1
Jan

Three quarters of my HOPE faded

 The idea came to me when Sam and I started putting the lights up around the outside of the house. Every year there?s always been enough lights on the cable for us to outline the front of the house and continue on along the fence between us and our next door neighbour. Why not use that extra length of lights and write HOPE along the fence?

Why the word hope?
For a few reasons: for one it seemed to sum up how people were feeling. A vaccine was available with others on the way Hope was in the air. Maybe we could return to a more normal life. Maybe we could again hug our loved ones and not have to be fearful of each cough or shiver.
But mostly as it was the third week of November (yes that was early, but we had our reasons) and Christmas was just around the corner. We wanted to point to the hope that is found in Jesus. We wanted in a small way to proclaim that His Birth brought Hope to a dark world.
Due to the position of our house, I?d be beginning HOPE from the letter E and working my way along the fence. I was so enthusiastic about the idea, but what I hadn?t figured was the length of lights that we needed to write those four letters. I was only really able to get as far as the letter E. We had no other electric lights, so I solved the problem by finishing the word off with battery lights.
There it was HOPE shining brightly on the fence. Everyone who passed by would see it clearly, shining in the darkness. The darker it was the brighter HOPE would shine. Our neighbours know that our hope is in Jesus so the word would point to Him. Not to the vaccine (which we are grateful for) but to Jesus Christ who is the Only Hope for all of life and death.
I?m sure you?ve realized the problem with the lights. Batteries are an unreliable source of power. They do not last long. They fade and then die. Many times, we have looked outside and seen the E shining brightly but the HOP fading or completely out. We have had to change the batteries lots of times. HOP fades and goes out but E shines brightly.
We realize now that the HOPE on the fence doesn?t just proclaim Jesus, but it also asks a question. Here's the question it asks: What?s the source of your hope? Or put differently, what powers your hope?
I write this on New Years Day, a day which offers so much promise. Just last night when we were counting down the seconds we were filled with hope. We had such hope that 2021 would be better than 2020. As I woke this morning, I?m reminded that the only difference between today and yesterday is the change of date. If our hope is powered by the change from 0 to 1 (2020-2021) then our hope will soon fade and then die. You may already have come to that realization. You may already have felt the weakness of last nights hope and are fearful or uncertain about what lies ahead for you and your family. Our hope can fade fast. Our HOPE needs plugged into a greater source. Our hope needs to have its source in Jesus Christ. He is the only One who will see us through 2021 and beyond.
What is the source of your hope? Today would be a great day to connect your hope to Jesus Christ so that your HOPE might shine in the darkness and not fade and die.
Please get in touch with me, I?d love to help you think this through. Happy New Year, Andrew
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoicesFor yonder breaks a new and glorious morn'Fall on your knees, oh, hear the Angels' voicesOh, night divine, oh, night when Christ was born
24
Dec

How to feel Christmassy Everyday

 Christmas has it's own unique magic. Something within our hearts changes at Christmas. We are more generous, joyful and excited than any other time of year. I can think of no other time during the year when there is such a wide spread community transformation. I'm not talking about the external stuff we see like decorations and the Christmas music being played, I'm thinking about what goes on inside of us at Christmas. What we call that Christmassy feeling. That hard to describe joyful emotion that bubbles away deep in your heart. A feeling that flows over into what you wear (colourful jumpers), what you do (buy gifts) and what you expect (others to buy gifts for you).  In many ways we embrace our inner child and begin to see the world differently. Our imagination is reawakened and we allow ourselves to live in a world of unseen beings who want to do good to us. We suspend all logic and dwell happily in the world of elves and Santa and flying reindeers and an impossible task achieved in one night. Save the Children have called their Christmas campaign "Protect the Magic". Their introduction captures something of the Christmassy feeling:


'It is the spirit and imagination of kids that make this such a magical time of year for us all. At Christmas, a carrot can become a snowman?s nose and a chimney is transformed into Santa?s grand entrance. We adults will go to extraordinary lengths to keep the magic alive. And while Christmas might be a bit different for all of us this year, together we can make sure it's as magical as ever.'

They have it right, haven't they? Each year we work hard so we have a magical Christmas. This year it has felt like an uphill battle to bring the magic to life for us and those we love. We believe the battle is worth it to capture that feeling because we enjoy the magic of Christmas. Christmas without feeling Christmassy is just unthinkable. 

But why is that? Why is Christmas cheer so important to us? What is it about that Christmassy feeling that we love?  

Consider this: what if we enjoy the magic of Christmas because it reawakens in us a truth that we have suppressed all year long?

What if the world isn't as mundane as we're led to believe? What if there's more to this world than what you see? What if we live in a world that is mysterious and supernatural. And what if we are beings that have a body and a soul. Could it be that our longings for the magic of Christmas betray us. We say that we are just flesh and bone but our longings reveal in us and to us desires and hopes that go beyond what we are told. They say we are more than highly evolved animals, more than our hormones, more than our genetics. There's a quality about us and our world that can't be defined by science or understood by logic. There's a 'magic' to this world that we suppress from January to November but like a ball held under the water it pops up in December. And we welcome it as a relief from the desolate world we inhabit. A world we have created. A world where we have excluded the supernatural and mysterious. If truth be told we don't really feel alive in that world, it really only feels we are surviving. But at Christmas we really come alive. 
Can that longing ever be fulfilled or are we to live in disappointment waiting for next December? 

NO, NO NO! We don't have to wait, Wizzard's wish has come true. We can have Christmas everyday-not the stresses or expense but the joys and delights.  There is within the Origin of Christmas what CS Lewis called a deep magic. 

Not a superficial, temporary feeling that will be packed away in a few days when the last present is unwrapped BUT a deep and growing joy as we daily unwrap the Gift that God has given us. The gift of His Son. Day by day we get to see more and more of the wonder of Jesus Christ. All that He is, all that's he's done and all that He will do. As we unwrap this Gift we begin to see the world through His eyes. We begin to delight in the world around us as He does. 

The wonder of Christmas is that that the "Word [God] became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14), "That a Saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord...you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:11-12).

God the Father is the greatest gift giver. He has given what we need and what our hearts long for. 
"He was in the world and though the world was made through Him the World did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own and his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God..." (John 1:10-12)

Have you received Jesus? If you have, you have in Him the greatest gift. So great is this gift that it will take a lifetime to fully unwrap and an eternity to enjoy. 

Why not spend a little time over Christmas reading through Luke's Gospel and unwrap God's Greatest Gift.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
11
Nov

It's too early for Christmas Decorations isn't it?

 Is it too early to put up the Christmas decorations? Should we be pulling down the boxes of tinsel from the attic, assembling the tree, putting up the lights? Has anyone else noticed Christmas trees going up in people's homes already?

Now this isn't going to be the annual traditional rant about Christmas beginning too early. I think what we're seeing this year is different from other years. There'll always be a few hardcore Christmas decorators who'll be assembling the tree when the last firework has exploded. But what's going on this year is nearly a movement.
People are calling others to put the decorations up now, don't wait for December. Their reason? It's been a dreary year we need to add sparkle and joy as soon as we can. "With the year we have experienced I?m ready for all the Holiday Cheer".

The hope is our Christmas lights will cut through the darkness that surrounds us. That our baubles, little snowmen and tinsel will dispel the sadness, confusion and drabness of our present world. I really like that notion. It's coming from a good place. A place that recognises that light brightens our dark world. We know that darkness and dreariness brings us down. And it has been so dark. Darker than many of us have ever known. Our winter months seem a more appropriate setting for our present circumstances than the brightness of summer. The cold winter evenings are a better reflection of our world under the curse of a pandemic than balmy summer nights. The external darkness mirrors the darkness we feel inside. We are weary. Weary of restrictions, weary of cleaning, weary of the news. We are fearful. Fearful that we or those we love will get the virus. Fearful that it will come into our home.

Our homes have become our sanctuary. The virus may roam out there but our homes are our place of safety. They have more than ever become our castle. None may enter. They have become our temples. If you are to enter (and only a small select can) you must first be cleansed so that you do not contaminate us.
Into this world we need lights and tinsel and baubles and a big tree. We need lights and sparkle to penetrate the gloom. Christmas lights do lift our spirits. When we see them they have a magical effect upon our hearts. Our eyes can't help but twinkle when we catch a glimpse of a Christmas tree. We connect all things Christmassy with hope and happiness. When we experience sadness at Christmas time, it is more intense. Why? Because we have an inbuilt expectation that Christmas should not be a sad time but a time of joy.

Where does that expectation come from? The cynic would say the retailers work it up to loosen our grip on our money. Or movies create unrealistic expectations, through warm, fuzzy stories. There may be some truth in that but the source of Christmas hope can not be traced back to the High street or Hollywood. It finds it's origin in a promise God gave at the very beginning that a son of Eve would destroy the Serpent.
This is why Christmas lights fill us with hope and joy because there dawned in the world the Great Light that shone into our darkness. If we trace our Christmassy feeling back to it's source we come to a stable in Bethlehem. To a baby who the bible says is the Light of the World. Some may argue that hope can be found elsewhere. Maybe science, or education, or medicine, or family, or... I would ask will the light from these good things burn brightly in the midst of darkness, in the shadow of death or will it be snuffed out? The magic of Christmas fills us with hope because of the miracle of Christmas.

We rob ourselves of so much joy when we limit Christmas to a few short weeks a year. We should suck as much joy and gladness from Christmas as we can. We should lay a Christmas hope deep within us that no darkness or gloom can destroy.
But decorations look tired after a while. What brightens us in November and December can frustrate us if it remains up too long into January. We need a way for the magic of Christmas to continue when the sparkle of lights have grown dim. We need to lay hold on the Light that has dawned as we live in the land of the shadow of death. So get the decoration up and the lights on. And lay hold of Jesus the Great Light that truly cuts through all darkness and gloom.
20
Oct

Jesus and the Conspiracy Theorist

Who was behind the assassination of JFK? What is really happening in Area 51? Are there sinister forces behind the Coronavirus pandemic? Is compulsory mask wearing the thin edge of the wedge that will lead to the mark of the beast?

Questions like these would normally be discussed by people on the fringes but now these questions are centre stage. The anxiety of the pandemic and the new restrictions have definitely encouraged conspiracy theories to develop. But they were centre stage way before 2020.



I guess this is linked to the decline in trust people have for in those in authority. We listen to our politicians and assume we're not being told everything. We're being kept in the dark. We're now more aware than maybe ever before that our news comes with a bias. More of us than ever believe that those in authority can't be trusted. They have an agenda that isn't always for our good.


Growing up I loved reading about UFO sightings, the moon landings, corn circles, JFK etc. It fascinated me that these theories existed and people passionately held to them. But these ideas (when I was younger) could only be found in a few books in the library, now they are spread much more freely on the internet. If the X Files (Google it) were written for our day, Muller and Scully wouldn't be risking their lives tracking down the truth in the 'field' but they'd be following the bread crumbs left by QAnon on the internet.



And the truth seems to be that the "fate of the world hangs in the balance". It is unknown whether good or evil will win.



I'm not going to ridicule those searching for the truth because I think they're on to something. I agree with them there's more to the world than what we see (Ephesians 6:12), there are sinister forces at work behind the scenes plotting for our downfall (1 Peter 5:8) and there are hidden truths that need to be revealed (Matthew 11:25-27). But I think there's a glaring hole in their theories.

In their search for truth, conspiracy theorists have forgotten that Jesus is Lord. He is the one who is in control of the story of our world and he will bringing it to the ending that he has planned. I realise that this is a statement of faith that not everyone will agree with. But it is a statement that if researched with even half the diligence of the conspiracists, will be be shown to be true. It has stood up to centuries of scrutiny both by the genuine seeker and the sceptic. God has not left breadcrumbs for us to follow but clear historical eye witness accounts of those that seen and heard and touched Jesus (1 John 1:1-4).

Peter one of the men closes to Jesus writes,



"For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ?This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.? We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain." (2 Peter 1v16-18)



Of course we weren't there when Peter saw this so how can we know if this is true or not. Peter says we have something even more secure..

"And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. Above all you must understand that no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had it's origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1v19-21)



The world is full of unusual happenings, some may well be linked together, some are unexplained at the minute, some may never be explained. But whatever theory we develop to explain life as we see it may we always filter it through the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord. If you don't believe that, follow the evidence, it will take you right to Jesus. The Truth is Out there. Why not grab the Gospel of Luke and start reading it?

 


1
Oct

Jesus speaks to those that feel judged

 The great dream of our time is that we become a more tolerant society, less judgemental and more accepting. The church was identified as a source of intolerance. (there may be some truth in that). It was argued that once the church's influence upon society was weakened, we would all become more accepting and less judgemental. But that has not been the case.

We continue to live in a world where we're told what's acceptable and what's not:
what's acceptable to say, what's acceptable to do and even what's acceptable to think. We are just as likely to be judged by others as ever before. And if we're willing to admit it, we're just as likely to judge others too. All that has changed is the standard by which we are to judge others and who establishes that standard.
I was in a shop a few weeks ago and an unmasked woman hurried past me explaining apologetically, with her hand over her mouth, that she had forgotten her mask and was going to get it. She had taken part in unacceptable behaviour (not wearing a mask in a shop) and was feeling judged because if it. Haven't we all felt judged by others? The way we look, the way we act, the way we speak, the way we dress, the opinions we hold. By these and a long list of other things, we are deemed unacceptable by others. Once we step outside the norms of the group we fall under the group's judgement. We might be snubbed or excluded or ridiculed.
When you feel judged by others, how do you react? Do you hide away from their glare Or do you stiffen your back, stand tall and defy anyone to question you. "Who are you to judge me?"

Jesus inspires a better way to deal with the judgement of others. We see it clearly in the woman who walked into a dinner party uninvited. (Luke 7: 36-50)
As she enters the dinner party, she feels a room full of eyes burning into her. She's being judged. This isn't a new feeling, she's well used to this. She's known around town as having a reputation. She's not spoken about in polite conversation and yet here she is standing behind Jesus, who was reclined at the table. She seems to know him. This is how reputations are damaged.
  • How do they know each other?
  • Why's she crying?
  • Why's she drying his tear soaked feet with her hair?
  • Why's she now kissing his feet?
  • Doesn't he know the kind of woman she is (39)?
  • She must know him well.
  • What's she up to, pouring perfume on his feet?
Then the realisation, these aren't tears of sadness these are tears of deep joy. Something has happened to her. Something that no one seems to know about but Jesus. He explains to those judging her. "Her many sins have been forgiven..." (47). Then turning to the woman he says "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (50)
Jesus doesn't turn a blind eye to her life of sin. He judges rightly by God's standard. But she now knows her debts before God are wiped out because of her faith in Jesus (41-42). She is forgiven and at peace. She seems totally oblivious to what others in that room think of her. Why? Because she knows what Jesus thinks of her. She's not arrogant before others, "Who are you lot to judge me?" but humble before others, "Who am I to be forgiven by Jesus?"
The woman is forgiven and free. What does it matter what others think.

I could be proven wrong but I'm not sure a tolerant society is possible. But won't it be great to be part of a society shaped not by judgement but by forgiveness. To be part of a group of people forgiven and forgiving. If only there existed a society like that. If there was one like that, wouldn't you want to go regularly to bask with others in God's acceptance and be reminded of the wonderful forgiveness that is yours because of Jesus. Wouldn't there be a fragrance of love about that place. Those forgiven much love much.
16
Sep

Jesus speaks to the Racist

 The White Knights of the Klu Klux Klan in the 1960s were "described by the FBI as the most violent right-wing terrorist organization in America". 

They murdered, bombed and terrorised in Mississippi, pouring their hatred upon all involved in the Civil Right movement.
We like to think we live in a more civilised time but racial tension still exists as the summer has shown.
We in Dromara might feel removed from all that's going on in the big cities but we mustn't fool ourselves in thinking that hatred towards others doesn't reside in our hearts too.
Hatred and disdain towards an other person because they're part of a certain group is not a new phenomenon. It's found all through human history and across every culture. If we can separate our world into "Us" and "Them" we have the perfect breeding ground for racism.

It's clear from encounters Jesus had with others and stories he told that he had a lot to say about hatred towards "Them".
Isn't that the very root of racism? Wherever we sit in the spectrum of racism (and we all sit somewhere and probably not as far down the scale as we'd like to think), if we can identify a "Them" we are at the starting gate for hatred towards them. From our lofty position we look down on them. We see them as less than us. Therefore 'they' don't deserve our respect. We devalue them. Show indifference and contempt towards them. Hatred spews from our angry hearts.
Both the cold anger of contempt and the hot fury of violence towards the other are destroying our communities.

We want to ask: how would Jesus answer the issue of racism? What did he say when he came across someone who had a hatred for another person? A hatred for the individual just because of their skin colour or their cultural background? His response will help us to think through our own response to our hatred towards 'them'.

Jesus in his story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) turns racism on it's head. The hated one becomes the hero. 


The story is told by Jesus to answer the question, Who is my Neighbour? That question had been asked by a man that wanted to make himself look good. It seems the man wasn't much different from you and me. He wanted to establish a narrow group of people just like himself that he was to love. He had just summarised the second half of God's Law as saying "Love your neighbour as yourself" but he wanted to put borders on that love. "I should love those just like me but not "Them".

Jesus' answer isn't what we'd expect. He didn't tell a story of "Us" stepping over the border to show love and compassion to "Them". No, Jesus' story and point was more powerful than that. In the Story of the Good Samaritan it's "Them" that shows love to "Us".
By doing this Jesus;
1. Humanises "Them"- It's the Samaritan that shows compassion to the one beaten up at the roadside. He's the Hero of the story. He's the one we're cheering. Samaritan's were hated by the Jews. The Jews saw the Samaritans as less than them. But in Jesus story the hated becomes the hero.
2. Unseats "Us" -we are removed from the centre and placed at the margins. No longer in the place of power but helpless at the side of the road and in need. To make matter worse our help doesn't come from our own kind but from them.
Jesus questioner recognised the merciful love that was shown. And Jesus told him to go and do likewise. Go and show that merciful love to all regardless of cultural background, skin colour or position.

But Jesus' story goes beyond who is my neighbour, it addresses the initial question the man asked. "What must I do to inherit eternal life"
Tom Tarrant's discovered the answer to that question while serving a 30 year sentence in Mississippi State Penitentiary as a leader within the White Knights of the KKK. 
He had for many years been consumed by hatred but as he read the gospels in solitary confinement he discovered that through faith in Jesus he was redeemed by love.
The Public Prosecutor at Tom's trial was sent by J Edgar Hoover (the head of the FBI) to investigate the reported change of this KKK member. A few weeks after visiting Tom in Prison, the prosecutor, himself became a Christian such was the change he saw in Tom. Nothing but the truth of Jesus could explain the transformation he saw in that prison cell.
On release from prison Tom Tarrant became a champion of racial reconciliation. And that's what you find him doing now as President of the CS Lewis Institute. (He tells his story in Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love- I can't wait to read it)
Tom's life reminds us that Jesus's words don't just inform the racist of another way they transform a heart and life bend on hatred to one who loves all with a merciful love.
What would "Go and do likewise" look for you?

[Photo by John Cameronon Unsplash]

The video below for Solas-cpc.orglooks a bit deeper into Racism. This is where I first heard about Tom Tarrant. 

25
Aug

The latest blog after a few weeks break. A dark question that has been pushed to the front of our minds. Is death the end?

 Is there life beyond the grave? 

We are finishing the four questions that I began at the start of June. I wanted to suggest four questions that probe at our view of the world. We've looked at the question of our origin here. The question of our morality here and the question of our significance here.

We now ask the really dark question. Is death final? Is it the full stop of our lives? This is the question we can't escape. Though we might try to distract ourselves from the reality of death, it always forces itself into our lives. 

The belief of our secular age is that there is no life after death. We are simply physical beings. Life is just what you can see. Death is final. Yet this belief cannot suppress a deeper innate belief that we are eternal. We continue on beyond our death. There is life after death. We may disagree about what that life looks like but it seems we have a belief that won't go away. Life doesn't end with death. 

On paper it might seem everyone lives like this is all the life there is (You're born, you live, you die, the end) but our belief that death is not the end surfaces at the Graveside and in our Stories.

 

The Graveside

At the rawest moments of our lives we find it near impossible to maintain the confidence that this world is all there is. We may have lived under that assumption all our lives but it cracks under the weight of grief. At funerals we hear people saying things like, "They're in a better place" "They're up there looking down on us" or "We'll see them again". And this is not simply a remnant of a Christian past, it's found in all cultures across all time. The teacher in Ecclesiastes says God has hidden eternity in the heart of man (3:11) and experience seems to bear that out. 

 

Our Stories

It seems our story telling is very telling. It reveals what we really believe. Think of the movies and books that tell of a life beyond the grave. Of course you find it in the Horror stories where the veil between this world and the next is very thin, but you also have it within Romance (eg.Ghost, The Lovely Bones) and Thrillers (eg. The Sixth Sense). It seems our story telling betrays our hearts. We have a hope that there's something more. It doesn't seem right in our minds that death should be the end. It doesn't seem enough for us that this is all there is. We long for something more. Now, just because we long for something doesn't mean there is something more. But what if death isn't the end? It's a question worth asking isn't it?

 

Therefore our 4th question is: What happens after death? 

 

If you say "nothing happens after death". I want you to listen into the hopes that you have. The hopes that are revealed at the grave side and in the stories you enjoy. Are your hopes consistent with your stated beliefs? 

God hasn't just set eternity in our hearts, he has prepared a glorious eternity for us in Jesus. When we trust in Jesus, we no longer have to face the judgement that we dread but instead receive the Life that we long for. 

"Jesus Christ who has destroyed death and brought life and immorality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10)

In this blog I've dealt with death as a challenge to our worldview but I know it's much more than that. It causes huge pain and suffering for those left behind. If that is you and you'd like someone to talk to, please get in touch. I can be contacted on 2nd Dromara Presbyterian Church Facebook page or my mobile 07512677530. Thank you, Andrew

25
Jun

It's just not Fair!

Millions of children across the world are bought and sold as property. They are abused, exploited and denied their human rights. This doesn't just happen in other countries but in our own as well. This is wrong, isn't it? These vulnerable children should be protected not exploited. When we hear stories of the abuses boys and girls have to endure it makes our blood boil. And it should. The strong should not exploit the weak! It's just not right.
But where do we get our sense of right and wrong from? Why shouldn't the strong exploit the weak?

We have a strong sense of justice. From an early age we cry out, "It's not fair". We never lose this cry. Though we no longer stamp our feet, many do take their stand against the injustices of the world. Protests and signs call for justice and fairness and equality.
I want to ask where do we get this sense of justice from? Why do we think somethings are right and somethings are wrong? Why does our blood boil when the vulnerable are exploited by the strong?

If you remember over the last few weeks we have been thinking about four questions to ask ourselves and others. We are thinking particularly in relation to those who are indifferent to Jesus. I want to not just be responding to questions but responding when there is no questions. And i think the best way to respond to shrugging shoulders is by asking questions. The first question was about Origins (Where do we come from?), last week was Meaning/purpose (Why are we here?). This week is Morality (Where does our sense of justice come from?).
Can we explain the existence of Morality without God? Can this innate sense of Justice flow from any other explanation of the world? Is it possible to begin with a world that comes into existence through random, natural processes and arrive at our innate sense of justice? Is our belief that the strong should not exploit the weak the obvious conclusion of an evolutionary view of the world? Or do you have to rely upon another Story?

It shouldn't surprise you to hear that I believe there's a better explanation for our sense of justice. I'll quote CS Lewis again (He's just so quotable)
?My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust??
Our sense of justice is built in to us by our Creator. Being made in his image means we have some of His characteristics.
Of course they are twisted and tarnished through our turning away from Him. But there's an echo of justice and fairness and rightness that we retain. There's a yearning for a return to a better world. This yearning and echo is not perfect. It often cries out for justice for me and my kind. It can overlook or downplay my role in the unfairness of the world. It can cry out "only God can judge me" yet live like we will never have to face him. But we cannot remove it from what it means to be human.
The Historian Tom Holland (who is not a Christian) argues that it was Jesus Christ who revolutionised our thinking that the strong should not exploit the weak. Not only in what he said but in what he done.
Jesus the strong died for us the weak. His sacrifice profoundly shaped the way we see the world today. This is the Story that best explains our sense of right and wrong.
We are created in the image of God and therefore have an echo, a yearning for justice. Jesus, God's Son has shaped our thinking and moulded our world through his Sacrifice, the strong for the weak. It's the sacrifice that deals with our role in the unfairness of the world and also satisfies our cry for justice. Outside of Jesus no-one will escape his justice. The cry of those millions children will be heard and they will know justice done (check out Psalm 75:2 as one example).
But Jesus sacrifice and resurrection from the dead ultimately deals with the evil that resides in our own hearts. An evil that flows from our rebellion against God. We stand before him condemned. Our crookedness is obvious and without excuse beside him. But in Jesus' death His justice is perfectly dealt with so we can stand before him without fear.

Is there a better Story that explains our sense of justice and deals with the evil that exists in our own hearts? If there is, what is it?
18
Jun

Why?

We are purpose seekers. I wonder have you noticed that? We are always looking for meaning. We try and discern the reason things happen to us. The more important the event, the more life threatening it is the more we ask, why.
Why did I get that diagnosis?
What's the purpose of these exam results now of all times?
Is there a reason my family are falling apart?
Why does this virus affect my family and not theirs?
Why, Why, Why, is the cry of our hearts. This is especially so when our life and happiness are under threat.
But we don't just look for meaning in the things that happen to us, we also try and create meaning and purpose for our lives.
Confession: I read obituaries. I find them fascinating. I'm drawn, not to the sadness of loss which is real, but to the many ways people have sought purpose for their life. Obituaries are usually written by the family and are an attempt to sum up the person's life. Through them you get a glimpse of what they lived for. "they were a real tractor man" "She was a loving mother" .
They must be difficult to write. How can you possibly describe the wonder of a loved one in a few short paragraphs. Yet it forces you to exclude all the unnecessary stuff and focus on what really made them tick, what really defined them. Obituaries are a real window into the person's life and where they sought their purpose. What would your loved ones need to include in summing up your life? Maybe a morbid question but the answer will give us insight into where we seek our purpose and significance. So it's a question worth asking.
You see, obituaries remind us that we all live for something.
The bible book Ecclesiastes is written by someone who is called the teacher. He spent his life looked for purpose in many things. In his quest for significance he throws himself wholeheartedly into studying, then into pleasure, then into building projects. All his activity reads as an exhausting and futile search. His conclusion was that all these things "are meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

These things are good and we should enjoy them but they are too fragile and fickle to live for. Yet we want to (maybe even need to) live for something. Why would that be? Why do we seek meaning in our life and try to create meaning through what we do? What explanation can be given for this hunger for significance. Can an explanation be found in a world that came into existence by chance? Is it reasonable for us to have this hunger for significance within that story? Or is CS Lewis right when he said,
?If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.?
The joy of the bible's message is that Jesus satisfies the hunger we have for meaning and purpose. So our smallest actions have eternal significance. And our greatest grief is not wasted but used for our good (though it can be hard to see at the time) and God's Glory.

We find in Jesus the very thing we are seeking (meaning) and are given what we exhaustively work for (significance).
Where do you find your purpose, meaning and significance? What or who defines your and my life? It's worth thinking about isn't it?
11
Jun

Do you hear a Bang or a Voice?

Origin: Where do we come from? This is the first of the four big questions that demands an answer from us. This world is wonderfully complex, where do we trace it's origins to. Those who disagree about where it all began still agree that there was a beginning. So let's transport ourselves back to that point of beginning and ask, do you hear a Bang or a Voice. 

Are our origins found in cold chance or love? 

This is not a philosophical question for a few but an essential question for us all. How we answer that question, how we see our beginnings, has far reaching implications for the values we hold. Are those values built upon chance or love? Do we just happen to be here because of billions of lucky mutations over millions of years OR was there someone behind our story? 
Can the complexity and beauty of our world be explained by random, natural, unguided processes? We have seen diagrams and explanations for our origins. Do these explain how we moved from simple to complex? Or are we convinced by the artists imagination? Have you swallowed what people have said to you about our beginnings without thinking it through yourself? Is that not the accusation put to the Christian? Does it describe you? 
Let's not limit ourselves to the complexity of the physical world and our physical selves but think about our consciousness. How did that come into being? How is that we have a sense of person hood (I am me)? How is that we possess thoughts and feelings? How is that you are reading this and thinking it through? How is it that you love and hate? Where do these thoughts and dreams, hopes and fears come from? Where do they originate from? Are they the byproduct of chance or are you made in the likeness of Another? 
We say human beings have value but can you argue that value from the point of unguided natural processes? If we are from nothing can we expect to be worth something? 

In asking these questions, I'm not speaking against science. We live under many great scientific advances, which make our lives safer, more comfortable and longer. But as we have seen in recent months scientific evidence can be interpreted in different ways for different purposes. Scientists are not neutral. They come to the evidence with certain assumptions. 
Some within science have constructed the story of our origins without any supernatural explanation. A supernatural explanation would not fit what they believe. In doing so they have put their faith (you heard me) in time and chance.
Other scientists (and there are more than you think) also apply their minds to investigate the world around them with a confidence that the world originated in the love of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A love that formed this complex world, a love that formed you with all your hopes and dreams, fears and prejudices. This is the Love that makes the world go round. Though we have spurned it, God shows his love perfectly to us in Christ. The Love that created us is also the Love that sacrificed Himself for us. This is a conquering death love. Your value rests in this love. 

We are complex beings. Where does our origins lie? Is our complexities found in chance or Love? What do you think?
4
Jun

I Couldn't Care Less

Indifference: Meh! Jesus... I really don't care either way. This is probably the most common and toughest response to Jesus there is. It's not really an objection, if it was you could have a conversation. Indifference kills any prospect of a conversation. Shrugging of the shoulders is usually a dead end. To be indifferent feels like when you can't be bothered getting off your chair in a hot sticky day. Nothing could motivate you to get up. Not because you enjoy sitting in the chair, not in the slightest, but because you couldn't careless where you are. An indifferent person isn't holding any position on Jesus. They are neither for or against they really couldn't care less who he is or what he did or didn't do.

How could we respond to that? Part of me wants to just shrug my shoulders and say meh, I can't be bothered trying.
There might be wisdom in that response as we can't cause anyone an anxious thought. And clearly a person with this much apathy isn't anxious. But life has a way of throwing things at us that will shake us from our indifference and cause us to question our assumptions. This could be a dramatic event that makes us feel vulnerable (eg. a health diagnosis for us or someone close to us) or it could be something simple that creates a niggling question that really stumps us. Maybe something that doesn't fit into the way they see the world (eg. You come across another terrible person whose more successful than you. Where's the Karma in that?)
Until these bumps happen it is wise to pray, care for them and then wait and see. Life has a way of stress testing our confidences to see if they can hold up under pressure. We don't want these things to happen to our friends but they will. Life happens to us all.
That's one way to respond
Or you could a few questions. Questions that probe at their assumptions. Depending on your relationship or your style these could be gentle "help me understand what you think" questions or friendly confrontational "you don't believe that do you?".
Ravi Zacharias put these questions under 4 headings:

"When you think of it, really there are four fundamental questions of life. You've asked them, I've asked them, every thinking person asks them. They boil down to this; origin, meaning, morality and destiny. 'How did I come into being? What brings life meaning? How do I know right from wrong? Where am I headed after I die?"

How we answer these questions gives us the framework we live under or what is called our worldview. It's the big picture we have developed that makes sense of the world for us. For example: the other day I was speaking to someone in town who should have been paid but wasn't and he said "Don't worry Andrew, what goes around comes around". You've heard that said haven't you? That comment gave me a glimpse into how my friend sees the world. He's believes there's a natural justice built into the universe and given enough time The Universe will punish the one who has done them wrong. Is that a reasonable description of the world we live in? Is that what happens? Is an impersonal universe the best place to put our hope for justice or is there a better place?

Bear in mind we don't usually have a very well defined answer to each of these questions but the process of thinking them through can be very enlightening and can show us how thin the ice is that we're resting on.
Over the next few weeks we'll take a look at each of these questions. We'll consider how we might ask them to ourselves and others. And we'll see that Jesus can hold up under the scrutiny of these 4 questions. Listen out this week to yourself and others to get glimpses of what's the Big Story we are living under and if it serves us well.
28
May

Christian's are weird about Sex

I think this is an unspoken challenge in many conversations. There is a established belief that no-one should tell me what to do. This is especially true when it comes to any issue connected with sex. And there are lots of issues connected with sex. These are hot potato issues. Too hot for me to handle in a blog and any wise person would stay clear of them. That said let me plough ahead anyway with a few thoughts and a point towards some useful resources to think about this really important topic.

A conversation that has the statement, "I would never become a Christian because they are weird about sex" usually happens late at night. Your friends and you have been talking about lots of other things and just as everyone's getting tired and thinking about going home one of those grab your attention subjects comes up that you can't walk away from: like the end of the world, conspiracy theories or Christian's are weird about sex. If you're Christian, how do you respond? If you're not Christian, is this a fair point? Are Christian's weird about sex?

I would ask; "Why do you say that?" I really want to know what's behind this statement. You see all of us come to this issue with baggage. And there are many factors that impact how we think and talk about our sexuality. I think it's healthy to acknowledge that at the start of any conversation on this subject. You see, we are led to believe that these issues of sexuality define us more than any other factor. So any negative comment about people's views on sexuality is an attack on a person's identity. But that's not true. We need to remember we are talking about ideas. So I really want to know why do they say that. I need to listen with loving care.

Let's assume that the underlying issue is they feel the bible is unnaturally restrictive.
"I should be the one to decide with who and when we have sex. Is the bible not an ancient, repressive text."
Within our culture repressing your feelings and desires is harmful to you and can lead to you harming others. Therefore sexual freedom is the way to live.
One of the problems with that idea is that no-one lives in total sexual freedom. Everyone draws the line somewhere. The question is where do you draw the line and why there?
The answer we're given is draw it on consent. So long as there's consent between two adults everything's fine. Isn't it? The recent Me Too movement has shown how murky these waters are. What if there are power relationships at play? What if consent is withdrawn afterwards?

I think we have to acknowledge what we probably always knew, that our bodies aren't playgrounds. Our bodies are temples. There's something sacred about our bodies and therefore there's something sacred about when two bodies are joined together. Sex is different than a handshake. With sexual regret or abuse people talk about feeling defiled or dirty. These feelings underline our deep belief that our bodies are sacred.
Don't misunderstand the word sacred. I don't mean sombre or cold. There's a deep joy to the word sacred. A joy that the bible celebrates
"May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth, A loving doe, a graceful deer-may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love." (Proverbs 5:18-19)
"The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husbands body does not belong to him alone but also his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you might devote yourself to prayer." (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)

That would make us blush. but the bible can speak like that without embarrassment because sex is God's idea. It's His gift to be enjoyed within marriage. Someone has described it as a fire that gives heat, light and atmosphere to a room. But when the fire leaves the boundaries of the fire place, it will destroy all around it, burning the house to the ground. As with all of God's good gifts we misuse and distort it. We twist sex so it selfishly becomes all about me rather than an expression of love towards the other and for the good of the community.

You see the bible's view of sex fits into the much bigger story of the gospel. Sex is not the main thing. Now that's hugely freeing and revolutionary. The good news about Jesus and what he has done is the main thing. Why's it the main thing? Because only Jesus is able to deal with our greatest desire for connectedness. Through faith in Jesus we enjoy a connection with God that is the reality of which sex is simply a picture of. Read that last line again. Amazing!

"As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:5)
"...the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery but I'm talking about Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:32)
Glynn Harrison in his excellent book "A Better Story: God Sex & Human Flourishing" describes sexual desires as a "divine homing instinct for the glorious union that lies ahead. And he seeks from us the same faithful devotion, commitment, delight and joy that he, through Christ, now finds in us."

Are Christ's weird about sex? Probably weirder than you ever imagined. The bible has a bigger vision for sex than we very dreamed of. It isn't a dirty thing to be ashamed of. It's a good and joyous gift to be enjoyed within marriage. And also our God given sexual desires find their ultimate fulfilment within the Bible's Big Story of Christ and the church. So there's hope for all; abuser, abused and confused. How wonderfully weird is that?

This is a lot to say all at once but it could be said within a conversation, especially late into the evening . zzzz....
Below is the first of 5 videos that will take a fuller look at Sex and the bible.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWeDpCedGU0
21
May

It's Boring


"I would never become a Christian because...it seems boring"

This isn't the same issue as freedom (a challenge we looked at here) this has more to do with joy and adventure. The challenge is that being a Christian seems dull. It's grey and drab. It blends into the background. It's not radical.
If Christianity seems dull and boring we have moved far away from Jesus. He could never be described as dull and boring. If we think he is we don't know the real Jesus. Consider the following:

Here's how those who knew Jesus described him:
"Here's a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34)
Those who said this thought Jesus was having too much fun.

What he said and did amazed people and drew crowds. Mark in his gospel describes the sort of reactions he got, "The people were amazed at his teaching" (1:21), "We have never seen anything like this" (2:12), "Why does this man talk like that" (2:7). Though Jesus made no effort to publicise himself, people came from miles around to him (3:7-9).

He did the unexpected: he calmed a storm, healed a paralysed man, raised the dead and even rose from the dead himself.

He provoked a wide range of reactions from violent anger (Luke 4:28-30) to extravagant adoration (Matthew 26:6-7).

His stories are full of surprising heroes and endings. Tens of thousands of NHS volunteers use an app that is named after one of his unexpected heroes (GOOD Sam app)

Jesus has inspired millions of courageous actions, known and unknown over the centuries. History is full of men and women who have lived radical lives because of him. We live in a world that has been shaped by them in many ways. That may be why it seems like Christianity doesn't stand out because Christians actions no longer seem radical in a world that has been moulded by Jesus' life and teaching. For example: it's no longer radical to offer education to every child-though it once was and it's no longer radical to care for those who are disabled- though it once was. At the forefront of these battles for a better life for all, we find Christians.

We may have lost some of our courage and joy and if so, we need to step away from the mediocre and safe to embrace the adventure that Christ has called us to. |Here's what He says:

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:34-35).

Is that the image you have of what a Christian is? Well, that's what Jesus is calling his followers to. A life that is lived out in Jesus' story. Christians live within the mega story where even our little actions (that might seem dull to others) are feeding into the great plot line of Jesus' loving rule in the world.



Kind of like the woman we once knew who had worked in a aircraft factory during WW2 making parts for the Stirling Bomber. If you had seen her making bolts etc in a noisy factory her work may have appeared dull. But she knew she was part of something much bigger that would lead to Victory for the Allied Forces. She was playing a small but vital part in the defeat of Nazi tyranny.

Christians are called to play their part in the big story of the Good News of Jesus. But looking on it may appear we are just sifting through stones beside a river, when in reality we have found a rich seam of gold. Our most menial tasks because of Jesus have eternal significance.

Christianity boring? Maybe it has become dull. Maybe it needs to recover it's joyful, risk taking spirit.
But maybe you need to take a second look at what Christians are doing and see the glint in our eyes of the treasure we have found. The Treasure that has captivated our attention and calls us to lay down the ordinary and live out the extraordinary.

Does that describe your life?

14
May

Can you fix this?


I don't need to become a Christian because I am able to make myself right with God.
Twice this last week I heard this. Not put exactly like this but two different versions of it: One person was listing the ways they were good and said "Most people would have a good word of me". The other person was outlining how much they had changed for the better and how hard they were trying to change their behaviour. Both were holding out their actions as their confidence for eternal life. They were saying what many people are saying: "I don't need to trust in Jesus and what he has done, I can trust in me and what I am doing." 

Let's take a minute to examine this before we think of a response.

A far as barriers to faith in Jesus goes, this is probably the most common. We have an inbuilt belief that the solution to our temper, anger, selfishness, attitude, moodiness, foul mouth, petty bitterness etc lies within ourselves. And if we can just try a bit harder and find the right resources we can be better people and God will then be OK with us. Though this is an ancient problem, the modern version of this is shaped and fuelled by stories of people who have climbed the ladder of success in their sport or career or family life. What's possible in these areas must be possible in our spiritual life too. That's how the argument goes. 

The slogans on Facebook become the religious text of our time. Inspiring us to be the best that we can be, to believe in yourself etc. These slogans confirm what our hearts already believe, "We can fix it". Bob the Builder becomes our spiritual guru. 
That's what these two men who spoke to me were attempting to do. People who think this way have generally got too low a view of God and too high a view of themselves. And if truth be told, that describes us all. We all have a tendency to think of God as a grandfather type who will only see the good and ignore any bad reports with 'ah sure, she's not a bad one really' This is a low view of God. 
We also see ourselves in good light. My Dad quotes Robert Burns wisdom 
O what some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
That would shed a different light on ourselves. Or if we had a moral equivalent of the X-ray that could see past our smiles to our desires, suppressed emotions, thoughts, that would tell a different story of us. So my two friends lowed the bar and raise themselves so they could more easily get over it. 

How might we respond then?
When I spoke to them I was aiming to help them see that God is greater than they think and they are worse than they think. With most conversations I have my best thoughts or at least better response come afterwards. Here's two brief ways to respond to: "I don't need to become a Christian because I am able to make myself right with God."
First way
With Questions:
"How are you getting on with living the good life?"
"What about your thoughts and attitudes?"
"How do you know you have done enough?"
"Has the good things you've done tipped the scales on the bad stuff yet?"
"Can your good really cancel out your bad?"
"And Who decides if it does or not?"
"If someone does a really terrible thing like murder is it ever possible to cancel it out?"
"Is your standard of good the same as God's?"
"If you can do this yourself, why did Jesus die?"

Second way
With a Story:
You might tell this story: A young man once came to Jesus and asked "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 
Jesus first defines goodness. "No-one is good but God alone"
So the standard we measure ourselves against is God. How are you doing with that?
Then Jesus gets more specific when he reminds the young man of the commandments about loving others. The young man replies confidently that he has been keeping these since he was a boy.
Then Jesus zones in to the heart of his problem. The very thing that is keeping him (and us) from eternal life; he loves something else more than God. Jesus tells him to sell all he has and follow him. The young man leaves very sad because he has great wealth. Jesus' disciples watching all this realised that it was impossible for anyone then to enjoy eternal life. Jesus agreed. "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God" (Mark 10:17-31)
You see, we don't measure up to God's goodness but Jesus does. Even his enemies couldn't find any fault in him (mine could easily enough). The good news is that by his death and resurrection Jesus deals with our badness and we are given his goodness. This is ours when we trust in what Jesus has done not in what we are doing.

What are you trusting in for eternal life? What you are doing OR what Jesus has done. 

7
May

So much Suffering

One of the drawbacks of this blog is that it sounds like a formula. It sounds too much like if someone says this--I say this. I've tried to make it less like that by saying things like 'I might say' or 'here's how I might answer'. Highlighting this is important because people are different (I'm sure you have noticed this). Each one of us have had our own unique experience of life; different troubles, joys, backgrounds and exposure to Christianity. The difficulties we each may have (or had) about Christianity are in part formed out of these experiences.
So it's not, "this is said--then I say" but, "this is said--and then I listen and ask questions (at least I try and remember to do that). This is especially true if someone says:

"I would never become a Christian because...the world is full of suffering."


How could you possibly follow a God who has all the power to bring an end to suffering but chooses not to? (This second statement may not said but it's likely to be thought)
Suffering, that's a barrier too big to get past. That will silence the Christian. Can anyone really give an answer to suffering?

Before we open our mouths, we need to open our hearts. This is true of all issues but especially so for this one. The head might want to jump in with a trite answer but that would be unwise and unloving. Better to follow your heart and ask "Why do you say that?"

The answer might be a general observation on the suffering in the world eg famine in Yemen etc Or a more personal experience of the suffering in their world. Even if the answer is about general suffering, I want to remember at some level (even if it's not said) suffering is personal. We all have suffered to some degree, so we approach this statement as one sufferer to another.
What way this conversation will go, I will not even pretend to know. It may involve tears, anger, shrugging of the shoulders or the subject may be quickly changed to avoid any emotions. Either way, it should always be met with listening and compassion. Our hearts should break when faced with suffering.

Jesus heart broke when faced with suffering (John 11:35).

Yet the God of the Bible is not silent about suffering so I might say something like this:
"God does not watch our suffering from a distance but experienced the heartache of what it is to be fully human so that he might offer us help and hope.

One time when I was struggling with .... (Or when ... happened to me), I knew Jesus was with me and I held tight to his words "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted..."

But more than that-I follow the One who has suffered the agony of death on a cross and rose again. The fact that he's alive gives his followers hope. You see, Jesus carries us through our suffering and brings us to a place where suffering is no more. Why doesn't suffering end now? I don't know, but I look forward to the day when Jesus "will wipe away every tear from our eyes...and make all things new" That's the Christian's hope."

If there is personal suffering behind that statement, wouldn't it be appropriate to ask could you pray.

And if you're going through a time of suffering now, please let me point you to Jesus. I pray that you would know God's comfort and help through this tough time. I pray too that you would know the hope that Jesus the Risen from the dead One gives.
If you want to speak to someone about this or other things please feel free to contact me (Andrew) through 2nd Dromara Presbyterian Facebook page or Website
30
Apr

Are you really Free?

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give a reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15)
This series of blogs tries to serve two purposes; it gives an answer to those asking and gives a way for those being asked to frame an answer. It's for the one asking and the one being asked. 
I'm trying to write it in a conversational way because it seems that's where questions are asked. The answers given are incomplete but are heading in the direction of Jesus. I would fully expect and hope that the questioner would respond to what's said and call me on things I've gotten wrong with what they're said. That's the sort of conversation I love. That's the sort of conversation I miss.
So, here's this weeks statement:

"I would never become a Christian because... I love the freedom I have and wouldn't want to give it up."
This barrier to faith in Jesus believes the Christian life is restrictive. It restricts our fun and freedom to live life the way we want. This challenge to Jesus also believes 'living the way we want' is the road to our greatest happiness and fulfilment. Those who think this way are both right and wrong. Here's how I might answer:

"I suppose looking in from the outside the Christian life is restrictive. In the same way as looking into marriage can seem restrictive if you're not married. 
And you're right- The truth that I (and every Christian) live under is -Jesus is Lord. We have a King over our lives. 
But that's no different from everyone else. Everyone lives under a king. Here's what I mean: there's something or someone that directs/dictates the choices of your life (and everyone's life). Our choices and behaviours are directed by certain beliefs and desires. In other words, we do certain things because we believe they will bring us the meaning, the joy and the satisfaction we long for. And we restrict ourselves from certain behaviours and places because we don't believe happiness is found there. 

Happiness is defined by our king. 

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.
If happiness for you is sporting success or fitness, you will eat certain foods and train hard. Your life will seem restrictive to someone else but you are driven by your desire to succeed to be the best you can be. After a hard training session you will collapse feeling satisfied with your PB or the score line. Or you'll be gutted if it hasn't been good enough. Your king can be unforgiving and will heap guilt upon you for eating that extra biscuit or missing your training. Training can be punishing (especially if you walk/run/cycle these hills around Dromara) and success fleeting. 
Or
If happiness for you is found in popularity, that will lead you to crave others attention. And you will do whatever it takes to win the approval of your group of friends or those you admire. You're not living under freedom, you're living under the gaze of others. Their attitude, dictates the choices you make. What will they think? What will they say? Becomes the chains that enslave you. This king has the power to raise you up and knock you down. It can embarrass and shame you.
 So we're not as free as we think we are. Our freedom is an illusion. We all give allegiance to someone or something. The question then becomes does it give us the joy and satisfaction we long for? Or is it all-demanding with no mercy? Jesus is the forgiving King that offers rest and not shame. Here's what he says:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

That's the king I live under. What's your king like?
24
Apr

It's just a Fairy Tale

We meet by chance on our daily walk. Stand at least 2 Metres apart. It's always good to see a friend but especially in these days of restrictions. Then we do what we always do- we sort the problems of the world out. I say something about my hope being in Jesus, and they say I could never be a Christian because... it's just a fairy tale. It's a made up story. Yes, Jesus was real, maybe even an extraordinary teacher, a guru but here's what I think happened (my friend say)...as the years have gone by lots of stories have been added to him. A bit like what happened to St Patrick. Patrick was an extraordinary man but miracles like driving snakes out of Ireland have been attached to him. No, I could never believe in the fables and myths about Jesus. And if I'm honest, I'm a bit surprised you believe in all that stuff.

Now, reading this, where do you stand in this scenario? Are you imagining yourself as the one who has to answer this OR are you thinking, 'I might not put it that way, but they have a point-can we really pin our hopes on an ancient story? Is it reliable?'

Here's how I might answer...

Mmm... (I check our 2 metre distance which has become a bit of a habit)...a fairy tale? Are you sure? I've read a lot of fairy tales and they're always vague about the details of when (Once upon a time) and where (in a land far away). Also, it's not physically possible to walk in Cinderella's dainty footsteps (except if you travel to Disney World) nor can you read multiple accounts of her words ("Oh the Prince was so dishy, a wonderful dancer") nor do eyewitness accounts of her life exist ("...and there I was looking at the most beautiful carriage that only a few minutes before had been a pumpkin")

Yet the accounts of Jesus read like historical narrative. They're very specific about when (eg "This took place when Quirinus was governor of Syria" ) and where (eg His disciples "go ahead of him to Bethsaida"). It's physically possible to walk in his 'footsteps', millions do every year. We can read not one but four eyewitness accounts of what he said and did, how he died and how he rose from the dead.

And I think that's the sticking point for a lot of people. Most people are like you and accept that Jesus was a real historical person but they struggle with the miracles, especially the rising from the dead miracle. For them it's too good to be true. I suppose in that way it's like a fairy tale. It sounds too good to be true. Who would believe a story in which evil is defeated (the evil stepmother dies) by an unexpected hero (seven reclusive dwarf miners), justice is done (the witch falls into her own trap) and love conquers in the end (Snow White marries the prince). Who would believe that fairy tale? And yet we want it to be true. Don't we?
What if it is true-here and now. What if evil is defeated by an unexpected hero, justice is done and love conquers in the end? Worth checking out for yourself, wouldn't it be. What do you think?


What do you think? The video below offers a way to look at one of these eye witness accounts of Jesus life for yourself. Or maybe this is something you could offer to do with a friend.
(Apologises for the presenter. It's his first attempt. But the challenge is worth doing.)


16
Apr

What would you say?

Let?s imagine we?re having a cup of tea together, relaxing in each other?s company as friends do. I?ve just said something positive about being a Christian and you say, ?I?m glad to hear that, but I would never become a Christian because?
How might you or your friends finish that sentence? Over the next few Thursdays, I?m going to imagine that sentence finished in different ways and what I might say in response.
I won?t be saying everything I could say as if it was a lecture but what I might say next as part of a conversation. Like every conversation it might lead to more questions or objections. That's how we get to understand what each other thinks without spilling blood... or tea!!!

So, you pass me another biscuit (thank you) and say, "I'm glad to hear that, but i would never become a Christian because... it's so out of date." You might even add with a rye smile, "The world has moved on beyond that old fashioned stuff of church, hymn singing and praying. Just leave it behind and try and catch up with the rest of us."

Yes I can see why you'd think that. Christianity has been around for centuries. And in a world where we celebrate the latest, shiny thing, Christianity seems dusty and out of date. Before I say anymore I'm glad of the latest technology, medicine and science. I happily live in this world of Northern Ireland 2020. But we know there are some things more important than the latest trends. We know that the deeper cries of our hearts like love, joy, hope, community, forgiveness etc are hugely important. Always were, always will be. It is into these deeper cries that Christianity speaks clearly. Christianity is not in conflict with these things. Their roots are buried in the soil of Christianity. As technology, medicine, science advances these big questions of life need answered.

Also, in a world that has given us Betamax and fidget spinners, there's something appealing about Christianity's enduring power. It has thrived across centuries and cultures, through wars, famines and pandemics and through the rise and fall of great civilisations. It's enduring power rests solely and completely on Jesus Christ. Has there ever been any other person who shines so clearly throughout history? Is Jesus' example and teaching out-dated?

How the "imaginary you" might respond only the "real you" knows. Why don?t you comment below as yourself or as a friend might respond and let the conversation continue?
11
Apr

Is there a Happily Ever After?

Death had a 100% success rate. It never failed, not once, not ever. Some may have seemed for many years like they had beaten it. Winning the battles against illness, accident and disaster but in the end death always won the war. Science, health and education continue to push it back, extending life expectancy but death wins in the end.
I guess that's the two words that sum up death. It's the great THE END. It pronounces 'The End' on all our lives (Psalms 49:10-11).
All die.
Even those few that Jesus raised to life like Lazarus died in the end. Everyone's life story follows the same pattern. They're born--They live--They die. It has a morbid certainty about it.
Rich or poor-All die.
Known or unknown-All die
Young or old-All die
Nothing and no-one ever changed the pattern. That is until Easter Sunday!

On Friday it looked like Jesus was no different from everyone else who had ever gone before him. He had said and done amazing things. He had made huge claims about being God but in the end, he died. The full stop of his life was rolled into place over his tomb. But it wasn't the end. What happened next was the end of The End. Jesus rose from the dead because "it was impossible for death to hold him". He "destroyed death and brought life and immorality to light through the gospel"
This wasn't a temporary reprieve this was the beginning of his forever life. He said "I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!"

The Good News of Easter is that His forever life becomes the forever life of those that trust Him. He has established a new pattern. They are born--They live--They die and now it's not The End but Happily Ever After. Not a fairy tale happily ever after but better than that. This one is for real and forever. Is that not the ending we're all looking for?
Happy Easter as we celebrate the end of THE END

10
Apr

We need a Hero

Death stalks our world, our communities and our homes. It rips life and joy from us and gives us grief and pain instead. It looks very much like death is running wild among us. The numbers dying from the Corona virus are overwhelming. Yet each death is not a number, it's a person who leaves behind loved ones shattered by grief.
Death doesn't care. It has been stalking us long before this pandemic and will continue long after it's over. But to hear about it night after night can be too much for us, so we try to distract ourselves. We escape into projects, movies, music, books, exercise or relationships. Yet these are only temporary distractions. We're like prisoners on day release. We can pretend everything's fine for a time but at the end of the day we return to our dark prison cell. Trapped by death. We don't need distracted we need rescued. We need someone who will bust us out of our prison and release us to live life. To live life without looking over our shoulder to the creeping reality of death.

If only there was someone who would rescue us from this darkness. If only there was someone who would destroy this savage beast of death.
God has.

And through Jesus resurrection to life, the claws and teeth of death have been removed. "Death has been swallowed up in victory". That victory over death is ours through Jesus Christ. Death may growl at us but we need not fear it, because of Jesus.

May you this day (and everyday) rejoice in your rescue from darkness and enjoy the life that is now yours through Jesus Christ.

Check out the video below and discover the Hero

9
Apr

4. True Love Sacrifices

People who serve us will die. That's the reality of this crisis. People who could have kept themselves safe by staying at home, instead go to work where they could die. Some go to the most infectious areas to give those that were sick a fighting chance of getting better, and in doing so increase their chance of dying.
We are familiar with sacrificial love within our families but this is sacrificing for the stranger regardless of race, attitude or wealth. This pandemic has shone a spotlight on those we have often taken for granted. It's right that we clap them and others like them who serve us behind the scenes. Theirs is a love for the stranger that could cost them their live.

Sacrificial love is at the heart of the events of that first Easter. Jesus' love was costly. He gave his life for those who hated him. While it was usual for the crucified man to call down curses upon those who had put him there, Jesus asked his Heavenly Father to forgive. Such love; that cries "Forgive" those who nailed his wrists and feet to the cross. Such love; that cries "Forgive" those who gather around the cross to mock and jeer him. Such love that takes the full weight of the punishment we deserve (Isaiah 53: 5-6) and cries forgive them. This is heart melting love.

This is the love that Easter shines a spotlight on. This is the love that everyday we clap and rejoice in. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." This is the love that defeats death. Has this love melted your heart? If it has, death brings us joyfully to Jesus Christ.
What riches of kindness He lavished on us
His blood was the payment His life was the cost
We stood ?neath a debt we could never afford
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

8
Apr

3. Jesus transforms death

Have you ever washed your hands so much in your life? We wash every inch of them to make sure they are free from virus (we hope). We don't want the virus in our system as it will lead to sickness and in some cases even death.
The bible describes sin like a virus. It's already in our system and it will lead to our death. It's fatality rate is 100%. When we turn away from the life giver and go our own way (Sin) is it any wonder death is the result. No amount of hand washing can rid us of this 'virus' but there is a way to be purified... through the death of Jesus. Or as 1 John 1:7 puts it "the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin". We are washed completely clean.
No fear of any of the 'virus' remaining. That doesn't mean those who trust in Jesus are perfect. Far from it ,as we well know. But it does mean that Jesus death purifies us from all the sins of our past, our present and our future. We are forgiven. What a motivation to keep ourselves clean.

Can you see what looks like a flaw in all this? If Jesus death purifies us from all sin, how come those who trust in Jesus still die? Some in the early church asked this very question. Here's how Paul answered them. "We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him".
Did you notice how death is described? Jesus doesn't eliminate death, He transforms it. Those who die in Jesus really just fall asleep and awake to be with Him forever.
We close our eyes in death and open them to Jesus. Wouldn't that make you approach death differently. Wouldn't that make you live life differently?
That's what Pete found
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gYowHtIX7Q
7
Apr

2. The ultimate symbol of Hope

Have you seen the rainbows on the windows? What a wonderful symbol of hope. Colourful arches of brightness in these dark days. The fact that they're drawn by children adds to the hope. A reminder that there is a future. Things will get better.
After the rain...sunshine.

Rainbows make sense as a symbol of hope. But how can a cross, an ancient instrument of torture and death, be a symbol of hope? I would even go as far to say that it's not just a symbol of hope but the Ultimate Symbol of Hope.
In case we've forgotten the cross was a barbaric way to execute common criminals used by the Romans. It was so brutal it was never mentioned in polite conversation. Yet for centuries now it is seen as a powerful symbol of hope. It is found in churches, in graveyards and in songs. The hearts of refugees (and those in crisis) soar when they see the Red Cross. This would have been unimaginable to the soldiers that nailed Jesus to a cross. When did this transformation happen? Surprisingly, it happened when a carpenter from an insignificant village in a small occupied country died by crucifixion.
And now over 2000 years later his death brings us hope in our death. How? Because Jesus the Son of God stepped into our suffering. "he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" Like everyone else who has ever lived, he breathed his last. Yet his death was like no one else who ever died. He rose from the dead.
After death...Life.
For those who trust in Him, their death will follow the same pattern. After death...Life.
The cross of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of Hope. Is it yours?
Click on the video below to hear how true hope works out. It's based on the story of Jesus arriving at a friend's funeral (John 11)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85Z9uZdAAXc
6
Apr

The Death that destroyed death

At a time when death is the lead story in our news and at the front of our minds, we want to think about the death that destroyed death. It certainly doesn't look like Jesus death destroyed death. It's very obvious that death has not been eliminated. So in what ways has Jesus death destroyed death? Each day this week we'll look at a different way that Jesus death destroys death. Here's the first...
1. Jesus death destroys death by freeing us from the fear of death
Death is one of our greatest fears, our death or the death of our loved ones. We work hard to keep death away from us and our families. We don't want to talk about it, see it or even think about it. We push the fear deep down. Yet when it surfaces, the fear can be paralysing.
Why do we fear death?
Deep down we know death is not the end of our lives. If we thought it was, what would there be to fear? It's the unknown that we fear. It's the feeling that we will have to give an account. We know life is precious gift and we cling to it. We know that our life will one day be put on the scales. We fear the results of that assessment.
But what if someone else life was put on the scales instead of ours and what if the judgement of our life was taken by someone else. That's what happens for those who trust in Jesus. In that way Jesus death destroys death by freeing us from the fear of death.
Are you full of fear when you think of death? Come to Jesus today and know His peace in the face of death. Watch the video below produced by Joel's grieving parents see how they are dealing with his death.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n38PQx6AFtU
18
Sep

We All Dream of a Better World

We work hard to make this world a better place for us and our loved ones but there are many things that we cannot change. No amount of hard work can take away the grief and pain we often face. If only this world was different. 'The World We All Want' is a course where we explore God?s promise of a better world and what He has done and is doing to bring this about. It?s a great introduction to the whole bible story yet it doesn?t require you to know any of the bible to do it. It may even be an advantage if you know very little of the Bible story. Here?s what someone who has completed it says about it:?Like most people, I knew a few bible stories, but this course connected the whole thing together for me; and it helped me to see where Jesus fits in.? (Tim, 33). This seven week course is open to all. You can talk and ask questions or simply sit and listen whatever works best for you. It begins Friday 25th September at 7.30pm. We start with tea/coffee and biscuits and finish at 8.45. If you have any question please contact me on 07512677530. Andrew