Thursday, August 30, 2007

Newspaper articles etc

Posts are now somewhat infrequent - thats because posts were mostly my articles for the newspapers. Now they're posted over at the two church websites:

You can subscribe there, or keep reading here - as long as I remember to post them here too!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

All handbrake, no accelerator

What drives you as a Christian? What is the motivating force for how you spend your time, your money, and your resources?

It strikes me that sometimes Christians are all handbrake and no accelerator. Our relationship with God stops us doing plenty of things, sinful things, but what actually drives us? Are our lives distinctively different from those around us in the things that we do do, as opposed to the things we don’t do?

Is the only thing that marks us out as different from our colleagues or our friends the fact that we don’t swear, don’t have sex outside of marriage and go to church things a couple of times a week?

Did Jesus save us to get a tenth of our money, and an hour or two on a Sunday? Or is there more to the Christian life than that?

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, and in that prayer he teaches them what their priorities are to be. The Lord’s Prayer starts with three requests focused on God, followed by three requests dealing with our needs. All to often we start with our needs and never make it to the things that are God’s concerns.

And because our prayers shape how we live, and how we live shapes how we pray, we have lost a vital perspective. It is the perspective of “Your Kingdom come”.

God is not in the business of saving individuals, no more than a builder is in the business of collecting bricks.

  • Throughout the gospels we see that Jesus has come to build a kingdom. He starts his ministry with the announcement, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15). He’s called the Lord Jesus because he came to rescue us from the kingdom of darkness and to bring us into his own kingdom. He calls his followers to “Seek first his kingdom… and all these things shall be given to you” (Matt 6:33). The kingdom was the focus of his teaching in the days after his resurrection, “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:8).

  • The kingdom was the focus of the preaching of the apostles, “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly… arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).

  • The concept of kingdom gave confidence and drive to the early church, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” (Hebrews 12:28). And that motivated the early Christians, when they were faced with the choice of either calling Caesar “Lord” or death in the arena, they choose death because they had no king but Christ.

This idea of kingdom is central to the life and experience of biblical Christianity. It’s what Jesus was about. It’s what the apostles were about. It’s what the early church was about.

Is it what you are about?

I don’t mean, “Are you a Christian?”. I mean, if you are a Christian, does the concept of Christ’s kingdom drive your choices? Are you a kingdom citizen, or merely a kingdom inhabitant?

The gospel is a call to invest your life in something majestic – in a kingdom that is victorious, that takes in the entire globe, that transforms lives, that has no limits, whose effects last for all eternity. God didn’t save us merely to get us out of Hell and into Heaven. He saved us to allow us to take part in the greatest empire ever seen.

But does our use of time or money or resources demonstrate that we are investing in a kingdom that cannot be shaken?

Consider the reply of the farmer who was asked what he did. He said, “I serve the King of kings, and I keep cattle to put food on the table.” That’s a kingdom perspective.

Consider the man who bought a holiday home in eastern Europe, but lets it out free of charge to local pastors needing a break, or to missionaries looking for accommodation.

Consider what joy you will have in Heaven if you invest your finances in supporting a local pastor in Peru for 10 years, rather than buying a newer model of car.

Consider that where we choose to live, even within Ireland, is a kingdom decision – where in the country needs Christians? According to one directory of churches, 82% of church workers in Ireland are on the east and south coasts. 52% are in the greater Dublin area. That leaves a vast tract of land up the west coast and in the middle. Where might the King want his citizens to live?

It’s a fantastically liberating concept. In 100 years from now where will our cars, homes, TVs, holidays be? Yet when we invest ourselves in living for Christ’s kingdom we will see the rewards for all eternity.

We are only managers of what we have.

Mission doesn’t start with speaking about the gospel. It starts with a fire that burns much deeper, a passion that comes from wanting to see Jesus’ kingdom spread, and pouring what resources you can into it.

When we live in such a way as to show that Christ is precious, then people will begin to take seriously our claim that Christ is precious and his kingdom worth being part of.

Kingdom living – let the Son set you free and you shall be free indeed.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Milford & Letterkenny on iTunes Store

You can now subscribe to sermons from Milford and Letterkenny via iTunes.

If you use iTunes, you can click the links below to subscribe to the sermon podcasts

Milford podcast
Letterkenny podcast

Click the link and iTunes opens up (if you have it installed - if not you can download it from Apple).
Then Click on the 'Subscribe' button.
You can either set up iTunes to download every new podcast, or you can leave it that you pick and choose which ones you want.

If you don't use iTunes and you wish to subscribe you can do so vis these RSS links

Milford RSS Sermon feed
Letterkenny RSS Sermon feed

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Website for Milford

Finally, and about time too, we've actually got a website up. Very basic. But it will have to do for starters.

Again I'll have to tip my hat to Ballyclabber and Limavady RP Churches - because I borrowed
some material from their sites. But since we are all part of the same denomination - it would be odd if our beliefs pages were radically different!

You'll find it here

Let me know what bits don't work!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Another Voice - On Popes and Pronouncements

So the Pope thinks that Christian denominations outside Roman Catholicism are not true churches. In layman’s terms – we’re not quite Christian. And there seems to be a right old furore over it.

Oddly enough I don’t have a problem with it. I disagree, but from where he stands it makes perfect sense. The Pope is a man who understands the very simple law of non-contradiction which, in this pluralistic, don’t-ever-say-anyone-is-wrong age we live in, is often ignored.

At the heart of the whole thing lies two very different views about how we relate to God and find forgiveness. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that you are saved by a two-pronged approach – you need both Christ (with his work on the cross) and the Church (with its rites which you must perform). One alone cannot save you: it takes both. On the other hand, evangelical Christianity teaches that it is entirely by Christ that we are accepted. He has accomplished everything necessary for salvation on the cross.

The two ideologies are fundamentally opposed. One says, “Christ+Church,” the other says, “Christ alone”. Both cannot be right.

If the Pope is convinced that he is right, then by definition I (and other evangelical Christians) must be wrong. If I believe I am right, then I must believe that he is wrong about how we relate to God. The dangerous game of ecumenical confusion played by others has obscured areas of grave concern for our souls. The truth is we do not all believe the same thing, and people’s souls are at stake. The Pope recognises this, and expresses his spiritual concern. As a pastor concerned for people’s souls, I appreciate the Pope’s frankness on this issue.

Why is there such an outcry then? The Pope is only stating what has been recognised by committed people on both sides for centuries.

The problem arises because we live in a world where the greatest ‘sin’ is to think that anyone else is wrong. Yet this kills off all intelligent discussion. And ironically those who are horrified at the Pope (or me) for saying that the other side is wrong, will rise up on their high horses to tell us, “You are wrong. It is wrong to tell people that they are wrong.” In a previous generation that was called hypocrisy – now it passes for tolerance.

How are we to decide such issues? Perhaps the wisest course is to see what God himself says. Through the apostle Paul, writing to a group of people who were saying that it wasn’t enough to have faith in Jesus you must also perform certain rites, God says,

“After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” – Galatians 3:3

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Give us today our daily bread

How much do you eat in a week? How much does your family eat in a week?

Jesus taught us to pray "Give us today our daily BREAD". Bread was the basic necessity of life. Bread and water. And yet we get so much more than the basic necessities - we get dessert too.

Jesus also taught us to pray, "Give US today our daily bread." Our prayers are so often self-centred, how often do we pray, and then act on behalf of the hungry?

Here's a couple of pics from a photo essay you can see the rest of over here. They show what a family in the UK eats in a week, and a family from Chad - along with the relative amount spent on food per week.

Great Britain: The Bainton family of Cllingbourne Ducis

Food expenditure for one week: 155.54 British Pounds or $253.15
Favorite foods: avocado, mayonnaise sandwich, prawn cocktail, chocolate fudge cake with cream

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp

Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Favorite foods: soup with fresh sheep meat

You can hear a sermon I preached on "Give us today our daily bread" here

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Another Voice - More than conquering your circumstances

Two old men were sitting watching a heavily loaded van making its way across an old bridge. The bridge croaked and groaned under the weight. As they watched, a starling landing on top of the cab, and immediately the bridge collapsed in a cloud of dust. One of the men turned to the other and said, “Heavy wee thing, that bird.”

Sometimes it’s not the big things in life that get to us, it’s the collection of little things that mount up, and soon you feel up to you neck. And perhaps you find yourself lying awake at night and your mind is racing with the circumstances you find yourself in, and it gets to the point where you are on the verge of panic.

Perhaps it’s the kids, they’re playing up, and you just don’t have the energy for this. Perhaps it’s bills coming in, perhaps it’s reports coming home from school of disruptive behaviour, perhaps it’s worries about a job, work isn’t coming in, or too much work is piling up. Perhaps it’s losing your job, and how then are you going to provide?

Perhaps it’s just that you are caught in a pattern you can’t get out of – you can’t seem to break free. Perhaps something has you addicted and you can’t break free. Perhaps choices you made have left you in a hopeless situation. Perhaps you have been dumped into your circumstances by others, and you are left there and you feel you are floundering, just keeping afloat and no more.

Is there hope?

We can’t always change our circumstances – despite what Oprah and the positive thinking gurus say. But the Bible teaches that we can be changed in our circumstances. In other words we can live in the same circumstances, but with a radically different mindset, and more importantly with the strength of God working in us and through us enabling us to cope. And often it is as he changes us that God does what we can’t do, and changes our circumstances.

The Bible also teaches that those who put their trust in God find that he controls their circumstances for their good. That gives a strength and a peace amidst the turmoil. And, although it doesn’t always happen, often he does lift us out of our circumstances and transform both them and us.

On Sunday evening (10th) we’ll be looking at what the Bible has to say this on topic in greater detail – ‘More than Conquering your Circumstances’. It’s open to anyone. It will be held in the Day Centre off Oliver Plunkett Road, Letterkenny at 8pm. Why not come along and hear more?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sermons online

Just to say I've stuck some sermons online over at should anyone be vaguely interested

Here's a list of whats there at present:

More than Conquering
More than Conquering your suffering

Lord’s Prayer (first sermons missing)
Hallowed be your name
The Kingdom under attack (Preparation for Communion)
Your Kingdom Come (Communion Service)
The Return of the King (Thanksgiving service)

Talks given at Calvary Mission’s weekend
The Importance of Fellowship
The Foundations of Fellowship
The Foundations (2) - How people change
The Practice of Fellowship

Individual Sermons
Come to me all you who are weary and burdened

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Another Voice - Getting Past your Past

If you had an opportunity to plan your life – would you be who you are now? Who we are is, in part, the result of the actions and influences of others.

That’s fine if only good has happened to you. But since we live in a broken world there are many who have been shaped by situations and circumstances that have left deep scars across the surface of their souls. It might have been abuse, bereavement, absent or distant parents, alcoholism, drug dependence, or countless other factors.

We only get one life. It doesn’t seem fair that the actions of others in time past can mar and ruin who we are.

Perhaps this is you, and you’ve tried to hide from the past, but you know that it doesn’t work.

It’s possible to live with the past, and yet not cope with the past. It gnaws away at us. We become trapped, thinking that we have to remain victims.

In Ireland we are very good at putting up masks, and hiding behind them, pretending everything is fine. But underneath lies a soul that is still raw. The past is real; it cannot be changed. Yet it can be conquered.

Our past might define us, but it doesn’t have to defeat us.

But how?

As a Christian, and as a pastor I believe that there is an answer. The Bible offers help to the hurting, so that they can emerge like a butterfly from the chrysalis of their past. God makes a promise to hurting people: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

What great words: hope, future, prosper. The hope that the Bible holds out is of a God who sets us free from the shackles of our past, who takes our past and uses it for good in us and around us. Not only does he rescue us from our past, but he rescues our past as well. The years we thought were lost are turned around and made into something profitable.

More needs to be said, and I will be speaking on Sunday evening (20th) on what the Bible has to say about ‘More than Conquering your Past’ at the Day Centre off Oliver Plunkett Road, Letterkenny at 8pm. Why not come along and hear more?

Sermon audio can now we found here

Friday, May 04, 2007

Website for New Life Fellowship

Finally, and about time too, we've actually got a website up. Very basic. But it will have to do for starters.

I'll have to tip my hat to Ballyclabber and Limavady RP Churches - because I borrowed
some material from their sites. But since we are all part of the same denomination - it would be odd if our beliefs pages were radically different!

You'll find it here

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is there only ever one right answer?

Tim Challies is asking over here if error in doctrine is always sin. I would say yes, but that doesn't mean that a person has deliverately chosen to sin. Sin is still sin even if we act in ignorance.

Just yesterday I sent a while responding to a similar question so here's part of that response:

They wrote:
But I think what we differ on here is the fact that you say there is ONE right answer for EVERY issue in the Bible, and I don't believe that to be true.
I replied:

Let me clarify what I believe the bible teaches. It all comes down to guidance - in all matters we take our guidance from the bible. In any decision making process the Christian will find that there are 3 types of decision:
  • Right or wrong decisions
  • Wise or foolish decisions
  • 'Doesnt matter'/personal preference decisions
With regard to each of those situations the bible functions like this
  • Right/wrong decisions - Bible tells us what we are to do and not do
  • Wisdom decisions - Bible provides guidelines for what is wise or foolish.
  • 'Doesnt matter'/personal preference decisions - Bible doesnt especially speak about them, because they dont matter
Here's how this fits together
  • Right/wrong decisions - There is only one right answer - a thing is either right or wrong
  • Wisdom decisions - There is a principle which is right, but it may result in different outcomes depending on situations
  • 'Doesnt matter'/personal preference decisions - There are many right answers.
When we come to look at at issue you need to ask which category does it fit into? Depending on which category it fits into there may be more than one right answer. But not if it is a right /wrong issue. When it comes to wisdom decisions we need to recognise that the principles that guide us are the same for all Christians, but may result in different outcomes. So in a sense there is one right principle, but different outcomes, yet all Christians are bound to keep to the same principles, although some may differ as to which principles to apply.

Also some issues dont just fit into one category - there are aspects of each involved. There may be right/wrong rules to be applied, then wise/foolish principles, finally before you find you have one option left, or maybe you still have several - and you are free to choose which you want. For example - marriage.
  • Right/wrong decisions - You must marry a Christian, of the opposite sex, and not a blood relative.
  • Wisdom principles - Bible teaches that they should be good for you spiritually, and you should be able to submit to them.
  • 'Doesnt matter'/personal preference decisions - That still leaves quite a few candidates - so pick one you like!
So no-one can tell you that you are wrong for marrying Bill if Bill is a Christian, single and not related. They might feel that you were unwise, or they mighn't agree with your preference.

When it comes to any issue - marriage, work, worship, baptism, etc - we have to work through each of these categories.

They had said:
Again, from Romans 14, "He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord. He who eats meat does so to the Lord...he who abstains does so to the Lord." How can all these be right if there is just 1 answer? They do what they believe is right before God. "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." It doesn't say we all have to be convinced of the same thing, but in our own minds.
When we come to Romans 14 we can look at it under those headings

These people were concerned that meat sacrificed to idols shouldnt be eaten, or that they should keep the Jewish Sabbath as well as the Lord's day, or the other Jewish feasts.
  • Was it a matter of right/wrong? No, eating meat sacrificed to idols wasnt a sin, neither was not eating the meat. Keeping an extra day as special wasnt a sin, neither was NOT keeping the extra day a sin.
  • Was it a matter of wisdom? For Paul, who knew there was nothing wrong with the meat, it boils down to a matter of wisdom. The great principle at stake is - Since there is no sin involved, will one action or another tend to build up more? These people arent convinced yet that the meat is ok, so Paul will not insist on eating it in their presence, and offending them.
  • Was it a matter of personal preference? Yes - for those who didnt eat meat it was important for them to see that this wasnt a biblical position, nor was it unbiblical - simply they had a problem with the close association with idols and preferred not to eat. And it was important that both sides knew that and didnt judge the other.
The issue to note is that neither course of action was wrong in itself, therefore there was freedom. God had not spoken against it.

This is a Category 2 (Wisdom issue) hence - one principle, different answers. Or in might even be a Category 3 (preference) problem - with the people mistaking it for a matter of biblical truth. Each person is to make up their own mind on the matter, and be consistent with what they have decided.

Also they had asked:
As well, the passage in 1 Corinthians 7; 36-38, where Christians are given options of doing things. One way is "right" but another way is "better". Not wrong.
This one is a Category 2 problem - the principle is set out in v8-9. "Dont marry, unless you can't control yourself." He then applies the principle to different groups.

When you asked me was there only one right answer on issues I was thinking of Category 1 issues. Clearly there are other areas where there are multiple answers which are right, but those areas are clearly defined and outside the boundary of category 1.

There are issues on which Christians can legitimately differ without one being right and the other wrong, but only really when it comes to category three. All Christians should agree on right and wrong, and on principles of wisdom. But personal preferences will differ, or cultural preferences will differ.

You might think it seems harsh to think that another person is wrong, or even arrogant. Just because I believe someone is wrong, doesnt mean that I dont love them or respect them, and it certainly doesnt mean I think I am better than them. It is possible to be right on an issue and still expect to learn from others.

Of course it cuts both ways - they think I am wrong. I dont have a problem with that either.

One thing that is missing from much of today's Christianity is the ability to have a robust discussion about issues. Either people get angry, which is wrong, or they think that it isnt loving to disagree.

Humility doesnt mean being wimpish and vague in our belief. Humility is being sure of what you believe and yet being willing to learn from anyone. There is an idea that it is wrong to seek to be certain about anything. Christianity must not accommodates itself to this spirit of the age which says it is arrogant to says that there is such a thing as absolute truth.

However since some matters are complex and sincere Christians do differ, we must hold our positions with humble firmness.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Dale Ralph Davis Sermons online

Dale Ralph Davis writes great commentaries on Old Testament books. Now you can listen to his sermons online here. They aren't in mp3 format, but I wanted to include the phrase 'mp3' because for some reason I keep getting hits looking for 'Dale Ralph Davis sermons mp3'. Hopefully now people will be pointed in the right direction.

Also - the guy knows how to write an introductory webpage for a church. Have a look at this. Here's a snippet:
"Now I must warn you. This church is full of sinners. Everyone who comes here is one. You'll need to remember that if you associate with us – or you may be unnecessarily disappointed."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech: A great American tragedy

A friend of mine, Crawford Gribben, has written a great article on a lesson to be learned from the Virginia Tech tragedy. In it he writes:
It’s not fashionable to lament the slow death of the Western imagination – but there can be little doubt that the death of our collective imagination, and our collective imagination’s preoccupation with scenes of violence and death, has lead to repeated incidents of enacted violence. Our collective imagination is the key to our social future – what we choose to fill our minds with is a real indication of what our societies will choose to become.
Read it here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Another Voice - Give us today our daily bread

First it was the power going off, then the water, then the power again. Then our car broke down. It doesn’t take much to bring everything grinding to a halt. What do you do when the electric goes off for a couple of hours? What do you do when the water stops running?

It’s funny how easily we are reduced to nothingness. So much of our homes run on electricity. You think when the power goes off, I’ll just go and phone so and so, only to find that your new digital cordless phone doesn’t work. So you think, “I’ll just sit down with a mug of tea and a good book,” but of course there’s no power for the kettle! And then proud of your creativity you think, “I’ll use the microwave to heat the water”. Nope.

We fancy ourselves as great independent people who can cope with life, but the reality is that we’ve become so dependent on progress that we don’t know how to cope when it all breaks down.

I’ve just started preaching on the Lord’s Prayer on Sundays. One of the phrases in it is, “Give us today our daily bread” which covers much more than bread – all the necessities of life – but seems obsolete in a day and age of supermarkets. After all, we earn the money with which we buy our food, and we drive to the shop in our own cars, and we cook the food ourselves. Why bother asking God? Yet don’t the recent problems with water and electricity show us that it is just as relevant 2000 years after Jesus taught it? God hasn’t become obsolete, just because we have moved a step or two away from the raw materials. Instead of reaping our own corn and grinding it for bread, or walking to the well and drawing our own water, we have it all ‘on tap’ so to speak.

Yet when the supply chain is interrupted we find ourselves at a loss. We find we aren’t as independent as we thought – and that we can’t even cope with a few shortages. Our progress hasn’t made us any more independent; it has only blinded us to our reliance upon God for even the simplest things in life.

We need to get back to seeing the need to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”. It’s humbling, but better to be humble than find God having to humble us for our arrogant self-reliance.

(PS You can hear a sermon I preached on "Give us today our Daily Bread" here)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Prayer and Easter

...the Bible’s teaching is that we are not fit to approach God ourselves. We simply cannot wander into his presence to worship or to make requests. We are stained with our sin, and with our righteousness. Yes, stained with our righteousness. Like some child who has got covered in thick greasy oil, and then tried to cover it up with white talcum powder. It doesn’t work. Its still a mess.

The only reason Christians can pray is because Christ has made them acceptable by his death on the cross, where our sins and our shabby efforts at righteousness are placed on him, and his cloak on perfect goodness is placed on us. Like Jacob going in before his father dressed like his brother Esau, and blind Isaac knew the voice was different, but the clothes smelt right, and he poured out the blessing on Jacob. So we stand in God’s presence dressed like Christ, and our voice is different, but the Father is not some blind old man, he is fully aware of what he is doing, and says, "I will bless you because you are dressed like my son. I will listen to you because you are dressed like my son. I will answer you because you are dressed like my son. I will answer even before you cry out because you are dressed like my son."

And what was the cost of that cloak that we wear? It cost the death of Jesus, the suffering of Jesus, the hell that was mine poured out on Jesus.

Prayer is a blood-bought privilege.

And that means two things:

One – prayer is only open to those who have put on Christ's righteousness, in other words, Christians.

The second thing we learn from this is the immensity of the privilege Christians have. Prayer is a precious thing. It's precious because it isn’t available to everyone. Its precious because of who we can talk to. And its precious because of what it cost. What a terrible sin we have committed by being prayerless. Perhaps that’s where we need to start, with a realisation of what prayer is, and what it cost.

When we pray we need to keep in mind the heart-wrenching, soul-tearing, agonising cry of Christ on the cross, “My God My God, why have you forsaken me?” Part of the answer to that question is found when you bow your head and say, “Father”. How humbling. How much forgiveness we need for failing to pray.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nuclear apologetics

I've just finished listening to a set of lectures by Greg Bahnsen on defending your faith. First class stuff. Get them and listen to them - I'd post them for you, but they're copyright!

So you'll have to buy them yourself, but they're well worth it - somewhere in the region of £1 each. There's ten of them, but why not buy the first couple and see what you think.

Here's a suggestion - buy the first two and get a group of you together and listen to them, and talk about it.

You'll get them here

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Another Voice - Money will spit you out

I was talking to a local businessman who works in the retail sector. He voiced his concerns about the way Irish people regard money at the moment. He sees people racking up holidays, homes, cars and luxury items and he wonders where they are getting the money. In business he increasingly comes across those whose credit cards are being declined when they go to purchase.

We live at a time where banks, manufacturers and advertisers couldn’t care less about the people their products are aimed at. We used to be customers, now we are simply consumers. They tailor their products, not to meet our needs, but to feed our greed. So we buy items with money we don’t have, to do something we don’t need, only to find a newer and better model released next week.

Money is a cruel master. It so easily enslaves those who get a taste for it and for what it brings. Money enslaves us by making us work harder, work longer and work when we should be with our family. It makes us envy those who have what we haven’t. And we won’t be satisfied until we get it, and when we get it we’ll find that it doesn’t satisfy.

The problem is that money is a substitute – our hearts are wired to seek something that will fulfil us and our needs and desires. Money looks like a likely candidate but it can’t take the strain. It will ultimately disappoint. And when it has sucked you dry it will spit you out, either broke, or dissatisfied with all your toys.

When we try to fill a God-shaped hole in our souls with a thing-shaped object there will always be gaps where dissatisfaction seeps through.

Our hearts are wired for something bigger than money; not so much some thing as some one. God is the only master who won’t disappoint, chew up and spit out. He is the only master who doesn’t say “give, give” but instead says, “I will lay down my life for you”. On the cross God says “I’ll pay, I’ll bring you into happiness – don’t go running after it, let me bring it to you: eternal happiness that no-one can take away, that won’t devalue, deteriorate or be superseded.”

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” – Matthew 6:19-20

Friday, March 16, 2007

Random rant on prayer and pronunciation

I was reading Dan Phillips' post here on people mumbling and mangling Jesus' name.

It brought to mind a few thoughts of my own - one backed up by the mighty Pyro leader himself in the comments section of Dan's post.

minor rant
As Phil put it "The possessive of Jesus' name is spelled and pronounced the way I just wrote it." Ministers and pew sitters alike pay attention - it's Jesus' and when you say "Jesus' disciples" it sounds just like "Jesus disciples" not "Jesusiz disciples".


Slightly more important Rant
When you pray consider these three things:
  • Leave out the word "just" as in "Lord we just want to just ask you to just help us"
  • Think about the Trinity when you pray - I don't know how many times I've heard, "Dear father, we just want to thank you for loving us enough to come and die for us". God the Father did not come an ddie for us, that was God the Son.
  • Also - please don't try to be so calvinistic or whatever it is that you don't actually ask God for whatever it is you want - "Lord pray for so and so who's sick and we ask you to do your will for him, and we know that you will do your will, so we ask you to do your will." It's almost as if we are afraid to ask incase we dont get it and people, us or others, will say "God didn't answer your prayer". Or perhaps it's because we know that God has a secret will and we don't want people to think we dont know it. I don't know
What I do know is this - Jesus tells us to ask whatever we want in his name - over and over again 8 times plus another 3 from the apostles. It's ok to be specific and to ask for specific things. Of course we understand that God will do what is best, but shouldn't let it handicap and mangle our prayers because we are so conscious of sounding right to other theologically astute folks.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Thou shalt not pass round copyrighted mp3's or rip someone else's cd's

Tim Challies has an excellent post on copyright and mp3 and software. Go read it.

As it gets easier and easier to copy music and swap files, Christians need to realise that if you haven't paid for it, and don't have permission to give it away then to do so is stealing.

How many people's hard-drives/mp3 players are filled with music they didn't pay for?

I remember talking to a Christian young person who proudly told me that he downloaded all his software from the internet and bypassed the security with cracks. He then offered to get me the latest desktop publishing software.

It's called stealing, and God forbids it.

Its easy to do. And we can excuse it so easily. I sometimes borrow a cd and rip it to my ipod to listen to and see if I want to buy it. But months later it can still be there. It's time to dump or buy.

So if you need to, repent and clean out your hard-drives.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Another Voice - Heroes at Drinking

So Irish people spent €6.5billion on alcohol in 2005. In 2006 we drank 732 million litres of the stuff. That was 232 litres per person over 18 – which is probably a fair enough figure since those over 18 who don’t drink goes some way to offset those under 18 who do. Apparently we top the international league for binge drinking among the under-20s, and in the amount of alcohol consumed by those aged 15 and over.

Add to that the toll of death and injury caused by people driving under the influence of alcohol. Add to that the abuse and violence inflicted on children, wives, and husbands by those under the influence. Add to that the chaos and over-burdening of A&E departments up and down the country at weekends because of alcohol related violence or accident.

Now why is it then that I keep hearing people whinging about Garda checkpoints and ‘morning after’ breath-testing? It’s even got to the stage that some politicians have voiced their disapproval.

There is an innate selfishness about this – “I have a right to drink what I want, and to go out on the roads and endanger the lives of others just because I want to drive.” It’s all about me.

Why should one person’s favourite offence be treated lightly by the law and not someone else’s preferred manner of law-breaking, like downloading child pornography? I suspect most who complain about breath-testing wouldn’t for a moment let a viewer of child porn off the hook. They want other people’s anti-social behaviour dealt with, while being let off the hook for their own. That is the height of arrogance.

God says in Isaiah 5: “Woe to those who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine… Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks… Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people.”

It’s time to face up to the fact that we have taken one of God’s gifts and made an idol out of it – and every time we do that it will turn round and bite us. We need to repent of this worship of the god of alcohol and turn to the worship of the one true God.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Food for thought - The Mobile and the Bible

(Local newspaper column)
I love gadgets. I love having a digital camera and playing around with it. I love my iPod and being able to listen to whatever I want wherever I am. But there is one gadget that just doesn’t excite me – the mobile phone. I do own one, but it isn’t the latest or the smallest and it doesn’t even have a camera. But I see that I am almost alone in this. Everywhere you look someone is gabbing into a bright shiny phone, or a cluster of people are standing round peering at photos on a 2 inch screen, or talking about their latest upgrade deal.

It has become the new mentor that has to be consulted before we do anything. It carries our lives, our diary, numbers, games, messages, pictures, and music. It has become the new Bible. But I can think of several ways that a Bible is better than a mobile:
  • It doesn’t need charged.
  • There is nowhere where it is out of coverage.
  • No-one will beat you up for your Bible.
  • There’s no monthly bill, or pay as you go.
  • A mobile turns you into a slave who can always be found, the Bible sets you free.
  • Phones carry possible health risks; the message of the Bible enables you to live forever.
  • They don’t keep issuing better models with new options every two months.
I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our mobile phone?
  • What if we carried it around in our bags or pockets?
  • What if we turned back to go and get it if we forgot it?
  • What if we referred to it several times a day?
  • What if we used it to receive messages from God?
  • What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it?
  • What if we took it out of our pocket to pass the time on a journey?
  • What if we gave it to kids as gifts?
  • What if we used it as we travelled?
  • What if we used it in case of an emergency?
One more advantage a Bible has over a mobile - You can get one free from me, but you won’t get a free mobile! If you would like one, or if you would like someone to give you a beginners guide to the Bible, get in touch.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A couple of sermons online

Up until now there has been no evidence on the web that I actually preach the sermons I post here. Some perhaps hoped that they never saw the light of day, but sadly the delusion is gone. Real people have to listen this this stuff! :-) And someone has put a couple of my sermons up for the general population of the world to download. (As if there is going to be a mad rush!)

So for those of you who stumble upon this site and want to hear what I actually sound like you can download a couple of sermons I preached at another church here. The church is Killicomaine Evangelical Church in Northern Ireland, and the services were at their anniversary weekend in 2007. They are on Ecclesiastes - Living well when life is easy and Living well when life is tough

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Food for thought - Spare the Rod

Corporal punishment in schools has been banned for 25 years, according to a report on last Friday’s RTE news. Are we the better for it being gone?

The reporter interviewed a series of older people who had experience of the ruler or the strap at school. Every one affirmed that it wasn’t pleasant but it hadn’t done them any real harm. The reporter then spoke to a group of school children and asked, “Would you like to have been hit for doing something wrong?” – understandably none were terribly enthused with the idea.

I find it interesting the way reporters reveal their bias by the way they ask their questions and to whom they ask them. Who in their right mind asks anyone if they would like to be disciplined? Also choice of the word ‘hit’ has a far wider range of connotations than getting a smack with a ruler. It could mean a solid blow to the head. This loads the issue even further. As for “something wrong” - the impression given is that you could get a battering for not being able to spell antidisestablishmentarianism, rather than for misbehaving and disrupting class.

Now I would accept that there were teachers who were cruel, violent and sadistic and who abused the power they had. I accept that corporal punishment may have been used unfairly on those who had learning difficulties. But the solution is not to remove the power to discipline; instead it is to remove the teacher who abuses the power, and to see that punishment is used appropriately and sparingly.

The report then went on to talk about the new and improved ways of enforcing discipline and finished with the telling line, “In the absence of corporal punishment, schools have had to find other ways of enforcing discipline, which is an even bigger issue now than it was 25 years ago.”

So discipline is an even bigger problem 25 years after the abolishing of corporal punishment than it was when we had corporal punishment – I wonder what has caused this?

Could it possibly be the abolition of corporal punishment?

There is an “emperor’s new clothes” mentality about all this. We go on and on about what a wonderfully advanced society we have here in Ireland, and all the while discipline in schools, behaviour in our towns and respect for law and order are going to the dogs.

Can we not see the connection – we have removed the power of the state to discipline and punish criminals properly, we have removed the power of educators to discipline pupils effectively, and we are pursuing the path of preventing parents from disciplining their own children effectively – and we wonder why we have problems with discipline at every level?

Like the two little boys in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the emperor, the Bible points out the obvious. It says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). That applies not just to those who don’t like being disciplined, but to all who would seek to remove and forbid proper discipline. The well-known adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is from the book of Proverbs (13:24), which also says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15).

The reason we have discipline problems in society at large is because we have ignored God’s word on the issue. First we ignored his guidelines for how discipline should be done. Now we are ignoring his commands for discipline altogether.

The conclusion? When we fail to build our lives around the maker’s instruction manual we shouldn’t then wonder why everything seems to fall apart.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Another Voice - Identity Theft

{Column for a local newspaper)

Last week’s Post carried an article on autobank (ATM) scams here is Letterkenny. Apparently people were finding large amounts mysteriously disappearing from their accounts. The week before carried an article about someone getting their credit cards nicked on holiday and losing out. Last November I looked at my Visa statement to find that someone had purchased tickets to fly from Slovakia to England on my card. It took a lot of phone calls and emails to get the thing sorted out.

It’s a shock to the system to look at your bank balance and see not only that it is less than you expected, but that there are several transactions listed you know nothing about. Your stomach clenches up in momentary panic as you try to figure out what’s going on.

And then a wave of relief comes as you realise that it wasn’t you, and that your credit card company is meant to cover this sort of thing. The relief is final when you get the letter from the bank saying, “We’ve credited you account with the missing amount.”

Identity theft is a real nuisance – and can be costly. However, I owe my life to an identity ‘thief’. It was one of those occasions where the switcher came off the worse for the switch. Instead of getting my resources he got my debts. Instead of me looking at the statement and finding all these things going out of my account, there were lists of things coming into my account. Beside each of my debts an equal amount had been entered to clear it.

The identity switcher was Jesus – on the cross he assumed my guilt and my bad record. He took my identity and therefore had to bear the punishment that my sins had racked up. And it wasn’t a mistake either. He willingly assumed the foulness of my record, and paid my debt with God so that I could be forgiven.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was a two-way switch – he became like me so that I could become like him, a son in God’s family with all the privileges entailed. Mind boggling or what! To find out more about enjoying this identity switch for yourself have a look at this website or feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Food for thought - “I’m not really like that”

I see from the news that Jade Goodie, one of the Big Brother contestants, has landed herself in hot water with accusations of racism against Indian contestant Shilpa Shetty.

I’m somewhat sceptical and wonder if it wasn’t all a ploy to increase viewers.

Goodie’s response was, “No, I'm not a racist, but I accept I made racist comments.” That struck me as somewhat odd – a bit like saying “I’m not a racist but my tongue is”. Yet we hear it from people all the time. A young man gives someone a hiding or attacks a woman, and there will be people on the news saying, “Ah but he’s a good lad at heart, I don’t know what got into him.” How often have we heard some hardened convict or serial killer say, “I’m not a bad person”?

We have this notion that we can divorce people from their actions, “You aren’t a bad person, you just do bad things”.

It would be easy to point the finger though. How often are we guilty of making the same excuses? In the heat of the moment we lose our temper with the kids, or we swear at another driver, or we lash out in frustration and then we say to ourselves, “That’s not the real me, that’s not who I really am.”

Unfortunately that IS who we really are. We cannot divorce people and their actions. The Bible says, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). We wouldn’t do these things if there wasn’t a desire to do them somewhere deep within.

What we do, we choose to do. What we choose to do, we do because of desires deep within us.

That leaves us with a choice – we can either pull the wool over our eyes and pretend that we are better than we really are, all the while allowing ourselves to rot from the inside out, or we can admit that there is something wrong at the very core of our being and look for a way to have it dealt with.

There is something tremendously freeing about the Bible’s approach. It allows us to be honest with ourselves and with God about our sin. We don’t have to hide anything. We don’t have to pretend that we are better than we really are. But more than that, we can have the problem dealt with – God doesn’t just want to hear about our faults, he wants to transform us. That’s what Jesus offers to do.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you… I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

So if you’re fed up with what you see lurking beneath your surface, and fed up hiding from the truth – here’s the opportunity for a fresh start.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Food for thought - Reality TV

Does TV shape us or do we shape what’s on TV? Hard to know which it is, but one thing’s for certain – there are a massive number of reality TV shows, shows like Big Brother, X-Factor, I’m a Celebrity get me out of here, Strictly Come Dancing, You’re a Star, American Idol, Soapstar Superstar, It Takes Two, Celebrity Masterchef, etc. The list seems endless, and you can hardly turn on the TV at the moment without being asked to vote someone on or off a show.

Some of them are really good – I’ll have to admit to watching Strictly Come Dancing, especially when it got down to a battle between two sportsmen. But that’s about all – I can’t stand most of them!

In all of this there seems to be something in these shows that resonates with the public. I suspect that part of it is that we love judging! We love to hear the judges’ comments, and then we love to sit in judgement on the judges, disagreeing with them, shouting at the TV “Are you blind/deaf/untalented” (delete as appropriate) and then override the judges’ decisions with the phone-in vote.

And then there’s the top judge of all reality judges – Simon Cowell of X-Factor and American Idol. Opinionated and ruthless, you either loathe him or love him. His outspokenness infuriates people, but he’s generally always right. And there is a fairness about him such that he’ll criticise his own contestants if he doesn’t think they are up to the mark. Added to that there is the simple fact that it is his opinion that all the contestants want to hear.

Added to that there’s the tension of the results show. And they all follow the same format – string it out as long as possible and have long dramatic delays while giving the results (despite the fact that the votes are probably computer-counted and available in a split-second).

Something strikes me about our fascination with these shows. We love the judgment aspect of it. There is something in us which wants to see our opinion vindicated, or wants to see talent win out, or wants to put down the person we think is too big for their boots. And all the while we’re glad we’re not up there, or sometimes we’re thinking that we could do a better job if we were.

Judgment – who would have thought that judgment would be so popular? Yet it is something we all have to face. One day we will stand like the celebrities before the panels of judges, except for us there will be no panel, no Bruno Tonioli or Sharon Osbourne to say nice things when the others have been rightly critical. There will only be one Judge. There will be no phone-in vote to save those condemned. There will be no second chance.

How then are we to face this day? Do we make it our New Year resolution to try really hard to be a decent and kind person? No matter how hard we try we’d still never get that perfect 10. We just don’t have it in us.

Imagine that you have been asked to dance before the judges with no training. Your fate hangs in the balance. Imagine then that one of the professionals steps forward and says, “Let me take your place” and he dances a perfect dance, the judges hold up 10’s, and you are safe.

That’s what God the Judge offers: someone to take our place, one who lived a perfect life, who met all of God’s requirements. That ‘professional’ is no less than God himself – God the Son, Jesus. Go and ask Jesus to take your place, stop relying on your own decency to impress the Judge because it never will. Put your trust in Jesus to do all that is required for you to get you through the Day of Judgment.

So before you sit down to watch the next show, or pick up the phone to cast your judgment, think about your own judgment day. After all it’s God who warns us, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Does Dawkins Exist? - A genius parable

I came across this clever parable (HT Stephen) about the evidence for Richard Dawkins. I give you the first paragraph to whet your appetite:

In The Beginning

As I thumbed my way through the pages of "The God Delusion", a question dropped into my head. Does Richard Dawkins really exist?

Being a scientific and rational person, I decided that I wasn't going to just accept any old theory on this question. If Richard Dawkins exists, then I would need to be shown the proper evidence for it. Others can have their own superstitious beliefs, based on who-knows-what, but I would only be convinced by empirical science. If there is a Dawkins, why hasn't he shown himself to me?

What Happened Next

As I pondered this, a man wearing a pointy hat wandered into the room. He erected a little box a few feet off the ground, climbed on to it, and began speaking to me.

As he talked he began, rather dogmatically, to insist on a number of things. Apparently, it was clear and obvious that Richard Dawkins existed. Did I not have his own book in my hands? Did it not have Dawkins' name on the front, and the imprints of his thoughts on every page? If I wanted to see evidence for Dawkins, was it not to be found throughout this little tome? Dawkins, he said, had shown himself to me everywhere. What could be a sufficient cause for such a book, if not a Dawkins? The alternatives were incredible. They required far more faith than simply to accept that the pages were the work of the said Richard.

Read on

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Food for thought - The Spirit of Ebay

(Column for local paper - idea sparked by David McCullough's post)

I’m an Ebayer. For those of you who don’t know what that is, Ebay is an auction website where you can buy and sell almost anything. I’ve bought (occasionally), rather than sold anything. It’s great for tracking down items that are hard to find, or for getting things at a good price.

After each transaction you are rated by the other party, which gives others a guide to how reliable a customer you are. There are different coloured stars depending how many good transactions you have made – it all sounds a bit like first class at school!

Apparently all this positive feedback reinforces the Ebay values. I hadn’t given much thought to what they were until a friend pointed it out, so I went and looked them up on their website. The first three read as follows:
  • We believe people are basically good.
  • We believe everyone has something to contribute.
  • We believe that an honest, open environment can bring out the best in people.
It was the first one that particularly struck me. As a friend of mine writes in another column, “Are they living in the real world? Do they not read the papers or listen to the news? A perverted man murders five women whose lives have broken down – is that basically good?”

This was lurking at the back of my mind when I opened a newspaper lying at my mother and father’s home and read the headline, “How Ebay stole our Christmas”. The article details how Ebay, instead of being a nice open environment where people generously sell off stuff they are finished with, it’s the place to find those hard to get presents, the ‘must haves’, but only at severely inflated prices. It tells the story of Scott who bought 60 or so of the latest ‘must have’ games consoles and sold them off on Ebay for double the price to desperate parents who hadn’t planned far enough in advance. He made £6,000 profit for a few hours work.

You can’t blame Scott and the many others who did likewise, but it does call into question the statements that “We believe that people are basically good” and “an honest open environment can bring out the best in people”.

Much better to admit that the whole system is based on the fact that people are basically greedy, and that greedy buyers who want more for their money, and greedy sellers who want more money for their product keep the whole thing in balance.

Of course it doesn’t make for a great value statement – but at least it would be realistic and biblical. “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain” (Jeremiah 6:13). Test yourself – were you disappointed with any of your presents this Christmas? Although it was completely free would you have wanted something more? Or perhaps you got all you wanted – would you have been happy with a lot less?

The idea that we can have ‘a community that … brings out the best in people’ assumes that there is a ‘best’ to be brought out. Given the mess of the world and the wars and atrocities of the last 100 years, surely we can lose this myth that man is basically good.

We don’t have to pull the wool down over our eyes and pretend that if we try hard enough we can have an open honest community – God has come into the world to offer to transform people from the inside out to build exactly that type of community. The good news that Jesus brings is that he will transform those who put their trust in him so that they no longer have selfish, greedy hearts, but hearts that delight to live for God and serve others. That’s the only way to an open honest community.