath: 'The consequences of the First World War amount to more than paper poppies once a year; they are all around us still.'

I was impressed with his section on the Ulster Crisis, with a significant amount of material on the Unionist cause and the nationalist push for Home Rule and independence. The Curragh Mutiny has much made of it, perhaps unthinkable these days, so Ireland has not been forgotten. That said, once the Home Rule crisis has been 'solved', Northern Ireland appears to be forgotten, apart from a mention during the Blitz, and also because it was the landing pad for the American troops joining the struggle in World War Two.

There are some lovely turns of phrase which will continue in the memory. One such example is in speaking of the Second World War, and the preparations for the German invasion: 'We were never invaded. Actually, we were. But we were invaded by our friends, the Americans. And that invasion has never quite ended.'

Also on the second World War, there was an important reminder to fight the battles that really matter: 'The country is beginning to say that he fights debates like a war and the war like a debate.'

While there is a lot of reading in the book, it's very enjoyable, and certainly readable. I learnt a lot from the stories highlighted, and also was able to better piece together the chunks of modern history I thought I knew. While I bought this from the Kindle store during the Jubilee special offers sale, it's available for £3.99 in the cheap bookshop opposite Easons in Enniskillen, and well worth the price.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: The Independence of the Celtic Church in Ireland

Eighty years ago, Ireland was celebrating a huge anniversary. It was fifteen hundred years since Saint Patrick had arrived on the island of Ireland as a missionary. The Church of Ireland did much to mark the occasion, with stained glass windows erected in many churches, and the building of the new Saul Parish Church on the site of Patrick's first church a few miles from Downpatrick.
St Patrick's Memorial Church, Saul
At the same time, the Roman Catholics were claiming Patrick as their own, dressing him up in medieval Catholic bishop-wear, erecting a statue of Patrick on another hill at Saul, and celebrating Patrick the Pope's envoy.

The Independence of the Celtic Church in Ireland does what it says on the tin. The author, WS Kerr, Rector of Seapatrick and Dean of Dromore, sets out to show that the Celtic Church of Patrick and Columba was independent of the Pope's authority and dominion, and thus justifying the Church of Ireland's claim to be the authentic successor of the apostle to Ireland.

Through a series of examinations of the writings of Patrick and other early Christian writings in, from and about Ireland and the Irish Church, Kerr demonstrates that the claims of the Catholic Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin in the early 1930s were entirely unfounded. Noting that Patrick never mentions the Pope or his authority in his writings (The Confession and the Epistle to Coroticus): 'The only conclusion is that St Patrick neither obtained nor recognised as supreme the sanction of the Roman Pontiff for his work in Ireland.' This is particularly so given the fact that his work was opposed. Had Patrick obtained the Pope's command to go he would have relied on this in his defence, rather than the reasons he so adequately does provide.

Similarly, Kerr finds in the writings few traces of later Catholicism, but instead the pure faith: 'Like the "Breastplate" it [the Hymn of St Sechnall] makes evident the evangelical scriptural fervour and purity of the religion of the Celtic Christians.' This is also found later when the Irish monk Columbanus writes to the pope, and declares that: 'For we Irish inhabiting the ends of the world are all disciples of St Peter and St Paul, and of all the disciples who by the Holy Spirit wrote the Divine Canon. We receive nothing beyond the evangelical and apostolic doctrine.' As Kerr notes, it is 'a fine description of the scriptural principles of the Irish Church.'

Kerr also finds that any of the later works on Patrick and the Irish fathers which claim that the Irish Church was Roman are actually falsifications by later copyists for their purposes of propaganda. At times, it was a heavy read to get through the information he presents, but his conclusions are easy to follow and accept.

All in all, Kerr demonstrates that the Irish Celtic Church was independent of Rome for several centuries, existing with its own authorities and traditions, this coming to an end only when the Synod of Whitby led to the inclusion (and suppression) of the Irish Church's traditions on the dating of Easter and the monk's tonsure. His conclusion therefore presents the distinct possibility of being Christian without coming under the authority of the Bishop of Rome as Pope. The vitality and position of the Church of Ireland is defended admirably, in those hot and heavy days.

While the ecclesiastical landscape may have changed in these past eighty years, we would do well to continue to learn from our past, those who established the true faith in this land of darkness, who had passed on the light of the gospel to us, and who expect it us to pass it on to the next generation.

The Independence of the Celtic Church in Ireland would be a good book for students of Irish History, and in particular Irish Church History, and should be found in most good second hand bookshops - John Gowan has plenty of copies for sure!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Sermon Audio: Ephesians 6: 10-24

Yesterday morning, I was preaching on the Armour of God as we finished our journey through Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sermon: Ephesians 6: 10-24 The Armour of God

Have you ever seen the old TV programme ‘Dad’s Army’? It’s set in the second world war, in the town of Walmington-on-Sea and follows the exploits of the Home Guard as they await the invasion of Britain by the Germans. Alongside the main characters of Captain Mainwaring, Wilson, Jones and Pike, one of the minor characters is Hodges, the ARP warden, watching out for air raids. He’s very fussy, making sure there are no lights during a blackout, nothing to guide the bombers. Very often, he comes out with his catchphrase: Don’t you know there’s a war on?

Those same words could be addressed to us today: Don’t you know there’s a war on? But we’re not talking about the ongoing wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. We’re not thinking about the other places where there is conflict in the world. Rather, it’s a war that has been raging from the start of creation. Verse 12, Paul says that it’s not a struggle against blood and flesh - we don’t take up arms like in the crusades of old, we’re not fighting for territory - ‘but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ The enemies of God are our enemies. As we join God’s team, we’re in the firing line for God’s enemies. Don’t you know there’s a war on?

Now immediately when we speak of spiritual forces of evil or the devil you might think that it’s all nonsense. But the Bible tells us about the devil, his life’s work is to steal and kill and destroy; he stands in opposition to God and his work. The devil has almost convinced the western world that he doesn’t exist (or at least is only to be thought of as a cartoon figure of fun) - this is just one of the ‘wiles of the devil’ (11). He doesn’t want to see churches grow; people saved; lives turned around. He’s out to oppose us. He knows his time is short, and so wants to do as much damage as he can.

His time is short because of what the Lord Jesus has already done. In World War Two, the decisive battle was the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. Once the British and American army gained a foothold on the continent, Hitler’s army was sure to be defeated. Yet there was almost another full year before the war ended (6th June 1944 - 8th May 1945). The battle was won, but the war continued. In a similar way, Jesus has already won the war. The cross was the decisive battle. Victory is sure - we saw this in 1:20 - ‘God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion...’ Satan knows he is defeated, and so is out to do as much as he can before the end.

You might even be thinking, well, it’s ok for Jesus - he’s in heaven, but it’s us that has to face Satan. Are we helpless or hopeless? Not at all. Paul tells us what we need to do, and what we have to do it.

‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power,’ Our strength comes not from ourselves, but from God. That same power we’ve seen throughout Ephesians is the power that God gives us to be strong. But more than that, we are to ‘Put on the whole armour of God...’

Paul was writing this letter in prison, probably in Rome. He was constantly in the company of soldiers, chained to them, so he had plenty of time to think about their armour. But in the Old Testament, we find some of these pieces - the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation (Is 59:17). Each piece of the armour is for protection - God’s truth wrapped around you; the righteousness of Christ guarding your heart; God’s salvation protecting your head; ready to go with the good news; faith as a shield against the flaming arrows of the evil one. The whole armour represents all that God provides for us in salvation, and is God’s protection for us in life.

Alongside all these defensive pieces, though, there is just one weapon: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. We don’t take up physical weapons against the enemy, but the word of God, the Bible, is what we wield.

Perhaps you’re attacked by a flaming arrow shot by the enemy. “You’re not good enough for God. Just look at your heart, how sinful your thoughts.” The flames are quenched by the shield of faith - we know we’re not good enough, but we believe in the Lord Jesus, his death on the cross, where he took our sin and gave us his righteousness - the arrow is stopped, we can attack with the sword as we believe God’s word and stand on it.

God gives us his own armour, and in a passage like this, it’s probably the thing that we want to focus on - maybe that’s just a little boy thing, thinking about soldiers and armour and weapons. But it’s important to see that God has given us something else as well - as vital as the armour - something we neglect at our peril.

You see, when we think about the armour of God, it’s almost always thinking about it on our own. You imagine yourself, as you awake, maybe in the shower, maybe as you’re pulling on your clothes, thinking about the armour of God, asking God to be with you in the day, to guard your heart and your mind. It’s mostly as an individual we think of the armour.

But the other thing God gives us reminds us that we’re not in the battle alone. We’re not the lone ranger, having to fight on our own. We’re not even the gallant prince in a fairy story having to rescue the princess on our own. We’re soldiers in a battle together in an army; don’t you know there’s a war on, and the church is fighting together. Here’s what Paul says: ‘Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me... that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.’

It’s the furthest thing from just me and my God, isn’t it? Pray at ALL times in EVERY prayer for ALL the saints - we’re in this together. It was seen in the contrast between Holland and Spain in the European Championship - Holland had, on paper, a good team (they put 6 past Northern Ireland in the warm up). Great players, but they were all individuals, they didn’t play together as a team. Spain, on the other hand are a team in their total football pass-a-thon.

Sometimes we forget that Ephesians is a letter, written from Paul to the church in Ephesus. Right at the end, we have the personal bit that we sometimes don’t know what to do with it. Here, it’s another reminder that we’re in this together - one church connected to another, encouraging each other in their faith as they stand together.

We’re called to stand firm, to stand on God’s word, in the armour God has provided. Our task is to pray - for ourselves, for our church family, for all Christians. I really appreciate your prayers too - please do pray for me as I study God’s word and speak his word.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 8th July 2012.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Book Review: Mud, Sweat and Tears

I must confess that prior to reading his autobiography, I only knew a couple of things about Bear Grylls. One was that he did some crazy survival stuff on TV (although I'd never seen any of his programmes), and two, that he was a Christian. Yet even knowing very little about him, I thoroughly enjoyed his book, which I'll certainly be returning to time and again for his insights and motivation.

From the Prologue onwards, the reader is brought along on many of Grylls' adventures, the exhilarating and exciting, as well as the horrific and horrible. The lead-in question from the brief taster found in the prologue drives the reader forward: 'When did all this craziness become my world?' The answer, it seems, is from the beginning!

Grylls' family heritage is very important to him, from his ancestor who wrote the first ever 'self-help' book, through to his great-grandfather's love of the County Down coast at Portavo (which helped warm me to the story!) and his untimely death onboard the Princess Victoria as it sank in 1953. The devotion and encouragement of his father was inspirational to him - such as the time his dad was the only spectator in driving rain for a schools rugby match in which Bear wasn't even playing, but was doing linesman!

Throughout the book it is clear that his Christian faith is very precious in his life, as he tells the story of his conversion, and repeatedly illustrates his journey through life and his adventures with Bible verses that kept him going through the toughest times. His simple faith warmed my heart as he speaks honestly about it in contrast to the stuffy church services he had to endure at school:

'My journey ever since has been trying to make sure I don't let life or vicars or church over-complicate that simple faith I had found. And the more of the Christian faith I discover, the most I realize that, at heart, it is simple... To me, my Christian faith is all about being held, comforted, forgiven, strengthened and loved - yet somehow that message gets lost on most of us, and we tend only to remember the religious nutters or the God of endless school assemblies.' (pp 113-114)

In summing up the early part of his life, what about this for a reason to get into the book and discover what he's been doing: 'So there you have it: I had been arrested for nudity, flunked my exams, and failed at getting a girlfriend - but I had a hunger for adventure and the love of a great family in my soul.' (p. 125)

Part Two details his journey through selection to join the SAS, telling what he can because of the Official Secrets Act, as he goes on many pack marches, navigations, campings and survival situations. My legs felt tired just reading what he had endured, but in order to not ruin the surprise that comes in this section, I'll not say much more.

It seems, though, that wherever he turned, shocks and overcoming the odds were his lot. Having been terribly injured in a parachute accident, he then determines to recover and conquer Everest, the story told in Part Three. Once again, his endurance seems super-human as he shares the woes and joys of reaching the highest point on earth. Truly inspirational stuff.

All in all, it's a great book, written as if you're just sitting chatting to the Chief Scout, in lots of small chapters (110 of them). Having read the book, I might even start watching his programmes, so long as his eating bugs and things aren't too gross! You need to read this book (Kindle edition here).

Sermon Audio: Ephesians 6: 1-9

On Sunday morning I was preaching on slaves and masters from Ephesians 6, applying it to our work situations - a little appraisal before you head off on your summer holidays. Paul reminds us that we're all Slaves of Christ.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Sermon: Ephesians 6: 1-9 Slaves of Christ

We’re coming up to the time of year when one of the big things to talk about is: ‘where are you going on holiday?’ I know that perhaps the farmers are coming into their busiest time, but for many, a week or two’s worth of holidays are on the horizon, and if you closed your eyes, you could already imagine yourself on that beach, or by that pool - that is, until you get soaked by the latest shower.

This morning, as we listen in to the Apostle Paul addressing the church in Ephesus - and by extension, addressing us as well - he’s continuing to give instructions on what it will look like to live as a Christian. A fortnight ago, we heard him tackle the issue of marriage - of husband and wife loving and submitting, in that picture of Christ and the church. But now, Paul turns to home life in a different sense - that of children and parents, before coming to the way slaves and masters should relate as Christians.

We’ve already (in the children’s talk) thought about children and parents, so let’s focus in these few minutes about slaves and masters. Now, I know that you’re not an actual slave - although it might feel like it at times as you’re called upon to do any number of tasks at the one time, dealing with bosses and colleagues and numerous demands - but what Paul says here will help us think about our work, and how we should work as Christians.

But before we get into the text, it’s helpful to remember that work is a part of God’s creation - it’s a good thing in God’s purposes for us. Adam and Eve weren’t created to sit on their bottoms and do nothing - they were created to tend the Garden of Eden. That work has been frustrated by weeds and heavy toil through the curse of the fall, when sin entered the world, but God blesses our work. And as we’ll see, we’re not just Christians on a Sunday morning when we’re wearing our best clothes - we’re all full time Christian workers, in whatever job we find ourselves in.

You’re not just in your particular job to pay the bills (as the alternative seven dwarves song would claim: ‘I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go...’) - but you’re there in order to be a Christian witness to your colleagues, bosses, and customers.

Perhaps with the holidays approaching, this morning can be like your annual appraisal - your chance to review how you’re performing at work; whether your faith is on display in the factory or the farmyard.

Verse 5: ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart.’ Paul says that we should work hard, obeying commands, doing what the boss wants us to do (obviously so long as it’s legal!), in singleness of heart - giving your all to the job.

In fact, he goes on to spell out what that means in verse 6: ‘not only while being watched, and in order to please them.’ My first job was in a little corner shop in Dromore. I worked there part time for about six years. The owner of the shop lived outside the town and would pop in every so often to pick up something or just on his way past. Some of the people I worked with would be very lazy, doing little; until suddenly, they would spot the boss’ jeep or Jackie would walk in, and it was as if they were the Duracell bunny - working very hard for the duration of his stay - and then they went back to their laziness again. They were only obeying whilst being watched!

I wonder are you like that? Will you get on with a job, or do you need to have someone watching you? You see, as I’ve already said, we’re full time Christians, not part time Christians - so our work must be an expression of our faith. It’s why Paul says that we should obey ‘as you obey Christ’ (5). You’re not just working for your boss; you’re working for Christ.

Would it make a difference to the way you went about your work tomorrow if you were to see the Lord Jesus in the manager’s office rather than your boss? Would you work harder? The Lord Jesus sees all that you do - the time spent on personal business, the lingering in the toilet, the extra five minutes over lunch, getting clocked in or out by someone else.

Do your colleagues realise that there’s something different about you, because you’re a Christian? Would they see you working hard because you realise you’re working for the Lord, you’re a slave of Christ, obeying his command?

Paul says that we are to render service with enthusiasm, knowing that the Lord who sees is the one who repays - ‘knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.’ (8) Isn’t that the point of our Gospel reading, where the slaves are entrusted with the master’s goods and left to get on with it? The faithful servant obeys, working without the master’s eye on him, and receives the reward for the work - but the lazy servant is cast out.

We’re not good in order to win God’s favour - we already have it, because of his love and grace and mercy (see chapters 1 and 2). But in the middle of chapter 2 we were reminded that God saved us to be ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.’ (2:10).

Now you might have noticed that Paul addresses both wives and husbands; both children and parents; so now here he addresses not just slaves, but also masters. Verse 9: ‘And masters, do the same to them.’ That is, work enthusiastically, for the Lord, and do good. He expands it by saying ‘Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.’

You may be a manager or a boss, you might have people working for you, but you’re not in ultimate control. Don’t threaten them - remember that you too are the slave of the Master, to whom you will answer; who shows no favour towards managers.

Near the end of the staff appraisal form there is normally a box which asks about your action plan. Having reviewed your performance, what will you change? How will you seek to improve in your work?

In this appraisal, we’ve been reminded that what we believe is expressed in how we behave - others may slack at work because they’re only there to put the hours in and take the money, whether or not they like the boss. But for the Christian, we’re reminded that Jesus is Lord of all - of every part of our lives, not just the Sunday bit - and so as we work, we’re serving him.

Are there things that need to change? Will you have to work harder? Perhaps you’re confronted with your failure - even today God’s grace is available, as you confess your sin and repent (turn around) and change.

The approval of our earthly manager can be important, but nothing will beat hearing those words from the Master in heaven: ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave... enter into the joy of your master.’

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 1st July 2012.