Monday, 23 November 2015

Thought for the Day

I was happy to be back on Radio Ulster 3 times in the last 2 weeks doing 'Thought For the Day'.  I used to do this years ago but the opportunity arose again recently and so was happy to grab it.  Radio is a powerful medium. It's great to be in the public square with some good news and provoking thought.  Here's the one I delivered yesterday morning.....

I can still clearly remember when I was 18, a man I knew was celebrating his 40th birthday. I thought that was really old.  40! that was ancient.  I worked out it would be 22 years before I reached that.  22 years. that was a lifetime away so this old man could celebrate his 40th birthday if he wanted to, but it would be ages before I ever got there.  I couldnt have imagined ever getting a birthday card with the 'big 40' on it. 

Little did I know!  I sailed past 40 and then 50 and I still don’t feel old but I do wonder how it all happened so quickly.  That’s what people say about time isn’t it?  “Where did it go?” “Doesn’t time fly?” “I can hardly believe 2015 is nearly over.” “What Christmas again?”.  I heard recently that the great Big Ben needs about £40 million spent on it to keep it sound and ringing out over London.  Well even if it did stop, time wouldn’t.

 You have probably heard the poem...

When as a child I laughed and wept – time crept
When as a youth I waxed more bold – time strolled
When I became a fully grown man- time ran
When older still I daily grew – time flew
Soon I shall find in passing on – time gone
O Christ Will you have saved me then? Amen!

You see time is the one thing we can’t ever increase.  It stubbornly refuses to yield more of it no matter how hard we try.  More money?  Well its possible.  More friends on Facebook? That can be arranged.  More healthy body?  Well maybe with a bit more exercise and better eating habits.  But more time? No chance!

No its finite and it moves at the same rate for everybody.  One hour is the same for the high powered businessman rushing to appointments as it is for the older person sitting quietly at home watching the clock.

So make the most of your time.  The Bible says a lot about that because the God of heaven is the God of time.  He started the clock in the first place and he will terminate it when he’s ready.  It is time to seek the Lord, is a VERY good piece of advice.  Whatever the time.  Seek him, look for him, go after him.  That’s what time it is.

Well I've got to finish because, guess what, my time is now up.

Friday, 11 September 2015


Its been a while since I’ve written a blog so thought Id let you know what’s been going on in my mind and heart recently. 

As I’ve been preparing the sermon series for Newtownbreda, called  “Your #1 Relationship”,  based on John 15 (catch the first 2 parts here - select the Archive tab).  I’ve been inevitably thinking long and hard about the analogy that Jesus uses -  the vine and the branches. 

Not really knowing much about vineyards, not surprisingly I’ve had to do some research. There was always connection and pruning.  Jesus tells us that true Christians are like branches who are connected to him as the vine.  We draw our life, our vitality from him.  Its easy to appear to be connected and yet not be.  But true life and true fruit comes from real connection.  Then there had to be pruning.

 The branches would have to be ruthlessly and constantly pruned in order to bring forth the glorious fruit.  The branches would never be left alone but they would be cut back, pared, thinned, nipped, topped in a deliberate conscious, intentional act of the gardener.  Sometimes, the gardener would even prune off some small fruit in order to get better fruit a few years later.  It was a very organised and highly skilled process.

When the glorious ripe fruit finally appeared, the passers-by and lookers-on would have been amazed and said “what a great gardener to get such fruit”.  The praise would go to the gardener not to the fruit.  It would have been his skill and his diligence that would have been praised.  

Jesus said that if you are a Christian you will be need to be pruned in order that you might give a great vintage and so that your life will bring glory to your Heavenly gardener.  This process is going on even now. It might be small things, irritants in your life with which you are going to have to learn how to handle. It might be bigger things, decisions and relationships which are teaching you lessons or it might be massive stuff going on right now, which has the potential to break you – or the potential to bring forth glorious fruit in your life.  Clip, clip, clip, the Heavenly Gardener is at His work pruning you right now.

I wonder have you noticed that?  I'm trying to learn it – to be more conscious to see God in every thing in my life.  I'm a slow learner so he often has to repeat his lessons and step up his pruning process.  Why wouldn’t he?  He knows this is my #1 relationship – and so its worth His effort in my life.

Friday, 5 June 2015


The Church, Culture and Change

There is no doubt that we are living in momentous days. Historians might well look back in years to come at the late 20th/early 21st century as being a key time of seismic cultural shifts.

A growing individualism, fueled by rapidly advancing technology, and an even more rapidly advancing secularism has left many bewildered by the speed of change in our society.  The flagship for many of these changes and perhaps most indicative of them is the changing attitude towards marriage and in particular same-sex marriage.  A very short generation or two ago it would have been an unheard-of and very remote possibility – now it is fact, even in the traditionally culturally conservative republic of Ireland.  What is even more obvious is the self-evident reality that to oppose such a move puts you on the wrong side of history and in danger of being labelled homophobic.  You are hardly allowed to use terms like “right” or “wrong” anymore.  Nothing is wrong as long as it is loving! A ‘modern’ society, we are told, allows people to exercise their rights in whatever way they want and we shouldn’t interfere with that.  To do so is unloving and after all “love” is the ultimate ethic.  To say otherwise makes you weird, old-fashioned, uncaring and brutal.  The long-heralded virtue of “tolerance” is not generally extended to those who dare to hold different opinions. 

This is but one demonstration of the changes taking place under our very noses.  These shifts probably have their conception in the early 60’s and the growth of the sexual liberation movement, advanced by the excessive rebellion against authority, demonstrated in the music of the 60’s particularly.  Take a look for example at some of the grainy footage of the hippy movement and open drug use of those days.  Many of our current day influencers and opinion formers and cultural shapers were children or teenagers in those days.  Many in politics, the media or music grew up with a very tenuous link or understanding of the Judaeo-Christian ethic that their parents and grandparents would have known.  Hence, the moorings have shifted and we are now reaping the consequences.

Churches have been (rightly in some cases) derided for a dead legalism, an out of touch mysticism or for feeble attempts to copy the world’s liberalism.  As a result many Christians have been left reeling with a dizzy unease as to how to respond to such criticism, how to communicate into such a bizarre world and how to defend what seems like an increasingly out of touch message.

Some have reacted by becoming a kind of ‘pietistic enclave’ – burying their heads in the sand and having their meetings in their own time-honoured way and letting the world outside their door go to hell.  Others seem to have become over-friendly with the world, seeking to win approval and acceptance by flattery and assimilation.  None of this works of course and leads the Christian church to further derision by a world which is diametrically opposed to Christian things (still not sure about that? Read Jude vv 8-11).

Truth is, we live in Babylon now.  Any thoughts that this is still Jerusalem can be forgotten. We stand with Daniel and his 3 friends.  We are faced with our own cultural Nebuchadnezzars and we are going to need enormous courage to refuse to bow down to the man-made enormous idol and to say instead, “….we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3 v18).

Truth is truth and no amount of cultural shift can change that.  The gospel is absolutely true, not just relatively so.  It was, is and ever will be true.  We may tremble at the moral and ethical consequences of further decline in our society, but God is God and ultimately he will have the last word.  That is why to stand with him, his gospel and his truth is ultimately the safest place to be.  Even if it makes you unpopular

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Changed Forever!

Within the last 3 months I have lost both parents.  In fact they passed away 30 days apart.  In those 30 days I was orphaned; I became the patriarch of the family.  Life changed forever.

Grief affects people in all sorts of ways – it is not uncommon for there to be physical side effects such as headaches, nausea, itchiness, sleeplessness, cold sores etc.  On the emotional side there can be such a sense of loss and desolation that the loved one can experience a sense of darkness, fear and loneliness.

To some degree I experienced some of those physical and emotional effects of grief.  I still am dealing every day with the loss and will continue to do so for a very long time to come - possibly always.

Everyone has to deal with such losses, for death is no respecter of persons, reputations or ages.  In the good providence of God our loved ones die suddenly or slowly and life becomes different overnight.  And life takes on a “new normal”.  I now have to live in the new normality of being without parents for the very first time in my life – as I noticed obviously when on my birthday a few weeks ago, I was without a “son” card for the first time in my life.  Above all though I have experienced grace – in many different forms.  I have felt the overwhelming support of God’s people praying for me.  I have experienced kindness in dozens of ways, in comments and cards and coffees and callers; in messages and emails; in freezer food and practical gifts. 

The grace of God appears in many forms.  Above all I have known God’s grace in reminding me again that nothing ever really stays the same for any of us and life is constantly moving on.  So I, like you, had better make it count for something that really matters!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Women in the Church

Here is a summary of my message in NBC on Sunday 11/1/15 to explain our elders position on this important subject.

An important decision for churches to make is to ascertain the exact role that women play in congregational life? So what can we say about the Bile says?

Genesis 5 vv1,2 “When God created mankind he made THEM in the likeness of God.  He created THEM male and female and blessed them.

So right at the very start God affirmed the identity of women.  He blessed both male and female.  Yet Judaism didn’t always value or recognise the dignity of women as it ought to have done. Jewish men used to pray “I thank you God that you have not made me a Gentile a slave or a woman!”.  Yet God reminds us through scripture of the value, role and identity of women in the world. He used Moses sister and Naaman’s servant girl; Deborah served as judge, Esther was used to save her own people and Rahab and Ruth were brought into the Saviour’s line by grace.  In the New Testament we see the inner circle of Christ included women. It was women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection and in the early church women like Dorcas (Acts 9) Lydia (Acts 16) Priscilla (Acts 18) were to the fore.

In essence with regard to male and female the Bible teaches

  • Equality of Worth – all are valuable in his sight 
  • Diversity of role – we are naturally made different.  He created THEM.  He blessed THEM

The complementarian position teaches that men and women are to complement each other.  There is equality in marriage but also diversity, highlighted in Ephesians 5 teaching regarding the roles of husband and wife. 

Jewish men might have prayed that prayer but the truth is that the gospel of grace brings all of us to the foot of the cross and at the cross we find forgiveness in Christ and we are equal sinners and find equal grace to save.  Hence Paul says in Galatians 3 vv26,28  “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus....there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile) slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
So with regard to the church specifically.... (and here we are talking about the local church, the local expression of the universal church, the church which meets somewhere and which has people gathered together for purposes of worship, discipleship, evangelism, mission and pastoral care, the 5 purposes of our church – we must be careful to distinguish AUTHORITY and FUNCTION.  It is when we confuse these two that problems and confusion arises.

  1. AUTHORITY – final human authority in the local church lies with the elders. It is they who have ultimate responsibility for spiritual oversight and the teaching and the general witness of the church in the community. Eldership has its roots in the Jewish tribal system, where there would be heads of families and of tribes. They would bear serious responsibility for the conduct and business of the tribe. Likewise synagogues would be ruled by respected men. Christ too only chose men to be his apostles, charged with the responsibility for carrying the gospel message to a needy world. Early Christianity grew out of Judaism and so early spiritual leadership was male as it had been in Jewish heads  of tribe and synagogues. The very early believers had originally thought that the gospel message w as only for Judaism . Remember how Peter’s thinking had to be challenged by a vision in Acts 10 and he later had to defend his ministry to the Gentiles before the early Jewish believers.  Spiritual leadership is entrusted to males and for that reason NBC concludes that our elders should be male. 
  2. FUNCTION – this however is entirely different . Paul teaches us in 1 Cor 12 that ministry is for the whole body and is on the basis of GIFTING not GENDER .  All have a role to play in the body of Christ – as noses or feet or ears or hands. This actually is one of the most powerful witnesses of the local church in the community and demonstrates the power of the gospel to transform lives and to see them unified under the cross and in service of the Master.  So both men and women can perform many functions in the body of Christ.  Naturally, physically and socially men are different from each other and whilst more men than women might want to wield kango hammers to knock down walls, and more women than men might want to serve in the creche, actually there is nothing to stop either performing those roles if that is their gifting.  Men and women can teach Sunday school or lead youth or help prepare bulletins or operate sound and visuals. Likewise both men and women can perform the simple task of passing offering bags along rows or passing our pieces of bread and wine to help believers remember the Lord’s death.

With regard to the functioning of the body “Deacons” are important.  Many see the origin of this role in Acts 6 (though the word ‘diakonos’ or ‘deacon’ is not mentioned).  The early leaders turned over practical caring work to godly men as they were in danger of being overwhelmed by the needs of the church.  So the original function was caring. The role of deacon has often been misunderstood, so much so that it almost differs from church to church and from culture to culture.  It has also been affected by prevailing cultural understandings of men/women.  Neither male chauvinism nor liberal feminism should be allowed to dictate the church’s position.  It should be BIBLICALLY REASONED not CULTURALLY DETERMINED.

As the Bible is progressive revelation its in the pastoral epistles that Paul outlines some significant qualities for those in certain positions.  This climaxes in 1 Tim 3, where writing to the young pastor of the church in Ephesus, Paul outlines the qualities of elders in vv 1-17, and the qualities of the ‘diakonoi’ (deacons) in vv 8-10 So far so good but v11 is problematical “In the same way, the women (Gk = Gyne) are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” Who are these women here?

There are 2 possible interpretations .....

They could be wives of the deacons OR they could be ladies who are raised up to special service as deacons of the church in assistance of the work of the elders. In NBC we lean towards the latter. So do many other very conservative Christian leaders.  Others do legitimately differ.  But we favour the understanding of lady deacons here for the following reasons

  1.  The use of the word “hosautos” in v11 as in v 8 Translated  ‘in the same way’ or ‘likewise’. It points to the same idea, the same concept 
  2. In vv 1-7 women are not mentioned re eldership. This makes sense if, as we have seen elders are to be male. If those referred to here in v 11 are wives of deacons, it would seem strange that Paul would not make any reference to elders wives, - surely at least an equal responsibility 
  3. Phoebe is referred to as a ‘diakonos’ in Romans 16 v2 (the word is neither masculine nor feminine) 
  4. We have to interpret scripture by itself. Since deacons do not have authoritative roles in the same way as elders, but functional roles , it seems to fit with the general tenor of scriptural teaching about service being open for all

For these reasons we take the position that both men and women may serve as deacons on the local church.

Whatever any church’s position on this, it is important that every church honours God in the conduct of its affairs.  That is the overriding principle.